Social History


During this advertisement break, Hokey-Pokey may be bought from the gentleman with the handcart at the front.

Victorian ice cream - a.k.a. Hokey-Pokey. Contamination often proved to be a serious health risk. Photograph ©Public Domain.

Victorian ice cream – a.k.a. Hokey-Pokey. Contamination often proved to be a serious health risk. Photograph ©Public Domain.

Consume at your own risk; the management refuses to accept the presence of fleas, torulæ, bacilli, lice, bed bugs, cotton fibres, bugs legs, straw, cocci, human hair or cat and dog hair in the ha’penny ices. Nor will the management be responsible if you contract scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid or diarrhoea  from partaking of these treats.

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Activity Media‘s ‘Right Track’ DVDs have been helping modellers improve their techniques for almost 10 years. The latest in the series – number 19, believe it or not – takes us right back to the beginning with layout planning and design.

Unless your surname name is Freezer or Rice (oh, OK then, or Dunkley!) then chances are that at some point in the planning of your latest masterpiece you’ve sat with a blank sheet of paper in front of you and a waste basket full of scrunched up paper trailing behind.

Fortunately Paul Lunn’s name can be added to that list of luminaries of layout design, and coupled with Paul Marshall-Potter’s skilled eye for translating a design from paper to stunning model, this team presents a powerful addition to the Right Track series.

Many of us railway modellers are wedded to a scale and gauge, and this is the first sacred cow to be unceremoniously kicked over, and a compelling argument is put forward for choosing scale based on wants and needs from a new layout. Coupling choices are the next element to stand in the dock, and not just on the usual ‘play value versus scale appearance’ card we’re all so used to hearing, but instead based on how train length is affected by one type or the other, and how that impacts on our design. Thought provoking stuff.

With our comfortable world now turned upside down, we’re suddenly find ourselves within the habitat of the modeller; all so often our esoteric little hobby drags us away from family down into the shed at the bottom of the garden on a wet and windy night or up into the sauna-like humidity of a loft space in high summer. Not the always the best for harmonious household relations, and it needn’t be so. Based on a stylised representation of footfall though the house, we’re shown where hitherto unconventional sites for a ‘shelfie’ may in fact prove to be ideal and leave us feeling a little less like Johnny-no-mates.

On to the nitty-gritty; what do we want from a layout? Actually, what do we need might be the better question, and after writing out a checklist we’re building a quick mock-up from card and foam to see if all these elements of desire and necessity actually work together. Our perception of perspective, layout width and the backscene are briefly challenged – a foreshadow of things to come later in the programme.

Another chestnut roasted on the fire is the argument of prototype verses freelance trackplan, and Paul Lunn takes us though developing a layout based on a prototypical plan which ticks most of the boxes on our checklist. This is smartly followed up by the design of a freelance layout based on prototypical practice, but developed specifically to incorporate the choices we’ve made and rounds off the first hour of the DVD.

Moving from a two dimensional plan to a three dimensional layout can be a daunting task, and Paul Marshall-Potter describes how a very workable trackplan he had for a transition-period urban East End layout just simply didn’t ring true once he began the 3D process.

This revelation sets the scene for the next hour’s viewing where Paul Lunn takes the plan and turns it into three completely different but plausible alternatives;

  • A 1950s West country bucolic station which introduces us to the necessity of the overall visual balance of a layout
  • A 1980s aggregate works, in which the often haphazard placement of view-blocks are challenged, where features are moved to de-compact the view, promote sight-lines, and to make their inclusion and placement more logical. In addition, lighting and how to eliminate shadows from the backscene are considered.
  • Wharfdale Road where we revisit some of the earlier choices such as space, couplings, length of sidings and loops and the use of smaller prototypes to suit the layout footprint. Paul Lunn takes the original premise, converts it into a layout design, and then Paul Marshall-Potter adapts it to build the DVD’s project layout.

Again we revisit earlier themes and are shown practical examples of how to force perspective at the ends, the advantages of a natural eye-level viewpoint, how to control sight-lines at the entrance/exit of the scenic section and the effect of curved corners on the backscene.

