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Philip Mernick’s East End Shopfronts

May 24, 2016
by the gentle author

These splendid shopfronts from the beginning of the last century are published courtesy of Philip Mernick who has been collecting postcards of the East End for more than thirty years. In spite of their age, the photographs are of such high quality that they capture every detail and I could not resist enlarging parts of them so you can peer closer at the displays.

S.Jones, Dairy, 187 Bethnal Green Rd

J.F. List, Baker, 418 Bethnal Green Rd

A.L.Barry, Chandlers & Seed Merchants, 246 Roman Rd

Direct Supply Stores Ltd, Butcher, Seven Sisters Rd

Vanhear’s Coffee Rooms, 564 Commercial Rd

Williams Bros, Ironmonger, 418 Caledonian Rd

Francis J. Walters, Undertakers, 811 Commercial Rd

Pearks Stores, Grocer, High St, East Ham

A. Rickards, Umbrella Manufacturer, 30 Barking Rd, East Ham

Huxtables Stores, Ironmonger, Broadway, Plaistow

E.J Palfreyman, Printer, Bookbinder & Stationer, High Rd, Leytonstone

J.Garwood, Greengrocer, Bow Rd

“The banana is the safest and most wholesome fruit there is”

You may also like to take a look at

Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts

Emily Webber’s East End Shopfronts

Eleanor Crow’s East End Shopfronts

Jim Howett’s Spitalfields Shopfronts

Mal Gilliam Of Golden Lane Estate

May 23, 2016
by Sarah Winman

Contributing Writer & Resident of Golden Lane Estate, Novelist Sarah Winman recently interviewed one of the first occupants of her estate, Mal Gilliam, who grew up there in the fifties …

Mal Gilliam in front of her childhood home

With council housing and long tenancies under severe threat, it was with a mixture of emotion that Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I set out with my choir chum Mal Gilliam across the Golden Lane Estate, one of London’s most successful post-war council estates, to see where Mal spent her childhood. It struck me – as we wandered around – how these estates have provided the bedrock of community and continuity in London, and how – without them – we are heading towards a city solely for the rich and transient.

“I was born in 1949, named after Marilyn Monroe, a favourite of my dad’s. When I was six, my parents and older sister, moved from the Wenlock Rd Estate, off City Rd, to Golden Lane. We were one of ten families who initially moved into ‘Cuthbert Harrowing,’ into a modern three bedroom flat with central heating.

As a child I loved it here. I loved the freedom of it. Roller-skating down around Bowater House, and playing on the railings. The Estate discouraged ball games and noise even then, so the Community Centre was provided for the children. There was a youth club, and I took ballet classes there.  A man called Joe Mitchell, he lived in Bayer House, he created a children’s variety show called ‘Joe Mitchell’s Follies.’ I was nine, I think, when I took part in a show that comprised of a medley of Gigi songs – and then the swimming pool was built, and it was luxury.

Whitecross Street had an actual market every day, and there was a butcher, a fishmonger and two bakers there, before the supermarket forced them out.  And on Bonfire Night, a large fire was lit on the concourse in front of Great Arthur House, and we all brought fireworks and set them off and there was baked potatoes and sausages for everyone. A rogue firework ending up in a girl’s wellington eventually put paid to that, however.

Looking across the Barbican Centre and the towers now, it is hard to imagine that it was just a bomb site, stretching out as far as the eye can see. I used to climb over the wall and spend hours over there looking for caterpillars or playing hide-and-seek. It was incredibly dangerous really, unexploded bombs, shifting rubble which could fall away into deep cavities, and yet I never knew of anyone ever getting hurt.

Years later, I looked out of my mother’s window across that same stretch of land and watched the Barbican being built. It was a fractious build, they had so many strikes. They all lined up in Fann St. If a chippie picked up a piece of piping, they walked out. Demarcation of work, it was called, and the unions were very strict, and it went on for years. Continual noise and dust.

