The only Cretan in London in 1897?

In early 1897, following the attempted annexation of Crete by Greece, the subsequent involvement of British military in the island’s affairs and the outbreak of the Thirty Day’s War between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, recieived a very large amount of coverage in the British newspapers of the time. However, not all of it dwelt on the serious aspects of the situation. At least one paper attempted to find some humour, albeit satirical, in what was going on by explaining to their readers how the events in Crete and Greece were having consequences on at least one ex-patriate Cretan in London. 


Freeman’s Exmouth Journal Saturday  17th April 1897.


There is a Cretan colony in London. It is not a very large colony, but it exists. He stands (remarks writer in the Daily Mail) in Bishopsgate-street, and sells bootlaces and collar-buttons. He—for, not to deal in mystery, the Cretan colony consists of but one man—occasionally goes in for umbrella-rings and pipe-cleaners, and once he tried hokey-pokey; but Italian and a Greek, descendants of two mighty races, came along and coerced him into retiring from the business they regarded their own by right of birth. So Elioin Matapa, London’s solitary Cretan, sells bootlaces and collar-buttons, and sniffs the battle from afar.

At present be resides—that is to say, the headquarters of the Crete in London are—at the Victoria doss-house in Commercial-road, E, but so many people are after M. Matapa just now that he will be obliged to change his habitat by the time these lines are in print. For instance, when the Greeks who assembled at the Baltic [Exchange] became aware that the thin, shabby, old man in Bishopsgate-street was Cretan, they decided to annex him bodily. But M. Matapa has resisted all their overtures, and remains faithful to the Turks. Even the entreaties of M. Messinesi, the Greek Consul-General, have left him cold.

The rumour that he is followed by crowd of circus and music hall agents, who want him to appear at the Alhambra, the Palace, the Tivoli, Earl’s Court and Moore and Burgess Minstrels at are fabulous salary is devoid of foundation. Nor is there any truth in the story that there is another Cretan in London. M. Effendi, the Consul-General for the Ottoman Empire, in Old Broad-street, was most positive to me on this point. M. Matapa is unique.

……….I had meant to devote some space to a description of the Turkish colony in London. First, because they are very agreeable gentlemen, both of them, and, secondly, because Turkey is on the tapis just now. But l can find nothing to say them that I would not say of a Frenchman, for while the Ambassador in Bryanston-square lives precisely like a Parisian of the faubourg, the Consul-General, in Union-court, looks and acts like a Parisian of the boulevards, even to what Mr. Gus Elen calls “the window in his eye.” And the councillor and the naval attaché are both out of town.



A few words of explanation for my Greek, Cretan, and probably English, readers.

Hokey-Pokey….a type of ice cream popular in England in the late 19C. Usually made and sold by Italian immigrants.

[Victoria] doss-house… a place where for a penny or two, homeless men could spend the night.

Baltic Exchange…one of the business and meeting places of merchants and ship-owners, particularly those involved in trade in the Baltic.

The Alhambra, the Palace, the Tivoli, Earl’s Court and Moore and Burgess Minstrels…music halls and places of cheap entertainment.

A Parisian of the faubourg….a Parisian of the suburbs; an unfashionable man.

A Parisian of the boulevards…one who fancies himself a fashionable man given over to strolling and leisure.

Gus Elen calls “the window in his eyeGus Elen was a very famous music hall entertainer of this period; a”[Piccadilly] window in his eye” was a monocle worn for affectation by those who fancied themselves to be members of the aristocratic elite, but weren’t.

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