The East End and authentic connections

The are still some old time East Enders, old working class white London women, hanging on to a bygone age when there was a shared culture of idle chit chat with strangers. In the 1940s and 1950s, the East End of London, it was said, was composed of the working class masses, most of whom did some kind of factory work. London’s East End consisted of terraced houses packed together, each of which had a garden with a low wall over which housewives conversed, and behind which ran an alleyway down which muddy barefooted children ran and played. I was speaking to a woman recently who grew up on the Isle of Dogs, she explained to me that throughtout the most part of the twentieth century most East Enders did not venture out of their local patch. This is because each Londoner would usually have a whole extended family living in the neighbourhood. A few days later I picked up a book about London’s tram system, operational at the beginning of the twentieth century and which would eventually be displaced by London’s bus service in the 1920s. I came across an account of a man who lived in New Cross, who got a job driving a tram in Poplar, he was some twenty to thirty years old, and had no idea where Poplar was. The kind of connection, one which is both local, and of kith and kin, is beginning to die out, as a new international class move into London, relying on telecommunications and international air travel, to keep in touch with networks. For this class, London’s new denizens, making relationships with people locally is pointless.

There are some tiny remnants of the old communities in play today, but it seems like they are a dying breed, the ones which starry eyed tourists are probably referring to, when they post questions on blogs about where to find authentic London. In Islington for example some of the old timers, some families continue a sixty year old tradition of going to the pub of an evening, and having a roast at the pub on a Sunday.

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