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John Claridge’s Cafe Society

September 10, 2012
by the gentle author

Commercial Cafe, Commercial Rd  1965

“This was one of those places you could just pop in from the cold and warm up,” photographer John Claridge recalled affectionately while contemplating this beloved cafe of yesteryear, “I love the front of it – it was just beautiful, especially the typography. The window above the curtain used to get all steamed up. It was very welcoming, you know, and it was was gorgeous to come in and have a nice cup of tea.”

In this set of photographs, published here for the first time, John shows us his collection of cherished East End cafes, accompanied by some random portraits of people that you might expect to meet in them. “Everywhere you went, you would find a cafe where you could go in and get a bacon sarnie and a cup of tea,” he told me ,“they were not fancy restaurants but you could always rely on getting a cuppa and a sandwich.” In John’s youth, the East End was full of independently-run cafes where everyone could afford to eat, and his pictures celebrate these egalitarian and homely places that were once centres for the life of the community.

“You don’t have to build things up, you just show people the beauty of what is.” John assured me, neatly encapsulating his modest aesthetic which suits these subjects so well.

Pepsi, Narrow St 1963 - “I just love these graphics, and when you see it you hope it’s not going to go.”

Boxing managers at Terry Lawless’ Gym, E16 1969.

Windsor Cafe, 1982.

Windsor Cafe, 1982 - “As I walked past the Windsor Cafe, I looked back and saw ‘Snack Bar or Cafe.’ Genius!”

The Wall, 1961 - “We were all seventeen. At weekends we’d go down Southend. Peter on the left, his sister was going out with Georgie Fame.”

7Up, Spitalfields 1967.

Michael Ferrier, Breaker’s Yard, E16 1975 - “He looks like the artful dodger.”

Alfie Ferrier, Breaker’s Yard, E16 1975 - “Michael’s father was sitting inside the hut with his little wood-burner, where he had his cup of tea and a cigarette.”

Victory Cafe, Hackney Rd 1963 - “This was very early, they’d just delivered the sack of potatoes.”

Ted, Cheshire St 1967 - “This made me laugh, it’s his wardrobe in the background hanging there. It’s as if he’s about to burst into song or something!”

Scrap, Brick Lane 1966.

78b, Spitalfields 1967 – “You remember the lady in the kiosk? This is her with her friend.”

Spitalfields 1963 - “Just a chap standing with his eyes closed. He looked content and I didn’t want to disturb him.”

Father Bill Shergold, founder of 59 Club, at Southend - “I met him at the 59 Club to say hello. And someone wanted me to do a portrait  for a charity thing, so I said, ‘Absolutely, we’ll get him down to Southend.’”

Cafe under a railway arch, E1 1968.

Isle of Dogs, 1970s - “This couple with the four kids lived in that tiny caravan. I did this picture for a charity to make people aware of poor living conditions.”

Hot Pies, E2 1982 - “It makes you think twice whether you would eat one of their hot pies.”

Under the Light, Puma Court, Spitalfields 1970 - “Two of my ex-brother-in-laws with Santi, a Spaniard who became a squash champion – we were on the way to the pub. Keith was working at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane at the time and I had a studio in the City, so I said, ‘I’ll meet you after work for a drink.’”

Dog, Wapping - “This was taken for anti-litter campaign and the headline was ‘You foul the pavement more than he does.’”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge

This was my Landscape

John Claridge’s Spent Moments

Signs, Posters, Typography & Graphics

Working People & a Dog

Invasion of the Monoliths

Time Out with John Claridge

Views from a Dinghy by John Claridge

People on the Street & a Cat

In Another World with John Claridge

A Few Pints with John Claridge

A Nation Of Shopkeepers

Some East End Portraits by John Claridge

Sunday Morning Stroll with John Claridge

26 Responses leave one →
  1. Marina B permalink
    September 10, 2012

    What a beautiful series! I love the portrait of Michael Ferrier, and the caravan family is heart-wrenching. The cafes are spectacular! I need a bigger fund of superlatives! Thank you so much!

  2. Alice permalink
    September 10, 2012

    Before the likes of ‘Starbucks’ and ‘Pret a Manger’ arrived these cafes were a huge part of the community. People would sit and catch up over a steaming brew, now, people just grab their drink to go. So not only are these old buildings gone but so has the social side of cafes. What a shame. Yet thankfully, John has documented another part of our lost society and is kind enough to keep sharing these hidden gems.

    Can I have the dog?

