Skip to content

Autumn In Spitalfields

October 1, 2021
by the gentle author

A few tickets left for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S WALKING TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS on Sunday October 3rd at noon. Email to book.

Map of the Gentle Author’s Tour drawn by Adam Dant


Join me on a ramble through Spitalfields taking less than two hours, but walking through two thousand years of history and encountering just a few of the people who have made the place distinctive.

Click here for further information


The rain is falling on Spitalfields, upon the church and the market, and on the streets, yards and gardens. Dripping off the roofs and splashing onto the pavements, filling the gutters and coursing down the pipes, it overflows the culverts and drains to restore the flow of the Black Ditch, the notorious lost river of Spitalfields that once flowed from here to Limehouse Dock. This was the watercourse that transmitted the cholera in 1832. An open sewer piped off in the nineteenth century, the Black Ditch has been co-opted into the drainage system today, but it is still running unknown beneath our feet in Spitalfields – the underground river with the bad reputation.

The shades of autumn encourage such dark thoughts, especially when the clouds hang over the City and the Indian Summer has unravelled to leave us with incessant rain bringing the leaves down. In Spitalfields, curry touts shiver in the chill and smokers stand in doorways, peering at the downpour. The balance of the season has shifted and sunny days have become exceptions, to be appreciated as the last vestiges of the long summer.

On such a day recently, I could not resist collecting these conkers that were lying neglected on the grass in the sunshine. And when I got home I photographed them in that same autumn sunlight to capture their perfect lustre for you. Let me confess, ever since I came to live in the city, it has always amazed me to see conkers scattered and ignored. I cannot understand why city children do not pick them up, when even as an adult I cannot resist the temptation to fill a bag. In Devon, we raced from the school gates and down the lane to be the first to collect the fresh specimens. Their glistening beauty declared their value even if, like gold, their use was limited. I did not bore holes in them with a meat skewer and string them, to fight with them as others do, because it meant spoiling their glossy perfection. Instead I filled a leather suitcase under my bed with conkers and felt secure in my wealth, until one day I opened the case to discover they had all dried out, shrivelled up and gone mouldy.

Let me admit I regret the tender loss of summer, just as I revel in the fruit of the season and the excuse to retreat to bed with a hot water bottle that autumn provides. I lie under the quilt I sewed and I feel protected like a child, though I know I am not a child. I cannot resist dark thoughts, I have a sense of dread at the winter to come and the nights closing in. Yet in the city, there is the drama of the coloured lights gleaming in wet streets. As the nights draw in, people put on the light earlier at home, creating my favourite spectacle of city life, that of the lit room viewed from the street. Every chamber becomes a lantern or a theatre to the lonely stranger on the gloomy street, glimpsing the commonplace ritual of domestic life. Even a mundane scene touches my heart when I hesitate to gaze upon it in passing, like an anonymous ghost in the shadow.

Here in Spitalfields, I have no opportunity to walk through beech woods to admire the copper leaves, instead I must do it in memory. I shall not search birch woods for chanterelles this year either, but I will seek them out to admire in the market, even if I do not buy any. Instead I shall get a box of cooking apples and look forward to eating baked apples by the fire. I am looking forward to lighting the fire. And I always look forward to writing to you every day.

33 Responses leave one →
  1. Annabel permalink
    October 1, 2021

    How evocative; simply wonderful!

  2. Joan Isaac permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Stunning evocative writing GA – thank you

  3. Laura Spira permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Perfectly captures the slight melancholy of the season, thank you for starting my day so beautifully.

  4. Sharon Amos permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Oh, what a lovely post. And the thought that you look forward to writing to us all every day brought a lump to my throat. Thank you, dear Gentle Author.

  5. Teresa Chatterton permalink
    October 1, 2021

    The loveliest article! I picked up conkers just last week and was similarly thrilled. Your words remind me of the ‘happy autumn fields’ poem by Tennyson – the days that are no more.

