The history of the city of London can be categorized and divided up in many different ways. One of the best ways of learning more about the history while you are living in London is to explore it from a geographic perspective. Remember that London is in effect a city of immigrants and much of the history of the city has been influenced by the waves of people who tended to settle together in an area.
There is really only one area of London left today that can be said to be a true reflection of the city. The East End of London has been a part of the growth of the city, it is one of the most colorful and diverse parts of the city, and it’s the only place in the world where you can hear real Cockney’s, speaking Cockney rhyming Slang.
What is a Cockney?
To be a true Cockney you have to have been born within earshot of the chimes of Bow Bells which are found in St Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside. Today though, as long as you have a Cockney accent or a parent who was a true Cockney, you can call yourself one of the family!
The Cockney Language
Cockney Rhyming Slang is not in fact a different language, although if you’re moving to London you won’t be able to understand a word of what a Cockney is saying to you. The ‘language’ is made up of phrases and words that rhyme with each other to give a new meaning.
It’s confusing, contrary and downright frustrating at times:
For example, the word ‘feet’ rhymes with ‘plates of meat’ so your feet in Cockney Rhyming Slang is ‘Plates’. Yes, it does not make very much sense, but then again, you’re living in London now so why not accept the fact that part of the magic and majesty of the city is that everything goes and nothing needs to make sense to be fabulous!
What is it about this area of London that has had such an impact on the history of the city? Even today there is a fascination with this most Londony of all London areas. While many people choose not to live in the area, it is one of the most community based and friendly parts of the city. Perhaps the fascination has to do with the reputation that has grown up over the years. The east End of London is traditionally known as the ‘dodgy’ side of the city. It was where the ‘common people’ lived for the most part, and was shunned by the upper classes and gentry of central London. It is an interesting enigma and as difficult to understand as Rhyming Slang. The best way to do it though is to use yer ‘loaf’ and yer ‘minces’, and get yer ‘plates’ into the East End!
The East End has been influenced and changed by the waves of immigrants that flood into the area even today, and yet it is singularly its very own world within the city. The Docks were probably the start of the East End proper and the area between London Bridge and the Tower of London became a busy industrial and residential area. The reason for the docks being placed in this area was because the west winds, which are common in London, kept the smells of industry, fishing and factories away from the delicate nostrils of the nobility in West and North London.
The immigrant wave began in 1653 with an influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, struggling to flee the continual persecution and pogroms. The Jewish settlers continued to flood into the area between 1870 and 1914 and have had a huge impact of life in the East End. Things have changed and the Jewish east End is all but gone, having moved out to the north of the city. Today the area is dominated by the Bangladeshi immigrants and the West Indian settlers.
You cannot say you are truly living in London until you have experienced the East End. If you’re nervous about going into the area alone, then ‘do us a cheesy quaver’ and why not take one of the immensely popular guided walks with a proper Cockney tour guide who’ll show you a ‘Hale and Hearty’.