WHEN RIOTS EXPLODED IN NORTH LONDON last August, they quickly spread to the east, to some of the most impoverished areas in the city — Hackney, East Ham, Bethnal Green, Stratford. These are the names that scrolled across the BBC News ticker, below images of double-decker buses ablaze and hooded youths raiding local shops. The rioters used text messages to get the word out: on August 8th at 5:34 pm, (reported the Guardian), they called on all those who were “down for making money” to:
let them know we're about to go hard in east london tonight, yes tonight!! I don't care what ends you're from, we're personally inviting you to come and get it in. […] We need a minimum of 200 hungry people. We're not broke, but who says no to free stuff. Doesn't matter if the police arrive cos we'll just chase dem out because as you've seen on the news, they are NOT ON DIS TING. Finders keepers and we all look after each other so if you see someone getting grab by feds then make sure we help stamp out that fuking PIG. M.O.B money over bobbies =D broadcast this to everyone you know and let's get paid!!
Reread within the context of John Marriott’s compendious study, Beyond the Tower: A History of East London, the text messages that fueled the August riots sound less like a random explosion of long-bottled resentment and more like a typical expression of civil disobedience and self-interest, East London-style. If Marriott’s study suggests anything about the ethos of East Londoners over the centuries it is captured here: Finders keepers and we all look after each other.
Beyond the Tower excavates East London’s rich, multiethnic history, from Shakespeare’s first theatre to the looming 2012 Olympics, looking at French weavers, Victorian missionaries, Jewish sweatshop workers, the survivors of the Blitz, and the rise of the immigrant population. It examines the fluctuations in economics, politics, religious sentiments, and public opinion that shaped the cultural landscape we see today. Despite its vast scope, Beyond the Tower provides a nuanced account of East London’s “creation, growth, demise and potential regeneration.”
The expanse of parishes and docklands east of the Tower of London has historically been viewed as a hotbed of violence, poverty, and intolerance, yet its character and history is far more complicated. “A problem arises,” Marriott argues, “when spaces such as the West End and the East End come to be defined — often in relationship to one another — as mythical sites, and thus enter into the public imagination.” The East End of London has historically been seen as dangerous and poor, while West London has been perceived to be genteel and glamorous. But Marriott claims that these popular views are largely based on hearsay and exaggeration, and he endeavors to give a more nuanced account of the East. Attempting to answer the question “Where, what, and when is East London?” (first posed by Jack London in The People of the Abyss), Marriott charts the conditions and conflicts that have given East London area its checkered reputation.
East London, traditionally demarcated as the area east of the Tower of London, just outside the city gates, grew from a small border town to the “manufacturing and commercial heart of the metropolis&r...read more