Sandys Row from the north
After seeing the work of photographer C A Mathew published in these pages, Adam Tuck was inspired to revisit the locations of the pictures taken a century ago. Subtly blending his own photographs of Spitalfields 2012 with C A Mathew’s photographs of Spitalfields 1912, Adam has initiated an unlikely collaboration with a photographer of a hundred years earlier and created a new series of images of compelling resonance.
In these montages, people of today co-exist in the same space with people of the past, manifesting a sensation I have always felt in Spitalfields – that all of history is present here. Yet those of a hundred years ago knew they were being photographed and many are pictured looking at the camera, whereas passsersby in the present day are mostly self-absorbed. The effect is of those from the past wondering at a vision of the future, while those of our own day are entirely unaware of this ghostly audience.
It is hard to conceive of the meaning of time beyond our own lifespan. But these photographs capture something unseen, something usually hidden from human perception – they are pictures of time passing and each one contains a hundred years.
Sandys Row from the south
Looking from Bishopsgate down Brushfield St, towards Christ Church
Looking down Widegate St towards Sandys Row
Looking down Middlesex St towards Bishopsgate
From Bishopsgate looking up Middlesex St
In Crispin St
In Bell Lane
In Artillery Lane looking towards Artillery Passage
From Bishopsgate through Spital Sq
Frying Pan Alley
Montages copyright © Adam Tuck
C A Mathew photographs copyright © Bishopsgate Institute
Exhibition of C A Mathew’s photographs opens today Friday 7th March at Eleven Spitalfields in Princelet St and runs until 27th April
Take a look at more of C A Mathew’s photographs and read my earlier stories
In September 2010, I wrote speculatively about the photographer C A Mathew and his pictures of Spitalfields 1912 held in the collection at the Bishopsgate Institute. Today I reconsider the nature of his fascinating work and its meaning in the light of new research into his life by Vicky Stewart.
What is the subject of this photograph?
This is – perhaps – the least-examined of the twenty-one photographs which Charles Arthur Mathew took in Spitalfields on Saturday 20th April 1912. It is entirely lacking in the drama of spontaneous street life that has drawn a wide audience to his other photographs in recent years. Yet – although it may appear to the contrary – this curiously mundane picture is not without interest, since it is the key to understanding C A Mathew’s intentions as a photographer on that day.
From the evidence of this picture, it is apparent that his primary intention was not to capture the people of Spitalfields – who have come to form the central point of interest in his photographs, a century later. The fact that C A Mathew made this handsome yet unremarkable commercial building the subject of his photograph, while neglecting to take a picture of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church nearby, also tells us that he was not setting out to photograph sights of historic or cultural interest. It raises the question whether the qualities we appreciate in his work today were merely incidental to C A Mathew’s photographic intention.
Following in his father’s profession, C A Mathew worked as Clerk to the District Surveyor in Walthamstow in the first decade of the last century before setting out to make a living as self-employed photographer in 1910 at the age of forty-seven, two years before he came to Spitalfields. He was familiar with using a surveyor’s tripod and it would not have been very different setting up a camera. Furthermore, C A Mathew labelled his Spitalfields pictures in his precise surveyor’s handwriting and it is this information which reveals their subject.
He gave each of the pictures their locations and several are also labelled to indicate sites in the photograph where buildings have been demolished, and those portraying streets leading to these sites are labelled with their width to the nearest inch. Thus the nature of C A Mathew’s commission becomes apparent, he was undertaking a photographic survey to permit comparison of development sites. The primary importance of access suggests they were developments that would be used by large numbers of people.
In fact, the vacant lots he photographed in Steward St, Crispin St, Wheler St and Norton Folgate are all within reach of the Central Line and a debate about the viability of an additional station between Liverpool St and Bethnal Green has rumbled on for more than a century. The picture of 92 Middlesex St reproduced above and others to the south of Spitalfields in Cutler St and Devonshire Sq are situated in the vicinity of the line between Liverpool St and Aldgate, suggesting that C A Mathew’s pictures were in service of future railway development. Yet, frustrating any conclusion, C A Mathew’s prints reveal no indication of who commissioned him and the coming of World War I precluded whatever proposal was being considered.
