Backchurch Lane & adjacent streets - which became part of St John's parish

The lane running south from Commercial Road to Cable Street became the boundary between the parishes of St Mark Whitechapel and St John the Evangelist-in-the-East Golding Street. It was densely populated, with a mix of industrial and residential properties, with dangers to match. At the end of this page are some contemporary views of the street.

Fires and Explosions

A fearful explosion occurred on the premises known as the Patent Saw Mills, situated in Back Church Lane, Commercial Road East, one of the most densely crowded districts of London.

These premises were divided into several compartments, each fitted up with most costly machinery. A little to the left of these compartments stood the steam-boiler house, in which were deposited two boilers, one about 12-horse and the other between 8 and 9-horse power. The latter of these, which had been in use some time, was at work, and although it was observed to move sluggishly, no danger was apprehended; but between 10 and 11 o'clock in the forenoon a tremendous explosion occurred, which threw the whole neighbourhood into dismay.

For the space of half a minute after the explosion happened, nothing but a dense mass of steam and dust could be seen, which ascended so high as to darken the neighbourhood in the immediate vicinity of the premises. The instant the steam and dust in some measure began to clear away, a shower of timber, bricks, and portions of heavy machinery fell. Large piles of wood were seen flying in every direction, which, as they fell upon the house-tops, either forced in the roofs or demolished the back or side walls. At the same time one of the boilers, weighing many tons, was lifted from its bearings, and thrown a long distance from its original position; the other was rent in pieces, and one part, weighing nearly two tons, was forced high into the air, and, after travelling a distance of 100 feet, fell into the back yard, striking in its descent the large premises used as counting-houses and offices, forcing in the windows, and partially destroying the front walls. The crash was tremendous, and at the same instant the school-house in Charles Street was partially blown down; two or three houses adjoining had their roofs and back fronts stove in, and an iron tank, weighing upwards of a ton, was driven by the force of the explosion some distance above the house-tops, and falling upon the roof of the mill, broke through and settled amongst the machinery.

The devastation was carried far beyond the property. An aged man passing along the road was struck by a piece of iron, which broke both his legs, and he was obliged to be carried to the London Hospital. A boy passing through Church Lane had his arm fractured by the falling of a large piece of brickwork. Mrs. Young was buried in the ruins, and very severely scalded, and otherwise greatly injured. Mrs. Bailey, residing in the same street, who was looking out of the window at the time of the explosion, received so great a shock that she died on the following morning.
A note on the development of firefighting in London
The first commercially-successful fire engine was patented by Richard Newsham in 1725, and many were made in different sizes (Buckingham Palace had once of the largest), and Newsham and Rags (his cousin) was established at 18 New Street, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield. They sold around the country and were even exported to the United States. Around 1750 he was bought out by John and Margaret Bristow (John was a churchwarden at St George-in-the-East in 1784), and production continued in Ratcliff Highway until 1831 - their story is told here.

Before 1833 there was no co-ordinated system, and no trained firefighters. The 300 parish engines were under the control of often elderly beadles, and the insurance companies had their own equipment. Saving property rather than people was the priority. The Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, founded in 1828, sought to address this by providing fire ladders in streets, and attending fires to give assistance to individuals at risk.

The London Fire Brigade (originally the 'London Fire-engine Establishment') was created in 1833 by ten insurance companies working together, the Sun Fire Office taking the lead. The first Superintendent was James Braidwood (1800-61) [right], formerly of Edinburgh, where within weeks of his appointment at the age of 23 dealt with the Great Fire of Edinburgh. In his second year in London he faced the major fire at the Houses of Parliament.

He lived 'over the shop' at Watling Street, and throughout his career saw through many detailed improvements to structures, apparatus, training and reporting of fires, detailed in his book Fire Prevention and Fire Extinction (Bell and Daldy 1866 - cover pictured right). This was published posthumously - he died attending the huge fire at Cotton's Wharf, Tooley Street in 1861. In 1866 the Metropolitan Board of Works assumed control of the fire service from the insurance companies, fulfilling one of his hopes; the Metropolitan Fire Brigade became the London Fire Brigade in 1904. Pictured left is its first motorised fire engine in 1902.



Backchurch Lane was also a place where entrepreneurs and men of science lived and worked. Here are some examples.

