A walk devised with the support of the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust for inclusion in So We Live: the novels of Alexander Baron, a book edited by Susie Thomas, Andrew Whitehead and Ken Worpole and published in June 2019 by Five Leaves.
Alexander Baron was brought up in the streets where Stoke Newington shades into Dalston – and he returned to the family home after his wartime years in the army. It forms the backdrop to the most successful of his London novels, The Lowlife, published in 1963, in which the central character, an inveterate gambler and chancer called Harryboy Boas, explains to the reader why he lives in Hackney:
“Me? I want to live where I grew up. … Also, I like it. … Here, all sorts live. The Cockneys are of the old breed, sharp-faced , with the stamp of the markets on them. The young Jews either look like pop singers or pop singers’ managers. The old ones – it’s funny, the pious old men with yellow beards I remember from my childhood seem to have died off, all of them, but the old women survive. Among the crowds, you can see the old women, women you might have seen in the East End fifty years ago … schlapping [swinging] their big shopping bags.”
But this is not the East End, Harryboy insists: “that’s the mark of the outsider, when you hear someone call Hackney the East End. The East End starts two miles down the road, across the border with Bethnal Green”.
This short walk – it should take you no more than an hour – guides you round the places where Baron grew up and that feature in his writing: a synagogue, a church, a factory, a market, a school, a housing estate, a bomb site … and starting at his old home.