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Category Archives: London History

Greenacre’s Gruesome Jigsaw

The latest post on my second website, The Crime Compendium, relates a grisly true story from the London of 1836: the tale of James Greenacre, a murderer who scattered his victim’s remains across the city…

Accused of murder… James Greenacre and Sarah Gale

To read the full piece please click here (please be aware, reader discretion is advised).

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When Walt came to Southwark

Some years ago, a sage old cabbie told me about a mysterious photo which he’d claimed to have never seen himself but was sure existed somewhere; an image apparently depicting legendary American animator and entrepreneur, Walt Disney posing beneath a street sign on Borough’s aptly named Disney Street

Disney Street- and its little offshoot, Disney Place– are two thoroughfares which form a small dogleg between Marshalsea Road and Redcross Way.

‘Disney’ is in fact an extremely old name of Norman origin, deriving from d’Isigny; a surname historically used by folk from the town of Isigny-sur-Mer in north-western France.

The name has been borne by these two Borough streets since at least the 1860s- a quick search of The Times newspaper archive reveals a handful of vicious crimes taking place here, including numerous stabbings and an appalling incident in 1902 when a drunken woman was arrested after “ill-treating a baby by swinging it round” along with a verbal threat to “dash the child’s brains out by throwing it on the pavement.”

Late Victorian map depicting Disney Street (image: nls.uk)

In short, the name ‘Disney’ was being used in London long before Walt’s first flick- the jovial ‘Steamboat Willie’- hit screens in 1928… quite a relief really considering the rather brutal connotations with the two roads.

Going even further back in time when the area had a more rural vibe, the two paths, which have evolved over many decades, were known by completely different names- Bird Cage Alley (which really did refer to local artisans who made said pet accessories) and Harrow Street; an offshoot of which was ‘Harrow Dunghill’ which would no doubt have had quite a literal meaning back in the 18th century.

Original map depicting Harrow Street, Bird Cage Alley and Harrow Dunghill

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Returning to the cabbie’s fable with which I started this piece, I was told that, at some point in the mid-1960s, Walt Disney was on a visit to London with is wife, Lillian.

The pair hailed a taxi and, upon recognising his passenger’s face, the driver couldn’t resist telling his famous fare about the existence of Disney Street and Disney Place.

Unsurprisingly Walt was intrigued and asked be taken there, whereupon he and Lillian had their photos snapped.

For a long time I thought this was nothing more than a cabbie’s urban legend.

Until recently when I happened to discover the images…

The first is of Walt and Lillian:

Walt and Lillian Disney, Disney Street, Southwark, 1965

The second depicts Walt on Disney Place with his business partner, Arthur Allighan; a born Londoner who apparently confessed to having no prior knowledge of the streets which bore his colleague’s infamous surname.

Walt Disney and Arthur Allighan, Disney Place, Southwark 1965

These two images were taken in 1965 and were published in a 1966 edition of ‘Disney World Magazine’.

Sadly, they were amongst the last photos taken of Walt who died shortly after in December 1966 aged 65.

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Sherbert Dab: An Oral History of the London Taxi

In autumn 2017 I was honoured to participate in a project named ‘Sherbert Dab: An Oral History of the London Taxi’ (Sherbet Dab being Cockney rhyming slang for cab).

Organised by the educational charity, Digital Works in conjunction with Unite and the London Transport Museum, this ambitious venture introduced 26 London cabbies to pupils from St George the Martyr school, Holborn and Westminster Cathedral school, Pimlico.

The children conducted in-depth interviews with each of the London taxi drivers, covering topics such as family backgrounds, what it was like to study The Knowledge in their particular era, interesting stories which have occurred whilst driving a cab and much, much more.

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All of these interviews- which together consist of many hours worth of material- can now be listened to online and are a real treasure trove.

Many of those interviewed are true veterans of the industry: Stanley Roth for example, who started driving in 1957 is believed to be the longest serving cabbie working in London today, whilst 84 year old Trinidadian, Vasco Figueria was one of the earliest West Indian drivers to qualify when he passed The Knowledge in the early 1960s.

To listen to these interviews, please click here.

Each interview was also recorded on film and the pupils have edited this extensive footage into a wonderful, highly professional 54 minute film which is insightful, moving, funny and a real testament to the skill of these incredible youngsters.

The film, which premiered on the 12th January 2018 at the London Transport Museum’s Cubic Theatre, can be viewed in full here.

All of the Sherbet Dab interviews will be going into the archives of both the TUC and the London Transport Museum.

Enjoy!

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