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Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits

January 15, 2017
by the gentle author

In the seventies, while living in Mile End Place and employed as a Youth Worker at Oxford House in Bethnal Green and then as a Probationary Teacher at Brooke House School in Clapton, Photographer Philip Cunningham took these tender portraits of his friends and colleagues. “I love the East End and often dream of it,” Philip admitted to me recently.

Publican at The Albion, Bethnal Green Rd. “We would often go there from Oxford House where I was a youth worker. Billy Quinn, ‘The Hungry Fighter’ used to drink in there. He would shuffle in, in his slippers and, if I offered him a drink, the answer was always the same. ‘No! No! I don’t want a drink off you, I saved my money!’ He had fought a lot of bouts in America and was a great character.”

Proprietor of Barratts’ hardware – “An unbelievable shop in Stepney Way. It sold EVERYTHING, including paraffin – a shop you would not see nowadays.”

Terry & Brenda Green, publicans at The Three Crowns, Mile End

“My drinking pal, Grahame the window cleaner, knew all that was happening on the Mile End Rd.”

Oxford House bar

“Bob Drinkwater ran the youth club at Oxford House where I was a youth worker” c. 1974

Pat Leeder worked as a volunteer at Oxford House

Caretaker at Oxford House

My friend Michael Chalkley worked for the Bangladeshi Youth League and Bangladeshi Welfare Association

Frank Sewell worked at Kingsley Hall, Bow, and ran a second hand shop of which the proceeds went to the Hall, which was ruinous at that time

Historian Bill Fishman in Whitechapel Market

Mr Green

Kids from the youth club at Oxford House, Weavers’ Fields Adventure Playground, c. 1974

Kids from the youth club at Oxford House, Weavers’ Fields Adventure Playground, c. 1974

Salim, Noorjahan, Jabid and Sobir with Michael Chalkley, c. 1977

Coal Men, A G Martin & Sons, delivering to Mile End Place

Mr & Mrs Jacobs, neighbours at Mile End Place

Mr & Mrs Mills, neighbours at Mile End Place

Commie Roofers, Mile End Place

Friend and fighter against racism, Sunwah Ali at the Bangladeshi Youth League office, c. 1978

Norr Miah was a friend, colleague and trustee of the Bangladeshi Youth League

Chess players at Brooke House School, c. 1979

Teacher at Brooke House  – “The best school I ever taught in with a really congenial staff” c. 1979

“Boys from Brooke House School where I was a probationary teacher, c.1979”

“My friend and colleague Salim Ullah with his baby” c.1977

John Smeeth (AKA John the Beard), my daughter Andrea, and Michael Wiston (AKA Whizzy)  c. 1977

Eddie Marsan (dressed as Superman) and friends, Mile End Place

“Rembert Langham in our studio in New Crane Wharf, Wapping. He made monsters for Dr Who and went pot-holing”1975

Mother & son, Whitechapel. “She asked me why I was taking photos of derelict buildings, so I said I would like to take a picture of her and she agreed.”

“John the Fruit used to drink in the Three Crowns and we were good friends. We were in the pub one night when some tough characters came in. It turned out they owned this property I had been photographing. I asked if I could do some photos inside, they said, ‘Yes, come on Thursday.’ I duly arrived, but the place was locked and no one was about. Then John the Fruit turned up so I took his picture, as you see above. Later that week in the Three Crowns, the rough guys walked in and, when they saw me, accused me of not turning up. I was grabbed by the shoulder to be taken outside (very nasty). However John, who was an ex-boxer and pretty fit for an old boy, pulled the bloke holding me aside and said ‘He was there, because I was there with him!’ They put me down and were most apologetic to John. He saved me from something bad, God Bless Him!!”

Abdul Bari & friend, Whitechapel. “Abdul Bari (Botly Boy) lived in the Bancroft Estate and was a parent at John Scurr School where I was a governor and where my daughter attended. The photo was taken on Christmas day.”

Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

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Philip Cunningham at Mile End Place

30 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim McDermott permalink
    January 15, 2017

    Lovely, evocative photos from a period in which I too was a victim of exuberant trouserage. Eddie Marsan hasn’t changed at all!

