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Spitalfields Parties of Yesteryear

December 18, 2021
by the gentle author

The van drivers of the Spitalfields Market certainly knew how to throw a party, as illustrated by this magnificent collection of photographs in the possession of George Bardwell who worked in the market from 1946 until the late seventies. George explained to me how the drivers saved up all year in a Christmas Club and hired Poplar Town Hall to stage shindigs for their families at this season. Everyone got togged up and tables overflowed with sponge cakes and jam tarts, there were presents for all and entertainments galore. Then, once the tables were cleared and the children safely despatched to their beds, it was time for some adult entertainment in the form of drinks and dancing until the early hours.

You may also like to take a look at

Spitalfields Market Nocturne

Spitalfields Market Portraits

A Walk Through Time in Spitalfields Market

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    December 18, 2021

    This is so lovely! I wonder where the children are now? Also Santa was scary as hell – I’m surprised none of the kids were crying.

  2. December 18, 2021

    Bright children’s eyes in the golden post-war era. It was a bit like that in our country. There are many photos that show me in that time, which I still remember.

    A wonderful Advent season to all readers!

    Love & Peace

  3. paul loften permalink
    December 18, 2021

    These children’s Christmas parties photos are something to be treasured. They represent the interface of a new generation post war children and their parents who went through some awful experiences in their lives . The photos show the pure pleasure of the children and the great care and effort of their mums and dads to make it such a memorable experience . Although as a child’ I didn’t attend the Smithfield parties, my dad worked in Fleet building in Farringdon just a stones throw up the road. He would pop over to Smithfield every year and bring home a large Capon for Christmas day. They would have similar Christmas parties at Fleet Building for the children of the workers . The parties were also attended by hundreds of children and I was one of them. I will never forget the excitement of and anticipation sitting in the rows of children, waiting for the arrival of Father Christmas and the distribution of the Christmas presents after the chritmas lunch and entertainments. The cost was also paid for by the Christmas Club. However the parties were also an introduction to the world of work to a small child and we were shown around the building, awestruck at the vast machinery and communications equipment in every room. The parties were also a meeting between the two generations. Many of the men were World War 2 veterans . My father would introduce me to his work colleagues and say “that was Alan Young. He parachuted into Normandy on D day . I recall one of his friends that I shook hands with, was Jerry Bublik a Czech émigré who was also a parachutist. It was years later that I saw the film Operation Daybreak which mentioned his brother Josef Bublik who died in the crypt in the battle beneath the church in Prague. Where else could we have had the chance to come face to face with history? I have no doubt the children in the Smithfield photos could recount similar stories. Thank you Gentle Author for reminding us of this special generation that gave so much to us all.

  4. Milo permalink
    December 18, 2021

    Reminded me of the ‘conservative club’ christmas party me and my siblings were taken to as kids. I seem to remember our Santa wasn’t quite as traumatising to look at. (Let alone the dodgy looking men standing next to him…)

  5. Janet permalink
    December 18, 2021

    Lovely idea-but that Santa is very scary-no wonder those kids look so uncomfortable

  6. December 18, 2021

    I could easily/happily spend hours looking at these photos. (and I so enjoyed the letter from reader Paul — with more juicy details) Take a gander at the final photo and this array of gents. Full of mischief (and perhaps, drinks?) and chomping on some pretty banal sandwiches. Colleagues, mates, rivals, family members, neighbors? Showing off some funny hats, and spiffy suits and ties. The same gents might have needed to crawl out of bed the very NEXT morning, and show up for work —- but for that night, they were “off the leash” and enjoying the moment.
    I also enjoyed the wardrobe details of the ladies. Many of these dresses reminded me of my mother’s “dress up clothes”; very ladylike, prim but with a lovely flair.
    And the smiles of the children!? — Obviously, on pure oxygen and enjoying the holidays as only young children can.
    GA, this post was a gift to all of us. Happy holidays.

  7. Cherub permalink
    December 19, 2021

    Gosh, these could easily have been from my childhood, only for me they were “pit parties” – Christmas parties held in the local Miners’ Welfare where I lived in Scotland.

    We also had a scary looking Santa and a man who dressed in a Pierrot outfit!

  8. December 21, 2021

    Oh those wonderful dresses! Those ladies certainly made an effort and look like they are enjoying the party, but the gents look less enthusiastic. Those fags hanging out of their mouths!! Bet they couldn’t wait for the evening festivities to start.
    But yes, that’s how it was for children in the 50s – sandwiches and cake and, if you were lucky, a gift in a cardboard box wrapped up in green and red Christmas paper. I always remember the smell of community halls like that when I see the pictures – sort of damp and dusty, especially around the stage where all the props and chairs were stored. Wouldn’t it be great if this year’s Christmas episode of ‘Call the Midwife’ was inspired by these wonderful photographs?

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