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John Claridge’s East End Shops

April 25, 2022
by the gentle author

Ross Bakeries, Quaker St, 1966

“I used to go to the shops with my mum every Saturday morning, and she’d meet people she knew and they’d be chatting for maybe an hour, so I’d go off and meet other kids and we’d be playing on a bombsite – it was a strange education!” John told me, neatly illustrating how these small shops were integral to the fabric of society in his childhood.“People had a pride in what they were selling or what they were doing” he recalled,“You’d go into these places and they’d all smell different. They all had their distinct character, it was wonderful.”

Although generations of the family were dockers, John’s father warned him that the London Docks were in terminal decline and he sought a career elsewhere. Consequently, even as a youth, John realised that a whole way of life was going to be swept away in the changes which were coming to the East End. And this foresight inspired John to photograph the familiar culture of small shops and shopkeepers that he held in such affection. “Even then I had the feeling that things were going to be overrun, without regard to what those in that society wanted.” he confirmed to me with regret.

As small shopkeepers fight for their survival, in the face of escalating rents, business rates and the incursion of chain stores, John Claridge’s poignant images are a salient reminder of the venerable tradition of local shops here that we cannot afford to lose.

Shop in Spitalfields, 1964.

C & K Grocers, Spitalfields, 1982 – “From the floor to the roof, the shop was stocked full of everything you could imagine.”

Cobbler, Spitalfields, 1969.

Flo’s Stores, Spitalfields, 1962 – “All the shops were individual then. Somebody painted the typography themselves here and it’s brilliant.”

Fruit & Veg, Bethnal Green 1961 – “I’d been to a party and it was five o’clock in the morning, but she was open.”

W.Wernick, Spitalfields, 1962.

Fishmonger, Spitalfields, 1965.

Corner Shop, Spitalfields, 1961 – “The kid’s just got his stuff for his mum and he’s walking back.”

At W.Wernick Poulterers, Spitalfields, 1962 – “She’s got her hat, her cup of tea and her flask. There was no refrigeration but it was chilly.”

Fiorella Shoes, E2, 1966 – “There’s only four pairs of shoes in the window. How could they measure shoes to fit, when they couldn’t even fit the words in the window? The man next door said to me, ‘Would you like me to step back out of the picture?’ I said, ‘No, I’d really like you to be in the picture.”

Bertha, Spitalfields, 1982 – “Everything is closing down but you can still have a wedding! She’s been jilted at the altar and she’s just waiting now.”

Bakers, Spitalfields, 1959 – “There’s only three buns and a cake in the window.”

Jacques Wolff, E13 1960 – “His name was probably Jack Fox and he changed it to Jacques Wolff.”

Waltons, E13 1960 – “They just sold cheap shoes, but you could get a nice Italian pair knocked off from the docks at a good price.”

Churchman’s, Spitalfields, 1968 – “Anything you wanted from cigarettes to headache pills.”

White, Spitalfields 1967 – “I saw these three kids and photographed them, it was only afterwards I saw the name White.”

The Door, E2 1960.

The Window, E16  1982 – “Just a little dress shop, selling bits and pieces. The clothes could have been from almost any era.”

Victor, E14 1968 – “There’s no cars on the road, the place was empty, but there was a flower shop on the corner and it was always full of flowers.”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

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

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy Strowman permalink
    April 25, 2022

    The nunber one thing I miss is the clarity.
    The locality comes next.
    Old people would wave you away fromba football match to give you the exact money to go to these kind of shops.

    I miss some of the trust the shopkeepers gave me.
    There does not appear that thing anymore.

    Maybe, once in a while in Sainsburys where a few know me.

    Rest in peace Harry.

  2. April 25, 2022

    Beautiful pictures from a bygone era. — Sometimes you wish you could go back to these small traditional, homely shops. They glow with something more comforting than these modern, sterile glass palaces…

    Love & Peace

  3. April 25, 2022

    Very moving pictures, thank you, dear G.A.

  4. Maureen permalink
    April 25, 2022

    Fabulous article as always. It is interesting that these shops already look very old. What a different age.

  5. April 25, 2022

    The photos of John Claridge are unmistakable. True grit.
    This wonderful series could have been “stills” from some of the greatest British New Wave films that I adore……”Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, “Darling”, “L-shaped Room”, etc.
    The photos (and the films) have a similar push/pull. Contradictions. Grim but cozy. Desolate and inviting. Provincial but universal.
    Cue the John Dankworth soundtrack.
    And thank you, GA.

  6. Bernie permalink
    April 25, 2022

    Wernick’s is just the sort of butchery where my aunt from Wilkes St shopped. But by the time these photos were taken she and her children had moved northwards to Hendon. Would they have gone without the impetus provided by the Luftwaffe? I am not so sure; there was a tight community hereabouts until the blitz and it might well have persisted much longer.

  7. Jo N permalink
    April 25, 2022

    Wonderful pictures of the kind of shops I remember in the north in the ’70s. Wolff is a Jewish name, incidentally, it’s in my husband’s family who fled Alsace, so it’s feasible he really was Jacques Wolff!

  8. Mark permalink
    April 25, 2022

    The Muhammed Ali of photography.
    Genius. Thanks.

  9. Marcia Howard permalink
    April 27, 2022

    Amazing images

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