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Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts of 1988

May 17, 2012
by the gentle author

First published by Spitalfields Life two years ago, Alan Dein’s photographs are now the subject of an exhibition at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives in Mile End, giving history and context to these shopfronts. I am republishing the pictures today to celebrate this show which opens tonight and runs until 12th July.

P.Lipman, Kosher Poultry Dealers, Hessel St

“In my twenties, I’d been doing a number of oral history recordings, working for the Museum of the Jewish East End which was very active recording stories of the life of Jewish people who had settled here.” explained Alan Dein, broadcaster and oral historian, outlining the background to his unique collection of more than a hundred photographs of East End shopfronts.

“My photographs of the derelict shopfronts record the last moments of the Jewish community in the area. The bustling world of the inter-war years had been moved into the suburbs, and the community that stayed behind was less identifiable. In the nineteen eighties they were just hanging on, some premises had been empty for more than five years. They were like a mouthful of broken teeth, a boxer’s mouth that had been thumped, with holes where teeth once were.”

Feeding his twin passions for photography and collecting, Alan took these pictures in 1988 while walking around the streets of the East End at a time when dereliction prevailed. Although his family came from the Jewish East End and his Uncle Lou was a waiter at Blooms, Alan was born elsewhere and first came to study . “As a student at the City of London Polytechnic in Old Castle St, I spent a lot of time hanging out here – though the heart of the area for me at that time was the student common room and bar.” he told me.

“Afterwards, in 1988, I moved back to live in a co-operative housing scheme in Whitehorse Rd in Stepney and then I had more time to walk around in this landscape that evoked the fragmentary tales I knew of my grandparents’ lives in the East End. The story I heard from their generation of the ‘monkey parade’, when once people walked up and down the Mile End Road to admire the gleaming shopfronts and goods on display. My family thought I was mad to move back because when they left the East End they put it behind them, and it didn’t reflect their aspirations for me.

The eighties were a terrible time for removing everything, comparable to what the Victorians had done a century earlier. But I have always loved peeling paint, paint that has been weathered and worn seafront textures, and this was just at the last moment before these buildings were going to be redeveloped, so I photographed the shopfronts because this landscape was not going to last.”

In many of these pictures, there is an uneasy contradiction between the proud facades and the tale of disappointment which time and humanity has written upon them. This is the source of the emotionalism in these photographs, seeing faded optimism still manifest in the confident choice of colours and the sprightly signwriting, becoming a palimpsest overwritten by the elements, human neglect and graffiti. In spite of the flatness of these impermeable surfaces, in each case we know a story has been enclosed that is now shut off from us for ever. Beyond their obvious importance as an architectural and a social record, Alan’s library of shopfronts are also a map of his exploration of his own cultural history – their cumulative heartbreak exposing an unlocated grief that is easily overlooked in the wider social narrative of the movement of people from the East End to better housing in the suburbs.

Yet Alan sees hope in these tantalising pictures too, in particular the photo at the top, of Lipman’s Kosher Poultry Dealers, in which the unknown painter ran out of paint while erasing the name of the business, leaving the word “Lip” visible. “A little bit of lip!” as Alan Dein terms it brightly, emblematic of an undying resilience in the face of turbulent social change.

Goulston St

In Whitechapel

Commercial Rd

Redchurch St

Stepney Green

Cheshire St

Alie St

Hessel St

Hackney Rd

Quaker St

Mile End Rd

Toynbee St

Alie St

In E2

Brick Lane

Great Eastern St

Commercial St

Hessel St

Mile End Rd

Relocated to Edgeware

Bow Common Lane

Brick Lane

Ben Jonson Rd

Wilkes St

Bow Rd

Ridley Rd

New Goulston St.

Whitechapel High St

Alderney Rd, Stepney

Photographs copyright © Alan Dein

After You’ve Gone: East End Shopfronts 1988 by Alan Dein runs from Thursday 17th May until Thursday 12th July at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 277 Bancroft Road, E1. You must email if you want to attend tonight’s launch. Opening times for the exhibition are here. Alan Dein will give a talk on Saturday 9th June at 2.00pm.

34 Responses leave one →
  1. sprite permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Vivid pictures… of our bygone time.

  2. Melvyn H. Brooks, Karkur, Israel permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Gelkoff’s used to be on the left hand side of Blooms as you went in. The family lived near Coronation Avenue, Stoke Newington High Street. The younger son, Leon, attended Hackney Downs (Grocers’) School 1957-64. He has lived in Israel for many years. His elder brother (? Ian) lives in Edinburgh.
    The photographs deserve to be produced in book form, with a commentary.
    Thanks a lot Alan and once again to Spitalfields Life.

