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Visit Culpeper’s Spitalfields

June 19, 2022
by the gentle author

Click here to book for my tour and visit Culpeper’s Spitalfields with me!

Ragwort in Hanbury St

(The concoction of the herb is good to wash the mouth, and also against the quinsy and the king’s evil)

Taking the opportunity to view the plaque upon the hairdresser at the corner of Puma Court and Commercial St, commemorating where Nicholas Culpeper lived and wrote The English Herbal, the celebrated seventeenth century Herbalist returned to his old neighbourhood for a visit and I was designated to be his guide.

Naturally, he was a little disoriented by the changes that time has wrought to Red Lion Fields where he once cultivated herbs and gathered wild plants for his remedies. Disinterested in new developments, instead he implored me to show him what wild plants were left and thus we set out together upon a strange quest, seeking weeds that have survived the urbanisation. You might say we were searching for the fields in Spitalfields since these were plants that were here before everything else.

Let me admit, I did feel a responsibility not to disappoint the old man, as we searched the barren streets around his former garden. But I discovered he was more astonished that anything at all had survived and thus I photographed the hardy specimens we found as a record, published below with Culpeper’s own annotations.

Honeysuckle in Buxton St (I know of no better cure for asthma than this, besides it takes away the evil of the spleen, provokes urine, procures speedy delivery of women in travail, helps cramps, convulsions and palsies and whatsoever griefs come of cold or stopping.)

Dandelion in Fournier St (Vulgarly called Piss-a-beds, very effective for obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen, powerful cleans imposthumes. Effectual to drink in pestilential fevers and to wash the sores. The juice is good to be applied to freckles, pimples and spots.)

Campion in Bishop’s Sq (Purges the body of choleric humours and helps those that are stung by Scorpions and other venomous beasts and may be as effectual for the plague.)

Pellitory of the Wall  in Hanbury St (For an old or dry cough, the shortness of breath, and wheezing in the throat. Wonderfully helps stoppings of the urine.)

Herb Robert in Folgate St (Commended not only against the stone, but to stay blood, where or howsoever flowing, and it speedily heals all green wounds and is effectual in old ulcers in the privy parts.)

Sow Thistle in Princelet St (Stops fluxes, bleeding, takes away cold swellings and eases the pains of the teeth)

Groundsel off Brick Lane (Represses the heat caused by motions of the internal parts in purges and vomits, expels gravel in the veins or kidneys, helps also against the sciatica, griping of the belly, the colic, defects of the liver and provokes women’s courses.)

Ferns and Campanula and in Elder St (Ferns eaten purge the body of choleric and waterish humours that trouble the stomach. The smoke thereof drives away serpents, gnats and other noisome creatures which in fenny countries do trouble and molest people lying their beds.)

Sow Thistle and Herb Robert in Elder St

Yellow Wood Sorrel and Sow Thistle in Puma Court (The roots of Sorrel are held to be profitable against the jaundice.)

Comfrey in Code St (Helps those that spit blood or make a bloody urine, being outwardly applied is specially good for ruptures and broken bones, and to be applied to women’s breasts that grow sore by the abundance of milk coming into them.)

Sow Thistle in Fournier St

Field Poppy in Allen Gardens (A syrup is given with very good effect to those that have the pleurisy and is effectual in hot agues, frenzies and other inflammations either inward or outward.)

Fleabane at Victoria Cottages (Very good to heal the nipples and sore breasts of women.)

Sage and Wild Strawberries in Commercial St (The juice of Sage drank hath been of good use at time of plagues and it is commended against the stitch and pains coming of wind. Strawberries are excellent to cool the liver, the blood and the spleen, or an hot choleric stomach, to refresh and comfort the fainting spirits and quench thirst.)

Hairy Bittercress in Fournier St (Powerful against the scurvy and to cleanse the blood and humours, very good for those that are dull or drowsy.)

