Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Great Wall of Pennington Street.

Along the south side of Pennington Street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets there is a 30 Foot high wall,  close to a quarter of a mile wall that was built in the early 19th century to be the northern boundary of the new London Docks. It was built this way as it was a part of the security of the bonded warehouses overseen by the customs and excise men.  There was only the one gate into the docks from Pennington Street which was called the Tobacco Gate.
With the decline of the docks due to their unsuitability to deal with the large containerised shipping  the area was later turned into an industrial area so that the the wall still had a security function.  When News Ltd moved their newspaper production to the area in 1986 the wall effectively kept out the striking print-workers and the inevitable scuffles which took place during picketing.  Newspaper reports referred to the" battle of Wapping" but of course Pennington Street was not in Wapping, it had never been.  Newspaper headlines need to be short and the "Battle of Stepney" would have made connotations with the "Battle of Cable Street" in 1936 when east London workers blocked the marches of Oswald Moseley's fascist black-shirts.  Comparisons would have been made.
News International have now gone and once again the site is to be redeveloped.

So will east London's Berlin wall come down ?  "Not on your Nellie" as any self-respecting cockney would say, supposing you were able to find one in Pennington Street these days.

No doubt the new development  will contain more yuppy accommodation and the wall will still be needed to keep the separation from the hoi poloi.   It will remain to cast its shadow over the street as it has done for close to two hundred years.

A hundred years ago my grandparents lived in Pennington Street in a  house which it was claimed had been built in 1767.  Two up and two down, no amenities and long since gone.  In 1881 almost opposite the Tobacco Gate was Lilac Place, just a few four roomed houses, one of which was occupied by 16 adults. Even by the normal overcrowded housing standards of the time for the east end, this was quite exceptional that the enumerator made a note "16 in 4!".