Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Limehouse Views
Not enough London visitors go east, though there is much of fascinating interest in the
vast areas of Stepney, Rotherhithe, Poplar, and all those great industrial parishes of the late
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on the river. The East End is lived in by the friendliest
people in London, who learned their lessons the hard way. It is no good going east with
the intention of slumming. Eighty years ago, East-Enders seldom found their way beyond
Whitechapel; the rest of London was a closed book to them. Even now they live in their own
way, and are not likely to be sympathetic to those merely seeking new sensations. In spite
of contemporary housing developments which have affected the close family atmosphere
of East-End life, there are rich stores of character and traditions still lingering: people and
attitudes that Albert Chevalier and Phil May would instantly recognise as material for their
By tradition, Limehouse is a Chinese quarter, but, on my visits at least, few Chinamen,
sinister or otherwise, have shown up. My chief pleasures in Limehouse are confined to a
small area, centring on the church of St Anne. The undertaker's opposite the church is a rare
example of popular art. Even today, East-End funerals are often florid affairs - it is only a
few years since I saw a horse-drawn one - but such undertaker's as this illustrated one must
be becoming rare, so it is worth study. It is hall-marked Victorian. The shop front is highly
ornate and painted black, gold, and purple. Two Classical statues hold torches, and there are
achievements of arms in the window and also inside the parlour (in view of 'parlour' being
derived from the old French parleor - to speak - surely a funeral parlour is rather oddly
named?). The door announces, 'Superior funerals at lowest possible charges'. On one side
of the window is a mirror on which is painted the most depressing subject possible - a fe-
male figure in white holding on (surely not like grim death?) to a stone cross and below her
are the waves of a tempestuous sea. Inside the shop are strip lights - the only innovation
to break up the harmony of this splendid period piece - a selection of coffin handles and
other ironmongery and a photograph of Limehouse Church. As I looked, a workman, with a
mouthful of nails, was hammering at a coffin. An unpleasant, Teutonic thought occurred to
me that, at that very moment, the future occupant of the coffin might well be at home enjoy-
ing his jellied eels … Undertakers' parlours of such Victorian quality must be enjoyed be-
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