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Sir Arnold Wesker and Benjamin Till
East End Memory Lane for famous playwright
Sir Arnold Wesker is one of the East Enders whose memories of the area will form part of a new piece of music. The composition also features a recording of each bell mentioned in the famous Oranges and Lemons rhyme about London churches.
Sir Arnold Wesker was approached by the composer Benjamin Till to take part in his latest musical venture. Ben has already sampled all the bells in the well-known London poem. He's also recruited a choir of people, all living or working within earshot of the bells, for his piece. Now he is looking for poignant personal stories to illustrate the turbulent times the churches have stood witness to.
Sir Arnold Wesker as a boy.
Sir Arnold chose to take Benjamin on a walk through his childhood haunts. En route he discussed some very personal memories of the area when it was predominantly Jewish. He pointed out a Star of David, still marked on the Christchurch Primary School in Brick Lane, which signified there were Yiddish speaking teachers working there. Today, the area is full of signs in Bengali, but 60 years ago Yiddish and Hebrew were the dominant languages.
The pair visited the house which had been occupied by the Wesker family in Fashion Street. At the time, nearby Fournier Street was considered a complete slum - today it is one of East London's most sought-after addresses.
And Sir Arnold described how he was evacuated to Ely in Cambridgeshire during the war, but after badgering his family to come home, he arrived just in time for the Blitz. The family took shelter at Aldgate East tube and under Spitalfields market, but one of his saddest memories is of his mother's reaction on hearing about the death of her neice, his cousin, during a black-out.
Joan Rose, East End resident of Huguenot descent
Benjamin Till has also been seeking out reminiscences from less well-known East Enders. Joan Rose was brought up around Arnold Circus, London's first social housing estate. Her father ran a shop nearby, which was right next door to one of the churches mentioned in Oranges and Lemons, St Leonard's in Shoreditch.
Joan recalls a fabulous rose garden around the church, and how children would run to the church whenever they heard the bells, in the hope of catching a glimpse of a wedding. On a sadder note, she pictures how the rose petals were replaced by poppies on Armistice Day every year, as the garden was transformed into a field of red.
Robert Dee is the Head Waiter at Lloyds of London, the insurers. The history of the organisation dates back to the days of London's 18th century coffee houses, and his title reflects that history.
Robert Dee and the Lutine Bell at Lloyds
One of his tasks is ring the Lutine Bell at Lloyds. The bell is now cracked, and is rung just once a year, on Armistice Day. Formally though, it was the tradition to ring it once for bad news when a ship was lost, or twice for good news, when a missing ship was sighted or returned safely to port.
Robert has worked at Lloyds for over 30 years. He was one of the first people on the scene after the Baltic Exchange IRA bomb, which damaged St Helens Church - also mentioned in the rhyme.
Benjamin Till is still on the lookout for people with interesting tales to tell about the churches or bells mentioned in Oranges and Lemons. He can be contacted by emailing email@example.com
last updated: 14/05/2009 at 13:46
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