London Cockneys

When you hear the term Londoner, I wouldn’t be surprised if you immediately thought of cockneys, but not all Londoners can be classed under this term.  The tradition or “rule” is that a true cockney was born within the sound of Bow Bells… although since the church housing Bow Bells was hit by a German bomb in 1941 and nowadays has no residential property surrounding it, the rule has changed to include pretty much anyone born in the East End of London.

Photo by Ms Sara Kelly
Photo by Ms Sara Kelly

Cockney Attitudes

Many people say that being a cockney is more a state of mind than a geographical place of birth and it’s hard to disagree with them.  If you’ve ever seen Only Fools and Horses you will know what I mean by this.  Cockneys are known for being humorous and bouncy characters as well as being able to stick up for themselves and having the “gift of the gab”.

Cockney Rhyming Slang

If you have ever been to London or have any interest in the city whatsoever you have surely heard of cockney rhyming slang.  The origins of this funny language are said to come from the London market stall holders who supposedly created the language to talk amongst themselves without their customers being able to understand them.  Others believe that it originated amongst the criminals in London but whichever is true it’s great to pick up a few sayings.

  • Bread and honey = money
  • Cream crackered = knackered (tired)
  • Dicky bird = word
  • Apples and pears = stairs
  • Jack the Ripper = kipper
  • Barney Rubble = trouble

There are so many more than just the above but it’s definitely advisable to listen to a cockney accent before trying to say any of these… unless you want to be laughed at.  The letter H is usually dropped from words for example half becomes alf or arfff when said in true cockney style.

Cockney Food

Most areas of England have their own styles of food and the East End is no different.  Some of the most popular cockney dishes include:

  • Jellied Eels – apparently they taste delicious but you’ll have to let us know about that.
  • Pie and Mash – usually this is a meet pie with either instant or proper mashed spuds.  There are dozens of Pie and Mash shops in the East End.
  • Cockles and Whelks – these are usually eaten on cocktail sticks and actually taste a lot better than they look!

Cockney Jobs

These days you’ll find cockneys working in all sorts of jobs but originally they were either costermongers or market stall traders – this is probably where they got their “gift of the gab” from.

  • Market Traders – If you visit Petticoat Lane market on a weekend you’ll find hundreds of stalls all run by real cockneys.  The market has been in existence for hundreds of years and you will still hear cockney rhyming slang spoken here.
  • Stock Market Traders – When the London Stock Exchange changed to technology it opened the door to market street traders otherwise known as ‘East End Barrowboys’. This was a cut-throat business that suited the cockneys well.
  • Black Cab Drivers – These are licensed taxi drivers in London and a job that cockneys have been a large part of for many years.
  • Criminals – Due to the severe poverty in the East End of London, many cockneys also turned to criminality.  Criminal gangs ran the area in the 60’s with the Kray Brothers being the most notable.

If you want to see the true cockney way of life get yourself down to the East End of London and experience it for yourself!

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