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Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts of 1988

May 17, 2012
by the gentle author

First published by Spitalfields Life two years ago, Alan Dein’s photographs are now the subject of an exhibition at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives in Mile End, giving history and context to these shopfronts. I am republishing the pictures today to celebrate this show which opens tonight and runs until 12th July.

P.Lipman, Kosher Poultry Dealers, Hessel St

“In my twenties, I’d been doing a number of oral history recordings, working for the Museum of the Jewish East End which was very active recording stories of the life of Jewish people who had settled here.” explained Alan Dein, broadcaster and oral historian, outlining the background to his unique collection of more than a hundred photographs of East End shopfronts.

“My photographs of the derelict shopfronts record the last moments of the Jewish community in the area. The bustling world of the inter-war years had been moved into the suburbs, and the community that stayed behind was less identifiable. In the nineteen eighties they were just hanging on, some premises had been empty for more than five years. They were like a mouthful of broken teeth, a boxer’s mouth that had been thumped, with holes where teeth once were.”

Feeding his twin passions for photography and collecting, Alan took these pictures in 1988 while walking around the streets of the East End at a time when dereliction prevailed. Although his family came from the Jewish East End and his Uncle Lou was a waiter at Blooms, Alan was born elsewhere and first came to study . “As a student at the City of London Polytechnic in Old Castle St, I spent a lot of time hanging out here – though the heart of the area for me at that time was the student common room and bar.” he told me.

“Afterwards, in 1988, I moved back to live in a co-operative housing scheme in Whitehorse Rd in Stepney and then I had more time to walk around in this landscape that evoked the fragmentary tales I knew of my grandparents’ lives in the East End. The story I heard from their generation of the ‘monkey parade’, when once people walked up and down the Mile End Road to admire the gleaming shopfronts and goods on display. My family thought I was mad to move back because when they left the East End they put it behind them, and it didn’t reflect their aspirations for me.

The eighties were a terrible time for removing everything, comparable to what the Victorians had done a century earlier. But I have always loved peeling paint, paint that has been weathered and worn seafront textures, and this was just at the last moment before these buildings were going to be redeveloped, so I photographed the shopfronts because this landscape was not going to last.”

In many of these pictures, there is an uneasy contradiction between the proud facades and the tale of disappointment which time and humanity has written upon them. This is the source of the emotionalism in these photographs, seeing faded optimism still manifest in the confident choice of colours and the sprightly signwriting, becoming a palimpsest overwritten by the elements, human neglect and graffiti. In spite of the flatness of these impermeable surfaces, in each case we know a story has been enclosed that is now shut off from us for ever. Beyond their obvious importance as an architectural and a social record, Alan’s library of shopfronts are also a map of his exploration of his own cultural history – their cumulative heartbreak exposing an unlocated grief that is easily overlooked in the wider social narrative of the movement of people from the East End to better housing in the suburbs.

Yet Alan sees hope in these tantalising pictures too, in particular the photo at the top, of Lipman’s Kosher Poultry Dealers, in which the unknown painter ran out of paint while erasing the name of the business, leaving the word “Lip” visible. “A little bit of lip!” as Alan Dein terms it brightly, emblematic of an undying resilience in the face of turbulent social change.

Goulston St

In Whitechapel

Commercial Rd

Redchurch St

Stepney Green

Cheshire St

Alie St

Hessel St

Hackney Rd

Quaker St

Mile End Rd

Toynbee St

Alie St

In E2

Brick Lane

Great Eastern St

Commercial St

Hessel St

Mile End Rd

Relocated to Edgeware

Bow Common Lane

Brick Lane

Ben Jonson Rd

Wilkes St

Bow Rd

Ridley Rd

New Goulston St.

Whitechapel High St

Alderney Rd, Stepney

Photographs copyright © Alan Dein

After You’ve Gone: East End Shopfronts 1988 by Alan Dein runs from Thursday 17th May until Thursday 12th July at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 277 Bancroft Road, E1. You must email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk if you want to attend tonight’s launch. Opening times for the exhibition are here. Alan Dein will give a talk on Saturday 9th June at 2.00pm.