Thus the paradox of C A Mathew’s pictures is that his unusually natural portrayal of people in the street, which permits us to connect with them, stems entirely incidentally from a technical photographic survey. C A Mathew was not actually photographing the people, they are simply curious bystanders watching him at work who got recorded for eternity as a byproduct of his task and, in several pictures, he may even have asked them to stand back out of the way. Consequently his work lacks the preconceptions of his age. He did not set out the deliver a picturesque view to charm us or use photography to expose the poverty of the East End in order to draw our sympathy.
C A Mathew’s commission was to make series of technical photographs that showed the built environment clearly. The irony is that it was his complete lack of ego or aspiration to an artistic style which produced photography of the highest calibre. Transcending his own subjectivity and that of his contemporaries, his fascinating images speak across time and offer us a uniquely unclouded window into our own past without any moral or aesthetic judgement.
We may conclude that C A Mathew’s pictures were not the result of filling time while waiting for a delayed train at Liverpool St Station, as I once imagined, nor of a wealthy plutocrat commissioning a record of his beloved childhood streets, as has also been previously suggested.
Historically, Spitalfields has been an area defined by volatile change – from the time Henry VIII dissolved the Priory of St Mary Spital and turned their lands into his artillery ground, to our own day when Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, acted in a similar vein last year by insisting upon the demolition of the Fruit & Wool Exchange against the unanimous wishes of the elected local council.
We value C A Mathew’s pictures for their human quality, in offering the best vision we have of life a century ago in a place that has seen dramatic social change. Yet it appears his beautiful pictures were themselves the outcome of this same process of relentless urban redevelopment that was ultimately to remove the people he photographed from the streets.
Steward St and Artillery Lane, buildings demolished 1907
Crispin St and Duval St, buildings demolished 1908 - the development site can be seen to the left and right of the pub
Wheler St, width 23ft, no 88 demolished 1891 - the development site is down the street to the right
Vacant site on Norton Folgate
Artillery Lane from Bishopsgate, width 16 ft 3 inches - primary access to the Steward St site
Sandys Row, 13ft 8 inches, looking south from Artillery Lane – access to the Steward St site
Spital Square, width 18ft - access to the Wheler St site
Widegate St 16ft looking towards Artillery Passage 8ft 6 inches & Sandys Row intersecting - access to both Steward St and Crispin St sites.
Frying Pan Alley, access to the Crispin St site - the children have been told to stand back
View looking south towards Aldgate Station, showing space occupied by Inner Circle Railway taken from Cutler St at the corner of Harrow Alley and looking down Back Gravel Lane.
C A Mathew photographs copyright © Bishopsgate Institute
Exhibition of C A Mathew’s photographs opens at Eleven Spitalfields in Princelet St on Friday 7th March and runs until 27th April
Take a look at more of C A Mathew’s photographs and read my earlier stories
On the corner of Gun St & Brushfield St, 1967
On the corner of Gun St & Brushfield St, 2014
When Gemma Brooker came upon Philip Marriage‘s 1967 photograph of the corner of Gun St published in these pages, she was astonished to recognise the cafe ran by her grandmother where her parents had worked and where she spent many hours as a young child, but which she had not seen since 1948 when she was nine years old.
Last week, she came back to Spitalfields to take a look around and I photographed her standing outside Verdes, where her grandmother had lived in the first floor flat, and looking across Gun St to the opposite street corner where the family cafe once stood. The old iron bollard is the only visual clue which links the two photographs yet, upon her return more than sixty years later, Gemma found the fifty-yard stretch of Gun St that was the demarcation of her childhood landscape still evoked vivid emotional memories of her early formative years in Spitalfields.
Verdes has been restored but, although the opposite corner has been entirely rebuilt, Gemma was fascinated to observe that the falafel shop upon the site today has adopted the same layout as her grandmother’s cafe.
Similarly, as we wandered down Gun St, Gemma pointed out the doorstep where – in her memory – an old Jewish woman always sat plucking chickens and, even where the buildings had been replaced, she was able to recall the stories of the former landmarks that once stood there. At the end of Gun St, Gemma was overjoyed to discover her childhood sweet shop and I found, as we walked together and she told me the stories, her childhood vision of this tiny corner of Spitalfields in the nineteen-forties came alive for me too.
