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The Door In Cornhill

February 13, 2019
by the gentle author

The Bronte sisters visit their publisher in Cornhill, 1848

An ancient thoroughfare with a mythic past, Cornhill takes its name from one of the three former hills of the City of London – an incline barely perceptible today after centuries of human activity upon this site, building and razing, rearranging the land. This is a place does not declare its multilayered history – even though the Roman forum was here and the earliest site of Christian worship in England was here too, dating from 179 AD, and also the first coffee house was opened here by Pasqua Rosee in 1652, the Turk who introduced coffee to London. Yet a pair of carved mahogany doors, designed by the sculptor Walter Gilbert in 1939 at 32 Cornhill – opposite the old pump – bring episodes from this rich past alive in eight graceful tableaux.

Walter Gilbert (1871-1946) was a designer and craftsman who developed his visual style in the Arts & Crafts movement at the end of the nineteenth century and then applied it to a wide range of architectural commissions in the twentieth century, including the gates of Buckingham Palace, sculpture for the facade of Selfridges and some distinctive war memorials. In this instance, he modelled the reliefs in clay which were then translated into wood carvings by B.P Arnold at H. H. Martyn & Co Ltd of Cheltenham.

Gilbert’s elegant reliefs appeal to me for the laconic humour that observes the cool autocracy of King Lucius and the sullen obedience of his architects, and for the sense of human detail that emphasises W. M. Thackeray’s curls at his collar in the meeting with Anne and Charlotte Bronte at the offices of their publisher Smith, Elder & Co. In each instance, history is given depth by an awareness of social politics and the selection of telling detail. These eight panels take us on a journey from the early medieval world of omnipotent monarchy and religious penance through the days of exploitative clergy exerting controls on the people, to the rise of the tradesman and merchants who created the City we know today.

“St Peter’s Cornhill founded by King Lucius 179 AD to be an Archbishop’s see and chief church of his kingdom and so it endured for the space of four hundred years until the coming of Augustine the monk of Canterbury.”

“Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, did penance walking barefoot to St Michael’s Church from Queen Hithe, 1441.”

“Cornhill was an ancient soke of the Bishop of London who had the Seigneurial oven in which all tenants were obliged to bake their bread and pay furnage or baking dues.”

“Cornhill is the only market allowed to be held afternoon in the fourteenth century.”

“Birchin Lane, Cornhill, place of considerable trade for men’s apparel, 1604.”

“Garraway’s Coffee House, a place of great commercial transaction and frequented by people of quality.”

“Pope’s Head Tavern in existence in 1750 belonging to Merchant Taylor’s Company, the Vinters were prominent in the life of Cornhill Ward.”

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Terry Bay, Boxer, Compositor & Cab Driver

February 12, 2019
by the gentle author

Terry aged four sitting on a cow named Tom

When he was evacuated from Bethnal Green at four years old, Terry Bay rode a cow through an orchard in Cambridgeshire but these days he rides a taxi around the London streets. In between these peregrinations - each delighting him with their ever-changing perspectives – Terry became a boxer and a compositor, exercising the breadth of his talents by adopting new professions to suit the varying demands of his life. Yet a pair of boxing gloves hangs from the rear-view mirror of Terry’s cab as an indicator of his true passion and, if any passenger should ask – as they often do – Terry brings out an envelope of boxing pictures that he always carries, eager to share his reminiscences with any fellow enthusiast.

I visited Terry in Barkingside where lives today, but I discovered his was a story of Bethnal Green and, in the hallway of his comfortable flat, he has an extraordinary gallery of sepia portraits of members of his and his wife’s families who all lived in Bethnal Green through many generations.

You would not automatically characterise Terry as a fighter, such is his gentle and self-effacing nature. Though when he told me his story and revealed that his father died when Terry was twelve, just before he started boxing, I understood how it became necessary to find the courage to stand up for himself. In fact, Terry discovered he was blessed with a natural talent as a boxer, yet although he won most of his fights he never became a champion. Instead, Terry shared an enduring camaraderie with his fellow boxers, benefiting from a wealth of friendships that has sustained him through the years and which he still enjoys today.

