First of all this is not my photo, but stolen from the Internet. There are many of them so I hope the original owner of the photo will forgive me, otherwise I will remove it. This is the Red Church (actually St. James the Great, but because of the brick colour always known as The Red Church) in Bethnal Green, London E.2. where my parents were married and little me was christened. It is or was a Church of England, and even had a group of nuns living there. I attended regularly the Sunday classes lead by a nun. I am sure mum was glad to have me out of the house for an hour on Sunday afternoon. It was so-called high church, because they had a bit more than the other churches: incense swinging during the service and visiting the stations of the cross at Easter.
This station of the cross thing was for us kids. There were a few religious photos of the crucifiction and its way hanging in the church and at Easter we kids, accompanied by a nun, would walk from one to another and she would explain all about Easter. I remember it was six evenings up to Easter and each time we got a star stamped on a card. When it was all finished we had a card with six stars. Oh yes we kids were proud of them: a little bit of religion into the life of East End cockney kids did no harm, after all.
On the left of the photo you can see a street. The photo was taken in later days, but to my time it was a conglomeration of old houses, slums to be exact, and our house was somewhere amongst them. It was only a five minute walk to the church. There was also a pub on the corner opposite the church. Mum always had a slight touch for religion, although she explained in her youthful days there were no discos or clubs and the church or even Facebook and the church was the social part of life. She was confirmed at the church and also christened there.
This church was a landmark and when I visited Bethnal Green it was part of the scenery. One day mum and dad moved and things changed in Bethnal Green. Buildings were demolished to make way for high rise appartments. The church remained, although it was no longer a church. It had been “deconsecrated”, whatever that is, and it was altered into a block of flats, although still keeping its shape. That is why the windows on the photo have curtains. Stained glass windows never had curtains, but when appartments were made, people tended to hang curtains on their windows.
This is now my photo. Not of the Red Church, although on the left you can see a corner of the fench around the church. It was situated on the Bethnal Green main road, with its shops and pubs. During the day there would be market stalls on the edge of the pavements where mum would buy her fruit and veg.
So now we have a church converted into living space. Today my friend in England sent me a photo of a newspaper cutting showing that one of the appartments was being sold Red church flat. It is nothing special but the price is £600,000. The remark on the web site tells that one of the Kray twins were married there. So was my mum and dad, but they were not famous gangsters and murderers, as the Kray Twins were, so I suppose that does not warrant a mention.
I was glad to leave Bethnal Green with its smell of bricks in the air when it rained, with the toilet in the back yard and no hot water from the taps or bath. Mum and dad were also glad when eventually the houses were demolished some time at the beginning of the seventies – they were built in 1884. The church was always there, but someone must have had a good eye for profit. So anyone want to buy an appartment in one of the central places in London? It is priceless and you can tell your friends that even a gangster was married there when it was a church. Luckily there was not an attached graveyard, at least I never saw one, but who knows.