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Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits

July 29, 2019
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.”

Printer at the Surma newspaper, Brick Lane. The paper supported Sheikh Mujibur Rahman & the Awami League.

Porters at Spitalfields Market c.1978

Porters at Spitalfields Market c.1978

Boys on wasteland, Whitechapel c.1977

My friends Sadie & Murat Ozturk ran the kebab shop on Mile End Rd. Their daughter Aysher was best friends with my daughter and both went to John Scurr School. We spent alternate Christmases at each others’ home until they returned to Turkey. They were very hard-working and I hope they have prospered. c.1978

Engineers in the Mile End Automatic Laundry. It was a fantastic facility for people like us, with just an outside toilet and a butler’s sink in the kitchen. It had machines to iron your sheets which was a palaver, but everyone used to help each another. c.1975

Jan Alam & Union Steward, Raj Jalal on an Anti-Fascist march in Whitechapel

Chris Carpenter & Jim Wolveridge on Mile End Waste. My long-time friend Chris was a teacher at John Scurr School who went to Zimbabwe to teach for a number of years. When he arrived there were very few books in the School, but oddly there was one called ‘Ain’t It Grand’ by Jim Wolveridge. How it got there nobody could explain. Jim Wolveridge used to have a second hand book stall on the Waste every Saturday. In this photo, Chris is telling him about finding his book in his school in Zimbabwe. c.1985

My photography student Rodney at Deptford Green Youth Centre would often say ‘Hush up & listen to the Teach!’

Michael Rosen and Nik Chakraborty both taught my daughter at John Scurr School. c.1979

Photography students at Deptford Green Youth Centre. They were eager to learn and I hope they’ve all done well. c.1979

My friend and colleague, Caroline Merion at Tower Hamlets Local History Library where she spent most of her time. I went to her house once or twice and I noticed she had a habit of hoarding bags. c.1979

Harry Watton worked in the Local History Library in Bancroft Rd for many years. He was always helpful and had an immense knowledge about Tower Hamlets. c.1979

The Rev David Moore from the Bow Mission and Santiago Bell, an exile from Pinochet’s Chile who was a ceramicist and wood carver. He taught David to carve and, on retirement, David built himself a studio and has been carving ever since. This picture was taken at the opening of Bow Single Homeless & Alcoholic Rehabilitation Project and the carving, which was the work of both David and Santiago, depicts the journey of rehabilitation. c.1986

Builders at Oxford House. c.1978

Gasmen at Mile End Place, 1977

Harry Diamond at a beer festival at Stepping Stones Farm Stepney. After I left art school in 1978,  I met Harry at Camerawork in Alie St. He was always generous with his knowledge of photography and, after talking to him, I changed the type of film I was using. Harry was famously painted by Lucien Freud standing next to a pot plant, but when I asked Harry what he thought of Lucien, he did not have a high opinion of the great artist. c.1978

Teacher Martin Cale and Bob the School-keeper (an ex-docker) at John Scurr School. c.1978

At Hungerford Bridge, I came across this man in a doorway. He was not yet asleep so I asked if I could take his photo. ‘If you give me a cigarette,’ he said. ‘I only smoke rollups,’ I replied. ‘That’ll do.’ I rolled him a cigarette then took his portrait. c.1978

Paul Rutishauser ran the print workshop in the basement of St George’s Town Hall in Cable St

‘We don’t want to live in Southend’ – Housing demonstration on the steps of the old Town Hall

Kids from Stepping Stones Farm in Stepney c.1980

“Kingsley Hall was a Charles Voysey designed building off Devons Rd, Bow, that had fallen into disrepair and which we were trying to turn into a community centre.”

Kids from Kingsley Hall

In the pub with Geoff Cade and Helen Jefferies (centre and right) who worked at Kingsley Hall

“Geoffrey Cade worked at Kingsley Hall from about 1982. He fought injustice all his life and was a founding member of Campaign for Police Accountability, a good friend and colleague.”

East London Advertiser reporters strike in Bethnal Green, long before the paper moved to Romford c.1979

National Association of Local Government Officers on strike at the Ocean Estate

Teachers on strike c. 1984

Policing the Teacher’s Strike c. 1984

Teachers of George Green’s School, Isle of Dogs, in support of Ambulance Crews c. 1983

Kevin Courtney was my National Union of Teachers Representative when I began my teaching career

Lollipop Lady in Devons Rd, Bow

“Our first play scheme was in the summer of 1979. One of the workers was a musician called Lesley and her boyfriend was forming a band, so they asked me to photograph them and, as they lived on the Ocean Estate, we went into Mile End Park to do the shoot.”

Does anyone remember the name of this band?

Busker in Cheshire St c. 1979

“We bought our fruit and vegetables every Saturday from John the greengrocer in Globe Rd who did all his business in old money.” c.1980

Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

You may also like to take a look at

A Lost Corner of Whitechapel

Philip Cunningham at Mile End Place

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Rosemary Antrobus permalink
    July 29, 2019

    Hi to Phillip do you remember us Jules Baker and the Cumberland Giants. I still live in Hackney and have photos of what we got up to. Lucky you to have had a camera. Love the photos. Get in touch to compare notes. Likewise the Gentle Author. Great work.

  2. Ron Bunting permalink
    July 29, 2019

    Eddie Marsan hasn’t changed one little bit….

  3. aubrey permalink
    July 29, 2019

    The last photo: one could count every brick. A really fascinating wide-ranging photo collection of the ’70’s E End.

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    July 29, 2019

    Just loved these photographs. All those faces looking out from the 1970’s. Where are they now? What happened to them? Thank you Philip Cunningham, thank you GA.

  5. Linda Granfield permalink
    July 29, 2019

    Wonderful to see Michael Rosen in these shots.

    He’d already published his first book for children when the snap was taken. Now look at him: https://www.michaelrosen.co.uk/

    That fruit shop door beckons….

  6. Eric Forward permalink
    July 29, 2019

    Why amazing photos, that capture a slice in time. You can’t but help think – where / how are they now?

  7. July 29, 2019

    Hi Rosie
    Lovely to hear from you. I will ask GA to send you our e-mail.
    I remember the GIANTS very well and you as the referee. Richard Luppi who carried
    a GIANT lives near me in Suffolk. Best wishes Philipo & Sally

  8. Derek Bailey permalink
    July 29, 2019

    Amazing to see the picture of Mr Fishman who I had a class from at Raines Foundation School !!

  9. Nicky sewell permalink
    July 30, 2019

    Lovely to see a picture of my dad frank sewell and of a young Darren Way who is doing amazing things to combat gangs etc in the east end, much love

  10. Pamela Traves permalink
    August 1, 2019

    What Wonderful Pictures!! They struggle, work hard and smile with Hope!! Thank You So Very Much!!

  11. Andrew Carpenter permalink
    August 2, 2019

    These photos are wonderful; massively evocative, and brilliant in their ability to capture the reality of both people and places. I didn’t know the East End in the 70s… but now I have a slightly better idea.

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