East Enders’ Cockney Festival kicks off with right ol’ cockney knees-up

Pearly queens and a king kick off the cockney knees-up

Pearly queens and a king kick off the cockney knees-up - Credit: Archant

London’s proud cockney tradition has been reborn with the launch of its first Cockney Festival at a right old fashioned East End knees-up.

John Scott, Rhyming Slang comic and Pearly King of Mile End

John Scott, Rhyming Slang comic and Pearly King of Mile End - Credit: Archant

Pearly kings and queens kicked it off with a sing-along of golden oldies close to every true cockney’s heart—Lambeth Walk, My Ol’ Man Said Follow the Van and, of course, Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner.

Cocxkney Festival brains Ray Sparra Everingham

Cocxkney Festival brains Ray Sparra Everingham - Credit: Archant

Anyone who thought the cockney tradition was “brown bread” only needed to turn up last night at Tower Hamlets Archive Library in Bancroft Road, off the Mile End Road, where the festival launch by the newly-formed Cockney heritage Trust took off.

Stalls were run by groups like the Stepney History Society, Jewish East End Celebration Society, Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust for the Bethnal Green wartime disaster and the East London Family History Society.

They were giving away nosh at the pie’n’mash stall, while cockles, mussels and whelks were being dished out at Barney’s seafood stall who’ve been in the East End 100 years.

The nine-day festival was the brains of 54-year-old Ray Sparra Everingham who read in the press about “the death of the cockney” and, like Mark Twain reading his own obituary, knew the rumours were greatly exaggerated.

“I was getting cheesed off reading about the cockney being ‘brown bread’,” he fumed.

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“There are 17 Facebook groups around like Bow E3, The Real EastEnders, Living in Stepney, Cockney Pride, Pie’n’Mash, Old East Enders, Isle of Dogs Then & Now, with thousands of members between them.

“They’re still proud of their roots and exchange messages, share photographs and swap memories.”

But Ray wanted them to get off the keyboard and come into the open. So he put out a leaflet in public libraries and the thing took off.

“It’s no good people staying in on the Internet,” he insists. “I want to get them meeting each other and exploring face-to-face what it means to be a cockney.”

Tower Hamlets Archive Library liked the idea and suggested a steering group which has been meeting since September.

The festival has 55 events over nine days, including tonight’s film show ‘Somewhere to Live’ being screened at the old St Clement’s Hospital theatre in the Bow Road, a former workhouse soon being morphed into Britain’s first land trust housing.

Events tomorrow include a sing-along in Poplar’s Chrisp Street market outside Ivy’s café, 11am to 1.30pm, with a pianist tickling the ivories on an old Joanna.

“It’s one of the last places you can still get saveloys and peas pudding, faggots and pigs trotters,” Ray points out. “The market is also blessed with two pie’n’mash shops.”

It’s followed at 2pm by another sing-along a few yards further down the market at Chrisp Street public library.

“It was going to be led by Wayne Adams, one of the Barrow Boys band,” added Ray. “But he sadly died on Sunday from cancer.

“So the Pearlies are stepping in and they’ll play a tribute to Wane.”