20,629. The humble Petition of the undersigned, John Fell Christy, of the borough of Lambeth, glass manufacturer; John Harvey, of Ludgate Street, in the city of London, merchant; George Rahn, of the Crescent, Minories, in London aforesaid, merchant; and Charles Speare Tosswill, of Budge Row, in London aforesaid, typographer, as Proprietors of the Patent Fire-Preventive Cement,
That your Petitioners are the chief owners of a certain mode of manufacturing a cement or plaster which is fire-proof, and which renders all buildings encrusted with it, and exposed to the action of fire, likewise fire-proof.
That great and alarming fires and conflagrations have recently taken place, whereby many lives have been lost, and an immense amount of property has been destroyed, all of which might have been prevented had this fire-proof cement been used as the plaster of the respective buildings.
That the two Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Royal Exchange, the city of Hamburgh, and various large mills and manufactories in Lancashire and elsewhere, have fallen a prey to the flames, within a very short period.
That experiments have taken place in London and Manchester by buildings being exposed to a much more powerful fire than any that ordinarily takes place, without in the least penetrating beyond this cement; certificates of which fact have been made by many magistrates, architects, surveyors, manufacturers, and other respectable persons.
That several eminent architects, surveyors, and engineers, have employed this cement, including Mr. Charles Barry, R.A., Major Jebb, R.E., Captain Brandreth, R.E., Mr. Field, Mr. Allison, Mr. Stevens, and Mr. J. B. Shepherd. That such cement has been used under the superintendence of the Lords Commissioners of Woods and Forests in the New Model Prison of Pentonville, in the Victualling Yard Deptford, in the Royal College of Surgeons, in the British and Foreign Schools, at Saint Thomas's Hospital, at Woburn Abbey, at the Phoenix Gas Works, and other places.
That your Petitioners will be most happy to present to the Legislature, your honourable House, or Government, such a quantity of this cement as may be required to make the new House of Parliament fire-proof, without any profit whatever.
Your Petitioners humbly solicit that your honourable House will be pleased to enquire into the truth of these allegations; to accept the offer of sufficient of the cement to make the new Houses of Parliament fire-proof, and to take such steps in the premises as to your honourable House shall seem just, wise, and expedient.
And your Petitioners shall ever pray.
Jno. F. Christy - John Harvey -  George Rahn - Chas. S. Tosswill.

In 1839 inventor of the electro-magnet William Sturgeon's Annals of Electricity, Magnetism and Chemistry included this letter from Henley:

I take the liberty to introduce to the numerous readers of the Annals of Electricity, &c. an Electro-Magnetic Machine, differing materially from the common description of that Instrument, viz:—The method of breaking battery contact, &c. Fig. 2 represents the Machine consisting of primary and secondary coil A. and B. a cross of soft Iron, not covered, which rotates between two pieces of Iron C. C. passing through the sides of the bobbin A. so as to be in contact with the iron wires in the axis. D and E are two copper wires carrying the current which press upon the break-piece F. into which there is a piece of Ivory inserted for breaking contact. Upon, making connection with the battery, the cross B. commences rotating rapidly, and, on placing a finger on each of the conductors F. F., a succession of shocks are felt, more violent than from any machine that I have as yet constructed. When the toothed wheel and spring are used, the stud G. cuts off the current from the wires D. andE. oil moving the stud H. the conductors are disconnected from the secondary, and no shock is felt. F. is a platform, with two binding screws for connecting a voltameter, platina, wire, &c &c. .....

Should you think the enclosed worthy of a place in your Annals, the insertion of the same will greatly oblige,
Sir, Your most obedient and very humble servant,
Philosophical Instrument Maker,
25, Back Church Lane, Commercial Road, East.
19th. November, 1839.

A squalid place

Here are three damning accounts of the area around Backchurch Lane from the second half of the 19th century - by which time the district church of St John the Evangelist-in-the-East Grove Street had been established. 

(1) The first is from The Christian's Penny Magazine, and Friend of the People (Congregational Union 1865, ed J Campbell), and singles it out as a centre of vice. 

No dweller at the West-end, says the Rev. G. W. M'Cree, the missionary of St. Giles's, can have any conception of its crowded apartments, narrow alleys, swarming dogs and children; slaughterhouses reeking with blood; pawnbrokers' shops filled to repletion with the pledges of the poor; factories, yards, and workshops, all noisy, ill-ventilated, and very dirty; crooked, unswept, and unsavoury lanes, where every woman seems consumptive, and every man half-starved; beershops, the haunts of thieves, and ginshops echoing with the gabble and blasphemies of heated, angry, wretched people; the famous 'Highway', with its sailors, crimps, hawkers, soldiers, pickpockets, watermen, negro melodists, butchers' men, Lascars, dock labourers, flaunting women more cruel than tigers, policemen walking in pairs, ship-captains with gay girls hanging on their arms, touts from boarding-houses, grimy stokers, Irish emigrants, beggars, and pugilists—in brief, its noise, dirt, crime, want, disease, and misery.

Nor have the public generally any conception of the lamentable condition of hundreds of the children, and the boys and girls at the East-end of London. It is simply fearful. Sunday-schools, Ragged-schools, and Bands of Hope confer great benefits upon many of them, but the majority are shamefully neglected by their parents. Let any one walk through Poplar, Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Commercial-Road, Ratcliff Highway, Aldgate, and Back Church-lane, I as I have done, and he will see scores of children who are not children, but little withered imps of cruelty, falsehood, and vice. He will also see elder boys and girls who are the victims of the most precocious passions—hard, foul,  repulsive, and savage, who hate the parents who forsook them, the law that punishes them, and the Christians who would fain reclaim them. He will hear them coin oaths with horrible facility, see them drink gin like water, and, should they quarrel, he will witness such a fight as will make him expect a murder.

The twin monsters of this vast district of the metropolis are Dirt and Drunkenness. King Dirt is everywhere. There is a fetid smell, a sickly atmosphere, which makes you feel faint and weary. Your lips grow clammy; your linen looks yellow; your hands get defiled: your eyes grow dim; you long for green fields, fresh air, flowers, and bright skies. But, alas! they are not near you, and if, perchance, you should pass some building with 'Ragged-school' over the door, and looking in see a number of poor, white, forlorn children, who, when the teacher says "Rise", stand up and sing — There is a happy land, Far far away, you pass on with tears in your eyes, for you feel, also, that the happy land is indeed far far away.

