London E1 is a novel by Robert Poole (originally published in 1961) set in and around Brick Lane during and directly after the blitz. The Jewish and white working class communities were still very present in the area then and the first Asian migrants were beginning to settle there. The protagonist Jimmy Wilson works with his father tending a barrow in Brick Lane, his mother takes in washing for her Jewish neighbours. This is London’s East End in the 1940s – polyglot, violent, poor. Rachel Lichtenstein has written the introduction for this new edition of London E1 (Five Leaves, 2013).
'In the most memorable wartime pub scene in the book, the Wilsons visit their local, the Two Bakers, during an air raid... A small group of ‘Indians’ nervously sipped brown ales in one corner. A group of Jewish women sat in another with Mrs Behan, wearing the ‘fruit salad hat she had bought to celebrate the victory of 1918.’ As the pub became busier and busier and the smoke haze grew thicker and thicker, Mr Wilson started playing the piano, ‘feet shuffled and a gradual stampeding was taken up by the whole crowd.’ During the frenetic ‘knees-up’ the pub received a direct hit - the room filled with acrid dust and smoke, women screamed, glass shattered, debris fell and Mrs Behan was found slumped in a corner.'Excerpt from introduction London E1