Folklore is often stronger than Fact.

Boleyn Castle 01

Green Street House (Boleyn Castle)

Most of us are aware of folklore, enticing tales that pervade through the centuries be they global like the fabled lost cities of El Dorado or Atlantis. National folklore like King Arthur and Camelot, down to local folklore often based on local gossip and false rumour.


All such folklore tends to have the common characteristics of whetting peoples appetites of the unknown. At face value they all seem tangible even if  lack of known or credible facts, if any, exist at all. The absence of known facts usually tend to belie the truth of such stories. But so intriguing are some of these myths that individuals have felt compelled to spend their lives attempting to prove them and all without success as far as I am aware.

One such piece of local folklore I have been aware of for many years concerns the former Green Street House in Newham in London, which was subsequently dubbed the Boleyn Castle by locals due to a castellated decorative tower which formed part of the building. Locals believe Anne Boleyn once lived there  despite there being no evidence to show that she ever did. The myth goes on to say the building was festooned with secret tunnels emanating from the site that were used by Henry VIII for the purposes of secret romantic trysts with Anne Boleyn at a time when he was still married to Catherine of Aragon.

It is not quite known when Green Street House was built but there is however a detailed description of the building that was written in the mid-16th century. The building was demolished in 1955 and West Ham Football Club stands on part of its former land hence the name ‘Boleyn’ ground which refers to the club’s football stand.


Map 1777 Chapman & Andre - 03Depending on which version of local folklore is being related, the supposed secret tunnels run from Green Street House marked ‘A’ on the 1777 Chapman & Andre map, to either the Black Lion public house in Plaistow marked ‘B’, the Spotted Dog Inn in Upton Lane marked ‘C’ or, Saint Mary Magdalene Church  marked ‘D’.

While it is known the Black Lion Public House does indeed have a bricked up tunnel in its basement, the use of secret ‘Priest Holes’, (hiding places built for Roman Catholic priests during Henry VIII’s reign), cannot be discounted. In each case, digging a tunnel to any of these locations would have been a major feet of engineering and could hardly have been classified as secret. It would also not be unreasonable to question if Henry VIII as King of England would need to make his way from Hampton Court Palace presumably with the large entourage that normally accompanied him, and then clandestinely forage through lengthy dirty tunnels to engage in a secret romantic relationship with Anne Boleyn. I personally think this is most unlikely.

As for the tunnels themselves, Newham rapidly grew from a cluster of rural hamlets after the late 19th century into a heavily populated and industrialised area including London’s largest shipping docks. The earth was repeatedly dug up during building operations and not once is there any recorded evidence of a tunnel being uncovered.

No one who relates the tales of the tunnels has actually seen them, at best it is always some other unknown person that claims to have seen them, or it is a story handed down in the family through the generations. Even if during conversation the lack of any credible evidence is cited, likely local responses are, “You never know, something might still be down there” or, there must be some truth in the rumour otherwise so many people would not know about it.

Either way it tends to show that people are often more inclined to believe in folklore rather than fact.

The Sugar Girls

Having worked and socialised for so many years within the London Borough of Newham, many will understand how it is possible to develop something of of ‘soft spot’ for an area, albeit quite some years since I moved from London.

In my day Newham was a mixture of swathes of terraced and social housing, shipping in the docks and heavy industry. Due to its prime position on the River Thames, two nearby sugar refiners merged to form the Tate & Lyle company in 1921.

Tate & Lyles became a large local employer paying generous wages with good social facilities. Many local women, often still girls who left school at the age of fourteen were attracted to work for the company for the good wages, social life and often romance. In the East End of London, just the mention of the name Tates conjured up visions of a way of community life with no other explanation necessary.

With the advent of World War II, Tate & Lyle were in the middle of the heavy bombing during the London Blitz but continued regardless to provide by now the heavily rationed sugar products. Sugar was so scarce, it was still on the infamous ration books until 1953. I was born at the beginning of peacetime but did not taste my first sweet until I was aged seven. Hitler certainly had a lot to answer for.

A book entitled “The Sugar Girls” has now been written by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi. The book embraces the tales of adversity, resilience, youthful high spirits and romance of the ladies who worked for Tate & Lyle, drawn from the personal experiences of the people that worked there. A truly worthwhile read.

To celebrate the launch of the book, the Hub Community and Arts Centre will be hosting a coffee morning on 28th March 11am-1pm. Free tea, coffee and cake will be on offer including 1940’s-50’s photographs of factory life. You will also be able to hear of the experiences of the ladies who worked at Tate and Lyle’s factories.

The Hub Community & Arts Centre is located at 123 Star Lane, Canning Town, E16 4PZ.

January 2012

January has arrived heralding the start of a new Somerset Year. Christmas and New Year celebrations despite their recentness are now rapidly receding into the depths of memory for the next 11 months before the whole festive process like the fabled self-resurrecting Roc, once again arise anew from the ashes.

Many holiday visitors to Somerset or anywhere in the West Country have lingering thoughts of warm halcyon days spent on beaches, walking the lush fields or visiting seemingly exotic places of interest. It’s strange how the further away a location is from where we live, the more exotic places appear to become. The New Year has become something of a tradition when people start to think about their next Summer vacation made even more endearing by the bleakness of winter. At the moment, although temperatures are nowhere near freezing, outside is grey, damp and windy making thoughts of the next holiday even more desirable. While many people have travelled abroad for holidays, with current economic uncertainties both at home and abroad it is likely that many more people will this year seek what has become known as a Staycation where people stay at home and take short breaks away.

It is likely the forthcoming Olympics will also have a major impact on summer holiday plans. I have many friends who live in Newham, the London borough that is hosting the bulk of the Olympics. Many are tired of the on-going upheaval caused by preparations for the Olympics and who want to get away from the area for the duration of the games. None of my Newham friends has tickets for any Olympic event or are aware of other locals who have any, either through self-choice or the inability to obtain any.

