A Child of the East End, Jean Fullerton, book review: ‘Highly entertaining tale of growing up in Stepney’

Author Jean Fullerton. Photograph: courtesy EDPR

Jean Fullerton has been a shop assistant, librarian, fashion design sketcher, pattern cutter, police constable, district nurse, lecturer, novelist and above all a creation of Cockney London.

Her memoir, A Child of the East End, tells her personal tale of growing up in Stepney and environs between the 1950s and the 1970s, and through it, the history of that sliver of the capital that has done so much to shape our cultural vernacular.

Her father exemplified one of the attitudinal paradoxes of the period, fiercely resenting social elites but at the same time desperate for his children to rise above their working-class origins.

Her mother was caring and resourceful, but ultimately succumbed to mental health problems that the NHS was then ill-equipped to treat. Extended family offered copious support along with fodder for many an amusing tale that pepper the story we read.

Hers may have not been an entirely typical East End childhood, but Fullerton’s narrative will resonate with many of those who lived through this time of social change.

Sexual harassment was rife even as women were being welcomed into occupations heretofore the preserve of men.

The older generation had strict views on moral conduct, though the lifestyle of the swinging sixties was allowed to percolate into families.

Working class identity was deep, rich and sonorous, but many of Fullerton’s generation ventured far from their roots off Mile End Road.

Above all we gain insight of the famous Cockney confidence, bred by a small cohesive community and a sense of social self, that meant Fullerton was at ease working in a Mayfair shop one year and in a Hendon police academy not long after.

At the end of this highly entertaining account, we’re left thinking that perhaps this is the essential legacy of late 20th-century East London – emotional versatility and a passion for variety.

A Child of the East End by Jean Fullerton is published by Corvus, ISBN: 978 1 83895 286 0; RRP: £8.99.