“If anybody asks, I say I come from Bethnal Green. I was born in Cranberry St off Vallance Rd in 1937 – but a bomb fell there in 1940 and we moved out, first to Corfield St and then to Middleton St where I lived until was twenty-six. But, in 1941, at four years old I was evacuated to Chatteris with my brother Albert and my sister Rita. My mother Connie - she was born in Russia Lane – she wouldn’t let us be separated. My father Bill – he was a fireman during the war – he came from Menotti St, and he died when I was twelve. He had TB and didn’t go for treatment. He worked in the Docks before the war and that’s how my brother got into the Docks. Later, me and my brother and my sister, were put under observation for TB because we were so skinny. We had to go the children’s clinic in Underwood Rd and they gave us spoonfuls of cod-liver oil which I hated.

The man we were sent to in Chatteris was a farmer, and he had an orchard out the back where he kept the chickens and pigs. He cleared out the chicken house and we stayed there, and my mum came to visit too. She used to wring the chicken’s necks and pluck them, and shoot the pigs with a pig gun. She did everything, she worked in bottle factory and she was a cleaner, and she lived for her children. Later, my cousins came down to join us and we all stayed in a cottage, and then my mum and dad came to visit us – and when the war was over, they came down and took us back to Bethnal Green.

I went to infant school in Teesdale St and then at eleven years old I went to the Mansford St where they had an after-school boxing club. There were all these boys standing in a circle and there was one kid who looked like a boxer. He was deciding who to box and – as I was thin and I didn’t look as if I could box –  he picked me. It went a couple of rounds and he was supposed to be boxing me, but I was boxing his head off and he realised I had a natural talent –  and he got the hump. So then I went off to the Mansford Boxing Club with Terry Staines and Georgie Whaiter and I had a couple of bouts there. The Repton Boxing Club was going strong and they poached Terry and Georgie, so I tagged along and became a Repton boy. They took me to the London Federation of Boys’ Clubs Competition and I won my first fight but got beaten in the semi-final. That was the story of my life, there was always somebody better than me! I boxed seventeen times as a junior and lost five. Then I gradually fell away from it, I was a teenager and I got distracted.

I left school and did a six year apprenticeship and became a compositor and got married and wanted to better myself and I went to work in Fleet St. At first, I worked for the Evening News where I got a holiday frame, covering for people on leave, but then I applied for a permanent job the next year and they kept me on. And I thought I was a millionaire, I was getting fifteen pounds before but at the Evening News I got thirty-seven pounds a week! This was in 1969 and I was thirty-two. You worked with hot metal and you had deadlines to meet. Firey Fred was the head printer and he used to be always on your back when you were working on a page, ‘Hurry up! Quick as you can, mates.’ There was a metal frame for the page and stories came in hot metal, and you had a graph of how it was supposed to be. The journalists came and told you where they’d like their stories and, if it was too long, they’d cut it down. Finally, you had to plane the plate down and that’s when I got my finger permanently bent. There was two of us working on a single page. One worked at the top and the one that worked at the bottom was the assistant. He was planing the finished page down to make it smooth and we were in a hurry because Firey Fred was making us sweat. It used to be a bit crazy. Then it’d all go quiet – and you’d go off and have breakfast or a beer until the next edition.

My wife and I moved into a flat in Cressy Mansions in Stepney when we got married but six months after our son Fraser was born in 1970 we moved out to a house in Chigwell. Eventually, after twelve years at the News Chronicle, I was made redundant when it closed in 1981. Then I did ten years at the Daily Mirror until computers came in and I was made redundant again, after Robert Maxwell took it over. I worked at Tower Typography in Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, doing general typesetting for a while, but I didn’t like it after the excitement of the newspapers. When I finally left printing, I bought a pub, The Dolphin on Redchurch St, but that didn’t suit either, the life of a publican. That’s when I became a cab driver, and that’s what I’ve done ever since, for the past twenty-four years.

I was never a famous boxer. My father loved boxing, he would have liked what I did but he died before I started. And although my mother never liked me doing it, I made a lot of friends and I had a fun-filled time with my pals. I was brought up in a rough area and people got into trouble. I was in a car once with some friends, and the police stopped us and found wax impressions and tools for making keys in the boot. They took us back to the station and I was remanded in Brixton for two weeks, even though I was never a villain or a thief.