  3. Lee permalink
    September 10, 2012

    ” Cafe Society ” completely captures the bleak but beautiful atmosphere of the East End all those years ago.

    The ” Artful dodger ” is a masterpiece !

    Thanks.

  4. September 10, 2012

    Another super set of Pictures. You mention Southend, my Aunt lived there for years,(married a cockney) and we used to visit. My abiding memory is of eating winkles along the prom and listening to The Animals, “House of the rising Sun” playing on the jukebox. I must have played that over and over, used up all my 2ds or whatever it was for a play. Got your wee book “Another Time Another Place” love it and a bargain…

  5. September 10, 2012

    Love the dog! We now get a look into John’s life as a young man, documenting your own life and the people around you shows that photography runs in John veins.

    What a great story, I always look forward to see John Claridge’s prints, to me he’s one of the most natural photographers around.

    Thanks John for sharing your life and experiences with us.

    Jens

  6. September 10, 2012

    A wonderful collection of cafes. It’s strange though how out of fashion such places are now. Just look at the way TV’s The Apprentice losers are sent to a seemingly grotty cafe, which is still gleaming clean and has a typeface name bought rather than hand-drawn. Still, at least they sit down and sort of talk, rather than race out of a Starbucks with coffee to go ready for a (metaphorical?) fisticuffs.
    Nicola, http://islingtonpeople.wordpress.com

  7. September 10, 2012

    This is one of my favourite sets yet.

    Love “Windsor Cafe, 1982″, or “Wind/or Cafe” as it appears. I stared at this for a while trying to work out what sort of choice that was!

    Also think that, “Under the Light, Puma Court, Spitalfields 1970″ is a lost album cover: did Bowie see this picture before designing the cover of “Ziggy Stardust”?!

    The man who looks like a man, with beard but no moustache, does look peaceful, doesn’t he?

    And who could resist that beautiful dog …

    Thanks, John.

  8. Kev O'Neill permalink
    September 10, 2012

    I think I was put on this earth to seek the perfect caff.Many have come close,but the search goes on! Beautiful images,John.Right up my street,if you know what I mean.

  9. Marien de Goffau permalink
    September 10, 2012

    It’s very, very special to visit those East End cafes in black and white. The 60′s and 70′s of John’s world at the time and John’s world still in black and white September 10, 2012.
    Now it will stay for ever, beautiful.

  10. Ros permalink
    September 10, 2012

    As ever, these are marvellous pictures of what seems a lifetime ago – and I suppose was. How wonderful to have captured them to remind us of how things were. I too miss those cafes with their bacon sandwiches (fried egg sandwiches another of my favourites) and steaming cuppas. You are right about the power of the lettering (though don’t R Whites swinging boards still look like that?) and the language of the hands in the picture of the boxing managers is marvellous too.

  11. September 10, 2012

    You got the Artful Dodger in there, Bullseye (Bill Sykes dog) and an old guy who could be Fagin. Who you fink you are? Charlie flippin’ Dickens??

  12. September 11, 2012

    Such a shame that the media’s use of the term “cafe culture” nowadays conjures up images of commercially plastic chains whilst the socially friendly independents can no longer afford to stay in business (a bit like rural post offices) . . . still, at least we have JC’s nostalgic images of yesteryear to remind us of what “cafe culture” really was like in London’s East End!

  13. September 11, 2012

    John another wonderful set of pictures.I can remember after dawn locations,going for the full breakfast and the biggest mug of tea that ever exsisted , at wonderful cafes like this – it was the best feeling ever as you thawed out waiting for the amazing plate that would be put in front of you with slices of bread that defied gravity,never worrying about calories ,just the warm glow that took over, sitting there thinking how great the world was – happy days and distant memories of the best time – thankyou once again as these pictures bring back those feelings of the times and the people who made it so special

  14. Chris F permalink
    September 11, 2012

    Mrs F & I have our secret cafe in a little market town on the way to the coast, where we go on a yearly pilgrimage to feast on double egg and chips with a dollop of the old brown. Mrs F is a vegetarian, so we never have the full english. We could of course have this at home but it wouldn’t be the same… Two slices of bread & butter and a mug of tea. There was a fantastic cafe in my home town called ‘The Viking’. That was the place for the full works. When I worked back stage at my local theatre and after the monday morning fit-up, all the crew would retire to the cafe for a slap up fry….. Smashing… The owner died a couple of years ago and it eventually reopened with new owners…. I went twice but the food and the service were appalling, so I’ve never gone back… Sad…. However, another great set of pictures.

