Home » Cultural Life » Master of Suspense – Alfred Hitchcock in Limehouse

Master of Suspense – Alfred Hitchcock in Limehouse

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Alfred Hitchcock

Many people may be aware that Alfred Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone in 1899, however he moved from there when he was about six and then moved to Limehouse.

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Salmon Lane 1900s

The Hitchcock’s moved from Leytonstone to 175 Salmon Lane and open a shop selling fresh fish, later Alfred’s father purchased 130 Salmon Lane and opened it as a fish and chip shop. It was above the shop at 175 Salmon Lane that the young Alfred lived, at this time Salmon Lane was home to one of London’s most bustling markets catering for the cosmopolitan population that lived in the area.

One of the problems of looking at Hitchcock’s  childhood is to separate fact and fiction, later in life Hitchcock would tell stories about his childhood which often exaggerated certain points. One of his most famous stories was that as a child he was sent to the local police station with a note which the policeman read and locked him a cell for a few minutes and then said “this is what we do with naughty boys”, from this Hitchcock  said he developed a life long fear of the police.

However he never makes clear where the police station was and his age changes in different interviews. He also gives the impression he was a solitary child, but although quite a bit younger than his siblings he came from quite a large extended family which he continued to visit  and socialise  with even after he became famous.

Howrah-House-Poplar

Howrah House Poplar

Hitchcock’s schooling is also difficult to unravel, there is no doubt he was taught at home, however there is evidence that he attended Howrah House in Poplar for a time. Howrah House was a convent run by the Faithful Companions of Jesus . It was essentially a Girls School, although boys were admitted occasionally. The house was previously the residence of shipping magnate, Duncan Dunbar who owned the Dunbar Wharf in Limehouse. Later Hitchcock attended the St. Ignatius College in Stamford Hill.

poplar eng

One fact we do know is true is that when he left school at 15 he enrolled in London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation which was located in the High Street Poplar. It is now part of Tower Hamlets College.

When asked why he went to the college he said his parents had asked him what he wanted to do when he left school and he had said ” like many boys I said I wanted to be an engineer, and my parents took me seriously. ”

He also said that lessons about  force, motion and electricity at the College was useful later when he started making films.

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Henley’s Electric Cables

It was around this time that his father died and he decided to get a job, he quickly secured a position with Henley’s  a firm that specialised in insulated wires and cables  whose head office  was located  in Blomfield Street near Liverpool Street Station. Hitchcock stayed at Henley’s eventually working in the Advertising department for six years before getting his first job working in the film industry.

As someone who was famous for observing life and trying to found out what made people tick, there is no doubt that Hitchcock would have been have been aware of an East End  around him that was in turmoil. Industrial strikes, Women’s suffrage , anarchism and general unrest  were commonplace, if this was not enough the start of the First World War saw Zeppelin bombing raids.

Another influence on Hitchcock was his fascination with murders , other than Jack the Ripper, the cases of Dr Crippen and Adelaide Bartlett were followed closely.  Quite often he would travel to the Old Bailey to watch murder trials. Like many other Londoners he developed a macabre sense of humour when talking about gruesome murders.

The influence of these events on Hitchcock was shown in some of his early films, The Lodger was based on Jack the Ripper,  and The Man Who Knew Too Much  included events such as the Sidney Street siege  which in 1911 took place only about a mile away from Limehouse.

His film Blackmail released in 1929 is given the distinction of being the first British “talkie”.

When he went to live and work in America, Hitchcock became a celebrity and often painted his childhood as a little Dickensian, however the Hitchcock’s although not rich were certainly well off compared to many they lived amongst and Alfred as the youngest of the family was generally supported in his enterprises.

It is safe to say that he never forgot his roots although was often evasive about certain parts of his childhood. Towards the end of his career it was as if he had come full circle  when he came back to London in 1972 to film Frenzy, which was about a serial killer loose in London.

When he died in 1980 he was considered one of Britain’s greatest film directors and was widely acclaimed all over the world. Even over 30 years after his death there is still considerable interest in his work and of his origins in Leytonstone and Limehouse.

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5 Comments

  1. jan says:

    Interested to read this. I knew that he was a Londoner but hadn’t realised he’d lived in Limehouse. I was also interested to see that he’d been to Howath School in Poplar. I was wondering whether this was a misprint for Howrah House School which was in Poplar in East India Dock Road. Howrah House was a girl’s convent school which my mother attended in the late 1920’s. I was wondering whether there might have been a boy’s school of a similar name.

    • Hi Jan,

      Thanks for spotting todays deliberate mistake , you are correct it should be Howrah House will go back and amend.
      Apparently they did take in the odd boy in the Girls school. It is really interesting that your mother attended there in the 20s. At a later date I think I will do an article about Howrah House (if I can spell it properly)I would appreciate any information that you may have.

      Once again many thanks

  2. jan says:

    http://www.fcjsisters.org/ep/english/about/history_brit.html

    This link takes you to a website where the photo you caption as Howath House is definitely shown as Howrah House”!

  3. Desmond St.Rose says:

    My grandmother lived in Aithan House on Salmon Lane during the 1980s. I always found it to be quite a miserable and depressing area of Tower Hamlets. This was mostly due to her ghastly husband and his mistreatment of her, however. Its interesting to learn about Hitchcock’s connection to the area, and most certainly helps cast somewhat more of a favourable light on Salmon Lane for me.

    • Hi Desmond,
      Thanks for the comment, I think the area was a bit livelier in Hitchcock’s time with a lot of shops.
      Like most places, the 1980s was not a great period for a lot of East London.

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