Shoreditch in the East End of London has an incredibly rich and varied history. From theatre and Shakespeare in Elizabethan times, to the wealthy traders and French Huguenot silk weavers of the 17th Century to the decline of the furniture industry in the late 19th century when the area was one of the worst slums in London. The illustrated London News in 1863 described the terrible living conditions in the 'Old Nichol' as ‘one painful and monotonous round of vice, filth and poverty, huddled in dark cellars…teeming with disease and death’’.
Today, Shoreditch must be one of the trendiest and most fashionable places in London and this is the location of today’ guest excellent recent book ‘The Last Director of Shoreditch’. Huw Jones day job is Europe Regulation Correspondent at Thomson Reuters and he’s never known such fascinating times with the advent of Brexit and Covid 19 back to back.
But as lover of London and social historian, Huw’s fast-paced novel spins between the Postie gang of Shoreditch in the 1950’s and what he calls the modern day siliconeaster, latte sipping tech start up millennials.
Enjoy this fascinating insight into one of the jewels of London past and present. This is Your London Legacy.
“You’re just like 2 degrees removed from history wherever you go here. It’s amazing.”
Huw’s book follows a group along two parallel timelines: the 1950’s when one of the characters, Frank who was the fixer for the Postie group—and the timeline now after the property empire has risen and they get a bit bored and try and ditch what they worked for. Many of the details in the book were based off of the reality of Shoreditch. For instance, in the 50’s and 60’s Shoreditch was an epicentre of furniture production—and the Director uses the industry there for their deeds, after all, old warehouses are indeed a good place to start your criminal fraternity.
Shoreditch was likely the first municipality in Britain to have a “dust destructor” which is essentially a facility to burn rubbish to create electricity. The facility in Shoreditch is now the National Arts Centre for Circus, interestingly enough. But again, what better place to “fix” a problem than a facility meant to incinerate—again as Huw says, you don’t even have to make it up.
“You realize it’s not going to get written until you sit down and do it.”
I’m always fascinated by the creative type and how books come to be. Huw’s style is interesting, as he didn’t quite write the chapters in order – and he felt his character Frank took over the story. But it is a push and requires sacrificing perfection. But it is an all-consuming task and one you must embrace when it wakes you up in the early morning with some sliver of idea you have to jot down. The concept of siliconeaster too is inspired by going out in Shoreditch and seeing the hip young millennial tech startupers with their lattes and how they’ve influenced the area in modern day.
While a book is most certainly written in a chair, the ideas often come from going out and exploring the world—and what better locale to influence you than London and the wonderful, never ending microcosms within.