Oxe Eye Daisies in Allen Gardens (The leaves bruised and applied reduce swellings, and a decoction thereof, with wall-wort and agrimony, and places fomented or bathed therewith warm, giveth great ease in palsy, sciatica or gout. An ointment made thereof heals all wounds that have inflammation about them.)

Herb Robert in Fournier St

Camomile  in Commercial St (Profitable for all sorts of agues, melancholy and inflammation of the bowels, takes away weariness, eases pains, comforts the sinews, and mollifies all swellings.)

Unidentified herb in Commercial St

Buddleia in Toynbee St (Aids in the treatment of gonorrhea, hepatitis and hernia by reducing the fragility of skin and small intestine’s blood vessel.)

Hedge Mustard in Fleur de Lys St (Good for all diseases of the chest and lungs, hoarseness of voice, and for all other coughs, wheezing and shortness of breath.)

Buttercup at Spitalfields City Farm (A tincture with spirit of wine will cure shingles very expeditiously, both the outbreak of small watery pimples clustered together at the side, and the accompanying sharp pains between the ribs. Also this tincture will promptly relieve neuralgic side ache, and pleurisy which is of a passive sort.)

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Rob Ryan, Papercut Artist & Designer

June 18, 2022
by the gentle author


A few tickets remain for Rob Ryan at the Bloomsbury Jamboree next Sunday 26th June 3:45pm at the Art Workers’ Guild

Click here to book for Rob Ryan’s talk, ‘You Can Still Do A Lot With A Small Brain’

In a quiet street off the Old Bethnal Green Rd, there is a large wooden door. If you go through a smaller door within this large one, you enter a passage, under an arch, that leads to a courtyard where there is another door. Go through this door, climb up a staircase and you will find the secret den of Rob Ryan, the papercut artist. With his luxuriant curls and thick beard, working here in this old loft, intent upon his creations, Rob Ryan might appear as a Romantic nineteenth century figure – like “The Tailor of Gloucester” – if it were not for the hoodie and Raybans that bring him bang up to date.

“I am not a connoisseur of papercutting” Rob declares in self-deprecating style, when I ask him about the origins of his work, as we cosy up on a couch upholstered in denim jeans. Years ago, before the seismic shift in cultural hierarchies that happened at the end of the last century, Rob was a painter who included words in his paintings and got a lot of flak for it. “Cheating” was the particular crime levelled at him at the Royal College of Art, where Rob was studying printmaking.

Rob produces a scruffy old Thames & Hudson paperback of Tyrolean papercuts – if there was a eureka moment, it was the discovery of this book. Making papercuts, he explains, was a natural extension of the screenprint stencils that he was already cutting and the symmetrical nature of these papercuts did not allow for the inclusion of words. So papercutting was the “cure” for the “malaise” of sticking words in his pictures.

Rob’s story is a startling reminder of how the hegemony of the art world has changed now, but it does not begin to account for the extraordinary flair that he brings to everything he touches. This is work of immense appeal that celebrates life and the complex emotions that colour our daily experience.

Obviously, the “cure” was completely ineffectual because his work is full of words that provide an important dynamic to the images. “I like the work of William Blake, and those English twentieth century artists like Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Eric Fraser,” Rob explains, and his work is an honourable inheritor of this lively tradition.

There is an emotional fullness and attractive energy to all of Rob’s work that speaks of an artist who has found his perfect medium. Quickly, he saw the limitations of entirely symmetrical papercuts and that is when the words came back in again. Getting passionate, he gestures rhetorically and, in delight, declares of papercutting “There is no cheating! There is no right! There is no wrong!”

Things start to get exciting now, as he offers me an apple, and moves over to his work table to commence a papercut. His energy changes and a serene Rob Ryan emerges as he opens a notebook and begins purposefully to copy a sketch in pencil onto a sheet of paper on a light box. Then he transfers the paper to a green cutting board and begins to cut it out with a scalpel in swift confident strokes. There is a different, more intense, atmosphere in the room now, everything focussed to the quick movement of the blade between Rob’s nimble fingers, and I reach over to capture the moment with my camera. Then it has passed, Rob inscribes the papercut and kindly presents it to me with as a souvenir.

