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Tony Hall, Photographer

December 16, 2012
by the gentle author

Bonner St, Bethnal Green

Tony Hall (1936-2008) would not have described himself as a photographer – his life’s work was that of a graphic designer, political cartoonist and illustrator. Yet on the basis of the legacy of around a thousand photographs that he took – of which I publish a first selection of East End images today – he was unquestionably a photographer, blessed with a natural empathy for his subjects and possessing a bold aesthetic sensibility too.

Recently Tony’s wife Libby Hall, known as a collector of dog photography, has revisited her husband’s photographs before giving them to the Bishopsgate Institute where they will be held in the archive permanently. “It was an extraordinary experience because there were many that I had never seen before and I wanted to ask him about them.” Libby confessed to me, “I noticed Tony reflected in the glass of J.Barker, the butcher’s shop, and then to my surprise I saw myself standing next to him.”

“I was often with him but, from the mid-sixties to the early seventies, he worked shifts and wandered around taking photographs on weekday afternoons.” she reflected, “He loved roaming in the East End and photographing it.”

Born in Ealing, Tony Hall studied painting at the Royal College of Art under Ruskin Spear. But although he quickly acquired a reputation as a talented portrait painter, he chose to reject the medium, deciding that he did not want to create pictures which could only be afforded by the wealthy, turning his abilities instead towards graphic works that could be mass-produced for a wider audience.

Originally from New York, Libby met Tony when she went to work at a printers in Cowcross St, Clerkenwell, where he was employed as a graphic artist. “The boss was member of the Communist Party yet he resented it when we tried to start a union and he was always running out of money to pay our wages, giving us ‘subs’ bit by bit.” she recalled with fond indignation, “I was supposed to manage the office and type things, but the place was such a mess that the typewriter was on top of a filing cabinet and they expected me to type standing up. There were twelve of us working there and we did mail order catalogues. Tony and the others used to compete to see who could get the most appalling designs into the catalogues.”

“Then Tony went to work for the Evening News as a newspaper artist on Fleet St and I joined the Morning Star as a press photographer.” Libby continued,” I remember he refused to draw a graphic of a black man as a mugger and, when the High Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan came to London, Tony draw a little ice cream badge onto his uniform on the photograph and it was published!” After the Evening News, Tony worked at The Sun until the move to Wapping, using this opportunity of short shifts to develop his career as a graphic artist by drawing weekly cartoons for the Labour Herald.

This was the moment when Tony also had the time to pursue his photography, recording an affectionate chronicle of the daily life of the East End where he lived from 1960 until the end of his life – first in Barbauld Rd, Stoke Newington, then in Nevill Rd above a butchers shop, before making a home with Libby in 1967 at Ickburgh Rd, Clapton. “It is the England I first loved …” Libby confided, surveying Tony’s pictures that record his tender personal vision for perpetuity,“… the smell of tobacco, wet tweed and coal fires.”

“He’d say to me sometimes, ‘I must do something with those photographs,’” Libby told me, which makes it a special delight to publish Tony Hall’s pictures today for the first time.

Click this picture to enlarge and see the reflection of Tony & Libby Hall in the window of J. Barker.

Children with their bonfire for Guy Fawkes

In the Hackney Rd

“I love the way these women are looking at Tony in this picture, they’re looking at him with such trust – it’s the way he’s made them feel. He would have been in his early thirties then.”

On the Regent’s Canal near Grove Rd

On Globe Rd

In Old Montague St

In Old Montague St

In Club Row Market

On the Roman Rd

In Ridley Rd Market

In Ridley Rd Market

In Artillery Lane, Spitalfields

Tony & Libby Hall in Cheshire St

Photographs copyright © Libby Hall

Images Courtesy of the Tony Hall Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute

Libby Hall & I would be delighted if any readers can assist in identifying the locations and subjects of Tony Hall’s photographs.

