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Graphics & Graffiti

September 17, 2012
by the gentle author

Bethnal Green 1969

“I’m for Street Art but not the defiling of beautiful things, so I thought let’s look at this period when graffiti had a different kind of expression.” photographer John Claridge said to me, introducing these pictures of graphics and graffiti from the East End, published here for the first time. Before the culture of tagging came from across the Atlantic to dominate the streets, graffiti manifested itself differently, as these political examples – above and below – illustrate.

John does not see any absolute distinction between graffiti and graphics, both are representations of language – whether graven on walls or painted on fascias – and they spoke to him in a symphony of diverse cacophonous voices when he walked these familiar streets  “Typography was always around me in the East End, whether I went to the fairground or the market there was always lettering.” he recalled, “So that when I got the job at McCann Erickson at fifteen and met Robert Brownjohn, one of the finest typographers, my eyes were already open to the power of typography, how it communicates on many levels and how it can take you places emotionally.”

In John’s eyes, every piece of graffiti or graphics illustrates the intentions of those who put it there and he delights in interpreting the different sensibilities at play which combine to create the rich visual texture of the streetscape.  “I’ve got some wood type and to use it you’ve got to make decisions, so there’s an underlying meaning to everything, but when lettering is automated you don’t think about it.” he explained to me wryly, taking pleasure in the human quality of typography done by hand and the vibrant culture of marks on the wall that extends back to the earliest cave art.

Urinal, Spitalfields 1969 – “Wages not war profits. Houses not subs. Tory or Labour = Tory. Fight for a wage increase.”

Burton, Whitechapel 1982. – “It’s like entering a temple.”

Pedley St Bridge, Spitalfields, 1987 – “this records the beginning of the tagging that dominates today.”

Neals Rapid Crane, Silvertown 1963.

Three Flags, 1964 – “What kind of shop puts an empty box in the window?”

Mixed Spice, 1976 – “In the old spice warehouse in Wapping. I just thought these stencils were beautiful, used and put back on the table.”

Mental Illness, Spitalfields 1969.

Weaver House, Spitalfields 1982. – “See how they spelled ‘for.’ That’s graffiti calling for help.”

Ajax Works, E14 1982.

Dance Wall, Bethnal Green 1964.

Window, Spitalfields 1968 – “It was a derelict place but someone had pinned up this delicate stuff.”

French Polisher, Spitalfields 1961 – “It must have been a wonderful shop at one time.”

Weddings a Speciality, E14 1982 -” FunFair – Coner of East Indean Dock Rd, Crisp St Popler.” (sic)

All Roots Fresh Daily, Spitalfields 1966 – “They used anything they could get hold of to board it up.”

Laurel Tree, Brick Lane 1960s – “It’s an Asian barber now.”

Men, Wapping 1964 – “You expect to see Sherlock Holmes appear.”

Whites Stores, Spitalfields 1967 – “Nice piece of lettering. They’ve done it themselves and, whether you like it or not, it’s got character.”

Yau Lee Laundry, E7 1968 – “We used to go to Limehouse when it was Chinatown.”

Grocer’s Window, Spitalfields 1964.

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

A Few Pints with John Claridge

A Nation Of Shopkeepers

Some East End Portraits by John Claridge

Sunday Morning Stroll with John Claridge

John Claridge’s Cafe Society

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Marien de Goffau permalink
    September 17, 2012

    Great photography. Great messages. Just great.

  2. Lee permalink
    September 17, 2012

    Photographs of great character, and very thankfully not a Duchess in sight.

    Love the Grocer’s Window, Spitalfields 1964.


  3. September 17, 2012

    The last two certainly showed there was still some life in the place!

  4. September 17, 2012

    John Claridge have an eye for the small details most people will pass in the street, I love the stencil window, what an amazing print, but then again why should I be surprised, John is, and will always be the photographer who rules the world.

    Thank you Mr Claridge for sharing yet another story with us, I feel very privileged.


  5. Marina B permalink
    September 17, 2012

    Such grainy, gritty magnificence! Ah!

  6. Kev O'Neill permalink
    September 17, 2012

    What kind of shop? My kind of shop.

  7. David O'Flaherty permalink
    September 17, 2012

    Many thanks to you and John Claridge for the photograph of the Laurel Tree on Brick Lane. I’ve come across several examples from 1888 of the coroner using that place as a venue for open inquest before the construction of coroner’s courts. It’s good to see the exterior.

  8. September 18, 2012

    Fantastic series of images, very evocative, a great pictorial history of the location, you wouldnt recognise many of the areas now, it would be great to do a before and after series of images, i find this method to be a wonderfull way of recording social history, especially to show it to people who are not familliar with an area.

  9. September 19, 2012

    They are wonderful pictures John. I think “weddings” is my favourite. Once again you tell the tale of the people who were there at that time and in doing so I am left wondering where they all are now and want to know more of their stories – thankyou. And as an afterthought who remembers Lyons corner house now long since gone,but many happy memories of tea with my Mum so thankyou once again as your pictures bring alive so many memories for me.

  10. September 21, 2012

    From the scrawlings of mindless morons to the graphic depiction of the life of the day . . .
    some things never change . . . JC’s lens captures perfectly the signs of the times in the 1960s.

  11. September 22, 2012

    A wonderful set of photos – reminding us that places can change very fast and that even in the 80s the now trendy Spitalfields was run down.

    I miss the old graffiti – the old ‘xx woz ere’. I used to see that everywhere as a child. It wasn’t very inspired but photos of old graffiti do take me back.

  12. September 23, 2012

    great shots!
    …the text adds an extra dimension

  13. Lorna Kelly permalink
    October 5, 2012

    Wow! This is great!
    Thanks for the picture of the Laurel Tree
    I live at number 69 Brick lane and have been looking for information and images for the old Laurel Tree public house before it was turned into my home!
    The old pub cellar is now my store room!
    Thanks for putting this photo up.
    Love, love, love Spitalfields Life!

  14. June 18, 2023

    The photo of graffiti on Weaver House was not taken in 1982!
    I am still living here and have an original print from the negative.
    So what’s the story here please?

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