Photograph ©Activity Media

Rounding this section off we also consider how a viewer’s eye is naturally drawn to the centre of the layout, and how the often-used half-relief gable ends of buildings – which look great head on, but rather silly from the side – can be diffused with tree lines to create a more convincing background.

With the second hour up we move to the inner sanctum where the crown jewels are kept; Paul Marshall-Potter’s two layouts, Bawdsey and Albion Yard. The former was originally built by Chris Matthewman in the early 1990s, and was based on 1930s practice in East Anglia. Paul discusses the changes he has made to bring the timeframe forward to the transitional period of the early 1960s, the weaknesses of the typical early 1990s construction elements such as open fiddle yards, segmented low backscenes with right-angled corners and how he’s overcome them.  Designing layout construction for transport is also touched on. Albion yard, on the other hand, was designed and built solely by Paul and  incorporates modern and some very forward-thinking elements, such as the long and high single piece printed backscene which extends beyond the scenic area into the enclosed fiddleyard for visual purposes.

All in all it’s a valuable addition to the Right Track range, and particularly if you’re at the beginning of a new project, or part way through one and you’re feeling jaded as it’s not working out as you’d hoped.

On being sent my gratis reviewer’s copy, I was told to tell it as it is; good or bad – don’t pull your punches. Despite not receiving my promised reviewer’s fee of a bacon sandwich (you owe me in sauce Mistah PMP), I thoroughly recommend this DVD to newcomers of the hobby and grizzled old hands alike.

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Would you Adam & Eve it? Overnight the number of visitors to this journal has hit the 50,000 mark. I have to admit, it’s a bit humbling, for in model making terms, never before has so much been written with so little to show for it, and I can only assume that it’s the historical aspect to the journal over the last two and a half years has proved to be popular, but I want to redress the balance to a 50/50 split between historical witterings and modelling progress reports over the next 12 months.  Stop laughing over there in Cambodia.

The ability to see which country readers are in has only been available to me for the last four months, and perhaps not surprisingly visitors from the UK  account for more than 8/10ths of visitors, with the USA and Australia in second and third place respectively.

Of course there are many dropping in through various search engines – Google, not surprisingly leading the pack, and I suspect image searches or unrelated terms picking up some obscure factoid in the journal accounts for some of the more exotic locations such as Vietnam appearing in my daily reports (or maybe someone from Ho Chi Minh City really is interested in a Victorian knocker-up!).

However, referrals  from specific sites, whether through links I’ve created, or those made by website owners who have a genuine interest in what’s written here also account for a large proportion of visitors. Andy York’s RMWeb forum leads the way by a considerable margin (and I’ve recently set up an RSS feed to a mirror of this blog over there), with Steve Fulljames’ Fairlight Works blog,  Cynric Williams’ Western Thunder forum, James Wells’  Eastmoor Blog,  several threads on London Reconnections (thanks Lemmo!) and Paul Marshal Potter’s Albion Yard all sending a considerable footfall this way. Thanks chaps!

Some referrals cause a sharp intake of breath, or a smirk, and some pure bewilderment such as the recent ones from the infectionvaginalyeast blog… I’ll omit the link to that last one and leave you to find it yourself if you really have a need to find out more.

A couple of weeks ago, with his eye on the stats,  Graham asked what was I planning to do to mark the occasion, and I replied that a celebratory old photograph was the obvious choice, but of what?

A pie and mash shop? Too Beckham…

A pub? Too Cameron…

A Royal Jubilee? Too Will.i.am…

After a long search it turns out that excepting the aforementioned Royal Jubilees of 1887 and 1897 and annual ecclesiastical celebrations, very little merrymaking en masse seems to have gone recorded by camera and emulsion, and it wasn’t until the Peace Parties of 1919 photographs that  street revelries seem to have become more common.

You might expect that the hard life of the average East Ender of the late Victorian and early Edwardian period gave them little little reason for conviviality. Not so, it seems, as given half a chance  and a little music, folk were more than inclined to cast off the burden of everyday woe and dance a cheerful jig, and there are plenty of contemporary photographs to prove it. Indeed, the work and play of the East End inhabitants became quite a popular subject for contemporary postcards.