Golden Lane was an extremely successful estate and I think they selected families to be at the centre of it. People were happy to be there, they were proud of it. It was post-war. It was colourful. State of the Art. My aunt lived in ‘Great Arthur.’ My sister moved away but wanted to come back after her husband died. My mother knew the Housing Officer, who came and visited us and said that, as soon as a flat was available, she could have it. Lots of people brought their families over and many children of the original tenants still live on the Estate.

For someone like me, who was shy and nervous as a child, it was as if there was a wall around me and I was protected.

As a teenager, though, there was nothing around. The area was dead. Even the Aldersgate tube did not open on Sundays, so me and my friends went into Soho. I must have been sixteen, seventeen – I had left Parliament Hill school around that time – and we went to a coffee bar called ‘Le Macabre.’ It had tables shaped like coffins and we thought it was great, and we bought a coffee and sat there all night. When we wanted to dance, we went to the St Moritz club – where I met my husband Bill.

Bill had a group of friends who formed a soul band – ‘I’m a Soul Man,’ ‘Stand by Me,’ those kind of songs. Well, Bill had saxophone lessons, but as soon as anyone else played with him he lost time, so he had to become the manager instead. He was down the St Moritz with the band one night, and we danced together. We got married when we were nineteen.

Bill worked for a booking agent in the music business and I went to gigs with him. I saw Jimi Hendrix at the Saville. And one of the groups they managed was called Curved Air, and they opened for David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust phase. I was pregnant in my Laura Ashley dress while he was beautiful and so thin and in make-up, and I was fascinated.

In 1968, everyone was protesting Civil Rights, but Bill and I were saving to buy a house to give our kids something different from the Estate. I was working for the Conran design group and Bill was still in the music business and he did early morning cleaning jobs too.

We saved up £1,500 for our first deposit in the seventies and Pink Floyd roadies helped us move. We had a farm workers’ cottage near Oxted. It was stockbroker belt, all fences and no public land. Imagine coming from the middle of London and being stuck there. I missed the community. I felt isolated. I did eventually make friends but, every couple of weeks, me and the children got into Bill’s van and he brought us back into London, and I would come over the bridge and see the Thames and my heart started beating again.

Years later we did move back to London, got a house on the borders of Highbury and Hackney, and I got a job and learnt to drive. But I am a Londoner through and through – that is me. I have a fantasy of having a dog in the country but that is all it is. I need a destination when I walk. And a coffee at the end of it. I survived those five and a half years but I was not alive.

When my mother died, we did come back to live on the Estate for twelve years. Bill is interested in architecture, especially Corbusier, an interest that took us to stay in the Corbusier building in Marseille, so he loved living here. Eventually, though, the noise from the pub downstairs became overwhelming and we moved out.

I believe everybody, however poor, should have a decent home. They should have space, somewhere they feel proud of. Council housing is essential. I prefer the word ‘council’ to ‘social’ because Councils have a responsibility for people. I meet people who have always lived here in London and now their kids are being forced to move away, and they cannot see their grandchildren as much. It is not right. The city is changing and we are all finding it difficult.”

Mal Gilliam at Golden Lane Estate

Portraits copyright © Sarah Ainslie

You may also like to take a look at

Patricia Niven’s Golden Oldies

EAST END by John Claridge

May 22, 2016
by the gentle author

Thanks to the generous support and investment of you, the readers of Spitalfields Life, I am able to announce the forthcoming publication of John Claridge’s EAST END by Spitalfields Life Books – a handsome 270 page clothbound hardback for £25 – collecting together over 200 of John Claridge’s astonishing photographs of the old East End in print for the first time.

You are invited to raise a glass with John Claridge & me at any or all of the three launch celebrations we have planned in the first week of June, at Vout-O-Renees in Aldgate, at The French House in Soho and Waterstones Bookshop in Piccadilly.

Wednesday 1st June : EXHIBITION OPENING of John Claridge’s EAST END photography from 6pm at VOUT-O-RENEES, 30 Prescot St, Aldgate, E1 8BB. (Exhibition runs until 21st July)

Thursday 2nd June : BOOK LAUNCH PARTY for John Claridge’s EAST END from 6pm upstairs at THE FRENCH HOUSE, 49 Dean St, Soho, W1D 5BG.

