Spitalfields Life – Book Review

Spitalfields Life, published earlier this year, is an intimate literary record of everyday life in the historic area of Spitalfields, just to the east of the City of London.

Built up over two years, and the product of over ten thousand posts gathered from spitalfieldslife.com, this anonymously penned tome (authorship is ascribed to ‘The Gentle Author’ ) paints colourful pen pictures of Spitalfields workers, residents and visitors, both past and present.

In its densely packed 428 pages readers are taken on a journey that peers down every backstreet, climbs over the wall of every yard and knocks on every front door. Amongst the characters behind those doors are Molly, an old East End ‘swagman’ (the Delboy-like market stallholders who take pride in selling anything and everything that comes their way) and Fred, another denizen of the local markets who has been selling chestnuts from his roasting pan for over forty years.

In a section entirely devoted to the Spitalfields Antiques Market, Spitalfields Life takes you by the hand and introduces you to a whole succession of stallholders, including Giovanni (who sells antique Italian leather gloves) to Rishi and Thomas who have a taste for the macabre (if it’s stuffed and mounted they’ll sell it!). Columbia Road Flower Market also gets its time in the spotlight, with a behind-the-scenes look at  what goes on there on Sunday mornings, often before sunrise, when the sellers set out their displays of freshly cut flowers.

Spitalfields Life contains pages and pages of insights and anecdotes – it will furnish with far more knowledge than you could gain even in a year of wandering around the area. Given its size and heft it’s not a volume that will find a comfortable spot in a rucksack or shoulder bag however – this one is for dipping in and out of while you’re winding down at home.

I highly recommend picking this up – it’s the most lovingly crafted book of its type that I’ve seen in a very long time and which will, no doubt, keep me busy for many long winter evenings. Spitalfields Life is available from all the usual places – you can pick it up on Amazon right now for £13.50.