About this Archive
O'Neill, Gilda Ann (1951-2010) historian and author
Gilda O'Neill was born in Bethnal Green in 1951, the granddaughter of a Thames tug skipper and a pie-and-mash shop owner. Her parents, Dolly and Tom Griffiths, originally from Bow, eventually joined the postwar slum clearance diaspora in Dagenham, Essex. Leaving school at 15, she took a succession of office and bar jobs in the City. In 1971 she began a whirlwind romance with John O'Neill and married him a week after their first meeting. After their son and daughter were born, O’Neill went back to education and began writing after studying at the Open University and the Polytechnic of East London.
In 1989, O’Neill first book was commissioned, the oral history Pull No More Bines – Hop Picking: Memories of a Vanished Way of Life (1990) for the Women's Press (it was reissued as Lost Voices in 2006). She had been fascinated by her mother's accounts of hop-picking in Kent as a girl, and indeed had accompanied her there as a small child. Her first novel, The Cockney Girl (1992), drew on her family experience, but combined it with careful research, also a feature of the crime novels she wrote in later years, of which The Sins of Their Fathers(2003) was the first in a trilogy. O’Neill was prolific. Over 20 years, she published 15 novels and five social histories.
She participated regularly in workshops, and co-founded the writers' network Material Girls. In 2008, she joined the National Reading Campaign and contributed not only her book East End Tales (2008), a collection of easy-to-read childhood memories, to the campaign but also lent real fire to what might otherwise have been earnest events. O’Neill died from side-effects triggered by medication prescribed for a minor injury in 2010.
O’Neill’s publications include: My East End: Memories of Life in Cockney London (1999), Our Street: East End Life in the Second World War (2003),The Good Old Days: Crime, Murder and Mayhem in Victorian London (2006). Her novels, include family sagas such as The Bells of Bow (1994) and Just Around the Corner (1995).
Scope and content
Papers of Gilda O'Neill (1951-2010), including: drafts of published and unpublished works; research notes; press cuttings collected for research and regarding campaigns; notebooks; correspondence with contributors and readers; audio tapes; reviews (1865-2010)