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Fourth Annual Report

August 23, 2013
by the gentle author

It was four years ago that I published my first post here in the pages of Spitalfields Life and I did it blindly without any grasp of where it might lead. I did not know if I was capable of writing a sentence or taking a photograph, but I hoped that by practising every day I might progress.

Yet these first four years have been a much more eventful journey that I could have imagined. While my central endeavour of doing interviews and writing people’s stories is more than its own reward, there have also been many other unexpected joys resulting indirectly from this activity. So I hope you will not think me immodest if I take this opportunity of the Annual Report to outline a few highlights here.

As a naturally timid person, I would not aspire to overt political action, yet I felt to compelled to write celebrating Gardners Market Sundriesmen, Spitalfields’ oldest family business, when the landlord wanted to replace this beloved institution with a chain store, and it was the resultant public outcry which caused the landlord to relent in his policy. The beauty that I found in the culture and practice of this small independent shop led me to write about hundreds of other such proprietor-owned-and-run establishments that are an important part of the social fabric of the East End. When these shopkeepers read about each other and recognised that they were all struggling with similar issues, two hundred met together in Christ Church, Spitalfields, last November to form the East End Trades Guild of which Paul Gardner is the founding member. Since then, they have constituted themselves as a co-operative to speak for the interests of all small traders in the East End.

The spring, when the Geffrye Museum set out to demolish The Marquis of Lansdowne which had stood on the corner of Geffrye St since at least 1838 to replace it with a concrete box to house their new designer restaurant, I had the pleasure of interviewing George Barker who had been born in a room above the pub in 1931. His family ran The Marquis for more than half a century and his story outlined the meaning and importance of it as a focus for the extended families that once lived in the surrounding streets and worked in the furniture trades based there. It was a recognition of the cultural value of The Marquis of Lansdowne in Haggerston, where long-established communities had been devastated by slum clearances, that was a crucial factor in the Hackney Council Planning Committee’s refusal of permission to demolish the pub.

I often think of how we used to write stories at school and there were so many more talented storytellers than I, yet it puzzles me I am the only one that became a writer. Teaching a series of writing courses over the past eighteen months has been an uplifting experience because – without exception – all of the students have produced talented and accomplished pieces of writing, speaking eloquently in their own voices and confirming my belief in the latent writing abilities of the general population. Additionally, each of these courses has spawned a group of writers who remain in touch, circulating their work and offering moral support to each other.

In July, it was my privilege to give an illustrated lecture at the National Portrait Gallery showing more than one hundred portraits of East Enders from Spitalfields Life, complementing the gallery’s own exhibition of the great and the good from their archive. The lively response of the audience reflected my own excitement in this triumphant moment which gave me the opportunity to feature the work of all the Contributing Photographers whose pictures regularly enliven these pages.

Finally, the book of Spitalfields Life sold out its print run of ten thousand copies in hardback, inspiring me with the courage to become a publisher in my own right. The first title published under the Spitalfields Life Books imprint, Travellers’ Children in London Fields by Colin O’Brien, came out at the beginning of July with The Gentle Author’s London Album, a magnificent picture book funded by you the readers, to be published in October.

No-one is more astonished than I by these outcomes of the act of writing daily stories about the people and culture of the East End. Since my own existence is spent engrossed in my work, although I understand there is a wide readership that extends globally, I only envisage the people that I know reading it. Similarly, I could only conceive of the existence of copies of Spitalfields Life that I saw with my own eyes. Thus it was a strange experience to sign stock copies in Waterstones Piccadilly, London’s largest bookshop, and then go back a week later to discover that my signatures had vanished. It was half an hour later before I realised the obvious, that the signed books had been sold and these were new stock.

You might think that all these activities could prove too much of an appealing distraction, yet it is the practice of publishing a story every day that permits me to limit these marginalia and keeps me focussed upon my central task and delight. When I sit down to write my story, I put the hurly-burly of the day behind me and, in that moment, I am at home. This is the time I look forward to, when I am free to write – and I  hope to be doing it for many years to come.

And thus, with all these thoughts in mind, I come to the end of this fourth year of Spitalfields Life.

