“Don’t tell them where you live”
– Esther Cohen to her daughter Sadie, Brady Street Dwellings, Bethnal Green, East London, c. 1908
Brady Street in Whitechapel, East London, runs from Whitechapel Road in the south to Three Colts Lane, near Bethnal Green Tube station, in the north. Until the 1970s the Brady Street Dwellings stood on Brady Street. Built on the site of a former manure or ‘animal charcoal’ works, the flats were demolished in the 1970s and Swanley School now stands on the site. The Brady Street Jewish cemetery is located a few hundred yards away.
You won’t find Sadie Cohen’s grave there. The cemetery reached maximum capacity in 1858. She worked hard and moved away from the old communities, poor housing, poverty and violent anti-semitism to north-west London. And she, my grandma, told me a story about her life there. When her mum sent her out to do this and that, she’d tell her, “If they ask you, don’t tell them where you live.” Poverty was a stain. Locals were what American author Jack London called The People of the Abyss.
We’re off to Bethnal Green in this album of photos. The place takes your back. London’s East End is deep in stories and ghosts. You feel them in the buildings and beneath your feet. Peter Marshall was in Bethnal Green in the 1980s and 90s. Tower Hamlets, the London borough it lies within, was still poor then, one of the poorest in the UK.
Today, pockets of poverty remain in a place where the Bangladeshi community now thrives in sites of former synagogues and kosher delis. The new arrivals of hipsters from the shires and yuppies have moved in. The local Truman Brewery no longer makes ale, but you can get cocktails and vegan food in the place where it once did. Tourists buy vintage fashions not pets in the market. Let’s take a look around…
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