  6. Howard Davies permalink
    October 1, 2021

    A powerfully drawn piece of writing. The description of the loss of summer and the dread of winter and darker times is wonderfully drawn as is that of the liminal time when domestic lights are on but the curtains not drawn. A huge bonus on wet and dark mornings like today is to have The Gentle Author’s wonderful and ever warm and interesting blog pieces awaiting in your morning in- box. Thank you.

  7. October 1, 2021

    And every day I look forward to reading what you’ve written, gentle author. I loved the story about the conkers in the suitcase under the bed, and how they shrivelled up and went mouldy. Reminds me of how one spring many years ago, my younger son stored his seasonal wealth – a little collection of Easter eggs he’d just received – in a corner of a drawer in the old chest of drawers in his bedroom, testing himself to see how long he could resist them. He returned a few weeks later to find nothing but silver paper, crumbs and yes, you guessed right…….mouse droppings.

  8. October 1, 2021

    I always dread the dark damp days ahead once Autumn has arrived, but always brightened by the sight of the first conkers, which I also can never resist picking up, then the feel of that smooth being, nestling in my coat pocket as I go on my way…

  9. Lorraine Whebell permalink
    October 1, 2021

    An enjoyable and apt read on this lst day of October GA.. thank you.

  10. John Daltrey permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Thank you G.A. I was feeling a little down on this so gloomy day but your thoughtful message today really made me feel so much better about oncoming winter.
    And I want to thank you again for your daily writing, I always look forward to it and am never disappointed

  11. Annie S permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Yes, that is the sad thing about conkers! I can’t resist picking up one or two, so shiney and fresh looking when they have just fallen from the tree but, just a couple of days later they are dull and dry.

  12. October 1, 2021

    A beautiful autumn story, GA! If there’s one thing I love, it’s the autumnal colours that are emerging everywhere now. Some woodlands in my neighbourhood appear in the dress of “Indian Summer”.

    On my desk there is still a chestnut man that two boys once hand-crafted and sold to me – about 20 years ago. Today I photographed him outside — he looks a bit surprised into the sunlight:

    Love & Peace

  13. Tim Molloy permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Bless you, gentle author

  14. October 1, 2021

    Dear G.A., Autumn is always a mixture of melancholy and anticipation, but I agree rain does not help, especially in a city. Still, you have Schrodinger to keep you company. Have a good week-end.

  15. Diana G permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Beautiful – thank you ~

  16. Helen permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Just as I was feeling sad watching the dwindling sunny days, you strike the right note with your feelings of the coming Autumn. One excellent use of conkers is as a moth repellent. I collect them every year, let them dry out slightly and put them in my wardrobe and drawers. So far, no holes in my precious woollens!

  17. Kelly Holman permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Such a beautiful, evocative piece, thank you. Just like so many others I appreciate each day’s ‘offering’ which lands like a gift on good days and not so good ones. Thank you.

    Conkers … they awake in me an instant childlike delight that is insuppressible and I too must bring a few home to sit on my desk. Their silky smoothness is a delight in the hand.
    The village ladies collect them and place them in the corners of their rooms to ward off the large spiders that make their way inside at this time of year. I am not sure how this could work but it seems to provide reassurance.

  18. Adele Lester permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Here in NY people never seem to be as fascinated with ‘conkers’ as I am. I love picking up a few and being transported back to childhood days in London! Thanks for the memories GA.

  19. Barbara permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Because I have been on so many wonderful journeys with you, You – by way of Spitalfieldslife – have become part of my life and one of its joys. Thank you so much. Barbara

  20. October 1, 2021

    Thank you for the beautiful post and photo. Here, in Alberta, we are enjoying fall in all its gold and green glory, knowing that in only a week or so it will be bare branches and shivers–only the start to our very cold winter. It’s good to know I’m not alone in the feeling of wanting to crawl under a quilt until spring!