I am your loyal servant

The Gentle Author

For the next week, I shall be publishing favourite stories from the past year and resuming with new stories on Monday 2nd September.

You may like to read my earlier Annual Reports

First Annual Report 2010

Second Annual Report 2011

Third Annual Report 2012

58 Responses leave one →
  1. August 23, 2013

    Love that cat, love the blog, congratulations and thank you.

  2. August 23, 2013

    I found your blog when I was doing some research for an article I was writing. Ever since, I’ve checked in every day. This is such a pleasure ♥

  3. Jennifer permalink
    August 23, 2013

    This is, without question, my favourite blog. I live in New Zealand and don’t often get to the northern hemisphere, but the next time I’m in London, I will be visiting Spitalfields, and it will, I know, feel like an old friend. Thank you so much for introducing us.

  4. Gabrielle permalink
    August 23, 2013

    How you came to this blog and what happened then, is just about as fabulous as the stories you keeping finding for us! Cheers from a fellow writer

  5. August 23, 2013

    Thank y ou so much for sharing all your wonderful stories. I read each and everyone of them. I am from South Africa and have visited England many times and have such a great love for the country. My forbears came from there so it is understandable that I have a lively interest in the history of the country.
    Keep up your writing and our passion. You inspire me.

  6. Paul permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Congratulations on reaching your forth birthday…a worthy effort, much appreciated and keep up the good work

  7. Jaki permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Congratulations on four years! Here’s to many more! XX

  8. August 23, 2013

    Congratulations on your fourth anniversary! You are definitely my blog hero. At a time when ‘faster’, ‘shorter’ seem to be the watchwords for successful social media writing, your longer, beautifully-crafted posts tell us otherwise, and are a delight and an inspiration to read. They encourage us to take time to savour the stories and the quality of your writing. And to celebrate the infinite richness of ‘ordinary life’. I often recommend your blog to my own creative writing students as a model of the best that’s out there. I hope your archive will become part of our national heritage.

  9. August 23, 2013

    Hear hear xxx

  10. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    August 23, 2013

    I love reading your stories about Spitalfields which seems an oasis of calm & old fashioned ness in the middle of London.I also love your cat!Even though I live at the other end of the country I feel I know these people personally!

  11. Pussy-Wussy permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Congratulations! You are a force for good. Love to Mr. Pussy.

  12. August 23, 2013

    Whereas most people have discovered only bloated egos when they’ve sat down to write a blog it’s has been so rewarding to find Spitalfields Life and your talent for truly emotive writing combined with a true passion for your subject. Many congrats and I hope you continue from strength to strength!

  13. Vicky permalink
    August 23, 2013

    It’s been an amazing journey. For a naturally timid person you’ve achieved extraordinary things and reading about your daily life is our pleasure. Thank you.

  14. August 23, 2013

    Yours is a truly unique endeavour which I enjoy every day. A friend bought me a signed copy of your book from Charleston. Congratulations and I look forward to many happy years of Spitalfields Life and its publications.

  15. August 23, 2013

    Indeed, congratulations and thank you. Your stories are always full of interest – human and historical – and you showcase some cracking photographers. Perhaps most importantly, you’ve involved us all in campaigns – albeit in a small way as petitioners – in preserving corners of the area that should not be destroyed. To the next four years and beyond!

  16. August 23, 2013

    I love the stories and pictures you share, and hope that you will get more people to be aware of the importance of the East End, and that it is worth being preserved. Valerie

  17. yvonne permalink
    August 23, 2013

    oh the simple pleasure of sitting down with my morning coffee, opening my laptop and reading your daily blog..
    being a londoner now living in nicosia it takes me back to the times i trod those streets each day taking it for granted, although thank goodness my father who was born in battersea in 1902 told me many many stories of the london he grew up in..
    thank you from the bottom of my heart..

  18. SBW permalink
    August 23, 2013

    well done, it seems to me you have made a real contribution.

  19. August 23, 2013

    Congratulations on the anniversary of a fascinating blog, which I look at every day.

  20. August 23, 2013

    A great story – long may Spitalfield’s Life inspire and amuse, thank you!

  21. August 23, 2013

    I have so much enjoyed your stories from Spitalfields. I start my day reading them. Wonderful to learn about the diverse cultures of the people who live in London. I have learned so much. Please keep going!!

