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In a Lonely Place

May 15, 2012
by the gentle author

Pedley St Arch, Spitalfields, 1987

Photographer John Claridge told me that he enjoys his own company, which casts an equivocation upon the title he gave this set of pictures – published here for the first time – that he took in the East End between 1960 and 1987. As a kid photographer from Plaistow, succumbing to the thrall of Film Noir and Italian Neo-Realism, John set out with his camera to look at his own territory in the light of these inspirations. And the result is a collection of intriguingly moody images that reveal unexpected beauty, humanity, and even humour, in locations devoid of figures, yet tense with dramatic potential.

Two themes are emergent in these depopulated pictures of the East End in eternal half-light. One theme is the unlikely placing of familiar objects in locations that propose hidden narratives and the other theme is spaces that contain the anticipation of a human presence. Both are strategies inviting the viewer to ask questions, investigate the nature of the photograph and draw their own conclusion.

When John photographs a pair of shoes in the street, or a pram, or a pair of sofas, or an armchair, or even a clapped-out old car, there is always a sense that these things have been put there deliberately as part of a mysterious scenario, not abandoned but awaiting their owners’ return. Similarly, mannequins in a window or a picture of a girl used to repair a pane of glass, also appear meaningful in an unexplained way, asking us to do our own detective work. And the old sign announcing “News of the World” above a door unopened in years makes its own statement of existential significance. Scrutinise John’s picture of Upton Park station disappearing into the dawn mist, or the receding columns of E16, or the pictures of the Pedley St arch, each ripe with suspense. Would you be surprised to see a hoodlum in a fedora with a gun step from the shadows, or an amorous femme fatale in a trench coat come strolling to a rendezvous?

While many left the East End after the war to seek new lives in the suburbs, there were others who stayed and were comfortable living among the bombsites and empty houses, and in his youth John counted himself in the latter category. “I didn’t find it depressing,” he assured me, “because there was still a kind of community. I loved it. There was destruction everywhere yet you couldn’t destroy people’s spirits. But when they took their gardens away and put people in towers where they didn’t know their neighbours, that was destruction of another kind.”

John is keenly aware that outsiders may project their own tragic interpretations upon these pictures of dereliction but, as one who is not ashamed to call himself a Romantic, he asks – “Is it really a lonely place, or is it all in the mind?”

Mannequins, E1, 1968.

Pylon in Early Morning, E3, 1968.

News of the World, E1, 1968.

Shoes, E2, 1963.

Armchair, E1, 1965.

Lamp, E16, 1982.

Pram, E14, 1968.

Upton Park at Dawn, E13, 1966.

Circus Poster, E7, 1975.

Columns, E15, 1982.

Sewer Bank, E13, 1963.

Girl in the Window, E2, 1966.

End of the Street, E1, 1982

Ford, E13, 1961.

Beckton Gas Works, E6, 1987.

Volkswagon, E14, 1970.

Half a Building, E13, 1962.

Gravestones, E7, 1960.

Pedley St Arch, Spitalfields, 1987.

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

31 Responses leave one →
  1. Marina B permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Ah! What magnificence! Thank you!

  2. May 15, 2012

    Wonderfully evocative photographs, you’re right. These situations form such a familiar backdrop that they seem unremarkable until captured like this. They remind me of Edinburgh in the 60s.

  3. May 15, 2012

    These photos are so beautiful, and full of story. They are worth revisiting again and again.

  4. May 15, 2012

    Beautiful, but very silent, cats, birds or plants seem to be missing too.

  5. May 15, 2012

    John, Best set yet, love them, but particularly like “Girl in Window” “End of Street” and “News of the World”. Any more to come? G

  6. Jouanisson permalink
    May 15, 2012

    so fine to be in London with you for a parisian, it’s always a pleasure to meet spitalfieldslife

  7. joan permalink
    May 15, 2012

    I remember Beckton gasworks looking like that as my mum moved from Stepney into one of the new developments in Beckton in 1983. It’s easy to see why Stanley Kubrick used it as a location for Full Metal Jacket.

    Terrific set of photos.


  8. Tim permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Wonderful graphic shots of Spitalfields as ever from John. The atmosphere captured here is
    is fantastic. They will never be repeated.

  9. May 15, 2012

    Haunting Beauty… thank you reminds me of some of the subjects in paintings by Jock Macfadyen who would be good to feature on your blog someday as he has painted so much of the east end and spitalfields. I particularly like Lamp E16 and Columns E15…

  10. cindy hacker permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Wonderful! Boot Camp for the jaded. X Love

  11. May 15, 2012

    It amazes me how so much can be said within so little! These images are poetry and the accompanying text works extremely well to evoke a real sense of pathos.

  12. Mike Hannett permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Great shots. I grew up in Miles Platting, inner city Manchester, in the early sixties and these pictures really take me back to my childhood. Beautifully atmospheric. Thanks, John.

  13. May 15, 2012

    An amazing collection of thoughtfully created (and extremely thought provoking) photographs. What a mess! – Bomb sites, dumped prams, sofas and motorbike wheels. The cars might be worth a few bob if they were still around. What I don’t understand is that we grew up alongside this without much of a second thought…….. except John Claridge who saw something we had missed and recorded it for us to witness again today. Great insight John, we owe you.

  14. cindy hacker permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Wonderful! Boot Camp for the jaded eye! X Cindy

  15. May 15, 2012


    They are such wonderful images; It is like travelling back in a time machine and walking around through the streets of the East End that is no longer there. You have captured beautifully the haunting beauty of the last days of of a part of London.
    I just keep wandering what happened to the people that lived there and were are they now.
    Thank you so much for sharing your walks through the East End.


  16. May 15, 2012

    I find these images of the East End fascinating.
    One would have to be up early to find Claridge out there on his own, photographing his world, what a wonderful point of view.
    I hope it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of John Claridge’s pictures, because I can’t wait to see more.
    Thank you John for sharing this with us.


  17. Patricia permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Such incredibly beautiful images.

  18. john edwards permalink
    May 15, 2012

    The blitzed, battered, black-soot, scarred, broken teeth back area’s of these facades were best enjoyed on the run in from Essex to Liverpool St. Station. Five miles of high walled coffin ‘gardens’,
    all piled with an Aladdin cave of scrap and dark things with a fair contribution thrown in the inky slimed canal as if in propitiation to long absent gods, or maybe a cargo cult votive pleading ,
    east London’s answer to crop circles. Lord send us a three piece suite from never-never land won’t ya.

    And, the train would linger and dawdle those last miles as if it were proud to show the newcomer
    what a real Londoner could achieve with mere baths, bikes, pails, assorted scrap and any old iron.

    Three Seasons of fog and coke fire ash clouds, MC Escher by Dore´, Dali by Max Ernst – walls of such patina and chippiness to match that of my hop picking granny Edith’s. Summer you had to get to the sea as those streets were so empty and so baked even a stray dog panting sounded loud as a goods train going up a 1 in 10 gradient.The ice cream truck like ‘Bring out your dead’, so null and void any reaction to the banal false promise of those bells.

    The reason they all had canaries was to see if it was safe to go out and risk breathing in what had descended from the miles of crocodile back chimney stacks the night before.
    Antonia comments – ‘cats, birds and plants seem missing’ … Yes Antonia, all inside for their own safety, lots of furriers and hungry Lascars abroad, and, anything but a feral dark mute aspidistra behind lace curtain just not on.
    Windowboxes? Geraniums! Family of pansies! Enough Pennyroyal and London Pride on the reefs of no man’s land still waiting for Godot & Sons – Builders, to muck it up. Cow Parsley on the canal banks. Chickens and rabbits in the back scrapyard.

    It was a great moment in life, ‘Mr. B’ [Billy Eckstine] collars/shirts, ‘slim jim’ ties, dress socks, all pure dacron. Lightweight Dormeuil suits.Hand tailored by Benny Fireman or Daks, Crockett & Jones calf shoes. Strictly weekends,weddings and funerals. Lot of IPA in straight pint glasses, Mackeson and a dark rum for mum.