“My grandfather Giovanni Batista Giovannoni was born in Leather Lane, but his parents came over from Italy. My grandmother Gemma came from Piazza al Sercio near Lucca and he came from another village nearby.
I was born in University College Hospital in 1939 when my father Fernando Albano Giovannoni was away in the services. We were sent all over the place during the war, including Scotland. It was only afterwards that we came to Spitalfields where my parents worked in my grandmother’s cafe. I don’t know why it was called C J Johnson, except that my grandfather’s name means “little John” and my uncle also adopted the surname Johnson when he joined the RAF in World War II because his Italian surname was embarrassing.
My grandmother ran the cafe, she had taken it on after my grandfather’s death. She lived next door above Verdes and my parents worked in the cafe. My husband remembers us visiting my grandmother and there were boxes stacked on the stairs from the fruit & vegetable trader below. My grandmother didn’t speak good English and my elder son is called Paul, so she used to call him Paulo. He remembers going up there for lunch and there’d be this long table laid out with proper Italian food, and it used to take all afternoon
We lived in the Hackney Rd and a van came to pick us all at five in the morning to take us to the cafe. While my mother was working, my grandmother used to babysit me and she wanted to pierce my ears and teach me Italian, but my mother wouldn’t allow her because she was Irish – but I wish I could speak Italian now! My mother was called Mary Ann Maher and she came over from Tipperary when she was fourteen.
The cafe opened at five in the morning and closed around midday. There was a counter in the centre at the back and a cupboard in the wall on the right ,where the old men used to line up to use the illegal one-arm bandit that was concealed inside. It was always very busy with workers from the market and I remember the men with their newspapers picking out racehorses. I used to sit with them until it was time for me to go to my school in Gun St. I loved going to the cafe and seeing all the people. In Gun St, between the cafe and my school, there was a warehouse where a boy called Albert worked packing boxes and I used to go and speak with him on the way to school. I was in love with him.
The school was run by nuns, it was a Catholic school. We used to play in the cellar of the school at break time. It was massive, they had toys down there and chairs. My parents only allowed me to go as far as the paper bag shop in Gun St run by Mrs Bloch and her son Natey, they used to let me go upstairs and play on the piano. I think we had an aunt in Artillery Lane who also worked in the cafe too and we used to go there at Christmas. I never went into the Spitalfields Market because there all these men running around with barrows and it was dangerous to cross Brushfield St.
When I was nine, the cafe was sold and we moved to Chingford in 1948, but I love coming back because I feel this place is part of me.”
Gemma with her brother Eric and their mother Mary in the forties, when Mary worked in the cafe
Gemma (left) with her family at Southend in the forties
Gemma with her husband Dennis and their children in the seventies
Gemma outside the former Samuel Stores in Gun St where she bought sweets as a small child
Tony Hall’s photograph of Samuel Stores in the sixties with Gemma’s school in the background
You may like to read these related stories
The pictures of Spitalfields taken by C A Mathew in 1912 have inspired such curiosity that I invited Vicky Stewart to research into the photographer’s life and today she reveals what she found.
I had risen to the Gentle Author’s challenge of finding out more about C A Mathew, the photographer who took an extraordinary series of pictures, capturing the street life in Spitalfields on Saturday 20th April 1912. This is what I discovered and here is my story.
Charles Arthur Mathew came from modest Essex stock. His grandfather, Thomas Mathew, was a cordwainer making fine leather footwear and then later a tailor, while his maternal grandfather, Charles Wadley, was an agricultural labourer. The census records tell us that his father, Charles Thomas Mathew, was a shoemaker then a letter carrier and later a surveyor ‘own means,’ while his mother Harriet had a brother who was a gamekeeper. The women in Charles’ extended family were generally domestic servants before they married, while the uncles and cousins worked as jobbing gardeners in the fields or in the fruit and vegetable trade as packers, porters and salesmen.
