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Phil Maxwell On Sclater St

April 24, 2016
by the gentle author

For the last thirty years, Contributing Photographer Phil Maxwell has been recording the ever-changing life of Sclater St Market. In the seventeenth century, this was known as Slaughter’s Land and Sclater is an archaic spelling of it, yet today the accepted pronunciation is ‘Slater.’ The name reminds us that, in spite of the apparently transient nature of street trading, this is an ancient market. By 1711, it had been laid out as ‘Sclater’s Lane’ and paved by 1723, and for centuries a bird market thrived here, persisting into recent memory at the end of the last century.

But only last year, the yard market to the north of Sclater St was lost to redevelopment and there are rumours that the yard to the south has been sold too. Yet every Sunday, you will still find Richard Lee, the bicycle parts seller, whose grandfather started on the same pitch in 1880 and, whenever I go down Sclater St, I stop to pay my respects to Robert Green and his sister Patricia, whose father Ronald began trading here in the fifties, on my way to carry off some bags of fresh produce at a bargain price from Westley Mattock, who boasts the longest fruit and veg stall in the East End.

Photographs copyright © Phil Maxwell


You may also like to take a look at

Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies

Phil Maxwell’s Kids On The Street

Phil Maxwell’s East End Cyclists

Phil Maxwell’s Brick Lane

Phil Maxwell in Bethnal Green Rd

Phil Maxwell & Sandra Esqulant

Phil Maxwell’s Whitechapel Market

Phil Maxwell’s Mobile Phone Zombies

Viscountess Boudica’s St George’s Day

April 23, 2016
by the gentle author

Happy St George’s Day!

I was a little surprised when the Viscountess Boudica summoned me over to Bethnal Green to show off her new St George’s Day outfit. Refashioned from a pair of old curtains, it is adorned with images of that controversial English country pastime of fox-hunting. Her choice of design only made sense to me when the Viscountess admitted that, in this particular scenario, she identifies with the fox. Similarly in the myth of St George & the Dragon, it is the dragon which wins Boudica’s sympathy. Thus Boudica’s patriotism is of a distinctive nature, identifying with those who discover themselves at the rough end of our national culture.

For the past week, the Viscountess has been at work to adorn her tiny flat with a forest of flags, rosettes and fairy lights in white and red, creating an irresistibly festive atmosphere to welcome all those who cross her threshold.

In one corner, a table is laid ready for a St George’s Day picnic. In another corner hangs a red flag with a dragon, commemorating Edward the Confessor, whom Boudica considers the last English monarch. Yet another corner harbours a shrine to Prince Harry, Boudica’s favourite among our current batch of royals. ‘He’s the only one that’s good-looking,’ she admitted to me, ‘the rest have all those teeth.’ Given Boudica’s affection for cuddly red foxes and her own flaming locks, I did wonder if there was some affinity for all things ginger at play.

No-one enters into the spirit of our festivals with such boundless creativity and joyous enthusiasm as the indefatigable Viscountess Boudica, embodying a genuine spirit of emotional generosity and selflessly delivering inspiration and entertainment to those in the East End and far beyond. God Bless Her Highness and Long May She Reign Over Bethnal Green!

Viscountess Boudica is a foxy lady

Viscountess Boudica’s creative paper cutting

Viscountess Boudica shows off her homemade patriotic pom-pom

Viscountess Boudica with St George & the Dragon

Prince Harry is the Viscountess’ favourite royal

Be sure to follow Viscountess Boudica’s blog There’s More To Life Than Heaven & Earth

Take a look at

Viscountess Boudica’s Domestic Appliances

Viscountess Boudica’s Blog

Viscountess Boudica’s Album

Viscountess Boudica’s Halloween

Viscountess Boudica’s Christmas

Viscountess Boudica’s Valentine’s Day

Read my original profile of Mark Petty, Trendsetter

and take a look at Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats

Mark Petty’s New Outfits

Mark Petty returns to Brick Lane

At Shakespeare’s Theatre In Shoreditch

April 22, 2016
by the gentle author

On the eve of the four hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, I recall my visit to the site of the Theatre in Shoreditch where his career as an actor and dramatist began

Over in Shoreditch, just a few minutes walk from Spitalfields, is the site of a seventeenth century playhouse called ‘The Theatre’ built by James Burbage in 1576, where William Shakespeare’s career as a dramatist began. In this, the first custom-built public theatre, Shakespeare played as an actor and his first plays were performed, notably Romeo & Juliet and an early version of Hamlet.

