Bethnal Green Things to Do

  • Church of St. John at Bethnal Green, London, UK.
    Church of St. John at Bethnal Green,...
    by planxty
  • Church of St. John at Bethnal Green, London, UK.
    Church of St. John at Bethnal Green,...
    by planxty
  • Church of St. John at Bethnal Green, London, UK.
    Church of St. John at Bethnal Green,...
    by planxty

Most Recent Things to Do in Bethnal Green

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    'Ave a Drink Dahn the Salmon!

    by HackneyBird Updated Jul 13, 2014

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    Salmon and Ball, London E2
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    The Salmon and Ball is situated on the corner of Cambridge Heath Road and Bethnal Green Road.

    There has been a pub here since 1733, but the present building only dates from the mid 19th century. The pub was originally called 'The Salmon', alluding to the fact that in the 17th century salmon could be caught in the Thames. 'Ball', being a ball of yarn, was added because Mercers, workers in the textile trade, used to drink here.

    On 6th December 1769, the Salmon and Ball was the scene of a double hanging. John Doyle and John Valline, both fabric cutters by trade, were accused of being the ringleaders of the Spitalfield Rioters and were executed on a double gallows outside the tavern.

    I have enjoyed a drink or two here over the years and have always found it to be a friendly place with good service. There is a DJ and Friday and Saturday nights and when DJ Adamski rocks the house the pub gets quite crowded.

    The Salmon and Ball is a proper East End boozer. So, if you're ever in my neck of the woods and fancy a pint, do what the locals do and 'ave a drink dahn the Salmon!

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    Locked in Love

    by HackneyBird Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Love locks, Braithwaite Street, E1
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    While I was shopping in Brick Lane Market in July 2014, I came across this chain link fence with love locks fixed to it in Braithwaite Street, a short distance from the market.

    A love lock is a padlock which couples fix to a fence or similar public fixture to symbolise their love. The couples names are written on the lock then, once fixed to the fence, the key is thrown away to symbolise unbreakable love.

    The history of love locks goes back at least a hundred years to a First World War story from Serbia. A schoolmistress called Nada from Vrnjacka Banja fell in love with an officer in the Serbian army who's name was Relja. The couple got engaged and a short time later Relja was sent to war in Greece. While he was stationed in Corfu, he fell in love with a local woman and broke off his engagement to Nada. She never recovered from the loss of her true love and some time later she died of a broken heart. The young women of Vrnjacka Banja, wishing to protect their own loves, started writing their names, with those of their sweethearts, on padlocks and fixing them to the railings of the bridge where Relja and Nada used to meet.

    In Europe, love locks started to appear in the early 2000's.

    There are many superstitions related to love locks. In Fengyuan, Taiwan, love locks are fixed to an overpass at the train station and are fixed in pairs. They are known there as 'wish locks' and it is believed that the magnetic field generated by the trains passing beneath cause energy to build up in the padlocks and so grants the wishes.

    In Montevideo, Uruguay, there is a fountain with a plaque on the front of it which reads :- 'The legend of this fountain tells us that if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked.

    I wonder how many of the couples that fixed their love locks to this fence are still together!

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    On Mother Kelly's Doorstep Down Paradise Row

    by HackneyBird Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Paradise Row, Bethnal Green, E2
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    Many of you will have heard the old music hall song 'On Mother Kelly's Doorstep' made famous by Danny la Rue, but did you know that the song is about a real place and a real person?

    Paradise Row is made up of terraced houses dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The gardens in front of the terrace was once a small strip land that formed part of the Bethnal Green common land within the Manor of Stepney. A Trust Deed of 1678 prevented building over this land and enabled the profits from leasing it to benefit the poor of the parish.

    Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836) was once a resident of Paradise Row. He was a Jewish prize fighter who was Champion of England between 1792 and 1795. During his career he developed a new style of boxing using defensive tactics, such as moving around, ducking and blocking in order to avoid the punches of his opponents. Despite weighing in at 160 pounds and standing at a height of 5 feet 7 inches, Mendoza became England's 16th Heavyweight Champion and is the only middleweight boxer ever to have won the Heavyweight Championship of the World. He later went on to open his own boxing academy and to publish his book 'The Art of Boxing'. There is a blue plaque to him on the wall of one of the houses in Paradise Row.

    And as for 'Mother Kelly's Doorstep' . . .

    The Nellie mentioned in the song was a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania called Nellie Moss. She was a money lender who gave birth to twin sons - William (Billy) and Richard Martin. Their father Richard was killed in a submarine accident in the Irish Sea in 1911, before he could marry Nellie. Her son William went on to be the deputy Mayor of Finsbury just before the start of World War II and Richard joined the army and rose to the rank of Captain in the King's African Rifles.

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    Stairway to Heaven

    by HackneyBird Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Stairway to Heaven Memorial
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    On 3 March 1943 the worst civilian disaster of World War II happened at Bethnal Green tube station. The station was being used as an air-raid shelter and when the sirens sounded hundreds of people rushed into the station seeking safety. The search lights went on and as the anti-aircraft battery in nearby Victoria Park launched a salvo at the enemy bombers the crowd on the stations stairs surged forward. Someone tripped and fell on the stairwell causing many others to fall. 300 people were crushed in a few seconds, 173 people died, 62 of whom were children and 90 people were injured.

    The Stairway to Heaven Trust was set up by the local community in 2007, their aim to build a permanent memorial to those who died. The Trust raised the money for the memorial by holding fund raising events such as football tournaments, fetes, concerts and art exhibitions, they even held their own Jack the Ripper guided tour, and from donations from the local community and businesses.

    At the time of writing, the memorial is still not complete, even though Transport for London has given £10,000 towards the completion of the memorial. The Trust still needs another £75,000 to finish the 'stairway' at the top of the plinth.

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    Art, Amens and Alcohol.

    by HackneyBird Updated Jul 11, 2014

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    St John on Bethnal Green
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    The Church of St John on Bethnal Green was designed by Sir John Soane. Built between 1826 and 1828 it is a Grade I Listed Building.

    In 2000, the church commissioned artist Chris Gollon to paint the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The work was funded by pubic subscription and took nine years to complete. The paintings were finished in 2009 and are on permanent display in the church.

    The church is home to free exhibition spaces for local artist in the Belfrey and the North Gallery. The church is also available for artists to use as a performance space, many concerts are held there and the licensed bar is open for refreshments while these are being held.

    In addition, St John's has a community art programme and regular classes are held in the Crypt.

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    A useful place to know.

    by planxty Written Jun 3, 2013

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    Backyard Bar, Bethnal Green, UK.
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    This is another place that is difficult to categorise on VT as it has several functions. It is a bar, restaurant and comedy club all in the one building. I have not eaten here nor been to any of the shows so I shall treat it here as a thing to do.

    The Backyard Bar is the brainchild of the prominent British comedian Lee Hurst who is well-known as a stand up and also a regular panellist on various TV shows. As a bar it is a modern and very friendly place with a pool table providing the daytime entertainment. The staff here really are a delight and are always happy to chat if the place is not too busy.

    There is a limited menu of burgers and pizzas (pictured) and at time of writing (June 2013) I know that the current chef trained under the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and I have it on good authority that the food is very good. I shall write a seperate tip when I sample it for myself.

    The main attraction here is the evening entertainment which consists of stand-up comedy as you might expect. There are regular Saturday night comedy evenings featuring top names from the circuit and full details are on the attached website. An insiders tip here is to go for the Thursday night gig (held every week) which features up and coming acts and established comedians trying out new material or warming up for tours. It is a bit of a lottery as often the website will just say "an act who cannot be named", presumably for contractual reasons, so you could get a really big name act and all for £5. There are concessions for students with an NUS card, NHS staff and emergency service workers so it can be a pretty cheap night's entertainment as the bar prices are broadly comparable with local pubs and not hiked as is often the case in entertainment venues.

