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Local authors and literature

Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives holds an extensive collection of fiction and non-fiction by writers who were born or lived in the borough. We also collect literature by non-local authors who wrote about the area in their fiction. This guide provides an overview of the books and pamphlets we hold by some prominent authors associated with Tower Hamlets.


Clement Attlee was born on 3 January 1883 at Westcott, in Putney, London. In 1905 he visited Stepney Boys’ Club and in 1907 became the resident manager. His work in the East End led him to an interest in politics and he joined the Stepney branch of the Independent Labour Party in 1908. After serving in World War I he decided to enter politics and in 1919 he was co-opted as mayor of Stepney. He was then elected as an alderman in November 1920 by the other members of the council, which led to a further five years in office. He was the MP for Limehouse from 1922 to February 1950. He served as Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, and as the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955.

Works by Clement Attlee in our collection include:

  • The social worker. 1920. L2370.
  • Fabian tracts. [1921-1929]. L5818.
  • The Labour party in perspective.1937. L5508.
  • Labour's aims in war and peace. [1940]. L8353.
  • War comes to Britain : speeches of The Rt. Hon. C. R. Attlee, MP. 1940. L6290.
  • Purpose and policy : selected speeches by the Rt. Hon. C.R. Attlee. [1947]. L2369.
  • The Labour party in perspective : and twelve years later. 1949. L2367.
  • Empire into Commonwealth : the Chichele lecures delivered at Oxford in May 1960 on 'Changes in the conception and structure of the British Empire during the last half century'. 1961. L2368.

Samuel Augustus Barnett was a Church of England clergyman and social reformer. He worked at St Jude's, Whitechapel in the late nineteenth century and was interested in the education and social aspects of his parishioners’ lives, as well as their spiritual health. He founded Toynbee Hall in 1884 and helped create the Whitechapel Art Gallery which opened in 1901. Barnett's connections with Whitechapel lasted throughout his life, though he returned to Bristol in 1893.

Works by Samuel Augustus Barnett in our collection include:

  • Practical socialism : essays on social reform. 1894. L2376.
  • Towards social reform. 1909. L2374.
  • Vision and service : being sermons, papers, letters and aphorisms. [1917]. L2373.
  • S.A. Barnett. 1913. L6668.
  • Worship and work : thoughts from the unpublished writings of the late Canon S.A. Barnett ... . 1913. L6668.
  • Perils of wealth and poverty. 1920. L2372.
  • Matters that matter. 1930. L2375.

Writer and campaigner Walter Besant was born on 14 August 1836 at 3 St. George's Square, Portsea. Besant wrote about social reform in the East End of London in his most famous novel, All sorts and conditions of men (1882). He was also active in campaigning for sweatshop workers, the Ragged School Union, the London Hospital, and worked to fund the building of the People’s Palace. He continued to be involved in the People’s Palace after it was built, chairing the library committee, running the literary club and editing the Palace journal.

Works by Walter Besant in our collection include:

  • This son of Vulcan. [1878]. L8266.
  • The seamy side. 1880. L7714.
  • The ten years’ tenant. 1881. L8271.
  • All in a garden fair. 1883. L7707.
  • The golden butterfly. 1885. L7901.
  • Children of Gibeon. 1886. L6683.
  • Uncle Jack. 1887. L8366.
  • Herr Paulus : his rise, his greatness, & his fall. 1888. L7900.
  • For faith and freedom. 1889. L8365.
  • The bell of St Paul’s. 1889. L5419.
  • With harp and crown. 1890. L8364.
  • The holy rose etc.. 1891. L7899.
  • The world went very well then. 1891. L7955.
  • St Katerine’s by the Tower. 1892. L2379.
  • The case of Mr Lucraft and other tales. 1892.
  • The ivory gate. 1893. L7892.
  • All sorts and conditions of men. 1894. L702.
  • The rebel queen. 1894. L7896.
  • Beyond the dreams of avarice. 1895. L8267.
  • The revolt of man. 1896. L7918.
  • Twas in Trafalgar’s bay. 1896. L7137
  • A fountain sealed. 1897. L7902.
  • In deacon’s orders, etc. 1897. L7951.
  • The city of refuge. 1897. L8270.
  • The master craftsman. 1897. L6742.
  • All sorts and conditions of men : an impossible tale. 1898. L7958.
  • The changeling. 1898. L8269.
  • The fourth generation. 1900. L7903.
  • The lady of Lynn. 1901. L7904.
  • The master craftsman. 1901. L6904.
  • A five year’s tryst. 1902. L7905.
  • No other way. 1902. L7894.
  • Children of Gibeon. 1903. L7138.
  • To call her mine etc.. 1903. L8361.
  • Be Cecila’s arbour : a tale of Portsmouth Town. 1904. L8358.
  • Dorothy Foster : a novel. 1910. L7139.
  • The alabaster box. 1911. L6906.
  • The orange girl. 1922. L7898.
  • Amorel of Lyonesse. Undated. L8268.
  • My little girl. Undated. L7895.
  • Ready-money Mortiboy. Undated. L7897.
  • The monks of Thelema. Undated. L7906.

