It does, as they say, exactly what it says on the tin. John G. Bennett’s new book takes the reader on a ramble round the inner East End, cleft in twain to cover the two areas of the title.
You’ll find the usual cast of characters – the Krays, Oswald Mosely and the Elephant Man; Booth, Barnardo, Besant and Banksy; and that phantom menace known as Jack. But Bennett has spent years soaking up the stories of the East End and throws in plenty of novel details you won’t have read before. Among the familiar tales of Hugenot influx and racial tensions you’ll find the potted histories of anonymous access roads and the tribulations of a Ripper tour guide or a Most Haunted spiritualist. Similarly, the author draws on the usual medley of sources – Jack London, Iain Sinclair, Ed Glinert – but also delves into the Sub Brit website and quotes a cafe review from wikitravel. E.1., then, is a hotchpotch of annecdotes and enthusiastic asides written in an effortlessly readible style and evocatively illustrated with black & white photos.
But this book really shines on its optimism. Even as supermarkets replace historic breweries, Spitalfields Market turns to glass and steel, and monied hipsters displace struggling shopkeepers, Bennett resists the urge to lament or criticise. The tone throughout celebrates the great cultural shifts that have always defined the area and recent redevelopments are treated no differently. There is no agenda other than to arouse curiosity and encourage exploration. In Bennett’s own words, this is a ‘simple book’, and is all the better for it.
E.1.: A Journey Through Whitechapel and Spitalfields by John G. Bennett is published by Five Leaves Publications and can be purchased through Amazon.