    And, how we loved that hard blackened desolation . It was so great and so focussed. Miss it
    for all time. Heaven on three quid a week. Chiaroscuro Piranesi and a pint of prawns.

    Rare bird dear JC, quietly clicking away, jab and move, dancer and shadow boxer. Nailed it
    so well and led me a [merry ] dance with the echo of shadows, again. Lovely.

  19. linda permalink
    May 15, 2012

    For an Essex girl, with mum and granny (dad came from Margate, grandad died in Ypres) who worked the route out from Soho, to Holborn, to unspecified East London, to Chadwell Heath, to Romford suburbs, there’s a lot of resonance here. Not to mention being ‘of a certain age’ (ahem).

    As a teenager, with my very first camera – a russian Zenith 35mm SLR I seem to remember – I took black & white shots but mine were very grey. Basically not what was in my mind’s eye. If I’d have seen your shots back then, I think I would have given up completely. Or joined the scouts and come round to your house to learn in bob-a-job week. So, thank you. L

  20. May 15, 2012

    Breath-taking. How many such haunting images can you treat us to?

  21. Adrian Taylor permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Morning, John,
    Haunting, beautiful and sad. Thank you for sharing these, lovelier than the last.
    Hi Janet!

  22. Chris F permalink
    May 15, 2012

    Photographs like these act like a time machine for me. the early 1960’s was the era of my own childhood. My father left my mum for another woman when I was a few months old and she struggled to keep a roof over our heads (Three jobs and no maintenance handouts). We lived on streets just like these and I remember vividly going with my mum to fetch bags of coal on a pushchair from the gasworks. People were always advising my mum to put me in a home and to think about herself but she wouldn’t dream of it. I don’t remember having a sad or deprived upbringing and I’m pleased to report that my mum is still with us (82 & fighting fit) however, I think that the swinging 60’s completely passed us by! Thanks for posting these photos.

  23. Cindy S. permalink
    May 16, 2012

    “When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone”

    Thank you John, a very special and insightful collection of images.

  24. Marien de Goffau permalink
    May 16, 2012

    Beautiful and impressive, powerful and simple, black and white, the main line and detail, symbolic and surprisingly, strong and impactful, original and mature, historical and young, brave and bold, balanced and subtle, special and unique, a story and hushed, from that time and tight, God’s will and talented, contemporary and forever, emotionally and innovative, John Claridge and John Claridge,

  25. jeannette permalink
    May 17, 2012

    there isn’t any place any of us would rather have been in the early 60s than london. these photographs make me feel as if i had been there.
    she loves you, yeah yeah yeah yeah.

  26. John in Paris. permalink
    May 22, 2012

    What the heart feels,the eyes see.Claridge is life.

  27. May 22, 2012

    John’s right . . . there really is no lonely place on earth unless you wish it so . . . his graphic images may show the East End ravages of World War II but they capture, as ever with John, the craggy majesty of the desolation . . . let’s hope the Olympic architects carve out a fitting lasting legacy worthy of the people whose good humour (just go to a West Ham football match to see what I mean!) enabled community survival against all the odds all those years ago (somehow I doubt it but maybe in a few years’ time John’s camera lens will let us know!).

  28. marie james permalink
    May 23, 2012

    These photographs have an honesty and integrity which is truly beautiful. Thank you for sharing them with us, John.

  29. colin magraw permalink
    July 16, 2012

    i remember many a night going from bethnal green to my home in Deal Street across the pedley street rail way bridge or the train steps as we called them .

    I pass them every day still when my train going into and leaving Liverpool street station to and from work always think of my happy childhood in the east end .

    dont know if anyone has photos of my old buildings they were very old they were called Howard and Albert family dwellings.

    Brings back lots of memories

  30. keith kelly permalink
    April 24, 2018

    are the gravestones still standing i wonder

  31. July 8, 2020

    John Edwards’ comments (see above) from eight years ago: what a fabulous poem! Thank you from the bottom of my soul.

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