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At The Shops With Tony Hall

January 3, 2013
by the gentle author

Tony Hall loved shops as much as he loved pubs, as you can see from this magnificent array of little shops in the East End that he captured for eternity, selected from the thousand or so photographs which survive him, and published here for the first time today.

In the sixties and seventies when these pictures were taken, every street corner that was not occupied by a pub was home to a shop offering groceries and general supplies to the residents of the immediate vicinity. The owners of these small shops took on mythic status as all-seeing custodians of local information, offering a counterpoint to the pub as a community meeting place for the exchange of everybody’s business. Shopkeepers were party to the smallest vacillations in the domestic economy of their customers and it was essential for children to curry their good favour if the regular chore of going to fetch a packet of butter or a tin of custard, or any other domestic essential, might be ameliorated by the possibility of reward in the form of sweets, whether  there was any change left over or not.

Yet, even in the time these photographs were taken, the small shops were in decline and Tony Hall knew he was capturing the end of a culture, erased by the rise of the chain-stores and the supermarkets. To the aficionado of small shops there are some prize examples here – of businesses that survived beyond their time, receptacles of a certain modest history of shopkeepers. It was a noble history of those who created lives for themselves by working long hours serving the needs of their customers. It was a familiar history of shopkeepers who made a living but not a fortune. Above all, it was a proud history of those who delighted in shopkeeping.

Photographs copyright © Libby Hall

Images courtesy of the Tony Hall Collection at the Bishopsgate Institute

Libby Hall & I would be delighted if any readers can assist in identifying the locations and subjects of Tony Hall’s photographs.

You may also like to read

Tony Hall, Photographer

At the Pub with Tony Hall

Libby Hall, Collector of Dog Photography

The Dogs of Old London

and take a look at these other pictures of East End Shops

Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts of 1988

A Nation of Shopkeepers by John Claridge

31 Responses leave one →
  1. January 3, 2013

    Just love the photos on your blog they bring me such joy just looking and remembering.

    I had forgotten the brand OMO.


  2. January 3, 2013

    What incredible photos.

    We just returned to the US after a 10 day visit to London, staying in Bethnal Green and spending a good amount of time in Spitalfields and Whitechapel areas. These photos are fantastic. I’m delighted to discover this blog. Now I’ll explore it!

  3. January 3, 2013

    Photograph No.5 (with the old barrow outside) is the corner of Hackney Road and Yorkton Street.

  4. Annie permalink
    January 3, 2013

    Samuels in Kings Arms Court is long gone. But parts of the street remain. You do realise that I will now spend the rest of the day scouring Google Maps Street View? Who cares about ironing…

  5. January 3, 2013

    Brilliant photos, I have really enjoyed seeing them, thanks. Good luck with identifying the locations, I shall revisit to see any info that comes to light.

  6. Chris Dixon permalink
    January 3, 2013

    L. Robins sweetshop was in Bonner Street, situated between Royston Street and Cyprus Street. It has now been converted into a house.

    Tony Oakes fruit shop was just a little bit further along, on the corner of Bonner Street and Cyprus Street (the sweetshop can just be glimpsed on the far left of the photo). This shop has also now been converted into a house.

    So many memories!

  7. Philip Marriage permalink
    January 3, 2013

    What a delightful selection of photos. I love the striking hand-painted typography of the shop signs – especially the pet-food shop in Dane Place and Perchick’s Stores – so much more attractive that today’s bland plastic frontages. Spital’s Tobacconist and Confectioner [667] particularly took my eye as being almost identical to my own (published earlier) and taken in 1970 – even the same door laying on the pavement and milk-crates next door. Tony’s is a little earlier as the Golden Virginia roundel and Players signs had gone by 1970. I think this might be Brushfield Street. Samuel’s little corner-store [1239] is always a delight and is in Artillery Lane on the corner with Gun Street, E1, and now Strettons (Chartered Surveyors).

  8. January 3, 2013

    Charming photos!