King Drunkenness, however, reigns quite as much as King Dirt. There are thousands of sober men and women in the East of London, no doubt, and the Bands of Hope there will, it is anticipated, do much to produce a sober future; but any one who explores the localities infected with cholera, and also the contiguous parishes, will be shocked at the evident supremacy of drunkenness. Many men and women seem to drink apparently nearly every penny they can spare, and many which they cannot spare. Hence rags, desolate homes, crime, pauperism, and now pestilence in its most fatal form. I do not exaggerate the state of things. An agent of the London City Mission says:—There is perhaps more wickedness in Shadwell than in any other parish in London. As you walk through the streets the scenes of wickedness that meet your eyes, and the profane language that sounds upon your ears, cannot be described. If such wickedness is met with in the public streets, what is to be met with in public houses where men and women meet to practice wickedness, and to strive to excel each other in sin, and where that man is counted a king among men who can swear the loudest, and who is most fruitful in inventing fresh deeds of darkness? [Pictured is the Cherry Tree public house, Backchurch Lane, in the 1880s, and in the 1990s (between the trees) from the corner of Fairclough Street.]

The seafaring part of the population are much addicted to intemperance, and this tends to produce many sanitary and social evils. A competent witness writes:—It is really lamentable to see the number of our English seamen who live more like the beasts that perish than men possessing immortal souls; and what is a disgrace to our country may be seen in our docks at all times when a ship is leaving for some foreign port, in the fact that our seamen seem as if they could not face the winds and the waves, nor take farewell of their native shores, but in a state of intoxication. The brave and noble captain of the ill-fated ship London said to me before leaving the docks on his last voyage, 'It is a great pity we cannot get our sailors to leave our ports in a sober state.'

An intelligent missionary, who labours in the east, states that Millwall, Cubitttown, Blackwall, Poplar, The Orchard, and Poplar New Town, contain 200 public-houses. What wonder is it, then, that King Drunkenness reigns?

The prevalence of cholera in these parts is, doubtless, increased by the prevalence of intemperate habits. Such habits are associated with late hours, unwashed bodies, filthy homes, predisposition to infection, improper food, heats and colds, debilitated constitutions, and a morbid fear of death—all of which tend to spread the pestilence. Thus, a woman whose brother resides in Scotland, wrote to him for help in the present distress, and he sent her some clothing. She took it to the pawnshop, thence she went to the public-house and got drunk. Both she and her daughter have died of cholera. Another hideous occurrence took place on Sunday last. The driver of a hearse on a 'cholera job' fell from his seat, and lay sprawling in the street, shouting, "Cholera, cholera!" He was drunk!

What can be done to check this horrid vice? One thing might be done. Every publican who supplies liquor to drunken persons should be summoned before a magistrate and fined in the most severe manner. No publican who allows men to get drunk on his premises, or serves them when intoxicated, should be permitted by the police to do so. It is a social crime for any class to profit by drunkenness at such a crisis as this. Drunkenness breeds cholera as marshes breed fever. Dr. Sewall, who visited the cholera hospitals of New York, states that of 204 cases in Park Hospital, there were only six temperate persons.

(2) The second extract, from James Greenwood Unsentimental Journeys, or By-ways of the modern Babylon (Ward & Lock 1867) comments on a particular local trade:

This universal fish-frying is the key to another mystery common to the neighbourhood. In every 'general shop', in every rag and bone shop, in the high street, and in the hundred courts and filthy alleys that worm in and out of it, may be seen solid slabs of a tallowy-looking substance, and marked with a figure 6, 7, or 8, denoting that for as many pence a pound weight of the suspicious-looking slab may be obtained. It is bought in considerable quantities by the fish-eaters for frying purposes, and is by them supposed to be simply and purely the fat dripping of roast and baked meats, supplied to these shops by cooks, whose perquisite it is. This, however is a delusion. The villainous compound is manufactured. There is a 'dripping-maker' near Seabright-street, Bethnal-green, and another in Backchurch-lane, Whitechapel, both flourishing men, and the owners of many carts and sleek cattle. Mutton suet and boiled rice are the chief ingredients used in the manufacture of the slabs, the gravy of bullocks' kidneys being stirred into the mess when it is half cold, giving to the whole a mottled and natural appearance...

(3) Finally is an article 'The Haunts of the East End Anarchist' from the Evening Standard of 2 October 1894. It begins with a description of Backchurch Lane and the small streets to the east of it, before turning to a lurid and thoroughly racist account of the activities of the radical Jewish groups that were meeting in the area. See below for pictures of the streets mentioned.

Just beyond the Proof-house of the Gunmakers' Company near the Whitechapel end of the Commercial Road, begins a series of narrow streets running at right angles to the main thoroughfare, and cutting Fairclough Street at the further extremity, where the Tilbury and Southend Railway passes through the district [see below]. More or less alike in appearance, these byways, for they are no more, consist entirely of small two-storeyed tenements with an occasional stable or cow-shed to break the monotony, and a sprinkling of little shops devoted to coal and dried fish, stale fruit and potatoes, pickled cucumbers and salt herrings, shrivelled sausages and sour brown bread. 