Friday 3rd June : JOHN CLARIDGE IN CONVERSATION talking about his EAST END photography with Stefan Dickers at 7pm at WATERSTONES PICCADILLY, W1J 9HD. Email piccadilly@waterstones.com to reserve your free ticket.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR SIGNED COPY OF EAST END FOR £25

Len & Doll Claridge, 1964

Over lunch at The French House, John Claridge told his story to The Gentle Author

(Extract from introduction to EAST END)

“I was an only child so I asked my mum, ‘Will I have a sister or a brother?’ but she said ‘You’re enough.’ I was never quite sure if that was a compliment.

My father went to sea when he was thirteen. He could rig a ship – top to bottom – by hand and he was invited to go on the Scott expedition at thirteen. He was a bare-knuckle fighter in the East End and sold booze in the States in the thirties during Prohibition. But my mum, she stayed a machinist most of her life in the Roman Road, Bow. On school holidays I used to go in the van, delivering shirts around the East End. By the time I was growing up, my father had stopped going to sea and was working down the docks as a rigger, testing the cranes and that type of stuff. When he took me down there, it was sheer wonderment.

I used to get up with my dad, before he went down the docks at five o’clock in the morning and I did my paper round. We got up an hour early so we so could talk over a bit of toast and a cup of tea, and he would tell me stories about the sea. That was my education in wonderment. I really wanted to go to sea and see the world, but I did it through people sending me around the world to take photographs, so that ambition was fulfilled in another way.

I used to go to the shops with my mum every Saturday morning, and she would meet people she knew and they would be chatting for maybe an hour, while I went off and played on a bomb site. We would go into these shops and markets and they all smelled different. They each had their distinctive character, it was wonderful. People had a pride in what they were selling or what they were doing.

As a child, from my bedroom in Plaistow, I could see the lights of the docks at night and I used to go to sleep listening to the sound of the horns on the Thames whenever there was fog, which was quite often. You could smell the river if the wind was blowing in the right direction. A lot of the men in my family worked down the docks. When my father worked for the New Zealand Shipping Company, he took me down to the dock gate and onto the wharves – and I used to go out with my camera at weekends, or any spare time I had, to take pictures. I went out to see what was going on, I reacted to what was there and, if I saw something, I photographed it. It was instinctive, I never thought I was documenting. I had a need to take pictures, it was as natural as breathing.

Bomb sites were my playground and I was very aware of the war because a lot of my family were in it, and they showed me the medals they came back with. At that age, what you understand is limited but you are aware. We had rationing yet people had faith that things were going to get better. The only luxury would be something that was knocked off from the docks, be it a lump of liver or a bit of cake or whatever. I remember the end of food rationing, we got more bananas.

When I was eleven, I started boxing at school. South West Ham Tech in Canning Town was an all-boys school and it was mandatory for all the kids to get into the ring. It was a big old gym and they were big on sport, but my mum did not want me to do it because she did not want me to spoil my face. All the family were boxing, and they said, ‘You should do it because you have the ability to do it,’ and I quite enjoyed it actually. It was good fun. If you met someone you had been in a ring with, you always bought them a drink or they bought you a drink. I had reasonable success but I have small hands. I have got my mum’s hands not my dad’s hands.

One day when I was eight or nine, I was at at fair on Wanstead Flats and there was this stall, throwing rings for prizes, and I wanted this plastic camera. I did not know why I wanted it, except I wanted to capture everything and take the memories back with me. You know, I already understood that if you have a camera, you can take it all back with you. But I did not win it. Instead, I did a paper round, saved up and bought an Ilford Sportsman. I do not really know why I needed a camera and I needed to take pictures. Photography was a natural language to me. I developed them myself which I thought was pretty cool. I got a little catalogue that said put developer in there and this in there and wash it in there. We only had an outside toilet, so at night, that was where I developed all my film. It was not difficult. It was magic.