    All in all, a pleasant place for a drink and a decent entertainment venue in an area which seems to be offering less and less of it. Do however note the slightly restricted opening hours, as the place is closed Monday and Tuesday and only opens at 1700 hours on other days.

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    A great little chippy.

    by planxty Updated Jun 1, 2013

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    Fish Plaice chippy, Bethnal Green, London, UK.
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    I am never quite sure whether to put takeaway food places in the restuarant section or the things to do section so I have developed a sort of rule for it. If a place has any sort of seating at all it goes in the restaurant section and if not it is a thing to do. The Fish Plaice on Cambridge Heath Road falls into the latter category. However, don't let the fact that you have to take your grub home put you off, this is a cracking chippy.

    Many of the chippies round London seem now to be adjuncts of "Chinese" takeaways but that is not the case here, there isn't a sweet and sour or chow mein to be seen. It concentrates on old-fashioned fish and chips, sausages, pies, chicken and the like and does them very well. Although I have had the fish here and it is excellent, my favourite chippy dish is battered sausage and chips as seen in the second image. Apologies for the mess on my dining table and not using a flash, but you get the idea.

    If you are in the area, this is a good bet.

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    A truly amazing Church.

    by planxty Written Jun 1, 2013

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    Church of St. John at Bethnal Green, London, UK.
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    I must have walked past the Church of St. John on Bethnal Green literally thousands of times as it stands opposite Bethnal Green Tube Station, a place not ten minutes walk from my home and which I use regularly. Strange then, given my fascination with just about everything and my proximity to the place, that I had never been over the threshold of it. Regrettably this is partially due to the fact that it is just not possible to leave a place of worship open and unattended in London any more but that is the way of the world.

    I had looked at the architecture certainly but did not know until I was researching this tip that it was designed by Sir John Soane between 1826 and 1828. For those of you who do not know of Soane, he was responsible for the design of many famous buildings, including the Bank of England (not the modern building) and Freemasons Hall which is not far from the wonderful Museum bearing his name in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London. Frankly, I do not find the architecture very inspiring although it has been recently sand / water blasted to remove the grime of the large amount of traffic passing which has certainly improved it's appearance.

    One afternoon, I was standing having a smoke outside the excellent Salmon and Ball pub which is just over the road. I noticed the doors to the Church were open and decided to go and have a look. I have to say that I was totally amazed by what I found as I shall explain. St. John's Church is still an active place of worship, describing itself on it's own website (see below) as being of the "Anglo-Catholic tradition [which] seeks to combine dignified traditional worship with a commitment to social justice and an engagement with contemporary arts," although I did not know that at the time. As an aside, should the reader wish to visit for the purposes of worship, full details are given on the website and they do state that they are "a church that is enriched by the ordination of women and unconcerned with sexual orientation!" I do not wish to be contentious here but I know this information may be of interest to some.

    I was expecting to find a Church which would have undoubtedly have had points of interest. I have stated many times on VT that I have no religious faith myself but I find places of worship, of whatever faith, fascinating and visit them when I can. I have been to all sorts of unsusual such places but I must admit to having been slightly unprepared for what I walked into as it was certainly not "advertised" outside. It was clear that the Church had been turned into an art gallery which did take me aback somewhat. The exhibiton has changed now and obviously, I can only show five images here but I have created a travelogue to showcase some more which are primarily of the exhibiton whilst those here are of the building itself.

    I found the juxtaposition of artwork in an old religious building very interesting and not at all incongruous. Some of the pieces were certainly socially challenging, and I got the overall impression that this is in keeping with the religious ethos of the place. Certainly, as well as the artworks, there are the usual trappings of a Church of that age including several military memorials, another subject dear to my heart.

