When word reached us that “The Gentle Author” behind Spitalfields Life was bringing out a book, we were excited, and with good reason. Launched yesterday it a thing of sheer wonder, and I don’t know where to start with all the things I love about it. The elegant, empathetic writing? The gorgeous design? The special illustrations from Rob Ryan, Lucinda Rogers and Mark Hearld? The fact that all the quotes on the back are taken from (and attributed to) Twitter? All of the above, and more…
It’s been described as a “barricade against the tide of cultural amnesia” and with the Gentle Author likened to Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys which is no ridiculous exaggeration. He has an ability to tease out the inner workings of his patch through storytelling, and whether it’s objects, buildings or people – particularly people – he understands both what has been and why things are.
A recurrent comment about Spitalfields is that it has lost is soul, but this book proves that’s not true. It is there if you know where to look and who to talk to, hipsters, community heroes, collectors, market traders, craftsmen – the people who really care. By celebrating the extraordinary things that make this area special it must be hoped The Gentle Author will help protect them.
And the sumptuous prose is accompanied by some stunning visuals. Rob Ryan’s bell illustrations are dotted throughout the book, with inscriptions that range from the prosaic to the philosophical. Lucinda Rogers’ pictures of the area bristle with character, while Mark Hearld bombards the senses.
And the photographs taken by the author deserve a special mention. As with his prose, only someone with a genuine love for an area can truly capture a location’s character, and the images included here mesh with the narrative without ever feeling melodramatic.
All in all it’s a joy to hold, a joy to read and a joy to look at.
Spitalfields Life by The Gentle Author is out now, published by Saltyard Books, £20.