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Phil Maxwell’s Kids on the Street

March 20, 2013
by the gentle author

In Spelman St

Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Phil Maxwell – who has taken more pictures on Brick Lane than any other photographer – selected these vibrant images of children running free upon the streets of Spitalfields from his vast personal archive held at the Bishopsgate Institute. “Most of these pictures are twenty to thirty years old.” he admitted to me, “There aren’t any contemporary photographs because I don’t take pictures of kids these days, not least because there aren’t so many on the street anymore – they are all at home playing on their computers.”

Phil’s lively photographs are evidence that – not so long ago – the streets of Spitalfields belonged to children, offering them an extended playground, including the market, waste land and derelict houses, where they roamed without adult supervision.

“When I first started taking photographs in Liverpool, the children in the street would demand that I take their photographs but that wouldn’t happen today.” Phil recalled, “In those days, children were a constant presence upon the streets in every city, playing their games and enjoying themselves. In the East End in particular, a lot of children played on the street because they lived in restricted conditions – so the street was the space where they were free to run around and discover things.”

In Swanfield St

On Brick Lane

On Brick Lane

In Commercial St

On Brick Lane

In Hanbury St

On Brick Lane

In Cheshire St

In Bethnal Green Rd

On Brick Lane

On Whitechapel Rd

On Brick Lane

In Buxton St

In Arnold Circus

In Cheshire St

On Brick Lane

Photographs copyright © Phil Maxwell

Follow Phil Maxwell’s blog Playground of an East End Photographer

See more of Phil Maxwell’s work here

Phil Maxwell’s Brick Lane

The Cat Lady of Spitalfields

Phil Maxwell, Photographer

Phil Maxwell & Sandra Esqulant, Photographer & Muse

Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies

More of Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies

Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies in Colour

Phil Maxwell on the Tube

Phil Maxwell at the Spitalfields Market

10 Responses leave one →
  1. good-tree permalink
    March 20, 2013

    So very true the comment of how today’s children will not know, or experience the fun, adventure and care-free play we had as kids playing out on the streets.

    I remember with great nostalgia the games of hopscotch and skipping rope, as well as climbing the trees in the local park. When summer came along, it was a constant war with water bombs we threw at one another. Such happy memories.

  2. March 20, 2013

    It’s so sad that these photos, which by rights out to be timeless, belong to a bygone era.

  3. March 20, 2013

    Another set of excellent and important pictures from Phil Maxwell.

    I wonder how much of this kind of thing is being shot theses days? Recently I was stood on Shacklewell Lane with some friends and a camera round my neck when I noticed a lively group of school children go past on their way home. A woman came up to me and asked why was I staring at her kids?

  4. Peter Holford permalink
    March 20, 2013

    Great photos and so sad that kids no longer do this. We live on the edge of the country and my eldest son and his mates wandered freely for hours even camping out. My younger son is ten years younger – the way of life had changed by then and they stuck closer to home or did more organised activities. So sad!

  5. andrea permalink
    March 20, 2013

    I am especially and utterly charmed by the second-to-last one.

  6. March 21, 2013

    There won’t be much to look back on for future generations when it comes to children’s street games. Most kids say that even if they wanted to go out and play their parents wouldn’t let them.

    I don’t think my parents didn’t worry about me, but times were harder back then; they were busy earning a living and just trying to survivive. I was allowed out for more or less as long as I wished and I played for hours with other children on London’s bombed sites. I used to go to school on my own at the age of seven. How times change.

    This is a wonderful nostalgic look back at a not so distant age. Beautiful images from the Maxwell archive.

  7. Chris permalink
    March 21, 2013

    Also very sad that perfectly innocent photographers are no longer able to take photos of kids without causing a raised eyebrow at the very minimum.

    Terrific photos, and a terrific site.

  8. June in Canada permalink
    March 24, 2013

    These pictures are delightful. those of Brick Lane especially. My grandfather and his family lived at No. 36 for many years, and I’d love to see a photo of that building if possible. I’m sure my nieces would enjoy one too.

  9. James permalink
    November 26, 2016

    Wow… just saw a picture of an old friend in the crowd, the tall white fella in the middle of the Asian lads. He’ll be pleased as punch. Great pix, thanks.

  10. Jennifer permalink
    May 9, 2017

    Reading the comments I find it SO very sad that we can no longer let our children play out on the streets due to the dangers of being snatched or abused or even worse. Also the fact that photographers would not be allowed to publish or take photos of kids.
    What is our world coming to.
    They are indeed fantastic pictures of a bygone age never to be repeated it would seem.
    Thank you for sharing.

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