Tag Archives: London life

Demographic analysis


[T]his month London’s first French language terrestrial radio station starts broadcasting to the capital’s 400,000 native French speakers as a reminder of their own culture, but why are so many French institutions based around South Kensington?

It’s a subject that has perplexed me for years, if not decades and here I feel I might need some help.

London is often said to be a conglomeration of villages each with its own identity, but also within our City – as with its villages – are islands of immigrant settlements each with their own economic, social and cultural identities.

But here’s the question I would like answered: What attracts ethnic, religious or cultural groups to live in particular areas?

For instance why have the Chinese moved into Chinatown; why are a few streets at the north of Stamford Hill the home to Europe’s largest Hasidic and Adeni Jewish communities. The Greeks frequent Green Lanes and why would you find Little Lebanon, with its large Arabic population along the southern stretch of Edgware Road.

When I first started working in London my company was located in Clerkenwell known then as Little Italy, there was to be found an Italian delicatessen, restaurants serving pasta and pizza, an Italian church, it even had (and still does) an Italian driving school, presumably to teach you Italian driving skills.

Earls Court is known as Kangaroo Court due to the large number of antipodeans students in digs there.

The Irish once populated Kilburn while the Whitechapel Road supports an almost exclusive population of Muslims.

For while I can understand later arrivals setting up home near people of their own ethnic mix for language, security or cultural reasons but what makes the first settlers adopt a particular area?

For the large Afro-Caribbean community in Brixton David Long in his book The London Underground suggests:

During the war a series of deep level air raid shelters were built designed in such a fashion they could eventually be linked up to form a super underground railway, but lack of money after the war meant this scheme was abandoned. So in 1948 the Clapham Common Deep Level Shelter became briefly home to several hundred Commonwealth citizens who arrived on the SS Empire Windrush, laying the foundations for nearby Brixton’s Afro-Caribbean community.

So why have different divergent communities decided at random to live in different areas of London, any theories are to be welcomed.

I am indebted to Lucy Inglis for her map of London, her site Georgian London was voted History Website of 2009, on it will find more information than seems possible to amass on what London was like to live in during 18th Century.

I don’t Adam and Eve it!

[T]he Oxford English Dictionary claims that the first use of the word cockney as a reference to native Londoners was in 1521, and since I did The Knowledge I’ve been telling anyone who cares to listen that I’m a cockney, blithely ignoring the fact that I was brought up in a leafy North London suburb.

St_Mary-Le-Bow_Interior For to be a cockney you have to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells, and contrary to the widely held belief the bells in question are not from Bow Church in East London, but St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside in the City of London, and being born in Fitzrovia, I thought, erroneously, I easily came within its audible catchment area.

A church has existed on the site since Saxon times, and the subsequent Norman church was known as St Marie de Arcubus or Le Bow because of the bow arches of stone in its Norman crypt. The current building was built to the designs of Christopher Wren, 1671–1673, with the 223-foot steeple completed 1680. It was considered the second most important church in the City of London after St Paul’s Cathedral, and was one of the first churches to be rebuilt by Wren for this reason.

On 10 May 1941 a German bomb destroyed the Wren church including its bells made famous in the children’s nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. Restoration was begun in 1956 and the bells only rang again in 1961 to produce a new generation of cockneys, a full 14 years after my birth.

Now according to research at Lancaster University a cockney accent will soon no longer be the hallmark of Londoners. The distinctive accent now known as Estuary Speak is more likely to be found in the Home Counties of Essex and Hertfordshire. The linguists claim that ever-increasing numbers of people in the capital are speaking Jafaican. The hybrid speech, created by successive waves of immigration is a mixture of cockney, combined with Bangladeshi, African and West Indian.

The London dialect could have disappeared within another generation and cockneys in their 40s will be the last generation to speak like stars from a BBC soap, and now the dwindling ranks of cockney speakers are being asked to record their voices for posterity.

But hope is at hand, the newly built Kings Place Arts Centre near King’s Cross has posted a downloadable recording of Bow Bells on its website so that cockneys that have moved away can still let their children be born within the sound of its famous chimes.

I have worms

[I] have got worms. OK I know it’s not the sort of thing about my life that you want to read over your morning bowl of cornflakes, but bear with me on this one, while I relate to you the reason I have the little critters.

Working shift work in London throughout most of my life I’ve come to expect to see a fox or two, but in the last couple of years hardly a night goes by without seeing at least two or three.

Foxes moved into urban areas after the First World War due to a change in people’s lifestyles, quickly urbanising and taking advantage of the food and shelter provided in the relatively large gardens, from compost heaps, bird-tables and garden buildings. Foxes are now accustomed to living near to people and successive generations have spread inwards towards the city centre. There are now more opportunities of food and shelter for foxes in towns and cities than in the surrounding countryside. Fox density in urban areas is related to housing type, semis with large gardens are perfect for foxes but Victorian terraces and modern developments are not so favourable.

There are thought to be 10,000 foxes in London and the animals have been spotted in the choir stalls at St Paul’s cathedral and outside No 10 Downing Street. They live in family groups – a dog fox and vixen producing one litter of about four cubs a year. On average, scavenged food forms nearly 40 per cent of their diet, with a large amount of this deliberately put out to attract them. It is commonly, but wrongly believed that urban foxes feed largely on the contents of dustbins which they have raided – these are more often disturbed by cats and dogs.

The number of urban foxes remains about the same despite approximately 60 per cent of the population dying in a year; nearly half of these deaths are due to car accidents, which rather put pay to the fox hunting debate as a means of restricting their numbers. Although their numbers remain the same they have of late become less desensitised to humans, now almost never running away and becoming so bold as to result in the tragic case from East London where two sisters were bitten by a fox in their bedroom.

