I have categorized this under Bermondsey but the post is, in fact, about a neighborhood north of the river. However, the similarities between the two areas in decades past were so great that I think it is well worth seeing the images and understanding the context. Interestingly, both have undergone a process of gentrification in recent years.

“The character of the whole locality is working-class. Poverty is everywhere, with a considerable admixture of the very poor and vicious … Large numbers have been and are still being displaced by the encroachment of warehouses and factories … Hoxton is known for its costers and Curtain criminals, for its furniture trade … No servants are kept except in the main Road shopping streets and in a few remaining middle class squares in the west”

Charles Booth on Hoxton (Booth himself is a man well worth reading about)

This photo dates from 1933 and is of a Christmas party organized by the Hoxton Market Christian Mission. The mission is described as having been a “soup kitchen and refuge for the poor… It was founded in 1881 by brothers John and Lewis Burtt.” The Burtts themselves were found living on the streets as boys and brought up by a local charity.


This photo is children cared for by the mission. In the 19th century, philanthropists set up charities of all kinds in Britain.  A social conscience was developing that would eventually lead to the creation of the Welfare State.


The Burtts were educated at a ragged school. There are plenty of websites containing information about these schools, including this one. Some experts believe the first was set up in Portsmouth by one John Pounds. Eventually they appeared all over Britain and hundreds of thousands of poor children received a basic education in them.

This is a painting of the first ragged school in Westminster (Birmingham Art Gallery)


There is a museum housed in a former ragged school in the East End. Most suitably, it is located in Copperfield Road.

Old friend Alan had a personal note to add concerning the museum. “An old colleague of mine from my schoolteaching days is Tom Ridge. Tom has worked tirelessly for many years studying and documenting his beloved East End (he is actually from Liverpool). Apart from his writing, he has made enormous efforts to have historic industrial buildings listed and found new uses, and the buildings at Copperfield Road are a case in point. Tom was a voice in the wilderness at first, but gradually managed to drum up interest and after many years hard slog in cajoling, persuading, fundraising and all the other myriad activities, the Museum that was his pipe dream came into being.”

I find this photo of two pupils particularly evocative.


I have come across a number of other old photos in the same vein – also of the East End – that I will post as soon as I have time.