  3. Mel permalink
    May 17, 2012

    For more information about the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives our webpage is also on the ideastore website here:

  4. joan permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Oh Gelkoff’s! Those were the days when you didn’t see Lindt and Suchard chocolate in supermarkets and so going to Gelkoff’s and getting your hands on continental chocolate was a very special thing indeed. I associate going there with ‘doing the rounds’ with my dad when he was the burglar alarm mechanic for many businesses in Whitechapel such as Spiegelhalters and other jewellers.

    I feel the stash of Lindt in my kitchen cupboard calling to me. Surely the only appropriate tribute.


  5. Eileen permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Re. Suskin at 45 Wilkes St. I remember that shop as a Grocery shop in the 1940s and possibly into the 50s under the name of Shapiro. Am I the only person who remembers this?

  6. Isis permalink
    May 17, 2012

    It is lovely that other Suskin’s signs are still on Wilkes Street, one hanging at street level and another posted higher across the front of the building. I haven’t checked recently, though…

  7. May 17, 2012

    Great collection. Thanks!

  8. Paula PM permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Thanks for another lovely post, Gentle Author.Beautiful and poignant.

    Is the book available in the US, and if so, where?

  9. John Campbell permalink
    May 17, 2012

    Steptowe & Son – Fantastic!

  10. John Campbell permalink
    May 17, 2012

    The P. Lipman shop in Hessel Street is featured in a wonderful painting by Dan Jones
    Enjoy x

  11. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Great series!

  12. Shirley Pilch nee gilbert permalink
    May 18, 2012

    thank you alan dein for the lovely memories of hessel street, I lived opposite lipmans in the buildings. great pics

  13. Grant permalink
    May 18, 2012

    I still have an Alfred Myers suit. Passed on from my Dad who had it made to measure at some point in the ’60s!

  14. ian silverton permalink
    May 19, 2012

    Great pictures,we know most of the shops,that are in the collection,and the taylors,Alfred Myers,went to school at Sir John Cass. Thanks.

  15. pat permalink
    May 23, 2012

    Fantastic post thank you………….

  16. Al Pilch permalink
    May 25, 2012

    Great pictures, brings back fond memories of Brick Lane, and the East End in the good old days.

  17. Sambalsotong permalink
    May 27, 2012

    Great – love the way they capture a moment in time.

  18. July 16, 2012

    These are amazing…and make me remember why I moved to the East End, in the first place. Fantastic work.

  19. Wais permalink
    January 4, 2013

    Great pix, time-captivating and nostalgic!

  20. April Clark permalink
    January 26, 2013

    What a different world compared to where I live in the South of England. So depressing.

    How the owners of those shut-down shops must have laboured to keep open and provide themselves with a living is unimaginable. Oil fires in the back of the shop to keep the shop warm in the bitter cold, sweltering in the heat. But each day without fail, the shops opened on time and welcomed their customers

    I found the pictures so interesting as each one tells it’s own story. Can you imagine today’s supermarkets which are so bland having such an interesting history as these shops. Those were the days when customers were treated well, their groceries and goods packet for them into their baskets or wrapped up. A seat to sit on if you were elderly, conversations, gossip and concerns for each other. Those were the days of our parents, grandparents who lived in the London area’s..

    Thank you Alan Dein for the collections. Absolutely wonderful.

  21. Miriam Delorie permalink
    September 1, 2013

    really fascinating….pse can you let me know if any of these pics are near Artillery Rd? tks Miriam

  22. Michele Miller permalink
    July 16, 2014

    My mum (who is 85 years old but like a spring chicken) asked me if I could find any pictures of the outside of Alfred Myers and Millers shops. You see Alfred Myers was owned by my grandfather and then by my uncles and two doors away was my fathers shop which was a menswear called Millers. I remember the shops very well although I was only a little girl when I went there, running in and out of each one whether or not they had customers.

    I am so pleased to find at least one picture although it is always sad to see it boarded up and i am sure now it been taken away but the memories never will.

    Thank you.

  23. Eddie Johnson permalink
    August 19, 2014

    Alfred Myers was the ‘go to’ tailor when I was young, bit more classy than Maxie Cohen, as for Millers the onl;y shop in East London you could get real silk shirts, expensive but I wish they were still here.

    Lovely and nostalgic photos,

    Good luck,

    Eddie Johnson

  24. Eddie Johnson permalink
    August 21, 2014

    Another thing I should have said {about Myers and Millers) is that when they closed the shops ‘due to re-development’ they were boarded up and left derelict for at least 10 years before the development took place, they could have carried on selling delighted Londoners’ suits and shirts for many more years. The same thing happened to my favourite pie and mash shop in Bow, the proprietors forced to move out the premises were just abandoned for ten years before any work took place. Another shocking fault of the people who run our lives.

