Fifth Annual Report
Five years ago, I began to write daily in these pages without any expectation of where it might lead or what the outcome might be, and now the business of seeking a story and getting photographs and putting it all together has become my way of life. I consider myself privileged to pursue an occupation that offers such a constantly renewing source of interest, avoiding any possibility of boredom and providing an ongoing education upon the subject of human life.
Regular readers will be familiar with my recurring preoccupations and ongoing enthusiasms yet, as I go about my primary task of seeking subjects for interview in the East End, I never know what I shall discover. Even after five years, I still do not know what story I am going to write next but I have learnt to trust in the knowledge that, although I rarely have any stories planned beyond a few days ahead, material will always appear – and, as this anniversary confirms, it does.
It is my hope that no-one can predict what they will discover each day in these posts and the spontaneous, ever-shifting circumstances which lead to the creation of these stories mean that commonly I do not decide what I am going to write until the night before. My aim is to publish each new story at one minute past midnight but, as night-birds will have noticed, it often happens much later because I am still writing for a few hours beyond the appointed time. The rule is – I cannot go to sleep until I have finished my story, which concentrates the mind wonderfully.
Increasingly, readers write to send pictures, submit suggestions and offer introductions. Many leads arrive this way, providing the opportunity to do interviews, take pictures and write stories that might not otherwise be possible. A year ago, I did not know about the tube photographs of Bob Mazzer or Horace Warner’s portraits of the Spitalfields Nippers of of 1901, so it fills me with excited anticipation to wonder what else may arrive in future.
A highlight of this year was the launch of the East End Preservation Society last November as a means to bring together all those who care about the East End at this time of crisis, when too many old buildings are being needlessly destroyed. The overruling of the unanimous vote by Tower Hamlets Council to save the Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, and the demolition of the Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital without any significant public consultation, are two recent events that underlined the necessity of collective action. Encouragingly, the saving of the attractive nineteenth century terrace in Valance Rd, which is the last surviving fragment of the Pavilion Theatre complex, was a heartening early victory for the Society as it faces up to challenge the overblown and soulless developments proposed for Norton Folgate and the Bishopsgate Goodsyard.
It never occurred to me that publishing on the internet might lead to publishing printed books but I am very proud that in the last year, alongside the daily posts, four books have appeared under the Spitalfields Life Books imprint – Travellers’ Children in London Fields by Colin O’Brien, The Gentle Author’s London Album, Brick Lane by Phil Maxwell and Underground by Bob Mazzer. These titles were made possible by the generous investment of the readers of Spitalfields Life.
This November, I look forward to publishing the complete Spitalfields Nippers by Horace Warner from 1901 – including the twenty photographs he gave to the Bedford Institute in 1911 alongside more than a hundred portraits from his personal albums in the possession of his grandson, which have never been seen before outside the immediate family. We are currently undertaking research to discover what became of each of the children in Horace Warner’s pictures and this will be revealed in the book.
As long term readers know, my ambition is to publish ten thousand stories here in these pages which, at the rate of one a day, will take twenty-seven years and four months. It was an undertaking I adopted when I realised both my parents died at the same age and that I had ten thousand days left until I reached that age myself. In the five years since I began, I have produced more than eighteen hundred stories, leaving me twenty-two years and four months to meet my goal. As a writer, this task was the best means I could devise to ensure I made the most of my time.
Thus the path has been laid down and now I plan to continue along it. These first five years have more than exceeded my expectations, brought me a great deal of joy and introduced me to such a multitude of inspiring people. Yet, as I go forward, I am aware that more possibilities become available all the time, so I hope you will stay with me, because I can guarantee it will be an eventful journey we shall have together.
And thus, with all these thoughts in mind, I come to the end of this fifth 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 1st September.
You may like to read my earlier Annual Reports