His parents married in 1863 and Charles was born the following year. Three sisters followed but they were not close in age – Charles was seven when Ada was born, twelve when Frances came along, and twenty by the time Winifred arrived. They lived in Romford, then a small market town with close-knit streets of terraced houses near the High St and Market, and, upon finishing school, Charles was recorded at sixteen years old working there as a bookbinder’s assistant.
In 1885, tragedy struck when his sister Ada died at just fourteen years old and his grandfather Charles passed away in the same year. Charles would have felt Ada’s loss keenly, surrounded by a family in grief. They moved out of Romford – perhaps to make a fresh start after Ada’s death – to Maude Cottage, one of a row of labourers’ cottages in the village of Stanway just outside Colchester. Yet there was another source of distress – at twenty-six years old, we find Charles recorded as an ‘invalid’ in the 1891 census. His incapacity is unspecified, but it was a further burden for the family. Yet by the spring of 1896, Charles’ fortunes must had improved because he married Ellen Mann, a school teacher from Southampton. They moved to Walthamstow, where in 1901 he was working as Clerk to the District Surveyor.
It was in 1910 he made the bold decision that was to define the direction of his life and for which we remember him. Charles Arthur Mathew was in his forties, married but with no children, when he changed career and became a self-employed photographer. By 1911, he and Ellen were living and working at Brightlingsea, in Tower St near the harbour.
One Saturday, 20th April 1912, when newspaper headlines were still carrying the news of the Titanic disaster, C A Mathew came to Spitalfields and took the photographs which would bring him fame, a hundred years later. It was Charles Goss, the first Archivist and Librarian of the Bishopsgate Institute from 1897 until 1941, who acquired the photographs. He was a passionate collector of all written, printed and photographic works recording life in London.
Only two other photographs by C A Mathew are known to exist. In 1913, ‘A History of the Town of Brightlingsea, a member of the Cinque Ports’ by Edward Percival Dickin listed Charles as a contributor. Both technical photographs, one picture is of a document of 1442 while the other is the Town Deputy’s badge and chain of office.
In 1916, before there was any sign of an end to World War I, Charles’ wife Ellen died and for the first time he was alone. He left his Tower St studio in 1917 and after the War he was living with his mother and sister Winifred in Wood Green, staying there for six years before moving briefly to Bridge Studio, Wallingford, and re-establishing himself in a photography studio. But it was not to last – by the following June, he was back near his mother and sister as a patient in the Passmore Edwards Hospital, Wood Green, only a short walk from their Woodland Rd home. It was here that he died on 9th June 1923, aged just fifty-eight, leaving his estate of £103 19s 5d to Winifred. After their mother’s death in 1928, Winifred vanishes from the records. She inherited his photographs along with plates, negatives, cameras and equipment, and what she did with them we do not know. Neither Charles nor his siblings had children, so his branch of the family ended and he was forgotten.
I realised that the Great Northern London Cemetery near Wood Green is the most likely place where he would be buried, so one bright cold day this January I set out from Liverpool St Station to investigate. The office staff at the cemetery were helpful, taking the details and searching their archives. They found the burial book and in it – to my delight – was the name, Charles Arthur Mathew, buried 13th June 1923, together with a plot number and a letter from Winifred communicating that the plot was for two.
I might have spent hours searching for the grave where he and his mother were buried, if the assistant had not come to my rescue. “It’s very muddy down there and extremely overgrown,” she said, “come with me on the buggy and I’ll get the site map.” We were off, passing the expensively manicured graves beside the centrally-located office. “The richer you were, the nearer to the centre you were buried,” she called to me at the rear of the buggy.
We drew up near the perimeter railings and began searching for ‘MATHEW.’ The grave was unmarked but the map was quite clear and we soon found the spot. I was left alone with my thoughts. So close to the man, yet I could do no more than ponder his life and the unanswered questions it raised. There was no marker only thick, tangled ivy and bramble and wild woodland trees. I found I liked it that way – beautiful in its anonymous, neglected state. I felt as if I were standing close to a distant relative or long lost friend and I was reluctant to leave.
