The cosmopolitan world of 1960s Black Lion Yard
Contributed by Moby on Nov. 13, 2018
My late father (Nizam) had emigrated from Bangladesh to settle in the East End of London in June 1960. He was born and raised in Sylhet Town, Bangladesh (originally part of the Assam Province during the British Raj). He was educated in the Sylhet Model High School and specialised in Bengali Language and Politics.
In early 1963 he moved into a room above the shop at No. 18a Black Lion Yard, E1. During this time, most of the businesses in Black Lion Yard were jewellery shops and watchmakers, hence the area was known as "Hatton Garden of the East End". His opposite neighbour was an established jeweller named Mr. Granatt whom he described as a hardworking businessman and got to know very well.
My father purchased a red Ariel Leader motor-cycle to use for commuting to work to and from the West End. The revving sound of his motorcycle engines used to echo across the narrow Black Lion Yard. His favourite diner was the Lyons Corner House on Charing Cross Road whose manager was called Norman. His favourite song, most befittingly was the 1960s classic Downtown by Petula Clark. Around that time, he watched the open-air fight Muhammad Ali vs Henry Cooper with the crowds at Wembley Stadium.
My father very much became part of the friendly neighbourhood and subsequently moved out of 18A to relocate further up the street to No. 11 Black Lion Yard. My parents were married in July 1968 and they stayed in the flat above No. 11 for a few more years.
Having newly arrived from Bangladesh, my mother felt somewhat isolated at first as she didn't have any family contacts in the UK. Tellingly, my father’s Bangladeshi friend was married to a kind Scottish lady, named Iris, who had two boys of mixed-race, and they also lived on Black Lion Yard. Fortunately, my mother spoke basic English that came into good practice as her grandfather, Syed (Pehlwan) Bakth had privileged access to the British expatriate community networks in Sylhet Town serving the British Raj around the 1930s when Sir Michael Keane was the Governor of Assam. As his nickname (Pehlwan) suggests, Syed Bakth was the famous wrestler of Sylhet who defeated a mighty Persian wrestler at the Sylhet stadium watched by huge crowds and receiving adulation from the British expatriate community in Assam.
Depictions of these real-life family accounts of British Bengal communicated by my mother captured the attention and the imagination of her new friends and neighbours in East London. Iris was of immense help in socially connecting with my mother and supporting her with intercultural networking in London. Iris later became one of my mother's closest friends. Locally, my mother used to visit a little sweet shop on Black Lion Yard owned by a very nice Jewish lady sharing her same name, Lily, and they were good friends.
As fresh Halal food was scarce back then, my mother would do most of her grocery shopping from a local Kosher delicatessen on the corner of Old Montague Street, named Woolf. There was also a butcher shop nearby owned by three Jewish brothers from where she would buy fresh Kosher poultry. My mother began to cherish her friendly East End neighbourhood with Iris that was centred around the cosmopolitan Black Lion Yard and would also attend family street parties together. She recalls a well-mannered young teenager who lived on the corner building of Black Lion Yard with her parents and was always friendly to my mother.
My father also voluntarily served the local community in tackling issues on poverty, better education and social justice for the newly arriving Bangladeshi community that began to thrive in the East End of London in the late 1960/early 1970s. A Bangladeshi-owned restaurant named Ariza sprang up in the middle of Black Lion Yard, as did an Asian grocery called Sylhet Store. 1971 marked the symbolic year for the national struggle of independence for Bangladesh. My mother was one of the first members of the Bangladesh Women’s Association in the UK. She participated in a procession in central London in the spring of 1971 that called for independence for Bangladesh and raised awareness of the war atrocities by marching on foot with hundreds of other young Bangladeshi women from East London to the Hyde Park corner. This appears to be a 'back to the future' scenario for ‘Asian Girl Power’!
In early 1972 my parents made the decision to leave the East End and head for the southern views of Devon and then relocated again to Cambridgeshire. There, my father took up his passion for language by serving as a local Radio Broadcaster for BBC Radio Bangla [Cambridgeshire] until his retirement. Latterly, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bangladesh Welfare Association UK by the local community.
My grandparents' jewellery shop
Contributed by Brenda2 on Oct. 31, 2018
My grandparents had a jewellery shop and workshop in Black Lion Yard, along with several other jewellers. They lived above the shop. I went there as a young girl, after the war, and till the shop was closed. The living room and kitchen were behind the shop; that's where we ate. Somewhere out of Black Lion Yard there was a street with shops to buy bread, chickens were slaughtered and sold there. I remembeer the smell. Along Whitechapel Road to the left out of the yard, past Blooms, was an ice-cream-soda bar - I must have been about seven (1948) when I remember sitting on a stool with this most delicious drink.
Working at Netties in Black Lion Yard in the early 1960s
Contributed by patricia on July 5, 2017
When I was 13 or 14, in the early 1960s, someone got me a Saturday job as a shampoo girl in a little salon called Netties in Black Lion Yard. I remember the shops in Black Lion Yard, mostly jewellery shops and silverware shops and a couple of Indian food shops. Most of Nettie's clientele were old, and I found it difficult to wash their hair. I had to sweep the floors also. After a few weeks, I was fired as I think most of the customers complained I didn't do a good job shampooing.
