This week, the final tale from the borough of Waltham Forest & that of the mighty Walthamstow Avenue FC.
“In a few short weeks many will join together to enjoy watching others groan, grunt and sweat for their viewing pleasure. I’m not talking about the annual meet of the Rotherham Swingers Alliance; of course, I’m referring to the London 2012 Olympics. But one Borough who won’t be getting too carried away is Waltham Forest. Because they’ve seen it all before…”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Blue.’
Walthamstow Avenue History
In June 2012 short weeks many joined together and enjoy the sight of others groan, grunt and sweat, solely for viewing pleasure. I’m not talking about the annual meeting of the Rotherham swingers alliance, of course I’m talking about the London 2012 Olympics. What better way to deal with the economic crisis rising unemployment and riots and the collapse of the euro and by throwing a party to the tune of billions of pounds? But one London Borough that won’t to be getting too carried away in the celebrations, is Waltham Forest, as they’ve seen it all before.
In Green Pond road, once stood the famous Walthamstow Avenue Football Club founded in 1900. Unlike their neighbours Thames Ironworks (West Ham United FC), their history is not one littered with silverware . A flea bitten mongrel running onto the pitch halftime is probably the closest they’ve ever come to wags, and the smell of fish wafting in from the terraces is probably more down to a lack of hygiene amongst the home support than a taste for prawns sandwiches.
Nevertheless the history of Walthamstow Ave F.C. is a proud one right up until their last game in 1988. Not just because Walthamstow Avenue are the first team to bring 100,000 people to Wembley Stadium for the 1952 FA Amateur Cup final, or because one of their games was the first ever televised. But because their ground in 1948 hosted Turkey versus China as part of the original London Olympics, and therefore make Waltham Forest the only East London Borough to host the Olympics twice.
Here’s a song inspired by those practitioners of petty crime in London’s Old East End. Pickpockets, scammers, hustlers and schemers – the East End wasn’t short of them.
I’ve called this London song ‘The Gallows Tree’.
Play song above, view video for story.
This week’s London song is all about the scourge of the layabout. Press Gangs!
They could be just lurking around the corner waiting for you to have just one too many. You’ll never sing ‘Rule Brittania’ in the same way again. Here’s an insight into the recruitment operations of the Royal Navy. Enjoy ‘The Crown’s Keep’.
Slappy Bonita, Mother’s Ruin, The Makeshift, King Theodor of Corsica? No idea what I’m on about? Well you need an education on the History of Gin. May I introduce you to Madam Geneva, very much acquainted with the East End and very much a part of London history.
Enjoy my song a week entry in tribute, ‘Geneva’s Call’.
Play London song above, view video for story behind the song or read below.
The Gin Craze
There are few things finer in life than a glass or two of your favourite alcoholic beverage. The warmth in the stomach, the taste on the palate and the glow that spreads from the ends of your fingers to the tips of your toes. Everything is fine, everything is okay. Conversation flows, and you become the funniest man on the planet. You dance, you laugh, you cry. At closing time you spin out into the street and party on under the stars. After a brief pitstop at the local kebab shop for your usual, with a double helping of chilli sauce and a side order Salmanella, you continue on into the early hours of the morning. When the sun rises you find yourself passed out in a hedge and save for the traffic cone for a top hat and being covered from head to foot in your own vomit, as naked as the day you were born. Ah the nostalgia. But then there are those that abuse alcohol…
In the 18th century everybody hated the French because, well they were French. And so tax on French products was high and this included wine and brandy. Britain had had a good couple of years of grain harvest and that combined with the introduction of a spirit by a Dutch king (his own troops used to take it into battle with them resulting the term – Dutch courage) saw a boom in the sale of a beverage named White Satin. (Also known as slackly bonito, mothers ruin, the makeshift) Commonly known to us as Gin. Even Queen Mary drank the stuff. It was extremely popular in the 1700s especially amongst the poorer class of people who up until then had to drink ale as a water substitute.
In order to be in the business of selling gin all you had to do was stick up a notice and within 10 days you could legally manufacture and sell liquor. And so cheap distilleries cropped up everywhere and because of the boom in urbanisation, it was too hard for authorities to keep an eye on it all. Soon Gin was being sold from illegal gin shops right through to wheelbarrows in the street. Now because the poor were small and malnourished, their metabolism couldn’t possibly cope with the content of alcohol that they were taking in. They were still drinking it in ale glass measurements. So alcoholism boomed along with crime, prostitution, vanerial disease and death.
Now reformers obviously took issue with this, at one point even claiming that 84,000 infant deaths were directly related to the consumption of Gin. They went about trying to put laws in place. One law encouraged the reporting of illegal Gin shops where informers were paid a substantial amount of money for keeping an eye on neighbourhood activities. But this wasn’t too successful as the spies ended up getting attacked in the street, sometimes by mobs of up to hundreds of people.
Eventually the 3rd Gin Act was passed which saw the excise on the alcohol raised by 1200%. This combined with the increased price of grain, helped to finally get things under control. But not before the well publicised case of a woman named Judith. Judith had been enjoying a lovely day with her daughter Mary, receiving charity from the local parish. The child had been given some brand-new clothes and mother and daughter were wandering home when Judith, an alcoholic got the thirst. She proceeded to strangle her daughter to death before selling the brand-new clothes to pay for a bottle of gin.
A little melody that has been floating around my head has blossomed into this, ‘Desire’ – for the souls working the corners, parks, highways and byways of London’s Old East End. This week it’s a very sad tale indeed. The plight of the East End working girl. From all backgrounds and classes and all with a story to tell.
First dates can be a minefield of problems. Where will I take her? What will I wear? How will I hide my lazy eye and, how much rohypnol is too much?
Whilst I’m sure you, the listener, have plenty of your own horror stories; missing the bus, getting lost on the way to the venue and then realising that the tramp you kicked in the back in your mad rush to arrive on time, was also your blind date. Yes I hate that too.
But instead of whinging and whining about our past experiences, we have to spare a thought for their those poor souls, the girls who would work the streets and alleyways of London’s old East End. For many of those girls this was the result of a date gone wrong.
Recorded in a book by Henry Mayhew (in which he interviewed some 2000 people on working the street, homeless or in the workhouse) are many sad accounts. One in particular, spilling from the mouths of different girls from many different backgrounds and many different walks of life.
Pretty young Victorian girl whose head is filled with romance and whose days are blissfully spent doing embroidery and swooning a lot, one day perhaps during a walk in the park or outside her own house, meets a dapper young gent who gives her a compliment. Now she’s dazzled by his charm and over time maybe they meet again and again, taking walking together, each time further and further away from home. One day her new beau takes her just a little bit further than she is comfortable, until she realises that she doesn’t know where she is any more. He says, “Don’t worry this is actually my neighbourhood. My mother lives nearby, maybe we can call-in and I’ll introduce you”. Now this naive young girl follows this gent into a house where an old lady perhaps offers a drink. Whereupon the girl is drugged, raped and wakes up in the sex trade.
Her family will never see her again and maybe think she’s run away. And you’d have a hard job finding people in those days. And so begins 10, 20, 30+ years of intimate dealings with men whose concept of high standards of personal hygiene was urinating outside the trousers, and who thought chlamydia was an exotic girls name.
This sad sad story is told time and time again via these first-hand accounts in this book, Henry Mayhew’s ‘London’s Underworld’.
So next time you’re sat across the table from someone who looks like Mel Smith and sounds like Kenneth Williams, spare thought these girls of London’s old East End.
Play London song above or view video.
And there we have it, the ‘Chink & The Child’ Trilogy is now complete. Here’s the third and final song and time for the murderous East End father to have his say.
Crunch time in any relationship is when it’s time to meet the parents. ‘Don’t worry they’ll love you!’ rings in your ears as you knock on the front door. And after an eternity of introductions and greetings, you’re swept up in a whirlwind of smalltalk, double helpings of kidney risotto and an erotic encounter with the family Labradoodle before being dumped
onto the family couch to watch panorama wedged between father and son who wants to arm wrestle you and smells like cheese and onion crisps. Or it goes badly and their father was to take your very life.
This is exactly the situation that two of the three central figures in our trilogy of songs based on Thomas Burke’s short story, ‘The Chink and the Child’. find themselves in.
Luckily for me the only threat my father-in-law posed to me was that he would sit me down and explain the inner workings of the economic system of Guinea-Bissau or layout in fine detail, exactly why a 1973 Hillman Hunter does more miles to the gallon than a 1974 Hillman Hunter. Or was it 1975…
Play song above or view video.
Song No.2 of the ‘Chink & The Child’ Trilogy based on the work of Thomas Burke. This time from the point of view of the East End Chinese lover.
I don’t mind telling you guys that at the start of this project I knew precious little about Chinese culture in London’s East End. The little I did know was all tied up with pain; Chinese burns, Chinese water torture, and my guts after the lunch special at my local takeaway, Doctor Wu’s.
But even the minute amount of knowledge I possessed was still a lot more than the locals in London’s East End had, when Chinese sailors came up the Thames in the 1800s and landed on these shores. And in the absence of knowledge grows fear. If there’s one thing worse than letting your daughter marry a Rolling Stone, it’s letting them marry a foreigner. Or so they thought.
Now it is in this exact social climate that I set my second song based on the 19th century short story by Thomas Burke ‘The Chink and the Child.’
I give you ‘White Blossom Blues’ which is available on my free London songs album found here
Play song above or view video.
Now for something tricky. I found a great old story set in London’s East End and thought, why not write a trilogy! This week it’s the first instalment of three songs based on a 100 year old short story written by Thomas Burke incredibly entitled ‘The Chink And The Child’ and set in London’s East End.
This is called ‘Sunshine From The East’.
Play song above, view video for story, or read below.
‘Blue Rinse Racism’. A phrase I coined myself to encapsulate that moment when you’re chatting away to a sweet old lady or a vintage gent and out of no where they say the most racist things. Blaming the lack of quality daytime TV on Eastern Europeans, or the rise in cold weather on ‘all those black faces’. Whereupon it’s “Thanks very much for the lemon drizzle cake Widow Hess but I’ve really got to get going”, as you tiptoe past her snoring Alsatian.
It was exactly that kind of feeling I felt when I discovered a book called ‘The Chink and the Child’ written by Thomas Burke. Now it won’t surprise you to know that the book was banned at the time, but not because of its racist title and allusions to pederast activity, but because it promoted interracial relationships.
It was written by a guy called Thomas Burke and it tells the story of a Chinese sailor living in Poplar in East London. Canton Street to be exact. An area that has landmarks all around the place referring to the Chinese culture of the day. The book tells the story of a Chinese sailor who falls in love with a teenage street urchin. Her father treats her like dirt and abuses her and as their love unfolds the father becomes more and more incensed. Leading to eventual bloodshed
This is a great story and the inspiration behind my song ‘Sunshine From The East’ found on my free London Songs album