Two-hundred years of east Walworth heritage and heroes was brought to life with the first of a series of animated tours.
Saturday’s tour of East Street saw a showcase of actors from the People’s Company, musicians and local historians shed a light on the community’s forgotten times.
At each stop the entourage was greeted by an ‘echo of the past’ to give a taste of the sights, sounds and characters from each moment in time, and a fact-filled talk by the Walworth Society’s John Whelan.
Guests were taken to the 1860s markets of East Lane and Westmorland Road. The market would open each morning at 8.30am with a police officer’s daily ritual of kicking off the day of trade ‘giving the tip’ by blowing his whistle.
Among the street traders you could find “costermongers” selling fruit and veg, “quacks” flogging made up medicines, preachers, clairvoyants and tipsters. There, you also had the first pearly-button-wearing kings and queens of the market, which donated their rank in the markets.
A stop at Pilton Place, which John said was an example of the great expanse of housing built by philanthropists such as Edward Yates, who built 2,500 Southwark homes in the nineteenth-century.
The estate was later bought in 1971 by American George Peabody, who was later made a freeman of London.
So ambitious was the scale of housebuilding, John said, that east Walworth became the most densely populated area in Britain, with 294 people per square-acre.
The tour also took on illegal betting on street corners, organised by gangs whose spies would scout around to watch for the law for speedy scarper, and offered a sneak peek of the soon-to-be-reopened Horseman and Hounds in Elsted Street.
Rounding off the tour was a guest talk from Johnny Wallington OBE, chair of the market traders’ association.
John Whelan, who co-organised the tour with fellow Walworth Society member, Diana Cochrane, said: “My favourite thing to research was the story of how the pension scheme was created here in Walworth by Robert Browning.
“The fact that the welfare system, that helping hand, was designed in our community, that’s what our community is all about. It’s wonderful to bring history to life in this way. We remember the past and look to the future.”
The next tour will explore Walworth Road on August 20. A tour of West Walworth will take place on September 10. Plans for a tour of the Elephant and Castle Regeneration site are underway.