Stepping through a blank door in the wooden hoarding in New Inn Yard, I walked along a raised pathway to look down upon the archaeological dig and see where the earth has been painstakingly scraped back to reveal the foundations of the ancient playhouse.

Senior archaeologist Heather Knight indicated the section of curved stonework which comprised part of the inner wall of the theatre and next to it a section of the paving of the passage where, more than four hundred years ago, the audience walked through into the body of the theatre, once they had paid their penny admission. Beyond this paving, a beaten earth floor has been uncovered, sloping gently down in the direction of the stage.

This is where the audience stood to watch Shakespeare’s early plays for the first time.

For any writer, Shakespeare is a name that has a resonance above all others, and once Heather Knight explained what I was seeing, it took a while for the true meaning to sink in. My head was full with the cacophony of the dusty sunlit street and the discordance of heavy traffic and, superficially, the site itself was like any other archaeological dig I have visited. There was no poetry in it.

But then the words of Hamlet came to me, “To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause…” And my stomach began to churn because I knew I was standing on the other side of Shakespeare’s unfathomable dream. It was as if I could feel the tremor of the London earthquake of 1580 coursing through my body. The modern city grew diaphanous and street sounds faded away.

We know no more of what happens in the sleep of death than Shakespeare did. Yet we can say we do know the literal substance of the dreams evoked by these lines from Hamlet – the things that were to come in the space where Hamlet’s words were spoken by James Burbage’s son Richard, who was the first to play the role.

We know things unknown to the writer or the actor or the audience in that moment, and, in this sense it may be said that we ourselves (even the archaeologists) are all part of Shakespeare’s boundless dream within the sleep of his own death.

We know that, after a disagreement in 1598, The Theatre was covertly demolished by the theatre company while the freeholder Giles Allen was away for Christmas and the materials used to construct The Globe in Southwark the following spring. We know that a factory was built on the site in the seventeenth century, then a house in the eighteenth century, and a warehouse in the nineteenth century until it became a lumber yard in the twentieth century, before archaeologists came along with sonar devices in the twenty-first century to ascertain the position of the theatre – although the workers in the lumber yard and all the local people always knew the yard was on top of ‘Shakespeare’s Theatre.’

Yet it was never Shakespeare’s theatre in any real sense, it is unlikely the audience here were aware of any particular significance in the event when they heard his words, because he was an unknown quantity then. Plays were performed just once from cue scripts without any rehearsal or expectation of posterity.

Each actor had a roll of paper with their character’s lines, plus their cue lines – so they knew when to speak. The implications of this were twofold. Firstly, the actors had to listen attentively to each other so they did not miss their cues. Secondly, beyond a broad knowledge of the story, the actors might not know exactly what was going to happen in a scene. It placed the actor in the present tense of the dramatic moment, knowing no more of the outcome than their character did. The actor playing Romeo might take the poison without knowing that Juliet was going to wake up.

Shakespeare’s plays were conceived to play upon the spontaneous poetry of the elusive instant that – for both the actors and audience – occurred uniquely. This embrace of the ephemeral moment is both innate to the form of Shakespeare’s plays and it is their subject too – the fleeting brilliance of life. His works were delights that, as transient as butterflies on Summer days, existed without expectation of longevity.

The beautiful paradox is that, in recognition of their superlative quality, Shakespeare’s colleagues collated and printed them, so that his words could travel onwards through time and space to become the phenomenon we know today. And this modest piece of earth in Shoreditch is where it all began.

Releasing me from my idle speculation upon the dust, Heather Knight held up a concrete discovery in triumph. It was an earthenware ale beaker that she had found, with a lustrous green glaze, which fitted the hand perfectly – a drinking vessel that Shakespeare would recognise, of the style that would be used in the tavern scenes at The Boars’s Head in Henry IV Part One, first performed at The Theatre. Heather has never found a complete beaker before and because it was discovered at The Theatre and is contemporary with Shakespeare, it is a magic artifact.

It is something from Shakespeare’s world that he could have seen or touched. Although we can never know, we are permitted to dream.

Click on the image to enlarge Adam Dant’s Map of Shakespeare’s Shordiche

You may like to read these

In Search Of Shakespeare’s London

The Door to Shakespeare’s London

Shakespearian Actors in Shoreditch

Shakespeare in Spitalfields

Shakespeare’s Younger Brother, Edmond

In The Cherry Orchards Of Kent

April 21, 2016
by the gentle author

In April when the green shoots are sprouting and all the leaves unfurling, who can resist a pilgrimage to view the cherry blossom at the National Collection of Fruit Trees at Brogdale in Kent? This is the largest collection of fruit in the world – as the guides proudly remind you – with two hundred and eighty-five types of cherry among over two thousand varieties of fruit, including apples, pears, plums, currants, quinces and medlars.