    I have to ask — can anyone recommend an old-fashioned corner shop/tobacconists in the UK? A few years ago I used to stumble across these (Berwick, East Lancs etc.) but can no longer find such a shop. Ideally with a large counter and most goods behind that!

    Any suggestions?

  9. Susan Goldman permalink
    January 3, 2013

    A wonderful collection of photo’s. I too recognised the two shops in Bonner Street but there are many that look so familiar. Brilliant, thank you.

  10. January 3, 2013

    a wonderful collection of photographs. what always strikes me with these old photos is the lack of cars in the roads. what a welcome sense of space especially for children to play in. we’re so hemmed in today with the volume of cars and traffic, I’m sure it must affect people’s wellbeing.

  11. Libby Hall permalink
    January 3, 2013

    It is wonderful to read the comments remembering particular shops.

    I have now toggled back and forth for ages comparing Philip Marriage’s lovely photo of the Spital shop

    with Tony’s of the same shop. It is amazing that, though Tony’s must have been taken several years earlier, there were similar milk crates in the same position, and most astonishing of all: the door lying in exactly the same place!

    I’ve enjoyed looking at all Philip Marriage’s photographs again.

    His photographs and Tony’s compliment each other so well.

  12. Chris F permalink
    January 3, 2013

    Wonderful photos of an era that is firmly fixed in my memory. If I could get hold of an old penny, it went straight into one of those long, white metal, chewing gum machines (Photo 3). Great to see a sign for ‘Smiths Crisps’. There was a Smiths Crisps factory here in Lincoln (Now ‘Walkers’) and when my mum worked on the buses, the driver would try to leave the terminus a few minutes early in order to try and avoid picking up the crisp factory workers. My mum used to say that when they had been on the bus, it stank of fat for days afterwards! I was pleased to read Annie’s comments… At least I’m not the only one who spends hours looking at Google Street Maps in order to see what these locations look like now. Thank God for Tony and people like him, for having the sense to chronicle these old businesses before they disappeared.

  13. January 3, 2013

    Ah yes! One of my memories of my 50’s childhood in London is being sent along to the hardware-cum-general-store to buy the gallon of paraffin (Aladdin pink) needed for our paraffin heaters. I’m sure a 10 year old walking the streets sloshing paraffin about those cans were pretty hard to carry) these days wouldn’t last long.

  14. julie permalink
    January 3, 2013

    These pictures are wonderful,my childhood right there.

  15. Ron Pummell permalink
    January 4, 2013

    Greetings. Very good photos.

    No. 50 and 54 were taken in Bonner Street and 705 is in Brick Lane (Shoreditch end).


  16. annie permalink
    January 4, 2013

    The sign on the 9th photo looks like Nevill Road N16 which is in Stoke Newington.

  17. Jennifer permalink
    January 5, 2013

    I remember our corner shop on the corner of Harding Street and Ronald Street (Harding Street ran off of Commercial Road) – I can remember the woman who owned the shop was Freda but can’t remember her husband’s name. They would let me play with the open/closed sign on their door! But the shop I loved best was the stationery shop in Commercial Road – Frankels – with tall steps up to the door. I still love a stationery shop now! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  18. January 5, 2013

    Thank goodness Tony Hall had the foresight to record these shops for posterity.

    As Belle says, it is so nice to see the lack of cars and the space for children to play in. As a child of the 70s, I grew up playing in the street with other children. Now that isn’t possible for children – such a shame.

    And trying to take photos of local streets in London these days ends up just being a photo of a row of cars!

    In reply to Ben Brundle – there is an old-fashioned tobacconists in Covent Garden – thought it’s not a corner shop. Not much stuff behind the counter in any shops now. You have to serve yourself rather than be served. I miss that! Especially in sweet shops.

  19. Shaun permalink
    January 6, 2013

    Amazing pictures. The corner shop at Zetland St. with the pram outside is possibly Jolly’s.
    There was another Jolly’s shop along the street which has now given it’s name to “Jolly’s Green”, an open space and housing terrace along St. Leonard’s Road, Poplar.
    That is also where Rawlinsons Haberdashery store was, next door to Rawlinsons shoe menders.
    Branch’s corner store was at Sturry and Grundy Streets, all now unrecogniseable from those photo’s.
    Cowell’s baker, the Post Office and Pat’s stores were sandwiched between the Victory pub and the Cobden’s Head pub along St. Leonard’s Rd ( see At The Pub With Tony Hall). Opposite St. Michael’s Church. (now residential)

  20. Ros Butt permalink
    January 6, 2013

    Picture 1239

    This picture is at the corner of Gun Street E1. My parents had their wedding photos taken at that spot in 1945. The building to the right is part of the Providence Row refuge which went all around the corner to Crispin Street. My father was caretaker or handyman there and we lived in a flat at the top which we accessed by the door you can see in the picture. I believe most of the building has been pulled down but they have left part of the facade, which didn’t include the Gun Street entrance, so I was thrilled to see the picture of the entrance which I remember from a child!

  21. Helen O'Rahilly permalink
    January 6, 2013

    In the photo of the man walking towards the shop A Ross….the shop is on the corner of Matthias Road and Wordsworth Road in Stoke Newington, N16 (just on the right is now a large Travis Perkins). I recognise the turn of the road…

  22. Ron Pummell permalink
    January 7, 2013

    As the location of the shops are identified could the address be shown on or below individual images please? Ron Pummell

  23. Shaun permalink
    January 8, 2013

    Gentle Author if you , Libby Hall or anyone else has a photograph(s) of the Iron Bridge Tavern which stood at the east end of the East India Dock Rd. Poplar, can you please, please post them on this site.
    I am also after pictures of the Harry Tavern which stood on the corner of Brunswick Road and Joshua Street in Poplar. Can anyone help. Thanks.

  24. January 24, 2013

    Some wonderful photographs. (And in other sets too.) What would be great would be a decent book.

    Tony Hall’s work needs other audiences and his work recognised, not only as a record of the east end of London, but as a work of photographic documentary art. He had a voice, it needs to be heard.

  25. Barry 1936 permalink
    January 27, 2013

    Not just a record of an area, but a social history and study of consumerism. The paucity of cars. Who would ever buy fish from a dilapidated and unhygienic shop like that – but we did! The butcher with no heating in the shop, the shop assistants glass of beer on the shelf behind and the ash tray which she clearly smoked in the shop whilst serving fresh meat. I wonder who demanded the higher standards of presentation, quality and hygiene that we “enjoy” today – the consumer or officialdom? And are we really any better off for it

  26. Barbara Jezewska permalink
    March 31, 2013

    I think I have been able to identify images 90, 671, 672 and 674. I have attached details to the individual photos. Thankyou Tony Hall for capturing these amazing old shops.

  27. sheila permalink
    September 1, 2013

    Don’t you just HATE supermarkets !!!

  28. jean rayner permalink
    April 3, 2015

    i live in Australia and just love happy times thank you

  29. Philip Marriage permalink
    September 29, 2016

    My photo of S. Spital, Tobacconist & Confectioner, May 1970

    I have never been able to place this shop and had assumed it to have been in Brushfield Street, however my walk that day finished in Old Montague Street . . .

    “Would this be the Spital Shop in Old Montague St E1.” – Terry Baynard, Spitalfields Life, 9 January 2015

    . . . and I think Terry could well be correct.

  30. steve permalink
    October 4, 2017

    The photo of Chris the hairdressers was in Brick Lane, the quiet end.The alley next to it would take you in to Rhoda St.When the shop closed, one of the barbers set up in Calvert Avenue as Sotos.Still there,under different owner. Sotos long retired to Cyrus.The butchers featured Barkers i’m pretty sure was also here just up the street before the traffic lights, near the beauty spa!!! where the flats are.

  31. David Levy permalink
    January 24, 2022

    Ross Butt remembers Artillery Lane and the corner of Gun Street.
    My grandparents and uncle Jack ran the grocery shop on the corner of the two streets ‘Samuel Stores’ It is now a hair dressing establishment

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