I'm moving after 30 years in the same house in East London. And although I was born a few miles north of Bow Bells I thought I'd say goodbye with some of my favourite East End book covers. When I began I thought I'd be more wide ranging, drop in some history I books I like, The Blackest Street by Sarah Wise, for instance, and Mayhews's London Labour. But then it became clear that there are an awful lot of books set just around one street. Brick Lane. And not just the obvious ones either.
Brick Lane is the street in Spitalfields that has seen everything, refugees from all religions and nations, wealth and poverty and at the moment, wealth again, so I've stuck with it. It's a street that has changed just while I've been here, especially from when the brewery was a huge and working presence and when the fairground people wintered by the railway, ooh, and the Opticians on Cheshire street where a man, a dwarf, would stand in the shop window fixing and fitting plastic framed glasses by turning them over a bunsen burner. When I tell my kids that they still think I'm making it up.
The only real constants are the Beigal shops cheek by jowl up at the top by The Bethnal Green Road. So have a look at the books and next time you're there have an Onion Platzel and think of me...
I never thought it was a children's book really. And as it's at the bottom of one of our endless boxes of books that are packed and ready to go I suppose I won't find out. It felt too lyrical and sad.
This cover is the film tie an and it's utterly brilliant. I think the film is definitely worth seeing, it's by Carol Reed and stars Celia Johnson as the struggling East End mother (!!) alongside Diana Dors and David Kossoff.
Fast forward twenty years on the same streets to Farrukh Dhondy's
but this time I think there is less hope. There's already a kind of nostalgia in A Kid For Two Farthings which is missing in Dhondy's short stories of hard young lives in Whitechapel. I suppose there are some books for adults that deal with the area in more recent times, but this is set just pre Bangla town. On a Sunday there are National Front newspaper sellers and the whole area is on its knees, unwanted unloved, and empty. These stories are pure capsules of history.
Bye Bye Bethnal Green