East London

In 1852, my great great grandfather, George Chapman Sr, left his wife and several children behind in London, and sailed with two of his sons to Melbourne. The youngest of those sons was my great grandfather, George Chapman Jr, who was only three years old when he arrived in the colony of Port Phillip, which at the time was buzzing with gold fever. George Sr was a musician. In the 1841 London census, he was living in Wilson St, between Bishopsgate and Finsbury Circus. By the 1851 census, he had moved just a short distance away to 33 Primrose St, where he lived with his wife, Sarah, their children and her parents. George Jr was baptised on October 28, 1849 in St Botolph Without Bishopsgate church. Today, I was returning to the streets my ancestors walked.

The reasons why George Sr left East London are still somewhat of a mystery to me. He was a very good musician, who not only went on to operate a successful music instrument warehouse in Melbourne, but also became a music tutor, music composer and the conductor of Melbourne’s largest band in the post gold rush era. There are stories in the family that say he was once a court musician for Queen Victoria, though I haven’t seen the evidence of this. But assuming it is true, why would he leave his wife and children and come to the other side of the world if he was forging a successful music career in London? I have two other theories. One is that he was living in poverty. The East End was notorious for its poverty during the Victorian era. Perhaps he left Sarah and the children to see if there were opportunities to make a decent living in the colonies, before bringing the rest of the family out eighteen months later. My other, more likely, theory is that George Sr left East London for health reasons. Two of his children had already died when he left. Another died before he and Sarah were reunited when she joined him in Australia with his other children. This was the time of the deadly cholera epidemic that spread along the Thames. I suspect that he came to Australia to see if conditions were better for his family’s health, and that he sent for them when he discovered this to be the case.

Marg dropped into the hair salon on the corner of our Shoreditch street for a colour and a hair cut. This was going to take two to three hours, so it was a good opportunity for me to explore a little of the East End. Things have changed since George Sr and Jr left. Today the East End is a cool place to be. Lots of pubs, cafes and boutique stores. Huge skyscrapers rise high into the sky. And there is a constant stream of traffic along Bishopsgate and Shoreditch High Street.

It didn’t take long to find Primrose St. It runs alongside the Liverpool Street Station railyards. Apparently, the former Chapman residence was one of many demolished when the railyards were built in its place, so the current location of Primrose St has moved a little from where it originally was. The street is not a big one, but it still suffered a couple of direct hits during the London Blitz during World War II. Just around the corner, a short distance away, was Wilson Street. Not far from there I discovered the beautiful Finsbury Circus, which was quite reminiscent of some of the Georgian housing we’d just seen in Bath. Returning to Bishopsgate, I came to St Botolph Without Bishopsgate. It wasn’t open for visitors today, so if I find time on Monday, I’ll try again.

I walked back through the Old Spitalfields Market to meet up with Marg again. We needed to get some lunch, and I was also keen to get my hair cut, so the two of us went back to the market for a couple of hours to take care of those two necessities. The sun was out, the skies were blue and it was quite warm. It was a beautiful day in East London.

During my travels, I enjoyed seeing the urban art on walls and doors around the streets close to our apartment. It seems quite fitting that I would find it in one of the coolest places in London.

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