  21. Gillian Tindall permalink
    October 1, 2021

    I utterly sympathise with the Gentle Author’s need to collect conkers in their shining beauty – but I would respectfully point out that what they are really for is making little polished wood chairs for dolls’ houses. Ideally, for each chair you need one of those conkers that come out with a flattish side to form the seat. You then drive four good-sized, evenly spaced pins into the other side of the conker (you may need a grown-up to help shove them firmly). These act as the legs, and you then drive 2 more pins standing up to one side of the flat surface to be the struts of the chair back – you wind wool closely back and forth between them to form the back, and there’s your chair.
    Admittedly the shining polish does dim with time – probably in the absence of tiny servants to keep it bright.

  22. Chris Glen permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Lovely and evocative piece that brings home the feeling of Autumn in all its complexity and beauty.

  23. Ann V permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Simply beautiful – thank you.

  24. akkers permalink
    October 1, 2021

    This reminds me of my Dad who loved this time of the year and always picked up the good conkers. This was hangover from his childhood days when he used to fight with them with his school friends. In his later years Dad always had one or two at home which he swapped out each year and used to pick up on one of his walks. Nowadays I too pick them up and put them in my wardrobes to keep the spiders and moths away which is an old wives tale that works.

  25. October 1, 2021

    You sum up the impact of how ‘the balance of the season has shifted’ so beautifully. Years ago I came up with the line ‘September whispers of December’. My friend loved it and around the equinox, we always say it to each other. Not quite a greeting, not quite a blessing but a sharing of the turning towards the dark.

    In the words of Dean Martin may I wish you ‘a cosy fire to keep you warm’ in late autumn and winter.

  26. H Billing permalink
    October 1, 2021

    And I look forward to reading your beautifully written blog every day. Thank you so much. I too pick up chestnuts – I love their glossy colour, almost as if they were polished by a god.

  27. John Campbell permalink
    October 1, 2021

    Wonderfully evocative. Made me think of Orwell’s ‘Summer-like for an instant’. I shall find it on my shelf later and enjoy once again.

  28. Joanna permalink
    October 2, 2021

    Thank you so much, GA, for letting us join in your walks. ?Your chestnut memories are mine too.

  29. Sue permalink
    October 2, 2021

    As we look forward to reading your notes from another place.
    Thank you.

  30. Cherub permalink
    October 3, 2021

    Everywhere we go in autumn my husband picks up a conker as a souvenir. Yesterday someone gave me a lovely shiny one they’d picked up under the trees at Basel Munster, so I gifted it to him. The rich autumnal colours here in Switzerland are lovely at the moment and I love the crunch underfoot of the falling leaves.

  31. Christine Saunders permalink
    October 4, 2021

    October 1st is the beginning of the gardening year for next years spring/summer gardens. There is so much of nature’s bounty around too, acorns, conkers, berries, fruit, fungi etc. I remember as a child all the seasons were distinctive and you appreciated them for what they were, now for whatever reason they are not so much now, which to m3 is a shame

  32. October 12, 2021

    Hi Mate
    Nice Autumn article , thankyou. Am same with Conkers and cannot resist picking in Stepney Green as there is a nice tree opposite and plenty of sixers lying about. There is a gang of Albanian builders renovating the Mansion next door and they asked about them and said you can eat them ? as fed up with them blocking the road , using my driveway to park and all the mess and noise . God Bless and don”t advise eating conkers . ? But up the other end of the green found a sweet chestnut tree but the ones found were young and small so keeping an eye out. Also the boxing club is still closed on the green but they have caretakers living in. ? Perhaps open again after the pingdemic is over as it looks like a nice building and good comunity centre and quite historic as was a Synagog too. Thanks Mate and look forward to your articles as new to area and very informative god bless old age pensioner stepney green.

  33. October 15, 2021

    Lovely piece. I’ve been thinking lately about buckeyes, as we call them in parts of the States. When I was little we lived in Ohio—the Buckeye state—and my brothers and I would go to a neighbor’s tree and collected buckeyes and brought them home in a red wagon. I loved looking and them and holding them and running them across my cheek. So smooth.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS