Seems a long time since Sarah and I did the first of these walks, taken from Stephen Millar’s London’s Hidden Walks, but the sky yesterday morning, instead of the promised clouds, was bright with winter sunlight, so off we trod. With Tower Bridge at our backs we walked eastwards past St. Katherine’s Dock and along the south bank of the Thames, stopping here and there to take advantage of sets of well-worn stone steps leading, at unsuspected intervals, right down to the water and offering fine views of the old wharves and warehouses on the far side of the river, most of them, of course, now housing, not commodities, but uber-affluent apartment dwellers.
After a refuelling stop at the excellent Turk’s Head Café, once a pub favoured by Irish dockers and now – surprise, surprise – offering veggie breakfasts, flat whites and pancake combinations to the likes of Sarah & I– we turned inland towards the church of St. George in the East, of particular interest as it is near the site of Battle of Cable Street, in which, in 1936, thousands of East Enders held the line against Mosley’s Fascists, preventing them from marching, and commemorated her by a fine, recently restored, mural.
The area is also of considerable personal interest to me because of St.George in the East school, a tough little secondary school made famous by E. R. Braithwaite’s novel, To Sir, With Love, and its succeeding film. It was to St. George in the East, most likely as payment for being such a smart-aleck in lectures, that I was sent on my first teaching practice. It was, I think my colleague, Dorothy Dixon, who accompanied me agreed, a memorable experience and a worthwhile one at that.
The school policy was one of no sanctions, the pupils being largely self-governing through a series of class and school meetings at which teachers’ performances were assessed along with other matters of interest. Any teacher responsible for what the pupils considered a particularly poorly prepared lesson was given a written note accordingly, and this was also the case if a lesson had been particularly enjoyed. During the time I was there – four weeks, I think, though I’m sure it seemed longer –I think I received two of these and, believe me, they were proudly received.
The school buildings, I was pleased to find, are still intact, but house a school no longer; like so much else, they have been converted into flats, the entrance guarded by a gate with coded entry.