Weird & Wonderful London 5


This was taken in 1933 but feels a century older. The villagers are receiving their Maundy peas – 20 bushels of peas and 2 bushels of wheat were given to the poor of the parish every Maundy Thursday, in a ritual dating back to 1572. Maundy money is still handed out today at a service, where a monarch or a royal official ceremonially distributes small silver coins known as Maundy money as symbolic alms to elderly recipients, chosen because of the Christian service they have given to the Church and the community. A red purse contains ordinary coins while a white one contains silver Maundy coins amounting to the same number of pence as the years of the sovereign’s age. Britain is mad. And that vicar looks well dodgy.

Oh no, it’s those frightful debutantes again! This one’s looking apprehensively at a cake big enough for someone to jump out of, possibly a landowning Rees-Mogg type who’s going to drag her off to his estate in Boringhamshire. Did they know this was their last chance to be sold off to the gentry before the Queen disbanded them?

Speaking of the Queen, here’s Elizabeth II getting to race the penguins down the slides at Lubetkin’s delightful penguin pool at the London Zoo, now no longer used because it gives the flightless birds hardpad. She got to do what the rest of us longed to do as children.

Another shot that looks at least 100 years older than it actually is. In London’s East End there were still roads with ancient tollgates that lasted right up until WWII. This was taken in the 1930s, when my mum would have been ten years old.

Here’s an old tradition that died out in the 1970s. Families in poorer parts of the city took two weeks off in the summer to live communally in the Kentish countryside, picking hops to make beer. The hop-pickers had parties after a day’s work and often whole neighbourhoods went together. Children seemed to have an especially raucous time of it, probably because they were pissed the whole fortnight.

If they didn’t go hop-picking families headed for the coast in charabancs (this is in Bournemouth), although sadly they never mastered the continental style of looking good on the beach. Dad with his knotted hankie and his trousers pulled up round his ears and mum with a newspaper on her head is a far cry from a tanned Italian in a thong. Thank God. Let’s have none of that continental vulgarity.

Finally, a thought in these less-than-kindly times. While so many suffered under the Nazis in central Europe, others arrived in the UK as refugees and were met by townspeople who turned out with welcome wagons of food and – of course – tea before accepting them into their homes. Now they would be met by Nigel Farage and his blackshirts.

I plan to dip into a much larger collection of big-format photographs going back to the birth of photography, some showing how entire neighbourhoods deteriorated from 1900 to 1925. This is the last of the photo albums for now, but they’ll be back later in the year.

27 comments on “Weird & Wonderful London 5”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    I’ve loved these posts

  2. Martin Tolley says:

    What Rachel said.

  3. Vincent C says:

    At the risk of stating the obvious, Dad not only has his knotted hankie but appears also to be wearing his long johns – one should always be prepared in case the weather gets a bit chilly!

    One summer there was holy war in our house – my sister wanted to “go ‘oppin'” with the family of one of her friends and my parents refused to agree.

  4. Brooke says:

    @SteveB: — I recall you recommended a book on causality/inference. But cannot remember author. Would you remind me, please? (I think it was an English edition).

  5. admin says:

    What’s shocking about the sunbathers is that they’re probably a lot younger than they look.

  6. Dorothy Knudson says:

    These do take us back to a former time. Denver had horse drawn milk delivery wagons up to around 1940.

  7. Brooke says:

    Hop-picking–try John Rhode, The Harvest Murder, among others.

  8. Jo W says:

    We went ‘oppin’ when I was coming up to my fifth birthday. I’m not sure I ever forgave my parents for that.! Pillowcases stuffed with straw and palliasses the same. Turning over in bed often gave you a hard bit of straw in your ear. Not conducive to sleep! 🙁

  9. Peter Dixon says:

    Pillowcases stuffed wi straw? ‘oppin? Summer? A dad?

    None of this happened in the north east of England where you had to save up for 5 years to have a summer and children had to wear the iron cleated boots their father’s brought back from t’hunger march.

    Seriously; After the Jarrow March every participant was given a 3 piece suit by monied supporters. There were so many, and such little money locally that ex marchers walked for up to 10miles to pawn them for money to feed their families.

    The Prime Minister had refused to meet them and pretty much wiped his hands of a problem caused by industrialists and his own government.

    Of course, history never repeats itself.

  10. Peter Tromans says:

    There used to be a tailor in the Black Country well known for making what were known as ‘armhole trousers’. For obvious reasons, they were worn with braces, not a belt.

  11. SteveB says:

    I can’t see hop picking in kent without thinking of THAT film!

