Steve Lewis’ East End
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