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At Clive Murphy’s Flat

June 21, 2021
by the gentle author

As a follow-up to Saturday’s tribute to Clive Murphy who died last week at eighty-five, here is my account of his now legendary flat in Brick Lane.

Clive Murphy at his desk

Writer Clive Murphy lived in his two room flat above the Aladin Curry House on Brick Lane from 1974 and filled it with an ever-growing collection of books, papers and memorabilia. Once I heard he was  going to tidy up, I realised I must record Clive’s glorious disarray lest his environment lose any of its charisma in the process of getting organised.

When Clive saw the card in the window and rented his flat, it was above a draper’s, but that went long ago as the Bengali shops and curry houses filled the street. Then, in more recent years, the nightlife arrived, with clubbers and party animals coming to throng Brick Lane at all hours. Yet, throughout this time, Clive lived quietly on the first floor, looking down upon the seething hordes of visitors and inhabiting a private world that was largely unchanged, save the accumulation of books and leaks in the ceiling.

Walking up the narrow staircase from the street, you came first to Clive’s kitchen looking back towards Hanbury St and Roa’s crane. At the front was a larger room looking onto Brick Lane which served as Clive’s bedroom and study, lined with fine furniture barely visible under the tide of paper and sitting beneath a water-stained ceiling that resembled a map of the world.

“I’ve had so may leaks and serious floods,” Clive recalled philosophically, “I have been sitting in the kitchen and water has come from the ceiling like from a tap. The landlord wanted to get me out because he could get seven times the rent, but when when the inspectors came round to assess the rent, I said, ‘Do you want to see my bathroom, it’s above the wardrobe?’ That brought my rent down.” And Clive raised his eyes to the tin bath on top of the wardrobe, chuckling in triumph.

Before he came to Spitalfields, Clive had already gained a reputation as a writer, with two novels and two volumes of oral history published. “When I first started writing, I’d write a short story and it’d be accepted, but then the pace slows down …” he confessed to me, casting his eyes over to the shelf dedicated to the volumes that comprise his life’s work and then gazing around at the piles of notebooks, files and packets of his books, mixed up with the contents of his library scattered higgedly-piggedly around the room.

“You see that suitcase,” he indicated, casually gesturing back to the tin bath which I now realised contained a battered case with a tag, “it has a novel in it.” I enquired about a stack of thirty old exercise books which caught my eye. “They are for the continuation of one of my novels, eventually I might read the whole lot and write a book” Clive assured me, turning to point out a selection of bibles on the shelf next to his bed. “My mother became a bit holy in old age, but that was because her friend seduced her into religion,” he informed me wearily, just in case I might assume they were his, “I think if people convert to Christianity in later life it’s a symptom they have lost their minds or need an emotional crutch to lean on.”

On the floor next to the bed was a wallpaper pattern book with newspaper cuttings pasted in it, the most recent of twenty-seven volumes that Clive had filled. “I collect all the things and people that interest me, either because they attract me or because I dislike them,” he explained, “I also keep all correspondence and note all phone calls.”

Visiting Clive’s flat was like entering his crowded mind, containing all the books he had read, all his own work and all the minutiae of life he had sought to preserve. It was the outcome of Clive’s infinite curiosity about life. “I used to walk all night and have lots of promiscuous encounters,” he confided to me, “I was an immigrant and I had to make friends. They say, ‘Don’t talk to strangers,’ but I think that’s very stupid advice because if I didn’t talk to strangers I’d have known nobody. I’m a very gregarious person, hence by talking to people at great length I got to know them.”

It was Friday afternoon and Clive was bracing himself for the approaching weekend and the ceaseless nocturnal crowds beneath his window. “It does keep you alert and alive and interested,” he admitted to me with characteristic good grace, “I don’t know anywhere else now and I have grown to love my little world. I like being in the hub of things.”

Clive never did tidy up, in the end he always had better things to do.

In Clive’s kitchen.

Note the wallpaper pattern books which Clive uses as scrap books for his press cuttings.

Clive at his desk overlooking Brick Lane.

