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Eighth Annual Report

August 25, 2017
by the gentle author

Eight years and three thousand stories ago, I published my first post in these pages. What a journey it has been and what sights we have witnessed. Already, I am approaching a third of the way towards my ambition of ‘at least ten thousand stories.’

Today – as it has become my custom upon this anniversary – I present my annual report looking back over the past twelve months.

One of the wonders of writing and making an account of life is that, even as it makes you aware of loss and time passing, it accumulates to create an ever-growing stack of pages. I take consolation that, thanks to my writing, I am able look back and revisit the people and experiences which I have cherished through the last eight years. Even if they are gone from the world, they will always reside here in this record.

When I began to write stories in the pages of Spitalfields Life, it was never my expectation or intention to become a publisher of books or get involved in politics. Yet both these activities have become an integral part of my work, offering challenges and rewards in equal measure.

This year, I am especially proud to have launched the writing career of Julian Woodford by publishing his debut book The Boss of Bethnal Green. Julian’s brilliant account of the breathtakingly appalling life of Joseph Merceron, the eighteenth century gangster and corrupt East End politician, proved to be a major work of biography, which was recognised as a significant contribution to the history of London by glowing reviews in the Evening Standard, the Times, the Times Literary Supplement.

This spring, I published a handsome new illustrated edition of AS Jasper’s compelling memoir of growing up in the East End at the beginning of the twentieth century, A Hoxton Childhood, accompanied by the first publication of the sequel The Years After, detailing the author’s struggle and eventual triumph in the Shoreditch cabinet-making trade. If anyone ever wonders why it is we need a National Health Service, proper Council Housing or legislation to ensure decent working conditions, they should read this candid and heart-breaking account of life in the world before these things came into existence.

More than two years have passed since five hundred of you joined hands around Norton Folgate to save it from demolition. Readers frequently ask what has become of British Land’s threatened development in these streets. The answer is that the campaign and the Spitalfields Trust’s Judicial Review, challenging Boris Johnson’s ‘calling-in’ of the development over the heads of Tower Hamlets Council, postponed matters long enough for the European Referendum to happen. Overnight, this office development became no longer financially viable and, subsequently, British Land saw an 85% fall in profits. In Spitalfields, people say that the consequence of the Referendum was, ‘We lost Europe but we saved Norton Folgate.’ Yet, as long as the planning permission stands, the door remains open for the revival of this hideous scheme when the economy improves.

We can celebrate two notable successes in conservation in the past year. Largely due to letters of objection written by readers of Spitalfields Life, the murals in the Royal Exchange were saved when the developer withdrew their application to bisect these magnificent paintings. Similarly, the historic Still & Star in Aldgate ( the last ‘slum pub’ in the City of London) was given a reprieve from demolition when it was granted Asset of Community Value status.

Thus another year passes in the pages of Spitalfields Life.

As the season changes and the summer fades away, there is much to look forward to this autumn and I hope I will have the pleasure of meeting you at one these forthcoming events.

14th SEPTEMBER: A HOXTON CHILDHOOD AT V&A BETHNAL GREEN MUSEUM: Celebrating our new edition of AS Jasper’s classic East End childhood memoir, we present an evening of readings from A Hoxton Childhood & The Years After and an interview with the author’s son, Terry Jasper. Additionally, Derrick Porter, Poet of Hoxton, will read a selection of his poems and Henrietta Keeper, Belle of Bethnal Green, will sing. Click here for tickets.

10th OCTOBER: LAUNCH OF EAST END VERNACULAR AT NUNNERY GALLERY: There will be a special viewing for Spitalfields Life readers from 6-8pm of Bow Arts’ exhibition The Working Artist: The East London Group at which I will introduce my new book East End Vernacular, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century. Make a note in your diary and watch this space for further details.

4th & 5th NOVEMBER: BLOG WRITING COURSE IN SPITALFIELDS: I have been running these courses for five years now and it is an enduring delight to spend a weekend with readers in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, and hear the wonderful ideas and stories that people bring. With delicious lunch served by Leila’s Cafe and cakes baked by the Townhouse to eighteenth century recipes, we always have a lot of fun. Click here for more information and email to book.

Over the next week, I shall be at the printers overseeing the production of EAST END VERNACULAR and, in the meantime, I will be publishing favourite posts from the past year until I resume with new stories on Monday 4th September.

Click here to order a copy of THE BOSS OF BETHNAL GREEN

Click here to order a copy of A HOXTON CHILDHOOD & THE YEARS AFTER

Click here to pre-order a copy of EAST END END VERNACULAR

You may like to read my earlier Annual Reports

First Annual Report 2010

Second Annual Report 2011

Third Annual Report 2012

Fourth Annual Report 2013

Fifth Annual Report 2014

Sixth Annual Report 2015

Seventh Annual Report 2016

20 Responses leave one →
  1. Georgina Briody permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Congratulations again on another wonderful year of informative posts. Your work continues to enrich my life and, more importantly, through you I traced my ancestor’s remains from Spitalfields to the Natural History Museum. It means a great deal to me – thank you Gentle Author.

