Saturday, 8 December 2018

Landscapes from the past

We know that the population of the world has increased over time but it is hard to visualize that in Ireland and Scotland in the lightly peopled areas now devoted to sheep and other large-scale agriculture which once supported many families who subsisted on the land. Similarly, the streets of London used to house many people, now far fewer live in the streets of the city that used to teem with people. The contrast can be seen in the pictures from modern day Dock Street and the 1905 image of Whitechapel High Street.

                                Dock Street 2006

Dock Street itself is only one block long but in 1899, a couple of years before my grandmother and her first husband moved there, the post office directory of London shows a mix of residences and businesses, including two pubs, the Sailors' Home for Boarding & Lodging Seamen & Apprentices and Dr Barnardo's Homes for Orphan Waifs, which was further described as a children's free lodging house. There would have been many people walking up and down this now empty street. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Whitechapel High Street 1905 

It would have been noisy and probably smoky and no doubt subject to those famous London fogs. While it would be hard to recreate the sounds and smells of this street in earlier times, or indeed of many London streets, it is possible to visualize how they would have been through the magic of photos and newsreels, through websites like In Photos: London in 1900 and British Pathe . Another invaluable resource are the many books written about the area and its surrounds. I am reading my way through some of those tomes hoping to glean a better understanding of the place where my ancestors lived. 


Whitechapel High Street 1905 Public Domain,    

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Family Ties in London's East End

Whitechapel High Street 1905

Family lore ties part of my East End ancestry to a pub that no longer stands. My grandmother wasn't born in the East End and first came to the Dock Street location in 1911, when she and her husband, Henry Booth, took over the running of the pub, The Hearts of Oak. Henry died in 1913, leaving her with the pub to run and four living children ranging in age from 5 to 16.

In 1915 she remarried. Her new husband, Charles Cavanagh, was a bachelor and clerk who lived close by. Was the Hearts of Oak his usual watering spot? Still, even with a going business, it would take a special man to take on a ready-made family.

My grandmother may not have been born in the East End, but her new husband had been. In fact, the Cavanagh family had deep roots in that part of London. And, although I never met my grandfather, what I have been told about him leads me to believe that he had a strong sense of family, a quality ingrained in many of the inhabitants of this, the poorer area of London.

I wonder if a strong sense of family was something that the Irish brought with them to London, or if they learned it when they morphed into poor Londoners? Hopefully they brought it with them. Maybe widening my research to include family networks will give me some clues as to where in Ireland this Cavanagh family hailed from. 


Young, Michael and Peter Willmott, Family and Kinship in East London. Penguin Books, London, 1962. 


Whitechapel High Street 1905 Public Domain,