Book Reviews and the fascinating history of Bethnal Green Library

October 28, 2022

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

I was invited to the most wonderful event last week – the 100 Year Anniversary of Bethnal Green Library, which was the highlight of my week. We recreated the original photograph of people outside the Library with other invited guests.

Book Reviews and the fascinating history of Bethnal Green Library

Bethnal Green Library is the most magnificent building, standing in the grounds of what was known as “Barmy Park”, simply because this wonderful library was built on the site of a former lunatic asylum where East Enders, including husband Malcolm – used to play as a child, clambering over the bomb sites and craters.  And it was eighty-two years ago at the height of The Blitz, when a bomb crashed through the domed glass roof.  Within days, those resourceful librarians had taken the library underground down onto the tracks of the Westbound Central Line, where thousands of East Enders took shelter every night from the bombs raining down on them.

This was also the scene of an appalling tragedy that unfolded when a mother and baby gingerly climbed down the steps to the tracks and, almost at the bottom, tripped and fell.  Over 100 people also fell to their death as they were trapped in the crush.

A special guest at the event was Ray, who lost his father and grandparents in the tragedy. He told us how at school a couple of days later, he was sitting at his desk visibly shaking when his teacher threw a heavy set of keys at him, and he was told to pull himself together. Different times.

We were also celebrating the paperback publication of ~

A Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson (Hodder)

A Little Wartime Library is such a heartwarming story of the camaraderie which existed between the factory workers, stallholders and Clara, the custodian of the underground library.  A library, incidentally which co-existed alongside a medical room, a theatre, sleeping bunks, and those dreaded smelly latrines.  All life was down there during the Blitz.

Also honoured guests were Siddy Holloway, the presenter of that fascinating series “Secrets of the London Underground,” and Doreen Golding, Wanstead’s very own Pearly Queen (and I’ve discovered a relative from my extended family!)

The weather was wonderful as we stood outside the Library to recreate that 100-year-old image. I also met Lindsay and Lorraine, who brought along a picture of their recently deceased Mum, Minksy, who was the real-life inspiration for Ruby who used to lead the singsongs down on the tracks.

And remember, we all need to use our libraries.  I remember my first library at Totteridge North London where, having read all the books in the children’s section, I was allowed to take out books from the grown-up part after the kindly librarian carefully checked my choices to make sure they weren’t that unsuitable. I think that’s where I discovered Gone with the Wind and Forever Amber.

Sadly that library, with its beautiful Delft fireplace in the grand hall, has now been torn down, and yes  – you’ve guessed it – it’s now luxury apartments.

The Empire by Michael Ball (Head of Zeus)

I don’t know if you’ve realised that it’s not long until Christmas.  Gulp  – have you even thought about buying Christmas presents yet – I know I haven’t? 

So here’s my first suggestion for a terrific present. Singer, actor, DJ, television presenter, and part of the great fun duo Ball and Boe, Michael Ball has now turned author, and I predict that his first novel, The Empire, will be on the want list for loads of people.

Authors are always told to “write what you know”, and so Michael Ball has taken them at their word and written a wonderful saga-ish tale of The Empire, an old-time theatre owned by the Lassiter family and coveted by rival theatre impresario Joseph Allendyce. We meet Jack Threadwell, back from WW1, who wangles his way into a job as a doorman – and more  by dint of persuading the existing doorman – Ollie the dog, to let him in

There’s a cast to rival Downton Abbey, echoes of “The Good Olde Days” (remember that?), a cute dog and a love interest. There’s tension, trickery and entanglements.

A surefire bestseller.

The Politician by Tim Sullivan (Head of Zeus)

The Politician is the fourth outing to feature the socially awkward DS George Cross and his long-suffering partner DS Josie Ottey of the Bristol Crime Unit.

This time they are called to investigate the death of well-known Peggy Frampton, ex-Mayor and combative campaigner and blogger.  She also has an unfaithful husband and a gambler for a son.

George is impervious to the fact that this is a high-profile investigation and goes on his merry way.  Luckily overseeing it all is a new boss, Heather Matthews, who finds the duo totally intriguing and allows them their head. Or rather, Cross has his head, and Ottey follows.  And, of course, there is also George’s relationship with his dad.

I love George and Ottey.  Yes, George is on the spectrum, but this is what makes his interview technique, musings and methodology so fascinating.  You can almost see his cogs turns.

Cross and Ottey – a genius pairing.

The Binding Room by Nadine Matheson (HQ)

This is the second novel by Nadine Matheson to feature DI Angelica Henley and her sidekick Ramouter.  Housed in the dingy, dark and freezing cold police unit in Deptford, the two are called to investigate the murder of the pastor of the independent Pentecostal Christian Church.  And poking around upstairs in disused rooms, they discover the barely alive body of a tortured young man.

Once again, we are plunged into the agonising private lives of the two, with Henley undergoing therapy and Ramouter barely holding it together whilst his wife battles early dementia back in Bradford,

The two also have to battle the racial slurs and slights from the Pastor’s wife who feels that, because both she and Henley are women of colour, they must think the same whilst at the same time she denigrates Ramouter because he is Asian.

It’s quite a dark, and thoughtful read and Matheson’s experience as a Criminal solicitor is very apparent.

For more book reviews by Janet Gordon, click HERE

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