There is Backchurch Lane, where the Irish resident still holds his own against the incoming Russo-Jewish settler, and Berner [now Henriques] Street, where the window bills, written in Hebrew characters. inform you that there are 'loshing' or a 'bek-rum' (back room) to let, and thus proclaim the nationality of its denizens. There is Batty Street wholly given over to the foreign tailors, clickers and 'machiners'; Christian Street, long since an appanage of East End Jewry, and Grove [now Golding] Street, where the low-pitched tenements are so far below the pavement level that the passer-by can comfortably shake hands with the residents off the top floor through the bedroom windows. 

And intersecting all these are a number of courts, alleys, and passages, so dark and narrow, so dirty and malodorous, that the purlieus of Seven Dials and the backways of Clare Market may be called light and airy in comparison with them. Some are blind, others lead through to the adjoining thoroughfare. Some branch off to right and left, others conduct one to open spaces forming irregular quadrangles lined with houses below the street level, so small and snug that the occupier standing in his front parlour can open the door, stir the fire, reach the dustbin outside, or make the bed inside without stirring from the spot. Courts and alleys, streets and yards, all are densely packed, in many cases even to the cellars below lighted by small gratings in the pavement. And the whole district, stretching from Backchurch Lane on one side to Morgan Street on the other, is the resort and principal abiding-place of the East End Anarchists. In the side streets and alleys hereabouts the majority of them live and loaf; within a stone's throw are their favourites haunts, the coffee-shops they patronise, and the private gambling-clubs where many spend their evenings, and close by is their printing press, their temporary club and meeting house, and even the tavern where their Friday evening discussions take place.

The Club and rallying place of the Russo-Jewish Anarchists in East London was until lately in Berner Street. Recent occurrences, however, rendered this an undesirable locality; it was too well looked after by the authorities. So it was transferred to a quieter and more obscure corner, where it was less likely to attract the notice of outsiders; and it is now by no means easy to find. Near the top of New Road which opens into Commercial Road, there is a turning known as Charlotte Street, at one corner of which is an oilmonger's and at the other a tobacconist's. Three doors or so from the former is a narrow archway, bricked over. The roadway beneath is roughly paved, and the kerb is generally the seat of some half-dozen unkempt and dishevelled gossips attended by twice as many barefooted children, Passing under the arch one emerges upon a lane or alley not more than nine to ten feet wide. There is a row of small tenement houses on one side, a dirty brick wall and some stables on the other. A few costers' barrows are backed up against the wall, and the uneven roadway and gutter are invariably sloppy and sloshy, owing to the grooming of horses always going on, and the practice the residents have adopted of emptying their waste water from the upper windows.

At the bottom of this thoroughfare, and of on the left hand side of it, is a small building, half workshop, half warehouse, with a steep sloping roof, the gable end facing the road. The lower part is entirely boarded up, and tightly nailed-to. There is a large double door on the first floor the entire width of the building, and only the upper part of this is glazed so that it is impossible to look in from without. Nor can the edifice be seen from the streets at the end of the lane in which it stands. There are two small doors, but without either bell or knocker, handle or latch to them. A couple of posters are stuck on the doors, one in Hebrew characters, reading Arbeiter Freund, the other in English, 'Workers' Friend', thus announcing this to be the official headquarters of the East End Anarchist propaganda. Knock, kick or batter at the side entry any afternoon or evening, and the big door on the upper floor will be cautiously opened, and you will hear a hoarse Khto tam?  - 'Who's there?' If you are unknown to the speaker, you will be told that no business is done there. If the questioner above recognises you, or you come with a friend, a string arrangement will open the side door to the left, and by means of a wooden staircase you can mount to the upper floor. Go up any afternoon or evening and you will hear the sound, not of political argument or Socialist debate, but of cardboard falling upon wood, and suppressed talk and laughter. The whole of the upper part forms a large oblong room,  hald office, half sitting-room, with a bench or two, upon which a score of young men and women are generally to be found seated, smoking and chattering away, while others are at a small table playing cards. As you enter you may catch one, watching the game, call out, in unctuous Yiddish, Dos kortel begrubt ach, 'that card will bury you' - and the card apparently does settle the player, for he throws it down with an oath and a muttered Shwartzmazel, 'bad luck', and tosses a couple of sixpences over to his companions. The young men usually present are well fed and dressed, belonging apparently to a comfortably-off class, and the young women are altogether comely specimens of 'fair Israel' in East London. But the visitors here are only new adherents, young converts, They are the idle drones of the Anarchist hive. The Club is but a rallying-place for such followers, and a blind for the outside public. For the workers we must look elsewhere. And these will be found in the smaller circles or branches which meet on Sundays, in their own appointed places.

One such branch, comprising a section of the women's organisation, has its meeting place in the very heart of the Anarchist quarter in the Commercial Road. Two or three doors from Morgan Street is a narrow passage by the side of the large public-house in the open thoroughfare. This is London Terrace, and leads to one of the darkest and most forbidding of the alleys that abound in the vicinity, There are houses on one side only, on the other a wall, which effectually prevents any glimmer of sunlight from reaching the tenements., So bad is the reputation of the terrace that none but residents would willingly go through it after dusk, and even those take care to keep their lower window-shutters close-barred and their doors locked as soon as twilight sets in. At the further end the wayfarer down there is as far from help and hearing, if attacked or molested, as though he were a hundred miles instead of a hundred paces away from one of the busiest thoroughfares in London. Half-way across the passage we enter an open doorway, and are ushered down a short flight of stairs by an associate, to whom we have leters of introduction, then across a yard communicating, seemingly, with the block of houses facing Umberstone Street only to find ourselves in an ordinary-aired room filled by two and twenty persons seated like those attending a spiritualist séance, men and women ranged alternately around the wall. They are all Jews and Jewesses, but markedly different from the ordinary stock types encountered in the East End of London. None of the men are over forty, and only two of them wear beards - the rest moustaches and side-whiskers. They are neatly and quietly dressed, and were it not for their Jewish features, would pass unnoticed in any ordinary assembly of Englishmen. The women are, all of them taller than the average, strongly built, and plain-looking, with the heavy features of Russian Jewesses. They were their own hair - which East End Jewesses generally cover with a sheitel, or wig - and none of them have wedding rings. Their expression of face is not prepossessing, for the eye-brows are unusually bushy, and there is an ominous 'v' fold in the depression above the nose of several of them. Their peculiar utterance of certain consonants marks them out as Courlanderinnen, natives of Courland.

