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John Claridge at the Salvation Army

May 7, 2012
by the gentle author

At Booth House, Whitechapel, 1967

William Booth, an ex-pawnbroker, founded the Salvation Army by preaching in a tent upon Whitechapel Waste in July 1865 and, although his mission has spread around the world since then, the East End remains the heartland of this endeavour which began simply as The East London Christian Mission.

Published today for the first time, John Claridge‘s bold, clear-eyed and compassionate photographs were taken while visiting the Salvation Army at Booth House in the Whitechapel Rd between 1959 and 1982, as the result of his long-term interest in their work among the dispossessed. “As a kid, I remember sitting outside the pub with a cream soda and seeing them coming round selling copies of the War Cry,” John told me, “I think the Salvation Army is an essential part of the East End.”

“The early pictures were taken when I used to go wandering around and talking to the guys on the street, and they told me they were going to the Salvation Army, so I followed them.” he recalled, “The later ones were done by invitation as charity work to raise money, and I wanted to document what they were doing because I think they do a fantastic job. Over twenty years, the facilities were updated but the people didn’t seem to change. I met people from all across the social spectrum who were in need of help, most were East Enders without families who couldn’t take care of themselves.

The Salvation Army offer a welcome to lost souls sleeping rough on the street, and they give people some faith in themselves when everything’s going down the drain. Anyone could end up like that, some who I met were well educated, people like you and me. And, as a photographer, I found that if you showed a little respect, they showed you their pain.”

Yet there is a generous humanity in John’s Salvation Army pictures, recording resilience as much as pain, and emphasising strength of character, self-possession and dignity in faces of East Enders riven by the trials of life.

Waiting for the hostel to open in the morning, 1965.

Entering Victoria Home, 1959.

Waiting for the hostel to open, 1960.

On the way to the hostel, Whitechapel Rd, 1959.

At Victoria Home, 1982.

At Booth House, 1982.

In the canteen at Victoria Home, 1982.

At the childcare centre for working mothers in Hoxton, 1982.

At Victoria Home, 1982.

Recipient of home delivery meals, Whitechapel, 1982. “I went with one of the ladies, taking him lunch, and that’s how I got this picture.”

At Victoria Home, 1982.

At a prayer meeting, Booth House, 1982.

Blind pianist at the Hoxton day centre, 1982

At a prayer meeting, Booth House, 1982.

Resident of Hopetown women’s hostel, 1982

At Hopetown, Old Montague St, 1982

Caretaker at Victoria Home, 1982.

Dormitory at Victoria Home, 1982.

Showers at Victoria Home, 1982

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

and read these other stories of the dispossessed

The Dosshouses of Spitalfields

Geoffrey Fletcher, Down Among the Meths Men

Beatrice Ali, Salvation Army Hostel Dweller

26 Responses leave one →
  1. May 7, 2012

    Very strong images John, and all the more so with the gritty look of B&W. I suspect some of the faces would not look any different to ones in 1865.

  2. May 7, 2012

    How true when Mr Coe says they would not look that much different to ones in 1865.

    Once again John you seem to be able to convey in these pictures the all too realistic story of lives of hardship with a total truth and honesty. They are hard to look at,but unforgettable.

  3. Roger Owen permalink
    May 7, 2012

    Very interesting record of a not so distant past. How things have changed! Beautiful portraits – quite haunting.

  4. May 7, 2012

    Beautiful, humane portraits, which took me right back to the years I spent volunteering for “Crisis at Christmas” (now rebranded just “Crisis”) in the ’80s and ’90s. The faces may have changed but the problem of homelessness remains. Great work, John. Thank you.

  5. marie james permalink
    May 7, 2012

    These photos made me cry. Very powerful images – as I’m writing this I have tears rolling down my cheeks……………….

  6. May 7, 2012

    One of the best of your series John!! Thanks for sharing that. Some truly emotional engagement going on with your subject there. You can tell that John Claridge cares!!

