Who Do I Fink I Am?
The provenance of Cockneys isn’t as clearly defined as you’d expect.
In order to be a Cockney you must have been born within the sound of Bow Bells. But many people don’t realise that the church isn’t in Bow, and has nothing to do with the East End.
The church of St Mary-le-Bow was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Wren. The huge bells were destroyed again in the Blitz and before they were replaced there was theoretically a period when no Bow-bell Cockneys could be born.
The area around the church is no longer residential and the traffic noise makes it unlikely that many people would be born within earshot anymore. Guy’s Hospital and St Thomas’ hospital are both within the area, suggesting a reasonable number of South London Cockneys continue to be born. Part of Sarf London is further Norf than Norf London, and vice versa, but let’s not go there.
A study was carried out by the city in 2000 to see how far the Bow Bells could be heard, and it was estimated that they would have been heard six miles to the east, five miles to the north, three miles to the south and four miles to the west. According to the legend of Dick Whittington the bells could once be heard from as far away as Highgate.
Thus while all East Enders are Cockneys, not all Cockneys are East Enders. I was born roughly four and a bit miles from the church, and as I was born Southeast I’m estimating a distance of four, but perhaps on a very still day you could hear them four and a bit.
To sort it out, the Metro freesheet revealed cockneydom. We say ‘indoors’ instead of ‘at home’, as in ‘Haven’t you got a jacket?’ ‘Nah, left it at home, didn’t I?’
We use the F word as an adjective, say ‘dee’ instead of ‘day’ (so true), call everyone and everything mate (the perfect Cockney here would be Ray Winstone) and we wouldn’t be seen dead in the West End on a Saturday night. Oh, and we hate pearly kings and queens, not that we’ve ever seen one.
However, as a bona-fide Cockney I’ve betrayed my heritage; I speak in ‘Received English’ (which could be partly defined as using consonants more than vowels) so I was probably always more likely to be a newscaster than a costermonger.