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A Few Diversions by John Claridge

May 22, 2012
by the gentle author

The Daily Message in E3, 1972

Taken between 1959 and 1982, and published here for the first time, each one of these East End pictures by John Claridge contains a diversion of some kind – either illustrating an activity that is incidental to the flow of life or presenting an observation that is itself a distraction. “These are small incidents, humdrum diversions like going to the hairdresser or the baths, not shattering moments but part of the life of the community all the same,” he assured me. Yet although these sly visual anecdotes may refer to marginal or quotidian experiences, they can sometimes reveal as much or more about the texture and tenor of their times than any news photo of the day.

John collected his observations of life out of a fascination to explore the strange poetry of existence, revealing his interest in reflections upon images seen through glass, his passion for lettering and design, and especially his delight in people. He takes pleasure in observing how they inhabit a place, and how they show their creativity when they strive to make themselves at home, even in the most unlikely or inopportune of circumstances.

Bridalwear shop, Spitalfields 1966. “Wherever you went at that time, there was always a bridal shop.”

Twenty past one? Spitalfields 1967. “You couldn’t design it better!”

American wrestler and trainer, Walthamstow Town Hall 1982.  “They asked me to take the picture.”

Barbers, Spitalfields 1964. (note spelling of ‘closing’)

Accordion player, Spitalfields, 1970. “He was playing under an arch and the sound drifted around, it was wonderful.”

Corsetiere, Whitechapel 1961. “A man came up to me while I was doing this and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m taking a picture,’ I said. ‘There’s something wrong  with you, lad,’ he replied.”

East Ham baths, E6 1961. “After Saturday morning football, we always went to East Ham baths to have a bath.”

Football in the street, Spitalfields 1959.

Sweet kiosk, Spitalfields 1967. “See my reflection in this picture. She was so proud. Afterwards, she and her friends came out to be photographed.”

Snack bar – cold drinks, Spitalfields 1982.

Boy on a rocking horse, E2 1982. “Look at the conditions he’s living in. The bars look like a prison and he’s got nowhere to go.”

At the 59 bikers’ club, E9 1973. Founded by Father William Shergold, biker priest, in 1959 to bring mods and rockers together.

Lady on the balcony, Spitalfields 1962. “Her diversion for the day was standing there and watching the world go by.”

Windmill seller,  E2 1961.

Washing day, E14 1961. “I just came out of my girlfriend’s house and she said, ‘Look, it’s washday across the road.'”

Man with jobs poster, Spitalfields 1963. “I asked him, ‘Are you alright for a couple of bob?’ and he sat in the sun for me for a moment.”

Ear piercing, Spitalfields 1964. Is this ear piercing done to people over five years of age, or has the jeweller been piercing ears since five years of age?

Hotdog van, Spitalfields 1961.

Cup of tea, Spitalfields 1964. “Settled onto this old sofa in the market, enjoying his cup of tea, he looks like he should be wearing an eighteenth century wig and coat.”

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

In a Lonely Place

29 Responses leave one →
  1. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    May 22, 2012

    These pictures are fantastic, I’d love to see them in a book.

  2. May 22, 2012

    I love the ‘lady on the balcony’ picture – I am sure she really enjoyed watching the world go by on the streets.

  3. May 22, 2012

    another great set of images. the thing is, so much has changed and yet so little too.

  4. May 22, 2012

    Best Quote ever…….”There’s something wrong with you lad” Love it.. When the book comes out John I’ll buy it. And I think the above quote should be the title of the book. A lot of these pictures have a feel as if the characters have all been plucked out of a Dickens novel. Great stuff.

  5. Maien de Goffau permalink
    May 22, 2012

    It is a pleasure to read those stories, because it is a pleasure to watch.
    I agree Jose, I would like to see them in a book.

  6. May 22, 2012

    I grew up in South London in the 1950s and find a resonance in these evocative photographs. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there – L.P. Hartley – The Go Between.

  7. John in Paris. permalink
    May 22, 2012

    Some of the quotes are as inspiring as the pictures….”Are you alright for a couple of bob”Could you really ask that question today without a…..!
    Another series of superb B/W.Claridge is real.

  8. May 22, 2012

    Fabulous collection of images, you can see that John was always blessed with an incredible eye for a picture. Thanks for sharing your memories.

  9. May 22, 2012

    Yes, I agree with some of the others here….this would make a great book indeed! After viewing your images over the past few weeks I really feel I’ve been in that place. Lived and breathed the air (Cough! Cough!!) and met the people. These photographs are alive!!

  10. May 22, 2012

    Remarkable characters! . . . as Gerry, one of the bloggers, comments . . . “just as if out of a Dickensian novel” . . . the current residents of Spitalfields should be proud that John has gifted them such a rich graphic inheritence.

  11. Adrian Taylor permalink
    May 22, 2012

    Thanks for another portfolio of treats.
    I also was confused about the ear piercing guy.
    All best to you and Janet.

  12. May 22, 2012

    The simple descriptions add so much to these memories. Thanks for the treat!

  13. Paul Grubb permalink
    May 23, 2012

    One of mankind’s enduring fantasies is time travel. Well, here it is, courtesy of JC. Superb.

  14. May 23, 2012

    Corsetiere, Whitechapel 1961. “A man came up to me while I was doing this and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m taking a picture,’ I said. ‘There’s something wrong with you, lad,’ he replied.”

    Be honest now, Claridge. That wasn’t the only time in your life that someone said that to you, now was it?


  15. Cindy S. permalink
    May 23, 2012

    A ‘Great Escape’ Beautiful.