Photograph © Public Domain

And so here is a perfect example; the photo was probably taken during the mid-Edwardian period and turned into a postcard by J. Beagles & Co circa 1910. It is entitled ‘The Piano Organ’ and shows that that the arrival of the organ player and his repertoire of jolly tunes to a typical East End street is all the excuse needed for the locals to have a bit of a knees-up.

Thanks for reading!

The world of Basilica Fields is more than a railway…  Basilica Fields includes and represents a part of the East End of London across a broad spectrum of geography, commerce, life…  a window into a world that is beyond memory.   Just the other day, probably sometime next week, a discussion took place about the interior of the late 19th century hovels which spread across the East End like jam on butter….  smeared onto the face of the world.  Neither of the authors could recall much knowledge of how the rooms were arranged or the approximate sizes of the buildings which were “home” (or “Des Res”) to thousands of those who spent most if not all of their lives in the dismal sprawl of this part of London.

So why were we discussing such a subject…. and how does that discussion relate to the Quirky corner of Basilica Fields?

The sketches of the The Rookery and of Angel Yard depict row upon row upon row of dreary houses, many of those houses are not much better than slums and soon to be swept away.  Those rows occupy a significant area of the proposed scenes and having dimensions of a representative, typical, building will be of great value when setting out the miniature real estate.

In best Quirky tradition this post offers an opportunity for readers to help with some questions and thoughts.  What might have been the size of a terraced house, for a labourer, in the East End?  How many rooms downstairs and upstairs?  What would be the size of the yard and how big might be the requisite out-house?

Photos, drawings, pointers…  what do you have that can help us in this quest?

regards, Graham

I recently chanced upon the rather unique Spitalfields Life blog, the (gentle) author of which has committed to write one post a day until 2037 – a task which seems to me to be a very tall order, but kudos if that comes to pass! Covering not only historical, but contemporary life stories of the area, by far the greater proportion of posts are largely irrelevant in the context of Basilica Fields, but nevertheless are usually interesting, and the writing style always engaging, so I’ve bookmarked it as one of my ’10 minute coffee break browses’ as I work back through the archive of posts.

Some posts have an immediate air of relevance for us here, others appear less so at first glance, but on closer examination are a treasure trove. A fantastic example of the latter is a post on photographs of car crashes at Clerkenwell during the late 50s – a somewhat dark and macabre theme one might think, but actually that’s not the case, and there’s a tangible, attractive atmosphere to the remarkable images. However, as I scrolled down through the post the last thing I expected to see was a number of photographs unintentionally detailing not only the civil engineering of the Met & Widened lines in the vicinity of Ray Street Gridiron, but a number of the old buildings on the periphery too. Perfect!

For the connoisseur of old Victorian and Edwardian photos, the posts here, here and here give an interesting insight to not only the East End, but other parts of the sprawling Metrop. You can click a number of these images to enlarge, then click to enlarge further.

There are many more gems hidden within the site (bollards…no, seriously!), but I’m not going to spoon feed you. Well, not too much…

All change! (Peter Gabriel, Supper’s Ready)

“[The Rookery]… crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud and threatening to fall into it – as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage…” Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist.

A house move on the horizon means some changes to the current plans for Basilica Fields. Don’t worry, this journal isn’t going to disappear into the ether or grind to a halt, nor am I instead going to take up a new hobby knitting my own slippers, but the intention to build Artillery Lane as the first segment of Basilica Fields is now under intense scrutiny.

None of the potential new houses we’ve looked at so far have an outbuilding large enough to house the scenic segment of AL and I don’t really want to go down the road of constructing such a building just yet. All have a larger workshop space than I already enjoy, and would see me up and running in the day job again very quickly.

The change means that this journal will at last slip into the format which I had initially conceived; that being research on one segment (in this case Artillery Lane) will continue apace, while building of another segment (The Rookery) gets under way. In fact, initially I’ll be building just a portion of The Rookery, and not the whole shebang, but that’s all to come.

So, the next few posts will be dedicated to unpacking The Rookery before you, the research for which is mostly well in hand.

