RACHEL LICHTENSTEIN is a writer, artist and oral historian who has written and co-authored several books on communities and individuals in London, including On Brick Lane, Diamond Street and, with Iain Sinclair, Rodinsky's Room.
Many non-fiction works about London are either cheerful ephemera or else recycle existing research. Rachel's patient and humane scholarship, on the other hand, places a book like On Brick Lane in the company of Michael Young and Peter Wilmott's Family and Kinship in East London and John Marriott's Beyond the Tower. So I was very pleased to be able to meet her in Leigh-on-Sea and learn about her forthcoming book Estuary: Out from London to the Sea.
Rachel had earlier told me about something about the oral history interviews she'd been doing among people whose lives were, in various ways, bound up with the estuary. I think that Estuary the book is not so much the culmination of this work as a notable point in a long and abiding interest in the area and its inhabitants. It is, after all, her home turf.
Before the interview I'd only seen Leigh-on-Sea from the windows of trains going between Southend and Liverpool Street. With its cockle sheds and moored boats it reminded me of Whitstable, and it is indeed the most picturesque town along the estuary. On visiting I found no sign of the pretentiousness which is hard to avoid in its Kentish lookalike and which usually indicates there are a lot of second homes nearby. The photo below, by Chris J. Wood on Wikimwedia Commons, shows the high street in the older part of town.
Estuary: Out from London to the Sea will be published on 22 September 2016 by Hamish Hamilton. You can pre-order a copy through Amazon.