I stumbled across an actual, physical copy of this wonderful–and very DIY and probably hand-typed in 1979 on an actual typewriter before being copied and bound– directory of the East End. In looking it up could only find references to it, nothing from it (or sadly more about its authors) online…I hope that’s not because I didn’t look hard enough! But I thought I would scan and post a small section of it, the one closest to my heart because I love literature and I really love lists, and an East End bibliography of literature in reference to a place I also love?
This is a labour of love that I think desires to be released into a new, and digital and very shareable form. I hope I am not wrong. It will certainly lead me to seek out and read some of these books that I probably never otherwise would have found.
An East End directory : a guide to the East End of London with special reference to the published literature of the last two decades, compiled and edited by Peter Marcan ; with contributions by John Dixon and Agnes Valentine ; photography by Nancy Holzman.
The aim of this directory is to present something of the heritage of the East End of London, with special reference to articles, documents and books published on the subject over the last twenty years; to describe the work that goes on there – in some cases of national significance and to indicate sources of local information. It is hoped that this book will be of interest to those exploring the East End, to teachers interested in using local resources and to local inhabitants who may be unaware of their local background.
a) Adult Fiction
The following list describes a selection of novels set wholly or partly in the East End, ranging from the nineteenth century through to the present day. Items are arranged chronologically according to date of publication; where several items by one author are described the date of the earliest publication is used. The list is part of a much larger study of the subject.
Until 1880 the East End figured only briefly in fiction and then either
in historical novels or in works by journalists primarily interested in social investigation. Dickens, whose godfather lived in Limehouse, mention the East End in several non-fictional pieces in Sketches by Boz and the Uncommercial Traveller; there are brief mentions in some of the novels, Oliver Twist, Dombey and Son and Edwin Drood and above all in Our Mutual Friend.
The great period for East End setting was 1880-1914. It began with the novels of Walter Besant whose main concern was philanthropy and continued with John Law (religion and socialism) and James Adderley (religious missions). In the 1890’s a more naturalistic note was struck in several volumes of short stories and in the works of Arthur Morrison and Israel Zangwill. Thereafter fiction tended to concentrate on small groups in limited settings – as with Jacobs and the stories of Wapping river-men and with Morrison’s later, more genial stories.
After the war the local settings were maintained, Limehouse in particular finding favour in the works of Tomlinson, Burke and Rohmer. More recent novels have tended to concentrate on isolated themes – boxing; the Blitz; petty crime; the antique trade; and the declining Jewish influence. A few family chronicles have been produced and several historical novels. Examples of all these have been included.
William Harrison AINSWORTH wrote two novels dealing with the Tower. The Tower of London (1840) concerns the imprisonment and execution of Lady Jane Grey; and The Constable of the Tower (1861) the events following the death of Henry VIII, in particular the death of Sir Thomas Seymour. Both novels have much the same cast-list of warders, headsmen, etc.
KINGSLEY, Charles. Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet (1850, various editions). Kingsley’s novel is basically about Chartism and Muscular Christianity but it was occasioned by reports in 1848-9 of sweated labour in the East End. Chapter 21 describes a visit to ‘one of the most miserable slop-working nests in the East End’. The novel ends with one of the characters selling off her late husband’s estates and setting up a house for needlewomen in the East End.
MAYHEW, Augustus. Kitty Lamere; or a dark page of London Life (Blackwood 1855). Set among the weavers of Spitalfields the story tells of Kitty’s decline from poverty to destitution. The descriptions are observed in great detail and owe much to the author’s celebrated brother, Henry. This is the first novel, other than historical ones, to be set totally in the East End.
BESANT, Walter. All sorts and conditions of men; an impossible story (Chatto, 1882). The heiress of a Whitechapel brewery anonymously visits the place where her fortune has been made. She is appalled by the conditions and sets up as a seamstress in Stepney Green; and in the company of Harry Gosling, a dispossessed son of a Lord, she visits the surrounding areas and helps fund a Palace of Delights to bring entertainment to the poor. Harry’s title is restored to him at the same time as she is forced to reveal her true identity. They marry each other. This rather fanciful romance in fact marked the real beginning of interest in the East End. It is not without humour and is full of setpieces on local areas – Stepney Green, Mile End Road, Trinity Alms Houses. It was also prophetic in that the Palace of Delights was set up a few years later, as the Peoples Palace in Mile End, with Besant as a Director. Besant wrote several other novels with East End settings: The Children of Gibeon, 1886 (Hoxton); St Katherine’s by the Tower, 1891 (Eighteenth century); The Rebel Queen, 1893 (Jewish); The Master Craftsman, 1896 (Wapping) and The Alabaster Box, 1900 (settlement).
