The Umbrella-ist: ‘The Gentle Author’ – the man behind London's Spitalfields Life blog

Exploring the East End, past and present


Since August 2009, the anonymous ‘Gentle Author’ has spent every day documenting east London on his Spitalfields Life blog. From profiling the capital’s oldest fireman to exploring Old Street’s strip of fried chicken shops, this mysterious writer shares many of the same interests as this magazine. Here, he talks about never-ending obsession with London’s most interesting corner. 
“East London starts at Aldgate Pump and finishes at the River Lea, but the real East End is a state of mind. If you think you’re in it then you’re in it.”
“East London is the heart of London. I think the essence of London as a city is contained within east London. It’s always been where London’s life has lived and come from.”
“There’s no picture of me on Google and it’s hard to find out who I am. Although my anonymity is an open secret because I’ve met and profiled over 2,000 locals.”
“The more Spitalfields Life grows; the more obsessed I get with London. The stories all start to connect and I get drawn deeper into the worlds of the people I’m writing about.”
“People typically write about a history of poverty in the East End, and I think that’s a misapprehension. To me, the East End has always been about resourcefulness and how people make a living. I’d say I’m writing a history of resourcefulness.”
“The Gardners Market Sundriesmen is the oldest family business in Spitalfields, started by James Gardner in 1870 and now run by Paul Gardner, selling the cheapest paper bags in London. Paul sees the best in people, he gives unlimited credit and trusts in everybody, and because of this he’s treated with great affection. More importantly, hundreds of small businesses have survived because of his support. The shop is diametrically across from The Royal Bank of Scotland. That polarity fascinates me.”
“There’s incredible desecration taking place in east London and a whole cultural tradition that’s being erased because people don’t understand its history. But I think it’s liberating to know that people have always done things differently so things can change. We don’t have to be at the mercy of our current circumstance.”
“In the 1970s and ’80s the East End was practically empty. But what’s beautiful now is that there’s a wave of youth culture that’s instinctively drawn to the area and curious about it. You see people walking around Spitalfields looking at the buildings because they want to know more about what’s happened.”
“I hate the word ‘hipster’. Today’s inhabitants of east London recognise the sense of possibility for inventiveness and creativity. For example, the people who work in ‘tech city’ are typically self-employed, working in small spaces and doing something skilled. That is a direct parallel with the weavers working in Spitalfields during the 18th century. Both generations share that same spirit of independence, and to me there’s a continuum there – it’s hopeful and beautiful.”
“In the future I’d like to see a rich community of life in the East End, with small businesses and cultures thriving. There’s an indomitable spirit there that’s withstood every kind of threat.”
“I think the conclusion of Spitalfields Life will be my death. The idea is to write a self-portrait and that’d be the last post.”
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