  22. August 23, 2013

    Congratulations on your fourth anniversary. It’s been two years now since I spent a summer in London researching and writing my third novel, and getting to meet wonderful people and learning about London things past and present in your stories every day give me a sense of still being there. A cup of coffee and Spitalfields Life, there is no better way to start the day!

  23. August 23, 2013

    Congratulations on 4 years! You are one of my favourite reads, and I so enjoy the photographs you feature :)

  24. August 23, 2013

    btw that is a beautiful jug in the first photo, can you tell us what the slogan reads please ? :)

  25. Lesley Foley permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Thanks for your interesting and varied stories look forward to your new ones in September.

  26. August 23, 2013

    Congratulations. I look forward to every posting and have introduced a lot of friends to the site. I wouldn’t have known about the fight to save The Marquis of Lansdowne without this site. It’s a vital London asset.

  27. August 23, 2013

    Am sitting in a studio in rural Northumberland but I still love to read about the East End and now when I come down to London to see my daughter Alice, who you have featured in past postings, I try and make a visit to Spitalfields to look up places and businesses you have mentioned. Who could have believed that writing about an area you live in and the people you meet could have such an impact in keeping the institutions and businesses alive. Well done for another year of inspiring writing and beautiful photographs
    Mandy Pattullo

  28. mary moulder permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Your work–or passion–brightens so many lives! I thank you for my happy mornings of reading. It has been a while since I visited London in person, and each day the East End comes to me, right here in rural Michigan, or on the Sororan Desert in Tucson, Arizona. I have began reading SL when my dear Rondeau cousin from Canada hooked me up, and I enjoyed the genealogy. Now, I just plain enjoy the company of folks in “my neighborhood”. Thank you for your hard work and dedication. Mary Moulder of Michigan&Arizona, USA.

  29. Candice Lyons permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Happy Anniversary. I have loved being part of the journey! Here’s to at least four more years.

    Candice (from the USA)

  30. ValerieDC permalink
    August 23, 2013

    What terrific accomplishments you have had in the past 4 years. I became interested after watching “call the midwife” on tv, and your daily dispatches enhance my understanding of this particular place and its part in London’s history. Wonderful stuff, and as you’ve noted, socially redeeming too. Best wishes for many more years, and gratitude from your friend in the US.
    P.S. My kitchen spoon from Barn is a lovey and much used souvenir of my time in your neighborhood.

  31. Sarah Correia permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Happy anniversary – I love your blog . . .I’m in the US but wish I was in Britain so I could more easily visit Spitalfields.

  32. Bernard Steel permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Congratulations on your fourth anniversary! And also on the tremendous success of the book- I dip into my (signed-thank you!) copy regularly. Look forward to the Album

  33. Teresa Stokes permalink
    August 23, 2013

    I was on an Aer Lingus flight yesterday looking through “Cara”, their inflight magazine, and saw your blog recommended in an article about London’s East End. It said:
    A great place to start when whetting your appetite for a trip to East London is the Spitalfields Life blog, by the Gentle Author (spitalfieldslife.com), or the book of the same name, published by Saltyard Books last year. Divided into categories such as “Market Life”, “Cultural Life” and “Night Life”, it is a local’s almanac and a very useful resource for the visitor.

  34. Louise permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Magic – all of it. Thanks for the work.

  35. Kate Griffin permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Congratulations Gentle Author on four years of inspirational London tales. Here’s to many years of many more! Cat is looking exceptionally content. P.S. where does the Dr. Johnson jug come from?

  36. Leslie Flowers permalink
    August 23, 2013

    It was wonderful to read about all of your accomplishments. You have found your calling! Keep up the brilliant work.

  37. Valerie permalink
    August 23, 2013

    I have truly enjoyed reading your blog: for its full use of the English language which I miss badly; because my mother’s family were Huguenot silk merchants who fled France towards the end of the 16th century; because of your gift for not taking the smallest item for granted; but mostly for the powerful way in which your words have made change encouraging others to preserve some of our disappearing neighbourhoods

  38. August 23, 2013

    Looking forward to the next four. Thank you.

