East End Memories

A FEW COLOURFUL CHARACTERS

THE PRINCE

Prince Monolulu
Prince Monolulu and The Pearlie's
(Picture kindly supplied by Mr. Jernst Pearson)

When I look back on my childhood growing up in the East End of London, it seemed to me that the place was filled with a wonderful collection of raggle-taggle people who today would be most likely be thought of as colourful characters. Now, I am not sure whether there were more of these characters walking about then or if I am seeing my past in hindsight. However, what I do notice today is that many people I meet or see on television are working really hard at being different or unique and failing badly. People would be far more interesting if they behaved as themselves and stopped the pretence. Anyway I will not argue with any of you who believe that I was looking at the world through younger eyes in the past and not with the jaded ones that perhaps I use now and so saw the world differently.

Of the many colourful characters I remember, I would like to introduce you to three special ones. These characters, although not the strangest or even the most bizarre I have ever came across in my life were however amongst the most interesting. Each of them held a fascination for me and now holds a special place in my memory.

Prince MonoluluThe first character that I want to introduce you to is Prince Monolulu. This man was larger than life and, to say the least, a colourful character par excellence. He made for an exotic figure when seen in his colourful clothes. One could not help but stop and look at this amazing man whenever he appeared. But as remarkable as he was to see, it was his formidable personality and charm that held the attention of his audience and would make him the centre of attention wherever he went.

The Prince came to prominence in 1920 when he picked the winning horse of The Derby and won, for what was at that time, a small fortune. Following this, he was often seen on the Newsreels shown in the cinemas of that time when reporting of a special meet of The Sport of Kings. As his popularity grew, he began to be sought out by both working people and society people alike. However the public interest in the Prince went beyond their love of his dress and winning charm, people believed that he was empowered with some extra knowledge and knew which horse would win a race.

There is nothing more potent than someone thought to have extra knowledge and especially someone with a knowledge that could lead to the making of money. Without doubt, the Prince was both a shrewd and clever man who knew when he was onto something. Certainly, he did not dress in such a colourful style and learn to charm simply to amuse society. The Prince was many things, but first and foremost, he was a businessman and in the business of turning a profit. He knew how to present himself to his adoring public and did so to the best of his abilities. And since just about everyone in Britain enjoyed a flutter on the races at some time, just about everyone would be interested in getting a tip in the hope of winning a few bob. What harm was there in that? The Prince being a man of generosity was naturally willing to share his knowledge with the punters and would pass them neatly folded pieces of paper with the name of a horse scribbled on it in pencil in return for a small sum. As a result, everyone would be happy.

The first time that I saw the Prince, I was very young. Being young, I did not have the good fortune to see him at a racetrack. I first saw him surrounded by a large crowd and holding court down the lane. The Lane was Petticoat Lane, the famous street market that took place every Sunday morning from an early hour until about 1 p.m. There is, or was, an old law that made it an offence to sell certain articles on a Sunday after 1 p.m. Whether this law is still in effect now that Sunday shopping has come to Britain, I do not know. However, Sunday street markets like the Columbia Street flower market, Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane still close up at this time.

To return to the Prince: having been born in the East End of London, and close to the docks, I was used to seeing and talking to people that came from different parts of the world. Bethnal Green had been a haven for immigrants over the years and there were many living there from Africa, India and Pakistan. As a result, the Prince was not the first black man that I had seen. However, he was the first black man, and indeed, the first man that I had ever seen that was dressed in his manner.

My first encounter with the Prince was not by sight, but rather by sound. He had been blessed with a loud voice and my attention was drawn to the sound of someone yelling something out in the distance. As we came closer, I could see a crowd of people and I could hear I gotta horse ……… I gotta horse. Suddenly, the crowd seemed to part and there before him in full regalia was the Prince. I stood there astonished at the sight of this majestic looking man. The Prince was, or so I thought, of an enormous height that seemed to equal the size of his personality. I found him overwhelming. Whether he was actually of an enormous height, I cannot say, but what must have added to his height was the large headdress of coloured ostrich plumes that he wore on his head. This made for an amazing sight, especially to a small and impressionable child.

The remainder of his clothes was equally imaginative and decorative. He wore baggy multi-coloured trousers along with a black and gold doublet. On that day, he also wore a long silk open robe of multiple colours that swayed and swooshed as he moved. On his bare feet, he wore sandals and he carried a large multi-coloured umbrella on his arm. I suspect that he used the open umbrella to signify his location in any large crowd and so guide prospective punters his way. However, when he was in the vicinity, one always knew exactly where he was since his beaming voice would carry a large distance and help identify his location.

As the reader can tell, the Prince made for a remarkable figure. I remember being at a loss to explain who he was. Was he a king? Was he a great potentate from an exotic land? Anyway, completely bewitched by the gentleman’s obvious magnetism, I pulled my parents in his direction. Being small, I was able to get close to this giant, as I needed to get a closer look at this magnificent sight. I did not get too close to him since although I found him fascinating, he was also somewhat frightening to me on that first occasion. Through gaps in the crowd, I could see that he displayed a regal deportment in his movement and in his manner of talking. There was little doubt that I was by now both intrigued and very much taken by him. After all, it was not every day that one saw such a figure strutting down the street.

