Forgotten Fulham: Fings ain’t wot they used t’be

THE last time I had walked down the North End Road the local market stalls were still charging in pounds, shillings and pence.

This north-south thoroughfare represents the proletarian fag end of fancy Fulham, running due south to the Broadway. I don’t recall being back since my widowed godmother sold her fish shop there in the early sixties and decamped to Brighton.

My trip down memory lane was a reminder that William Cobbett’s Great Wen, the 19th century rural obsessive’s negative nickname for London, is so sprawling that a half century can pass without even the most dedicated urban flaneur retracing his steps in once familiar places.

The pilgrimage was part of my researches into the prevalence of what I call Bart’s Syndrome, named after East End composer Lionel Bart and inspired by his 1959 hit “Fings ain’t wot they used t’be”.

It particularly affects former working class Londoners who followed my godmother’s path to Brighton, Essex, Milton Keynes, Australia or wherever, and now seek to justify their decisions by conjuring up the present dire state of the neighbourhoods they left behind.

The syndrome even extends to those who were plucked from the bosom of the metropolis in their infancy to be raised in some provincial wilderness with nothing but their elders’ false memories to comfort them.

It’s a remembered London in which we apparently survived on a diet of pie and mash and jellied eels, washed down with sarsaparilla and dished up by Pearly Queens.

Sufferers tend to congregate in online self-help groups with names like Hackney Memories or Growing Up in Brixton to swap tales of the good old days.

Here is a genuine but anonymised example: “I was born in Fulham, as was my mum and her dad. I now live in *****shire. Fulham was fab in the 60’s and 70’s. North End Road was a bustling market place. Sadly, it’s not a patch on what it once was.”

So had it changed? Not that much really.

OK, so there’s a Thai massage parlour where I think the cobbler’s might have been, and a Chicken Cottage to supplement the surviving fish shop. It now has three pawnbrokers in the space of as many hundred yards (we’ll all be heading to them soon!) and phone shops and betting shops that weren’t there back in the day.

The street market founded in the 1880s survives, although with about a tenth of the 90 stalls it boasted in its heyday. But there are more permanent small fruit and veg and general stores to make up for it.

One stallholder was complaining that in the new Global Britain some supplies are harder to come by. “Don’t even ask for aubergines!”

The North End Road itself has survived the galloping gentrification that long ago gobbled up most of Fulham, although there is now a Waitrose at the bottom end to supplement the Co-op at the top.

Half way down, Lillie Road marks the frontier between the Labour-run north and the Tory-run south, although who knows how long that will last.

In the immediate hinterland, most private housing is beyond most people’s pockets, even if they could get a mortgage these days. In contrast, the 1960s Clement Atlee estate, rented as social housing, was singled out in a 2019 government report as the most deprived area of Hammersmith and Fulham.

One grumpy North End Road shopowner and Bart’s Syndrome sufferer told a local journalist at the time that “about 10 to 15 years ago there were so many more shops and the market was really big”.

Sixty odd years ago, Bart’s lyrics lamented: “They changed our local palais into a bowling alley and fings ain’t what they used t’be. There’s Teds in drainpipe trousers and debs in coffee houses. No, fings ain’t what they used t’be.”

Now when did you last see a Ted? As for debutantes, the late Queen officially abolished them in 1958 after deciding some things were better off changing.

PS: Now I cant get Bart’s bloody tune out of my head.

The Queen’s funeral: a Londoner’s survival guide

A MILLION mourners are expected to descend on the nation’s capital this week to pay their respects along the route of the Queen’s funeral cortege and at her lying-in-state at Westminster Hall.

As part of its public service remit, this column is undertaking to provide the following guidance on how native Londoners might cope with the onslaught.

Queueing: the best way to avoid the queue to view her late majesty’s coffin is not to join it. The government estimates it could stretch for five miles and might take you 30 hours to get to the front. In fact, if you’re reading this, you may already have left it too late.

The back of the line is supposed to be at my local patch of green, Potters Field, (see “Idle Thoughts” passim). The small riverside park, with a commanding view across to Traitor’s Gate, normally serves as a spot for out-of-towners to take selfies and dump their litter.

Overnight, it has been transformed into a steel-barriered holding pen for stragglers, guarded by a serried rank of Portaloos. If the route is overwhelmed, there’s a plan to dragoon the overflow to Southwark Park. You can’t say south-east London isn’t doing its bit.

Weatherspoon’s pubs: these reasonably priced hostelries are the favoured refuge of many surviving babyboomers, affectionately known as Generation Snooze.

If you would like to hear (yet again) their recollections about 1. “What I was doing on the day the old King died” 2. “How I stood barefoot in the smog when the young Queen’s limo went by”, or 3. “How we celebrated her coronation with an extra slice of bread and dripping”, then make the nearest Spoon’s your go-to destination.

Dining out: upmarket mourners are already reserving tables at a handful of exclusive eateries after luxury lifestyle magazine The Resident suggested: “There are various ways you can pay your respects to the Queen in London, however if you are planning to toast in her honour, why not do so in one of her favourite London restaurants?” 

Top of the list is Bellamy’s in Mayfair, also touted by London’s Evening Standard on the basis that “the Queen visited at least twice over the years”. Get the butler to book early to avoid disappointment.

Expressions of dissent: try to avoid making any overt comments that might be taken to suggest less than whole-hearted support for the royal family or the institution of the British monarchy.

I’ve noticed that my lippy republican mates, not usually backwards in coming forward, have been remarkably taciturn in the days since the death of the Queen.

