London’s East End has a rich history of fostering highly cultivated artists (such as John Keats and William Morris) in addition to its enduring infamy for being the site of many heinous crimes (Jack the Ripper’s nefarious deeds, the infamous Ratcliff Highway murders, and the gang activity of the Kray twins, to name a few of the most notable.) Perhaps it’s fitting then, that the celebrated “Master of the Macabre” himself should hail from the East End!
In honor of what would have been Alfred Hitchcock’s 114th birthday on August 13th, here is a look at some sites of interest in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. While many significant sites have changed drastically over time, there are still little pieces of Hitchcockian history littered all around the area.
517 High Road, Leytonstone
The site was actually Hitchcock’s father’s grocery store. Hitch himself was born literally right above the shop. Even though, sadly, the original building was demolished a long time ago to make way for a Petrol Station and Fried Chicken Shop, there is a blue plaque which commemorates the site.
The Hitchcock Gallery
Leytonstone Tube Station
Trains were a prominent trope in Hitchcock’s work -- from the very premise and title of Strangers on a Train to the emotionally charged first meeting of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest. How appropriate then that the London Borough of Waltham Forest commissioned the Greenwich Mural Workshop to pay tribute to Hitchcock’s body of work with a large mural using tile mosaics. Most of the mosaics are constructed from isolated images from famous Hitchcock films, while some are taken from photographs of Hitchcock -- one mosaic actually references a photograph of Hitchcock as a child sitting on a horse outside of his father’s grocery store. There are 17 mosaics in total, and about 80,000 glass tiles used.
The Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Also commonly known as the Brompton Oratory
Originally built in 1884, the lavishly designed Catholic church is the site where Hitchcock married his lifelong companion and frequent collaborator Alma Reville in 1926. The pair had met while both when both were working for the English film studios when silent films were still in production. Reville worked as an editor and scriptwriter on many famous Hitchcock films. Their relationship endured until Hitchcock’s death in 1980.
The EMD Cinema
186 Hoe Street
One of Hitchcock’s boyhood cinemas, it is actually believed that this site hosted London’s first film screening in 1896 (which would have been very shortly after the famed Lumiere brothers screening at the Grand Cafe in Paris in 1895 -- the screening which is generally regarded as the world’s first public cinematic event).
The building which presently occupies the site has been dated back to the 1930’s, and could hold up to 2,700 people. The building has been closed off to the public since 2003. The McGuffin Society (who took their name from the term for a plot device which was popularized by Hitchcock) formed to try to rescue the site. They have been actively petitioning for years restore services at the theater and host screenings once again.
Cinephiles might be interested in taking a guided tour of sites relating to Hitchcock lore. Organizations such as London Walks will, from time to time, coordinate walking tours which explore sites of interest listed above and other locations featured in Hitchcock films.