Charlie’s London: the Walworth Road

Charlie Chaplin
Photograph of Charlie Chaplin from the archives of Roy Export Company Establishment.

This is a guest post for Silent London by Ayşe Behçet.

Hello again everyone! First, thank you for coming back for part two of my personal guide to Charlie Chaplin’s London. The journey is hopefully going to be interesting and fun with many unknown treasures along the way.
When I was thinking about the best way to write this blog I pondered the structure for quite a while. Should I group places together by theme? Should I piece them together by their visual representations within Chaplin’s films? Finally I realised the best way was the start at the very beginning. Ironically this was never how Chaplin made his movies; he would often think of a scenario and work on the beginning and end at a later time. Yet Chaplin’s background in London helped to set the scene for some of his best visual work.

Charlie Chaplin's blue plaque
The plaque marks the spot?

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in Lambeth, South London on 16 April 1889, supposedly in Walworth, an area not far from East Street Market. Walworth and Lambeth officially lie within the borough of Southwark. The Walworth Road is a rather long stretch: all the way from Westminster to just beyond Camberwell. Charlie often described open-top tram journeys towards Westminster and even though he referred to his home as Walworth and Lambeth its position just beyond the north of Lambeth was also close to Waterloo. I was born at one end of the Walworth Road, the end closest to London Bridge, but I’m still from Southwark/Lambeth.
Are you confused? I don’t blame you! I believe this is why Charlie always referred to Lambeth as his birthplace – it’s easier! Phonetically, us Londoners are a very strange bunch, immigration had helped create a shift in the dialect over the years and certain words do not spell as they sound, and we also speak rather fast. For instance, if Charlie had commented that he was born in Southwark no doubt a journalist somewhere would have heard “Suffolk”, can you imagine where the myths would have ended up then?

East Street Market
East Street Market has been officially open since 1880, but there has been trading in this part of London since the 16th century.

Today the East Street Market still stands on the same site and at the entrance a blue plaque is posted on a wall above a clothes shop to mark the suppose birthplace of Charles Chaplin. In fact, no one really knows if this is true. There has been a lot of speculation about his origins, especially with the recent release of the MI5 file stating no birth certificate exists. Well apart from the fact that this was common in Victorian England. I would like to throw something else into the mix. Has anyone here actually dealt with Southwark Town Hall? I rest my case!

East Street AKA East Lane
East Street AKA East Lane

Now, in the most recent edition of his book My Autobiography Chaplin states that he was born in East Lane, Lambeth at 8 o’clock in the evening. Here is another sign his origins show through even when he may not have meant them to! In his introduction, the eminent Chaplin historian and biographer David Robinson says that only south Londoners refer to East Street as East Lane, and I for one can vouch for that. My grandmother always called it this and people living in the area still do to this day.
As a child I frequently visited the Walworth Road, the treat was pie and mash in Arments and Sarsaparilla in Baldwins. In winter the Sarsaparilla was warmed with slices of orange and apple and served from barrels. When Charlie was a boy, Arments was located on the Walworth road itself, but it was relocated in 1914 to its current position just behind it. Baldwins has always been in the same spot; maybe as a child Charlie too drank warm Sarsaparilla there? Not far from where Arments was originally situated is a fishmonger’s, which has been there since the Victorian era. My mother would always buy fish there on a Friday and remembered always buying my grandmother bloaters that she would proceed to smoke. Charlie also fondly recollects his mother buying penny bloaters on a Friday while they lived at 3 Pownall Terrace, Lambeth, most probably at the same shop.

Along this journey I aim to find out as much as I can about not only my film hero but also about myself and my heritage. I have always been a proud South Londoner and knowing I walk in Charlie’s footsteps is an immense honour!

Thank you so much for reading. The next instalment will appear on 2 April.

