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Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits

January 15, 2017
by the gentle author

In the seventies, while living in Mile End Place and employed as a Youth Worker at Oxford House in Bethnal Green and then as a Probationary Teacher at Brooke House School in Clapton, Photographer Philip Cunningham took these tender portraits of his friends and colleagues. “I love the East End and often dream of it,” Philip admitted to me recently.

Publican at The Albion, Bethnal Green Rd. “We would often go there from Oxford House where I was a youth worker. Billy Quinn, ‘The Hungry Fighter’ used to drink in there. He would shuffle in, in his slippers and, if I offered him a drink, the answer was always the same. ‘No! No! I don’t want a drink off you, I saved my money!’ He had fought a lot of bouts in America and was a great character.”

Proprietor of Barratts’ hardware – “An unbelievable shop in Stepney Way. It sold EVERYTHING, including paraffin – a shop you would not see nowadays.”

Terry & Brenda Green, publicans at The Three Crowns, Mile End

“My drinking pal, Grahame the window cleaner, knew all that was happening on the Mile End Rd.”

Oxford House bar

“Bob Drinkwater ran the youth club at Oxford House where I was a youth worker” c. 1974

Pat Leeder worked as a volunteer at Oxford House

Caretaker at Oxford House

My friend Michael Chalkley worked for the Bangladeshi Youth League and Bangladeshi Welfare Association

Frank Sewell worked at Kingsley Hall, Bow, and ran a second hand shop of which the proceeds went to the Hall, which was ruinous at that time

Historian Bill Fishman in Whitechapel Market

Mr Green

Kids from the youth club at Oxford House, Weavers’ Fields Adventure Playground, c. 1974

Kids from the youth club at Oxford House, Weavers’ Fields Adventure Playground, c. 1974

Salim, Noorjahan, Jabid and Sobir with Michael Chalkley, c. 1977

Coal Men, A G Martin & Sons, delivering to Mile End Place

Mr & Mrs Jacobs, neighbours at Mile End Place

Mr & Mrs Mills, neighbours at Mile End Place

Commie Roofers, Mile End Place

Friend and fighter against racism, Sunwah Ali at the Bangladeshi Youth League office, c. 1978

Norr Miah was a friend, colleague and trustee of the Bangladeshi Youth League

Chess players at Brooke House School, c. 1979

Teacher at Brooke House  - “The best school I ever taught in with a really congenial staff” c. 1979

“Boys from Brooke House School where I was a probationary teacher, c.1979″

“My friend and colleague Salim Ullah with his baby” c.1977

John Smeeth (AKA John the Beard), my daughter Andrea, and Michael Wiston (AKA Whizzy)  c. 1977

Eddie Marsan (dressed as Superman) and friends, Mile End Place

“Rembert Langham in our studio in New Crane Wharf, Wapping. He made monsters for Dr Who and went pot-holing”1975

Mother & son, Whitechapel. “She asked me why I was taking photos of derelict buildings, so I said I would like to take a picture of her and she agreed.”

“John the Fruit used to drink in the Three Crowns and we were good friends. We were in the pub one night when some tough characters came in. It turned out they owned this property I had been photographing. I asked if I could do some photos inside, they said, ‘Yes, come on Thursday.’ I duly arrived, but the place was locked and no one was about. Then John the Fruit turned up so I took his picture, as you see above. Later that week in the Three Crowns, the rough guys walked in and, when they saw me, accused me of not turning up. I was grabbed by the shoulder to be taken outside (very nasty). However John, who was an ex-boxer and pretty fit for an old boy, pulled the bloke holding me aside and said ‘He was there, because I was there with him!’ They put me down and were most apologetic to John. He saved me from something bad, God Bless Him!!”

Abdul Bari & friend, Whitechapel. “Abdul Bari (Botly Boy) lived in the Bancroft Estate and was a parent at John Scurr School where I was a governor and where my daughter attended. The photo was taken on Christmas day.”

Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

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Philip Cunningham at Mile End Place

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim McDermott permalink
    January 15, 2017

    Lovely, evocative photos from a period in which I too was a victim of exuberant trouserage. Eddie Marsan hasn’t changed at all!

  2. January 15, 2017

    Really engaging photos. They capture a time and a place. I love the range of subjects, the fashions, settings/locations, the expression on the youngest boy’s face in the portrait of the Bengali family and who could resist little Eddie Marsan? So much social history here. Would love to see more.

  3. stuart goodman permalink
    January 15, 2017

    beautiful images of times that can never return. how will people look on today’s east end in 40/50 years? with no fondness or nostalgia i fear.

  4. January 15, 2017

    Wonderful, authentic photos. Thanks for sharing. Valerie

  5. January 15, 2017

    Thumbs up to these – and to exuberant trousering. I will be using this phrase as often as possible.

  6. January 15, 2017

    Great reportage. I love the way you engaged with your subjects. By getting their permission the images have so much more heart than ‘stolen’ shots, thereby producing a genuine historic document. Good stuff.

  7. January 15, 2017

    Great memories

  8. January 15, 2017

    I don’t know if “trans portative” is word — but nonetheless, I have just travelled to that time and place, and overheard those conversations, chuckles, hellos, and “hey, where’d you get those
    pants?” comments. The photographer has provided a fully-furnished time capsule for us, so vibrant that even “non-residents” like me can savor. This series started strong, at the top, and just kept reeling me in. Wonderful.

  9. Beryl Happe permalink
    January 15, 2017

    Interesting pics of Oxford House. I used to go there in the forties & fifties. The youth club was great, we had trips out and camping holidays. Great fun. In the summer we had American volunteers to work with the resident Youth workers. They were called ‘Wynant’ volunteers.

    The East End was awash with youth clubs, and we would go from club to club.

  10. Ros permalink
    January 15, 2017

    Lovely, evocative photos, including the exuberant trouserage! Winant (named after an American Ambassador to the UK) volunteers, who come from the US to the UK, still exist, along with Clayton (named after Tubby Clayton) volunteers who go from the UK to the US.

  11. Malcolm permalink
    January 16, 2017

    I went to school with A.G.Martin’s son, Tony. I used to go round his house a lot because Tony had a lot of great records and we used to spend hours listening to them on his dansette portable. His Dad’s coal yard used to be in Limehouse, next to the railway arch by Charlie Brown’s pub outside the West India dock entrance. It was an old railway siding but it’s long gone since the redevelopment of Canary Wharf. Great pictures again, I particularly like the flared trouser look – it’s very evocative of that era, even if they were ghastly.

  12. Amanda Bond permalink
    January 17, 2017

    Engaging to the end and a wonderful insight into your East End!

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