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Tony Hall’s Shops

November 10, 2021
by the gentle author

A few places are available for my last-ever course HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on November 20th & 21st. This is your final chance to come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches from Leila’s Cafe, eat cakes baked to historic recipes by Townhouse and learn how to write your own blog. Email to book a place.

Tony Hall loved shops, as you can see from this magnificent array of little shops in the East End that he captured for eternity, selected from the thousand or so photographs which survive him.

In the sixties and seventies when these pictures were taken, every street corner that was not occupied by a pub was home to a shop offering groceries and general supplies to the residents of the immediate vicinity. The owners of these small shops took on mythic status as all-seeing custodians of local information, offering a counterpoint to the pub as a community meeting place for the exchange of everybody’s business. Shopkeepers were party to the smallest vacillations in the domestic economy of their customers and it was essential for children to curry their good favour if the regular chore of going to fetch a packet of butter or a tin of custard, or any other domestic essential, might be ameliorated by the possibility of reward in the form of sweets, whether  there was any change left over or not.

Yet, even in the time these photographs were taken, the small shops were in decline and Tony Hall knew he was capturing the end of a culture, erased by the rise of the chain-stores and the supermarkets. To the aficionado of small shops there are some prize examples here – of businesses that survived beyond their time, receptacles of a certain modest history of shopkeepers. It was a noble history of those who created lives for themselves by working long hours serving the needs of their customers. It was a familiar history of shopkeepers who made a living but not a fortune. Above all, it was a proud history of those who delighted in shopkeeping.


Photographs copyright © Libby Hall

Images courtesy of the Tony Hall Collection at the Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read

Tony Hall, Photographer

At the Pub with Tony Hall

Libby Hall, Collector of Dog Photography

The Dogs of Old London

and take a look at these other pictures of East End Shops

Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts of 1988

A Nation of Shopkeepers by John Claridge

15 Responses leave one →
  1. keithb permalink
    November 10, 2021

    I witnessed the tail end of the tradition (having been sent up the road to Mr Adam’s shop for sugar/jam/salt/tins of peas and to Dodgshon’s baker for pies). The COOP and the new fangled Safeways were the bright brash additions to the high street. Dodgshon’s is still operating.

    It’s the almost fractal level of detail in photos like this that indicate the pattern of a way of life. Half way down the page there is a shop with a large sign for Turog’s Brown Bread. That rang a very faint half-century bell and the resulted Web search ended up with a recipe for a germ flour loaf.

    Another photo shows a very tall young woman buying a bottle of milk and a loaf in a tiny shop with a headscarved older lady looking on. Late breakfast after a night out?

  2. Cherub permalink
    November 10, 2021

    To many these photos will look like a bygone era, but for a child of the 60s like me it doesn’t seem so far away. What would people have done without corner shops and convenience stores?
    I live in Switzerland and they are the only shops permitted to open on Sundays so are pretty indispensable!

  3. Mark permalink
    November 10, 2021

    Truly lovely pics.
    Surf, Daz, Tizer and Green Shield Stamps!
    Egg trays balanced precariously one on top of the other, sort of.
    Vending machines not vandalized.
    Another world.

  4. November 10, 2021

    Great images captured from a lost world now.

  5. November 10, 2021

    Remarkable, and really, REALLY wish they could be more precisely dated, esp’ given SO much happened in those two extraordinary decades

  6. paul loften permalink
    November 10, 2021

    how I miss the old shops. In the 60’s we lived in Clapton and my dad and I would buy paraffin for the heaters from and old hardware shop in Chatsworth Road , where the market was situated. The owner was an Orient fanatic and we would stand there for a good hour talking about football. He was oblivious to the constant steam of customers that would stand there unnoticed whilst having to listen about Malcom Musgrove flying down the wing and scoring a great goal in the last game. They would eventually get served .
    Thanks to you and Tony Hall these heart warming places have not been forgotten.

  7. November 10, 2021

    The gong just rang…….yes, all the way across the pond, here in the Hudson River Valley in New York. These photos took me back to the Mid-1950s, to a small perpetually-disheveled
    “corner store”, on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Conveniently located across the street from the local grade school, The Candy Store was an essential part of little-kid commerce. A tiny zippered plastic change purse lurked in my pocket, safe keeping for a meager allowance. But — oh goodness — the treasures to be found in that little shabby store. A green rabbit’s foot for luck (forgive me) , a brightly-painted yo-yo festooned with glitter, a little molded-plastic doll, and candy to eat and to share. Not unlike the recent fireworks packaging that you just showed us, GA, the wrappings of the candy — and the product signage throughout the little store — provided ephemeral splashes of color that belied the hard-worn surfaces. It was a palace.

  8. November 10, 2021

    Very nice. But hope remains: small stores (called “Tante Emma Läden” in Germany) sometimes turn out to be unbeatable specialty stores! And the small owner-operated bookstores have already long outstripped the big multi-booksellers…

    Love & Peace

  9. Adele Lester permalink
    November 10, 2021

    Great photos. So many memories. Nothing like the corner sweet shops or the green grocer selling just potatoes and onions, cabbages and the occasional lettuce. They knew us and we knew them all – my mum would say pop round to Mrs S. For ten Weights, tell her I’ll be in on Friday to settle up!

  10. rogmi permalink
    November 10, 2021

    Most or all of these shops will have long vanished as part of so-called ‘slum clearance’ / development.

    The two photos of the same shop on the corner of Neville Rd N16 appear to be no. 38 Victorian Road, looking from 55 Neville Rd opposite (the start of Knebworth Rd can just be seen). The shop and Victorian Rd have since disappeared as part of housing development.

    The Richardson hardware shop no. 183 is possibly 183 Whitechapel Rd. That and it’s adjacent neighbour were demolished and rebuilt.

    The shop on Dane Place appears to be 470 Roman Road. Both Dane Place and that part of Roman Road have been redeveloped, so that shop is no more.

    (Courtesy of NLS maps and Google Earth / Street view 🙂 )

  11. Bernie permalink
    November 10, 2021

    Neville Road in one of the images is not far from where I was brought up and lived between ages 1 and 18. Very poignant!

  12. November 10, 2021

    Love all your posts they are brilliant and so needed
    We must forget our past how will we know where we are going without it.

  13. Dudley Diaper permalink
    November 11, 2021

    A lovely collection of shop fronts. Particularly in winter, just after dark it was a delight to come across a corner shop with its warm lights the only friendly sight around. I would think of an excuse to buy something if it was only a chocolate bar.

  14. November 13, 2021

    Thanks for posting this wonderful set. I understand Tony Hall’s photographs are held in the Bishopsgate Institute, I have been looking, without success, for a published edition of them, is there one? I would imagine they would be an excellent addition to the Spitalfields Life library.

  15. November 16, 2021

    I now live in North Yorkshire, and the shops in the town where I live appear to be thriving, due to more people shopping locally again! We have 2 family run butchers, plus a pie shop, 2 bakers, a family run greengrocer (who also sells eggs from a local farmer, delicatessen items, and cakes from a nearby award winning bakery) which has been run off its feet during Covid, due to the delivery service they now offer, together with numerous other traders. Plus we have a Saturday market with 2 greengrocers, a florist, a herb man, another selling materials and sewing equipment etc; plus a smaller market on a Wednesday. For those of us who have been isolated from their friends and families during these past difficult months, being part of a smaller community has been a godsend, and the chance to exchange words and friendly smiles when shopping locally. Sadly we have recently lost our HSBC bank, although one is still available in the largest town near us 12 miles away. So what comes around, goes around. Sadly in large towns and cities, developers have totally changed the landscape, where the small shops have been allowed to be demolished. Thankfully, that’s not likely to happen where I live in the near future, being on the edge of the one of the National Parks.

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