My Home: Fran Beauman, historian and TV presenter

The historian and TV presenter Fran Beauman is constantly seduced by the sounds and sights of London's East End.
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The Independent Online

The historian and TV presenter Fran Beauman lives with her husband, James Bobin, who directs 'Da Ali G Show', in a converted boot factory in Spitalfields. She is a world expert on pineapples and has written the definitive biography of the fruit.

've lived here for five years and I love it. James, who I married a few weeks ago, has been here for about seven years. He bought the place with a friend as a shell, just before this area went crazy. He now pretends that it was skill, but it was pure fluke.

It didn't have stairs or room divisions when they bought it - it was just a big space, so they chose where everything went.

They had all sorts of dilemmas about whether to have the bedroom upstairs, where the living room is now. It makes me laugh - why would you do that? That's the room that leads to the roof terrace. But it's that weird thing - once it's done, it all seems inevitable.

You could tell it was two boys decorating a flat - it was very minimalist. Then I girlified it within 24 hours. There's a lot more stuff in it now, a lot more clutter. Poor old James.

The book means I've built a collection of pineapple paraphernalia. People always ask, why pineapples? But when I was 18, I went on a family holiday to a house in Scotland owned by the Landmark Trust. It's on an estate called Dunmore Park and it's a 50ft stone pineapple that was built in the 1770s. I thought, 'That's weird. Why build it in the shape of a pineapple? Why not a strawberry or an apple?' So I looked into it and found they grew pineapples on the estate. I thought, 'Why would you grow pineapples in Scotland in the 18th century - did they even have the technology?'

It turned out they grew pineapples at every great garden in England. Because of its status, the pineapple began to appear in art, literature and poetry. In every Dickens or Thackeray novel, the pineapple's there, representing the privileges of the upper classes. Through it, you can trace a lot about British attitudes to status, luxury, trade, empire or even sex.

Pineapple paraphernalia tends to divide into two kinds. There's the beautiful, antique 18th- and 19th-century stuff, which is hard to find as it's so gorgeous. You get all sorts of things, from high-end Wedgwood teapots, which are tens of thousands of pounds and mostly only in museums, to little trinkets like my salt and pepper shakers. At the opposite end of the spectrum is all the kitsch stuff. I try only to buy pineapple stuff that is nice in its own right.

For me, the roof terrace has been the real focal point of the flat. When I moved in, it was just asphalt, so three years ago we put down the decking and bought the plants and furniture. It gives us an extra room, especially in the summer. The views are gorgeous - you can see Christchurch and the NatWest Tower, and cats going across the chimney pots, which looks really Dickensian. I go outside and my heart sings.

Our flat sits on the site of the first purpose-built Yiddish theatre in London, built in 1888 when there was another wave of mass Jewish immigration. In 1889, it was packed when someone shouted, 'Fire!' There was no fire, but a stampede meant lots of people were killed. After that, they closed the theatre, but there's a little violin in the pavement outside in remembrance.

I grew up in Hampstead and was a real north London girl but, since moving here, I'm so evangelical about east London. I love the sense of history. I find it very un-depressing. If I walk out of the door stressed, I feel, 'Well, millions of people have lived on this street before me and been depressed,' which is very liberating.

I love the fact that it's a mixed area. Four houses down, the women wear burkas. I'll come out of the door on a Saturday night in some little outfit, and they'll come out at the same time in full head covering. We live doors away from each other, but our lives are so different.

You can wander round and feel that your generation is just the next of many. James's family is originally Huguenot and my family's originally Jewish. My family had a hat and cap shop on London Wall and we found a record from 1723 of an Isaac Bobin being treated in the French hospital just down the road, who is his ancestor way back. The Huguenots and Jews are coming together in Spitalfields - I think it's sweet.

All the new development is sad, but it's better the buildings are being used. Unfortunately, much of it is ugly and you do get the City encroaching, with its shiny buildings. But, as Peter Ackroyd says in his brilliant biography of London, it's progress and change, and that's what cities do. You can't say, 'I want everything to be the same as it's always been,' because that's not life. Spitalfields was originally where the bodies were buried outside the city walls, then it was monasteryland, then it was where the refugees came. This is just a new phase.

We got married in Christchurch, and then we had the reception in the Golden Heart pub. For the hymn, we chose "Joy to the World", which was written by Isaac Watts, who lived on Wilkes Street. It was a very Spitalfields wedding.

I'm sure it's no coincidence I live in an area that proclaims its history. Everywhere in London has a past, but much of it is hidden - whether that's because it was bombed, or it's down alleyways or in the name of the street, like Puddingbowl Lane. But Spitalfields wears its history on its sleeve.

I see myself here for ever. Green space is overrated. I'd rather walk around amazing Georgian houses and extraordinary Bangladeshi supermarkets and watch the people. I love the fact that in the next street there are five languages being spoken and people wearing outfits I've never seen before. The worst crime in the world is to be dull and there's nothing dull about round here.

Fran Beauman's book, The Pineapple: King of Fruits, published by Chatto & Windus, is out now. 'Heroes of History' is being repeated at 11.30am on Sundays on Channel Five from February

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