Sunday, July 22, 2012


Tevye is a true Cockney - born in Whitechapel, within the sound of Bow bells. Before meeting friends for lunch last weekend we had time to take a walk around the area where he lived as a child. Very different now in some ways, most obviously in that the Jewish community that dominated Whitechapel has since moved out to the suburbs and replaced by more recent immigrants, mainly Bangladeshi. In other ways not so different - much of the area is still poor and run-down, sandwiched between the brash, glitzy City (the City is the financial centre of London, think Wall Street) and the up-market renovated areas of Docklands.

We started with Petticoat Lane market, but the road layout at the Whitechapel end had changed so much that Tevye no longer recognised it. The market gets its name from the garments once made there. The Victorians changed the road name to Middlesex Street to avoid public mention of undergarments but the original name stuck to the market.

Next we walked down Whitechapel Road.

The main claim to fame of the area is that it was the stalking ground of the infamous Jack the Ripper, a mass murderer of the 1890s who was never caught and has been the subject of interest and speculation ever since. Posters and memorabilia in this shop window advertised "Jack the Ripper" walking tours.

Running between Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road is the street where Tevye lived. The buildings are divided into units of six flats (apartments), in three storey pairs of two flanking a single entrance. In his day they were owned by the nearby London Hospital and were very basic, without bathrooms and with a single toilet shared between each pair of flats. Since then they have been renovated and bathrooms installed. This end of the road is now social housing run by a housing association. Someone living in Tevye's old block was none too tidy, with bags of rubbish scattered around the entrance. Bizarrely the other end of the street is Georgan terraced houses which sell for a fortune (I googled and found one for sale for £795,000!).

Tevye's flat was on the middle floor. The "No Ball Games" sign was written in English and (I presume) Bengali. In Tevye's day that rule either was not there or was routinely ignored, as he remembers spending a lot of time hitting a tennis ball against the wall!

Heading down to St Katherine's Dock for lunch we passed Tevye's old primary school, a fairly grim Victorian building brightened by a centenary mosaic at the entrance.

More photos from our day out to come later.


Catherine said...

I enjoyed this post. I enjoy British history, architecture, and culture. And it was fun to see where Tevye grew up.

Btw, we have a Greek exchange student now who looks like your middle daughter (sorry, forgot their new blog names).

Like sunshine in the home said...

What a fascinating little tour. Places seem to change so quickly.

I chuckled at the point about the Victorians changing the name of Petticoat lane, lol!

Missus Wookie said...

I know that area well and so smiled to see the photos. Just finished "Call the Midwife" recommended by you - fascinating again. The area has changed so much since my friends lived there twenty years ago - must have changed even more since Teyve lived there!