Black Lion Yard
Contributed by alan on May 23, 2017
As a child in the late 1940s I remember being taken by my parents to a Kosher restaurant at the end of Black Lion Yard. It was very good, a rival to Blooms. Unfortunately I don't remember the name. In my memory one walked down the Yard and it spanned across with I think a passageway in the middle to go further into the Yard. I can picture the restaurant but cannot remember what I ate although I assume it would have been salt beef and chips. I remember it as having been a great meal though. I believe there were two restaurants in Black Lion Yard but this one was across the end.
My father's cloth shop
Contributed by Rosemarie Wayland (nee Zetolofsky) on June 6, 2017
I was born in Plumber's Row in 1950. In 1955, as my father became more prosperous, he bought the shop across the road, 91 Whitechapel Road. We lived above the shop. Eventually he went on to buy 91 and 89 Whitechapel Road and converged the two shops together. My father ran the cloth shop until the late 1970s when he sold the property and we moved to South London. The shops aren't there anymore, they're gone.
Back in the day I went to Robert Montefiore Primary School and my earliest memory of school was sleeping on a cot-bed in the playground at lunchtime. In those days young children were encouraged to have a nap in the afternoon. If I close my eyes I can see all these army cot-beds in the playground. You were given got a pillow and a blanket. Not everybody slept but it was rest time. The headmaster was Mr Padden and his deputy was Miss Graham, a formidable lady that always wore khaki green, but she was an excellent teacher, really really good. You knew you were in trouble when you saw her walking towards you.
I remember being a toilet-roll monitor believe it or not. Toilet paper wasn't in abundance at school and we used Izel loo paper, which wasn't the best loo paper to say the least. One of the privileges of being a slightly older child was that you were given the duty of standing outside either the boys toilets or the girls toilets with a roll of loo paper and handing out two sheets of loo paper to each child as they went in to the bathroom. You say that now and children say 'really?!' But yes that's what we did.
I used to belong to Greatorex Street Synagogue and that was good fun. I learned Israeli dancing in there.
Living as long-haired lefties in Black Lion Yard
Contributed by David_Hoffman on Aug. 30, 2017
I had friends who were living in Black Lion Yard so I spent time there as well, and when one of them moved out I took over the room and lived there for a year or two. That was a room above a jewellery shop, it was pretty tatty but relatively ok, it was a nice building, it was a shame it was demolished. I lived in No.17.
There were jewellers shops, the streets were filled with jewellers shops earlier, it was a place where people came from all over London to buy clocks, watches, rings, jewellery of all sorts, it was a big centre for jewellery. It always seemed odd to me that they would be next to each other where they would be competing, but it brought people in.
I moved in in 1971 or 1972 and at that point the east side had been cleared or partly demolished, it was fully demolished while I was living there, and there was a couple of buildings used as cafes by local West Indian Guys. They'd be up and down the road selling dope, you could lean out of the window at No.17 where I was living and whistle and someone would flick up a bit of dope, and you'd throw down a 50p.
Originally the jewellery shops were on both sides of the street, but by the time I moved in they were on the west side. When I moved in about half of the east side was gone, and when I was there they were demolishing the last part of the east side, I've got pictures of guys with hammers knocking bits down which I shot from my window looking across the street.
Our landlord was Solly Granatt, he would go to Hatton Garden and then come back to his shop, he did a lot of diamond trading as well as the jewellery in the shop. There was no diamond cutting, it was purely retail. I think it was entirely Jewish run.
There was a derelict dairy, a milking parlour at the end of Black Lion Yard. There were steps up and a couple of bollards where it meets Old Montague Street, and the dairy was in the corner. It still had the stalls and bits of stuff, no milking was taking place but there had been I think as late as the early 1960s.
Most of the shop owners were pretty old, and were retiring as they closed down. Solly Granatt was going to retire but he died before he actually moved out, so at that point we turned from paying rent into a squat, because there was no landlord to collect our rent, so we just stayed there.
We didn't have much communication with the other jewellers, they were very closed. Granite I got on well with, but I don't know his plans. I don't know where he was from but out of this area, Stanmore or Finchley. He had been in the shop a long time, I have a feeling his father had been in the same shop too. We didn't ask him much and he didn't talk much about that sort of thing. He'd ask me to walk him down to the tube if he had a lot of diamonds, there had been a few robberies.
Because we were young dope smoking, squatty types, lefty, long-haired, flares, the other jewellers hated us, pretty much all the other residents didn't like us at all. We had parties, we had women round, generally we had a pleasant time.
I moved out in autumn 1973. Solly went into hospital and died there, probably spring or summer 1973.
Jewellers in Black Lion Yard
Contributed by Sarah Milne, Survey of London on June 3, 2017
Eleanor remembers walking through Black Lion Yard as a child:
My mother emigrated to the East End from Ireland in 1950. I was one of five children who grew up in the area. I used to have to walk through Black Lion Yard to get to my school in the morning. About twenty to eight, I remember leaving my house and finding a thick fog outside. It was still the days of coal. I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face. It was a narrow alley and on the right hand side were lots of Jewish jewellry shops. They were beautifully arranged and their big display windows were sort of tudor in style, with little panes of glass making up the whole window.