The only thing I’ve done that I’m really proud of is my boxing life. Once I overheard the headmaster at my school talking to a class and he said, ‘I watched Terry Bay sparring in the playground and he’s very good.’ I didn’t know I was good. And for him to have said that meant everything to me.

I didn’t try to be a tough guy but you had to take care of yourself. I wasn’t brave, I was scared of being scared.”

Terry at the Repton Boxing Club.

Terry is on the far right of this picture of the Mansford St School Boxing team 1951.

Terry as a schoolboy.

Terry and his friend Bobby in Petticoat Lane, 1954.

Terry enjoys a drink with his mates at the Westminster Arms on the corner of Old Bethnal Green Rd.

Terry with pals outside departures at London Airport on the way to a holiday in Jersey.

At Strakers & Sons, Hackney Wick, where Terry was apprenticed as a compositor in 1956. Terry can be seen in the distance on the right in a white shirt.

Mr Souter, the press man, and Nobby, the overseer. Terry is on the extreme left.

Terry & Eileen at their marriage in 1969.

Terry with his good friend Terry Spinks, the famous boxer who won a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics and died this year, also shown as a younger man in the inset.

Terry Bay has a pair of boxing gloves hanging in his cab and always carries his boxing photos in an envelope in case he meets a fellow boxing enthusiast.

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Sylvester Mittee, Welterweight Champion

Ron Cooper, Lightweight Champion

Sammy McCarthy, Flyweight Champion

Paul Anthony Gardner’s East End

February 11, 2019
by the gentle author

Over the last quarter century, Photographer Paul Anthony Gardner (not the famous paper bag seller of the same name) has been recording the diverse architectural heritage of the East End. In the intervening years, some buildings have been cherished while others have been neglected and too many have been destroyed, but thanks to Paul we have these atmospheric photographs as evidence.

Timber Merchant, Whitechapel, 1998

Path under Railway Bridge, Limehouse 2008

Christ Church, Spitalfields 1996

Former Dispensary, Stratford 2009

Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Stratford 1997

East India Dock Rd, Limehouse 2008

German Lutheran Church, Alie St, Aldgate 1996

Baptist Chapel, Grove Rd, Bow 1997

House Mill, Three Mills Island, Bromley by Bow 1997

Lift Bridge, Shadwell Basin 2000

Princelet St Synagogue, Spitalfields 1996

Warehouses at the Bishopsgate Goodsyard, 1999

Council Chamber, Shoreditch Town Hall 1998

Puma Court, Spitalfields 1998

St Botolph’s Hall, Aldgate, 1996

Shoreditch Town Hall, 1996

Princelet St Synagogue, Spitalfields 1996

London Tramways Shed, Shoreditch 1998

Trinity Green Almshouses, Whitechapel, 1998

Hydraulic Pumping Station, Wapping, 1996

Undertakers. Limehouse, 2007

Wilton’s Music Hall, Cable St, 1996

Photographs copyright © Paul Anthony Gardner

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Nigel Taylor, Tower Bell Production Manager

February 10, 2019
by the gentle author

Nigel Taylor worked at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry for forty years, from 1976 until it closed in 2017, managing all aspects of making, casting and tuning bells for the last twenty years.

In this interview, Nigel explains why the foundry closed and twenty-five jobs were lost. Yet as advisor to UK Historic Building Preservation Trust & Factum Arte‘s scheme to reopen the foundry, re-equipped for twenty-first century, he is confident it can have a viable and sustainable future.

Below you can also read a statement by Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum who this week declared his support for scheme to re-open the foundry.

If you have not yet submitted your objection to the proposal to redevelop the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a bell-themed boutique hotel, instructions follow beneath.

“I do not want to see all the things that England once held dear just die, especially the crafts and industries that we once had” – Nigel Taylor


Perhaps no-one was better placed to bear to witness to the tale of the closure of the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry – the world’s most famous foundry – than Nigel Taylor, who worked there for forty years and was the senior foundry man. At the time, we understood that the closure of the foundry was inevitable due to the decline in demand for church bells, but Nigel Taylor has a different story to tell.

