Bow Bells Mural, Bow Road

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Above: The front of the Victorian pub beside Bow Road.

If you have a pub that has a side wall – beside a pathway leading to a block of flats – it will not have much on it that gives any visual stimulus. The whole wall is white apart from a large rectangular metal air-duct, probably from the kitchen, and some service pipes that are painted black.

On this vast expanse, some artist has been ‘let loose’ to come up with an appropriate mural. The wall is so tucked away that it is quite hard to see it, unless you are a pedestrian walking past the pub. The pub has the grand old London name of ‘The Bow Bells’ and it is situated on the south side of Bow Road – towards the eastern end.

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Above: Mural on the west side of the pub. Because of the detail in the mural, this image is quite large (click to see an expanded view of the image).

The subject matter could not be more appropriate and the artist is to be congratulated on the ingenious way that the painting ‘works its way’ around the objects on the brick wall. If it were not for all the one-way systems and traffic lights, Bow Road is actually a continuation of Cheapside. Now there’s a startling fact! If you walk east along Cheapside, you continue into Poultry and arrive at the Royal Exchange. Keep walking along Cornhill, then Leadenhall Street and then into Aldgate. You will then walk along Aldgate High Street, Whitechapel Road and Mile End Road before the final name change to Bow Road. ‘Well, they don’t all quite form a straight line’ I hear you comment. No they don’t but that was most likely in the artist’s mind when constructing the picture.

With considerable foreshortening, the artist has drawn a long thoroughfare with Bow Road and a chap on the far right having a ‘swift half’ in the pub. In the distance is the unmistakable church of St Mary le Bow – which stands on the south side of Cheapside.

The saying goes that a person born within the sound of Bow bells is a real Cockney. If you have followed the line of thought so far, you will realise that this little pub and Cheapside are separated by about three miles. Unless there were to be no noisy traffic and a strong westerly wind, the chance of hearing Bow bells from this distance is extremely unlikely.

What is unusual is that three men are moving goods on a large barrow and behind them are two horses pulling a cart. Really close to the observer are three characters all dressed in their costermonger outfits. The costermongers were people who sold fruit and vegetables from a barrow in a street market. The name comes from an old word ‘costard-monger’ who was a seller of apples.

Not being wealthy, one of their number started sewing mother-of-pearl buttons onto his suit. The idea caught on and the ladies joined in. They illustrate the idea perfectly in the mural. Costermongers attend an annual service at St Martins in the Fields and each area of East London (as well as other areas of London) has a Pearly King and Pearly Queen. They are responsible for many charitable functions and raising money for many good causes.

The art-work forms a great mural with a considerable amount of history bound up with it. Such is its location that it is probably never seen by the endless traffic as it passes to and fro along one of the busiest arterial roads into the City of London.


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