  25. david murphy permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I have a wooden coat hanger with a little plastic label pinned on it saying “Alfred Myers” with three shop addresses underneath, the one above and one of the others was London Road S.E.1 nr the Elephant and Castle.
    I am goung by the fact asctold by my mum, her dad my grandfather was a cabinet maker and managed a workshop in Spitalfields. They lived in Riley Road, just off the Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey. But he never drank or had any friends there – all that was across the river in Spitalfields. I am told, and it can’t have been unusual in those days when proper tailoring was widespread, he always had a fresh mourning suit made for a funeral, then gave it away straight afterwards. Perhaps my old coat hanger is related to that. Now it’s a treasured item and I am looking to have a suit made over there and then of course it will go on this hanger! (David/ Bermondsey) PS the family name was Lee and the furniture business relates to 1930s and 1940s.

  26. GERRY SCHLITTNER permalink
    November 28, 2015

    S.LEWIN the feather merchant in Hessel street was my mother Sura, though everyone knew her as Sadie.The shop opened in the early 30s, and my mother, her sister Becky and my grandparents lived above the shop.When my grandfather died suddenly in 1935, my mothers fiancee helped in the shop, but as he had changed his proffession without informing the authorities as required of all aliens at the time he was arrested and despite protests and petitions to parliament and even to The King eventually deported back to Poland where he perished.My father Israel escaped from Berlin where had run a successful busines in 1938 and eventually arrived in London in 1940 and married my mother in 1944.When the war ended he took over the running of the shop with my mother intil he died in 1971, he can be seen putting pillows on a stall outside the shop in the film ‘The Vanishing Street’.My mother kept the shop going for a few years, until ill health forced her to close, she died in 1981

  27. Shirley.collins permalink
    April 12, 2016

    I have just got a wooden coat hanger out my wardrobe with ALFRED MYERS on it 276,old street.ECl any one interested who collects old stuff can have it

  28. Barny permalink
    January 14, 2017

    Being born in Old Street and schooled in Hoxton, Alfred Myers was de rigueur for quality affordable tailoring, so that I too have their signature coathangers, and remember eagerly looking forward to the second suit fitting.

    Do I miss that era and area? certainly, but there were never any “Good Old Days” so that it must have been horrendous for earlier residents in most parts of London.

  29. Judith Hillman permalink
    June 22, 2017

    I too have a beautiful wooden coat hanger with the Alfred Myers label giving three addresses – Old Street, St. John Street both EC1 and London Road SE1. The hanger must have been passed to me at some time by my Mother so perhaps either her father Jack Homewood of Sydenham or her husband, my father, Eddie Brent had suits made by Alfred who from comments from other people is still very fondly remembered but what a sad picture of his shop front.

    I am 80 in four days time and will never part with the hanger and in due course I will give it to my daughter.

  30. Richard Whiting permalink
    September 30, 2017

    Looking through these shopfronts and reading the comments, I recognised a name and went upstairs to get a coat hanger. It has a white plastic label on it:
    66, London Rd,
    PHONE: WAT. 4873.

    Any idea what ‘WAT’ was short for?
    I can only come up with WATerloo as it’s .nearby.

  31. Rob Gullen permalink
    June 6, 2020

    The Alfred Myers tailor shop in Shoreditch was a blast from the past for me – I used to get my suits made there in the 1970s …. Charles was the main man.
    I too still have some wooden hangers with an Alfred Myers label, and a couple of wooden clothes brushes too. I think they had another couple of shops, one may have been near The Angel?

  32. Brenda Mosley permalink
    July 16, 2022

    I have a hanger by chance the address on it is 437, St John Street, ANGEL
    Phone TERMINUS 5882 at the top of the plastic name tag it says Figure Fitting Tailor. The hanger is wooden. Is this the same Alfred Myers you are talking about?

  33. Michael Cowary permalink
    January 16, 2023

    My hanger lists Alfred Myers shops at
    276, Old Street, E.C.1
    437, St. Johns Street, E.C.1
    12, Walworth Road, S.E.1
    60-66 Wardour Street, W.1

  34. john corne permalink
    July 15, 2023

    I’ve just found a receipt from my dads archive. NOW I know what he spent the £21 on in (probably ) 1951 – the date just says 1.9.191 – someone was lazy! He got married a few weeks later so I guess it was his wedding suit!


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