  39. StephenH permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Although your blog is a loving compendium of your particular community – Spitalfields- its appeal is also universal in that it champions the nature of true society – that which is built from those who live their lives in community and not imposed from outside sources such as media which may seek to convince us what economic or cultural form our communities should take. Congratulations on four years and many thanks for your eloquent voice and those of others to whom you give space. (from Canada)

  40. August 23, 2013

    Thank you for writing this blog. Spitafields and Bethnal Green were the only places I really visited in London on my recent holiday, and I enjoyed the books you left me at the sundries store. I also ended up buying one of the hand-made sweaters for my dog at the shop. I read each of your posts and look for places I visited and people I met while I was across the pond.

  41. Chris F permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Well done GA… I feel as though I know more about the people of Spitalfields than I do about the people who live on my street and I’d probably recognise more of them if I were to bump into them. You’ve given me hours of enjoyment and introduced me to some wonderful and talented people. Thank you…

  42. Sally permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Congratulations – the only blog I read every day because I love the stories and pictures. Thank you.

  43. Jane Ponsford permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Dear Gentle Author,

    Thank you for your daily epistle and congratulations on your four years of Spitalfields Life.

  44. August 23, 2013

    What a great update. I started reading your blog this year and check it every day. I am from the US and visited East London earlier this year specifically to check out some of the places you’ve highlighted. I love how you’ve made an impact on the world through your daily writing. Much appreciated!

  45. Enid permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Thank you, dear Gentle Author, for making the start of every day a joy.

  46. Gary permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Congratulations GA, I am now drinking your health with a bottle of “Badger, First Gold”.
    Here is to the next 4 years.
    Gary

  47. Katya permalink
    August 24, 2013

    Your blog flows like a sparkling stream, full of surprises in its depths. Cheers from across the big pond and a kiss for Mr. Pussy’s snoozing head.

  48. Alison permalink
    August 24, 2013

    A wonderful achievement for you and a daily pleasure for me.

    Thank you.

  49. Jill permalink
    August 24, 2013

    Happy 4th Birthday! Thank you so much for such interesting and thought-provoking essays; they are such a joy. Best wishes to you and your whiskered companion.

  50. August 24, 2013

    Thank you so much for your inspiring work!

  51. Barbara permalink
    August 24, 2013

    Congratulations and thank you ! What a wonderful thing you have created that delivers a daily dose of pleasure to all your readers. It is also a reminder that if we are true to ourselves and follow our dreams, we can achieve amazing things. I look forward to the next few thousand posts and hope you enjoy writing them as much as I enjoy reading them !

  52. Rhianwen permalink
    August 24, 2013

    Congratulations and thank you.
    Your success is so well deserved and comes from such a good place.

  53. Catherine permalink
    August 26, 2013

    Your blog gives me so much pleasure, all the way over in San Francisco, CA. It was my love of Hawksmoor’s architecture that first led me to Spitalfields on a visit to London. Reading your pieces gives a wonderfully vivid impression of this rich and lively community and the people who make it special. Long may you and Mr. Pussy flourish!

  54. William Sovie permalink
    August 29, 2013

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  55. mike migliorini permalink
    November 9, 2013

    Gentle author…I started reading and viewing your work from finding articles of Herbal hill..All the surrounding life in the 50s and 60s which was my childhood there..I look forward to my monthly leaps to your work as most of it makes me feel so nostalgic..It makes me want to reach out to you and the essense of life in these areas even though nowadays in my home in westcliff, i dont much like the london life as it is, but as it was…Thank you.

  56. Sarah permalink
    April 11, 2014

    Thank you for your blog, especially the Cries of London section. Its really helped with some historical research I am doing. Also I have a copy of your cat currently sleeping on my bed here in Philadelphia. I found Duncan my cat after someone threw the kitten out of a car and tried to run over him. He ran for his life and now is the Prince of the family. His meow is different. But he cannot help that he is from DC.

  57. mozibur ullah permalink
    May 1, 2014

    This is an absolutely brilliant blog – I hope other people take inspiration! Long may you continue.

  58. Shawdian permalink
    December 14, 2015

    Another year another to look forward to: A BIG THANK YOU and hug for pussy

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