    In all honesty, the trip I made up the ladder into the belltower was because I genuinely thought there may have been more works of art up there as the layout of the exhibition certainly suggested that may have been the case and there were no prohibitory signs. I have to say, if you do find your way up there, it is absolutely fascinating and I had never been in a Church belltower before. I am stil not sure if I was or was not allowed up there but it was safe enough and the traveller may wish to have a look themselves.

    I would suggest that the major reason for visiting this area for the traveller would be a visit to the simply wonderful Museum of Childhood which is literally a couple of hundred yards away but I would suggest that if the Church is open it is well worth a visit.

    Admission is free although donations are obviously welcome. For mobility impaired travellers, there is a ramp allowing access to the ground floor although I did not see any means of access to the upper floor. I am afraid that it is a building of that age.

    I have no doubt that this tip will be buried in the VT database as I have chosen to put it correctly in a Bethnal Green page and not a general London tip but so be it, that is how I construct my VT pages. I do however hope some of you see it and do decide to visit, it is certainly worth the effort.

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    A real insiders tip.

    by planxty Updated Jan 24, 2013

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    Beigel Bakery, Brick Lane, London, UK.

    When I arrived in London from Northern Ireland in the late 1980's I had heard of beigels but never actually seen one "in the flesh" as it were. We just could not get them at home in those days. I knew what they were and that they were associated with the Jewish community but I had never actually had one.

    One evening, shortly after arriving, I was out with a mate called Bobby who had been born and raised in Bethnal Green and knew the place like the back of his hand. We had had a few beers locally and he asked me if I fancied a beigel so I jumped at the chance. We wandered along Brick Lane and I noticed that there were two beigel shops literally two doors away from each other. One had a queue out the door and the other one had a few people in but not so many. Ordinarily I would have said that the more patronised one was the one to go for as people preferred it but no, my local guide steered me to the other one, the place you see pictured.

    I asked him about this and he informed me that all the late night crowd always went to the Beigel Bake but those in the know went to this one, which I believe was then called Evering's. I have since eaten in both many times and both are excellent but I definitely prefer this one. The fact that it is still going when it opened in 1855 must say something and, as the sign indicates, it was the first beigel bakery in Britain. I hadn't a clue what to order form the huge selection and Bobby recommended a salt beef beigel with a little mustard as being very traditional. I went for that and it was absolutely gorgeous. As with the beigel, I had never had salt beef before, I am not even sure I had heard of it and it was beautiful, just falling apart. This remains my favourite beigel although the smoked salmon and cream cheese runs it a very close second. In an area that is almost exclusively Bangladeshi now, this is a lovely and very tasty reminsder of the long Jewish history of the area.

    If you are around the East End, this really is a must do activity.

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    Return to Childhood

    by planxty Updated Oct 28, 2012

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    Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London.
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    This tip concerns the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. It is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum and deals, naturally enough, with things concerning children.

    The building itself is interesting, with the impressive inside iron frame having been transplanted from Brompton where it had been the South Kensington Museum, and the mosaic floor was made by female prisoners from Woking Jail!

    There are a huge selection of toys and games on display, which certainly brought back some memories for this 50 something VTer!

    There is also a great selection of dolls houses, and children's clothes from times past.

    As well as being a museum, the place is very child friendly, and somewhat resembles a creche at times, with kids running about or taking part in the many activities provided by staff.

    Although the building is large, I would suggest that, unless you have children taking part in the activities, a couple of hours would be enough to see everything.

    Update May 2009.

    I have now included a photograph of the Museum with it's new frontage although I have retained the old photo to show what the building was like when I first made the tip.

    Update October 2012

    I recently revisited the Museum as I had learned that there was a new exhibition of toys which I wanted to see. As with so much in the East End, it is tied in with the Olympics and charts the changes in childhood between 1948 and 2012, those being the last two times the Olympics have been held in the City. I have added a couple of extra images here from the exhibition although I will construct a travelogue to show more of the images.

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Bethnal Green Things to Do

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