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8 Annotations

First Reading

Pedro  •  Link

Bethnal Green…Roger Crab, Seventeenth-century English hermit.

For those who like a good tale...

“When Oliver Cromwell, leader of the nonconformists Presbyterians or Puritans, revolted against the Catholic monarch Charles I in 1642, Roger Crab joined the rebels. He fought for seven years and may have traveled with Roundhead armies to Ireland and Scotland, where monarchists and Catholics were overthrown. In 1648, however, at the battle of Colchester, Crab received the blow on the head that was to change his fate. He was, as he puts it, "cloven to the braine."
He moved to Bethnal Green……

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Sir William Rider's house was at Bethnal Green, and was popularly associated with the ballad of the "Beggar's Daughter of Bethnal Green." It was long known as the "Blind Beggar's House."
---Wheatley, 1899.

It's of a blind beggar who had lost his sight,
And he had a daughter most beautiful bright,
Let me seek my fortune, dear father, said she
And the favour was granted to charming Betsy.

See the diary entry for 26 June 1663:…

Sir William Rider:…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The settlement was recorded as Blithehale in the 13th century, when a hamlet began to grow around the site of the present tube station. In an early reference to the locality, the medieval ballad of the Blind Beggar of Bednall Green tells of a poor man whose daughter marries a knight for a dowry of £3,000 in gold. The ballad may have been written in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, although it was subsequently much revised.

By the 16th century merchants and noblemen were building large houses in the fields and Bethnal Green remained a pleasant country retreat on the outskirts of London until about 1700. Thereafter, houses began to line Dog Row (now Cambridge Heath Road) and Bethnal Green soon developed into one of the first manufacturing districts in the East End, becoming a separate parish in 1743.…

We are told the district was almost entirely rural and the farmlands were so fertile that they could yield two crops a year. The change from an agricultural parish into an overcrowded slum began when a large number of Huguenots, fleeing from the religious persecution in France, introduced the art of silk weaving into Spitalfields and the south-west portion of Bethnal Green.

The origin of the name is not clear, although one thing is certain, and that is that it has not always been Bethnal Green. It has at different times been Blithehale, Blythenhale, Bleten Hall and Bednal Green.

It was at Bethnall House that Samuel Pepys brought his famous Diary for safe keeping whilst the Great Fire of London was raging.…

Imported from Persia by King James in the 17th century, the Bethnal Green Mulberry is more than 400 years old and its leaves were intended to feed silkworms cultivated by weavers.

Gamely supported by struts that have become absorbed into the fibre of the tree over the years, it was heartening to see this ancient organism in spring, coming into leaf once more and renewing itself again after five centuries. The Bethnal Green Mulberry has seen palaces and hospitals come and go, but it continues to bear fruit every summer regardless.…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"It was at Bethnall House that Samuel Pepys brought his famous Diary for safe keeping whilst the Great Fire of London was raging."

Or maybe not ... In the late 18th century a History of London was written, and had this to say about the Blind Beggar of Bethnal-Green and the history of Sir William Ryder's home:

"The well-known ballad of the Beggar of Bethnal-Green was written in the reign of Queen Elizabeth: the legend is told of the reign of Henry III; and Henry de Montfort (son of the Earl of Leicester), who was supposed to have fallen at the battle of Evesham, is the hero. Although it is probable that the author might have fixed upon any other spot with equal propriety for the residence of his beggar, the story nevertheless seems to have gained much credit in the village, where it decorates not only the sign-posts of the publicans, but the staff of the parish beadle; and so convinced are some of the inhabitants of its truth, that they shew an ancient house upon the Green as the palace of the blind beggar; and point out two turrets at the extremities of the court wall as the places where he deposited his gains.

"Kirby Castle.
"The old mansion above-mentioned, called in the survey of 1703 Bethnal-Green-house, was built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, by John Kirby, citizen of London. Fleetwood, the recorder of London, in a letter to the lord treasurer (about the year 1578), mentions the death of "John Kirby, who built the fair house upon Bethnal Green, which house, lofty like a castle, occasioned certain rhimes abusive of him and some other city builders of great houses, who had prejudiced themselves thereby; viz. Kirby's Castle, and Fisher's Folly; Spinola's Pleasure, and Meggs's Glory."

"This house was afterwards the residence of Sir Hugh Platt, Knt. author of "the Garden of Eden," "the Jewell-house of Art and Nature," and other works.