  2. August 25, 2017

    So far so good GA wonder person has done wonders for us the site is like the R Thames it will on for ‘ever’, take more care gentle person, no burn out please. Keeps making those fascinating blogs I know your audience around the world are loveable viewers and want more. Many make the pilgrimage to the big city and are just thrilled by the experience you have presented to them. So more of the same I think the site is already future-proof, could bring in more guest writers who have specialist knowledge say for archaeological beachcombing on the R Thames much past history lies there. Good luck the futures bright for Spittlefields L this bright star. Poet John. – PS Just seen the stage production of ‘The Lady in the Van’ at the Bath Theatre Royal, nice

  3. August 25, 2017

    You have achieved a lot and set a lot of balls rolling – kudos! Valerie

  4. Sue permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Gentle author how pleased I am each morning to read your ramblings of London life, a place I have few memories of having been born in metro land after my parents moved out of Brick Lane E2 in 1942 to a ‘better life’ (mum was insistent on quoting E2) Nan had a paper shop, 266 Brick Lane, and full of paper it was, covering floors, tables, and stacked up to the ceiling. I vaguely remember dad pushing a barrow ‘down the lane’ flogging old comics, and coming home red faced after spouting his views to the uninterested bystanders at speakers corner. How he would be shocked to see how the area has changed, is it for the better?

  5. Robin permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Your work is really marvelous and important, in recording histories that might otherwise be lost, and in supporting and organizing local community. Please don’t ever stop!

  6. Helen Breen permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, kudos on your eighth anniversary and thank you for reviewing your many accomplishments during this year. “Spitalfields Life” is the first post I read when I open my email each morning, pretty early but then we are five hours behind over here.

    I think that the enormous outpouring of support you received on the passing of Mr. Pussy suggests the breadth of your audience – even though these folks don’t “Leave a Reply” on a regular basis.

    For the past 22 months I have contributed about 90 pieces to our local weekly paper, mostly about the history of our town, Lynnfield, Massachusetts. I started with old histories, town reports, historical society memoirs etc. But now folks are suggesting topics and sharing memories. For example, in light of the recent Charlotteville “incident” here, Lynnfield a gal called me to share the story of her being at Berkeley University during the early student protests of 1964.

    At this point, I don’t see an end to this venture. Believe me, reading you daily column has been an inspiration. You wrote:

    “Already, I am approaching a third of the way towards my ambition of ‘at least ten thousand stories.’”

    I would put good money on that!

  7. Sparks permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Congratulations on completing eight years of Spitalfields Life GA!

    I have been reading your pages for almost that length of time, I can’t remember now where I first heard about it but so glad I did, I look forward to reading your story each day.
    Thank you for all your hand work, long may it continue.

  8. August 25, 2017

    Congratulations from the Hudson River Valley in New York State. Yours are the first words I
    read every day, and they provide optimism and fascination. Very grateful that I found this place of
    kindred illumination, and have told others. Your tribe is growing — Consider us the cheering

  9. August 25, 2017

    LONG MAY YOU REIGN!! Thank you for all you’ve done for London and for me…and 10,000 stories isn’t enough!

  10. Adele permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Dear GA, barely a day goes by without my reading your post with my first cup of tea here in New York. I take the liberty of sometimes sharing relevant blogs with members of a Facebook group I co-run relating to the Jewish East End. Your travels around my beloved London E1 are truly inspiring. Your recent post on the passing of Mr Pussy brought back so many memories of my own late Ms. Tuppence. My love of animals was instilled in me by my mother, who would stay up all hours waiting for our cat to stroll home after her nocturnal adventures around the streets of Fieldgate St.
    Keep writing and congratulations on eight wonderful years.

  11. Anne permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Congratulations, Gentle Author, with gratitude for the perspectives you offer on the world beyond my daily sphere. So many inspirational stories that contribute to a spirit of encouragement, perseverance and faith in our ability to engage with those around us to make the best of life, together.

  12. August 25, 2017

    I adore this blog, can never get enough of it.
    Thank you, thank you so very much for inspiring my day, every day.

    Best regards from Ipswich, MA,

    Dorothy V. Malcolm,
    the unrepentant Anglophile
    (and former resident of Oxford for nine fabulous years)

  13. Robin Blench permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Congratulations! I first started reading your blog about two years ago and rapidly became addicted. I live in the US, so every day I first read The New York Times then console myself with Spitafields Life! Many, many thanks.

  14. August 25, 2017

    Hi Gentle Author – I admire your dedication to the blog and to promoting sites, sounds, areas, people, art et al – many congratulations on all you’ve achieved – and here’s to many more posts, ideas, workshops, books …. Spitalfields Life will truly live on through you – cheers Hilary

  15. Gary Arber permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Congratulations on the completion of year eight. The blog continues to go from strength to strength. long may it continue.

  16. Jim McDermott permalink
    August 25, 2017

    Even a dour Northerner like myself appreciates your sterling efforts to advertise the rich tapestry of life in the Realm’s eccentric corners. Very well done, and keep at it!

  17. August 25, 2017

    Thanks for the the annual update, especially about the situation with Norton Folgate. I look forward to many more stories.

  18. John Campbell permalink
    August 26, 2017

    I would just like to echo much of what has already been said here. I have rarely missed a post in all of these past years and it is a mainstay of my day and life in general. How often I find myself drawn into conversation which then rambles on into many other arenas only to find the facts and stories are borrowed from these great halls. Many thanks for your great work which truly enriches the lives of so many ordinary folks like us. More power to your pen GA, keep up the great work.

  19. Peter Holford permalink
    August 26, 2017

    I always read but seldom comment – there’s probably hundreds like me who really appreciate the stories and insights you deliver daily but simply absorb it all without giving you feedback. I marvel at your ability to produce such a volume of material while maintaining your high standards – brilliant!

    From what might be a rarity (judging by the comments) – a fan based in England. Thank you.

  20. Enid and Mr Enid permalink
    August 27, 2017

    Dear GA, Many congratulations on completing another year of your wonderful blog. In an often dark world you bring to every day a chink of light because, whatever its subject, at the heart of every post is the human experience that unites us all. You are well named, gentleness has its own power and your blog is powerful in the best of ways. Thank you.

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