Foxed are actually quite small and it is extremely rare for a fox to attack a cat or dog, let alone a human, usually preferring to avoid contact. Foxes’ natural prey includes small birds and mammals and they will eat pet rabbits, guinea pigs or chickens, but if they can scavenge rather than risk being injured when pursuing prey they will.

Now in London everybody seems to throw their uneaten food into the street; rich pickings are to be found for our urban canine friends, and local councils are hardly helping by only collecting rubbish only two times a month and actually encouraging residents to store uneaten food for infrequent disposal. Discarded food will attract rats allowing them to breed in larger numbers, so it’s hardly surprising foxes are on the increase in these boroughs, with a plentiful supply of scraps and rodents to eat.

IMG_0109 We now come to the rather indelicate subject of my worms, for recently for my birthday I received from my daughter a Wiggly Wiggler wormery, now at the risk of coming over all green I have the perfect solution to composting kitchen waste into rich, dark compost, a valuable resource for my garden. Worm-assisted composting is a wholly natural process and using such “lowly organised creatures”, as Charles Darwin described worms and he should know he studied them for 35 years; I have reduced the risk of encouraging foxes and rodents into my garden while providing myself with hours of entertainment discussing my wormery with anybody who will listen.

A call to arms?

The tragedy of the killings in West Cumbria one month today have shown just how ineffectual having an armed police force is in maintaining law and order. For although 42 of Cumbria’s 97 armed response officers were given ‘shoot to kill’ orders, with some of its officers stating they were as little as 30 seconds behind crazed taxi driver Derrick Bird as they pursued him through the roads around Whitehaven, they were unable to stop his three hour rampage.

[E]ven when he crashed his car after hitting a rock and bursting a tyre and escaping on foot into a copse, the armed officers were not in a position to neutralise him. Presumably had he not taken his own life at this point and instead emerged from the other side of the woods, to hijack a car, this massacre would have continued.

We in London should be asking the question, if five helicopters, and dozens of armed police cannot stop a single gunman in a sparsely populated region, for fear of injuring innocent members of the public, how effectual are the Metropolitan Police armed officers on London’s overcrowded streets?

We see them every day, at stations, outside Parliament, patrolling the parameter of New Scotland Yard, or perversely standing by roadblocks, whose sole purpose seems to be catching uninsured mini cab drivers.

Every day these highly trained officers, carrying semi-automatic weapons, and wearing flak jackets can often be seen looking menacingly at any one foolish enough to make eye contact. Even our unlamented ex-Prime Minister’s house in Connaught Square would appear to have a minimum of five visible armed members from the Diplomatic Protection Force at any one time, at a reported cost to the taxpayer of £6 million a year.

When an assassination attempt was made as Princess Anne’s car drove along Constitution Hill her bodyguard’s gun jammed, and recently they could not protect us against Islamist fanatics on 7th July 2005.

The question is very simple, if the situation arose that on London’s busy streets officers should have to discharge their weapons to stop a dangerous individual, would they fire an automatic weapon knowing innocent passers-by would almost certainly be caught in the cross-fire? And because of current ‘health and safety’ considerations the answer is no, what purpose do these expensively trained men and women serve?

Have a nice day

50 notes It started as a promising day, the sun was shining, we had a new Government and yes, I had earned enough to warrant a trip to the bank. I proffered my deposit, the cashier smiled and said good morning, and then her eyes alighted upon a £50 note of mine. In a nanosecond a money checker detection pen appeared and like a censor from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office she had drawn a line across the note.

“It’s a forgery, I’m afraid, and I can’t give it back, but I can if you wish, give you a receipt”. Great, £50 down.

[R]apidly striding off to WH Smiths, and taking the cashier’s advice to purchase for myself said detector pen, my mood darkened. In an effort to cheer myself up and repair my dented ego, I did a bit of research on counterfeiting and also to confirm that I wasn’t the only London cabbie to get caught.

As a large city London has vast sums of cash changing hands each day, and this makes the Capital a perfect place to distribute this worthless junk. This was recognised in the Middle Ages and they used some rather novel methods to deter offenders.

Clipping was a popular past time in this period, where small clips were taken from the edge of a coin and using them to mint a counterfeit. Coin clipping is why many coins have the rim of the coin marked with stripes, text or some other pattern that would be destroyed if the coin were clipped, a safeguard attributed to Isaac Newton, after being appointed Master of the Mint.

Unlike today the threat to England’s economy from counterfeiting and ultimately the country’s security was appreciated by Parliament and offenders had a multiple choice of punishments, ranging to having one’s ears removed to hanging.

The Treason Act 1415 was an Act of the Parliament of England which made clipping coins high treason and punishable by death. (It was already treason to counterfeit coins.) The Act was repealed by the Treason Act 1553, and then revived again in 1562. The Act originally only protected English coins, but was later extended in 1575 to cover foreign coins “current” within England. The Coin Act 1575 also abolished (for coin clipping only) the penalties of corruption of blood and forfeiture of goods and lands (see what I mean by multiply punishments).

In modern times fraudsters have now a range of aids to perfect their craft making detection harder, so there is far more counterfeit currency in circulation. Remarkably last year the total amount of fake £1 coins hit 37.5 million, the highest sum since the coin was introduced in 1983, and a rise of 26 per cent since 2007, when 30 million were found to be fakes. Even more remarkable is that convicted forgers these days retain their ears, and only serve the shortest of sentences.