A Few Pints With John Claridge
THE DRINK, E14 1964
Photographer John Claridge claims he is not a drinker, but I was not entirely convinced once I saw this magnificent set of beer-soaked pictures that he lined up on the bar, exploring aspects of the culture of drinking and pubs in the East End – pictures published here for the first time. “I used to go along with my mum and dad, and sit outside with a cream soda and an arrowroot biscuit,” John assured me, recalling his first childhood trips to the pub,“…but they might let you have a drop of brown ale.”
Within living memory, the East End was filled with breweries and there were pubs on almost every corner. These beloved palaces of intoxication were vibrant centres for community life, tiled on the outside and panelled on the inside, and offering plentiful opportunities for refreshment and socialising. Consequently, the brewing industry thrived here for centuries, inspiring extremes of joy and grief among its customers. While Thomas Buxton of Truman, Hanbury & Buxton in Spitalfields used the proceeds of brewing to become a prime mover in the abolition of slavery, conversely William Booth was motivated by the evils of alcohol to form the Salvation Army in Whitechapel to further the cause of temperance.
“When I was fifteen, we’d go around the back and the largest one in the group would go up to the bar and get the beers,” John remembered fondly, “We used to go out every weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’d all have our suits on and go down to the Puddings or the Beggars, the Deuragon, the Punchbowl, the Aberdeen, the Iron Bridge Tavern or the Bridge House.” Looking at these pictures makes me wish I had been there too.
Yet the culture of drinking thrives in the East End today, with hordes of young people coming every weekend from far and wide to pack the bars of Brick Lane and Shoreditch, in one non-stop extended party that lasts from Friday evening until Sunday night, and stretches from the former Truman Brewery up as far as Dalston.
Thanks to John’s sobriety, we can enjoy a photographic pub crawl through the alcoholic haze of the East End in the last century – when the entertainment was homegrown, the customers were local, smoking and dogs were permitted, and all ages mixed together for a night out. Cheers, everybody!
A SMOKE, E1 1982. - “There was a relaxed atmosphere where you could walk in and talk to anybody.”
THE CONVERSATION, E1 1982. - “Who is he speaking to?”
DARTBOARD, E17 1982. -”I used to be a darts player, just average not particularly good.”
SINGING, E1 1962. -”She’d just come out of the pub…”
THE MEETING, E14, 1982. -”You don’t know what’s going on. There’s a big flash car parked there. Are they doing a piece of business?”
SLEEP, E1 1976. - “They used to club together and get a bottle of VP wine from the off-licence, and mix it with methylated spirits.”
BEERS, E1 1964. - “This is Dickensian. You wonder who’s going to step from that door. Is it the beginning of a story?”
ROUND THE BACK, E3 1963.
DOG, E1 1963. -”Just sitting there while his master went to get another pint of beer.”
EX-ALCHOHOLIC, E1 1982. - “He lived in Booth House and seemed very content that he had pulled himself out of it.”
LIVE MUSIC, E16 1982. -”It was a cold winter’s day and raining, but I had to get this picture. Live music and dancing in a vast expanse of nothing?”
THE BEEHIVE, E14 1964. - “She never stopped giggling and laughing.”
THE SMILE, E2 1962. -”He said, ‘Would you like me to smile?’ He was probably not long for this world, but he was very happy.”
IN THE BAR, E14 1964. -”I’d just got engaged to my first wife and she was one of my ex-mother-in-law’s friends. Full of life!”
THROUGH THE GLASS, E1 1982. -”I think the guy was standing at the cigarette machine.”
THE CALL, E16 1982. -”Terry Lawless’ boxing gym was above this pub. It looks as if everything is collapsing and cracking, and the shadows look like blood pouring from above.”
WHITE SWAN, E14 1982
LIGHT ALE, 1976 -”Four cans of light ale and he was completely out of it.”
CLOSED DOWN, Brick Lane 1982.
Photographs copyright © John Claridge
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