Thomas Burke was a writer who was most famous for his fictional stories about Limehouse Chinatown. He was born on 29 November 1886 in Clapham but after his father died was sent to live with his uncle in Poplar, the setting for his most famous stories. When first published his books were banned because they depicted relationships between white women and Chinese men. One story on this theme, with the unfortunate and offensive title The Chink and the Child, was made into the highly successful film Broken Blossoms in 1919.

Works by Thomas Burke in our collection include:

  • Limehouse nights, tales of Chinatown. 1917. L696.
  • Nights in town. 1917. L2408.
  • Twinkletoes : a tale of Chinatown. 1917. L489.
  • The song book of Quong Lee of Limehouse. 1920. L2406.
  • Whispering windows tales of the waterside. 1921. L490.
  • The wind and the rain : a book of confessions. 1924. L491.
  • East of Mansion House. 1928. L2385.
  • The sun in splendour a London comedy. 1929. L5056.
  • The pleasantries of old Quong. 1931. L487.
  • Billy and Beryl in Chinatown. 1935. L483.
  • Dark nights. 1944. L5055.
  • The best stories of Thomas Burke. 1950. L8904.

William Wymark Jacobs was born in Wapping on 8 September 1863. His childhood in Wapping was one that he recollected fondly as an adult. He became a writer in the late 1890s and was famous for his short stories and seven novels, many of which focused on sailors and the London docks:


Works by W.W. Jacobs in our collection include:

  • Many cargoes. 1897. L5376.
  • A master of craft. 1901. L2432.
  • Light freights. 1902. L2433.
  • The skipper’s wooing ; and, The brown man’s servant. 1904. L5382.
  • Captains all. 1905. L5377.
  • Sea urchins. 1908. L5379.
  • Sailors’ knots. 1909. L5378.
  • Ship’s company. 1911. L5381.
  • Deep waters. 1919. L3108.
  • The castaways. 1923. L5380.
  • Sea whispers. 1926. L3107.
  • The night-watchman : and other longshoremen : fifty-seven stories. 1932. L5384.
  • The lady of the barge. 1937. L5343.
  • Dailstone Lane. 1950. L2434.
  • Salthave. 1971. L5350.
  • Selected short stories. 1975. L5282.
  • Night watches. 1984. L1164.
  • At Sunwich port. 1986. L5375.
  • Short cruises. 1987. L5383.

Novelist and playwright Jerome Klapka Jerome was on 2 May 1859 at Bradford Street, Walsall, Staffordshire but moved to Poplar as a child where the family lived on Sussex Street. Jerome wrote plays, stories and novels as well as working as an editor.

Works by Jerome K. Jerome in our collection include:

  • Diary of a pilgrimage : (and six essays). [1891]. L371.
  • John Ingerfiled, and other stories. [1894]. L374.
  • Paul Kelver : a novel. 1902. L381.
  • All roads lead to Calvary. 1919. L368.
  • Sketches in lavender : blue and green. 1920. L392.
  • The observation of Henry : and others. 1920. L377.
  • Anthony John : a biography. [1923]. L370.

Bernard Kops was born 28 November 1926 in Stepney and educated at Stepney Jewish School. His first play, The Hamlet of Stepney Green (1959) has a local setting. His writing draws from his Jewish background. In addition to plays he also wrote poetry, novels and an autobiography as well as programmes for television including It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow about the Bethnal Green tube disaster.

Works by Bernard Kops in our collection include:

  • Awake for mourning. 1958. L2464.
  • Poems and songs. 1958. L2448.
  • An anemone for Antigone : written in Belmont Psychiatric Hospital, March 1951. 1959. L2449.
  • The dream of Peter Mann. 1960. L2450.
  • Yes from no-man’s land. 1965. L2463.
  • The dissent of Dominick Shapiro. 1966. L2462.
  • By the waters of Whitechapel. 1969. L1505.
  • For the record. 1971. L6124.
  • The passionate past of Gloria Gaye. 1971. L4152.
  • Settle down Simon Katz. 1973. L4737.
  • Partners. 1975. L2877.
  • Neither your honey nor your sting. 1985. L7853.

Writer and novelist Arthur Morrison was born at 14 John Street, Poplar, on 1 November 1863. Morrison worked for the charitable trust that administered the People’s Palace, and was the sub-editor of the Palace journal, which he left in 1890 to join the staff of the Globe. His tales about the East End were collected and published as Tales of the mean streets in 1894, but it is his novel A child of the Jago for which he is most famous. Most of his works in the library collection are later editions of his novels and stories but we also hold the original manuscript for A child of the Jago in the archive collections.

