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A Few Pints With John Claridge

August 6, 2012
by the gentle author

THE DRINK, E14 1964

Photographer John Claridge claims he is not a drinker, but I was not entirely convinced once I saw this magnificent set of beer-soaked pictures that he lined up on the bar, exploring aspects of the culture of drinking and pubs in the East End – pictures published here for the first time. “I used to go along with my mum and dad, and sit outside with a cream soda and an arrowroot biscuit,” John assured me, recalling his first childhood trips to the pub,“…but they might let you have a drop of brown ale.”

Within living memory, the East End was filled with breweries and there were pubs on almost every corner. These beloved palaces of intoxication were vibrant centres for community life, tiled on the outside and panelled on the inside, and offering plentiful opportunities for refreshment and socialising. Consequently, the brewing industry thrived here for centuries, inspiring extremes of joy and grief among its customers. While Thomas Buxton of Truman, Hanbury & Buxton in Spitalfields used the proceeds of brewing to become a prime mover in the abolition of slavery, conversely William Booth was motivated by the evils of alcohol to form the Salvation Army in Whitechapel to further the cause of temperance.

“When I was fifteen, we’d go around the back and the largest one in the group would go up to the bar and get the beers,” John remembered fondly, “We used to go out every weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’d all have our suits on and go down to the Puddings or the Beggars, the Deuragon, the Punchbowl, the Aberdeen, the Iron Bridge Tavern or the Bridge House.” Looking at these pictures makes me wish I had been there too.

Yet the culture of drinking thrives in the East End today, with hordes of young people coming every weekend from far and wide to pack the bars of Brick Lane and Shoreditch, in one non-stop extended party that lasts from Friday evening until Sunday night, and stretches from the former Truman Brewery up as far as Dalston.

Thanks to John’s sobriety, we can enjoy a photographic pub crawl through the alcoholic haze of the East End in the last century – when the entertainment was homegrown, the customers were local, smoking and dogs were permitted, and all ages mixed together for a night out. Cheers, everybody!

A SMOKE, E1 1982. – “There was a relaxed atmosphere where you could walk in and talk to anybody.”

THE CONVERSATION, E1 1982. – “Who is he speaking to?”

DARTBOARD, E17 1982. -“I used to be a darts player, just average not particularly good.”

SINGING,  E1 1962. -“She’d just come out of the pub…”

THE MEETING, E14, 1982. -“You don’t know what’s going on. There’s a big flash car parked there. Are they doing a piece of business?”

SLEEP, E1 1976. – “They used to club together and get a bottle of VP wine from the off-licence, and mix it with methylated spirits.”

BEERS, E1 1964. – “This is Dickensian. You wonder who’s going to step from that door. Is it the beginning of a story?”


DOG, E1 1963. -“Just sitting there while his master went to get another pint of beer.”

EX-ALCHOHOLIC, E1 1982. – “He lived in Booth House and seemed very content that he had pulled himself out of it.”

LIVE MUSIC, E16 1982. -“It was a cold winter’s day and raining, but I had to get this picture. Live music and dancing in a vast expanse of nothing?”

THE BEEHIVE, E14 1964. – “She never stopped giggling and laughing.”

THE SMILE, E2 1962. -“He said, ‘Would you like me to smile?’ He was probably not long for this world, but he was very happy.”

IN THE BAR, E14  1964. -“I’d just got engaged to my first wife and she was one of my ex-mother-in-law’s friends. Full of life!”

THROUGH THE GLASS, E1 1982. -“I think the guy was standing at the cigarette machine.”

THE CALL, E16 1982. -“Terry Lawless’ boxing gym was above this pub. It looks as if everything is collapsing and cracking, and the shadows look like blood pouring from above.”

WHITE SWAN, E14 1982

LIGHT ALE, 1976 -“Four cans of light ale and he was completely out of it.”

CLOSED DOWN, Brick Lane 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

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge

This was my Landscape

John Claridge’s Spent Moments

Signs, Posters, Typography & Graphics

Working People & a Dog

Invasion of the Monoliths

Time Out with John Claridge

Views from a Dinghy by John Claridge

People on the Street & a Cat

In Another World with John Claridge

17 Responses leave one →
  1. August 6, 2012

    John, once again great atmosphere and great characters. Love the “Four Cans of Light Ale” shot with the CO2 sign behind him…just add water! I heard Bailey has an “East End” exhibition on and I am sure they are very good too. But all your pictures deserve a much wider audience, a book and an exhibition. It would be wonderful to browse through all your photographs at leisure. Gerry

  2. Lee permalink
    August 6, 2012

    Great atmosphere in these shots as always !

    Quite sad that a relaxing Smoke ( E1 1982 ) inside a pub is now a part of history, even though I’m not a smoker.

    John clearly enjoys a drink. But it’s the company and atmosphere of people who are meeting for a drink, that he really enjoys. There’s a very distinct difference.



  3. August 6, 2012

    Great pictures. I love the Rover P5 coupe with Rostyle wheels. Rover’s Return? Pie & a pint one day John?

  4. August 6, 2012

    Fantastik story and prints from John, WOW, Brilliant to see the people and drinking places. Once again John’s amazing eye have caught the atmosphere, you can almost taste the beer, saying that, I think it’s time to go to the pub for one, just one!

  5. Marien de Goffau permalink
    August 6, 2012

    Beautiful photographs. The art of life.

  6. Peter Bach permalink
    August 6, 2012

    Exquisite as ever. John gets right in there, while we, the viewers, continue to tiptoe around. Even the despair has a kind of fetching resonance, as if great truths swirl within and Blakean eternities continue in the grains. There is alway an historical edge to the work, too, which I find better than most photographers of London’s recent past- John is less removed, closer to the heartbeat, than a Bailey. Ansel Adams said a photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into. With John you look right in…

  7. Adrian Taylor permalink
    August 6, 2012

    Great character studies of people and their environments observed and preserved.
    Thanks, John!

  8. Peter permalink
    August 6, 2012

    great photos

  9. john edwards permalink
    August 8, 2012

    Oh Yes Johnny, vins sec, we’ve had a few – but then again – we are not in a hurry ……

    The use of grain in printing this little concrete & clay essay shows the the joys and sorrows
    of drinking distillations of grain and hops in gently firm stark reality. First shot could be, is,
    George Orwell, others hit like Degas’ ‘Absinthe Drinkers’ and the brilliant capture of the
    belle vivant with wondrous beehive , gull wing eyebrows, and smiling lips brooch, has the force of simplicity you see in Picasso’s Gertie Stein portrait [ only with a generous smile unlike the misery-moo GS.] while the following ‘Smile’ is so akin the aged clown portrait by Picasso.

    JC is like a visitor from another planet who merely records the wonder of what he witnesses,
    a jerry built health hazard of ‘got the teeth done, now the wiring’s on the fritz’ pebble dash
    world of never say die, stagger on. But so subtly, what is not shown but very present.

    So, from an acute sight and warmth of mind John pierces his subjects and imbues both humans, buildings and barrels with a force of being beyond photography – something uniquely his own magic
    realism. Think we’ll call him John Clarity, cunning little smiling fox armed with a single glass eyed box. Terrific John.

  10. Cindy S. permalink
    August 9, 2012

    “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

    -Now come on boys don’t let me down!

  11. August 10, 2012

    Ah, the traditional British pub . . . cigarette smoke, dogs, brown windsor soup wallpaper, warts and all . . . now all but swallowed up by national chains and gastros . . . but brought back vibrantly to life by JC’s nostalgic East End images . . . I think, however, from my many years’ acquaintanship of JC, that we can attribute his many years’acute observation of the pub scene in both the East End in his early years and latterly in the West End, to his genius with the lens rather than his sobriety!

  12. August 14, 2012

    As usual everyone else has said all that there is to say – they are wonderful John and it only leaves me to say when are you coming back to enjoy a drink at “The French” so we can celebrate this extroadinary collection of your images with you!!

  13. William Goldman permalink*
    August 18, 2012

    In the Conversation: He seems to have two horns coming out of his head! But they are kind of translucent or semi-translucent. Extraordinary

  14. George Lloyd permalink
    October 1, 2012

    Love these “Black & white”shots.Makes me want to get my photography “stuff”up and running again,but wonder if the images that B&W is made for are still out there?.

  15. graham cornthwaite permalink
    November 18, 2012

    To John Claridge I raise my John Courage. Happy days. God bless you x x

  16. paula claridge permalink
    December 20, 2012

    “in the bar E 14 is my granmother, john and i am still waiting for the ring.

  17. Malcolm permalink
    November 7, 2016

    Great pictures by John, the grit and grain of the 35mm film is fantastic.
    The pub in “The Meeting, E14” is the Waterman’s Arms on the corner of Glenaffric Avenue and Saunders Ness Road on the Isle of Dogs. I know this because I lived at the bottom of Glenaffric Avenue (it was called Glengarnock Avenue in those days) in the fish and chip shop. The door to the left of the big black Rover leads to the publican’s accommodation and it’s still there. The pub is called the Great Eastern now.

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