Ayşe Behçet


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28 thoughts on “Charlie’s London: the Walworth Road”

  1. Definitely not 🙂 I hope the blog is creating some much overdue interest! 🙂 I’m very proud and passionate about him and the link we’ve, I hope it shows through 😀

  2. Excellent blog. And lovely to see people sustaining an interest in Chaplin. I have lived in London all my life and can remember that up until about twenty five years ago the city’s inhabitants would have local accents i.e. North or South, which to me were quite recognisable. Contrary to these new gypsy blood rumours Chaplin never did sound even remotely like a Brummie if you ask me! Looking forward to the next post.

  3. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comments 🙂 . It is my opinion that charlie never lost the Londoner within him, even in subtle little ways completely unnoticed to a non-Londoner. My main body of research is to uncover from a Londoners point of view these traits in his films and maybe even personally. We all know about the poverty and pathos in his work, but I think the sense of humour has much to do with the way he conducted his character right down to mannerisms and glances etc. Knowing South Londoners as I do and the immigration in the area ( I myself have Spanish Jewish heritage and my father is Turkish ) the gypsy and Jewish rumours, and how much importance they seem to have to people always makes me chuckle. we are a beautiful melting pot of people at the best if times and I think people always want to look for glamorisation within a story, even when the real elements are fantastical on their own. For me he demonstrates all the signs of a south Londoner, and I hope the journey to show it will be an interesting one for all to read.

    On a funnier note I recently discovered that the families also supported the same football team as me, that is all apart from Charlie who didn’t seem to take much interest in the sport, but Oona commented that a certain game against Liverpool in 1989 was one of the happiest moments of her life….I’ll leave you to guess what team that is 🙂

  4. Ayse ! I have discovered more about Charlie Chaplin in your first two blogs than anything I had found out before in entirety ! Looking forward to blog number 3 ! Oh, and any mention of a certain football match in 1989, Chaplin related or otherwise, is NEVER a bad thing ! ;-0

  5. “We have come a long way since George Baldwin first opened his doors on 77 Walworth Road, South East London in 1844.
    In the last 160+ years, Baldwins has passed from the loving care of George Baldwin whose family helped to establish 12 shops (before downsizing) to the Dagnell’s, who have helped Baldwins to flourish into the store you see today: London’s oldest and most established Herbalist.
    Now located on 173 Walworth Road, our store still captures the nostalgic atmosphere of its original store – wooden floors, high old fashioned counters and shelves stacked with herbs, oils and ointments.
    The reason we are London’s oldest herbalist is because we have adapted with the expanding health food market to offer you – our loyal customers – essential and carrier oils as well as an assortment of other natural remedies including our own creation, the Synergy Range..”

    1. Steve, My maternal grandfather had what is best described as a working man’s cafe at 171 Walworth Road during & immediately after WWII.

  6. Picture of Charlie playong te cello is lovely but it has been reversed. All cellists play with the bow in the right had, even if they are left handed! Hope this helps.

  7. My Father was a contempory of CHARLIE, Bn 6moths after him on 11/111889 .in YORK
    STREET (now BROWNING ST ) the next street down from EAST LANE. Not only did my dear old DAD know CHARLIE they were quite pally according to my Fathers stories. One that he related to me was that he followed and watched CHARLIE from the wings of the
    various theatres he performed in when they were just boys of 13—15 and CHARLIE was polishing and building his act; thus; in later life my
    Dad performed in an amatuer status as “TWINKLE” in all the SOUTH LONDON Music Halls and Theatres impersonating CHAPLIN and his act. He was of the same stature as CHARLIE , and in stage make up looked remarkabley like the real article . My
    Father did this act up until he Married my Mother (who also came from WALWORTH)
    IN 1927. He still did a few turns on occasions when I was growing up in the 1930’s, and
    was always in demand at Weddings and partys. He was well know to all the Characters
    that worked the” LANE” Like TOMMY NOBLE the Boxer, and “PRINCE HONALULU”
    the huge brighly clothed and Feathered AFRICAN TIPPSTER. My Dear little DAD died in
    1957 Charlie I believe die a “KNIGHT” in 1978?? I am now in my 87year , with my
    memory still intact.

    ROY HENRY KNIGHT ( BROMLEY )

  8. My grandmother, Daisy Wensley, lived next door to Chaplins – don’t know which side. She also acted with him in silent movies. I’m coming to London for a couple of months in July to look into this connection. Need help! Suellen. Glen Innes, Aust.

    1. HI SUELLEN, My Father went to school with CHARLIE ,having been born in NOV 1889 and Charlie in the APRIL of that year. I don’t know the school for sure, but as DADS
      Familylived in YORK ST. Walworth ,and ST JOHNS SCHOOL was and still is behind this
      address I guess this is where they received their early limited education. When they were
      just into their teens my Father followed Charlie around all the LONDON THEATRES where he was performing, and copying his act which he performed as an Amatuar Artist in
      his 20s — 30s Dads name was THOMAS HENRY KNIGHT. (always known as HARRY )
      STAGE NAME “TWINKLE”) Passed away in FEB: 1957 Aged 67.

      Roy H.. Knight Bromley London u.k.

      royzieknight@hotmail.com

      1. Thanks for your quick reply Roy. Daisy was born around the same time as your father, but I think she grew up in Lancashire. She and her sister Lily were apprenticed to the theatre in London. Daisy was about 12 or 13. I have her papers somewhere and must look them up. She used to talk to me about Charlie and working in the silent movies and theatres in London. Lily Langtree was a close friend or hers. Unfortunately as a child I didn’t understand the implications of what she was telling me!
        I would love to meet you when we are in the UK if that would suit you. Is it ok if I email you direct?
        Cheers, Suellen Harwood

      2. Hi SUELLEN Thank you for your E//M If you would like to meet up with me when you are in U.K that would be nice. I am now in my 80s and have been a LONDON TAXI DRIVER and guide till retiring 4years ago . The minds still active but the body is Creaking
        a little. Just let me know where you are staying; i’ll know where it is .

        R O Y

    2. Suellen,

      Would love to make contact. I have Daisy Wensley & her sister Lily in my family tree they were my grandfathers sisters, would like to know if they are the same people. 1911 census lists them in the right area and as actresses.

      Ron

  9. Sue Ellen, A Daisy Ellen Wensley with occupation as a professional actress, was living in Clapham road Lambeth in 1911, she was 24 at that time. Ellen was in fact I think HELEN. She dparted for Australia 21 May 1920 after marrying.

  10. does anyone know of a dear friend called steven vye lived manchester hse east st walworth or sandra ford same address any info my email alansden@hotmail.co.uk says:

    looking for a old friend steven vye lived manchester hse east st walworth any info alansden@hotmail.co.uk

    1. Hello Ged, I think you are wrong there, Baldwins was originally in the Walworth Road almost opposite Manor Place, then moved to where it is now.

  11. Hi
    I thought Charlie was born near Kennington Cross, I saw him once coming out of The Lane on a Sunday morning apparently he used to go down there often. I used to live at the back of the Lane, and walked up and down every Sunday. There used to be a photographer at the end near the ice cream shop, and he told me that the chap who had just walked by was Charlie. Of course I didn’t recognise him in his suit.

  12. I saw Charlie coming out of East Lane one Sunday morning. I used to live in Date Street and every Sunday used to walk up and down the lane. On the corner , at the Walworth Road end there used to be a photographer by the ice cream shop, and he told me the chap who just walked by was Charlie, who you would never recognize in his suit.The photographer said Charlie often came there.
    I also thought Charlie was born near Kennington Cross, and that there was a blue plaque already there.

  13. Hi My father was from Kennington, he told me that when his father took him down the lane he used to point out the birth place of Charlie Chaplin it was above a boot repair shop! This was before 1920!

  14. Parabéns pelo texto. Estou escrevendo minha dissertação de mestrado sobre Charles Chaplin e o seu texto foi de grande ajuda. Obrigado e continue trazendo boas informações.

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