You may also like to read

Libby Hall, Collector of Dog Photography

The Dogs of Old London

20 Responses leave one →
  1. Gary permalink
    December 16, 2012

    The branch library in Roman Road after standing empty for years was demolished this year and and new shops with flats above have just been completed on the site. The square chimney behind the pile of logs looks like the one that is now incorporated in the Bow Wharf development by the canal where Ducket’s Cut joins the Regent Canal in Grove Road.
    Gary

  2. December 16, 2012

    Beautiful pictures Libby. John.

  3. December 16, 2012

    Both of the babies here have wise but weary looks on their faces. It would be good to know how they turned out. Lovely pics, thank you.

  4. Terry Basson permalink
    December 16, 2012

    Do you not think some pictures indicate what a depressive time the black and white days really were?

    Club Row was were dad took my brother Arthur and I every Sunday morning when we were kids. To see the squaller in these streets again reminds me of how hard these times really were. Cold homes without central heating or hot water. Bathing was at the council baths – which we at times went for a hot bath. You paid you’re shilling and were shown into a bath cubical. The attendant using a giant key like a car starting handle — tuned the water on. If you needed more water you had to shout “More hot water in Number 9″. How privileged are we now!

  5. December 16, 2012

    The babies look old and wise as their mothers smile with childish glee – all those books on the ground – and the old ladies! Those kids wouldn’t be allowed to have a bonfire like that now. What a marvelous collection of photographs, each one a gem. What an eye!

  6. Chris Dixon permalink
    December 16, 2012

    So many familiar sights here – a real nostalgia trip!

    A few comments -

    The first photo is of Bonner Street, Bethnal Green, taken at the junction with Cyprus Street. The Bishop Bonner pub (at the junction with Royston Street) can be seen about halfway along with the Twig Folly Mission (also known as the ‘Happy Welcome’) and Bonner School in the distance. The Cranbrook Estate is on the left.

    Globe Road – I expect some people are wondering why it was necessary to have two ‘Globe Road’ signs immediately alongside each other. As it happens, the boundary between Bethnal Green and Stepney lies between the two signs, and so one reads ‘Globe Road E2′ while the other reads ‘Globe Road E1′.

    Nice to see the old Roman Road library – I worked there a few times in the early 70s when I had a part-time job with the library service.

    I was so pleased to see the photo of Samuels Store in Artillery Lane. I worked just off Bishopsgate in the mid -70s and discovered this shop one lunchtime when I was wandering around. Stepping inside was like stepping back 100 years or more; the elderly couple who worked in there (Mr & Mrs Samuels? Or were they long gone even then?) were like something out of a Dickens novel. The place gripped my imagination and I returned every lunchtime to buy something trivial (usually a Mars Bar!) just to have an excuse to go into the shop. It was like my own personal time machine. By coincidence, I walked past there just a couple of weeks ago just to have a look at the old place – it’s now an estate agent’s office. There’s an interesting report about the redevelopment of Samuels Store here – http://planreg.towerhamlets.gov.uk/WAM/doc/Design%20&%20Access%20Statement-669766.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=669766&appid=&location=VOLUME5&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1

    I’ve really enjoyed looking at this wonderful set of photos, and it’s great to know that they’ll be preserved in the Bishopsgate Institute.

  7. December 16, 2012

    reminds me how precious and unique our markets are.

  8. Juliet permalink
    December 16, 2012

    Great photos.

    The first picture at the top of the page is of Bonner Street E2, looking South from the junction with Old Ford Road, with the turning into Cyprus Street in the foreground on the right, and the Bishop Bonner pub in the mid distance. See the existing view below:

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF8&rlz=1T4SVEA_enGB388GB388&q=bonner+street

    I would love to look at the archive of these photos, in the hope of finding a photo of our house on Old Ford Road, when it was still in use as a shop! (The location is about 150yds from the junction pictured above.)

  9. Peter Holford permalink
    December 16, 2012

    The first picture shows the Bishop Bonner pub. My grandad (Ernest Holford) was the tenant in the mid 1920s. My dad was about 12 years old when he lived there. He said that next door was an old music hall. There were 2 pigeons in it (the music hall) when he and his dad moved in, over 50 when they moved out 18 months later.