  15. Cindy S. permalink
    September 12, 2012

    Isle of Dogs for me, although recorded as part of a commission it retains the masterful spontaneity of John’s personal work.
    The Wapping Dog……….. Genius.

    C.

  16. Santi permalink
    September 12, 2012

    Great photos John !!! is great to see myself and your ex-brother-in-laws in one of your fabulous photos

  17. mike ferrier permalink
    September 16, 2012

    good god did i really look like that ha ha

  18. Olga Secerov permalink
    September 17, 2012

    ‘Boxing Managers’ is just brilliant and I love’ Under the Light, Puma Court’. They are all so mesmerising. These cafe’s should have been listed buildings, so sad to see them go.

  19. marie james permalink
    September 19, 2012

    Like John, I grew up in the East End. Occasionally on a Saturday my dad would take me to Upton Park to see West Ham play. After the match we would go to a cafe near the Boleyn ground for a cup of tea. Often the players would come in for a cuppa as well. Oh, how times have changed! Happy memories – and these photos so expertly bring them to life.

  20. john edwards permalink
    October 10, 2012

    Stained glass, stained mugs – worn floors – all china & wood then mostly. Some Italian gaffs were
    streamline zinc and formica and we’d hunt around for The Greatest Greasy Spoon.
    One in Parkway hard by Regents Park was terrific. Italian run, clean bright and spacious.
    Amazing pork chops [ With The Kidney Oh! Yes. ] with ratatouille. Fortified we’d go forth
    to seek a questing au pair to enchant & be enchanted by by Saturday early evening til lazy Sunday afternoon and dream our dreams away.
    Then of course the drab legends out on the Watford bypass – Ace & Spiders Web all tension
    and gloom, couldn’t tell the salt from sugar pourers, pale young intense black leathered greasers
    /bikers with metal zips and zip like stitches & strange dented foreheads where the contest to order a tea get on the bike fly to the roundabout and back before tea was cold, had not gone as, planned would be superlative, so, scheduled. Hence the tension and quiet. Either screwing up the bottle to make the run, or straining to hear the throb of a returning Triumph, Matchless or AJS … or – silence – as the [ basket] case,may be…..
    Then there was Ted’s at the foot of Back Hill Clerkenwell – Stil have the snap of Alfie holding a plate
    of watery beans on toast on high like an auction clerk showing an ‘ As seen’ article while grumpy Don readies to thump the large metal tea urn on the zinc counter & mouse Mary peeking out from the kitchen. Place was streaming with condensation, roaring with ‘conversation’ blue with swearing & rollup smoke and packed with printers wearing their newspaper forage caps like pinnocchio, plus the
    likes of Jack Spot, Albert Diamond and other assorted Clerkenwell nee’r do wells. The mighty roaring was mainly about the nuances of difference between ” West F*****G HAM!!!!:” & ” F*****G ARRSE – EN – ORRRL???????” . All very good natured and a riveting workout for both body and soul.
    Brilliant stuff JC – Love the lumpy knuckles on the languid hands of the boxing managers, every one sporting a Craven A or some such. then there was Jimmy’s in the Soho basement. Still see Jim with his eyes screwed tight, an inch long ash on his cig poised over the large bowl of fruit salad … furious waiters hittnig the table with their dishloths , & ‘Yeh. Whaddya Want? Sit up STRITE!’ Aaahh.X

  21. Terry Basson permalink
    November 25, 2012

    Oh how I wish I could have added my Black and white picture of my Dad’s ‘Pop’s Cafe’ in Woodbridge Suffolk during the war I943. My dad was born in Plaistow – mum in Bow – I was born in Stratford.

    Dad was a coal Merchants Hawker in the the East End. We moved to Suffolk to escape the bombs.

  22. mike ferrier permalink
    February 9, 2013

    Boxing managers rip Davey Benmore mike

  23. March 4, 2013

    Photo of Mick Ferrier must be a rare one. Not often seen on his feet!!!

  24. john tucker permalink
    March 20, 2013

    photo of micky ferrier looks like hes up to no good, nothings changed, he still owes me 10 shillings from 1974

  25. June H permalink
    January 10, 2014

    The pictures of both Micheal Ferrier and Alfie Ferrier are brilliant. And yes my brother was like the artful dodger. Sadly Alfie Ferrier was laid to rest yesterday (9.1.2014) in true East End Style. R.I.P. Dad x

  26. Marina Ferrier permalink
    January 11, 2014

    Alfie Ferrier is my dad and Michael ferrier is my twin brother luv em both xx

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