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Charles Booth’s East End Revisited

October 20, 2015
by the gentle author

Photographer Keith Greenough has taken this series of pictures entitled LIFTING THE CURTAIN, complemented with texts by Charles Booth from his Life & Labour of the People 1889, as a means to explore the presence of the past in the East End. You can see the complete series of photographs in an exhibition at Townhouse, Fournier St, Spitalfields until Sunday 25th October.

Andrews Rd - “Neighbourhood of the gasworks accounts for what roughness there is … pistol-gangs of boys aged fourteen – seventeen. A girl was wounded and the sentences passed very heavy.  Since then there has been no trouble.”

Bethnal Green Rd – “The workers of the district are cabinet makers who drink – glass blowers who drink –  and costers who drink – They make good enough money but none of them spend it well!”

Bow Rd - “the ‘factory girl’ generally earns  from seven shillings to eleven shillings – rarely more … Sunday afternoons she will be found promenading up and down the Bow Rd, arm in arm with two or three other girls”

Cremer St – “he complained of the great pressure put upon the police by publicans, also of pressure by the police on the police not to give up a source of revenue. Very little beer is now given … money has taken its place.”

Hanbury St - “And this living and working in one room intensifies the evil … here it is overcrowding day and night – no ventilation to the room, no change to the worker.”

Isle of Dogs - “Poplar, a huge district that includes the Isle of Dogs – transformed now into an Isle of Docks. In all it is a vast township, built on low marshy land, bounded by a great bend in the Thames.”

Jerome St - “Our attention is arrested by the fact that all work in the trade is carried on in factories. Women cigar makers get from fifteen to forty per cent less wages than men … some of them, however, when very quick with their fingers get as much as one pound a week.”

Leman St - “In the inner ring, nearly all available space is used for building and almost every house is filled up with families.  The building of large blocks only substitutes one sort of crowding for another.”

Pitfield St - “The East End theatregoer even finds his way westwards and in the sixpenny seats of the little house in Pitfield St I have heard a discussion on Irving’s representation of Faust at the Lyceum.”

Tower Hamlets Mission - “the Great Assembly Hall Mission, Mile End Rd, is carrying on extensive work and draws several thousands of people to its religious services.”

Wentworth St – “… strange sights, strange sounds and strange smells. Streets crowded so as to be thoroughfares no longer … Petticoat Lane is the exchange of the Jew but the lounge of the Christian.”

Whitechapel High St - “clearances and rebuilding cause a far greater disturbance of population. The model blocks do not provide for the actual displaced population, so much as for an equivalent number of others, sometimes of a different class.”

Photographs copyright © Keith Greenough

You might also like to take a look at

Charles Booth in Spitalfields

With a Bradshw Guide in the East End

9 Responses leave one →
  1. October 20, 2015

    I laughed when I read this. My great grandfather, Charles Thurston Stanley was a cabinet maker from Bethnal Green (Pollard Row, to be precise) and it’s well known that he liked a drink. He lived right next door to The Hope pub.

  2. October 20, 2015

    Wonderful pictures: and I’m tempted to quote that thing about those who don’t understand the past being condemned to repeat it…

  3. October 20, 2015

    For many people who lived in the East End, often in depressing and unsanitary conditions, a drink at the pub was one way of a little escape. I do not want to excuse drunkenness, but many lived in conditions which were more than difficult to endure. Great photos again. Valerie

  4. October 20, 2015

    Another excellent piece: the juxtaposition of photos and text is inspired.

  5. October 20, 2015

    Brilliant photos to accompany the text.

  6. Chris permalink
    October 20, 2015

    Incredible photos.

  7. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    October 20, 2015

    I agree with Valerie, apart from work many people had little else going on in their lives other than to go to a pub, = I think the text on the last photo of Whitechapel Rd is particularly relevant, it may have been written over a century ago but it could just as easily have been written for the first time today, in some respects life in modern Britain has not really changed nearly as much as some people would try to have you believe.

  8. Neville Turner permalink
    October 21, 2015

    This small collection of photo’s are evocative and compelling to at I think it’s because each shot is without any human life,they capture the alienation that too much creative concrete creates all ok for adults to live and work in and around,very trying for the young to grow to maturity.

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