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March Of The Monoliths

November 19, 2020
by the gentle author

Tonight at 6pm Tower Hamlets Council meet to make their decision on the monster Bishopsgate Goodsyard scheme. On Monday, Hackney Council decided to ‘support the development in principle’ and on 3rd December the Greater London Authority has the final word. If approved, this scheme will take over fourteen years to build and impose massive towers which overshadow surrounding conservation areas while offering only a pitiful amount of ‘affordable’ housing.

Click here to watch the Tower Hamlets meeting live

All of which makes John Claridge‘s photographs of the construction of monoliths in the East End in the last century especially pertinent. Many of these structures were subsequently regarded as mistaken in conception and have long been demolished. Yet as we embark upon a new wave of taller, meaner monoliths, it seems that no lessons have been learned.

In the Beginning

“The rich got richer and the poor got bathrooms” – this is photographer John Claridge’s caustic verdict upon the invasion of the monolithic tower blocks in the East End of his youth, as recorded in this set of pictures taken between 1962 and 1982.

“In the terraces of two-up two-downs, people could talk over the garden fence but in the towers they became strangers to each other. The culture of how they lived was taken away from them, and I knew a lot of people that got fucked up by it.” John told me, still angry about the wilful destruction of communities enacted in the name of social progress. “It was a cheap shot. People were making a fortune out of putting up crap.” he revealed in contempt, “I don’t think anyone has the right to destroy other people’s lives in that way and tie it up with a silk ribbon.”

While in London’s richer neighbourhoods old terraces were more likely to be renovated and preserved, in the East End and other poorer districts pressure was exerted through slum clearance programmes to force people from their homes, demolishing swathes of  nineteenth century housing in preference to simply installing modern amenities. In retrospect, many of these schemes appear to have been driven by little more than class prejudice and created more social problems than they solved, dislocating communities and systematically erasing centuries of settled working class culture.

John’s photographs record how the monoliths first asserted their forbidding presence upon the landscape of the East End, arriving like the Martian fighting machines in the War of the Worlds. “You made fun of it and got on with your life,” he admitted to me and, with sardonic humour – adopting titles from cinema and jazz – he confronts us in these pictures with a series of mordant graphic images that imprint themselves upon the consciousness.

As new, even larger, tower blocks rise over the East End today, John Claridge’s vivid photographs of the monoliths remain as resonant as ever.

On Dangerous Ground – “They didn’t half put them up quick, I’m telling you.”

Gloomy Sunday

Room With a View – “Which is the view, from this window or from the block?”

The Dark Corner

The Four Horsemen

Foggy Day

Three Steps to Heaven

Caged – “An old lady who lived in a block in which the lift broke told me she felt like a caged animal.”

Freedom is Just Another Word – “Prefabs offered one kind of freedom and tower blocks offered another – but then the word didn’t mean anything anymore.”

Stranger on the Third Floor – “Once the small businesses go, people became estranged from their local environment.”

Odds Against Tomorrow – “There were still a few people left in this derelict terrace because they didn’t want to move out, but the odds were against them.”

House of Cards – “When a gas stove blew up and part of Ronan Point collapsed, my father, who was a qualified engineer, went to check it out – there were bolts missing and it had been constructed on the cheap.”

Dark Water -“These reminded me of apartment buildings in the Eastern Bloc.”

House of Strangers


Out of Nowhere

High Wall

Dark Passage

Lift to the Scaffold

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

This was my Landscape

John Claridge’s Spent Moments

Signs, Posters, Typography & Graphics

Working People & a Dog


To keep informed of decisions follow @ourgoodsyard on twitter

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Ian Silverton permalink
    November 19, 2020

    Poor old East London then and now, remember exactly how John describes in his article on here today how it was, some of our neighbour’s who we knew from birth, we never ever saw or heard from again,gone to live in those high rise blocks, never ever ventured out at night to their local pubs or clubs, At the time never thought much of it, but as time goes bye you do, killed off all local community as John says, all for a inside toilet bathroom. Stay safe UK, and get back to work you home workers,before that becomes the NORM!! Thanks GA.

  2. November 19, 2020

    Having lived in the east end since 1960 I know many of these views.
    We are on dangerous ground.
    I hope those that are making these momentous decisions know what they are doing

  3. Mark permalink
    November 19, 2020

    Masterpieces, one and all. John Claridge is greatly missed. As for the East End, gentrification was always been the agenda since Thatcher. NEVER TRUST A TORY.

  4. Greg T permalink
    November 19, 2020

    I see that John mentioned the two words that prefigured this disaster:
    “Ronan Point”
    Presumably to be joined by: “Grenfell Tower”
    People simply won’t learn, will they?

  5. November 19, 2020

    Amazingly and depressingly pertinent – are the people in power (whether elected or ‘experts’) in the councils corrupt, or just staggerly stupid?

  6. Penny Gardner permalink
    November 19, 2020

    I remember it well. Bloody Le Corbusier has a lot to answer for. Radient Cities my Aunt Sally! Remember Bison Blocks? Have they pulled THEM all down yet? I watched Sparrows Can’t Sing the other day. Sentimental twaddle ,but thats al ltodays youngesters will go by. If there’s money to be made you can be sure there’s a lot of other stuff to be lost. I’m lucky to have moved to open country in my old age ,but there’s plans a foot to cover the next field with glamping pods and hot tubs ,sothe champagne poor can have a week in hot bath and swig themselves silly beside a hedge.

  7. November 19, 2020

    So sad… and such stupidity.

  8. Pennie Limming permalink
    November 19, 2020

    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn???

  9. Moyra Peralta permalink
    November 19, 2020

    Beautiful seeing eye: food for thought all day.

  10. Su C. permalink
    November 19, 2020

    Oppressive at best. The towers looming so close over those low homes make me claustrophobic, even in photographs. I can’t imagine actually living it.

  11. Robin permalink
    November 19, 2020

    The only way to prevent disasters such as this is through grassroots community organizing. If communities don’t resist vocally, the powers that be will simply ignore/marginalize them. Hopefully there are members of the Tower Hamlets Council & the GLA who are open to working with the community to avoid destruction of heritage while at the same time finding human-scale solutions–not simply market-driven solutions– to the problem of housing. But it’s not wise simply to assume they’ll do the right thing.

  12. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 20, 2020

    I watched all of the planning meeting last night and was very pleased that Tower Hamlets actually did the right thing for a change and haven’t nodded through the proposals for the Bishopsgate site – HURRAH!!.

    Although the most horrendous part of the proposed scheme (the massive office block) is actually in the Hackney part of the development and so wasn’t discussed, at least the Tower Hamlets councillors recognised and objected on four main grounds – that there isn’t nearly enough housing in the scheme (especially for families), that there isn’t enough affordable workspace for local businesses, that the hotel is completely unnecessary and that the design is still much too overpowering, especially at street level in Bethnal Green Road.

    Lets hope that the GLA agrees and refuses permission, and that Bishopsgate becomes the turning point against all the unwanted high rise development which is destroying the East End.

  13. Claire D permalink
    November 20, 2020

    One of my best friends at school in the 70s lived in the Arndale Centre in Wandsworth on something like the fifteenth floor, she’d spent her early childhood in a slum with a leaking roof and thick black mould on the walls and no bathroom. The new high rise flat had a bathroom with no window so you had to leave the door open otherwise you were liable to faint, and there was the mould again, the lift stank and the corridors were dark and scary. They were finally rehoused into a decent maisonette when she was 18, the whole family seemed to relax and blossom with relief.

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