Glimpse history through old images of Bethnal Green in Greater London.
You’ll definitely want to see the 1970s footage of the wash house further down this page, even if you find the traditional cockney accents of the older women a little bit challenging to understand.
Queen Mary’s Hospital Annexe Opens 1928
Huge crowds turned out in Bethnal Green in 1928 when Queen Mary came to open the Queen Mary Hospital Annexe.
It’s extraordinary how much women’s clothing has changed in the past century, while it’s only really the men’s hats that would distinctly mark them out if they wore the same outfits today.
Queen Mary opens Queen Mary’s hospital in Bethnal Green, East London (1928) – British Pathé on YouTube
New Bethnal Green Baths 1929
Given the item lower down this page, looking at the importance of the wash house to the Bethnal Green community in the 1970s, it’s good to have a visual record of the opening of the baths in 1929, even if the camera focuses on the wealthy, well dressed folk attending instead of the actual facilities.
There are a few good shots of the local street, as the camera captures the large crowds.
Excited local children are mischeiveously trying to push forward as the policemen pushes them back!
The Duke of York became King George VI in 1936 following the abdication of his oldest brother. When he died at the age of 56 in 1952, his eldest daughter became Queen Elizabeth II.
Bath opened by Duke and Duchess of York at Bethnal Green (1929)- British Pathé on YouTube
The Rising Sun 1962
Unfortunately, this talent content at The Rising Sun pub has no sound, even though that’s essential to the performances!
But I’ve included it because it shows a small part of the pub, several local people, and a quick look at the sort of activities which were enjoyed in the Bethnal Green area in the 1960s.
Mr Wheatley was the landlord of The Rising Sun at the time. Alma Cogan was one of the judges, and also sang. Don Harvey played the Lowrey organ.
Alf Fowl sang ‘Fanlight Fanny’, while Ron Chance is seen impersonating Norman Wisdom.
Other contestants were June Bassey, Phil Palmer, Maureen Parker, Larry Harfield, and Reg Kahn.
The winners were Ron Chance, Reg Kahn and Maureen Parker.
Talent Competition – “The Rising Sun” Bethnal Green, London (1962) – British Pathé on YouTube
1970s Bethnal Green Wash House
In the 1970s, many poorer households in city communities still used the local wash house to clean their clothes.
This short film not only captures images of a way of life that disappeared soon after, but also records the voice (and later the face) of a woman who used the wash house over the years – her accent, her use of words and grammar, her memories of the old days. It’s also an insight into the importance of community and social contact for older women.
The images show Ramsey Street, along with new flats and old buildings.
Inside the wash house, women use large industrial washing machines to clean their clothes. The machines are cumbersome, leaky, hot and steamy, and look like something out of a science fiction movie. They are kept in check by a portly man who smokes cigarettes as he works.
The lady speaking tells us that she hasn’t had an easy life, and the way to keep clean was to come to the baths. At one time you could have a queue of up to two hours. Her aunt used to send over tea and toast for everyone to share.
She remembers the time before the washing machines arrived, when they did everything by hand.
She’s moved to Hackney, and still comes across to the wash house on a Friday morning to meet the people she’s used to meeting at the wash house and bus stop, even though it takes two buses to get there. But she says there are fewer people coming in, as local residents get rehoused.
She thinks using a launderette would be a waste of time, because the clothes wouldn’t be cleaned as well.
Then one of the other women talks about the Bethnal Green wash house. She started going when she was 14, and was now 73. She talks of scrubbing the cuffs and the collars, using elbow grease and making her overall dirty, and how satisfying it was.
London Wash House (1970-1979) – British Pathé on YouTube