Esoteric London

No. 731: Whitechapel Road, E1

Posted in Churches, London Labour by esotericlondon on December 17, 2012

RED_6608 © Roger Dean.RGB copy

Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Whitechapel Road, London, E1. Photo © Roger Dean 2012

Episodes in an Obscure Life, – Richard Rowe, 1871:


Crossing-sweepers, locally practising their profession, are scarce in the parts I speak of [the poor parts of the East End of London] on week-days. But on Sundays they make their appearance in front of the churches and the larger chapels  just before and after service. The Sunday incumbents of the two crossings that led to one of my churches, were at one time a little boy and a little girl: strikingly alike in features, although the boy looked very feeble, and the girl, in spite of her poor clothing and diet, seemed a merrily healthy young puss. Some of those who had coppers to spare chose the boy’s crossing when they came to church, because he looked so weak; but most gave their pence and halfpence to the girl, because she smiled so brightly and brandished her broom with so much cheerful vigour. Both the children were very well-behaved, and poor as their dress was, they managed somehow to make it look tidy.

They were not exactly ‘pretty children,’ but still their faces were very different from the jumble of flat features, lighted only by low cunning, which is the general type of countenance amongst our poor little ‘street Arabs.’ They differed from the ruck of street children strikingly in another respect. As soon as the single bell had ceased to toll, they left their brooms in a corner of one of the porches, and stole into church, dropping side by side into one of the obscurest free seats. (What a pity it is, by-the-by, that so many of our churches in poor neighbourhoods have only single bells, which clank as monotonously as the factory bells which the dwellers in such places hear every week-day, instead of at once soothing and cheering them as a Sunday peal of bells soothes and cheers when it rings out like a chorus of angel voices!).

[ The photograph above is of the bell tuners ‘in tray’ at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. You can take tours of the foundry, which is Britain’s oldest manufacturing company  having been established in 1570. I highly recommend that you do so. For more details see the company’s website by clicking here. R.D.]

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