It is an image of a mother and child playing together. As I examine the treasured scrap, when I get back to my desk, I am conscious of the sinuous subtle lines of this delicate cut that give these figures life and movement, and capture an ephemeral moment of intimate affection between parent and child.

In a papercut, all the elements have to be connected – human figures have to hold hands or touch – and as result of this technical requirement, this sense of connection has become a defining element in Rob Ryan’s work, as both technique and as subject matter. The breathtaking skill on display brings an audience to these works, but it is the language that gives depth in the exposure of ambivalent or raw emotion, and this emotionalism, whether light or dark, creates an exciting counterpoint to the control required to make them.

Years ago, Rob had a studio at the Bishopsgate end of the Spitalfields Market before it was demolished. He regularly used to eat a huge roast lunch at the Market Cafe in Fournier St before it shut at eleven in the morning, to set him up for a day’s work. He has now become one of the most popular artists, in our neighbourhood and far beyond, and I like to think that in his use of familiar domestic images, he captures something of the essence of the life of this place as it is lived now.


The Staffordshire dogs Rob Ryan made for Spitalfields Life

Images copyright © Rob Ryan

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A Walk With Philip Cunningham

June 17, 2022
by the gentle author

Some tickets are available for The Gentle Author’s Tour this weekend, 18th & 19th June

While living in his grandfather’s house in Mile End Place during the seventies and eighties, Philip Cunningham used to explore the streets of the East End taking photographs.

“What the Germans had not bombed in the war, the GLC and the council were trying to pull down. There were ruins everywhere and it gave the borough a strange character,” recalled Philip, “There were asbestos prefabs all over the place but they slowly disappeared – the last two I remember were in Globe Rd.”

At Brady St Dwellings

Brady St Dwellings

At Brady St Dwellings

Brady St Dwellings

Brady St

Durward St, Whitechapel

Mural of Canon Barnett at Whitechapel Art Gallery

Brick Lane

Fournier St

Brick Lane

Folgate St

Grimsby St

Cheshire St

Spitalfields Coal Depot

Bethnal Green

Artillery Passage

Middlesex St

Old Castle St

Leadenhall Market

Alie St

At St George in the East

White Horse Lane

Mile End Rd

Mile End Rd

Mile End Rd

Mile End Rd

Alderney Rd


Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

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At Eastbury Manor

June 16, 2022
by the gentle author

Some tickets are available for The Gentle Author’s Tour this weekend, 18th & 19th June

If you are seeking an afternoon’s excursion from the East End, you can do no better than visit Eastbury Manor in Barking, which is only half an hour on the District Line from Whitechapel yet transports you across four centuries to Elizabethan England.

Once Eastbury Manor stood in the centre of its own domain of rolling marshy farmland, extended as far as you can see from the top of its pair of octagonal turrets, but today it sits in the centre of a suburban estate built as Home for Heroes in the twenties in the pseudo-Elizabethan style, which casts a certain surreal atmosphere as you arrive. Yet by the time you have entered the gate and walked up the path lined with lavender to the entrance, the mellow brick facade of Eastbury Manor has cast its spell upon you.

Built in the fifteeen-sixties by Clement Sisley, Gentleman & Justice of the Peace, Eastbury Manor is among the earliest surviving Elizabethan houses, combining attractive domestic interior spaces with an exterior embellished by showy architectural elements in the renaissance manner. This curious contradiction of modest form and ambitious style speaks of Sisley’s eagerness to impress as a self-made property developer and landowner. He owned a house in the City of London and thus Eastbury grants us a vision of how those lost mansions that once lined Bishopsgate and Leadenhall St might have been.

