1 SEPTEMBER 1939, Page 24

Treasure in the East

History of East London. By Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith. (Macmillan. I2S. 6d.)

Mr grandfather bought his house in 1888. When I was born into it, it was one of a descending row with like houses beside, behind and before. The trains could be heard all night panting through the junction, and the sky above the chimneys, the towers and the industrial minarets was per- manently veiled by the dust rnd smoke of the railway. My grandfather would often tell me that once, when he looked out of the windows, he could see green fields with sheep and a few trees ; and I, looking where his finger directed me, was able to conjure up Lord knows what pastoral fantasies, what pipes and oaten stops, what flocks of snowy sheep, belled and ribboned, nibbling in the noonday shades.

" 0 there was a City thronged and known Ere London boasted a house " is a couplet with enchantment far exceeding its intrinsic content ; for nostalgia for the days never known is a strong emotion, and the dream of cities fallen into meadowland and meadowland raised into cities is a long and labyrinthine dream.

The East End of London, which was the eastern suburb of Londinium, has more of ancient interest than any other part of the city. Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith says : " To me per- sonally everything bearing on the evolution and decline of this great suburb has a vivid interest and fascination. I hate to see how this vast area is popularly regarded as a mere aggregate of dull and commonplace poverty, interesting only as an object of philanthropic effort or social research, or as a show-place to gratify a morbid curiosity to learn ' how the poor live.' " For those who find a rich excitement in standing on the ground where Alfred raised his camps or where Mayor Wal- worth, the brothel-keeper, murdered Wat Tyler, the East End is an Isle of Gramarye where you or I may fare with a guide-book any Saturday afternoon ; yet it is not easy for the mind to strip the isle of its disguises. Sir Hubert has made a careful study of the East End from every aspect ; from its Roman and Saxon beginnings to the manorial and parochial systems, from its social and historic angle and from the angle of its industrial growth. Though he is no adept at colouring his facts, his students will find a very complete set of dry bones, and from them will be able to assemble the skeleton.

There are left few monuments of the days when St. Dun- stan's, Stepney, was a little wooden forest church in the woods and marshes of Stebenhithe. Stebenhithe means " timber- wharf," and it was the timber business with which Stepney was concerned in Saxon days. In Elizabeth's time, on account of its geographical situation as the chief seat of the shipping industry of the Port of London, Stepney was con- cerned predominantly with the Spanish Wars. The river- side population of East London grew increasingly dependent upon the sea, and the long hostilities between England and Spain were damaging to trade and commerce. Stepney, having an interest in bringing the wars to an end, had her own small fleet, rather similar to the Levant fleet, which she was willing to send on any expedition against the enemy.

Sir Hubert deals more thoroughly with the East End under the feudal system than under the industrial revolution, which latter, more's the pity, really lies outside the scope of his book. Whether he means to continue his studies, covering the history of the East End from the industrial revolution until the present day, I do not know ; but I am certain that a further survey would be warmly welcomed.

With so much racial claptrap receiving today a considera- tion of which it is unworthy, Sir Hubert's short examination of the Jewish influx into East London is of topical import- ance. It hardly began at. all before the latter part of the nineteenth century though there had long been a small colony of Jews just outside the eastern border of the city. The original

settlement was within the city ; the place-name " Old Jewry " marks the site. Not from the reign of Edward I until the middle of the seventeenth century were Jews allowed to live in England, but under Charles II the Jewish settlement obtained a legal status.

" The Original Jewish settlers " (Sir Hubert writes) " were well-to-do, probably financiers rather than craftsmen, but during

the eighteenth century . . . the settlement changed its character and the colony of Jews round the eastern fringe of the city gradually became a poor community, the richer Jews moving west, The Dutch Jews were largely cigar-makers, and the Jews Aso. absorbed the Houndsditch trade in old clothes, though they did not create it, for we find mention of this trade in Stow's Surrey half a century before their admission."

The manner of this book lacks an interest proportionate to the interest of the facts contained in it ; nevertheless, History of East London is a unique, thoughtful and valuable work that might well be expanded to cover a later period of time PAMELA HANSFORD JOHNSON.