I left school at fifteen and I went down to the West Ham Labour Exchange. There was this lovely bloke, a nice man. He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I’m going to be a photographer and take pictures’ and I expected him to say, ‘Yeah, that’s really good.’ Instead he said, ‘It’s not that easy,’ so I replied ‘Yes it is, you just take photographs.’ ‘Ok,’ he said, ‘there’s a job up the West End, but you won’t get it, let me tell you now – you won’t get it.’ This was for an assistant in a photographic department at an advertising agency. He said, ‘They’re interviewing people with qualifications from universities and colleges, and you’re too young but I’m going to send you anyway, so you can see how these things work.’ That sounded all right to me. I wore a black four-button herringbone suit, a tab-collar shirt, a knitted tie and winkle-pickers – I thought I looked the business. How could I possibly fail?

It was at McCann Erickson and when I walked into the reception, there were about four, five or six blokes sitting around waiting. Obviously they were lot older than I was, they had tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows. I said ‘All right?’ and they totally blanked me. They had never seen style before. The interview was with Eddie Brown who had been a Captain in the Scottish Highlanders and had come up the hard way. I was the last person to be interviewed and when I walked in, he did not say anything, he just looked at me. He did not know what to say, so he asked, ‘What film do you use?’

I said, ‘I won’t use anything else but HPS and FP3, I think it’s the best around’. And he said, ‘So do I – you can have the job.’ I said, ‘Oh, the other thing is I take pictures.’ I had brought with me some small prints of the Thames and views of the East End that I had made at home on an old enlarger. Those posh boys had qualifications and no pictures, but I had pictures and no qualifications, so I got the job – that was it. And I loved every moment of it.

First of all, I started by mixing up the chemicals and doing general stuff in the darkroom, but very quickly I was asked to do some printing. Before long, I was getting art directors coming down and asking me to do their prints. Later, I made prints for for Jeanloup Sieff, Don McCullin and Saul Leiter, when I was still only seventeen. I remember Saul Leiter asked, ‘Can you do something with this?’ The film looked like someone had processed it in tomato sauce, so I worked on it to see what I could get out of it and, when I had finished, he was very pleased with it.

At McCann Erickson, I met Robert Brownjohn – who everyone knew as ‘BJ.’ He had just come over from New York. He was a brilliant designer who had worked with Moholy-Nagy and became famous for doing the title sequences for ‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘Goldfinger.’ I always remember BJ in an Ivy League jacket and buttoned-down shirt. He would come to the Photographic Department and ask, ‘Hey kid, hey kid, can you experiment with this?’ BJ introduced me to a different way of looking. We would look at pieces of type and everyday objects together, considering them as design in their own right. He taught me to appreciate their abstract quality by having me look at a face or a hand as a piece of sculpture, and lighting it accordingly. BJ opened my eyes and then he said, ‘Kid, you’re gonna have an exhibition whether you like it or not.’ I was sixteen then.

The show was in McCann’s gallery and the subject was the East End. What surprised me was the response. People really thought a lot of the pictures. Dennis Bailey, Art Director of Town Magazine said, ‘There’s shades of Walker Evans.’ I did not know who the fuck Walker Evans was, so I thought, ‘Is this a compliment or is he taking the piss?’ But then I saw Walker Evans’ work and it is some of the most beautiful photography you are ever going to see – in my opinion – ever.”

The house in Plaistow where John Claridge grew up

Mr & Mrs Jones were the Claridges’ neighbours in Plaistow in 1968

John Claridge (right)  with his mate Keith Horton (left), 1961

John Claridge takes a photograph in Spitalfields, 1964

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

Viscountess Boudica’s Drawings

May 21, 2016
by the gentle author

Viscountess Boudica is the most creative person I know. Her phenomenal artwork never ceases to astonish me with its endless invention and today it is my pleasure to publish this small selection from hundreds of her recent drawings, illustrating something of her extraordinary range of iconography.

As an non-academic artist, I place the Viscountess somewhere between Alfred Wallis and Henry Darger – possessing the playful abstract sense of the former in her compositions, use of colour and line – and the distinctive visionary quality of the latter, in creating her own imaginative universe peopled by magical characters of her devising.

There are only a few tickets left now for my AUDIENCE WITH VISCOUNTESS BOUDICA this Monday 23rd May at 7pm at The Society Club, 3 Cheshire St, E1. Click here to book.