His is a sobering account which reveals that the shutting of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was avoidable. Nigel asserts that it was a deliberate act by the bell founders who chose to sell up and sacrifice twenty-five jobs, rather than take action to modernise and ensure the survival of Britain’s oldest manufacturing business. Yet Nigel’s testimony also contains hope by asserting his belief that the foundry can have a viable future as a living foundry, rather than be ignominiously reduced to a bell-themed boutique hotel as has been proposed.

Nigel has been consumed by the culture of bells since early childhood and he is a passionate spokesman for those who make bells, those who ring bells, and all those who love bells.

“I am a Londoner, born in Hampstead. When I was a boy, my grandparents lived in Warwick, so as a small child I often heard the eight bells of St Nicholas. I was fascinated by the sound. I heard the sound of the bells of St Mary’s in Warwick as well. When I was five years old, I identified that they had ten bells not eight and they were a lower pitch. So my passion for bells was already there.

When I was six, we moved to Oxfordshire and the bells at Chipping Norton had not been rung for many years but they were rehung by Taylors of Loughborough. A friend of mine said, ‘They’re trying the bells out tonight, let’s go and listen.’ They told us, ‘You can’t learn to ring until you’re eleven.’ So when we were eleven, we went along to ring and my friend is still ringing the bells in that tower. Once I started to ring bells, I never looked back.

When I left school, I wrote to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and asked, ‘Do you have any vacancies?’ I had an interview with Douglas Hughes – father of Alan Hughes the last bell founder – and he said, ‘We’ll start you off in the moulding shop.’ I had no experience. There were no college course in loam-moulding or anything like that. You could do an apprenticeship in an iron foundry in loam-moulding and some of the bell founders did that after they left school. But I learnt everything I know at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

My feelings about it were quite mixed when I arrived in 1976. I had to get used to a lot of bad language which was not tolerated at school in those days. There were an interesting variety of characters, some ringers and some not. I started off making up the loam which is a mixture of sand, clay, horse manure and all the rest of it. I was the one that introduced Jeyes Fluid into the mix, just to kill off some of the bugs. Then I made moulding bricks, using loam, and dried them in the oven. They acted as packing between the moulding gauge or template and the cast iron flask, filling the space between them. Then I started making cores and, after the head moulder retired in 2003, I got to do the inscriptions. I did the lot and I was running the entire foundry production by that stage as Tower Bell Production Manager, managing the making of the bells, the casting of the bells and the tuning of the bells.

I really liked doing the inscriptions. To begin with I made white metal copies of the inscriptions on old bells to transfer to the new ones when they were recast. Later, I made casts of inscriptions in resin and stamped them into the new mould while it was still damp. We also had various letter sets in different sizes, decorative lettering and stock friezes. We often put friezes on bells, at least one if not two or three. It was a very satisfying job, because a bell is likely to last for centuries. I used to put headphones on and listen to some music while I was working and I thought, ‘This is going to outlast me.’ I have lost count of how many bells I have made. I could count how many bells I have tuned because I have kept my notebooks, so I could go through and count them. It must be thousands.

Just before the Whitechapel Bell Foundry shut, we had an order for some bells from Thailand which required a special stamp. So rather than make it the old fashioned way, I went to a 3D print shop in Canary Wharf and they printed the design for one fifth of the cost of how we did it before. It was a highly significant moment, three months before the foundry closed down.

I want to see the Whitechapel Bell Foundry re-opened as a foundry. I believe it would be economically viable. The previous business could have been economically viable with the right kind of marketing and the right kind of management.

I would like to see local people involved in foundry work, because there are no other buildings in this locality which are suitable for this purpose. I would like to see apprenticeships and training in all aspects of casting – pattern-making, moulding, fettling, machining, polishing and tuning. There are a whole range of different skills to be taught and there would be employment for those people.

I would like to take an advisory role with regard to how best to make use of the building and set up the various workshops, and especially in the design and making of patterns for bells. The previous furnaces were oil-fired but my preference is for electric which would lower the emissions considerably.

I am in favour of modernising the foundry for the twenty-first century. In the last few years, it became increasingly difficult to obtain traditional materials. Quarries which supplied sand were becoming landfill sites, so we struggled to find sand that was suitable to produce loam. If you discard that system and use resin-bonded sand instead, the strength of the mould is no longer reliant upon which quarry the sand comes from and you can have a much higher success rate with your castings. It is cleaner too. We used to have clouds of loam dust floating around everywhere – it was a dirty job.

In the past, patterns were made of wood but now we can design the profile of a bell and digitally print the pattern in high-density polypropylene, which can be reused, making the process far cheaper. You can do it in one day instead of over a matter of weeks and you can make dozens of bells with one pattern that way. It is a huge difference.

There was a dip in sales around 2012/3 as a result of government spending cuts. I think bell founders Alan & Kathryn Hughes misinterpreted this as a terminal decline in bell founding, so when the market picked up they were not ready for it. It was obvious to me that they needed a good marketing strategy, but I saw them carry on with their old policy regardless and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry began to decline rapidly while Britain’s other bell foundry, Taylors of Loughborough, picked up the lion’s share of the work due to aggressive marketing. The Hughes incurred debts in the region of £450,000 but they were thrown a lifeline by the offer of purchasing the building. By then, the building was worth money and the business was worth nothing. So they took the lifeline and foundry closed in 2017.

In my estimation, Alan & Kathryn Hughes ran out of puff. They had two daughters who were not interested in the business. After three generations of ownership, it seemed the Hughes could only see it as a family business, so if no-one in the family was going to run it that was the end of business. That was certainly how it appeared to us, the staff, and it became apparent in the way the Hughes allowed the business to collapse.

I knew the Whitechapel Bell Foundry needed to put in more competitive quotes and carry out free inspections for prospective jobs. We were the only firm in the business that charged for quotations. It cost us a lot of work. We needed to introduce proper marketing, concentrate on their products and skilled staff – not the fact that it was a family business which was the oldest manufacturing company in England. Customers cared more about whether we could do a good job and how much it was going to cost. The Hughes might have introduced some new directors to bring fresh ideas but their notion of a family business prevented that.

So they did none of these things and twenty-five jobs were destroyed. I think the Hughes tried to block out their responsibility to their employees. I saw how Alan Hughes allowed circumstances to decline until they passed a point of no return. He once said to me, after he had announced that the foundry was going to close and we were all going to lose our jobs, he said ‘It’ll be quite interesting to dismantle it.’ It suggested he had formed a barrier to the emotions that must be inherent in anyone whose is going to close a business that has been in existence for over four hundred years.

In my opinion, he closure was avoidable. With the right strategy, I believe the foundry could have survived, or they could have sold the building and the business when it was a going concern and walked away with a nice amount of money in the bank. But their actions revealed they could only contemplate it as a family business. At present, there is a lot of work about. The bell market and the art foundry market are both very buoyant and I believe the new proposal is perfectly viable.

I am District Master of the Essex Association of Bell Ringers, and I still ring bells at least three nights a week and quite a lot at weekends. I am a traditionalist, I do not want to see all the things that England once held dear just die, especially the crafts and industries that we once had.”



“The re-established Whitechapel Bell Foundry would add significantly to the creative offer in East London. As the V&A East establishes a substantial presence at Stratford and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and develops particular links with the adjacent boroughs,  we would welcome the opportunity to promote the Whitechapel-based art and bell foundry.  Combining traditional skills with innovative technology and the offer of apprenticeship and further training in this specialized field will enhance the interpretation of the V&A’s important collection of works of art in bronze. Continuing the centuries-old tradition of bell founding in London with its global outreach  will enrich the cultural presence and attract national, regional and international interest.”

Dr Tristram Hunt


You can help save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a living foundry by submitting an objection to the boutique hotel proposal to Tower Hamlets council. Please take a moment this weekend to write your letter of objection. The more objections we can lodge the better, so please spread the word to your family and friends.



Use your own words and add your own personal reasons for opposing the development. Any letters which simply duplicate the same wording will count only as one objection.


1. Quote the application reference: PA/19/00008/A1

2. Give your full name and postal address. You do not need to be a resident of Tower Hamlets or of the United Kingdom to register a comment but unless you give your postal address your objection will be discounted.

