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Working People & A Dog

June 5, 2022
by the gentle author

Some tickets are available for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR on 11th & 12th June

Groundsman, E.15 (1965)

“This is the groundsman at the Memorial Ground where I played football aged ten in 1954.”

Some of my favourite people are the shopkeepers and those that do the small trades – who between them have contributed the major part to the identity of the East End over the years. And when I see their old premises redeveloped, I often think in regret, “I wish someone had gone round and taken portraits of these people who carried the spirit of the place.” So you can imagine my delight and gratitude to see this splendid set of photos and discover that during the sixties photographer John Claridge had the insight to take such pictures, exactly as I had hoped.

When John went back ten years later to the pitch near West Ham Station where he played football as a child, he found the groundsman was just as he remembered, with his cardigan and tie, and he took the photograph you see above. There is a dignified modesty to this fine portrait – a quality shared by all of those published here – expressed through a relaxed demeanour.

These subjects present themselves to John’s lens as emotionally open yet retaining possession of themselves, and this translates into a vital relationship with the viewer. To each of these people, John was one of their own kind and they were comfortable being photographed by him. And, thanks to the humanity of John’s vision, we have the privilege to become party to this intimacy today.

Kosher Butcher, E2 (1962) – “The chicken was none too happy!”

Brewery, Spitalfields (1964) Clocking in at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane.

Lady with Gumball Machine, Spitalfields (1967) – “She came out of her kiosk and asked, ‘Will you photograph me with my gumball machine?'”

Saveloy Stall, Spitalfields (1967) – “It was a cold day, so I had two hot dogs.”

Whitechapel Bell Foundry, E1 (1982) Established in 1598, where the Liberty Bell and Big Ben were cast.


Rag & Bone Man, E13 (1961) – “Down my street in Plaistow, there were not many cars about – all you could hear was the clip-clop of the horse on the wet road.”

Shoe Repairs Closed Saturday, Spitalfields (1969) – “I asked, ‘Why are you open on Saturday?’ He replied, ‘I was just busy.'”

Spice, E1 (1976) – “Taken at a spice warehouse in Wapping.  The smells were fantastic, you could smell it down the street.”

Portrait, Spitalfields (1966) – “This is a group portrait of friends outside of their shop. The two brothers who ran the shop, the lady who worked round the corner and the guy who worked in the back.”

Anglo Pak Muslim Butcher, E2 (1962)

Butchers, Spitalfields (1966) -“I had just finished taking a picture next door, when this lady came out with a joint of meat and asked me to take her photograph with it.”

Fishmongers, E1 (1966) Early morning, unloading fish from Grimsby.

Beigel Baker, E2 (1967) -“After a party at about four or five in the morning, we used to end up at Rinkoff’s in Vallance Rd for smoked salmon beigels.”

Newsagent, Spitalfields (1966) -“I said, ‘Shame about Walt Disney dying, can I take your picture next to it?’ and he said, ‘Alright.'”

Selling Shoes, Spitafields (1963) – “My dad used to tell me what his dad told him, ‘If you’ve got a good pair of shoes, you own the world.'”

Strudel, E2 (1962) – “You’ll like this, boy!’ I had just taken a photograph outside this lady’s shop. I said, ‘I think your window looks beautiful.’ and she asked me in for a slice of apple strudel. It was fantastic!  But she would not accept any money, it was a gift. She said, ‘You took a picture of my shop.'”

Number 92, Spitalfields (1964)

Tubby Isaac’s, Spitalfields (1982) – “Aaahhh Tubby’s, where I’ve had many a fine eel.”

Junkyard Dog, E16 (1982) – “I was climbing over the wall into this junkyard.  All was quiet, when I noticed this pair of forbidding eyes – then I made my exit.”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

Signs, Posters, Typography & Graphics

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Yutman permalink
    June 5, 2022

    I worked in this area in the mid-80s, hard work, long hours, in an impoverished sweat shop, and it looked just as poor and downbeat as these pictures depict.

    Hard times.

  2. Mary permalink
    June 5, 2022

    John Claridge’s images are superb. Many so called celebrity photographers have tried to capture the East End, but none come close to John’s mastery, and I think G.A. hits on the reason why – his subjects knew he was one of them. I never tire of his photographs.

  3. Cherub permalink
    June 5, 2022

    I’ll bet the gift of apple strudel was delicious!

  4. June 6, 2022

    As always with John’s photographs, a trip down memory lane to the East End I knew and loved.
    Both it and those characters have mostly gone forever….

  5. Yutman permalink
    June 7, 2022

    ”Both it and those characters have mostly gone forever….”

    Indeed, that seems partly true — but not entirely — speaking as someone who worked in the lowest rungs, the poorest levels of the underclass in these areas, in sweat shops and warehouses, barely making enough to buy the most basic of food ( bread, milk) and to struggle to pay fifty pence into the gas metre, I know there’ll always be strugglers in the hidden underside of London…I recognise all these people from the 50s and 60s, because I ‘knew them all’ in different bodies, but just as poor bodies, in the 1980s.

    I recognise my own role and presence, and that of my friends, in all these pictures.

    I just thank the Lord ( or whatever Spinozan presence is aware of us) that I made it through — not all my companions did.

    And that is not at all cheap bluster, rhetoric or hyperbole : the underbelly of London is a cruel and unforgiving place.

    I will never forget my years there, because I see it in my dreams all these decades later. Being poor either destroys a person, dulls their wits, or makes them conscious, sharpens their sensitivities, even politicises them in ways they can never forget.

  6. Peter J Washington permalink
    June 9, 2022

    Dear Yutman, well spoken words, they invoke such feelings of those times, not so far removed from Dickens time.
    An England showing its underbelly of class and poverty, who cared for them,…. only themselves, and sense of their community.

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