Passion for pashas leads to James’ first book on Elizabethan trade

James Mather’s travels abroad during his university ‘gap’ year has led him to publish his first book this week about a little-known English community he discovered which lived in the old Turkish Empire for nearly three centuries.

He was passing through Syria when he heard talk of English traders—a chance encounter which inspired him to uncover the story of the pashas.

Now, 11 years on, the 31-year-old qualified barrister from Bow has completed his ‘labour of love’ about the Brits who settled in Aleppo from the 16th to early 19th centuries.

The traders formed the Levant Company with a royal charter from Elizabeth I to import spices and silk from Turkey.

“I came across buildings in Aleppo still surviving where they lived for hundreds of years, but knew nothing about them,” James explains.


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“I got curious and back in London looked up old manuscripts and documents in the Public Records Office. I spent the next few years delving into old archives.”

The pashas, as the traders were known in the Turkish Empire, are now largely forgotten because they didn’t aim to conquer Muslim lands, James argues. They lived among the people, unlike the rival East India Company which set out to rule India.

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But his passion for English history was put ‘on hold’ while completing his studies at Cambridge, where he met his future wife Helen McCarthy—another history buff—who now lectures at London University’s Queen Mary College campus in Mile End.

Helen, not to be outdone, has her own book about the early 20th century coming out later this year. The couple live off Coburn Road in Bow with their 14-month-old toddler, Florence.

The Pashas, by James Mather, is published by Yale at �12.99.

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