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Beyond the Tower and Spitalfields Life

[THIS WEEK] The history of the East End is not just for Londoners, writes James Pallister

Hats off to ‘the Gentle Author’. He’s nearly a tenth of the way through his aim of making 10,000 blog posts detailing life in Spitalfields and he has a book out to celebrate. Spitalfields Life is a collection of pen portraits taken from the blog of the same name. The usual photographs that you can get delivered to your inbox everyday (if you’re interested in people, I recommend signing up even if you’ve no interest in this part of London) have been supplemented with illustrations by Mark Hearld, Lucinda Rogers and Rob Ryan in what is a handsome production from Saltyard Books. Bagel-makers, paper bag suppliers, playworkers, curry chefs and sailors with twinkles in their eye are all sketched out in sympathetic detail, helping fill out a portrait of an area.

John Marriot’s equally hefty Beyond the Tower: A History of East London has a slightly wider geographical range, including Poplar and the Isle of Dogs. Marriott’s is a more straightforward history, but has similarly juicy details throughout. It starts in the late medieval towns when the space outside the walls of the City of London was where the ‘dead, dying and the insane were disposed of’ and covers the 1600s, when emerging shipyards in Poplar launched ships to India, China, Japan, Sumatra and Java. It documents the labour movements of the 19th century, and takes the reader through the bruising and brawling that went with the rise and fall of fascism. These are two entertaining primers on a region that will receive many new visitors this summer. Start reading now and come the Olympics, you’ll be able to reel off anecdotes with the best of them.

Read Spitalfields Life, the Gentle Author, Saltyard Books, March 2012, £20
Beyond the Tower, John Marriott, Yale University Press, August 2011, £25

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