© Public Domain

The backs of houses at Collingwood Street, part of the Old Nichol Rookery, Bethnal Green. It’s obviously Monday morning with the washing on the lines, and a bathtub hangs from the eaves of the outbuilding in the distance. Lots of lovely chimneys and pantiles!

After the Great War all of this slum and more was swept away and the first post-World War One London County Council housing built on the site.

I’ve been sent a link to a short article illustrated with a number of contemporary photos of the slum children in the East End 100 years ago. The subject isn’t your typical DailyWail Maul Mail fayre (no mention of celebrities…), and by necessity it skims over much of the realities of life with a few factoids chucked in for good measure and shock value.  I half-expected “…and this is where we’re heading in 2011…”  at the end of the piece, and no doubt one or more will surface sooner or later in the reader’s comments. Edit: Blimey, I should have put some money on that. One appeared even before I’d finished this post…

However, it’s the photos of the children that steal this piece, and their eyes speak volumes.

Further edit: OK, they’ve changed a couple of photos since I posted the above and have employed a reject comedian to rewrite the captions. So much potential for an article, such a waste.

If you’re really interested in the social conditions of Victorian London, then the contemporary Victorian Street Life in Historic Photographs by John Thompson, first published in 1877 and reprinted by Dover Publications in 1994 is a fantastic, and often quite shocking work. Highly recommended.

Victorian Street Life in Historic Photographs
John Thompson
First published 1877.
New edition edition published 1994 by Dover Publications Inc.
ISBN-10: 0486281213
ISBN-13: 978-0486281216

Old Castle Street synagogue, Whitechapel.  ©Public Domain.

Following the dispersal of the Huguenots and Irish after the collapse of the silk weaving industry, in the middle of the nineteenth century a significant number of Dutch Jews or Chuts settled in the Tenterground area of Spitalfields, bringing with them the trades they practised in Amsterdam such as cigar, slipper and cap making. These tradesman and their families emigrated due to the prejudice which barred them from the guilds in the Netherlands and the slide of the Dutch economy.

Following the assassination of Alexander II of Russia in 1881, 120,000 Ashkenazic Jewish émigrés, mostly impoverished rural workers, fled persecution in Europe and also settled in England. A significant proportion of these refugees gravitated to the East End, often sub-dividing the old Huguenot houses to accommodate as many families as possible, until in some areas Jews accounted for up to 95% of the population. Their vast numbers initially caused much local tension, not only between themselves and the Chuts (whose practices such as eating non-kosher seafood were considered unclean), but with other local communities too.

British Brothers League poster, 1902

A popular and media backlash ensued, gaining the support of notables and the trade unions which resulted in the formation of the anti-semetic restrictionist group The British Brothers League, the demands of which prompted the government to introduce The Aliens Act of 1905. The Act sought to control immigration by preventing paupers and criminals from entering the country, but also ensured asylum for the religious and politically persecuted.

Before long, mechanised cigarette making machines caused the cigar economy to collapse and the Chuts began to disperse, some returning to Amsterdam, others emigrating to the USA, and some assimilated themselves into the wider Jewish community in the East End.

The language of the Ashkenazim – Yiddish – a High Germanic dialect formed from a fusion of Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic and Romanic languages, and written in the Assyrian script, soon predominated the area and could be seen in shops, signs, billboards, newspapers and theatres. Food and its preparation was obviously important, and soon shops and markets began to thrive, such as kosher butchers, bakers, fish sellers, general grocers and sundry stores.

Of course religion played an important part in Jewish life, and just as everyone in England lived within the sound of a church bell, synagogues sprang up to tend the spiritual needs and to provide welfare to the living, and chevra kadisha to deal with the practicalities and rituals of the dead.

Old Castle Street synagogue in Whitechapel was a typical example of old housing converted to a place of worship within the Jewish ghetto. The entrance (to the right of the wagon) was an obvious feature, situated as it was within a residential and commercial terrace. Joseph Polowski, a china and glass wholesaler, had his export warehouse to the right, as well as a corner shop beyond the wagon in Wentworth Street (one of the border streets of the Tenterground enclave), in which, incidentally, there were no fewer than fifteen kosher butchers by 1901.

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