As if this were not remarkable enough, I was informed that this particular corner of Kent – at the edge of Faversham – offers the very best conditions in the world for growing cherries. They may have originated in the forests of Central Asia, travelling east and west along the Silk Road before they were introduced by order of Henry VIII nearby at Sittingbourne, but here – I was assured – they have found their ultimate home.

The constitution of the soil in Kent is ideal for cherries and the temperate climate, in which the tender saplings are sheltered from the wind by long hedges of hornbeam, produces a delicacy of flavour in the ripe fruit which cannot by matched by the climactic extremes of the Mediterranean.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I advanced up the track, lined with decorative blossom in those livid pink tones so beloved of mid-twentieth century town planners, before turning the corner of a long hedge to confront the orchard of cherries. There are two specimens of each variety regimented in lines that stretch into the distance. The cherry trees are upon parade, awaiting your inspection and eager to display their flamboyant regalia.

A mild winter followed by a cool spring this year has produced conditions without precedent in the memory of Kent locals and delayed the advance of the fruit trees. Yet there was more than enough cherry blossom to induce euphoria, with the promise of future blossom rendering what I saw as an alluring overture to the full flowering that is still to come.

The National Collection of Fruit Trees at Brogdale in Kent is opening for Hanami tours over the next two weekends, 21st-24th April & 28th- 30th April.

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Blossom Time In The East End

The Bug Woman & A London Inheritance

April 20, 2016
by the gentle author

With another of my Spitalfields Blog Courses coming up on May 14th & 15th, it is my pleasure to present recent work by two of my unashamedly favourite alumni – The Bug Woman and A London Inheritance. Click here for more information about the Course

Saint Giles Pound 1

A LONDON INHERITANCE, A Private History of a Public City

My father took this photo of a milestone in Highgate in 1948. It is just south of the Flask along Highgate West Hill. The milestone is still there as you can see in my photo of the milestone today. Nothing special you might think. But compare the mileage, five in 1948 and four today – and the destination is a location that does not now exist in London, Saint Giles Pound.

Saint Giles Pound 2

So where and what was Saint Giles Pound? Saint Giles refers to the parish of St Giles in the Fields, just a short distance from the junction of Tottenham Court Rd, Oxford St and Charing Cross Rd. In “The History of the United Parishes of St Giles in the Fields” by Rowland Dobie, published in 1829, I found this reference to the Pound -

‘The Pound’ probably existed from a very early period, as a necessary appendage to the parish while a village and abounding in pasture lands, though it is unnoticed in the books of the parish, till Lord Southampton’s grant of the ground on which it stood for the almshouses, where it is described as occupying a space of thirty feet, which was to be the dimensions of the new Pound, therein directed to be removed to the end of Tottenham Court Rd. The exact site of the Pound was the broad space where St. Giles High Street, Tottenham Court Rd, and Oxford St meet, where it stood within memory. Noticed for the profligacy of its inhabitants, the vicinity of this spot became proverbial: witness the couplet of an old song.

‘At Newgate steps Jack Chance was found,

And bred up near St Giles Pound’

The milestone marks one of the old routes used to bring animals through Highgate and down into London. I wondered if the alteration of the distance upon the stone was made by a resident of Highgate who was frustrated with the error. But is four miles correct? Although I have walked the route, I have not measured it, but Google maps confirms the distance as being exactly four miles.

Saint Giles Pound 6

It would be interesting to know if the error originated when the milestone was originally installed or whether the figures have been recut and the error crept in then? They do look very sharp in the 1948 photo, with little deterioration to the edges of the lettering.

John Rocque’s Map of London 1746 was published nineteen years before the Pound was removed. In the bottom right, at the junction of Tottenham Court Rd, Oxford St and St Giles’ High St, there is a rectangular feature – could this be Saint Giles Pound?

It is strange to think that – at this busy junction where the new Crossrail station is being built – once stood Saint Giles Pound, holding animals brought down from the north.

Saint Giles Pound 4

Saint Giles Pound 3

The milestone at Highgate West Hill

IMG_5570 (2)

BUG WOMAN, ADVENTURES IN LONDON, Because a Community is More Than Just People


Dear Readers, when I was in St Pancras & Islington Cemetery last week, I noticed a fox resting on a mossy mound in the late winter sunshine. The foxes here are truly wild creatures, apt to melt away into the undergrowth as soon as they see a human, so I was surprised to see this one in daylight.

