I spent this afternoon walking the streets of the East End. I wrapped up warm and joined the London Walks guided tour of the Unknown East End. Fascinating stuff. A rabble gathers outside Whitechapel tube station at 2pm every Sunday afternoon, waits for the guide to make him/herself known, pays a fiver, then sets off to hear about the real history of the area. It's one of many tours this company does and, after today, I'm tempted to go on a few more (but maybe only when it's a bit warmer).
Some things I learnt about the East End this afternoon: • Jack the Ripper's first victim, Polly Nicholls, was taken to a police mortuary that's now a McDonalds.
• Mile End is so called because London's Jews were once forbidden to live within one mile of the City of London.
• When Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell in the eye in the Blind Beggar pub, the record 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More' was stuck on the jukebox.
• John Merrick, the 'Elephant Man', was exhibited as a freak on the Whitechapel Road until he was rescued by a compassionate local surgeon.
• Winston Churchill attended the Siege of Sidney Street, a famous shootout ending in the jewellery robbers' hideout burning to the ground.
• Joseph Stalin lived for three months at the gothic Tower House in Fieldgate Street, now boarded up and ripe for redevelopment.
• William Booth founded the Salvation Army in Whitechapel to fight the social injustice of Victorian times.
• The Liberty Bell was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, so I guess it's also their fault that it cracked.