John LAW was the pseudonym of Margaret Harkness, a socialist and friend of Elinor Marx. She wrote several novels dealing with the conditions in the East End. A City Girl,1887; Out of Work (my review here), 1888; In Darkest London, 1890; and George Eastmont, Wanderer, 1905. None of the novels has much literary merit but they are valuable as social records, one of them actually being praised by Engels.’ They did not enjoy a wide circulation; one was published by an author’s co-operative and only one was ever reprinted and then under a different title and with the assistance of William Booth. All the novels are out of print and only available in the British Museum Reading Room. A short article on Miss Harkness is in preparation.
ZANGWILL, Israel. The Children of the Ghetto, (Heinemann, 1892
One of the great Jewish classics. The ghetto is situated between Whitechapel and Spitalfields. The central story of Esther is somewhat sentimental but around it are woven innumerable set-pieces about Jewish religious celebrations, discussions about the future of the Jews and political debates. It is written with considerable energy and colour and despite it’s great length is still worth reading. Only one other of Zangwill’s many novels deals with the East End; this is The Big Bow Mystery, ‘Heinemann, 1892 “- a send-up of the detective novel.
Father James ADDERLEY held various posts in local missions and wrote several novels, two of which are set in the East End; both reflect and anticipate the author’s own life. Stephen Remarx; the story of a venture in ethics (Ed. Arnold, 1893) concerns an Oxford Anglo-Catholic who converts an East End sinecure into a centre of social awareness. He moves on to Chelsea where the same message has a hostile reception; he is told to resign; he finally sets up a religious commune to further his beliefs. Paul Mercer; a story of repentence among millions (Ed. Arnold, 1897) deals with the conversion of Paul Mercer to Christianity and social concern; this is affected by a visit, told at length, to the East End. Both novels are naive but do show the genuine concern of the founders of the Missions.
MORRISON, Arthur. Tales of Mean Streets (Methuen, 1894 – review here) was one of the first and probably the best of the many collections of working-class short stories to be issued in the 1890’s. It gives a grim picture of the East End but also contains some of the endearing characters – in Morrison’s words, ‘cross-coves’ – about whom he was to write again. The Child of the Jago, (Methuen, 1896 – review here) is the classic novel of the East End; it is set in a group of tenements in Shoreditch and concerns the life of a boy and the impossibility of his escaping from the slums. The appalling conditions, drunkenness, violence, street brawls, and codes of honour are described in realistic detail. A more satirical note is adopted when dealing with the philanthropists but the general effect is gloomy. Fortunately it is a very short novel and makes a great impact; it is still worth reading. To London Town (Methuen, 1899) was regarded by Morrison as complimentary to Mean Streets and A Child of the Jago; it is set in and around Loughton; the proximity and lure of London provides a constant theme. The Hole in the Wall (Methuen 1902) is about a pub of that name situated on the river’s edge at Wapping; long after it has been burnt down and rebuilt the grandson of the original owner reflects on it’s history, it’s crusty customers and the local crimes. Morrison went on to write detective stories and tales of rural Essex. There are however a number of East End stories in his collections – Divers Vanities, (Methuen, 1905), Green Ginger, (Methuen, 1909) and Fiddle O’Drea
NEVINSON, Henry W. Neighbours of Ours (Simpkin Marshall, 1895). Ten long stories set around Millenium buildings, in the East End. The narrator throughout is a small boy. The style is very realistic and the dialogue particularly good.
W.W. JACOBS was born in Wapping and between 1896 and 1926 wrote twelve volumes of short stories. Many are set in Wapping but the crusty endearing waterside characters soon take precedence over the setting which could as well be a Cornish fishing village as London’s dockside. There is great craft in the stories and Jacob’s admirers included Conrad and Waugh. A good introduction is provided in W.W. Jacobs Selected Short Stories; ed. H. Greene (Bodley Head, 1975).
ADCOCK, Arthur St. John. East End Idylls, (Bowden, 1897) Fourteen
stories with settings as diverse as Stratford, Dalston and Milwall.
The tone throughout is not moral but sympathetic and realistic.
ROHMER, Sax. In Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series, extending from 1913 to the end of World War II, the Chinese Quarter of Limehouse is made out to be the headquarters of the Yellow Peril, ‘the greatest peril facing the White The descriptions of Limehouse do not ring true; the plots are derivative, ill-constructed and improbable; and the tone is racist. By the late 1930’s when the worst of the slums had been cleared even Rohmer was hard put to maintain the illusion of menace. The series is of interest only as the classic example of the fictional misrepresentation of the East End.
CANNAN, G. Mendel, a story of youth. (Fisher Unwin, 1916) Mendel Kuhler and his parents arrive in England from Austria and settle in
Gun Street, Whitechapel. Mendel eventually gets to a Polytechnic and becomes a famous artist. This is one of the better Jewish immigrant novels and well illustrates the favourite theme of escape from the East End to the West End.
