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This Bright Field: A Travel Book in One Place Paperback – 24 May 2001
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Pieces of history vanish before our eyes on a daily basis. As more and m ore of us become conscious that the legacy of the past is being swept away, there is a groundswell of protest against such vandalism. William Taylor's quirky and atmospheric This Bright Field is a particularly timely book: a fascinating journey into the heart of one of London's most historic areas, Spitalfields, which faces the twin demons of inner city decay and redevelopment. But Taylor's book (subtitled "A Travel Book in One Place") is more than just a brilliantly recreated vision of a London district--Taylor also produces a searing piece of autobiography that deals with questions of identity and vocation in this small part of East London. His original ambitions lay in the direction of the church, but his bishop decided that he needed to learn "a little humility", and Taylor accordingly ended up in the killing fields of Jack the Ripper and the Kray twins, Spitalfields. His seven year parish experience took him on an odyssey through every aspect of the district: delivery driver in the fruit and veg market, barman in the Jack the Ripper pub (re-christened, in more PC times, The Ten Bells). A period as footman in a perfectly recreated Georgian house crowned his journey. In vivid, evocative prose, Taylor lays out the fascinating detritus of his explorations: a turbulently multi-ethnic, architecturally eccentric vision of the multiple personalities of the district, in which the human voices tell tales that define their identities. Seamlessly, Taylor marries the rich descriptions of the area with the inextricably linked stories of its inhabitants, and his prose often has a poetic burnish:
All along Brick Lane and its tributary turnings, doors opened on to corridors which led up to top flats and back rooms, the apparently impenetrable domain of migrant Spitalfields. Often several bells clustered around a single front door announcing multiple occupancy, a tangle of circumstance. Proprietorship of businesses seemed constantly to shift between relatives. And as shops changed owners and names, the old fronts were often just painted or boarded over, with past lives being obscured beneath the most recently painted façade. Indeed, this had been the pattern for years. On Brick Lane one immigrant history hid behind another--Huguenot, Irish, Jewish, Maltese, Bengali--each making its own contribution to the overall cultural patina of the area.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This book in many ways ought to be read alongside Ken Leech's work in East End Urban theology like "Through Our Long Exile" as his work guides our understanding, as seems to have guided Taylor's, to understand the people and the history of the area. When Taylor talks about the encroachment of the City into this area, he highlights the foibles and eccentricities which would be lost by its destruction. He shows that it is vibrant and full of life.
If I have any criticism of this book, it is that it becomes too involved in the analysis at times. There is also the danger, I feel, that Taylor becomes too much the observer, offering comment and analysis, but in doing so, detaching himself from the community he is trying to become involved with. I also wince at such an upper-middle class man (and cleric at that), trying to be a real cockney - then again, it is this that makes this book so interesting, and gives it much of its charm and interest.