  7. dennis permalink
    May 7, 2012

    I love the picture of the man sitting under the picture of Christ. It says so much John. Absolutely made by the way you have cropped the top of the empty chair next to him and the empty wall into the picture, take that away and it is half the picture. And the fabulous shot of the woman with the pearls and the totally empty eyes which say to me that all hope is gone. Wonderfully ironic title “At Hopetown, 1982.”

  8. May 7, 2012

    Beautiful, timeless, moving photos. Thank you.

  9. Cindy Salmon permalink
    May 7, 2012

    Another inspiring gallery, I feel these images distill the essence of the photographer’s beliefs. Through his intuitive eye John has shared moments of private tragedy, no hint of denigration only the opportunity to celebrate the significance of an event. Thank you John.

  10. Cherub permalink
    May 7, 2012

    I am not very religious (maybe just in my own way at times), but I always give money to the Salvation Army. My late father witnessed a lot of poverty in Belfast the 20s and 30s and he always used to speak about the work they did with the poor, the homeless and destitute alcoholics. We should also remember how much stellar work the missing persons service does. Each year I choose 4 charities to donate to at Christmas and the one that is non negotiable is the Salvation Army.

  11. May 7, 2012

    Such beautiful and powerful portraits. I’m so glad you had the foresight to document your surroundings. Well done.

  12. Stephen Mahon permalink
    May 7, 2012

    Really moving and emotionally charged images, as I looked at them it reminded me or Orwell’s down and out in Paris and London and the charachters that exsisted in those pages were looking back at me.

  13. Gordon Smith permalink
    May 8, 2012

    Strong, honest, powerful portraits.

  14. Marien de Goffau permalink
    May 8, 2012

    The portrait of the errant side of our lives.
    One of the best series ever. Thanks John.

  15. May 9, 2012

    More Claridge empathy with people and society he grew up with and typical
    of his ability to capture the essence of anyone he meets . . . be it CEOs of major corporates, showbiz personalities/politicians, musicians or, as here, the Sally Army.

    He never ceases to remind us of the humility we should all feel towards the underlying
    kindness of the human spirit.

  16. john edwards permalink
    May 9, 2012

    Pitiless isn’t it. See it every day at the Maples St Mission
    and all along the slag strip of Whitechapel Road, aka Filthchapel.
    What’s always so hurting is you know they were all small innocent children once upon a crime,
    one that they, poor souls had no part in other than shooting the flume to Hardville.
    Passed a Big Issue seller on the corner of Fenchurch & Gracechurch.
    Lunchtime and the guys and gals were whizzing about oblivious to all else but getting lunch and raising umbrellas.
    He was perhaps in his 30’s – 40’s, grossly overweight, a junior Oliver Hardy perched hatless in the rain on a minute metal chair, a circus elephant with diabetes type 2 raging for sure.
    No one seemed to see that he was pretty wet and, more, weeping in seizures of despair, a lone copy of the magazine raised still in his right hand, the left covering his face from the dance of wellbeing whirling all around his poor heaving defeated shoulders.
    The bus swept me round and on to Aldgate. I nearly went back but it was pissing down.
    Looked for him three days later but he was melted away. Will look again though.

    There’s a [very bad] statue of Booth just into the Mile End Road – He’s facing east [why?] and has a hand raised. It is not a summons to relief, but more a gesture he’s seen a cab and hailed it, saying ‘Up West driver. Pedal to the metal my son’.

    There,Claridge you’ve hit the gritty buttons again. And. Again. You and I know we can walk
    out and cast a movie from 1500 thru 2050ad. in a one mile stretch. Well done Johnny. x

  17. May 10, 2012

    Another amazing series of pictures which fills me with emotion when I look at them.
    Times must have been so hard for these people, and like today our social problems gets hidden away from us, swept under the massive carpets, that the rich society have, some things never change.
    But through John’s eyes, we get to see what goes on behind closed doors, how life was and properly still is.
    Some photographers have it, some don’t, and one thing is for sure, John Claridge have it, big time.
    I will say it again and again, I do not understand why we haven’t seen any more of John’s images, I hope this is a new beginning for John, because I doubt very much if we have seen his full repertoire.
    Bring it on John.