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Had the quick “what’s up in your life” after a board meeting this afternoon. One is leaving Sunday for a fortnight in Manchester with a quick run to London for the Van Gogh exhibit, one is visiting family outside St. Andrews to improve his accent and have the weather harden him, one is taking a four day trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island to see an ages old First Nations settlement site, one is staying home due to the high cost of some dental surgery, and one is going to Ontario for a Nurses’ reunion. I’m going to Cranbrook next week to look at trains and, with other spouses, make a fascinator. The question to me was whether I would be teaching how to do that this fall.
    I know you’re either in or going to Barcelona, Chris, so I hope you have a pleasant and productive time. For everyone else, I hope you have some good times planned, too.

  13. snowy says:

    Some people seem to have forgotten quite how.. invigorating the breeze usual Force 8 gale was at the British seaside. You could spend all day shivering and still get completely sunburnt. [If you failed to keep your bucket at least half full of sand, it would bound off across the beach braining any toddlers that happened to be in it’s path.]

    Pater appears to have fully embraced Continental modes and tossed off his starched collar, [visible under the deckchair]. His ‘high-rider’ strides are cut to be worn with a waistcoat, the fashion of the time, the overlapping of garments stopped ‘shirt escape’ and prevented a gentlemen discovered without his jacket looking like he was wearing a badly packed parachute. [A look now seen in nearly every photo ever taken at a Wedding ‘Disco’.]

  14. Ian Luck says:

    It’s never cold at the seaside, only ‘bracing’. And if you’ve never sprinted down a beach after the wind has taken a fancy to your deckchair, towel, umbrella, and windbreak, then you’re not doing it right. Tea never tasted better than when purchased from a hut on the seafront that had the word ‘TEAS’ writ large on it’s corrugated iron roof. I’d like to mention the great Vivian Stanshall’s favourite Tea hut, at Shanklin, on The Isle Of Wight. The sign amused him greatly, bearing the unpunctuated legend: ‘SPADES BALLS SAUSAGES TEAS’. He would bring friends there just to laugh at the sign. Tea on the beach was something a lot of non English people might find odd. You bought your tea, and paid a cover for all the associated paraphernalia: Teapot, Jug of extra hot water, Cups, Milk in a jug, Strainer, Spoons, Sugar in a bowl, and your tray. Make the tea as you like, enjoy, and return all the bits and bobs, get your cover charge back. Easy. Life was simpler then. But people looked older, especially in monochrome photographs. There were no proper ‘Teenagers’ as we know them, just miniatures of Mum and Dad.

  15. snowy says:

    Never saw anywhere that offered anything so refined as a tea service.

    Eating a’ la plage, consisted of a largely grit based diet.

    Packet soup with grit and two slices of standard white loaf, [SWL], with a light dusting of grit.

    Tinned frankfurters wrapped in SWL, I say wrapped, day old bread tends to snap into long strips, leaving one holding something like a suspiscously meaty mille-feuille, enlivened with dash of tomato sauce and grit.

    Chef’s day off, Lunch consists of SWL oiled with some extremely runny margerine either side of a slice of very sweaty corned beef; with grit.

    As above but featuring Curly Cheese, and grit.

    Inspired by the proximity to the sea, a dining innovation! Some SWL barely stained with an unnaturally pink sludge, from a jar labelled ‘Fish’, [without further specifying species or provenance], cut into triangles and enlivened with just a hint of grit, for the authentic sea-side taste.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    Sea beach wind doesn’t have to be described once you get used to the “wind breaks” in every photo. I used to wonder if there was an unnatural obsession with privacy on the part of Brits.
    A thermos and plastic cups provided tea (or coffee if that was your family’s preference) and whatever sandwich type food you like plus the grit.

  17. Denise says:

    Can you tell me why Farage is considered by people to be a fascist?

  18. snowy says:

    In very strict terms he isn’t, but “Down with Ultra-Nationalist-Isolationism” is a right pain to fit onto a placard. And almost impossible to chant with any sort of impact.

    There are many phrases used to describe him and quite a lot of them do start with the letter ‘F’, but it would be impolite to list them here. There are also quite a lot of descriptions of him starting with the word ‘Utter’ and usually followed by a medical or slang term for various parts of the Human body, particularly those involved in sexual reproduction or child-rearing.


    Because he is the only viable ‘game in town’ toward the far-right in political terms, it means all the really nasty and dangerous nutjobs, carpet chewers*, fruit-loops and moon-howlers flock round him like flies on ‘you know what’. Because of the presence of these hangers-on, it effectively poisons any sensible debate and he is never fully held to account about his position, [which should be comprehensively examined and demonstrated to be complete rubbish], and gets to carry on being an irritating boil on the bottom of politics.

    [The term ‘fascist’ is used as a political slur by those that align themselves to the left, mostly inaccurately and is misapplied to everything that they dislike however large or small the issue. It has degenerated into a meaningless insult, rather than the warning from history it should be.]

    I can’t stand the man, I think he is an odious ‘politcal adventurer’ of the worst kind and a pillock.

    It is a really dull and wearysome subject.

    Can we get back to crunchy sandwiches?