Formerly part of the lands of Barking Abbey, after the Dissolution the property was sold to an absentee landlord before it was acquired by Clement Sisley in 1556. From apothecary bills, we know he fell ill and died in September 1578, bequeathing arms, weapons, armour and dags (guns) to his son Thomas ‘to him and his heirs forever at Eastbury’, in the hope that the manor might become a family home for generations to come.

Yet within only a few years Eastbury Manor was tenanted by John Moore, a Diplomat and Tax Collector, and his Spanish wife Maria Perez de Recalde. They were responsible for commissioning the lyrical and mysterious wall paintings, depicting an unknown European landscape rich in allegorical potential, glimpsed through a classical arcade of baroque barley-sugar-twist pillars.

Over two hundred years, the old house spiralled down through the ownership of a series of families with connection to the City of London until it became a farm, with animals housed in the fine Elizabethan chambers, and was threatened with demolition at the beginning of the last century.

Octavia Hill and C R Ashbee of the Survey of London, who had been responsible for saving Trinity Green Almshouses in Whitechapel, began a campaign to save Eastbury Manor by seeking guarantors to purchase the property from the owner. Once they had done so, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings arranged for the National Trust to accept ownership of the building in 1918. Thanks to the initiative of these enlightened individuals a century ago, we can enjoy Eastbury Manor today.

It is a sublime experience to escape the blinding sunlight of a summer’s afternoon and enter the cool air of the shadowy interior with its spiralling staircases and labyrinth of chambers. Ascend the turret to peer across Barking to the Thames, descend again enter the private enclosed yard at the rear, enfolded by tall ancient walls, and discover yourself in another world.

Eastbury Manor in 1796

Nonagenerian guide Dougie Muid welcomes visitors to Eastbury Manor – ‘Children often ask me if I have been here since the house was built’

Visit Eastbury Manor, Eastbury Square, Barking, Essex, IG11 9SN

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Doreen Fletcher’s New Paintings

June 15, 2022
by the gentle author

Some tickets are available for The Gentle Author’s Tour this weekend, 18th & 19th June

Meanwhile, Doreen Fletcher‘s new exhibition, TRACES opens at Townhouse, Spitalfields, this Saturday 18th June and Doreen will be in the gallery on Saturday to meet guests. Below she introduces a selection of her new and recently completed paintings.

Elvis Holds The Laundrette

It is almost twenty years since I last painted a launderette and this picture would not exist if not for Covid. During the pandemic, I became interested in exploring my neighbourhood, seeking out possible subjects for paintings. At the same time, I was lucky enough to engage in one of the few activities to thrive during lockdown, dog-walking.

In my picture, I depicted two of the characters I often encountered, who live a stone’s throw from the launderette. David sits inside musing whilst Elvis, his dog, stands outside guarding the entrance.

The Cosy Tea Room

For the last decade, I observed the slow decline of this building in Dagenham until I recognised a need to celebrate such a solid, unpretentious edifice. It has a certain dignity, despite its abused and neglected state. I loved the lettering, spelling out ‘The Cosy Tea Room’ on the apex of the building which grew more obscure each time I passed.

Nearby is the latest incarnation of the Ford Motor Factory, a ghost of what it used to be locally. During the fifties and sixties it employed around 50,000 workers and this tea room must have been a lively meeting place then.

The Run

After my painting ‘The Cosy Tea Room’ was completed in 2019, the building was still standing, despite the weeds and fly tipping. By 2021, it looked even more run-down and abandoned, a sofa made an appearance on the forecourt and a mattress lay against a wall – and I realised that another painting was taking shape.

The building was razed in the summer of 2021 and a new development is now rising, so this second depiction of ‘The Cosy Tea Room’ is also my last.

The Beckton Fox

This painting depicts something that happened as we were driving home one winter’s night, when we had to pull up sharply for a fox. The petrol station is more contemporary than my usual subjects but it offered the sense of theatre I hoped to capture. No matter how functional or artificial the structure, nature will always find a way in – creeping from the sidelines in this case.

All The Fun Of …

In my childhood, we used to spend a week each year at the seaside and, ever since, I have been drawn to the bright lights and brilliant colours that offer such a contrast to the greyness of daily life.