Maybe they have been alerted to reports of isolated incidents of protestors and their “Not My King” placards being dragged from the streets by the boys in blue.

A barrister in Parliament Square says he was threatened with arrest if he wrote anything disloyal on the blank sheet of paper he was holding.

Although the pending Public Order Bill appears to ban any demonstration judged to be even mildly irritating, the Metropolitan Police says people “absolutely have a right to protest”, while even the courtly Daily Telegraph conceded that “even republicans have a right to cause offense”.

But, in case any members of the self-appointed thought police are reading this, I would just like to stress my genuine admiration of the late Queen in the conduct of her duties.

Career highlights?

She charmed Africa’s Commonwealth leaders and kept them onside in the 1980s at a time when her prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was pandering to the apartheid regime in Pretoria.

She comforted survivors at the scene the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, while Theresa May went there but avoided meeting them for “security reasons”. The PM still got booed.

And who could not sympathise with the Queen after Princess Diana’s death in 1997 when, in what felt like a re-run of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the bouquet-wielding mob condemned her for not sharing their hysteria. She had decided her grieving grandchildren were her priority.

The late Queen’s talent for never openly expressing an opinion on anything beyond the racecourse meant we could all fantasise about what she really thought on any given subject.

I like to imagine her contemplating this week’s mourning extravaganza and thinking: “My goodness, do they have to make quite so much fuss?”

Lost in the Truss triangle

So what will YOU tell the grandchildren in years to come when they ask where you were on the day Liz Truss ascended to the Tory leadership?

Your correspondent will be able to boast that he arrived in the tense pre-proclamation hours on Liz’s South London doorstep, half expecting to have to fight his way through jostling journalists and adoring, flag-waving crowds.

Alas, he found himself alone on the deserted boundary of Greenwich’s prestigious Ashburnham Triangle without even a watchful bobby for company.

Maybe the future PM had already left with her overnight bag for Balmoral (nice one, ma’am) or nipped down to the local IKEA to pick some wallpaper to cover the newly stripped walls at Downing Street.

Either way, there was no sign of the feverish excitement that had gripped the Tory gerentocracy for weeks as the leadership race staggered to its inevitable conclusion.

Or perhaps, as the forest of for sale signs suggests, the locals have already decamped, reeling from revelations that they’ve been sharing the neighbourhood with what the press has dubbed The Greenwich Set, a coven of top Tories who have made the triangle their home.

As The Spectator, once edited by Boris Johnson, drooled: “Liz Truss is just one of the Tories turning this south-east London borough blue”.

Kwasi Kwarteng, tipped for Chancellor, is Liz’s near neighbour, while unelected Hard Brexit cheerleader Lord Frost lives just round the corner. Truss loyalist James Cleverly is just up the hill in Blackheath. Locals say Jacob Rees-Mogg is among the frequent callers at Truss Mansion.

Frankly, her Regency-style pile may be a bit downmarket for the Moggster. There’s even a bus stop almost outside the front door, although there is always the chance cash-strapped Transport for London might have to add the route it serves to the list it has already been forced to cancel.

Despite the presence of the Truss-led Tory elite, Greenwich remains a solid segment of Labour’s inner London Red Wall. In local elections this year Labour trashed the Tories with 52 seats to three and, in Truss’s ward, even the Green candidate polled three votes for every one picked up by the nearest Conservative.

Perhaps that explains the absence of street celebrations when the Truss result came through. One morose Labour councillor, drowning her sorrows at the Greenwich waterfront, said she was “ashamed to live in the same borough”.

A former councillor who pipped Liz to the post in borough elections 20 years ago was more restrained, confiding last week that no one in those days would ever have tipped her for high office. She finally made it on to the council in 2006 for an unmemorable four-year term before entering national politics. And the rest is history.

Her rise is a mystery worthy of Edgar Wallace, the journalist-turned-crime writer born into poverty in the neglected Ashburnham Grove of the late 19th century.

By that time, the area developed by the wealthy Ashburnham family from 1755 was heading downhill, which is where it stayed until the pioneer gentrifiers of the sixties began to tart up its tattered terraces and push for its recognition as a conservation zone in 1980.

Although local estate agents are currently touting modest family homes at a shade under £1.7 mill, you can grab a cramped flat for barely a third of that. The local obsession at the moment appears to be car theft rather than politics. A Land Rover Discovery, ideal for taking the little angels on the school run, went awol only last week.

The triangle represents everything the modern Tory grandee affects to hate, populated as it is by affluent Labour-voting, Remoaning, latte-swigging metropolitan elitists. That begs the question why so many of them choose to live there and places like it.

Johnson himself migrated from the family home in fashionable Islington to cross the river to Carrie’s pad in up-and-coming Camberwell. Their shadow has now been lifted from the good people of SE5 as the couple contemplates a move to nearby Herne Hill.

I suppose they’d argued these London areas are handy for the House. Truss is a 15 minute train ride to Whitehall, the same time it takes to walk to the nearest food bank. She plans to hang on to Greenwich while she’s away in Downing Street. Perhaps she anticipates her stay at Number 10 will be a short one.

Footnote: after hearfelt entreaties from our extensive domestic and international (and non-paying!) readership, this column is being revived to help guide you through the latest tribulations facing this great city. It got you through the Brexit debacle and the Covid lockdown. It never claimed things wouldn’t get worse.

We’ll aim for an item a week. But don’t get stroppy if that falls short.