A Nation Of Shopkeepers by John Claridge
Ross Bakeries, Quaker St, 1966
I am grateful to John Claridge for his prescience in taking these photographs, published here for the first time, because if I could travel back to the East End of half a century ago this is exactly what I should like to see – the local shops and the faces of the shopkeepers.
“I used to go to the shops with my mum every Saturday morning, and she’d meet people she knew and they’d be chatting for maybe an hour, so I’d go off and meet other kids and we’d be playing on a bombsite – it was a strange education!” John told me, neatly illustrating how these small shops were integral to the fabric of society in his childhood.“People had a pride in what they were selling or what they were doing” he recalled,“You’d go into these places and they’d all smell different. They all had their distinct character, it was wonderful.”
Although generations of the family were dockers, John’s father warned him that the London Docks were in terminal decline and he sought a career elsewhere. Consequently, even as a youth, John realised that a whole way of life was going to be swept away in the changes which were coming to the East End. And this foresight inspired John to photograph the familiar culture of small shops and shopkeepers that he held in such affection. “Even then I had the feeling that things were going to be overrun, without regard to what those in that society wanted.” he confirmed to me with regret.
As the remaining small shopkeepers now join together to form the East End Trades Guild to fight for their survival, in the face of escalating rents and the incursion of chain stores, John Claridge’s poignant images are a salient reminder of the venerable tradition of local shops here that we cannot afford to lose.
Shop in Spitalfields, 1964.
C & K Grocers, Spitalfields, 1982 - “From the floor to the roof, the shop was stocked full of everything you could imagine.”
Cobbler, Spitalfields, 1969.
Flo’s Stores, Spitalfields, 1962 - “All the shops were individual then. Somebody painted the typography themselves here and it’s brilliant.”
Fruit & Veg, Bethnal Green 1961 - “I’d been to a party and it was five o’clock in the morning, but she was open.”
W.Wernick, Spitalfields, 1962.
Fishmonger, Spitalfields, 1965.
Corner Shop, Spitalfields, 1961 - “The kid’s just got his stuff for his mum and he’s walking back.”
At W.Wernick Poulterers, Spitalfields, 1962 - “She’s got her hat, her cup of tea and her flask. There was no refrigeration but it was chilly.”
Fiorella Shoes, E2, 1966 - “There’s only four pairs of shoes in the window. How could they measure shoes to fit, when they couldn’t even fit the words in the window? The man next door said to me, ‘Would you like me to step back out of the picture?’ I said, ‘No, I’d really like you to be in the picture.”
Bertha, Spitalfields, 1982 - “Everything is closing down but you can still have a wedding! She’s been jilted at the altar and she’s just waiting now.”
Bakers, Spitalfields, 1959 - “There’s only three buns and a cake in the window.”
Jacques Wolff, E13 1960 – “His name was probably Jack Fox and he changed it to Jacques Wolff.”
Waltons, E13 1960 - “They just sold cheap shoes, but you could get a nice Italian pair knocked off from the docks at a good price.”
Churchman’s, Spitalfields, 1968 - “Anything you wanted from cigarettes to headache pills.”
White, Spitalfields 1967 - “I saw these three kids and photographed them, it was only afterwards I saw the name White.”
The Door, E2 1960.
The Window, E16 1982 - “Just a little dress shop, selling bits and pieces. The clothes could have been from almost any era.”
Victor, E14 1968 - “There’s no cars on the road, the place was empty, but there was a flower shop on the corner and it was always full of flowers.”
Photographs copyright © John Claridge
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