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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
Londoners of a certain age- and indeed others who’ve visited the capital in years gone by- will remember how Trafalgar Square used to swarm with pigeons. Thousands of them. There was even a family-run stall in the square which sold bird seed to entice the critters.
Thanks to a clean-up initiative introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone at the turn of the 21st century however, the pigeons have since flocked elsewhere, robbing the square of its ornithological character. It’s now easy to forget just how prevalent those tough little city birds were.
When they ruled the roost the pigeons made quite a mess and it was the statue of Naval hero, Lord Horatio Nelson, standing at the centre of Trafalgar Square, which bore the brunt of their droppings. Consequently his statue often required a scrub- easier said than done when said sculpture is perched upon a 170 ft column.
The chaps responsible for maintaining Nelson’s statue in days gone by were hardy blokes for sure; scaling the dizzying heights with steeplejack knowhow and practically zero safety gear. Their boldness was famously highlighted in 1977 when legendary children’s TV presenter, John Noakes– who sadly died on the 29th May 2017- joined them up top for an episode of Blue Peter. Just watching John scale the rickety ladders is enough to make your palms sweat… click below to view if you dare!
This wasn’t the only time the hair-raising process of cleaning Nelson’s Column was captured on film- please click below to view earlier footage which appears to date from the late 1950s/early 60s.
Several years ago, I wrote a piece about the famous ‘Lucozade’ sign which has welcomed motorists approaching London from the west with its vintage, sparkling display since the 1950s.
The sign, located at Brentford, can even be glimpsed in a 1975 episode of ‘The Sweeney’:
But now, thanks to the brazen action of advertising giant JC Decaux, the sign has vanished; hastily removed over the Christmas period and replaced with yet another, generic digital board. An so, yet again, London has had another little piece of its uniqueness and character chiseled away.
What a sad way to start the year.