In presence of visitors properly vouched for, the proceedings at the meetings go on as usual, at least, so it is said. The programme consists of readings from advanced thinkers, with comments by the members, recitations of poems calculated to foster the spirit of Anarchism, and songs having the same tendency. The readings for the day are from Herbert Spencer, and the criticisms, with the frequent references to the abolition of marriage as an institution, the destruction of capital, and the good times coming when their revolutionary links will 'spew cartridges', are by no means milk for babes. The poems recited are decidedly strong meat. What do English readers say to this for a specimen verse or two? The original is, of course, in Judaeo-German, and it is rendered rough and ready from the original, the raciness of which however, it is impossible to reproduce:

If I dig in the mines of the frozen north,
I'll dig with a will: the ore I bring forth
May yet make a knife - a knife for the throat of the Tsar.
If I toil in the south, I'll plough and sow
Good honest hemp; who knows, I may grow
A rope - a rope for the neck of the Tsar.

Sarah Bernhardt might envy the fire and verve with which this recitation is given by one of the Jewesses, and there can be no possible mistake about the sentiments of the speaker and her auditory, whatever there may be about the merits of the verses. And the same fiery stuff, or fiery stuff of the same description, is being spouted about the same time at half a dozen other branches of the Anarchist League in the district between Backchurch Lane and the New Road, that runs up to Whitechapel. Everything is turned to account, tool for the purposes of its mischievous propaganda. Why, before the meeting is closed one member produces and sings an Anarchist version of 'After the Ball', with a finely-buttered moral drawn from the contrast between the wealthy dancers inside and the shivering poor outside, winding up with an Anglo-Yiddish chorus in which all join.

Of course, all those frequenting the Anarchist resorts of East London are not of the same temper and class as the foregoing. On the other side of the Commercial Road, in Greenfield Street, and about two doors down, is a small, squalid-looking shop, with a window on each side, a door in the centre, and panels painted a dull dirty yellow. The appearance of the whole place is fly-blown and untidy, from the torn curtains that conceal the interior to the shabby hangings that decorate the glass door. There are two rows of brown leather-covered seats running lengthwise inside, some little tables in front of them, a fly-specked mirror with the gilding cracked off, and a battered-faced clock against the side wall. Bills in each of the windows, in Hebrew characters, inform the Yiddish public and passers-by that 'here can be had coffee', also what they spell and call tie (tea), and alle ort von refreshments which every one will easily construe to mean all kinds of refreshments. This is a coffee-house much patronised by the great bulk of the poorer East End Anarchists and Socialists who live in the district, and here some district classes and types may be seen. One soon learns to distinguish them - one, that is, who has some knowledge of the foreign settlers and their dialects, for there are several forms of Yiddish which the accustomed ear as readily discriminated as an educated Englishman the brogue of an Irishman from the lingua Cockneyana of the born East Ender. Here may be noted the restless-eyes Galician, thin and lanky and flat-chested, his head cropped quite close, and remains of his ear-ringlets just showing; there the sly and foxy-looking Lithuanian, whose tongue instantly betrays him, for, like the Ephraimites of old in Judea, he cannot pronounce the 'sh', and says to this day and hour, Sibboleth for Shibboleth. There the restless Pole hobnobs with the muddle-headed German, each styling the other genoss, 'associate', for which privilege the foolish wretches pay their few pence weekly to the astute rascals who run the branches of which they are members. Only a few minutes' walk from the Commercial Road are the King's Arms (closed lately), in Fieldgate Street, and the Sugar Loaf, in Hanbury Street, both favourite resorts of the East End Anarchists, who get up the weekly discussions that tempt poor flies into the trap. Too lazy to work, they find in the mischievous propaganda they spread a capital means of bringing grist to their own particular mills. When not engaged in this work, the leaders and followers of East End Anarchism have only one resource, what they term Klein Shas, literally the 'little Talmud', a euphemism for card-playing; and they spend night after night in the haunts mentioned and the card rooms that abound in the neighbourhoods, gambling away the last coin that should have gone to their underfed wives and children, and returning home to rave afresh against society and the iniquity of those who do not go and do likewise. 