Thomas BURKE wrote many volumes of fiction and non-fiction about Limehouse. His first collection of short stories Limehouse Nights; tales of Chinatown, (Grant Richards, 1917 – review here) is as good an introduction as any. He was not a resident of Limehouse and was at one time accused by residents of giving a jaundiced view of the area. The stories are indeed awkward amalgams of unlikely love and gratuitous violence; they are written in a florid knowing style.
TOMLINSON, H M. Once billed as the ‘Second Conrad’ on account of his preoccupation with the sea, adversity and human destiny, Tomlinson was born in the East End and several of his novels have local set-pieces usually concerned with the arrival or departure of ships. In Gallions Reach (Heinemann, 1927) the hero has just
killed his boss and seeks escape in the East End; he finally boards a ship bound for the Far East. All Our Yesterdays (Heinemann, 1930) is a chronicle stretching from 1900 to 1919; it begins with the launching of a battle-ship in Canning Town and contains several scenes in Limehouse. In All Hands (Heinemann, 1937) passengers from a ship recently docked in Limehouse explore St Annes, Limehouse Station, etc. The Day Before: a Romantic Chronicle (Heinemann, 1939) has one chapter devoted to agitations in the East End and Morning Light (Hodder, 1946), an historical novel about a child, has several scenes in Wapping. The story ‘The Lascar’s Walking-Stick’ (in Old Junk, Melrose, 1918) is set in Limehouse.
NOTT, Kathleen. Mile End (Hogarth Press, 1938) An old Jew, Moses Mendelssohn, has survived his wife and spends much time sitting in a graveyard staring at her tombstone. The novel recounts their
upbringing and their lives together and brings us up to the time when Moses imagines himself a prophet and poses difficulties for his daughter. The time-span is 1880 to 1914 and there are set-pieces – a concert at the People’s Palace, the Dock Strike and the exploitation of newly-arrived Jews in sweat-shops.
SHEARING, Joseph. Orange Blossoms (Beinemann, 1938) One of the stories in this collection – Blood and thunder; an old tale retold is a fictional account of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders.
ORTZEN, Len. Down Donkey Row (Cresset Press, 1938) The story of Bill Bailey, a street bookmaker, his brushes with the law, the coming-of-age of his son. There are set-pieces on street fights, fights over women, amateur boxing, hop-picking and local weddings. The setting is just off the Commercial Road. The novel ends with Donkey Row being demolished and the tenants rehoused in nearby flats.
JACOB, Naomi. Barren Metal (Hutchinson, 1944) Meyer Pardo, who arrives with his parents in 1880 in Whitechapel, spends his early youth working at home taking in tailoring. He opens his first shop in
New Oxford Street in 1913. The business expands and Meyer and his wife move to Maida Vale. But he overreaches himself in his love for money – the barren metal of the title. He is imprisoned and his wife returns to the East End to rebuild the business.
GOLDMAN, Willy, A Tent of Blue (Grey Walls Press, 1946) The modest life of Ben Blackman, his troubles with his wife, Lotte, and at
work in a sweat-shop. Eventually the sweat-shop is improved, Ben becomes secretary of the Union and Lotte wins a fur-coat.
BETH ZION, Rachel. Joshua of Whitechapel (Anscombe, 1948)
A post-war fantasy in which the Labour Government falls and is replaced by the Empire Unionist Party. Repressive action is taken against the Jews, in particular those in Whitechapel. Their leader, Joshua Falerson, the founder of the Shield of David Movement, is arrested, tried and publicly hanged from the arm of a cross erected in Tyburn.
KENT, Simon. Fleur-de-Lys Court (Heinemann, 1950) Fleur-de-Lys Court, near St. George’s, is like ‘a drop of pond-water darting with life’; the inhabitants are mostly Irish – which is rare in East End novels.
TILSLEY, Frank. Heaven and Herbert Common (Eyre, 1950) A very long interwar chronicle of a family and friends, centreing round
Herbert Common, a clerk who becomes office manager, and Jimmy Magnal, a stallholder who starts a chain of fashionable clothes shops. The setting is the Docklands, here called Copping Town (presumably an amalgam of Canning Town and Wapping).
CAMBERTON, Roland. Rain on the pavements (Lehmann, 1951) Set in Hackney between the Wars this novel tells of the education of David
Hirsch in various Jewish schools and colleges and of his attempts to become a poet.
