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Steve Lewis’ East End

July 9, 2011
by the gentle author

Leslie Lucking combined the roles of Lollipop lady and mother to her daughter Tracey.

This is just one of hundreds of pictures Steve Lewis took of the East End in the nineteen sixties, when he was starting out as a young photographer at the age of seventeen. In 1972, Steve joined The Sun as a staff photographer and worked until 2006 covering a wide range of assignments for the paper, from celebrity to fashion. “It wasn’t until thirty-five years later, when I retired, that I found this box of negatives,” he revealed to me, uplifted by the rediscovery of his early work, “and I started going through them – it took the next two years to sort them all out and clean them up.”

There is a clarity of vision in these pictures, enlivened by Steve’s exploration of his new medium yet also informed by an understanding of the people, the places and the society he was depicting, because this was the world he grew up into and the world as he first knew it.

“I knew what I wanted to do at a very young age.” Steve confided, looking back to these forgotten photographs, “One day, I was at my school prize giving in Ilford Town Hall and the buildings opposite caught fire and the fire brigade came, and we all went out to watch the fire as the buildings burnt down. There was quite a crowd, and I saw all the photographers and I thought, ‘What a brilliant job!’

I was still very young and I went to the Ilford Recorder office and said, ‘I want to be a photographer’ and could I start as an apprentice when I left school. And they said, ‘After you have finished all your exams, you can come in as a darkroom assistant.’

They set me up with a camera to learn – an NPP plate camera and fourteen plates, and they sent me out to cover seven stories and said, ‘You can take two plates for each one.’  It was very difficult, especially if you were covering a large event, like a football match – but, looking back, it was a good way to learn.”

From there, Steve graduated to the Newham Recorder where editor Tom Duncan was keen to tackle social issues and the reality of working class people’s lives in the East End, that were barely touched by the “Swinging Sixties” phenomenon.  It was this rolling commission that led Steve to take all of these photographs.“He was very go-ahead and he asked me to take a picture every week as a way to record what was going on and he called it ‘Lewis’ View’” recalled Steve, “I was not really aware what I was doing at the time, fitting in these pictures whilst I was putting together other stories for the paper.”

Yet today these photographs have brought Steve back to looking at the East End. And, collecting them into London’s East End, a 1960s album – a popular success with three reprints in the first year – and staging an accompanying exhibition, has delivered an unexpected result for Steve. “A lot of  these people are still living in the East End!” he told me in astonishment,“One woman looked at my book and said,’It’s like having my own personal album.’” The outcome is that Steve is now photographing the East End again – for a second book in colour – returning to the same locations and even some of the same people, to reach across and span the divide of nearly half a century.

In a halfway home in Newham.

Alfred Davies had been delivering milk from this handcart to homes in Forest Gate for over thirty years.

Sisters Rose Walsham & Susan Lawrence, lifelong customers at the Duke of Fife.

Street trader selling vegetables in Barking.

In Whitechapel, a group of National Front supporters came by night to nail their message of racial hatred to the door and fire bomb this family.

This urban beachcomber was a familiar sight upon the streets of Whitechapel and Stepney.

John Loftus of the Manby Arms in Stratford adopted “Bass” a retired donkey.

David Bailey and his American girlfriend Penelope Tree visit his mother in East Ham.

Mrs Mary Riley, caravan dweller, peeling potatoes in Barking.

A Gipsy family on Beckton Marshes.

A street trader from the 1960s who – from his appearance – could equally belong to the 1860s.

In the “Swinging Sixties.”

Homeless children in a halfway home.

An ambitious rag and bone man advertises “COMPLETE Homes Purchased.”

Photographs copyright © Steve Lewis

London’s East End, a 1960s album by Steve Lewis is available from all good bookshops, www.amazon.co.uk or www.thehistorypress.co.uk or from 01235 465577 at Marston Book Services. All photographs can be purchased from Redcliffe Imaging Ltd

20 Responses leave one →
  1. JanieB permalink
    July 9, 2011

    How fab to see these pics again!

    I first saw some of them at an exhibition a couple of years ago at The Red House museum in Christchurch (Dorset) and was taken back to those amazing days of the 1960s. I was in my teens then but looking at these photo’s reminds one of what a transitional time it was. 1961 was so different to 1969 it’s almost unbelievable! Some of these pics have feel of the 1930s or 40s.
    Thank you so much for starting each day for me in such a wonderful way!

    Another winning post!

  2. AnKa permalink
    July 9, 2011

    Thank you and Steve for this close and touching insight into people’s lives in the East End. I’ve been living in Newham for only two months now and am grateful for images and information that brings this area’s past and present to life.

  3. Chris F permalink
    July 9, 2011

    The juxtoposition of the lollypop lady’s sign ‘STOP CHILDREN’ next to the pram is hillarious. Another great posting.

  4. jo watts permalink
    July 9, 2011

    superb pictures, would love to see more :)

  5. jeannette permalink
    July 9, 2011

    the raccoon tails on penelope tree. the brilliant shine on the ancient ladies’ shoes.
    thank you.

  6. Joan permalink
    July 10, 2011

    If Steve returns to the Manby Arms (whose beer garden I can see from my upstair’s window) he will find the sound of karaoke rather than that of a braying donkey!

    Best wishes,

    Joan

  7. Anne Forster permalink
    July 10, 2011

    ‘ The past is a foreign country’ is an apt description for these wonderful photos. Thanks.

  8. Jill the lollipop lady permalink
    July 10, 2011

    Modern lollipop uniforms just aren’t glamourous enough…

  9. Cherub permalink
    July 11, 2011

    Black and white photos truly show the soul. I am left wondering what happened to the homeless children, they look so sad and bewildered. Hope they were able to make their way in adult life.

  10. March 20, 2012

    “A street trader from the 1960s” – This is in fact a rare photo of the old Queens Road market in Green Street, Newham before that ugly purpose built market building that St Modwen wanted to knock down a couple of years ago was built in 1979.

    I believe the market migrated from Queens Road into the square in 1969 and then had a roof put on it in 1979.

  11. Peter Chilvers permalink
    July 20, 2012

    “A street trader from the 1960s” The mans name is Billy Williams

  12. liz permalink
    April 7, 2013

    Yes – he’s my great uncle Bill. There’s also a photo of him with his horse and cart.

  13. Diane permalink
    June 10, 2013

    Lovely photos of so many memories of the East End in the 60s

  14. November 19, 2013

    I am the Lollipop lady in Woodgrange Road Forest Gate. I love that little job. So glad it came my way, I could not do it with todays traffic though. Great photos I have the first book.

  15. November 19, 2013

    Great photo of myself and my daughter Tracey. Hard job being lollipop lady, glad it was then and not having todays traffic.

  16. Jeff permalink
    November 23, 2016

    Street trader in barking is Alf Giles who was a friend of my dad’s.

  17. Jeff permalink
    November 23, 2016

    Street trader that could have come from 1860s was Billie Williams who delivered fruit and veg in plaistow e13, my nan was one of his customers

  18. K peters permalink
    January 24, 2017

    Billy Williams didn’t sell fruit only ve

  19. debra williams permalink
    January 28, 2017

    Billy williams was my grandad he did sell veg but was licenced to sell fruit and flowers so at times he did

  20. January 29, 2017

    I work with Billy Williams and jock and your dad in1954 and he didn’t sell fruit then or flowers in the old market where his stall was next to the China shop I left the new market in 1968

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