Nairn’s London #26
The Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate
THEN: One of the most dramatic contrasts in London. Just when the City seems to be getting to its most crowded and correct, along Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street, the whole thing falls away. In a few yards the bowler hats have gone, the buildings – shoddy but very expressive – house second-hand goods and small-scale tailors. The streets have stalls like Tubby Isaac’s in Goulston Street, selling eels, inscribed: ‘We lead, others follow’. This is the East End with a bang, and just around the corner are some of the roughest streets in Stepney. At the other end of Aldgate East is another moving change: the split of Commercial and Whitechapel Roads – one going to the docks and the estuary, the other pointed straight at the heart of East Anglia, those long miles beyond Newmarket. It is only a traffic block now, but it could be marvellous, given town artists and not just town planners. Half way along on the south side is the Hoop and Grapes, a lovable survival of the years just after the Fire. The inside, long, low and dark, is in the old style too.
NOW: Nairn discusses Aldgate in general, but as he finished with the pub, I’ll start with it. The Hoop and Grapes is now part of the Nicholson’s chain, and bears all of the commoditised hallmarks that you’d expect – cheap pub grub and an uninspiring beer selection. But its shape still remains – with low slung ceilings and foreboding dark wood interiors. Heading outside, the dramatic contrast between city and shanty still exists. In fact, with the addition of Vinoly’s Walkie Talkie building, the effect has only been exaggerated. Stepney is now one of the more multicultural areas in East London – you’ll struggle to buy eels these days – but the market stalls remain nonetheless. And with my recent move from Old Street to Whitechapel, its an area I’m going to get to know rather well.