Alexander BARON has written two novels set in the East End. Without Hope, farewell (Cape, 1952) is located in Hackney between 1928 and 1948 and covers the boyhood, Air-Force service and domestic troubles of Mark Strong. There are set-pieces on a Jewish Wedding and an anti-Jewish rally. King Dido (MacMillan, 1969) is a longer and more ambitious book. It is set in Rabbit Marsh, just off the Bethnal Green Road in the years preceding the First World War. Dido Peach, son of a rag-merchant, wards off and defeats a gang who operate a local protection racket. He finds the local people
turning to him and making him payments; he accepts them but only later, after his marriage to a girl unused to the slums, does he enforce them. He is eventually trapped between the old gang and the police. This is quite a well-thought out novel and throughout the social positions of the characters, more than anything else, determine their actions.
Wolf MANKOWITZ has written a number of books with East End settings. A Kid for Two Farthings (Deutsch, 1953) concerns Joe, a child from Fashion Street, his friendships with an amateur wrestler and a trouser-maker and his journey through the East End with a goat that he pretends is a unicorn. Make me an offer (Deutsch, 1953) a story about the antique trade, has several sections set in the East End. The Blue Arabian Nights; tales of a London Decade (Vallentine Mitchell, 1973) contains a story – A handful of earth set in Petticoat Lane.
MACKAY, Mercedes. Black Argosy (Putnam, 1954) The parallel lives of two Nigerians who come to London. Ben arrives legally, saves for his Law Exams and has reasonable prospects; Edun is a stowaway who is caught and sent to a rehabilitation centre in Stepney; he is eventually hanged for murder; Ben attends the trial.
FREEMAN, Gillian. The Liberty Man (Longmans, 1955) Signalman Derek Smith returns home on three weeks shore-leave and has an affair with a supply teacher from his sister’s school. Derek lives in the East End; the teacher in South Kensington. The class gulf between them is sympathetically explored; there is more on relationships than locality.
POOLE, Rober. London, E.l. (Seeker, 1961) Jimmy Wilson is the youngest of a family of nine; they live in a tenement in Whitechapel; his father has a barrow in Brick Lane and his mother takes in
washing. He gains a High School Scholarship which alienates him from his friends and only obtains for him a post of junior filing clerk. He volunteers for the Royal Navy. Throughout the novel is his infatuation for a half-caste girl whom he eventually assaults thus landing himself in prison. The novel is rather overwritten but it does deal quite well with Jimmy’s attempts to rise above his environment.
Most of the novels of Bernard KOPS make reference to the East End; two are set almost entirely in it. By the Waters of Whitechapel (Bodley Head, 1969) deals with the dwindling Jewish community and especially with the fortunes of Aubrey Field who is so dominated by his mother that even when he disposes of her he finds himself literally impersonating her. Settle down, Simon Katz
(Seeker, 1973) is about a typical ‘lovable rogue’, who by his confidence tricks gets himself into various, not too serious scrapes. The interest of the book is in the conflict between the old and new in Jewish life; this expresses itself in Katz’s resentment of his accountant son who has moved to Wembley and changed his surname to Kaye.
KEATH, Walter. Stack (Collins, 1971) Clifford Stack a former National Serviceman and road-digger hopes to win his way out of the East End by his talent for boxing. He begins a successful and promising career. After a particular triumph in the ring his opponent commits a foul that temporarily blinds him. His sight returns but he is not allowed to fight professionally. It was the only skill he had; he steals a car and crashes it.
Mervyn JONES’ Holding On (Quartet Books, 1973) is set in Canning Town from about 1900 to 1970 and tells of the life, times and family of Charlie Wheelwright, a stevedore. Unfortunately the story moves at a deadly pace and the style is flat, chatty and monotonous. The final chapter ‘The last thoughts of Charlie Wheelwright’ should be read for it’s unintentional humour
LITVINOFF, Emanuel. A Death out of Season (M. Joseph, 1973)
This is one of the better historical novels set in the East End.
It links the Houndsditch Murders with the Siege of Sidney Street. (His brilliant memoir of growing up is Journey Through a Small Planet).
NORMAN, Frank. One of our own (Hodder, 1973) A family chronicle from the end of the second world war to about 1950. It is no masterpiece but is written with immense gusto and is very funny.
SEARLE. Chris. The Black Man of Shadwell (Writers and Readers Publishing Co-operative 1976) A black slave from Barbados comes with his owner to England. The ship docks at Wapping and the slave makes a bid for freedom. He gains the sympathy of the residents and is sheltered. Despite searches and rewards the owner has to return empty-handed. The ex-slave finds even greater freedom in acceptance by his fellow-workers.
DIBDIN, Michael. The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (Cape, 1978) One of the better reconstructions of the Jack the Ripper case. Anthology
Several short stories set in the East End are contained in:
KEATING, P.J. Working-class stories of the 1890’s.
There is another list of memoirs and some assorted non-fiction around the docks that I will try and get to in another post…