Esoteric London

No. 446: Cable Street, E1

Posted in London Places by esotericlondon on November 14, 2011

St George-in-the-East Gardens, Cable Street, London, E1. Photo © Roger Dean, 2011

In Strange Company – James Greenwood, 1874:

Tiger Bay – or, more properly speaking, Blue Gate Fields – has been so often described that it will be needless here to say more respecting it than that it is as tigerish as ever; that the dens to which, every night of the year, drunken sailors are betrayed, swarm and flourish openly and defiantly in spite of the police. I discovered that my friend, in describing the street that rejoiced in a Rehoboth Chapel and a Coal Whippers’ Arms as “not particularly inviting,” had done it, no injustice. It is in the very heart of the Bay, and from end to end it presents an unbroken scene of vice and depravity of the most hideous sort. Almost every house is one of “ill fame.” It was not quite late enough for the tigresses to make themselves sleek and trim, preparatory to going on their customary prowl through their hunting ground; and there they sat, or lolled, or squatted at their doors, blear-eyed and touzle-haired from last night’s debauch. There, too, lounged, and smoked short pipes, and drank out of tavern measures the convenient, resting-place of which was the window sills, the males of the tribe – the thieves and bullies, who, quiet enough now, would be wide awake and ready to show their quality when dark came, and the tavern gas was flaring. It was somewhat discouraging to find the mystic tree of celestial solace planted in such unpromising soil; but I comforted myself with the reflection that doubtless the eastern splendour of the opium-master’s abode would shine the more brilliantly for the shabby setting. I entered the little public house, and, inquiring of the barmaid – who, all among the pots and glasses, and in fair view of several customers, was “changing her frock” as coolly as if she were in her private chamber – I was at once directed to the court where the opium-master resided. An awful little court it was, with a narrow arched entry, and pregnant with the peculiar odour of neglected gutters.

[ The location of Bluegate Fields fluctuated slightly as it appears that two different streets in the vicinity were given the name over time but the notorious slum was somewhere within the grounds of what is now St George-in-the-East Gardens where the photograph above was taken. There are a couple of these free standing walls left within the park for modern day visitors to loll against and smoke a short pipe. R.D.

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