My East End: Memories of Life in Cockney London
Author: Gilda O'Neill
Release Date: September 28, 2000
The heart of the East End has always been Tower Hamlets; Gilda O'Neill is enough of a partisan to regard even Hackney as a bit out of bounds. My East End starts with the earliest times--the East of London has always been where dirty industry congregated, downstream from the Court and Parliament, and it has always been where incomers started, from Flemings in the Middle Ages to Bengalis today.
The greater part of this excellent book, though, is not a competent academic run through of the sources, but an invaluable collection of oral history, in which pensioners talk about the classic East End of late Victorian times and the inter-war period, a time when grinding poverty could just about be survived with luck, when people were forced to live in each other's pockets and children played around the open door of their homes until all hours: "There was always a jigsaw on the go and everyone that called had a go at putting some pieces in. Nanny usually came round on Friday nights and always brought a bag of sweets--winter warmers--and, as she was going home, she would call out 'Goodnight, kidlets'. I said that when I grew up I would go out singing in the streets and buy her a pair of blue bloomers."
O'Neill is fascinating about both the positive and negative sides of a way of life that went forever when families were moved out to housing estates on the fringes of London and about the parts of it that have survived into a new multi-cultural East End; My East End is a good book because it has an unsnobbish respect for the voices it draws on. --Roz Kaveney