3. Be sure to state clearly that you are OBJECTING to Raycliff Capital’s application.

4. Point out the ‘OPTIMUM VIABLE USE’ for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is as a foundry not a boutique hotel.

5. Emphasise that you want it to continue as a foundry and there is a viable proposal to deliver this.

6. Request the council refuse Raycliff Capital’s application for change of use from foundry to hotel.



You can write an email to


you can post your objection direct on the website by following this link to Planning and entering the application reference PA/19/00008/A1


you can send a letter to

Town Planning, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London, E14 2BG



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A Bell-Themed Boutique Hotel?

Hope for The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Royal Jubilee Bells At Garlickhythe

The Most Famous Bells in the World

An Old Whitechapel Bell

A Visit To Great Tom At St Paul’s

A Petition to Save the Bell Foundry

Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

So Long, Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Doreen Fletcher’s Lost Time

February 9, 2019
by the gentle author

Fiona Atkins, gallerist at Townhouse Spitalfields, will be giving a lecture about Doreen Fletcher’s painting at the Nunnery Gallery on Wednesday 20th February as part of Doreen Fletcher’s Retrospective exhibition which runs until 24th March. In advance of her lecture, Fiona explores Doreen’s work as a response to the changing East End in the eighties. Click here to book

Mile End Park at Twilight, 1987

Many people in the East End in the eighties probably did not recognise the significance of the changes that were taking place. The development of Canary Wharf, sitting in detached isolation, appeared to have nothing to do with them and preoccupied by the day-to-day, they carried on as usual. When Doreen Fletcher arrived in 1982, she instantly warmed to the sense of community evident in the corner shops, and cafes – to the familiarity of the terraced streets with the small houses that reminded her of home.

Yet as an outsider, she could see what the locals could not see because it was too familiar: that those same shops, pubs and cafes were remnants of an earlier community that had been slowly disappearing since the end of the Second World War, and they were not going to survive much longer.

So Doreen began to paint: she was not documenting architecture or history, she was painting the everyday lives of people living in an ordinary community. Over the next twenty years, she created what we can now see are an extraordinary group of paintings of an East End that has all but disappeared, and which will themselves become a part of the cultural memory of the East End as we come to realise what has been lost.

People feature rarely in her paintings, although they are there. It is the places that were the focus of the community that caught her attention. She did not use many of the shops and cafes herself and they are viewed with the eye of an outsider, a status which facilitated a clear vision. Yet, although people are largely absent from her paintings, there is an underlying warmth, revealing life going on behind the scenes, often conveyed in the small details: a light on in a room, a discarded beer can in the gutter and the graffiti. The two women chatting at the bus stop, in the painting of the same name, are unusual but they are barely noticeable, screened by the barrier of the shelter.

John Cooper, artist, teacher and founder of the East London Group, wrote ‘You can spoil the humanity of a picture if you put figures in,’ and Doreen’s humanity shines through, despite the lack of figures in her work. Mile End Park at Twilight was an early East End painting of Doreen’s and her choice to paint it at dusk immediately imbues the scene with a warm glow.

The light shining from the windows, including from the illuminated sign, contradicts the message of the boarded-up terrace of houses: there is clearly still life in these buildings. Condemned House was painted in the same year and enlarges on the theme. The house appears to be inhabited, with no suggestion that it has been abandoned and the curtains reveal an owner who was once proud of their home. The tree, apparently a rare one, is painted with colourful vibrancy, yet the broken railings hint at the fate of both house and tree.

Doreen paints with feeling and her style is well ordered and harmonious with a strong sense of colour. The flat clarity of her scenes occasionally lends her work the air of eighteenth- or nineteenth-century folk art, as for example Mile End Park with Church, which could almost be an eighteenth-century view painted with the clear vision of a young Gainsborough. It is a style that suits her theme in depicting a world that is orderly and peaceful, where derelict buildings convey a sense of the past rather than urban decay and there is no suggestion of aggression or violence. It accords with our perception of the post-war East End as a time of close-knit communities when the world was perhaps a simpler place – a lost time.

Bus Stop, Mile End 1983

The Condemned House, Poplar 1985

Mile End Park With Church, 1988