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At London Fields Railway Arches

February 26, 2017
by the gentle author

Bill Waldon, Westgate Motor Centre

‘I used to have five arches but I was priced out and ended up in this dark hole!’

Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I spent a day last week visiting the occupants of the railway arches in London Fields where an atmosphere of crisis prevails currently. Thirty years ago, these crumbling old arches were empty and derelict but, over time, a diverse economy of small businesses has grown up here – chiefly car repairs, cabinet-making and secondhand furniture dealing, supplemented more recently by brewers, bakers and coffee roasters.

Yet now the owner Network Rail is demanding 200% and 300+% rent increases which threaten to destabilise this small community and drive out those have been longest established in this location offering invaluable services to local residents.

‘We feel we are the guardians of the arches,’ explained Nivinh Chu whose father started Chu’s Garage twenty-eight years ago, ’Yet we are being driven out by these increases, when small businesses are the heart and soul of Hackney.’ In common with some of their neighbours, Chu’s Garage faces a back-dated rent hike from £18,000 to £40,000 per annum while for others the increases are even higher.

‘Bricks were falling out of the roof for the first twenty years but Network Rail did nothing, so we had to built this temporary roof so nobody gets injured,’ Nivinh admitted to me with a grin at the absurdity of the situation.

In response to these adverse circumstances, the occupants of the railway arches are banding together to form the London Fields Traders Action Group to challenge Network Rail’s excessive rent increases and we wish them all the best in their fight to stay in business. Follow their endeavours at www.facebook/londonfieldsguardiansofthearches

John Lucien and John ‘boy’ Griffin of Westgate Motor Centre, established twenty-four years under the arches – ‘We do general repairs and we try to look after everybody’

Ben Mackinnon, Founder of E5 Bakehouse

Ben Mackinnon and fellow bakers at E5 Bakehouse

Stephen Maxwell of Maxwell Pinborough, bespoke furniture

Stephen Maxwell and colleagues at Maxwell Pinborough

Vict Anhu Vu of USA Nails Beauty Supply – ‘For fifteen years, we have had three warehouses under the arches and a shop in Mare St’

Noemi Dulischewski, founder of Brunch, a pop-up restaurant in the the London Fields Brewery Tap Room which has been running for two years

Charlie Fox, Proprietor of Poetstyle bespoke furniture and upholstery – ‘We moved in on Christmas eve thirty years ago and now we are facing 250% rent increase’

Ali Sharif of Sharif Auto Services has been operating under the London Fields arches for seven years. Currently he pays £30,000 but Network Rail want £100,000

Charles Woodward and ‘Popsy’ of London Doggies, pet grooming business established six years

Ian Rutter, Company Manager of London Fields Brewery

Simon Clark, Coffee Roaster at Climpson’s Coffee

Ahmet Ozer has been dealing in secondhand catering equipment for seventeen years from his arch

Quang Chu, Nivinh Chu and Jimmy Chu of Chu’s Garage

Quang Chu and Jimmy Chu of Chu’s Garage, opened by their father twenty-eight years ago

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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19 Responses leave one →
  1. February 26, 2017

    Network Rail cares only about profit for its shareholders. It’s dreadful that these small traders are under threat. Good luck to them all. Great photos from Sarah as usual.

  2. Jim McDermott permalink
    February 26, 2017

    There seems to be a master strategy to destroy this nation’s economic well-being that’s accelerated significantly over the past 12 months.

  3. Dean Armond permalink
    February 26, 2017

    Thank you for highlighting the plight of these small traders!

    Network Rail appear to fail to understand the difference between price and value?

  4. Lori permalink
    February 26, 2017

    The greed in this country is now so toxic that it is threatening the very fabric of our society, thank you Gentle Author for continuing to point out case studies such as these today, hard working people being put under impossible presssure, sad to see.

  5. February 26, 2017

    Those rent increases are inhuman. Greed, ignorance and indifference are destroying so much of London’s culture. I hope these people have a chance to fight the increases and keep their work places. Valerie

  6. Greg Tingey permalink
    February 26, 2017

    E5 Bakehouse …
    The mostest mince pies EVER ….
    London Fields beer is excellent, too.

  7. February 26, 2017

    These arches provide services and jobs that London needs if these business’s are driven out the arches they could fall into disrepair causing problems on the network above. These clever entrepreneur’s look after them by just being there I am sure they keep a watching eye on their premises. Network Rail would have to undertake this completely if they were all vacated. Not sure of the liability aspects here. These arches are of historic wartime value they are spread all-over the rail network. They provided vital storage areas and saved London lives, providing shelter during the Luftwaffe bombing campaign of the capital during WW2. Poet John PS so the mantra here is compromise and keep small business’s and jobs safe for Londoner’s, after all they do pay their taxes.