    As always there are some great photos which I find myself studying for ages (that’s how I noticed the pub!)

  10. Ros permalink
    December 16, 2012

    I think these are wonderful photos in the way they evoke the past, the tremendous trust the subjects clearly had in the photographer, and the superb visual eye he had. I’m also reading all the comments with great pleasure. Does anyone know where the two tenement buildings were, one with a woman leaning on wall at one of the entrances to the stairwells and one with the young mother with her big and soulful baby? They look like Spitalfields but could be anywhere in east or northeast London. How things have changed indeed – these were taken before going into a shop, pub, or restaurant was a ‘lifestyle choice’, though it gave warmth and company to many a life for sure. How the hardness of life in those days comes through, as has been eloquently said. The two affectionate women smiling broadly despite their swollen legs makes a tender and beautiful picture.

  11. Tom James permalink
    December 17, 2012

    I think the Globe Road bridge is here.

    https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=globe+road+london&hl=en&ll=51.525478,-0.049335&spn=0.000413,0.000689&sll=53.792352,-1.555499&sspn=0.012447,0.022058&t=h&hnear=Globe+Rd,+London,+United+Kingdom&z=20&layer=c&cbll=51.525478,-0.04959&panoid=pBT2YuOwn2AFKhzIPNqBcA&cbp=12,232.73,,0,-6.42

    The building on the left looks right (look at the lip above the shop front) and the two brick columns on the side of the bridge are right. Spent much too much time traipsing along that road between friends’ houses, thought it looked familiar.

  12. andrew linwood permalink
    December 17, 2012

    Beautiful pictures. It’s a record of a time and a place that remains familiar to me. A pleasure to see!
    Andrew

  13. December 17, 2012

    beautiful images. i too like them all. the kids and the two women smiling so broad, and the women with the pint. and you next to Tony.

  14. December 18, 2012

    I didn’t grow up in the East End (though my grandparents did) so it’s not the specific terrain so much as the period that’s so weirdly and immediately familiar. I was a child somewhere in all that and so many things in the photos knock me back to then. It’s the headscarves and caps, the way cardigans were buttoned. It’s the ladies’ slippers, and the shapes of the cars and the children’s clothes. It’s the lettering above the shops, the general lack of plastic. Even the facial expressions seem to belong to certain time – one we once lived through, which colour and texture our memories with things we didn’t know we knew until we look back at them across a void and see how they have changed.
    PP

  15. Vivian Betts permalink
    December 20, 2012

    The photo of the young mum and her baby is in Flower and Dean street. The shop opposite is where I would go with my school friends from Cannon Barnet primary school and get shopping for thier parents. The studio on the corner was run by some Indian’s who when I was about twelve took some photo’s of me and my friends. I used to play and stay in the buildings in Flower and Dean street and Thrawl street because this was were all my friends lived and we used to go to Toynbee youth club as well. The buildings were shabby and poor but I had some found memories of growing up around those streets.

  16. Lisa Chaney permalink
    December 30, 2012

    Hi, i am commenting on the above picture of the railwaymans house in Globe Rd, this was my nan and grandads house when my mum was a child, her and her brothers and sisters grew up in that house and it bought back so many memories for my mum. I was wondering if you could any information about the photo such as date, time why the photo was taken etc. My mum and all the family would be ever so gratefull. Thank you xxx

  17. Jonathan Christian permalink
    July 14, 2013

    Tony took a photo of me as I was getting arrested by Hackney town hall at the Poll Tax demonstration on the early 90′s. He then became a witness for my defence in my subsequent trial at which I was acquitted. Ive since lost the copy of yhe photo he gave me of my arrest. It would be awsome to get a copy of it again.

  18. November 7, 2013

    Vintage old pictures.

  19. sharon jenkins permalink
    February 5, 2014

    the shop in flower & dean street was called harry greens ,I lived in the street till 1969,i also went to canon barnett..fond memories of my friends who lived there .1 bedroom ,living room and scullery ..and no bath ..times were hard but people helped each other .

  20. February 8, 2014

    Wonderful Photographs.

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