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Photographs of Time Passing in Spitalfields

June 22, 2012
by the gentle author

Quaker St, 1967

The passage of time in Spitalfields became visible to Philip Marriage as he made successive visits over three decades to take these photographs, which I publish here for the first time today. Working for HMSO publications in Holborn and commuting regularly through Liverpool St Station, he revisited Spitalfields sporadically over the years, drawn by a growing fascination with those streets where his ancestors had lived centuries earlier.

The poignant irony of these pictures is that while Philip came to Spitalfields in search of the past, he discovered many of the streets which interested him were retreating in time before his lens, disintegrating like phantoms into the ether, even as he was photographing them.

In 1967, when Philip Marriage first visited with his camera, he found a landscape scattered with bomb sites from World War II and he witnessed the slum clearance programme, as settled communities were displaced from their nineteenth century cottages and tenements into new housing complexes. Twenty years later, he encountered  the opposing forces of redevelopment and conservation that were reshaping the streets to create the environment we recognise today.

But other, less obvious, elements affect our perception of time in these photographs too. Those pictures from 1967 exist in a lyrical haze which is both the result of air pollution caused by coal fires and the unstable nature of colour film at that time. By the eighties, the smog has been consigned to the past and better colour film delivered crisper images, permitting photographs which appear more contemporary to us.

Yet it was relatively recent events in Spitalfields, that came after he took his pictures, which render Philip Marriage’s photographs so compelling now – as windows into a lost time before the closure of the Truman Brewery and the Fruit & Vegetable Market.

Quaker St, 1987

Quaker St, looking west, 1967

Quaker St, looking west, 1987

Artillery Lane, 1967

Artillery Lane, 1985

Samuel Stores, Gun St, 1985

Samuel Stores, Gun St, 1986

Former Samuel Stores, Gun St, 1987

Verdes, Brushfield St, 1988

Verdes, Brushfield St, 1990

Poyser St, Bethnal Green, 1967

Poyser St, Bethnal Green, 1967

Cheshire St with Rag & Bone Man, 1967

Middleton St, Bethnal Green, 1967

Photographs copyright © Philip Marriage

You may also like to take a look at

Philip Marriage’s Spitalfields

Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts of 1988

Sarah Ainslie’s Brick Lane

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies, Photographers

Marketa Luskacova’s Brick Lane

C.A.Mathew, Photographer

Phil Maxwell’s Brick Lane

Colin O’Brien’s Brick Lane

The Ghosts of Old London

18 Responses leave one →
  1. June 22, 2012

    These pictures are really interesting – thank you for showing them to us.

  2. June 22, 2012

    Fantastic photos, great atmosphere.

  3. June 22, 2012

    Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future,
    And time future contained in time past.
    If all time is eternally present
    All time is unredeemable.

    T.S. Eliot

  4. Chris Dixon permalink
    June 22, 2012

    Lots of memories here.

    I discovered Samuel Stores, on the corner of Artillery Lane and Gun Street, in 1972 when I was working nearby. The place fascinated me, it was like walking through a time portal and stepping back 100 years, and I used to go and buy something – anything! – there nearly every day. The elderly Jewish shopkeeper was equally fascinating, he could easily have stepped off the pages of a Dickens novel.

    Great to be reminded of the old place once more!

  5. June 23, 2012

    Wonderful pictures that can really help appreciate the fabric (historical and human) of this area. So nobody will dare say: “Tear it down, it’s just brick.”

  6. Patricia Ledwith permalink
    January 7, 2015

    Great photos, really captured the atmosphere and a feeling of imminent change in the area. My Dad worked as a porter in Spitalfields Market, and my family lived in Whitechapel since the 1800’s. So this area of London has a particular importance for me. Also I keep looking out for old photos in the hope of seeing my Dad in the market !!!! Thank you for wonderful photos

  7. M A Kalam permalink
    February 14, 2015

    Wow, amazing pictures. Quaker Street is where I live and grew up. It’s fascinating to look back in time at the street before I was born. Any more pictures of the area would be greatly appreciated.

  8. Barbara Hague permalink
    August 29, 2015

    I have really enjoyed the pictures.
    As a very young child (born 1940) I spent time in the communal air-raid shelter in Lear Street (formerly Cordelia Street) in Mile End and remember the sounds of all-clear and warning, and felt the fear of the adults present.
    Are there any photos of bomb damage in existence. Occasionally, while adults not looking, we played on a bomb site, and would like to see it now!
    many thanks for all the photos – spent a lot of time enjoying them.

  9. Rina Weisman permalink
    August 30, 2015

    I’m loving these old pictures of Spitalfields – my grandfather was born there in 1891, and I heard many stories of his life there, and our family history is wrapped up with this part of London. I visited there for the first time a couple years ago, and the address he was born at was miraculously still standing! I even got to go inside and look around – a great place for a couple to live, but I can’t imagine how my greatgrandparents and twelve kids lived there!!

  10. Sue Biddle permalink
    December 4, 2015

    Thank you so much for sharing these fascinating pictures, Cheshire Street especially, which is where my silk weaving ancestors lived and worked. A wonderful addition to my family tree.

  11. Barbara Hill permalink
    February 23, 2017

    I grew up in Seabright Street Bethnal Green in 40s and 50s. How things have changed just thought it was normal all the dust everywhere. Try to tell my family what it was like, these old photos show it as it was.

  12. don cook permalink
    April 29, 2017

    Form is emptiness, emptiness also is form … emptiness is no other than form, form no other than emptiness. Our projected realities belie what is there.

  13. steven Barnes permalink
    November 22, 2018

    im 64 and as recent as the 80s parts of spitalfields and the est end still looked like that

  14. David Green permalink
    January 28, 2021

    Would love to see 2021 photos from the same vantage points!

  15. Paul ward permalink
    February 4, 2021

    I used to live in the flats in Poster Street in 1961. They were very dire. Should have been pulled down much earlier than 1967. Would love to see anymore photos.

  16. March 28, 2021

    I believe I commented some years ago.
    I am now 87 and my mother was born in Samuel Stores Artillery Lane in 1897.
    During the war I attended St Josephs school in Gun St.

  17. April 16, 2021

    My maternal grandmother was born in Gun street Artillery Lane in 1891 and I find the history of the area fascinating

  18. grace caruso permalink
    June 13, 2021

    I always love the photos and look forward to seeing them. For those of us who live so far away (Michigan) and are never likely to visit this area…it would be good to see how it looks now.

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