I was never attracted to the dare-devil rides designed to inspire terror yet – decades later – I still recall with pleasure the sight of lurid graphics and garish multi-coloured light bulbs, roundabouts spinning and striped horses bobbing up and down.

Until recently, a funfair arrived each year on Wanstead Flats but it often rained and the ground became a sea of mud. Even so,  there was a glimmer of hope in the bright lights, gay colours, offering a promise of better times.

Nail Bar

Nail bars, which were once unknown, have proliferated in recent years.  They are mostly small businesses run by owners who work long hours to keep them going. The pet shop next door had closed its doors earlier, but the nail bar had only just shut at 8pm on a November evening.

My initial interest lay in the challenge posed in portraying a brightly lit interior on a cold wet night, resolving the contrast between the light and warmth, and the surrounding darkness.

As a painter, I have never indulged in nail decoration because that my fingers would look awful again within days. But I must confess that, once a year, I visit a nail bar to have my toenails manicured and polished in preparation for the delights of going barefoot in the summer heat.

Smallholders Pet Shop

When I first moved to Forest Gate, I wondered how long this pet shop and mini garden centre could hang on, and during the following decade I watched the façade fade and become increasingly weather-beaten.

An elderly man in a flat cap used to stand outside guarding the shrubs, bedding plants and vegetables. Every spring I bought plants, receiving detailed advice about their care whether I asked for it or not. After he died, I discovered he had been there since he was fourteen years old and continued as a volunteer beyond retirement until his legs gave out.

Waiting At Five Star Batteries

The A13 possesses a post-industrial faded glory just as the London Docks did in the eighties. I used to wander the Isle of Dogs thirty years ago, when it was on the verge of transition, and I get the same feeling today on this stretch of highway.

Five Star Batteries stands on what was once the main A13 which has been supplanted by a raised dual carriageway to take the increase in traffic. Now a despondent air prevails, in common with the wreck of The Cosy Tea Room nearby.

What appealed to me about Five Star Batteries was the dissonance of colour, such bold orange in a place where the only colour emanates from the signage on car washes, garages and tyre outlets.

The lone man at the bus stop looks marooned, waiting in no man’s land for a bus that might take a long time coming.

Night Patrol

During lockdown, I developed the habit of walking our spaniel Charlie round the block after dark. I called this activity ‘Night Patrol’, acknowledging my desire to check all was well in our patch.

I love imagining lives unfolding behind dimly-lit windows obscured by drawn curtains. Occasionally I struck lucky and glimpsed a view of domestic activities but the reality was generally far less interesting than my imagination.

These Days …

One of the last of my paintings in 2004 was of Brothers’ Fish Shop, situated in a row of small shops on Commercial Rd. So when I took up painting the East End again in 2016, I was surprised to discover this parade still standing. I made two small paintings of the Emporium and the Pharmacy, which retained their dignity even though they were closed by then.

By 2019, these shops had gone but the the taxi cab office was still standing. Its survival against the odds inspired me sufficiently to paint the taxi cab office more than once but, now the entire row has been razed to the ground, there will be no more paintings of this part of Commercial Rd.

Images copyright © Doreen Fletcher

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Midsummer Bloomsbury Jamboree Lectures

June 14, 2022
by the gentle author

Some tickets are available for The Gentle Author’s Tour this weekend, 18th & 19th June


Meanwhile, it is my pleasure to announce the programme of Bloomsbury Jamboree lectures on Sunday 26th June, including one by yours truly


You Can Still Do A Lot With A Small Brain

Paper-Cut Artist & Designer Rob Ryan telling stories with pictures and words and bits of paper.

Click here to book for Rob Ryan at 3:45pm



An Illustrator’s Journey, From Riso Prints to ‘His Dark Materials’

Melissa Castrillón outlines her path from Anglia Ruskin University to illustrating Philip Pullman.