  2. January 15, 2017

    Really engaging photos. They capture a time and a place. I love the range of subjects, the fashions, settings/locations, the expression on the youngest boy’s face in the portrait of the Bengali family and who could resist little Eddie Marsan? So much social history here. Would love to see more.

  3. stuart goodman permalink
    January 15, 2017

    beautiful images of times that can never return. how will people look on today’s east end in 40/50 years? with no fondness or nostalgia i fear.

  4. January 15, 2017

    Wonderful, authentic photos. Thanks for sharing. Valerie

  5. January 15, 2017

    Thumbs up to these – and to exuberant trousering. I will be using this phrase as often as possible.

  6. January 15, 2017

    Great reportage. I love the way you engaged with your subjects. By getting their permission the images have so much more heart than ‘stolen’ shots, thereby producing a genuine historic document. Good stuff.

  7. January 15, 2017

    Great memories

  8. January 15, 2017

    I don’t know if “trans portative” is word — but nonetheless, I have just travelled to that time and place, and overheard those conversations, chuckles, hellos, and “hey, where’d you get those
    pants?” comments. The photographer has provided a fully-furnished time capsule for us, so vibrant that even “non-residents” like me can savor. This series started strong, at the top, and just kept reeling me in. Wonderful.

  9. Beryl Happe permalink
    January 15, 2017

    Interesting pics of Oxford House. I used to go there in the forties & fifties. The youth club was great, we had trips out and camping holidays. Great fun. In the summer we had American volunteers to work with the resident Youth workers. They were called ‘Wynant’ volunteers.

    The East End was awash with youth clubs, and we would go from club to club.

  10. Ros permalink
    January 15, 2017

    Lovely, evocative photos, including the exuberant trouserage! Winant (named after an American Ambassador to the UK) volunteers, who come from the US to the UK, still exist, along with Clayton (named after Tubby Clayton) volunteers who go from the UK to the US.

  11. Malcolm permalink
    January 16, 2017

    I went to school with A.G.Martin’s son, Tony. I used to go round his house a lot because Tony had a lot of great records and we used to spend hours listening to them on his dansette portable. His Dad’s coal yard used to be in Limehouse, next to the railway arch by Charlie Brown’s pub outside the West India dock entrance. It was an old railway siding but it’s long gone since the redevelopment of Canary Wharf. Great pictures again, I particularly like the flared trouser look – it’s very evocative of that era, even if they were ghastly.

  12. Amanda Bond permalink
    January 17, 2017

    Engaging to the end and a wonderful insight into your East End!

  13. David permalink
    March 6, 2017

    The coal men I remember were much much dirtier than these two chaps, who are unbelievably clean, as is their lorry.

    The coal men of my childhood loaded at the end of the day so that they could manage half a day without being totally coated in coal dust.

  14. Teresa Clarkson permalink
    June 30, 2017

    lovely pictures, I grew up there, this is my era and Eddie Marsan is my brother. He was dressed as Superkid and the older man on the left is Alan Mitchell, sadly no longer with us, who invented the character and the Webbe magazine for Oxford House. I remember Michael Chalkley very well as I was a teacher at Columbia and had links with him through my job.

  15. October 12, 2017

    Hi Teresa. Thank you for your comments. I was sad to hear Alan had passed away. When I knew him he was a young man with a vivid imagination. I think somewhere I still have his art work for a comic he wanted to produce featuring ‘Killer Sheep’ taking over the world !
    Unfortunately Michael passed away in 1998, untimely too.
    Best wishes

  16. MIck Lemmerman permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Wow, my childhood, what a surprise to see these photos of the place and people.

  17. Marcus sum permalink
    March 20, 2018

    Why is Abdul Bari referred to as Botly Boy? Who gave him this nick name? Who might have remenisced those days and remembered. It’s quite funny.

  18. March 21, 2018

    Hello Philip,

    I am the daughter of Abdul Bari (botly boy)! I recently googled mike Chalkley and John Scurr and there I found in the images my dads photo. I sent the link to my dad and as predicted he was very moved by the photos he viewed..especially ones of his old friends who some of which have sadly passed.

    My dad asked me if I can anyhow get in touch with you and perhaps arrange you both to meet as he clearly remembers you.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for displaying these photos as it also brought back lot of memories and nostalgia.

    Hope to hear from you soon.


