Seventh Annual Report
Today, after publishing more than 2,600 posts and over 31,000 photographs in these pages, we arrive at the end of the seventh year of Spitalfields Life. Customarily I produce a celebratory annual report reflecting upon the anniversary of my starting to write in August 2009, but this year the moment is coloured with sadness by the unexpected death of my good friend and long-term contributing photographer Colin O’Brien a week ago.
My deepest sympathies are with Jan O’Brien, his widow after thirty-five years of married life. We plan to organise a memorial service for Colin and the date will be announced in the autumn, so that you may join us in paying your respects.
Foolishly, when I set out to write Spitalfields Life every day, it never occurred to me that the people I wrote about and whom I worked with might die, or that the acknowledgement of their passing would become part of the project. I have discovered that my ambition to pursue stories no-one else would write carries a certain responsibility, causing me to recognise that if my account is perhaps the only written record of a person’s life then I have a singular duty to do them justice.
Inevitably, many of the people whose stories you read in these pages become friends and, like others in Spitalfields, I feel the tragic loss of Rodney Archer who was such a popular figure in our community. Equally, I was alarmed to get the call from Viscountess Boudica of Bethnal Green the night her flat was burgled and I found myself wedging a broom handle across her kitchen window, where the thieves had entered, to prevent further criminal ingress. Readers will no doubt all be relieved to hear that the reports from Uttoxeter are good and the Viscountess assures me she is settling in well, up in Staffordshire.
The act of producing a story every day makes me very conscious of time passing, of the transient nature of the world and of the rapidity of change. Yet writing is both a consolation and a bulwark against all these things, a means to preserve, record and cherish the fleeting brilliance of life. Consequently, I have never had cause to regret my promise that I made seven years ago to publish a story every day, because it has filled my life with such richness of experience. Undertaking this work has introduced me to so many people that I should never have met in any other circumstances, while the constant search for subject matter forces me to explore the world more conscientiously, uncovering wonders that would otherwise pass me by.
Publishing books is another means to cherish pictures and stories that deserve permanence, and I am very proud of the three Spitalfields Life Books publications for which I was responsible as publisher in the past year – Baddeley Brothers, Cries of London & John Claridge’s East End. Baddeley Brothers tells the story of London’s oldest-established specialist printers, Cries of London celebrates four centuries of artists’ images of street traders and John Claridge’s East End is a candid insider’s portrait of an entire society observed by a distinctive photographic talent.
This November, Spitalfields Life Books is taking the bold step of publishing its first biography. The Boss of Bethnal Green is Julian Woodford’s shrewd account of the breathtakingly-appalling life of Joseph Merceron, Huguenot, gangster and corrupt magistrate, who ruled Bethnal Green & Spitalfields from his house in Brick Lane through violence and intimidation for half a century.
More recent criminals and political miscreants in the East End pale by comparison with Joseph Merceron’s staggering violence and ruthlessness, and Julian Woodford’s eloquent biography – the first on this subject – makes compelling reading for all those interested in eighteenth century London, anyone fascinated by the capital’s criminal history and everyone who loves an exciting true story well told.
And thus, with all these thoughts in mind, I come to the end of this seventh year of Spitalfields Life.
I am your loyal servant
The Gentle Author
The Gentle Author’s cat, Mr Pussy, fifteen years old and still thirsty
Published October 2015
Published November 2015
Published June 2016
For the next week, I shall be publishing favourite stories from the past year and I am delighted to announce that the distinguished Novelist & Historian of London, Gillian Tindall will then take over for the week commencing Monday 5th September to celebrate the publication of her new book The Tunnel Through Time, until my return on Monday 12th September.
You may like to read my earlier Annual Reports