Murders were common in the squalid streets off Commercial Road, but very few of the perpetrators were Jewish. Here are three that hit the headlines (for more detail, see chapter 2 of James Morton East End Gangland (Hachette 2009):

On 28 June 1885 Miriam Angel was murdered at 16 Batty Street. She was 21, from Warsaw, and lived with her husband Isaac and was six months pregnant. When her mother called to visit and got no response, she sent for the doctor, who found her dead with aquafortis (nitric acid) pouring from her mouth, wounds to her head and evidence of rape. The attic lodger Israel Lipski (né Lobulsk), a Polish-Jewish 'stick-maker' (he made umbrella frames) was found in her room, also with acid burns, but survived. He alleged that two fellow-workers, Harry Schmuss and Simon Rosenbloom, had attacked them, demanding his gold chain, though they claimed to have a good relationship with him. He had lived in the house for two years, and was engaged to Kate Lyons, who protested his innocence. A public subscription was taken up to pay for his defence, but the barrister engaged, George Geoghegan, had a drink problem so in the event it was a commercial lawyer who acted for him. The evidence was confused: a chemist from Bell & Co on the Commercial Road said that a foreigner had bought acid a few days earlier and he could tell he was a stick-maker from his clothes, yet it was also said that the crime was not planned in advance; the rules at that time denied a closing speech to the defence if the accused spoke for himself or called witnesses, so Lipski kept silent; and the judge's summing up was heavily weighted against him.
He was convicted and sentenced to hang; the night before his execution at Newgate he made a full 'confession' to the Rev Simeon Singer (a rabbi who at the time of Queen Victoria's jubilee asserted, of the Jewish population of London, we are Englishmen and and the thoughts and feelings of Englishmen are our thoughts and feelings); but the details of this confession didn't add up. A wave of antisemitism followed - 'Lipski' became a term of abuse.
No.16 and the adjoining houses on Batty Street were demolished and rebuilt - pictured is the doorway to no.14, and Batty Street today, looking south towards St George's Estate.

On 20 May 1909 brothers Morris and Marks Reuben were hanged at Pentonville (by the famous Henry and Thomas Pierrepoint). They were arrested at a brothel, 3 Rupert Street, to which two officers from the Dorset, Sproull and McEachern had repaired (taking with them a supply of silver threepences, expecting to be accosted on their spree). Because Sproull, unlike McEachern, was not totally drunk he put up resistance when they were attacked by the Reuben brothers, and a fight ensued resulting in his death. Sproull's watch and chain was found sewn into Morris' trousers. Inspector Wensley, who conducted the investigation, later received a whisky glass engraved with a hanging man and the words 'the last drop'; such gifts were apparently a favourite at Masonic ladies' nights and the like for many year to come.

On 30 December 1920 Marks Goodmacher was hanged at Pentonville - said to be only the second Orthodox Jew to be executed. He was Russian, and had served in the Tzar's army from 1898-99. He and his Sarah settled at 57 Lambeth Street; he worked as a ladies' tailors presser, and they had a son, and a daughter Fanny. Bad-tempered, he drove his wife away; when Fanny married Sion Zeitoun in 1919 they soon moved out, to 17 Grove Street. Goodmacher, bitter at his wife's departure, accused his daughter of infidelity, and his son-in-law of being a ponce; he challenged Fanny to make rconciliation on the Day of Atonement. He and she were found at her home, their throats cut with a razor, and the room in disarray; she was dead, but he survived. He pleaded insanity, but though he was recognised to be hysterical and passionate, the defence failed (as was normal at that time).

The People's Arcade was built at the top of Backchurch Lane around 1906 on the site of a former fish market, and was a centre of immigrant life and activity. When licensed in 1910, it had a seating capacity of 748. In 1918 it showed a Yiddish version of a silent film about the Russian Revolution, Di Royz fun Blut (The Rose of Blood); the film is presumed lost, but as one reviewer said, Theda Bara played a spy who wrecks hearts, railroad trains, slays one after another and concludes the fifth reel by blowing up the peace cabinet, which includes her husband.

In December 1911 it was renamed Premierland ('Pree-mier-land') and it incorporated a boxing ring, where many East End boxers began their careers, many of them Jewish (among them Ted 'Kid' Lewis at the opening match, and Jack 'Kid' Berg). In 1924 Victor Berliner [left] and Manny Lyttlestone presided over its most successful era. A 1920's boxing boom meant there were three or four shows a week. The crowds were a mix of Jewish and Irish immigrants and native cockneys: mostly men who worked as dockers, barrow boys or street traders at nearby Petticoat Lane. Some were current or ex-professional boxers, and generally those who weren't had at least boxed for boys' clubs. As well as Lewis and Berg, Teddy Baldock, Kid Pattenden, Harry Mason, Nipper Pat Daly and Dick and Harry Corbett were big stars. Former fighter Jack Hart was the house referee for much of the period, mostly officiating from outside the ring. Right is a 1929 poster and a photo of a 1930 bout, where Whitechapel-born Al Forman (aka Bert 'Kid' Harris') - who boxed extensively in the USA, Canada and Australia - defeated Fred Webster of Kentish Town to take the lightweight championship. Cannily, Forman promoted the fight, and booked the venue, himself.

By this date, when most boxing venues had become grander in style and scale, it had become dilapidated, and a High Court case T.M. Fairclough & Sons v Berliner [1931] 1 Ch 60 determined that the owners of the property were entitled to relief. (It turned on technical issues of joint tenancy, under the recent 1925 Law of Property Act, and so was frequently cited in the following years.) In due course it became a garage for Fairclough's motor vehicles - see here for the story of this firm: 75 years earlier Thomas Morrison Fairclough has been churchwarden of the parish. In the 1960s, a New Premierland boxing venue was based at Poplar Baths;  the old building later became a warehouse [right  in 1980s].

