Squatters Return To Elder St
To reflect the strange time warp in Elder St – where British Land who were prevented from demolishing Norton Folgate in 1977 have returned in 2015 to finish the job – five of those who were photographed on the steps of 7 Elder St in 1977 have gathered in the same location to restage the picture nearly forty years later for Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie.
Below, Kate & Michael Hodgkin who grew up in 19 Elder St, the house of historian Raphael Samuel, recall that memorable teenage summer of 1977 when they found their way into a newspaper photograph.
Dan Cruickshank standing with Katharine Hodgkin, Michael Hodgkin, Carla Mitchell & Colin Butler
Dan Cruickshank and friend stand in the doorway. Kate Hodgkin and Carla Mitchell sit in the doorway. Daniel Mitchell, Michael Hodgkin and Colin Butler sit on the step.
Katharine Hodgkin remembers Elder St
“When we first lived in Elder St at the beginning of the seventies, it was practically empty. As people left the last occupied houses on our side of the street, we would climb in and out of the backs of them. There were a few families still in the Peabody Buildings in Commmercial St, but when I went to the Central Foundation Girls’ School in Spital Sq none of the other girls lived nearby.
It was a strangely quiet place to live, beached by the outgoing tides of people. The local markets – Petticoat Lane and Club Row – were busy, and there were still Jewish shops run by Raphael Samuel’s relatives, and streets with new spicy smells that I did not yet identify as Bangladeshi. But the little cluster of Folgate St, Elder St, Blossom St, Fleur de Lys St, was a backwater run down into dereliction.
By the time of the photo, my brother Mick & I had moved out, though our older brother Dom stayed on with Raph (Raphael Samuel) and we came back most weekends. We were in the mid-to-late teens by then and busy being seventies political teenagers – it was the time of Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League and demos all the time. So we naturally gravitated to protests going on in Elder St.
The area has changed so much, and the ghost of the old Spitalfields can seem a faded and feeble one. But I was perversely heartened by the enduring shabbiness of the streets, and the sense that the materiality of the buildings continuing to hold memory of the former communities, even though the inhabitants have mostly changed.
I would rather see the graffiti and empty shells at the Commercial St end of Elder St than the neo-Georgian facades blighting Folgate St at the other. There is a stubborn continuity in the narrow turning streets and the way the houses close in around you. The thought of losing all this to more mega-buildings is a melancholy one.
When we met to restage the photo, we stood outside 7 Elder St sharing memories of outdoor lavatories, posters all over the kitchen wall, books lining the spiral staircase. It is good that the street was saved, is lived in, and the houses are better loved and cared for.”
5 & 7 Elder St after the demolition was halted by the squatters of the Spitalfields Trust
Michael Hodgkin remembers Elder St
“Like my sister Kate, going back now, I remember how we used to scramble over the back wall from our home to the ragwort-covered building site behind. I would have fruit fights with abandoned produce in the market with a boy called John from the Peabody Buildings and the son of the family who ran the Italian shop on Commercial Rd by the top of Folgate St. And I remember painting our front step regularly with Cardinal Red to keep an East End traditional doorstep going.
One day we were sitting there barefoot, as we often did, when some passing American tourists starting taking photos as if documenting vestiges of late-nineteenth century East End poverty, rather than our late-twentieth century Bohemianism.”
Squatters gather outside 7 Elder St – fourth from left is historian Raphael Samuel
Photographs by Anne Kilby
Dan Cruickshank speaks to SAVE NORTON FOLGATE at Shoreditch Church at 6:30pm on Wednesday 22nd April, with guests Sian Phillips reading the poetry of Sir John Betjeman and Conservation Consultant Alec Forshaw dissecting the British Land scheme. Dan will be telling the story of how British Land were defeated in Norton Folgate in 1977 and outlining the current battle. Click here to book your free ticket.