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Val Perrin’s Empty Brick Lane

April 20, 2020
by the gentle author

At Shoreditch Station, looking through to Brick Lane

Something curious has happened in Spitalfields. As the streets have emptied of people and shops have closed, it is as if we have passed through a time warp and the place is returning to how it was when I first knew it in the seventies. In this selection from Val Perrin’s superb pictures of Spitalfields taken between 1970-72, I have focussed on his atmospheric photography of the deserted streets, evoking the sense of abandonment which prevailed at that time.

Cheshire St

Brick Lane

Sclater St

Hanbury St

Brushfield St

Photographs copyright © Val Perrin

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19 Responses leave one →
  1. Peter Manwaring permalink
    April 20, 2020

    Scary if we’re going back to those days. Evocative pictures though.

  2. April 20, 2020

    How was an area so close to the centre of world finance allowed to get into such a state and to be neglected for so long?

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    April 20, 2020

    Really evocative photos…

    It must be really spookily quiet in Spitalfields at the moment. Let’s hope it gets back t it’s normal lively self soon.

    Stay safe x

  4. Jude permalink
    April 20, 2020

    Street photography at its best! My personal Favourite is the pair of boots. Glad things have improved a bit since then.

  5. Nicola permalink
    April 20, 2020

    The photographs of the boys playing on the wall were captivating. I wonder who they all were? Brick Lane was home to my ancestors in the early 1800s, so I always enjoy any mention of it.

  6. April 20, 2020

    Thanks for publishing these marvellous photographs.

  7. Judi Jones permalink
    April 20, 2020

    A wonderful choice of photographs, as always.
    Wanting to be there in those streets – then. That’s how they make me feel.

  8. Pauline Taylor permalink
    April 20, 2020

    Although the streets are now deserted let us hope that such appalling poverty and deprivation never returns although I am fearful, as each day’s events unfold and more and more revelations come to light, that that is the direction in which we, as a country, are now heading. These very evocative photos should make us all stop and think.
    I think particularly of my great grandfather’s cousin, James Greenwood, a journalist who wrote many articles highlighting the extreme poverty in the East End, Brick Lane was often visited, and I am very proud of him as he did so much to try to improve life for those people. He wrote as The Amateur Casual and his book ‘The Seven Curses of London’ is well worth reading. He dressed the part to visit the East End and spent a lot of time in The Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, telling stories and singing songs to entertain the other journalists present. He also wrote about a night that he and a friend spent, voluntarily but at his brother’s request, in Lambeth Workhouse. Frederick Greenwood, his brother, then published the report in the Pall Mall Gazette. That article was really the beginning of the reform of the Poor Law and James and Frederick were responsible and this makes me remember them with pride. James also helped to raise large sums of money which was used to fund holidays at the seaside for poor children from the East End, he would be horrified to see these photos, and had he been alive then, would have worked tirelessly to put an end to such wilful exploitation of those less fortunate than himself. How we will need someone like him to appear now. These are very dangerous times for us all in more ways than one.

  9. Elaine Graybill permalink
    April 20, 2020

    Dramatic presentation. Thank you.

  10. April 20, 2020

    A short story in a single photo. The man bending over and inspecting a fallen book.

    Just look at him. A natty fellow. Him, with his polished shoes, the tiny feather in his hat, the plaid lining in his sturdy topcoat, and a neat orderly attache case. Now, tell, me — why would THAT
    fellow need to bend over and turn the pages of a grimey forgotten book? Is he a collector, hoping to spy a treasure? (and, oh dear, if it IS a treasure…….what does he do next?) Did he straighten up, wipe his hands on his pristine pocket handkerchief, walk away…….and then come back and look at the book again? What was the content that piqued his interest?

    Thank you to the photographer/story-teller who captured this moment. And to you, GA.

  11. Rupert permalink
    April 20, 2020

    What a recollection from Pauline Taylor ???????????

  12. Ron Wortz permalink
    April 20, 2020

    Excellent photos. Thank you for another great look back at days past in London.

  13. Pauline Taylor permalink
    April 20, 2020

    Thank you Rupert. I feel both of them looking over my shoulder whenever I try to write, I could never hold a candle to them but I am always happiest with a pen or a pencil in my hand. You might be interested to learn that both Frederick and James were friends of Dickens and Thackeray (the great Thack) and Frederick entertained them in his home. The niece of Frederick’s wife met them both, and she recalled, when she was over 100 years old, that Mr Thackeray was very nice but she did not like Mr Dickens. Frederick encouraged and gave a start to many famous Victorian authors when he was editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. One of them was Sir James Barrie who recalled that, when he was first asked to come to London to meet Mr Greenwood, he had to buy a top hat which he wore on every subsequent visit giving it the name of the Greenwood Hat, he also arranged a dinner in Frederick’s honour towards the end of Frederick’s life at which he said that he just could not say how much he owed Mr Greenwood and how much he loved him !

  14. April 21, 2020

    So Dismal, grey and sad. So far away from Beautiful from London. ???

  15. April 21, 2020

    Sorry TGA that I continue my chat with Pauline through your comments.

    Well Pauline, I would agree with the niece, Dickens was driven on by the financial disasters visited upon the family by his Father, and I sense he revelled in his celebrity. Certainly the way he treated his wife was truly obnoxious, hopefully in 21st Century that would not be tolerated and his writings boycotted. Thackeray, on the other hand, was a well rounded and travelled gentleman, which I think is reflected in his gently mocking writing, yet primarily within middle-class circles. The two, I think, culminating in the output from my chum Tommy Hardy, who wrote across the social spectrum, however his rather stiff-collared manner not reflected in his personal life.

    I digress, not unusually for me!

  16. aubrey permalink
    April 21, 2020

    ’70-72 photos? The look much like like ’50’s when I was growing up. I think one must infer that there was not much happening in the area during those decades.

  17. Pauline Taylor permalink
    April 21, 2020

    Apologies from me too GA but to reply very quickly to Rupert. Frederick Greenwood and Thomas Hardy were also friends and Hardy was a member of the committee set up to organize ‘The Great Occcasion’ which was the dinner to Greenwood that Sir James Barrie had suggested. The dinner was held on April 8, 1905, the list of those who attended occupied thirty lines in The Times and included many politicians as well as great literary figures, and just so that we don’t completely forget the point of this post, there was also a note from Baroness Burdett-Coutts in which she spoke of her ‘dear and honoured friend’. The baroness was a great champion of the working classes and a philanthropist. Created Baroness in 1871 by Queen Victoria she was the first woman to be ennobled in recognition of her charitable accomplishments and widely known as the ‘Queen of the Poor’ for the work she did in London. Frederick helped her and they became great friends.

  18. April 21, 2020

    I love these images, which just reconfirms the ebb and flow of life. I particularly like the resilience and smiling faces of the children, the polished shoes and briefcase of the man as he inspects the pages of a book on the ground, and the old lady with her battered old pushchair, but wearing a warm coat and polished shoes. There is a dignity about them all, and this is just a transition period until a new community gradually drifts in, repairs the properties, and ensures the area thrives once again.

  19. Margaret Mcdermott permalink
    April 22, 2020

    There are only two Brushfield Sts in the UK I live on the other one but no Hawksmoor church at the top .

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