“When the inspectors came round to assess the rent, I said, ‘Do you want to see my bathroom, it’s above the wardrobe?’ That brought my rent down.”

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Clive Murphy, Writer

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Daniel Walsh permalink
    June 21, 2021

    Just wondering how Clive heated his flat

  2. June 21, 2021

    Wonderful, the living environment of an intellectual person. It represents tamed chaos. And nobody should disturb it or even “clean it up”. That would be fatal. I know this from my own everyday life…

    Love & Peace

  3. Peter Hart permalink
    June 21, 2021

    I was just thinking the same thing as Daniel. You can only think that all those items kept him warm. His life story would make a good Biography or film. Thank you.

  4. A Collector permalink
    June 21, 2021

    Who will curate and clear all that collected information?
    Hope the varied accumulation of a lifetime doesn’t all end up in a skip!
    Am willing to contribute to continuation of rent if others can volunteer to save the worthwhile. Unfortunately, I don’t live anywhere nearby.

  5. June 21, 2021

    He used a small fan heater, thats all. In the kitchen would be warm with it on.

  6. Adele Lester permalink
    June 21, 2021

    Looking at these pictures, I feel an extreme unexplained sadness. Did he have any family remaining?

  7. Carla permalink
    June 21, 2021

    Lovely story of a life well lived and remembered. As a librarian, I hope Clive’s writings – published works, manuscripts and notebooks – are offered to a library as a record of Spitalfields and Brick lane at a particular time – especially as Clive was writing at such an historic period – the turn of the millennium and the pandemic years, and all that that this era entails.

    Fascinating site, gentle author. I read you most days and your observations take me straight to your neighbourhood, and to the people whose lives you record and who make your part of London so rich with meaning. Spitalfields is one of my favourite places, though I live far, far away.
    Best wishes, Carla.

  8. Mark permalink
    June 21, 2021

    Don’t they have programmes
    on people like him on itv?
    Clutterbug or some such?

  9. paul loften permalink
    June 21, 2021

    Magnificent mayhem and he obviously knows where everything is . Totally in keeping with Spitalfields lifestyle due to the lack of space in the small houses in the area My father told me stories of a deaf and dumb egg chandler who lived next door to his mother . The house was crammed full of hens eggs and the boys would stop playing football in the street and take turns to crouch down and watch him at his trade through a basement window as he viewed the eggs in front of a special light, one by one, at great speed ,

  10. Chris Glen permalink
    June 21, 2021

    Hope all these items are carefully curated by someone or by a local organisation. This is not just someone’s history but the history of an area. He was obviously a man who lived his life on his own terms, and I admire him for that. Found the pieces on him quite touching though, probably because this way of living and being is so out of kilter with today’s greedy, intellectually uncurious and consumerist society.

  11. Linda Granfield permalink
    June 21, 2021

    I hope some of that “glorious disarray” ends up in the Bishopsgate Institute, where you, GA, do so much of your research.
    There’s bound to be plenty of remarkable finds in those towering business boxes and untouched shelves.
    So much Spitalfields history in two rooms that were much-loved. Thank you for taking the photographs — rich documentation, indeed.

  12. mlaiuppa permalink
    June 22, 2021

    So, what happened to all of Clive’s things upon his passing? Did a relative come to claim his books and notes and collections or was his life’s work tossed out into a rubbish bin by the landlord?

  13. Cherub permalink
    June 22, 2021

    I have a friend who lives in the same sort of environment. Books, plans, ancient theatre programmes and posters, plus etchings and prints everywhere. Chaotic but he knows where everything is. He used to be a theatre actor, is still involved on a level with amateur groups and is the most interesting person I’ve ever known. People like this always are!

  14. June 22, 2021

    Clive may well have been content with his life, but reading this story makes me feel incredibly sad. No-one should have to live in 2 rooms where water comes through the ceiling, and where bullying landlords want you out. However, thank you for sharing Clive’s story with us; a life of yet another interesting and unique character.

  15. Stella permalink
    July 2, 2021

    Wonderful …. old characters like Clive; may they never die out!

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