Charles Kinloch & Co, Backchurch Lane
Charles Kinloch (1828-97) was the youngest child of Captain Charles Kinloch of Gourdie (who had served with the 52nd Regiment in the Peninsular War); he attended Edinburgh Academy and the University of Bonn. He married Harriet Kingston, relative of a well-known children's author. He established a firm of wine and spirits dealers in 1861; the following year they were advertising at the International Exhibition [left], with premises near Mansion House in the City [right].

In 1884, with premises at Backchurch Lane and also at 3 Queen Victoria Street, Thomas Mackay (1849-1912) left the partnership with Kinloch and George Scott. He was a cousin of Kinloch's father who was keen to be involved in social work but accepted advice to start in business. He was an unlikely city merchant, but made a substantial fortune, and retired to write on social questions and to work with the Charity Organisation Society. Henceforth Scott was the managing director until his death in 1893; he had homes at Eagle Villa, Queen's Road in Peckham and at Scott-Rea, Tully Powrie, Perthshire. Two years earlier the firm had been incorporated as Charles Kinloch & Co Ltd, wine, whsky and brandy merchants. In 1888 they advertised themselves as sole UK consignees of Bouvet-Ladubay, St. Hilaire-St. Florent & Epernay, growers and shippers of extra royal, sec and brut. But over the years perhaps their most distinctive product was dark Jamaica rum, which they sold as 'Liquid Sunshine' [labels left].

In 1894-5 a fine new warehouse by Hyman Henry Collins was completed. Note the details, including the carved in and out signs, set into coloured engineering bricks. The firm continued to expand, and pursue creditors - including in 1908 Max Sichel, a bankrupt wine and spirit merchant of Wolverhampton and in 1924 the owners of the unlikely-named Riviera Hotel, Maidenhead.

In 1937 they opened a new factory at Queensbury Road, Wembley [later Park Royal] in 'Modern Movement' style by E.E. Williams & E.G. Winbourne [left - RIBA image]. By 1950 they were supplying 4,000 lines of wines and spirits (including Southern Comfort) nationwide, and owned or part-owned four other companies. Even after they themselves were acquired by Courage and Barclay in 1957, this process continued, as they bought up five other firms as non-trading subsidiaries. In 1961, their centenary year, they produced a 42-page pamphlet The Taste of Kinloch, a handbook of wines and spirits based on the experience of 100 years (written by Pamela Joan Vandyke Price, published G. Street). The company was formally dissolved in 2008; its residual trading address is now Mercer and Hole, International Press Centre, Shoe Lane EC4.

In 1969 Robert Rayleigh & Co, of the Commercial Road, acquired 107 Backchurch Lane and 26/42 Gowers Walk for clients - 74,000 sq ft with footage of 150ft to Backchurch Lane. Collins' warehouse (with glazed rooftop extensions) eventually became apartments in 1999.

Potter and Clarke, Fairclough Street
In 1812 Henry Potter set up as a dealer in leeches, and seedsman and herbalist, in Fleet Market, Farringdon Street, retiring in 1846. The firm of Potter and Clarke became leading wholesale suppliers of herbs for medicinal uses, and from 1907 (or earlier) produced their influential [New] Cyclopædia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, which went through many editions: it was still being published in the 1970s (by Health Science Press, Devon) when use of herbs had disappeared from medical practice. From the turn of the century they also issued their own trade paper, Potter's Bulletin. They were under growing pressure from registered medical practitioners, who claimed exclusive use of the title 'doctor', and reported prosecutions of herbalists for treating diphtheria, for example. A Commission on the far-reaching provisions of the 1858 Medical Act concluded that it was undesirable to attempt to prevent unregistered persons from practising. But the struggles continued. In 1947 Potter & Clarke brought a test action against the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain over the definition of 'substances recommended as a medicine' and 'proprietory designation' under sections 11 and 12 of the Pharmacy and Medicines Act 1941. (See here and here for much earlier local examples of spats over an issue which has many contemporary resonances, and here for an example of a genuine local quack!)

In 1925 they built a new drug grinding plant on Fairclough Street (on the site of Oates Drug Mills) - adjacent to Victoria Mills on Berner [Henriques] Street, designed in 1923 by Wheat and Luker, and now apartments [right].  The Industrial Chemist of 1932 (vol 8, page 9) reported this factory is an entirely self-contained one and has its own water supply from two artesian wells, one of which is at present in operation and giving 4,500 gallons per hour, which is automatically pumped to tanks on the roof. Left is a new gate to Victora Yard, and the factory, now apartments, adjacent to two remaining 19th century buildings (nos. 8 & 10).

One of their products was savin (or sabin) oil, from juniper, which in their 1872 catalogue they advertised at 28s. a hundredweight and dried at 9d. a pound. In 1898 they were selling 'Wind and Water Pills' with juniper oil, and the catalogue, under 'unofficial pills', offered twelve 'corrective' preparations including S1 Corrective (wholesale 5s. 9d. a gross) which contained both ergot and savin,
only supplied to registered chemists, or with signed order form from doctor or hospital. As explained by Malcolm Potts, Peter Diggory & John Peel in Abortion (CUP 1977, p170), savin was widely used as an emmenagogue or abortifacient - like pennyroyal, or indeed Beecham's Pills, usually taken with gin. However, well into the 20th century advertisements, and entries in DIY medical manuals, used a wide range of coy euphemisms to conceal its real purpose, including female ailments, stoppages, irregularities and obstructions. In 1903 Dr David of Notting Hill offered his 'female pills' along with a little book for married people (most invaluable) sent free on receipt of a stamped addressed envelope.