21 Responses leave one →
  1. sprite permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Vivid pictures… of our bygone time.

  2. Melvyn H. Brooks, Karkur, Israel permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Gelkoff’s used to be on the left hand side of Blooms as you went in. The family lived near Coronation Avenue, Stoke Newington High Street. The younger son, Leon, attended Hackney Downs (Grocers’) School 1957-64. He has lived in Israel for many years. His elder brother (? Ian) lives in Edinburgh.
    The photographs deserve to be produced in book form, with a commentary.
    Thanks a lot Alan and once again to Spitalfields Life.

  3. Mel permalink
    May 17, 2012

    For more information about the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives our webpage is also on the ideastore website here: http://www.ideastore.co.uk/en/articles/local_history

  4. joan permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Oh Gelkoff’s! Those were the days when you didn’t see Lindt and Suchard chocolate in supermarkets and so going to Gelkoff’s and getting your hands on continental chocolate was a very special thing indeed. I associate going there with ‘doing the rounds’ with my dad when he was the burglar alarm mechanic for many businesses in Whitechapel such as Spiegelhalters and other jewellers.

    I feel the stash of Lindt in my kitchen cupboard calling to me. Surely the only appropriate tribute.

    Joan

  5. Eileen permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Re. Suskin at 45 Wilkes St. I remember that shop as a Grocery shop in the 1940s and possibly into the 50s under the name of Shapiro. Am I the only person who remembers this?

  6. Isis permalink
    May 17, 2012

    It is lovely that other Suskin’s signs are still on Wilkes Street, one hanging at street level and another posted higher across the front of the building. I haven’t checked recently, though…

  7. May 17, 2012

    Great collection. Thanks!

  8. Paula PM permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Thanks for another lovely post, Gentle Author.Beautiful and poignant.

    Is the book available in the US, and if so, where?

  9. John Campbell permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Steptowe & Son – Fantastic!

  10. John Campbell permalink
    May 17, 2012

    The P. Lipman shop in Hessel Street is featured in a wonderful painting by Dan Jones
    http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/09/14/dan-jones-paintings/
    Enjoy x

  11. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Great series!

  12. Shirley Pilch nee gilbert permalink
    May 18, 2012

    thank you alan dein for the lovely memories of hessel street, I lived opposite lipmans in the buildings. great pics

  13. Grant permalink
    May 18, 2012

    I still have an Alfred Myers suit. Passed on from my Dad who had it made to measure at some point in the ’60s!

  14. ian silverton permalink
    May 19, 2012

    Great pictures,we know most of the shops,that are in the collection,and the taylors,Alfred Myers,went to school at Sir John Cass. Thanks.

  15. pat permalink
    May 23, 2012

    Fantastic post thank you………….

  16. Al Pilch permalink
    May 25, 2012

    Great pictures, brings back fond memories of Brick Lane, and the East End in the good old days.

  17. Sambalsotong permalink
    May 27, 2012

    Great – love the way they capture a moment in time.

  18. July 16, 2012

    These are amazing…and make me remember why I moved to the East End, in the first place. Fantastic work.

  19. Wais permalink
    January 4, 2013

    Great pix, time-captivating and nostalgic!

  20. April Clark permalink
    January 26, 2013

    What a different world compared to where I live in the South of England. So depressing.

    How the owners of those shut-down shops must have laboured to keep open and provide themselves with a living is unimaginable. Oil fires in the back of the shop to keep the shop warm in the bitter cold, sweltering in the heat. But each day without fail, the shops opened on time and welcomed their customers

    I found the pictures so interesting as each one tells it’s own story. Can you imagine today’s supermarkets which are so bland having such an interesting history as these shops. Those were the days when customers were treated well, their groceries and goods packet for them into their baskets or wrapped up. A seat to sit on if you were elderly, conversations, gossip and concerns for each other. Those were the days of our parents, grandparents who lived in the London area’s..

    Thank you Alan Dein for the collections. Absolutely wonderful.

  21. Miriam Delorie permalink
    September 1, 2013

    really fascinating….pse can you let me know if any of these pics are near Artillery Rd? tks Miriam

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