    [* chew not munch, I don’t want a certain sub-set of the sisterhood accusing me of accusing them of stuff.]

  19. snowy says:

    With apologies to Denise for my careless use of the phrase “dull and wearysome”, I’m sure she isn’t. [And even might be a bit of a raver on the quiet.]

    Can I be the only person ever handed a sandwich under a studied parental gaze, whereupon having consumed half and asking what it was, was then told with overmuch glee by said parent that the contents were in fact the tongue of a cow! [It returned with much greater speed than it was dispatched, I can tell you that! Total rotters.]

  20. snowy says:

    * panics *

    This hole isn’t getting any shallower, no matter how fast I shovel!


    British: slang. A person who leads a wild or uninhibited social life.


    “A wouldn’t it be nice
    To get on with me neighbors
    But they make it very clear
    They’ve got no room for ravers

    They stop me from groovin’
    They bang on me wall
    They doing me crust in
    It’s no good at all, ah”

    Lyric from ‘Lazy Sunday’ by The Small Faces.

  21. Allyson says:

    These posts are the best part of my week. I see them through GoodReads on Sunday morning in the US. The posts make me remember odd American habits my parents told me about like kitchen dances (held in the hay barn not the kitchen), spring leeking (looking for wild ramps in the woods), etc. Keep writing – please!!

  22. Ian Luck says:

    Snowy – Your grit bolstered holiday al fresco eating experience reads exactly like something that Peter Tinniswood’s ‘Uncle Mort’ would have written as diary entries. Dry, and very funny. As I read it, I could hear the dour tones of Robin Bailey (who played Uncle Mort in the BBC series ‘I Didn’t Know You Cared), saying your words.

  23. Malcolm McKay says:

    That pic taken at the beach reminds me that the British concept of what constitutes summer sometimes can be amusing. Some years ago one of your leading soccer clubs played a series of exhibition matches in Australia.

    Now I don’t know who had convinced their poor supporters who had come out to Australia with them that Australia was always a warm sunny place but I reckon whoever it was should have refunded their fares. I was in Melbourne one day during the tour and had just exited our main railway station when I saw a group of these football fanatics passing, all of whom were dressed as if they were in the tropics – shorts, light shirts or T shirts etc. The problem was that it was July which is the middle of winter here, it was raining and there was a freezing gale blowing from the south, not to mention that the station is situated next to the river so that added an extra frisson of chill. It was about 7 decrees C.

  24. Wayne Mook says:

    They were probably Newcastle fans, there is a section that pride themselves on red bellies at Christmas, I think they were brought up by robins, Malcolm.

    As we neared Blackpool you could see the old Windmill, which should have been a clear warning to the bracing sea air we were to feel at the beach, although calling it sea breeze was a stretch because you couldn’t see the sea. You’ve not lived until you’ve sucked grit of your stick of rock.

    The Fylde coast is noted for is soft sand, which becomes like quick sand the more north you go or the closer the sea gets. One of my best memories as a youngster was watching a sinking mini on the beach, the spoil sport local council has a nearby tractor to help pull out the car. This was fun to watch but not as much as the lazy know-it-all-driver being told, you were warned repeatedly which made him dance and glow with a fierce and dangerous red. I guess it needed to be moved after all we wouldn’t want pollution near the long sewage pipe. Happy times.


  25. eggsy says:

    @Helen, the unnatural obsession with privacy on the part of Brits is, after, all, only natural.

    @Snowy: as the old joke goes, the problem with eating oxtongue is, how do you know when you’ve finished?

    Isn’t it nicer now that all those old fashioned body parts, er, cuts of meat are no longer with us, and we can get on with eating burgers?
    Hang on a mo …

  26. snowy says:

    The world has run completely mad, foodstuffs that once were common, [and even regarded as ‘Common’], have either disappeared completely or are now only to be found hidden about among the more expensive luxury items.

    I can recall being just able to peek over the top of the local supermarket chillers to see a whole array of squishy bits, endlessly interesting to a child who has just had their first brush with basic Biology at Primary School.

    I eventually made peace with tongue, it is only another muscle after all and rather nice with a dash of English mustard. [Similarly Oxtail, I have a notion that a couple of slices put into a stew/casserole at the very start would produce a really smooth sliky ‘gravy’ to float dumplings on.]

    [If Allyson happens to pop back by this way; wild ramps or the UK equiv. can still be found, I walked past huge swathes of them 2 weeks ago. But digging them up here is frowned upon, local conservation rules. Nothing stops you picking the leaves for salad, spring greens, pesto though.]

  27. glasgow1975 says:

    I used to quite enjoy tongue and picnics here were never complete without potted hough sandwiches. As a vegetarian now, the thought of jellied shin makes me shudder, rather like the potted hough did when turned out… Summers up here were for berry picking, and the ‘October midterm’ holidays are still known as the Tattie Hols.

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