diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 30, 2003

Famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house
Number 10 - Mile End Park

parking on the road

It may look yellow from below, but that bridge in the photograph is the famous Green Bridge at Mile End. Underneath - the A11, one of London's busiest trunk roads. Over the top - a millennium-funded tree-topped bridge joining the two halves of Mile End Park. And very close by, slightly to the south, probably the most famous of all the places within 15 minutes of my house...

One particular Friday in June 1381, Mile End was swarming with revolting peasants. They'd come from the villages of Essex and Kent, roughly sixty thousand of them, to protest against the new poll tax and the general unfairness of feudal life. This was people power in action on a massive scale, and London's first ever flash mob. In an attempt to defuse this potentially explosive situation, the teenage king Richard II rode out from the Tower of London to meet the peasants here at Mile End Green. "Oi you lot!" he shouted, "I'm your king." Or some other historic words to that effect. Richard was canny enough to listen and then agree to all their demands, verbally at least. Some of the men were appeased and headed for home, but many could not be bought so easily.

The next day the remaining peasants met the King again, this time at Smithfield just outside the city of London. Their spokesman was Kentish bloke Wat Tyler who presented (and upped) the list of demands. When Wat didn't get his way an argument broke out, quickly escalating to a scuffle in which Tyler was fatally wounded. The crowd rose up and threatened the King, but young Richard bravely raised his hand and agreed to become their leader instead. Clever lad. The mob was shepherded out of town, the Peasants Revolt was over, and Mile End Green went back to being just common.

v1 no1Violence returned six centuries later when Mile End was hit by London's first ever flying bomb. It was just one week after D-Day when the first V1 rocket appeared in the dawn sky over East London. Local people heard the low drone suddenly splutter to a halt, followed by an eerie silence. This being the very first doodlebug, nobody was prepared for two thousand pounds of explosives to suddenly fall from the sky, killing three people and destroying a railway bridge. So began London's doodlebug summer, with more than 2000 flying bombs launched from occupied France creating sudden havoc and destruction, especially across the south and east of the city.

green spaceAfter the war, East London was pock-marked by desolate bombsites. Government planners saw their chance to clear the remaining slums and rebuild. The Abercrombie plan proposed a massive increase in urban parkland, including a 90 acre strip of land alongside a mile of the Regents Canal. Houses were knocked down and industry removed to make way for the new Mile End Park. Initial enthusiasm floundered over the decades, the park suffering both from lack of facilities and lack of visitors. It took an imaginative £12 million lottery bid to bring the park back to life, the centrepiece of which is the unique Green Bridge, linking the park together at last. Mile End now boasts an open space fit for the 21st century, with themed areas for art, sport, play and ecology, and it's beautifully done. Now an oasis of calm, you'd never believe a king once nearly lost his life here at the hands of an angry mob.

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