Works by Arthur Morrison in our collection include:

  • A child of the Jago. 1896. LC8590.
  • To London town. 1899. L1945.
  • Divers vanities. 1905. L3809.
  • The hole in the wall. 1947. L3661.
  • Tales of mean streets. 1967. L3659.
  • Cunning Murrell. 1977. L6624.
  • Chronicles of Martin Hewitt. 1978. L6429.

Sax Rohmer was the pen name of Arthur Henry Ward, born in Ladywood, Birmingham, on 15 February 1883. He is most famous for his books on Fu Manchu which popularised the so-called “Yellow Peril” of Limehouse Chinatown and perpetuated widespread negative stereotypes of East Asian people. In addition to a collection of 1960s and 1970s paperbacks of the Fu Manchu novels, the library also holds a series of letters between John Carroll and the Borough Librarian during 1972-1973 discussing his works.

Works by Sax Rohmer in our collection include:

  • The insidious Dr Fu Manchu. 1961. L4692.
  • The return of Fu Manchu. 1961. L4683.
  • The bride of Fu Manchu. 1962. L4685.
  • The hand of Fu Manchu. 1962. L4681.
  • The mask of Fu Manchu. 1962. L4682.
  • Daughter of Fu Manchu. 1964. L4684.
  • The trial of Fu Manchu. 1964. L4680.
  • The golden scorpion. 1972. L4692.
  • President Fu Manchu. 1973. L5262.
  • The devil doctor. 1973. L655.
  • The Si-Fan mysteries. 1973. L4846.

Journalist and novelist Henry Major Tomlinson was born at 41 Paynton Street, Poplar, on 21 June 1873. He grew up in Poplar and went to work as a shipping clerk in the City. The library collections hold many of his early twentieth century novels.

Works by Henry Major Tomlinson in our collection include:

  • Waiting for daylight.1922. L3733.
  • Old junk. 1925. L465.
  • Under the red ensign. 1926. L756.
  • Gallions Reach : a romance. 1927. L458.
  • Tidemarks : some records of a journey to the beaches of the Moluccas and the forest of Malaya, in 1923. 1928. L2866.
  • Illusion : 1915. 1929. L3884.
  • All our yesterdays. 1930. L456.
  • Between the lines. 1930. L457.
  • Great sea stories of all nations. 1930. L473.
  • Out of soundings. 1931. L466.
  • The snows of Helicon. 1933. L470.
  • South to Cadiz. 1934. L471.
  • Mars his idiot. 1935. L896.
  • The day before : a romantic chronicle. 1940. L3895.
  • The wind is rising. 1941. L3906.
  • The turn of the tide. 1945. L3905. L464
  • Morning light : the islanders in the days of oak and hemp. 1946. L464.
  • The haunted forest. 1951. L619.
  • H. M. Tomlinson : a selection from his writings. 1953. L3890.
  • The trumpet shall sound. 1957. L3889.

Israel Zangwill, writer and advocate of Jewish causes, was born on 21 January 1864 in Ebenezer Square, Whitechapel, London. He taught at the Jews' Free School, Bell Lane, Spitalfields until 1888 when he became a journalist on the newspaper the Jewish Standard. He was commissioned by the Jewish Publication Society of America to write a novel, Children of the ghetto (1892), which looked at East London’s impoverished Jewish community. The library collection holds many early editions of his novels and some of his plays.

Works by Israel Zangwill in our collection include:

  • The premier and the painter : a fantastic romance. 1889. L2508.
  • The bachelors' club. 1891. L3054.
  • The old maids' club. 1892. L5417.
  • Without prejudice. 1896. L2914.
  • Children of the ghetto : a study of a peculiar people. 1899. L3103.
  • They that walk in darkness : ghetto tragedies. 1899. L5261.
  • Italian fantasies. 1910. L7957.
  • The next religion : a play in three acts. 1912. L5936.
  • The big Bow mystery. 1913. L496.
  • Merely Mary Ann. 1915. L5951.
  • The war for the world. 1916. L5942.
  • The principle of nationalities. 1917. L5974.
  • The grey wig : stories and novelettes. 1920. L5954.
  • The voice of Jerusalem. 1920. L5939.
  • Dreamers of the ghetto. 1925. L5953.
  • Ghetto comedies. 1925. L5955.
  • Jinny the carrier. 1925. L5950.
  • The celibates' club : being the united stories of the Bachelors' Club and the Old Maids' Club. 1925. L5952.
  • The cockpit : romantic drama in three acts ; Too much money : a farcical comedy in three acts. 1925. L5967.
  • The forcing house, or, The cockpit continued. 1925. L5965.
  • The King of Schnorrers : a grotesques and fantasies. 1925. L5966.
  • The mantle of Elijah. 1925. L5963.
  • The master. 1925. L5962.
  • The melting pot : a drama in four acts. 1925. L5957.
  • The war god : a tragedy in five acts ; The next religion : a play in three acts. 1925. L5964.
  • Speeches, articles and letters of Israel Zangwill. 1937. L4329.