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A Few Pints With John Claridge

May 18, 2020
by the gentle author

Since all the pubs are shut for the foreseeable future, we must instead draw consolation from John Claridge‘s photography 

THE DRINK, E14 1964

Photographer John Claridge claims he is not a drinker, but I was not entirely convinced once I saw this magnificent set of beer-soaked pictures that he lined up on the bar, exploring aspects of the culture of drinking and pubs in the East End. “I used to go along with my mum and dad, and sit outside with a cream soda and an arrowroot biscuit,” John assured me, recalling his first childhood trips to the pub,“…but they might let you have a drop of brown ale.”

Within living memory, the East End was filled with breweries and there were pubs on almost every corner. These beloved palaces of intoxication were vibrant centres for community life, tiled on the outside and panelled on the inside, and offering plentiful opportunities for refreshment and socialising. Consequently, the brewing industry thrived here for centuries, inspiring extremes of joy and grief among its customers. While Thomas Buxton of Truman, Hanbury & Buxton in Spitalfields used the proceeds of brewing to become a prime mover in the abolition of slavery, conversely William Booth was motivated by the evils of alcohol to form the Salvation Army in Whitechapel to further the cause of temperance.

“When I was fifteen, we’d go around the back and the largest one in the group would go up to the bar and get the beers,” John remembered fondly, “We used to go out every weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’d all have our suits on and go down to the Puddings or the Beggars, the Deuragon, the Punchbowl, the Aberdeen, the Iron Bridge Tavern or the Bridge House.” Looking at these pictures makes me wish I had been there too.

Thanks to John, we can enjoy a photographic pub crawl through the alcoholic haze of the East End in the last century – when the entertainment was homegrown, the customers were local, smoking and dogs were permitted, and all ages mixed together for a night out. Cheers, everybody!

A SMOKE, E1 1982. – “There was a relaxed atmosphere where you could walk in and talk to anybody.”

THE CONVERSATION, E1 1982. – “Who is he speaking to?”

DARTBOARD, E17 1982. -“I used to be a darts player, just average not particularly good.”

SINGING,  E1 1962. -“She’d just come out of the pub…”

THE MEETING, E14, 1982. -“You don’t know what’s going on. There’s a big flash car parked there. Are they doing a piece of business?”

SLEEP, E1 1976. – “They used to club together and get a bottle of VP wine from the off-licence, and mix it with methylated spirits.”

BEERS, E1 1964. – “This is Dickensian. You wonder who’s going to step from that door. Is it the beginning of a story?”


DOG, E1 1963. -“Just sitting there while his master went to get another pint of beer.”

EX-ALCHOHOLIC, E1 1982. – “He lived in Booth House and seemed very content that he had pulled himself out of it.”

LIVE MUSIC, E16 1982. -“It was a cold winter’s day and raining, but I had to get this picture. Live music and dancing in a vast expanse of nothing?”

THE BEEHIVE, E14 1964. – “She never stopped giggling and laughing.”

THE SMILE, E2 1962. -“He said, ‘Would you like me to smile?’ He was probably not long for this world, but he was very happy.”

IN THE BAR, E14  1964. -“I’d just got engaged to my first wife and she was one of my ex-mother-in-law’s friends. Full of life!”

THROUGH THE GLASS, E1 1982. -“I think the guy was standing at the cigarette machine.”

THE CALL, E16 1982. -“Terry Lawless’ boxing gym was above this pub. It looks as if everything is collapsing and cracking, and the shadows look like blood pouring from above.”

WHITE SWAN, E14 1982

LIGHT ALE, 1976 -“Four cans of light ale and he was completely out of it.”

CLOSED DOWN, Brick Lane 1982.

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge



11 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 18, 2020

    Cheers to you and John too! Great photos..

  2. May 18, 2020

    Fantastic pictures.

  3. May 18, 2020

    I hope too I will have my first Peaceful Pint after “Corona” in my Pub!

    Love & Peace

  4. paul loften permalink
    May 18, 2020

    Thank you and John for the photos which are a reminder of the lost age of the pub. Well, perhaps not quite lost yet but will they ever be as they were, especially in our old haunts? I think not. As for Bethnal Green, I have my own memories. As a young man after leaving school in 68, for a while, every Friday night was down the Green Gate in Bethnal Green Road where live rock bands would pack out the pub which spilled out into the road. The pub was packed out with the young local boys and girls in mini dresses dressed in the latest style. The band was so always so loud that chatting up was a waste of time and so they had to wait until after the closing time when the girls would totter in their mini skirts and high heels back home. That is when the boys would seize the chance and follow them down the road in their cars leaning out of the window with their chat up lines. The road was a hive of activity with the souped-up Ford Zephyrs and Consuls or perhaps even a flash little sports model. that was the time you would hear the real East End wit at its very best. The quips and exchanges between the boys and the girls were something to remember. I seem to recall an article about it in the press and for a time it was the East Ends answer to Kings Road in the swinging ’60s

  5. May 18, 2020

    One of the many advantages of subscribing to Spitalfields Life — becoming acquainted with the photos of John Claridge. To me, they are unmistakable. What’s that great phrase? — “It’s important to have a SIGNATURE, not a FORMULA”. Mr. Claridge’s photos have a notable grit factor that perfectly suits his haunts, and the characters he encounters. His photos are descriptive and richly narrative — the word “granular” comes to mind. For your readers consideration: “East End” by John Claridge has become one of my favorite books in my art library. Every page tells a story — if not, several!

  6. ken permalink
    May 18, 2020

    for the life of me i thought that was Tony Benn in the first photo.

  7. Ken Powell permalink
    May 18, 2020

    Vivid but entirely depressing- maybe
    total abstinence is the way!

  8. May 18, 2020

    Amazing East End Vintage Pictures. These I want to Keep. Thank You.????

  9. May 18, 2020

    Fantastic & atmospheric photos! Love “The Smile” pic.

  10. May 20, 2020

    Muy refrescante. Gracias. Desde Colombia un saludo.

  11. David Green permalink
    May 20, 2020

    Ah yes, good old Tri-X or Ilford 400 film, pushed 3 stops to beef up that grain even more! Loved it.

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