It seemed that the Prince was never alone when in public. Naturally, he was always at the centre of any group and would revel in the admiration shown him. In their midst, he would hold court and answer questions, but mostly he would give his opinion on any and all subjects in his loud and booming voice. He was a very animated character and would waive his arms about as he spoke or bellowed. Since his voice could be heard far into the distance, he proved to be his own publicity agent, informing those in the area that the Prince was holding court today! I stood amongst the crowd and was completely captivated. I am sure that I stood with my mouth open and was totally oblivious to everything else about me.

The Prince was not just a colourful character and business man, he was friendly and a person who encouraged the adulation of children. After standing in the crowd for a minute or so, the Prince noticed me. I remember that he beckoned me to come forward and join him. He demanded that his adoring courtiers make way for me and soon a path opened up allowing me to pass through his court and stand before him. I remember not being afraid as I made my way. He welcomed me into his presence and then bellowed a number of questions at me in order to find out who I was. I was told by my parents that he asked me about school and how I had done that week along with various other enquiries. Without waiting for a reply, the Prince apparently launched into the topic of the importance of education and the joys of being a schoolboy. Naturally, I was the only one present who did not think it was that joyful to go to school.

At my first audience with the Prince he bellowed at me to ask whether I liked horses. I said that I did The Prince appeared overjoyed by my reply and turning to his audience he told them that naturally I was destined to become a JOCKEY! I remember that he next burst into laughter and then began searching the satchel that he always carried. After a minute or two, he pulled something out that he next plunged into my hand, which he vigorously shook. Once free, I looked at the treasure he had passed on to me. It was a penny. I looked up at him. The Prince was beaming his wide infectious smile and displaying his somewhat broken teeth. He next concluded his business with me by telling me to use his gift towards the purchase of a HORSE!!! The audience clapped heartily and with that the Prince once again let out his ear piercing catchphrase I gotta horse! And then he was off to another subject and another interest.

The Jockey!   One Penny - 1948

Once my audience with the Prince was over, I was taken from his presence by my parents and made to move off to look at something on a stall. Naturally, my head was spinning. I was bewildered by what he said and remember asking my parents if they thought that I was indeed meant to be a jockey. I kept that penny for years and for all I know I may still have it since I have a horde of old pennies in a wooden moneybox that I have had since that time.

Whenever I went to the Lane after my first audience, I would always look for the Prince. I would listen for his call and look for his umbrella. Upon his noticing me, I would be called forward to take up a spot before him and he would talk to me for a minute or so. I always treasured those little meetings and saw them as something special in my life.

Once I moved from the East End, I never came face-to-face with the Prince again. However, I did see him once more at a race meeting in Brighton at number of years later. By then I was older and had become just another courtier amongst his admiring crowd. Although I had long since realized that his prediction for my future profession was not going to come true, for some reason I did not want him to know. I am certain that his prediction of my future had been one of pure showmanship and made without malice for the amusement of the crowd that day. However when I saw him that day in Brighton, looking just as he did when I was a child, I could not bring myself to talk to him and remind him of our previous meetings. I had treasured my first meeting with the Prince and did not want him to think that perhaps I had failed to follow my destiny. I felt that he might have been disappointed to learn this. Of course this is total silliness on my part but then …………..

I was in college when I heard the news of the Prince’s death and I remember telephoning my parents to ask if they had heard. Many years have passed and with their passage, the great horse racing events have somehow managed to continue in his absence. And now, he has slipped into history and has been forgotten by most. However, I am certain that he is remembered with affection by those who dared to answer his call of I gotta horse and perhaps won a few bob from his tip. I am also sure that he would be happy to know that he is not forgotten by that once small boy, who although he never grew up, with some regret I hasten to add, to be a jockey or even to buy a horse, fondly remembers him and is forever grateful to him for enriching his childhood.

Prince Monolulu

AFTER THOUGHT

For those readers wishing to read more about the Prince, I recommend the following websites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Monolulu
and
http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk

Although the Prince called himself Ras Prince Monolulu, his real name was Peter Carl MaKay or McKay. He was not of the Falasha tribe of Abyssinia, as he claimed, but was born on the island of St. Croix, now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, in 1881. He led an early colourful life and was even press-ganged into the Navy and later interned in a German camp during the first world war. He did pick the winner of the 1920 Derby, a horse named Spion Kop, and won a small fortune as it came home at 100-6. The title of his memoirs was, naturally called I gotta horse. He died at the Middlesex Hospital in London on 14th February, 1965. Regarding his remaining family, he has a grandson who lives in Sweden and who is interested in collecting together any remembrances and pictures of his wonderful grandfather.



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Copyrightę 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins