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Under The Pedley St Arch

July 27, 2016
by the gentle author

Pedley St Arch by John Claridge, 1968

The Pedley St Arch is one of Spitalfields’ most disreputable corners and has been for more than a century, evidenced by this description of it by Emmanuel Litvinoff from his autobiography ‘Journey Through A Small Planet’ (1968) recalling his childhood, growing up in Cheshire St in the nineteen-twenties.

“Late one night, about eleven o’clock, I was detailed to walk Fanya home… There were no unusual signs of debauchery when we came to the railway arch although couples grappled against the dripping walls and tramps lay around parcelled in old newspaper. The evil was in its gloom, its putrid stench, in the industrial grime of half a century with which it was impregnated.”

You need a strong stomach if you choose to visit the Pedley St Arch, since this is still where people go to urinate and defecate out of hours, and occasionally you will find homeless people taking shelter or dodgy builders dumping rubbish. But more likely – these days – you will encounter the making of a Hip Hop music video or a fashion shoot for urban streetwear. If there is such a thing as heritage of grime, Pedley St Arch has it in spades.

Pedley St Arch by John Claridge, 1987

Pedley St Arch today

Pedley St Arch today

Emmanuel Litvinoff at Pedley St Bridge, 1972

You may also like to read about

Emmanuel Litvinoff, Writer

John Claridge’s Lonely Place

11 Responses leave one →
  1. July 27, 2016

    The arch doesn’t look as threatening these days, but I I liked the non-painted version better! Valerie

  2. vanda permalink
    July 27, 2016

    Why do certain people of the UK desecrate the beautiful building with graffitti. Something needs to be done to the people who do this, make them repair the damage or a stiff jail sentence should be given.

  3. frank hadley permalink
    July 27, 2016

    I used pedley st. arch to cross over the railway bridge to cheshire st. as i went to school in wellclose square, that was 1956-1960, there were many cabinet makers in the area in those days,
    it looks pretty grim now.across the bridge was a cafe which we often went in our lunch break although we still had our school dinner. they would have a large bowl of dripping on the counter a slice of bread and dripping for 2d. sadly we only have memories of those care-free days.
    many thanks for posting.

  4. Wills permalink
    July 27, 2016

    Looks as if there’s room on one side or the other for a 24-hour shop/coffee shop to transform the place!

  5. Martin Beaver permalink
    July 27, 2016

    That first 1968 shot is just fantastic. A beautiful, beautiful piece of compostion. If it is possible to buy a copy of it I would love to do so.
    But whereas generally I think black and white photography offers way more than colour, I thought that the colour shot of the arches now with the back walls covered in graffiti was joyous.
    The juxtaposition of these two in this Spitalfields Life was genius!

  6. July 27, 2016

    This is one of my favourite spaces in the East End. Photographed it many times myself. As usual John’s photographs are wonderful.

  7. Rod permalink
    July 27, 2016

    I’m of the opinion that the graffiti improves the place no end

  8. Malcolm permalink
    July 28, 2016

    One of the first places I photographed when I started taking photography seriously many years ago. One of those places in which the atmosphere and character changes according to the weather. Without wishing to be pedantic, the arch is in Fleet Street Hill, not Pedley Street, which used to cross Allen Gardens. Today it is cut off from Allen Gardens by the new railway.
    I preferred it without the graffiti, the lines and curves of the arch and stairs looked beautiful, as John Claridge’s brilliant pictures show.

  9. September 2, 2020

    The only open air cess pit that commands a licence fee to use it.
    LBTH has long advertised it as a film location. But who wants to live in Victorian squalor, I thought that’s what film set make-believe was for. The graffiti is an improvement, a bit of dazzle.
    After you’ve had to step around burnt out cars, shit, needles and corpses when taking your kid to school, the nostalgia of the old black and white photographs wears thin.
    In over 40 years I have seen plenty of the detritus of life, and death, under this arch and on the footbridge.

  10. Brian Cook permalink
    January 3, 2021

    All the character has been destroyed by a cacophony of colour and pony art

  11. Mike Pedley permalink
    February 27, 2023

    Does anybody know how Pedley Street got iits name?

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