I am always delighted by the appearance of a fox, whether trotting up the street after opening the food-waste bins or here in the cemetery. But it was not until I got home and looked closely at my photographs that I realised that this particular fox has a problem.

A quick glance at the fox’s rear end showed that he has a horrible case of sarcoptic mange. This is not unusual in town foxes and some veterinarians believe that it may be so prevalent because of the stress and poor nutrition to which urban animals are prone. Left untreated, it is likely to get worse.

Sarcoptic mange (also known as scabies) is caused by a mite which burrows into the skin, causing hair-loss and irritation. The biting and scratching at the affected area may give rise to skin infection and encourages the mites to spread, which can ultimately be fatal. Foxes no longer eat or drink, and tear themselves apart, in trying to deal with the intense itching. This is an infernal parasite yet one which is all too common.

If this was a fox that visited my garden, I might see if it could be trapped and treated with the pharmaceuticals that are normally used – Stronghold to kill the mites and a wide-spectrum antibiotic to sort out the infection. But no-one can set a trap on public land, where anything from the wrong fox to a cat to someone’s dog could be caught. Nor could I leave drugs around for the fox to find as they can be poisonous.

Which brings me to homeopathy. I will admit to being a homeopathy sceptic. I find it difficult to believe that a solution so dilute that the active ingredient may be only a few molecules can be helpful. But I know that, with foxes, a homeopathic remedy (Arsenicum album and sulphur 30c) has proved to be efficacious in treating mange. It is completely harmless to other animals and can be used without concern even amongst pregnant or lactating animals.

So, for the past few days, I have been trudging down to the cemetery and depositing a jam sandwich – cut into fifteen tiny pieces and containing exactly four drops of the homeopathic remedy – on the mossy knoll where I last saw the fox. Some days, it has been a bit of a wild and windy walk, with a huge hail storm on Wednesday and relentless drizzle on Thursday.

Faced by all the human and animal tragedy in the world, I feel overwhelmed. I have no idea where to start. There is misery at home and abroad, and everything cries out for help. In the midst of all this, I feel helpless, useless. But this is one tiny thing that I can do. Will it work? Who can say? I know that every last scrap of the sandwich is eaten, yet whether by ‘my’ fox or some other creature I do not know.

I believe there is something worthwhile in the act of witnessing, of noticing that a fellow creature is suffering and trying to help. Compassion is a muscle that has to be exercised and I know how easy it is for it to atrophy. I often feel so loaded down with my own worries that I am reluctant to take on even the smallest of someone else’s troubles.

And yet, when I have finished writing this piece, I will put on my trainers and stride out through the mud in Coldfall Wood and onwards – a jam sandwich in my pocket – knowing full well that I am probably on a fool’s errand, but heading off just the same. This fox has crept in under my defences and looks at me with his amber eyes, challenging me not to look away.


Read the further adventures of the Bug Woman and the Fox in the Cemetery

News From The Cemetery

Fox Update

Distressing News From The Cemetery



Spend a weekend in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Spitalfields and learn how to write a blog with The Gentle Author.

This course will examine the essential questions which need to be addressed if you wish to write a blog that people will want to read.

“Like those writers in fourteenth century Florence who discovered the sonnet but did not quite know what to do with it, we are presented with the new literary medium of the blog – which has quickly become omnipresent, with many millions writing online. For my own part, I respect this nascent literary form by seeking to explore its own unique qualities and potential.” - The Gentle Author


1. How to find a voice – When you write, who are you writing to and what is your relationship with the reader?
2. How to find a subject – Why is it necessary to write and what do you have to tell?
3. How to find the form – What is the ideal manifestation of your material and how can a good structure give you momentum?
4. The relationship of pictures and words – Which comes first, the pictures or the words? Creating a dynamic relationship between your text and images.
5. How to write a pen portrait – Drawing on The Gentle Author’s experience, different strategies in transforming a conversation into an effective written evocation of a personality.
6. What a blog can do – A consideration of how telling stories on the internet can affect the temporal world.


The course will be held at 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields on 14th & 15th May from 10am -5pm on Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday. Lunch will be catered by Leila’s Cafe of Arnold Circus and tea, coffee & cakes by the Townhouse are included within the course fee of £300.

Accomodation at 5 Fournier St is available upon enquiry to Fiona Atkins

Email to book a place on the course.