  18. John in Paris. permalink
    May 22, 2012

    With the innocent enthusiasm that Claridge showed as a young kid with his camera, the locals just had total faith and let him get on with it.Real pictures.

  19. Paul Grubb permalink
    May 23, 2012

    JC’s pics are so potent they make me grateful I’m living in the present

  20. Jupiter John permalink
    May 23, 2012

    John’s unique photography is full of heart, and it takes a particular skill to draw out a sense of personal narrative within each frame. There is a great deal of sensitivity and empathy in all of his work. Be it dealing with grinding poverty here, or by capturing a glimpse of bygone times, we are drawn into the story. It’s as if Dickens and Orwell had been given a photographic medium to translate their writing. John’s work captures the drama and melancholy of an ever- shifting social history with the essence of bygone times, and thus renders them unforgettable. Highly recommended!

  21. isabella permalink
    June 18, 2012

    I found these photographs very haunting and moving a picture tells a thousand stories.

  22. clara mills permalink
    August 3, 2012

    Thank you for these images, they captured my heart. I currently live at Hopetown myself, yes there is indeed a whole long story that goes with that! I am also an aspiring photographer and writer and have been inspired greatly by what you have done here. Thank you.

  23. Colin permalink
    August 3, 2012

    I met some of these 1982 men and officers after they had moved from the Victoria Home following its closure to the newly refurbished hostel in Limehouse and some memories are stirred. I think a lot of the younger and short term residents will have moved to Booth House space permitting and it is curious that the two hostels ran separately and next door to each other for years. Victoria Home is now converted into flats having been empty for years – I wished I’d taken a look.

    Victoria Home (aka ‘177’) looks grim in the photos This size of dormitory was very old-school so no wonder it closed. Since the 1980s there has been a move towards accommodation in single rooms and older hostels have been closed or refurbished.

    The article describes the men thus “… most were East Enders without families who couldn’t take care of themselves”. SA hostels have traditionally been home to many casual/itinerant labourers and manual workers. I think many men will have made a lifestyle choice to live there which, despite appearances and with limited options, may not have been so bad. Living alone in London is not easy; it can be lonely and expensive.

    I think there was a core of men who had lived at the Victoria Home for donkey’s years including older men. For those who had lived previously in institutional settings e.g. childrens home, borstal/prison, national service, boarding school(!) it may have been a logical step. Unlike today there wasn’t much initiative to move them on into their own homes and men who left could come back. In the dark days before Care in the Community the alternative for several men was psychiatric hospital.

    I think there was a hierarchy of sorts with several long-term residents employed to run the place with jobs doing security, cooking and cleaning, So they didn’t all spend their days sitting around by any means.

    The 3 officers look a little sinister but I remember the Captain as a kind hearted and jolly man with real commitment. The marching banner is fantastic – perhaps a reminder of earlier days marching down the Whitechapel Road in the footsteps of General Booth!

  24. ian silverton permalink
    February 11, 2014

    John great pictures,never new we where all so poor looking back at them,also love the reply letters to all your pictures,and stories,from your old mate John Edwards,he has a good way with words. my best to you both, Ian Silverton,ex east end boy,1944 1962.

  25. John Wood permalink
    April 21, 2016

    Brings back many memories John. As a young Salvationist in the East End I was often at these facilities. My Father-in-law was a SA Officer in charge of the Garford Street hostel and carried out tasks most people would be physically sick executing, he did it for a pittance and out of Christian love, following the example set out by William Booth.

  26. David McShee permalink
    November 6, 2020

    My mum and dad were SA Officers and we lived at Victoria Home in 1965. I remember the place really well, some of the men who stayed there would make fishing nets. Incidentally Mum, before she married, worked in Hope town and we visited there with her once. Mum particularly never forgot ‘her men’ and would become very tearful when she heard the song ‘Streets of London’.
    The men were the poorest of the poor but they were also extremely kind and my brother and I always felt safe in their company. It is a personal concern that over 50 years later people are still living on the streets, The social services side of the SA is much depleted so places such as Victoria Home way back then are now few and far between so the people that William Booth lived for now once again live on the streets of Whitechapel.

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