"Sir William Ryder, Knt. died there in 1669, it being then his property ... It is still called in the writings Kirby Castle."

Lots more old history about who lived there, like Sir Richard Gresham.…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Another early resident of Bethnal Green with whom Pepys would probably be familiar was Sir Hugh Platt (1552–1611), an author, alchemist, speculator and inventor whose career touched on the fields of alchemy, general scientific curiosity, cookery and sugar work, cosmetics, gardening and agriculture, food manufacture, victualling, supplies and marketing.

Platt was a Navy victualler. In 1596 he had an idea to solve the provisioning problems of the Navy: pasta. This was the fourth of 5 years of poor harvests; there were riots in Britain and famine across Europe. It was also a time when longer voyages made victualling ships more difficult. Sir Francis Drake’s last voyage to the West Indies in 1595–6 suffered severe hunger. The traditional sea rations of beef, cheese, liquor and salt fish were not enough.

Platt had a great solution. He laid out the virtues of pasta – or “macaroni” as he called it – in a series of points.
1. First, it is durable, for I have kept the same both sweet and sound, by the space of 3 yeares …
2. It is exceedingly light …
3. It is speedily dressed, for in one half hour, it is sufficiently sodden …
4. It is fresh, and thereby very pleasing unto the Mariner in the midst of his salt Meat …
5. It is cheap …
6. It serveth both instead of bread and meat, whereby it performs a double service.
7. Not being spent it may be laid up in store for a second voyage.
8. It may be made as delicate as you please, by the addition of oyle, butter, sugar and such like.
9. There is sufficient matter to be had all the year long, for the composition thereof.

This pasta proposal gives a good idea of who Sir Hugh Platt was, and shows Elizabethan inventiveness. Platt launched himself on many schemes, and this pasta project was typical. There is the appeal to Platt’s own hands-on experience: the boast about having kept macaroni “sweet and sound” for three years; the indication that he is actually familiar with cooking the stuff, or at least with making it “sodden”. There is the mixture of good thinking – pasta is indeed durable, light and cheap. And there is nonsense: as a pure starch food, it can hardly take the place of both bread and meat. Finally, there is the coy turn to profit at the end. What Platt means when he says that there is “sufficient” pasta to be had all year long is that he can supply sufficient – at a price.

Platt was the owner of probably the first macaroni press in London – a kind of extrusion machine, an illustration of which appears in one of his books. Platt’s scheme to alleviate military hunger is really a call for customers for his pasta supply business. It worked: Sir Francis Drake took Platt’s pasta on at least one of his voyages.

For more about Sir Hugh Platt, see…
Malcolm Thick: Sir Hugh Plat. The Search for Useful Knowledge in Early Modern London

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The East End districts – Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Stepney, Limehouse, Bow and the rest – have such a reputation for gritty urban-ness that many people are not aware how recent this is. Yet the borough name Tower Hamlets gives a clue. Until well into the 19th century much of this was fields and market gardens, interspersed with small villages. For over 700 years, wealthy merchants had country houses there – weekend retreats, like those in Sussex, Hampshire or Bedfordshire today.

Thomas Cromwell, when not plotting darker things at the City premises he had taken from the Austin Friars, acted in his Stepney house as a local squire. A neighbor was Lord Darcy, who was to lose his head after leading a failed uprising against the King.

Two hundred years later, neighborly relations were more peaceful. It was then well-to-do sea-captains and those who grew wealthy from international trading companies who built houses in the pastures and gardens along the Mile End Rd. Being outside the official jurisdiction of the City of London, the area also became a haven for people of minority faiths, such as Non-Conformity and Judaism.

The oldest Jewish burial ground in Britain, a Sephardi one, is still there off the Mile End Rd., and Bevis Marks – the first grand new synagogue – was opened in the City in 1701.

In the decades after Bevis Marks opened, individuals whose various Sephardi family names were Joel, Beavis and Montague, established themselves in the rural outskirts of the City, in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. Arriving from no one knows from where, over a century before the major influx of Polish-Russian Jews, they quietly made whatever compromises were necessary in their new homeland. They got married in the churches of St. Leonard or St. Matthew and even had the odd child baptized, probably to ensure their presence on the parish lists in times of hardship. Yet they knew who they were and never ate pork.

Bethnal Green still had cottage gardens and pigsties, but became a place where criminals from central London went to ground and slum landlords made fortunes.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.





  • Jun