As I wound my way out through the thicket, I searched for means to acknowledge my visit. At the side of the track, away from the graves, rolled a small plastic pot and nearby a heap with discarded yet sprouting daffodil bulbs. I scooped up some compost, planted the bulbs and took them back to where they are now, at the head of his grave awaiting the Spring.
C A Mathew’s unmarked grave at the Great Northern London Cemetery in Wood Green
Romford in the eighteen-sixties at the time of C A Mathew’s birth
Bishopsgate Institute as C A Mathew saw it in 1912
Spitalfields as photographed by C A Mathew in 1912
C A Mathew’s house in Tower St, Brightlingsea
C A Mathew contributed two pictures to the History of Brightlingsea, 1913
C A Mathew’s photograph of the Brightlingsea Town Deputy’s Badge & Chain
C A Mathew’s photograph of the Letters Patent to Brightlingsea 1442
C A Mathew opened his last studio in Bridge St, Wallingford in 1922
Passmore Edwards Hospital, Wood Green
Entrance of Great Northern London Cemetery, Wood Green
Entry in the Burial Book recording C A Mathew’s interment, 1923
Vicky Stewart’s flowers on C A Mathew’s grave
C A Mathew photograph copyright © Bishopsgate Institute
Exhibition of C A Mathew’s photographs opens at Eleven Spitalfields in Princelet St on Friday 7th March and runs until 27th April
Take a look at C A Mathew’s photographs and read my earlier stories
Approaching the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, we remember some of those from the East End who served in the conflict. These photographs are selected from those being collected by Tower Hamlets Community Homes for an exhibition and booklet to be produced in August. You can contribute a picture and a story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
George Gristey was born in Hackney on 13th March 1890. At the time of his death his mother, Laura, lived in Cranbrook Rd, Green St, Bethnal Green. George served as a Private in the East Surrey Regiment and was was killed in action in Belgium on 23rd June 1915 and buried at Woods Cemetery, south-east of Ypres in West Flanders.
Arthur Outram was born on 20th September 1890 in London St, Ratcliff and died in Belgium on 10th October 1917 while serving as a Sergeant with the Second Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. Like many of his comrades, he has no known grave, but is commemorated on panel eighty-two of the Tyne Cot Memorial in the Tyne Cot Cemetery (the largest British war cemetery) south-west of Passchendaele, and his name is also upon the memorial at St Anne’s, Limehouse. He married Ellen Callaghan at St Matthew’s, Limehouse, on 26th November 1916 and they had one son, also called Arthur, who was less than a month old when his father was killed.
Issy Smith VC (pictured on the left) was born as Ishroulch Shmeilowitz in Alexandria, Egypt, on September 1890, the son of French citizens Moses and Eva Shmeilowitz, who were of Russian origin. Issy arrived in the East End aged eleven, as a stowaway, and attended Berner St School, Commercial Rd, before working as a delivery man locally. He joined the British Army in 1904 and was present at the Delhi Durbar of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.
The citation for Issy Smith’s Victoria Cross reads “No. 168 Acting Corporal Issy Smith, 1st Battalion, The Manchester Regiment. For most conspicuous bravery on 26th April, 1915, near Ypres, when he left his Company on his own initiative and went well forward towards the enemy’s position to assist a severely-wounded man, whom he carried a distance of two hundred and fifty yards into safety, whilst exposed the whole time to heavy machine-gun and rifle fire. Subsequently Corporal Smith displayed great gallantry, when the casualties were very heavy, in voluntarily assisting to bring in many more wounded men throughout the day, and attending to them with the greatest devotion to duty regardless of personal risk.”
In recognition of his Victoria Cross, he was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Russian Cross of St. George. He died on 11th September 1940.
Henry Sumner was born on 27th April 1875 in Dingle Lane, Poplar. Henry was a professional soldier - a Corporal in the Tenth County of London Regiment who served in the Boer War and the First World War, when he became a guard at the German Prisoner-of-War camp at Alexandra Palace. He married Margaret Fenn (1882-1958) at St Saviour’s, Poplar, on 7th October 1904 and they had eight children. He died at the Queen’s Hospital for Military Personnel in Chislehurst, Kent, in 1924.