1921 Street Directory of Backchurch Lane
This listing shows the mix of large warehouses and small ground-floor shops and businesses (in most cases with domestic accommodation above), almost all of which were Jewish-run.

West Side
... here is Hooper Street ...
        Kinloch Chas & Co Ltd,
wine merchants
109 Bach Harris, egg merchant
111 Stepnitsky Lewis, tobacconist
111 Herman Philip, barrow lender
111 Yodiesh & Yuchetel, smiths
113 Jancovitch Jacob, harness maker
119 Shusterman Abraham, chandlers shop [i.e. a general store]
       Park Robert & Co Ltd,
freight brokers (Arcade works)
       Premierland Ltd,
cinematograph theatre
149 Herhowitz Mrs Gezalla, dining rooms
        Bryan Corcoran Ltd,
[in 1863 Stephen Noakes, wine cooper and commission agent for the sale of wine,
ale and stout, trading from this address was declared bankrupt;
in 1884 the shop and parlour were leased by Stephen Beedham to Morris Witkoski
and his son Henry Morris Witkoski who were convicted at the Old Bailey
for fraudulenty ordering large quantities of fish from various Grimsby and Hull suppliers, delivered to Mint Street station.
George Pearson next door at 150 was a cat's-meat dealer.]

Breiterman Jacob, fancy box maker
155 to 159 West John & Sons Ltd, brassfounders

East Side
2 Lipman Nathan, dining rooms
... here is Pinchin Street ...
     Browne & Eagle Limited,
wool warehouse keepers
... here is Ellen Street ...
66 Smith Abraham, tailor
68 Gullovitch Simon, confectioner
70 Gershman Morris, tailor
72 Grybus John, beer retailer
     [later rebuilt as the Dog & Truck, pictured below
... here is Edward Street ...
74 Zuckerkandel Solomon, provision merchant
78 Hoosin Hagee, refreshment rooms
... here is Boyd Street ...
     Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd
... here is Fairclough Street ...
120 Bloom Mrs Kate, chandlers shop
... here is Sander Street ...
128 Yudkin Mrs Annie, fried fish shop
130 Ginsberg Mrs Sarah, tobacconist

Pinchin Street [see below for the origin of the name] runs alongside the railway viadact which led north from the main line to the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway's goods depot on Commercial Street, opened in 1886, one of several short spurs to goods stations in the area [see map, right]. At the same time, a hydraulic pumping station to power the equipment shifting wagons to and from street level was built in nearby Hooper Street - see here for details. The street's main claim to fame is as a 'Ripper site'. On 10 September 1889 a headless female torso, possibly that of Linda Hart, a local prostitute, was found under one of the railway arches - many sites refer!

The goods depot closed in 1967 and most of the viaduct was demolished, leaving a short spur which campaigners have fought to save as a nature space [pictured left], a space housing local businesses in the arches, and to prevent further local overcrowding. Here are various views of the street, including arch no.15 some years ago where a 'traditional' craft was practised. Among current businesses 'under the arches' is the Hand & Eye Press, started in 1985 at no.6 and using traditional letterpress technology; far right shows the space typically in one of the units.

At the eastern end of Pinchin Street, beyond the arches, are two interesting buildings - one old, one new. At no.2 [left, 3 views] on the corner with Christian Street is the Pinchin Street Studios and Group Practice, constructed in 2007 by Urban Space Management Ltd from 35 shipping containers to provide ten units - a doctors' surgery on the first two floors, office space on the next three, and with a roof garden and plant nursery with spectacular views. Next door [right, two views], at no.4 is the former warehouse (now flats) of Pinchin and Johnson, a paint company selling oils and turpentines started in 1834 in Silvertown. They opened branches around the world, and were listed on the original FT 30 index. In 1960 it was bought by Courtaulds who merged it with International Paints in 1968. ('L' prefix codes for nitro-cellulose car paints refer to their products.) Opposite is a mosque, the East London Markazi Masjid.

Street scenes past and present

- Backchurch Lane (x2)
- Berner Street
- Fairclough
[named for the Fairclough family] & Berner Streets

1938 - three street corners:
 - Fairclough and Brunswick Streets
 - Christian and Ellen Streets
 - Fairclough & Christian Streets, the Beehive public house
   [see below Harkness House, on this site today]
 - plus Berner [now Henriques] Street

Backchurch Lane today:
- looking north
- from the corner of Fairclough Street [detail below]
- a warehouse conversion
- new apartments
- two views of the Dog and Truck public house at no.72 (designed William Stewart 1935, to serve the Berner Estate behind)
- in the snow
See here for Brown & Eagle's wool warehouse buildings. At 122-126 are the offices of Thames Reach, a homeless charity.

Other streets:
- Fairclough Street
- Harkness House, Fairclough and Christian Streets
- a warehouse conversion, Ellen and Forbes Streets
- Bicknell House, Ellen Street (Berner Estate)

- Boyd Street
Everard House, Boyd Street
- Henriques Street

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