Skip to content

Moyra Peralta, Photographer

November 24, 2020
by the gentle author

Men sleeping outside Itchy Park

“I felt Spitalfields was my home at one time, even though I was never resident there apart from staying at Providence Row for the occasional night.” admitted photographer Moyra Peralta when she showed me these pictures, taken while working in the shelter in Crispin St during the seventies and eighties.

Every time I look at these, I see myself there,” she confided, contemplating her affectionate portraits of those she once knew who lived rough upon the streets of Spitalfields, “yet it doesn’t feel like me anymore, now that I am no longer in touch and I have no idea how many have died.” Despite its obvious social documentary quality, Moyra’s photography is deeply personal work.

Recalling the days when she and her partner, Rodger, studied under Jorge Lewinsky in the sixties, Moyra revealed the basis of her vision. “It opened up the mental apparatus to see photography not as an amateur hobby but as something fundamental to life. And it was doing the Soup Run that triggered off the urge to record. At first, I couldn’t believe what I saw, because in the day you didn’t see it. At night, you see a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see – hundreds of men sleeping at the back of a hotel in Central London, when there was no sign of them by day because they went to the day shelter.”

Forsaking her chosen path as a teacher, Moyra spent more than a decade working in shelters and on the street, befriending those with no other place to go and taking their pictures. “I started out as a volunteer on the night Soup Run, but once I got to know the men individually, I thought – that’s it, I don’t want to be anywhere else. I realised they didn’t lose their soul, and that spirit was what turned me from a volunteer into a full-time worker at Providence Row,” she confessed.

“Our children were exposed to the scene and spent every Christmas with us at the night shelter where we volunteered. We used to have people home for the weekend as long as they didn’t drink, but I think they found it quite a struggle to stay sober for two days. I could quite understand why people would drink, when it’s so cold you can’t sleep and you’re scared of being attacked by ‘normal’ people.”

Gerry B. in his cubicle at Providence Row – “Gerry sent me a letter containing only a few lavender seeds and a one pound note – the significance of which I shall never know,  for Gerry died a few days later. He always had been so very kind and I never quite knew why. Like many before him, his remains were laid in a pauper’s grave.

I remember, above all, his intervention on my first evening at work, when men in the dormitory had planned a surprise to test the reaction of the greenhorn on the night shift. Forewarned is forearmed, and the equanimity with which I viewed a row of bare bottoms in beds along the dormitory wall stood me in good stead for future interaction.”

“The women’s entrance at the corner of Crispin St & Artillery Lane, where Sister Paul is seen handing out clean shirts to a small group of men.”

Dining Room at Providence Row.

“The two Marys, known as ‘Cotton Pickin’ and ‘Foxie,’ making sandwiches at Providence Row for the daily distribution in Crispin St.”

Providence Row Night Refuge, Crispin St.

Men waiting for sandwiches outside Providence Row Night Refuge, 1973. “Established in 1880, this refuge offered free shelter and food to those who needed it for over one hundred years.”

Market lorries in Crispin St.

White’s Row and Tenterground.

Charlie & Bob outside Christ Church. “Charlie was a well-known East End character and Bob was my co-worker at the night shelter.”

Charlie, Bob & J.W. “Charlie rendering ‘Danny Boy’ to his captive audience.”

Charlie & Bob.

Sleeping in a niche, Christ Church 1975. “The crypt was opened in 1965 as a rehabilitation hostel for meths and crude spirit drinkers.”

Mary M. in Spitalfields.

“In Brushfield St beside Spitalfields Market, Dougie is seen having his lunch at ‘Bonfire Corner.’ Traditionally there had been a fire on this corner since the fifties.”

Sylvia, Tenterground 1978. “This homeless woman slept rough but accepted meals from Providence Row in Crispin St.”

Brushfield St, 1976. “Discarded vegetables at the closing of each market day proved a godsend to people on low incomes.”

Painter, Providence Row.

The bonfire corner at Spitalfields Market, 1973. “There had been deaths here from market lorries reversing. Ted McV., however, died of malnutrition and exposure. “

Peggy

Old Mary, seventies.

John Jamieson, Commercial St 1979.

John Jamieson smiling.

J.W. with harmonica

J.W. & Pauline in Whitechapel, eighties

Pauline in Whitechapel, eighties.

Willie G. in pensive mood, rolling a fag in Whitechapel, 1976.

 

Gunthorpe St, 1974

Michael, Cable St 1973

Moyra & her partner Rodger in Spitalfields, late seventies.

Photographs copyright © Moyra Peralta

Signed copies of ‘NEARLY INVISIBLE,’ including these photographs and more by Moyra Peralta plus writing by John Berger & Alan Bennett, are available directly from Moyra for £5 plus £2 postage. Email moyra.peralta@zen.co.uk to get your copy.

You may also like to read about

The Doss Houses of Spitalfields

The Return of Vicky Moses

At Itchy Park

John Claridge at the Salvation Army

Down Among the Meths Men

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan Levinson permalink
    November 24, 2020

    I have a copy of Moyra’s book and the photos are very special.

  2. November 24, 2020

    Thank you for writing this one (and all of them, I don’t always say so).

  3. Richard Smith permalink
    November 24, 2020

    Great photographs that are impossible to pass by. Thank you GA.

  4. November 24, 2020

    So terribly sad. Splendid pictures. Thank you, G.A., as always.

  5. November 24, 2020

    Yes, here we have very special Images of great Expressiveness. Moyra did send me her Book in 2014 with Dedication and Signature. I took it from my Shelf today and had again a look. Am enthusiastic again!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  6. Peter permalink
    November 24, 2020

    A very moving article and photos. I notice that the third lady from the left in the photo taken in the women’s dining room in Providence Row is looking at the camera and watching what the photographer is doing. Could that be because this is Peggy, who is pictured further down and who was a friend of Moyra? She looks rather like Peggy.

  7. November 24, 2020

    I find some of these images gut wrenching. It has always upset me seeing people on the streets, old or young. I recall once, decades ago, coming out of the tube on my way to a meeting in one of our company offices in Langham Place, and every single doorway I passed, had a person in it. I started supporting Centrepoint from that day, and continue with Crisis etc. still. However much we give though, the number of people living such desperate lives on the streets, never seems to diminish. It breaks my heart.

  8. Pamela Traves permalink
    November 25, 2020

    Wonderful Pictures of Sad, Old People. They were Tough People. Thank You.😥🙏👏💖🌻🌷🌼✌

  9. Colin Allen permalink
    November 25, 2020

    These images are massively important to our history of London.
    Every one of them tells its own story. A real story.
    Some, like the image of Sylvia just screams the despair these individuals suffered.
    It came as no surprise to me that Moyra is a member of the Royal Photographic Society as each image demonstrates her mastery of the art.
    For every budding “street” photographer, this should be required reading.

  10. Marc Hopla permalink
    November 26, 2020

    Sylvia, Tenterground, 1978. I wonder what become of her? I wonder was she ever had a place of her own.

  11. David Green permalink
    November 27, 2020

    What kinds of trauma had these men and women had in their lives, that they ended up so? PTSD from the War? Mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of people who had had authority over them? Mental health and learning disabilities? Tragic.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS