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William Kent’s Arch At Bow

April 25, 2017
by the gentle author

‘a curious vestige from a catalogue of destruction’

This fine eighteenth century rusticated arch designed by the celebrated architect and designer William Kent was originally part of Northumberland House, the London residence of the Percy family in the Strand which was demolished in 1874. Then the arch was installed in the garden of the Tudor House in St Leonard’s Street, Bow, by George Gammon Rutty before it was moved here to the Bromley by Bow Centre in 1997, where it makes a magnificent welcoming entrance today.

The Tudor House was purchased in a good condition of preservation from the trustees of George Gammon Rutty after his death in 1898 by the London County Council, who chose to demolish it and turn the gardens into a public park. At this point, there were two statues situated at the foot of each of the pillars of the arch but they went missing in the nineteen-forties. One of the last surviving relics of the old village of Bromley by Bow, the house derived its name from a member of the Tudor family who built it in the late sixteenth century adjoining the Old Palace and both were lovingly recorded by CR Ashbee in the first volume of the Survey of London in 1900.

The Survey was created by Ashbee, while he was living in Bow running the Guild of Handicrafts at Essex House (another sixteenth century house nearby that was demolished), in response to what he saw as the needless loss of the Old Palace and other important historic buildings in the capital.

Ever since I first discovered William Kent’s beautiful lonely arch – a curious vestige from a catalogue of destruction – I have been meaning to go back to Bow take a photograph of it when the wisteria was in bloom and, although for a couple of years circumstances conspired to prevent me, last weekend I was able to do so and here you see the result.

William Kent (1685 –1748) Architect, landscape and furniture designer

Northumberland House by Canaletto, 1752

Northumberland House shortly before demolition, 1874

William Kent’s arch at St Leonard’s Street, Bromley by Bow

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At Great Eastern Buildings

April 24, 2017
by the gentle author

Steven Harris sent me this candid memoir of his childhood in Great Eastern Buildings off Brick Lane

Steven Harris aged five, 1963

Great Eastern Buildings were a product of the Great Eastern Rail Company which ran services from East Anglia to Liverpool St Station and erecting the Buildings in the nineteenth century as cheap workers’ accommodation to support the development of the railway line. However, by the sixties, ‘great’ was the most unlikely epithet and no one had ever known them to be anything better than the lower end of the housing market.

The two tenements were subdivided into three sections with each section having a staircase running the height of the building. Each section had four flats on either side of the staircase, thereby providing a total of eight homes in each section. The first and third sections of the left hand block consisted of both one and two bedroom dwellings complete with inside toilet and bathroom, but those unfortunate enough to occupy the second section of the left hand block still had the pleasure of outside toilets and washrooms as per the original Victorian design.

The size of the dwellings – no flat had more than two bedrooms – often had little bearing on the number of people occupying them. Large families were not uncommon and I was one of four siblings. The usual rules applied, the parents had one room and the children had bunk beds in the other. Those on low incomes who could only afford low rents did not find themselves in a position to debate the complexities of the situation. It was how life was then and people did the best they could.

On the other hand, if you were fortunate enough to have an extra bedroom there was a chance to earn a few quid by renting it out. My grand parents did this. They occupied a two bedroom flat and, in the fifties, they rented their spare room to Davy. He was a short, stout man with a slightly crazy laugh, bald head and National Health Service spectacles – who always  paid careful attention to his tie knot, his white starched shirt and his precision shaving on a Saturday night when he hoped to get lucky. I remember being strangely fascinated by Davy’s shaving and would frequently watch him as he exercised his careful linear strokes, followed by vigorous swirling of the razor in water to clean it. I believe Davy was a friend of my uncle Tom from their days of military service who simply needed a few weeks of lodging to sort himself out and find his own flat, yet by 1970 – when I moved out of the buildings – he was still there.

The construction of Great Eastern Buildings left much to be desired, both inside and our. The coal-grey brickwork, which had not been cleaned for decades, had not stood up well to weathering. Word had it that there was red brick incorporated in the Buildings but, apart from a line of red bricks traversing the length of the roof, it was hard to recall. Maybe this is reflective of a grey and dull existence?

Yet life in and around the buildings was punctuated by colour. ‘Barmy Park’ in Bethnal Green (named after the asylum that once stood there), Vallance Rd Park (known as Weavers’ Fields) and Victoria Park (the biggest and best known) were no more than a ten minute walk away, where we could see trees, ponds, birds and enjoy running around on the grass. In some ways these three parks marked the boundaries of our hinterland beyond which we rarely ventured. Within the immediate vicinity of the buildings there simply wasn’t anything of greenery that I recall.

There was the Truman Brewery just across the road which, in the fifties, still used horses to pull cartloads of beer. So it was that nature and beauty broke in to reveal itself to us, as my friend Sheila Butt remembers, “In the summer we used to go up on the roof and watch the Truman’s draymen go by on their carts, drawn by beautiful white horses, with large barrels of beer on the back and two men up front in white rubber aprons. And just to add to the sense of season, the waft of hops could often be detected on the light breezes passing through the buildings”

My Aunty Pat informed me that Great Eastern Buildings were owned in the fifties and the sixties by none other than the notorious racketeer and slum landlord Peter Rachman! His acolytes were always there when the rent was due but never when repairs were needed which, given the state of dilapidation, was very frequent. In fact, it was only in the early sixties when Rachman sold the buildings that any work was done, and indoor bathrooms and toilets were installed.

For many of the residents, avoiding paying the rent was a priority, hence weekly rent collection day – normally a Monday – was an interesting game of cat and mouse. The tendency to live it up at the weekend often left shortfalls and so the visit of the rent man was greeted with absence or no answer. It was not uncommon to be told ‘keep quiet and don’t make a sound,’ accompanied by threats of physical chastisement, should the rent man turn up when we were at home. On several occasions I was told by my ‘live-in stepmother’ Lotty not to make a sound when there was an unexpected knock on the door. In her case it could have been any amount of reasons, since she was implicated in many dubious activities, but the rent man was always unwelcome.

Rent was the biggest outgoing that anyone faced. In 1969, it stood at 25 shillings weekly for my Aunty Pat’s family with an income of £12 per week, but for those living on benefits it was a bigger imposition. I do not recall anyone ever discussing the concept of buying a home and, certainly, I never heard of the word ‘mortgage’ until my twenties. Nobody seemed to even dream about it, as if renting was the only way. And we performed this never-ending dance with the rent collector. I’m not sure what we hoped to achieve because the rent had to be paid whether we liked it or not, but I think that such avoidance won enough time to source other forms of income, thereby allowing the rent to be found.

Although Aunty Pat had sufficient control over her finances to pay the rent, many others – like my folks – did not. Yet even for the ‘good ones,’ it was always possible to discover a ‘cash flow difficulty’ by trusting payment of the rent to those it might be better not to. This was the fate of Aunty Pat when she trusted my stepmother, Lotty, to pay the rent on her behalf one week. Normally Pat would pay it herself, but her working hours had changed, so she could not be there to pay it. On this particular occasion, she was approached by the rent collector, asking ‘Pat, why haven’t you paid the rent?’ which drew the reply, ‘I have, Lotty paid it for me.’ At this point, Pat produced the rent book which had been signed by the rent man to indicate receipt of the rent, only to be informed ‘that’s not my signature.’ It was painfully obvious. When confronted, Lotty broke down, admitted the forgery and agreed to pay it off at two shillings a week. Fortunately, it never went any further, though Pat was more careful with whom she trusted her rent money afterwards.

Of my step-mother Lotty it must be said that she was an interesting character. I should know since I spent five years living with her. For better or worse, Lotty did help to raise myself and my sister, as well as her own son, Tony, and later my half-brother Edward. She was generally reasonable towards all of us, and kept us fed and clothed but she did periodically give me a good hiding. On one notable occasion, I managed to upset her mother and Lotty flew into the bedroom and laid into me. I never did know why but I do remember the pain, the stinging sensation, the confusion and sense of injustice. I suspect my sense of injustice was furthered by her not being my real mother – ‘Who the bloody hell did she think she was anyway?’

My father could deal out that sort of thing too. Somewhere around the age of eight or nine I managed to upset him, again how I did this I can’t recall – perhaps this lack of awareness is the hallmark of childhood? -  but he charged into the front room, threw me onto the sofa and proceeded to punch me in the back. Though he could have hurt me much more than Lotty, I didn’t feel the same anger or need for retribution, perhaps because he was my natural father. Neither was I alone, physical chastisement being a way of life for children in the building, as was physical conflict for adults. Yet my father didn’t commonly behave like this towards me – being something of a laid back character, much more likely to crack a joke or puff an exotic cigarette than to be violent. I can only imagine that on this occasion, as with Lotty, I must have done or said something to really anger him.

Because of the physicality of life in the buildings, my father had to give an impression of being able to ‘handle’ himself and so his teddy-boy background proved helpful. Later, it became increasingly evident that my father preferring to interact with my cousins than me. I think this was due to the path that I took in life. After moving in with my uncle and aunt, and gaining entry to the local grammar school, I became increasingly academic and more middle class. Or at least was seen like that. It was a problem for my father who evinced disappointment during my teenage years, giving the impression of wanting a son who was more working class and manually inclined. There were always taunts about not being able to do anything practical – ‘Good at reading books but can’t fix a plug, can ya?’ Fixing a plug was a skill needed in the buildings, whereas reading Geoffrey Chaucer or William Blake was not going to improve the quality of life. In the tough environment of the buildings you would not find what might be described as a culture of praise. People did not compliment each other overtly. Today I understand the practice of sarcasm, which may have been a means for people to compliment each other without being seen to do so.

When I passed the 11+ for entry to the local grammar school in 1969, no one, as far – as I can recall – said ‘Well done’ or anything else for that matter. It was as if it hadn’t happened. I can now recall that sense of disappointment at not being recognised for achieving something no one else had done. It was the foreboding of a sense that grew stronger and stronger through my teenage years – of not belonging and of not being one of them.

I suppose my dad’s behaviour in giving me a walloping should not be surprising as he was a product of his environment. That existence, apart from rendering physical chastisement acceptable, looked on education in a contradictory way. Learning was to be admired yet also regarded with contempt since it didn’t produce any tangible reward. So it was that he liked having a ‘clever son’ – which conferred status on him – but couldn’t identify with me because I was never going to be productive in a way he understood. This reality was painful: with a mother who had abandoned me and a father who seemed disdainful to me, my internal emotional turmoil was immense.

My Dad didn’t always get things his own way. I recall an incident around 1965 when I had wandered out of the buildings and was heading down Quaker St towards Wheler House. About 50 yards along on the left hand side, facing Leon’s shop, was the Grey Eagle. Out of the pub hobbled my father, covered in blood, with torn clothing and clearly in distress. He sank to the ground against a wall. Later, it transpired he had broken his leg or had it broken for him. Then another man came out of the pub and started kicking him. Upon seeing me, my father called out ‘Alright Paddy, pack it in, my boy is watching.’ Paddy glanced in my direction, swore at my father, kicked him once more and then went back to the pub.

Lest I give a negative impression of my father, I have a wonderful memory that endures. One morning, around 3am, in the summer of 1969, my father came into the bedroom and woke me up. ‘Steven, Steven, you’ve got to come and see this,’ he said. I hadn’t a clue what he meant or what was happening, but I got up and followed him into the front room. He was staring at the TV, and he ushered me to sit down and do the same. In that slightly fed up and rather bored manner so beloved of children, I sat there and looked at our little black and white TV set.

There appeared to be little to see – just a piece of empty ground from what I could tell. After several minutes of looking at this nothingness, a small shiny cylindrical object hovered into view and appeared to settle on this piece of ground. A little time later, a man completely enclosed in a heavy suit emerged from the object. I didn’t appreciate that I was watching a piece of history – the first man on the moon – but from my fathers’ demeanour I knew it had to be of significance. Looking back on it, my dad clearly wanted me to be part of something special, something that was a landmark moment in human existence, and in this he succeeded.

Steven with his Aunty Ena and his nan, c.1963

Steven aged twelve, 1970

Great Eastern Buildings photographed by Tony Hall in the sixties

Children at Great Eastern Buildings photographed by Homer Sykes in the seventies

Great Eastern Buildings seen from Quaker St photographed by Dan Cruickshank in the seventies

Demolition of Great Eastern Buildings, 1978

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Ken Long, Greengrocer

April 23, 2017
by the gentle author

“I can’t pack it in because of all the people who came before me”

Photographer Andrew Baker introduced me to his pal Kenny Long at Chrisp St Market in Poplar. Ken is an heroic greengrocer who sets up his stall earlier than anyone else each day and whose family have been trading in this location through four generations, since before the current market was even built.

Ken sets up in the dawn, after he has been to the wholesale market to buy fresh produce, wheeling out the old wooden barrows and arranging his stall in the traditional manner with the vegetables to the right and the fruit to left, just as he has done for the past thirty years. Black and white photographs of those who precede him are set upon the stall each day as a constant reminder of this long-standing family endeavour, which Ken maintains through his daily ritual out of loving devotion to those who are dead and gone.

While we chatted, Ken popped across the square to place a few bets on the horses, as he does every day, and our conversation was interrupted by long-standing customers coming to buy. Although Ken still makes a good living and his work keeps him fit and wiry at sixty-one years old, I learnt from him that being a greengrocer is a way of life and a way of understanding the world, as much as it is a business – as much culture as it is commerce.

In Chrisp St Market, Ken Long is the overseer of time passing and the custodian of history.

“It all stems back to before the Second World War when my great-grandmother, Ellen Walton – old granny Walton they used to call her – she had a greengrocer’s shop in Violet Rd in the thirties. My great-grandfather was a merchant seaman and in those days you could bring anything home, and he brought my mum a monkey and they used to have the monkey swinging about in the shop.

When the shop got bombed during the War, they moved onto a stall in Chrisp St Market. Old granny Walton passed the business on to my grandmother, Nell Walton – her name is on my barrow – and from her it went to her son, Freddie Walton and his sister, my mum Joanie Long, worked on the stall fifty years.

In 1951, they moved into the Lansbury Market ( as it was then) on the newly-built Lansbury Estate and we’ve been here ever since. When Uncle Freddie passed away two weeks after his sixty-fifth birthday, my mum took over. By then, I was already working on the fruit stall. My dad, William Long, was a docker and he died when I was eight in 1965. He got killed in the docks. As a child I was up here all the time, I used to come up to my nan on a Saturday and I used to run around the market. I would stay with my nan on a Saturday night and my dad would come and pick me up on a Sunday morning and take me home.

Eventually, I took the stall over from my mum and the licence changed from my uncle into my name but  - as far as I was concerned – as long as my mother worked here, she was in charge because I had to do what I was told. At first, I got involved with the vegetable end of the stall, which my aunt used to run with my uncle until she had to have her leg off and couldn’t do it no more. My uncle was going to rent it out but I overheard my mum talking about it and I said, ‘Don’t rent it out to no stranger, keep it in the family. I’ll try it for a couple of years and see how I go’ - and the rest is history. I was thirty-one when I started and this year it will be thirty years that I have been here.

When I started, my uncle let me have the vegetable end of the stall and work it for myself, and I gave him the rent to pay to the council. After about two years, he dropped down dead indoors so we shut the stall up for a week and I had to decide what I was going to do, and I decided to take it on. I had been up to the Spitalfields Market with uncle and seen what he bought and what he didn’t buy. There were four of us working here then – me, my mum, my daughter and a girl. You needed at least three then, but now trade is not what it used to be, so I get by on my own.

For a while now, my stall has been the longest-established here in the market. We’ve been here everyday, every week for as long as this market has existed. Traditionally, people bought their bread, their meat, and their fruit and veg for the weekend on a Friday. Everybody used to cook a roast dinner on a Sunday but there’s not a lot of people that do that anymore. We had customers queueing up from half past six – seven o’clock in the morning and we’d have a queue at either end of the stall. They’d buy their vegetables at one end and pay for them, and then go up to the other end and queue up to buy their fruit. My mum would be serving here, I’d have a girl serving there and I’d be serving in the middle. It was like that all the time, from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon. People who knew me would say, ‘Ken, you know what I have.’ Ten pounds of potatoes, a cabbage, a cauliflower, carrots, onions and parsnips – the whole lot for their roast dinner. Now you get customers who come on a Saturday and ask for two pounds of potatoes, a carrot and a parsnip just to get them by.

Working like I do is a dying trade, serving customers individually and weighing out fruit and veg. On the other stalls in this market and you’ll see ‘pound a bowl’ and ‘pound a bag’ - everything is pre-packed. I am a traditional greengrocer and, although I can get everything all year round now, I know when the seasons are and I know when to buy, and there’s times when I won’t buy certain things because it ain’t proper.

I known greengrocers who have worked in Roman Rd, Watney Market, Bethnal Green and Rathbone Market, packing up and nobody ever replaces them, whereas once upon a time it was family and people came in to the business, taking over from their mum or dad. That’s not happening now.

You don’t have to serve an apprenticeship, you just have to go the wholesale market with whoever you are going to take over from and you have to have some experience to know what you are selling. There’s ten different oranges I can buy, but I know to buy seedless Spanish navels because they are best oranges. Elsewhere in this market, you can buy cheaper oranges and people think it’s better value, but only because they do not understand what they are buying. The soft fruit I sell will ripen nicely, whereas much of the fruit you buy in a supermarket will not ripen until it rots because they select varieties to have a long shelf life.

You don’t always buy with your eyes. Most of my regular customers know me and they say, ‘They look lovely, what are they like?’ and I’ll say, ‘Don’t have them, have these.’ I’ve been doing this long enough to know which people will trust me. I look after my loyal customers.

I enjoy it. I’ve earned a good living. It’s been good to me and it’s been good to all the family over the years. Fifteen years ago, I said ‘When I’m fifty-five, I want to be out.’ That would have been after twenty-five years in the market. But I got to fifty-five and it was still a good living, but by then all my family who worked the stall were dead and gone, and I couldn’t walk away from it. I wouldn’t walk away from a floating ship and it still is a living to me, but the main reason I am doing it now is because my conscience tells me I cannot walk away from it. I can’t pack it in because of all the people who came before me. If they saw me walk away for no reason at all, I can see my mum giving me dirty looks, I can see Freddie turning in his grave and I can see my nan. So I am thinking, ‘No, I’ve got to stick it out.’

In the last couple of years, they have been refurbishing the market and everything is coming down for redevelopment, so when that starts I am going. I’ve got two sheds round the corner which I put these stalls in every night, they’re coming down first before the work starts, so that will put me out of a job. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m being pushed out but it suits me, I’m sixty this year. I’m trying to find reasons to go. They’ve offered me alternative accommodation but it won’t be in the vicinity. It only takes me fifteen minutes to pull all these stalls round every morning at present.

We’ve had these old barrows hired off Hiller Brothers since 1951 when we came into the market. I pay thirty-seven pounds sixty per month, it never goes up and they maintain them for me at no extra charge.

I’m doing my own thing here. Since my mum’s been gone, and my daughter’s been gone and the girl’s been gone, I can do what I like! As much as I was running the stall, doing the buying and sorting the money out, when they was here I was still ‘the boy.’ It was still - ‘Ken, make us a cup of tea!’ -’Ken do this!’-  ’Ken do that!’ – ‘Ken, go round the shed and get some orders’ There was three women telling me what to do. It was lovely and I did it because I thought I was supposed to, so I didn’t mind.

I’m still serving people I have served for thirty years but I have new customers come along too. I like the variety. I like being outside. I prefer the winter to the summer, because I don’t want to be here in the summer I want to be somewhere else nice. The hot weather doesn’t help all this stuff, you have to careful what you buy and how much you buy – it makes the job a little but harder. In the winter, you can buy a little bit more because it will keep an extra day or two, and in the winter you sell an even amount of fruit and veg, whereas in the summer you don’t sell a lot of veg because people don’t eat so many hot dinners.

I enjoy the job but – if I am honest – nowadays if I had a shop, I’d be shut at one o’clock because that’s when I start packing up, by two o’clock I am closing down and by three o’clock I am gone. I like getting away in the afternoon. I like getting up in the morning. I like going to the New Spitalfields Market. I like the buzz up the market, buying and running around. Things change all the time with the seasons, so you are always looking around for something different.”

Ken arrives before anyone else to pull his old wooden barrows into the market

Ken sets up his stall in the dawn while the market is empty

Ken’s grandmother Nell Walton is remembered on the side of a barrow made in Wheler St, Spitalfields

Ken’s mother, Joanie Long

Nell Walton & Uncle Freddie

Ellen Walton, known as ‘Old Granny Walton’

Each day Ken enjoys a flutter on the horses

Ken welcomes a long-standing customer

Photographs copyright © Andrew Baker

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A.S. Jasper’s Years After

April 22, 2017
by the gentle author

Today, I present this short extract from A.S. Jasper’s The Years After, about his experiences in the Auxiliary Fire Service in London during the Second World War, revealing the author’s personal sense of justice that he acquired through the struggles of his early years in Hoxton.

Next week, Spitalfields Life Books is publishing a handsome new hardback edition of AS Jasper’s A Hoxton Childhood accompanied in the same volume by the very first publication of the sequel The Years After, which was discovered in the author’s papers after his death. The sequel traces how AS Jasper employed the moral lessons of his childhood through his adult years, and together both works comprise an eloquent and compelling testimony of a life.

Join me at the launch party for A.S. Jasper’s  A Hoxton Childhood & The Years After next Tuesday 25th April 7pm at the Labour and Wait Workroom, 29-32 The Oval, Off Hackney Rd, Bethnal Green, E2 9DT. There will be live music, readings and refreshments. Tickets are £5, including £5 discount off the cover price. Click here to book

Illustration by Joe McLaren

We were sleeping in a large hall on concrete floors: no beds. So I approached the officer in charge of the Auxiliary Fire Service and asked him how on earth he thought we could do twelve and eighteen-hour shifts under these conditions. He replied that he had tried to get beds but none were available. I asked if it was possible to get a requisition for some timber, nails and some close-mesh wire. I told him that if he could get these items I could make beds. He was delighted with the idea and left to make a telephone call. He came running back and told me it had been accepted, and would I give him a list of my requirements. I gave him my list and, true to his word, the materials arrived the next day. I went home to pick up my tools and started to make eighteen beds upon my return.

To make the distribution fair, we placed numbers in a hat and drew one for each member of the crew. I was using 2in x 2in timber, and it took me about two hours to make each bed. For mattresses, I used the close-mesh chicken wire and staples. Within a week, we each had a bed, a table and forms to sit on to have our meals. The chaps were all grateful for my efforts.

Meanwhile, I received a letter from Lilian. She had been sent to Ipswich. The boys were missing me terribly and my little son was crying all the time for his dad. I felt awful being parted from them.

I was on way out with the night crew the following Monday afternoon, when who should be walking towards me but Lilian and our three boys. My little son rushed up to me, put his arms around my neck and nearly strangled me. I asked Lilian why she had come home. She explained that she was living in the house of a minister whose wife had been evacuated and there was just no sense staying in a place which wasn’t a safe area. I fully agreed with her decision. Separation was not for us anyhow. We made arrangements to move into our new house the following morning. We soon settled in, with the boys happy that we were all together again. One would have thought we had been separated for a couple of years instead of a couple of weeks.

This was a phoney period of the war and nothing was happening in the firefighting department and I had several clashes with the council about the treatment they doled out to the Auxiliary Fire Service. On one occasion, we had been on duty from 2pm on Sunday until 9am on Monday morning when we were served breakfast which was sent to us from an outside kitchen run by the council. Complaints had been pouring in from the various substations about the quality of the food and the way it was served up. It was always cold by the time we received it.

This particular morning, the breakfast arrived in the canisters. They were stone cold. Upon opening them we found sausages, beans and cold fat. It looked horrible. Someone started to dish it out on plates, but none of us could eat it.

‘What the bleeding hell do they take us for?’ said one. ‘After an eighteen-hour shift, we are expected to eat this effing mess? Not so bleeding likely.’ I looked at my plate and found two rubber rings in with the ‘food.’ Someone else discovered a piece of string. We decided we would take our breakfast to the chief of the Air Raid Precautions. We put a plate over the food, wrapped it in a piece of cloth and went to the head office. The deputation consisted of Bob, two others and myself. We all marched down the corridor and were stopped by an individual in uniform asking what we wanted. I said I wanted to see the chief. We were told that he would not be able to see us. I told the man in uniform that we were prepared to wait all day if necessary. We then sat down outside his office. Within fifteen minutes we were told that the chief would see us.

‘Good morning gentlemen,’ he said, ‘what can I do for you?’

I pushed the plate under his nose and said ‘eat that.’ When he saw the beans, sausages and fat complete with strings and rubber rings, he said, ‘Good God, what a horrible mess.’ We gave him a full explanation as to why we were there, telling him that this was the type of thing we were expected to eat after an eighteen-hour shift. He understood our point, thanked us for bringing it to his attention and promised us that things would improve in the very near future. I am pleased to say that he kept his word. Next morning we were sent eggs and then haddock the morning after. There was a vast improvement from then on, which only goes to show that if one has the courage, injustice can nearly always be set to rights.

Illustrations copyright © Joe McLaren

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AS Jasper’s Hoxton Childhood

A Hoxton Childhood & The Years After

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Click here to pre-order a copy for £20



The Gentle Author is delighted to collaborate with Labour and Wait to present a SPITALFIELDS LIFE BOOKSHOP for ten days at the WORKROOM, 29-32 The Oval, Off Hackney Rd, Bethnal Green, E2 9DT, in the shadow of the magnificent gasometers. This will be a rare chance to take a look at all Spitalfields Life Books titles in one place and have a peek behind the scenes at Labour and Wait too.

(Wednesday 26th April – Saturday, May 6th, 11am-6pm. Closed Sunday 30th April)


Phil Cunningham’s East End Streets

April 21, 2017
by the gentle author

Shall we join Photographer Philip Cunningham for a stroll around the East End streets in 1985?

Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Woman’ on the Stifford Estate

“I began photography by taking pictures of the East End, which was my local area. Then in 1979, when I was at art school, my tutor, Roger Jeffs came down to the East End and we walked around together. Even then, things were changing fairly fast and he urged me to document it, so I got into the habit of taking photos of the place and its people. In 1995, I moved to Suffolk and my documentation of the East End ceased. All the negatives and prints were put away in boxes and forgotten about, until one day I was contacted by the Gentle Author who came to have a look at my pictures.” - Philip Cunningham

Clinton Rd

Whitechapel Rd, site of the Pavilion Theatre

Cable St

Whitechapel Market

Commercial Rd

Myrdle St

Backchurch Lane

Rampart St

Morris Rd

Cudworth St

Cudworth St

Wickhams, Mile End Rd, viewed from Assembly Passage

Edwin St

Hessel St

Whitman Rd

Off Winthrop St, Whitechapel

Mile End Park

Hart St

In Stepney

Morris Rd

Morris Rd

Morris Rd

Backchurch Lane

Backchurch Lane

Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

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A Walk with Philip Cunningham

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Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits

More of Philip Cunningham’s Portraits

Yet More Philip Cunningham Portraits

A Lost Corner of Whitechapel

Philip Cunningham at Mile End Place

Philip Cunningham’s East End Shopfronts