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Stephen Gill’s Trolley Women

April 25, 2021
by the gentle author

When photographer Stephen Gill slipped a disc carrying heavy photographic equipment, he had no idea what the outcome would be. The physiotherapist advised him to buy a trolley for all his kit, and the world became different for Stephen – not only was his injured back able to recover but he found himself part of a select group of society, those who wheel trolleys around. And for someone with a creative imagination, like Stephen, this shift in perspective became the inspiration for a whole new vein of work, manifest in the fine East End Trolley Portraits you see here today.

Included now within the camaraderie of those who wheel trolleys – mostly women – Stephen learnt the significance of these humble devices as instruments of mobility, offering dominion of the pavement to their owners and permitting an independence which might otherwise be denied. More than this, Stephen found that the trolley as we know it was invented here in the East End, at Sholley Trolleys – a family business which started in the Roman Rd and is now based outside Clacton, they have been manufacturing trolleys for over thirty years.

In particular, the rich palette of Stephen Gill’s dignified portraits appeals to me, veritable symphonies of deep red and blue. Commonly, people choose their preferred colour of trolley and then co-ordinate or contrast their outfits to striking effect. All these individuals seem especially at home in their environment and, in many cases – such as the trolley lady outside Trinity Green in Whitechapel, pictured above – the colours of their clothing and their trolleys harmonise so beautifully with their surroundings, it is as if they are themselves extensions of the urban landscape.

Observe the hauteur of these noble women, how they grasp the handles of their trolleys with such a firm grip, indicating the strength of their connection to the world. Like eighteenth century aristocrats painted by Gainsborough, these women claim their right to existence and take possession of the place they inhabit with unquestionable authority. Monumental in stature, sentinels wheeling their trolleys through our streets, they are the spiritual guardians of the territory.

Photographs copyright © Stephen Gill

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Lesley permalink
    April 25, 2021

    I love the ladies dressed in Blue and green to match their trolleys. Go girls. ?

  2. April 25, 2021

    Woman don’t do this in the U.S, I think it’s too bad!

  3. April 25, 2021

    These are wonderful and your commentary insightful as always. Thank you.

  4. Linda Granfield permalink
    April 25, 2021

    Such determination on their faces as these women come and go to provide for their families. One wonders what groceries are within those trolley bags. Any treats for themselves?

    And the woman with the empty baby stroller–an image of multi-generations…and wonderful recycling!!

  5. April 25, 2021

    In the late 1950’s women used to use trolleys but they were made of wicker. The wicker once broken would tag you clothing. I see these are better. Ours was big enough to carry a weeks worth of shopping for a family of 4.
    Before school I would take the basket, as it was called then, to the shop with a list of items my mother needed and by the time I finished at the end of the day all was in the basket and I would wheel it home. I felt very proud to be trusted to shop at the age of 9 as my mum was very sick with TB.

  6. Jan permalink
    April 25, 2021

    I remember buying my mother a whicker wheeled trolley basket for her shopping in the 1960s. I think whicker trolleys (trollies?) are still made.

  7. paul loften permalink
    April 25, 2021

    Great sholleys. So useful . I should think they are a life saver for many people who don’t have vehicles and by using the sholley can do a decent shop.
    Sholley one of the great labour saving devices ever .

  8. Angela Brühl permalink
    April 25, 2021

    in Germany we don’t see these trolleys,people don’t push their shopping but pull a two-wheeled
    trolley or use their “rollator” for walking without accidents and carrying some shopping in the included front basket

  9. April 25, 2021

    Love the trolley ladies! I am in Ohio USA- my grandmother always used one (we call them shopping carts) to walk across the bridge to the grocery store in the 1950’s and into the 1970’s. I actually was excited to use one when I moved to a city where I could walk to shopping through our adjacent neighborhoods. I used her wire basket shopping cart at first but it was kinda rusty so I got a newfangled one like some of the ladies shown. It was very satisfying somehow to cart stuff home in this way and I miss doing it, even if I did feel a bit shall we say retro…

  10. Pamela Traves permalink
    April 26, 2021

    Love the Pictures of us elderly ladies with our shopping carts!!????????

  11. April 26, 2021

    Oh yes, the dear older ladies with their shopping trolleys — heart-warming!

    Love & Peace

  12. Cherub permalink
    April 26, 2021

    Both ladies and men use the pull along ones in Switzerland. Prior to covid people from my canton regularly went cross border to Germany and France for Euro shopping as it’s much cheaper – as well as trolleys you’d see large wheely suitcases on the trams ?
    Trollies are great – when my sister had a foot op a relative loaned her the walker type with the basket on the front so she could get out and stay mobile until it healed. Years ago we associated them with old ladies but not any more – I have to use public transport here as we have no car so wouldn’t be without ours.

  13. Peter permalink
    April 27, 2021

    I love the way these trolleys are adapted from things like McLaren buggies and pushchairs. Looks like they have been to coach builders.

  14. April 30, 2021

    Absolutely marvellous

  15. May 2, 2021

    I had a Sholley for years. A wonderful design and well balanced, with no danger of it falling over like other shopping trolley’s could do.

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