Weymouth is another location much closer to home that will be hosting the sailing arm of the Olympics. Weymouth has always been a popular seaside town based on the Jurassic coast that survived the decline many similar seaside towns suffered. There is a possibility the Olympics may discourage more regular holiday makers from staying there this year. The concern of possible increased hotel and parking charges plus additional traffic and any other temporary restrictions that may be imposed, especially at a time of severe financial restraint, can be strong deterrents to the average holiday maker whether they actually materialise or not.

Outside these potential problems, the magnetic allure of the West Country is still strong for people wanting to get away from it all, even if for just a short break. The population of Somerset for instance is only just over half a million compared to about eight million for a much more condensed area like Greater London. It is little wonder for those whose everyday vista is confined to terraced housing on the opposite side of the road with similar visually restricting rooftops behind them, the urge to get away grows by the day.

As for myself I was London born and bred and have personally experienced these escapist feelings. Now after living more than twenty years in Somerset I certainly know I will never be going back.

12/01/2012 Update

Cheer the Olympic Flame but not with flags

During the early Summer, the Olympic Flame is due to wend its way throughout the length and breath of the United Kingdom. Three of the locations the flame is due to pass through are all within a ten minute drive of my home, Yeovil, Ilchester and Somerton. The main event although likely to be relatively brief at each location will never-the-less to engender something of a carnival atmosphere wherever the Olympic flame passes.

Whenever semi-public events like street party takes place, lamp posts and houses suddenly become decked with bunting which seeming miraculously appears from nowhere giving the location a festive ambience. However the question of cost of providing official Olympic bunting for this event has caused great concern on each of the three local councils who all came to the same conclusion they simply could not afford it.

One local council claims the cost of official Olympic bunting is £92 for 20 metres plus there are also unspecified restrictions on its use. If correct, this does seem an extraordinary high price. A quick internet search shows a UK bunting supplier who can supply the same length of long lasting Union Jack bunting for 10% of that price. Bunting of less complicated design and print processes costs even less.

Two of the councils have already opted to decorate using bunting designed by local schoolchildren.

It makes one wonder just how many other councils throughout the UK may shortly come to similar decisions?

What price our heritage? What price our history?

The Spotted Dog Inn

The world would shake with incredulous disbelief if it were ever suggested that possibly the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge or the ancient ruins of the City of Pompeii being partially demolished to make way for residential accommodation or possibly social housing with substantial enabling development around the curtilage of these sites. However, although on a much smaller scale to these august historical monuments, this is the likely proposal to be considered by the London Borough of Newham for an ancient 15th century coaching inn known as The Spotted Dog.

The Spotted Dog Inn was in continuous use from the 15th century until the turn of the new millennium. Legend has it that King Henry VIII used the inn for kennelling his hunting dogs. For most of the 19th century the Spotted Dog continued its life as a popular public house which I remember well, until an eventual sympathetic transformation blended with the property to create a well-known and loved steak restaurant and public house. In 2004 the property was put up for auction and purchased by joint owners who commenced building works, some of it apparently unauthorised. Unfortunately all work was abandoned following a dispute between the joint owners and the Spotted Dog has stood empty and neglected ever since with the building falling into administration.

With the ongoing neglect of this Grade II listed, (and in theory), protected building, the premises rapidly fell into a state of disrepair. Various pressure groups have tried unsuccessfully to get the local council to cut through the legalistic red tape to bring the building back into use and even Prince Charles has shown an interest in the fate of the building. The local authority has already tried a number of legal moves to revitalise and preserve the building and are now considering various options including buying the property with a Compulsory Purchase Order. A valuation exercise would be a requirement of any CPO option. Purchase and restoration of the building is likely to result in a financial deficit to the council and this could lead to the temptation of using the land in alternative ways other than a public house and restaurant or other cultural usage.

Despite being the location for the 2012 Olympics site, Newham is one the UK’s most deprived areas. Although the Olympics are likely to bring a degree of regeneration to the area, there are so many more ingredients other than enhanced sporting facilities required in the cauldron of regeneration to make an area both a pleasant and desirable location to live. Diversification of both public and private resources throughout an area frequently helps this essential feel good factor to a local environment. Although social housing is essential, an over preponderance of such property in a given locality can also have a negative influence to the desirability and vibrancy of an area.

Local campaign groups believe that with council assistance, it will be possible to attract sufficient public subscriptions to turn the Spotted Dog Inn into a much-needed heritage centre. The building is certainly one of the oldest historical buildings in London and is the oldest secular building in the London Borough of Newham. It does seem to me such a proposal fits perfectly into the desirability aspects of local regeneration and is far from wishful thinking.

When studying history be it social, cultural, political or economic, it always seems strange to me that few modern-day participants in current affairs ever view how they themselves or their actions will be perceived by future historians. I have little doubt that if the redevelopment proposals for the Spotted Dog are progressed, those future historians will view the effective and unnecessary loss of such an important historical site very negatively indeed. It would be a negatively charged historical cloud I would certainly not wish to have hovering over my head for the remainder of posterity.

As they say, “Once it is gone, it is gone”, … and its gone forever.

There are several online petitions to save the Spotted Dog from redevelopment. If you feel such an important historical site should be preserved for future generations, these petitions can be found at;

The photographs below show the increasing deterioration to the Spotted Dog Inn. It is hard to believe this is a protected building and how it has been allowed to reach such a deplorable condition in just a few years. After more than 500 years of proud life, it is tragic the building should be left to suffer such an ignominious fate.

Spotted Dog Inn

Spotted Dog Inn deterioration

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