My first time in Shoreditch Town Hall - a pleasantly peeling piece of municipal baroque. It was built in 1866, and extensively rebuilt about forty years later. It still has a spacious hall on the first floor with glorious balcony, and a gents loo on the ground floor bigger than some studio flats nearby. A stone's throw away is the wonderful St Leonard's and adjoining it the even more joyous Clerk's House, now a shop selling up market, expensive kitsch.
Once Shoreditch was a proud London borough, and its town hall - just like those in Finsbury and Holborn - would have been a building of importance, and not simply an elegant municipal relic. The 1965 reorganisation of London local government which consigned both Shoreditch and Stoke Newington to become part of a greater Hackney also deprived such redolent areas as Finsbury, Holborn, Hampstead and St Pancras of borough status.
A work event took me to Shoreditch Town Hall, but I was able to slip away briefly during the afternoon down Brick Lane to the Freedom Bookshop on Angel Alley, by the side of the newly expanded Whitechapel Gallery. At Freedom a fuse had blown and the bookshop was in darkness. A political metaphor if ever there was one.
On my way there, I wandered down Shoreditch High Street and through Boundary Passage. This was immortalised as 'the Posties' in Arthur Morrison's 1896 slum novel, A Child of the Jago. It was the passage through which the young Dicky Perrott, the title character, scarpered with stuff he had nicked from the high street stalls.
The Passage was in 'a farther part of Shoredicth' - the opening page of the novel records - 'off Shoreditch High Street, a narrow passage, set across with posts, [which] gave menacing entrance' onto the notorious slum of the Jago. It's almost a miracle that the Passage still stands. Still a conduit between contrasting London street cultures.
In the 1890s, the high street side was the wider world, commerce, and at least a measure of wealth - while the Jago was fetid, debauched and crime-laden. And today? Well, on the high street end of the Passage there's the Rainbow Sports Bar, with a blackboard boasting 'NEW GIRLS'. On what was the Jago side, a pub with gaudy fudge and slime green ceramic tiles has been newly converted into a creative agency, while opposite is a pricyh clothes boutique. A modern day Dicky Perrott wouldn't know which way to run.
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