Click here to book for Melissa Castrillón at 3pm



Drawn Direct To The Plate, The Story Of The Puffin Picture Series

Edward Bawden, Enid Marx, S R Badmin, James Gardner, Clarke Hutton, Paxton Chadwick… Puffin Picture Books were a roll call of the best illustrators of their time. Joe Pearson  explores their genesis and the challenges of auto-lithography.


Click here to book for Joe Pearson at 2pm



Q & A With Margy Kinmouth, Director of ‘Eric Ravilious, Drawn To War’


To mark the release of the film Eric Ravilious, Drawn to War, Margy Kinmonth will be in conversation with Neil Jennings, Art Dealer & Ravilious specialist.


Click here to book for Margy Kinmouth at 1pm


China dogs by Rob Ryan


The Secrets Of Spitalfields Life

The Gentle Author tells the story of publishing Spitalfields Life daily for the past thirteen years, introducing a selection of remarkable characters and revealing some memorable adventures.

Click here to book for The Gentle Author at 11:30am



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Just Another Day With John Claridge

June 13, 2022
by the gentle author

Some tickets are available for The Gentle Author’s Tour on 18th & 19th June

Cobb St, Spitalfields 1966

One morning in 1966, photographer John Claridge met these four men working in Cobb St, Spitalfields. “They were bloody silly,recalled John fondly half a century later, “and there’s not enough of that in this world.” It was John’s way of introducing this set of pictures which he entitles“Just Another Day.”

“They were good people – full of fun – and this picture was nice to take, it has a warmth to it.” he added, upon contemplation of the image. And, if there is a common quality among these pictures, it is an open-hearted delight in the quotidian, or as John puts it –“The daily things that people do, going to work, stopping at the corner, visiting the shops.”

Where others might find only the mundane, John sees the poetry of the human condition. There may be endless sleet in Spitalfields, freezing fog in Victoria Park, and the passengers are eternally falling asleep on the early train out of Upton Park, yet John always reveals the joy and the humanity of his subjects. A generous spirit informs his photographs.

“Some of these pictures are of life drifting by,” John informed me, “because there are gentler ways of seeing the world than the obvious.”

Cup of tea, Spitalfields 1966.

Kosher butchers, Bethnal Green 1962 – “It wasn’t very big and it did have a certain smell to it.”

The cap, Spitalfields 1982 – “I love the things you don’t know as well as the things that are explained.”

Four men, Spitalfields 1982 – “You could create your own story with that.”

The baker at Rinkoffs, Vallance Rd, Bethnal Green 1967 – “Having a cup of tea and enjoying a breath of fresh air as the light’s coming up.”


Rinkoffs, Bethnal Green 1967

Breaker’s yard, E16 1975 – “I was talking to her dad and she just wandered off and got in the car.”

Feeding the birds in Victoria Park, E3 1962 – “there was ice on the lake.”

Passing the graveyard,  1970s

Bridge repair, E3 1960s

The crane, E16 1975 – “I printed this photo for the first time last week.”

SOS motors, Spitalfields 1982

Sewer Bank, Plaistow 1960s – “Where the kids used to go on their bikes and I’d take my scrambler. The craters were fantastic, it was a different kind of playground.”

In Plaistow, 1961 – “Just down the road from where I lived. It certainly has a lot of charm to it, look at how little traffic there is. That could be my dad on the bike, coming back from the docks.”

Station stairs, Upton Park 1963 – “Sometimes I met my mum here after school, when she was coming back from Bow where she worked as machinist making shirts.”

Station entrance, Upton Park 1963 – “I like stations, it’s that feeling you get of arriving on a film set.”

Leaving Plaistow early morning in winter, E13 1963 – “I had a motorbike but I liked going on the tube if the traffic was bad.”

The shed, Plaistow 1969 – “This was at the top of the street where I lived. He used to go round with that barrow and pick things up, and sell bits and pieces in that shed. A very nice man and a gentleman.”

End of the day, Spitalfields 1963.

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

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