  19. April 22, 2018

    Hi Nasima
    I’ve only just seen your note. Good to hear from you. Hope your parents are well. Will ask the Gentle Author to send you my E-mail address. I’ve got many photos from that time. Best regards to your family, Kazim, Solim and all the other boys and girls.

  20. Mehmood Mayet permalink
    January 14, 2019

    Interesting photos of Brooke house school . Are the teachers playing chess Mr Dorza and Yusuf Rasul ?

  21. February 12, 2019

    Hi Mehmood
    Yes it is those two playing chess with Paul Tompkin looking on. Of all the schools I’ve taught in the staff at Brooke loved to play chess. I don’t know why!

  22. Mumin Hashim permalink
    February 17, 2019

    Hi Phil,

    I’ve only just found these photos. I used to live in Stepney Green and got to know you and Michael from 1984 onwards. I’d very much like to catch up with you. 0787 506 0595.

  23. Mehmood Mayet permalink
    September 11, 2019

    Thanks for the input. I believe that Yusuf Rasul has passed on. He taught English during my time at the school between 1973-1978 .

  24. Stuart E permalink
    May 14, 2020

    Lovely photos of a bygone age, I worked in the same building as Rembert Langham in the late 80s, on the Isle of Dogs where I grew up, a fascinating man and incredible artist. he was building models for Sci Fi films at that point, with an eye for detail that only true artists have.

  25. Kevin selby permalink
    July 18, 2020

    Hi Phil great photos and just spotted John Smeeth I worked with him at 100 Whitechapel road my first job in 1968 brunning advertising a good man he was

  26. Mike Green permalink
    August 20, 2020

    Hi Phil – Wonderful to see the photos of my uncle Terry and aunt Bren at their boozer The Three Crowns, next to Queen Mary College. Terry’s brother James, my uncle Jim (a Normandy veteran) is also captured by your lens. I’m glad to recall ‘John the Fruit’ and the fresh tomatoes he would bring into the pub. I’m glad he was able to do you a good turn – he was a nice old bloke. Terry and Brenda are happily retired in the south of Portugal, but Jim died a few years back (he was born 1920, Terry 18 years later from a brood of 11, nine of whom survived and thrived into adulthood, including my dad who will soon be 93!). If you have any more pics of the Three Crowns in its Green heyday, please post them or direct me to them if you have already. Cheers! Mike Green (junior)

  27. John permalink
    January 22, 2021

    I lived in Whitechapel from 1958 till 1982 when I moved. As I scrolled through this set of photographs I was astounded to see two people that I knew and an entrance that I recognised (Richards tea blending warehouse in Winthrop Street). The first person was Grahame, the window cleaner who cleaned the windows twice a week at my fathers pub. That ladder he is leaning on was a liability (it was huge) and he would bring dad out in a cold sweat as he narrowly missed the ornaments on display at the top of the paneling. In the end my father stopped him from using it indoors and provided him with a proper window cleaners ladder which came to a triangular point and had a leather pad on it, which you then leant against the wall/window. The second person is Bill Fishman, a man of formidable intellect and huge local knowledge.

  28. Joyce Callander permalink
    September 20, 2021

    Joyce Callander. Great to see old memories of my son Ahmet brother sisters Oxford House was a good place

  29. Yvonne Cheyney permalink
    June 17, 2022

    Great to see my friend Professor Bill Fishman in Whitechapel picture. I live in Southern California. Went to school at Robert Montefiore Secondary on Vallance Road. Night School in Hackney Principal Bill Fishman. Kept in touch for many years. He and wife visited us on East Coast in the 70’s when Bill was on sabbatical. He and wife passed away. Bill and Doris are missed by many. He led groups of us from night school on historical trips to Europe in the early 60s. Their children came along.

  30. Gail Williams permalink
    April 5, 2023

    I love these photos! Many, many happy memories evoked of working in Stepney, you, your family and others I met day to day. Michael Chalkley, who was on the board of John Scurr school governors for some time, was seldom off the lips of my headteacher! I enjoyed working with Noorjahan (Abdul Bari’s wife) for years – a hard working and very caring person. How great is the photo of Andrea and Eddie – how could we have known! Last time I saw Andrea was at (I think) Frank’s leaving do when I gave her a guided tour of her old haunt. Hope you, Sally and Andrea have survived the plague and are doing well XXX

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