  16. Kev O'Neill permalink
    May 23, 2012

    Lovely pics,John.These really cheer up the mornings.Does this mean there’s something wrong with me too?

  17. Alice Neal permalink
    May 23, 2012

    Yet another collection of beautiful and insightful images from John. Man with Jobs Poster is almost timeless, to me it reflects life as it is today just as it was in the 1950’s – 1960’s.

    Thank you again for sharing these with us.

  18. May 23, 2012

    Extraordinary photographs of immense power…

  19. Isis permalink
    May 23, 2012

    Gerry, I agree that these people do look like they were plucked from a Dickens novel, and that is the impression I had when I first went to Brick Lane Market in 1981. I was an impressionable young American and had really never seen such a collection of evocative faces. I think you would be hard pressed to find many like them in Spitalfields these days. This is a wonderful collection of photographs.

  20. marie james permalink
    May 23, 2012

    Love these photographs. Compelling.

  21. May 25, 2012

    The images are wonderful John and need to be in a book that we can all keep as with Japanese prints taken out at special times to look at and love – I hope that this is the end result of this amazing portfolio.

  22. May 25, 2012

    What amazing pictures! Can’t actually get my head around the fact that these were taken in the 60’s & 70’s by a solo photographer. Try to recreate this now would be totally impossible. Again, Monsieur Claridge – thank you so much for capturing these magic moments.

  23. john edwards permalink
    July 3, 2012

    All in wrestling be the theme ….. As in Laocoon/ Life – Thing that strikes me is that JC grabs the pitiless grit of the East End via the printing – which though hard contrast/grainy, is softened and express a kindness of the heart we are touched to consider. 1] a splendid concert of chaos, ‘we are nothing without Unity [ Mitford?] – China is now in 5-7 – Heinz? – see the subtle sub-texts? No, just chaos. Can’t think what the view was like from the front room. 2] Luftwaffe aircrew felt lucky to be parachuting down to internment, until they realised they were held aloft by four wedding dresses & there was a howling mob of 50 women with scissors below them. 3] Chirico/Bergman. Hope they all
    chimed in sync. 4] The Human Octopus with the [in] Human Lamprey – 5] Chef. There’s one in the Roman rd. still and some wag has torched it. 6] That’s a sad one. Lovely 5 row – all that amazing marbled bakelite… probably half tone down so very [blues] mournful. 7] Serious All In Wrestling here. Ahab & Moby as he bounces the beef bayonet lashed by passion’s storm off the whalebone girders. 8] Bell. Black hand of fate – cast iron notice seems unwell too. 9] Elegant Elfs! 3rd on right so Lean’s ‘Oliver’ & the far right is young Indiana Jones – Lovely catch. 10] Sweets – trapped in that kiosk like a catacomb window. Headscarf/Queen Eliz. – 11] Old boy as battered & fried as the sign.
    12] Savage – You just want to save the poor little Minotaur – trapped. 13] Bet there was some slapback in those bare walls. Like the black obelisk in 2001 ‘ It’s full of Stars’! East Berlin barren. 14] Mary Poppins – Later …. Much. 15] Poor old chap. wearing that vile NZ butter box with that scratchy rotten sisal string. HATE that butter it goes rancid in hours …. looks like he’s undergoing sadistic
    humiliation. 16] Girfriend was giving you warning Johnny. That line reads “England Expects” & you end up with seven in one room, with ma & pa down the ‘Whippet & Ashtray ‘ … 17] Albert Hall – Boxing. More Grappling! Shame of it … Constant Lambert wrote a 15 minute ballet ‘ Boxing Match ‘ [ Shoreditch Town Hall sort ] couldn’t get it staged. Note the truncated Duchess Argyll posters showing the working parts featured in the infamous ‘headless man’ snap. 18] Yes. Piercing shrieks as the spirit lamp smoked needle goes through little Elsie’s earlobe into the old champagne cork the other side. 19] GRIM. The Pits! Can’t stand iron ‘kettling’ fences, horrid granite & false happy bells
    selling lips&rear end dogs. 20] Man looks very contented with his tea and his lot. Perhaps the classic
    French sofa he’s buting/selling. Shoreditch bumfreezer/pipecleaner Henry Holland clones would fight to the death over such. Great Stuff Johnny Boyo….

  24. Sara Waterson permalink
    August 15, 2012

    Immensely poignant and sympathetic. Many would consider these sights and these people really ugly, but John captures them with infinite understanding and tenderness

  25. Henry James Wilkinson permalink
    September 21, 2012

    These photos are brilliant,they remind of my childhood in Shoreditch. I wonder if anyone has a photo of Norfolk Buildings Curtain Road, Shoreditch?

  26. graham cornthwaite permalink
    November 18, 2012

    J C = Friend and Guru, The Pearly King of Smudgers, a cockney sparrow with the eye of an eagle. He opened my eyes two stops.

  27. paula claridge permalink
    December 20, 2012

    having been there when a lot of these images were made, i say it is taking too long for an important document such as this is to be published in a book of substance great pictures and lots of memorys here for me “do it bigger john ” love paula

  28. Sasha Devas permalink
    January 28, 2013

    What fabulous photos.

  29. September 19, 2020

    I remember the house in the first photo (WE ARE NOTHING WITHOUT UNITY) I think it was on Coburn Road up towards the girls school. Apart from the placards there were always flags flying. We often walked past this house as it was on one of the roads which took us from Saxon Road under the railway if we wanted to get up to the Mile End Road and the tube into town.

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