  8. BPL permalink
    February 26, 2017

    I know this is only the coldest of comforts, but please come to the arches in Leytonstone.
    Many of us are part of the Hackney exodus, I studied there as a student and my husband grew up in Hackney. It was hard for us to leave too. But there is a lot of room here for small businesses!

  9. Judy Stevens permalink
    February 26, 2017

    It seems wherever you see genuine enterprise and goodwill there is always someone round the corner trying to stamp it out – who are these people? If only individuals within organisations could be empowered to challenge unfair and wrong decisions – what a shame 🙁

  10. Libby Hall permalink
    February 26, 2017

    As always – lovely photographs by Sarah Ainslie.

    I have a personal vested interest in these arches. Four times a year Pip and I go to get his hair cut at London Doggies, and while that’s being done I sit in E5 Bakehouse having a coffee and something delicious to eat.

    It feels as if from all directions our life in East London is being attacked. Thank goodness Spitalfields Life goes on showing the world what’s happening, and, in quite a lot of instances now, actually STOPS it from happening!

  11. Delia Folkard permalink
    February 26, 2017

    It’s a disgrace, the heart and character of London is gradually being ripped out.

  12. Paddy Keogh permalink
    February 26, 2017

    Good luck to everyone featured here,hope you win this battle,pardon my french but fcuk Network Rail,keep up the good work Spitalfieldslife

  13. February 26, 2017

    Thank you for your intrepid advocacy, and thanks to Sarah for creating these compelling and
    vibrant portraits. The photos convey so much — Contribution, focus, dedication, community,
    vitality, the rewards of work, the importance of specialized skills and trades….I could go on.
    WHY are these people under attack? I don’t get it.

  14. tim sayer permalink
    February 26, 2017

    Once again, a story about the greed of Network Rail. But it could be any corporate horror. Isn’t it about time for us to start rioting in this country? We have been supine for too long in the face of these money grabbing horrors.
    One of my targets woud be No 1, Hyde Park, that monstrously hideous apartment block designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour. Richard Rogers sold his soul when his firm took on that project.
    Then on to torch a few corporate headquarters. And if we bump into (Sir) Philip Green on the way …

  15. Lisette permalink
    March 1, 2017

    Saddened to hear about the threat to the London Fields Arches and the traders, who have been there for years, and contributed a lot to the local economy, and created a sense of community in which was, before the traders, quite a deprived area. Clearly Network Rail puts profit over people and it’s a disgrace, It does not even seem to be listening to these traders, it engaging in talks. I really hope the locals will support these traders. I wish them all the very best in their plight, and long may they continue to trade from these arches.

  16. Rodney Maennling permalink
    March 8, 2017

    I’m an ol’ Londoner, and my father from Hackney. All of you contribute a huge amount to the community and economy; food, transport, pets, recreation and shelter, and other social needs. Congratulations!
    Fight the good fight, and get big publicity and community support. People are with you. I wish I were closer!

  17. Bryan Dixon permalink
    April 2, 2017

    I too am and old Londoner(in fact a cockney) but “emigrated” to North Yorkshire many years
    ago. In the late 1940’s and early ’50s these railway arches were often used by small enterprises, provided local jobs, and assisted in the commercial recovery of Hackney and its remaining inhabitants from the effects of the war. London Fields was still mostly given over to the storage of old Civil Defence Equipment, Barracks and bomb shelters. The arches, when unused or left unlocked, were often our playground. Is the arch leading through to Martello terrace still there? Where they were used for vehicle repair or as machine workshops or for scrap recovery, that is where we would go to sell items we “rescued” from the many bombed out houses and factories around us.

  18. Marcelle Garner permalink
    September 29, 2017

    I feel very sad when I read about things happening to honest hard working people like these & of those that used to have business at the Olympic site .The Olympics cause great distress displacing 100s of people wherever they are held .It all boils down to greed.

  19. May 28, 2019

    My grandfather, Michael Lazarus was a London cab driver (who had to pass the cabbie test, ‘The Knowledge’). He was a true cockney. Over the years, he established a fleet of taxi’s. And owned his own garage in Hackney. A true self made man. My grandmother had health issues, & needed the ocean air. So in the 60’s he sold the garage, & retired to Hove, Brighton. He was a delightful man! Always had a ‘sunny’ disposition. Made us all laugh, with his quick wit & jokes.

    My parents divorced, & my mother moved back (along with me), to her native country, America. I’ve lived here in New York, ever since. But always came home for visits with my family. My grandpa would be saddened to see what has happened to hard working people being forced out of their livelihood. ….

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