Viscountess Boudica’ s drawing of The Gentle Author at work

Drawings copyright © Viscountess Boudica

Be sure to follow Viscountess Boudica’s blog There’s More To Life Than Heaven & Earth

Take a look at

Viscountess Boudica’s Domestic Appliances

Viscountess Boudica’s Blog

Viscountess Boudica’s Album

Viscountess Boudica’s Halloween

Viscountess Boudica’s Christmas

Viscountess Boudica’s Valentine’s Day

Read my original profile of Mark Petty, Trendsetter

and take a look at Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats

Mark Petty’s New Outfits

Mark Petty returns to Brick Lane

John Allin, Painter

May 20, 2016
by the gentle author

Gun St, Spitalfields

John Allin (1934-1991) began painting while serving a six month prison sentence for minor theft, and achieved considerable success in the sixties and seventies with his vivid intricate pictures recalling the East End of his childhood. There is a dreamlike quality to these visions in sharp focus of an emotionalised cityscape, created at a time when the Jewish people were leaving to seek better housing in the suburbs and their culture was fading from those streets which had once been its home.

Returning from National Service in the Merchant Navy, Allin worked in the parks department planting trees, later as a swimming pool attendant and then as a long distance lorry driver – all before his conviction and imprisonment. After discovering his artistic talent, he devoted himself to painting and won attention with his first exhibition in 1969 at the Portal Gallery, specialising in primitive and outsider art. In 1974, he collaborated with Arnold Wesker on a book of reminiscence, “Say Goodbye: You may never see them again” in which he reveals an equivocation about the East End. “I saw it as a place where people lived, earned their living, grew up, moved on … they had dignity … I like painting the past with dignity…” he said in an interview with Wesker, “but what they’ve done to the East End is diabolical! They’ve scuppered it, built and built and torn down and torn out and took lots of identity away and made it into just a concrete nothing… But people go on, don’t they? Eating their eels and giving their custom where they’ve always given their custom … Funny how people can go on and take anything and everything.”

Like Joe Orton in the theatre, Allin’s reputation as an ex-con fuelled his reputation in newspapers and on television but he found there was a price to pay, as he revealed to Wesker, “You know how I started painting don’t you? In prison! Well, when I come out the kids at school give my kid a rough time … the silly bloody journalists didn’t help. ‘Jail-bird becomes painter!’ You’d've thought I’d done God knows what … I mean the neighbours used to say things like ‘Look at ‘im! Jail-bird and he’s on telly! Ought to be sent back inside the nick!’ I was the oddity in the district, the lazy fat bastard that paints. Give me a half a chance and I’d move mate.” In fact, Allin joined Gerry Cottle’s Circus, touring as a handyman to create another book, “John Allin’s Circus Life” in 1982.

Although he was the first British recipient of the international Prix Suisse de Peinture Naive award in 1979, the categorisation of Outsider or Primitive artist is no longer adequate to apply to John Allin. More than twenty years after his death, his charismatic paintings deserve to be recognised as sophisticated works which communicate an entire social world through an unapologetically personal and emotionally charged visual vocabulary.


John Allin & George Innes in Spitalfields, 1976

Spitalfields Market, Brushfield St.

Great Synagogue, Brick Lane.

Jewish Soup Kitchen, Brune St.

Christ Church School, Brick Lane.

Heneage St and Brick Lane.

Rothschild Dwellings, Spitalfields.

Whitechapel Rd.

Christ Church Park, Commmercial St.

Wentworth St.

Fashion St with gramophone man in the foreground..

Churchill Walk.

Young Communist League rally, corner of Brick Lane and Old Montague St.

Hessel St.

Snow Scene.

Anti-Fascist Rally at Gardiners’ Corner, 1936.

Cole’s Chicken Shop, Cobb St.

Factory Workers

You may also like to look at

Doreen Fletcher, Artist

Nicholas Borden, Artist

Alfred Daniels, Artist

Noel Gibson, Artist

Dan Jones’ Paintings

Mark Gooderham, Artist