Gilda O'Neill was born and raised in Bethnal Green in London's East End, the granddaughter of a Thames tug skipper and a Pie & Mash Shop owner. She has written a detailed account of what it was like to grow up as a Cockney, someone born within hearing distance of the Bows Bells. Cockneys lived in one of the poorest sections of one of the richest cities in the world. Drawing on the oral stories of the community's locals, Ms. O'Neill weaves a tale of a working class neighbourhood whose members were poor in the pocketbook, but rich in spirit. My East End describes the industries that lined the docks of the River Thames and employed the locals. The author also points out that the East End was where most of the immigrants congregated from the Huegenots in the 1700's to the Irish and the Jews in the 1800's to the Bengledeshis in the latter half of the 1900's. She talks about the Oliver Twist world of criminals and sheisters. She talks about how East Enders were so crowded together they lived "inside each other's pockets"; how children played outside open doors; how adults entertained themselves at dog races or pub sing-a-longs; how locals shopped at street markets for items like jellied eel or in Petticoat Lane for clothing. East Enders were a close-knit group of hard-working citizens who did not give up easily. It was these traits that got them through the London Blitz of 1940 and it was these traits that would see them through the closing of the docks in the 1970's. East Enders thrived on adversity.
So, take a trip down memory lane: buy some dinner at the Pie & Mash Shop; or shop for clothes in Petticoat Lane; or listen to the Bows Bells ring. It's worth the trip!
Photo courtesy http://thegettingofwisdom.files