Joseph Klein (1888-1974) lived in Gold St, Mile End Old Town, and he never spoke of the conflict in which he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal in World War I – It is believed he threw them all in the Thames.
Richard Williams was born as William Waghorn on 4th April 1875 in Old Brewery, Hayes, Kent. He worked in Kent as a labourer and moved to the East End to work on the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel. He married Margaret Constable (1888-1966) on 28th June 1913 in the Registry Office in Mile End Old Town and they had twelve children and lived all their married life in Stepney. Richard enlisted for World War I but his lungs were damaged in the conflict, causing him to suffer from poor health until he died in Stepney in 1947.
Poet and artist, Isaac Rosenberg, who died in action at the Somme in 1918 at the age of twenty-seven, lived at 47 Cable St between 1897 and 1900 where he attended St Paul’s School, St George’s-in-the-East. In 1900, the family moved over to Stepney so Isaac could attend Baker St School and receive a Jewish education.
Isaac loathed war and hated the idea of killing but, while unemployed, he learned that his mother would be able to claim a separation allowance, so he enlisted. He was assigned to the Twelfth Suffolk Regiment, a Bantam Battalion formed of men less than five foot and three inches in height, but in the spring of 1916 he was transferred to the Eleventh Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and in June of that year he was sent to France.
He was killed early on the morning of 1st April 1918 during the German spring offensive. His body was not immediately found but, in 1926, the remains of eleven soldiers of the KORL were discovered and buried together in Northumberland Cemetery, Fampoux. Although his body could not be identified, he was known to be among them. His remains were later reinterred at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, St. Laurent-Blangy, near Arras where his headstone reads ‘Buried near this spot.’ Beneath his name, dates and regiment, are engraved the Star of David and the words “Artist and Poet.”
His ‘Poems from the Trenches” are recognised as some of the most outstanding verse written during the War.
Samuel Adelson who resided with his aunt at 8 Gosset Street, Brick Lane was in the Thirty-Eighth Battalion, Royal Fusilliers, and fought in Palestine in 1918. He was born in Nemajunai, Trakai, Lithuania in 1896 to David Adelson and Zlota Gordon Adelson. After the war, in 1920 Samuel emigrated to America where he died in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1925.
Charles Hunt was born in 1888 in Mile End and served as a Private in the Twelfth (Prince of Wales’ Royal) Lancers. The Lancers arrived in France on 18th August 1914 and only ten days later, fought a battle against a regiment of German Dragoons at Moy. Charles was awarded the 1914 Star and Victory medals but, just eleven days after arriving in France and at only twenty-six years of age, he died of his wounds – Charles’ grave is in Bavay, a small cemetery that was behind German lines for most of the war.
George Outram was born on 17th March 1870 in Dunstan Rd, Mile End, the son of Arthur Outram (1826-1904) and Martha Jane Harden (1841-1877). He married Margaret (Mag) Charlotte Constable (1871-1932) on Christmas Day 1889 at St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, which stood on the site of the modern St Paul’s with St Luke’s Church, at the junction of Burdett Rd and St Paul’s Way. After service in the Merchant Navy, George became a lighterman, and he and Mag had ten children. The picture shows George in an army uniform, taken during the World War I, when he took barges across to France. Although not enlisted in the army, he wore a uniform so that if captured by the Germans he would not be shot as a spy. He died in Mile End Hospital in April 1938, aged sixty-eight.
Henry Maffia and Elizabeth Maffia with their son John, taken in 1915. Henry was wounded twice in Flanders and gassed on the last day of the War, dying on 16th March 1920 from the effects of the gas. Liberal MP for Bethnal Green, Sir Percy Holman, fought until 1928 to obtain a War Widows’ Pension for Elizabeth Maffia.
Robert Tolliday (front row first left) lived in Peabody Buildings, Shadwell. He served in the Twelfth Lancers until 12th May 1917 when the Lancers became the Fifth SMG and he stayed with them until the end of the War. He was one of the last who charged into the German lines on horseback with no weapon beyond a wooden lance and when a bomb exploded beneath his horse, Old Tom, it kept on running with its entrails streaming until it collapsed.
You might also like to read about