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Travellers’ Children In London Fields

June 11, 2022
by the gentle author

These pictures are the result of a remarkable collaboration between a photographer and his subjects, in which the children command the frame with natural authority and strength of personality. And the late Colin O’Brien’s masterly photographs make an interesting comparison with Horace Warner’s Spitalfields Nippers of 1912, even though Colin O’Brien had never seen the work of Horace Warner when he set out with his camera through the East End seventy-five years later.

“I came across the travellers whilst I was photographing a deserted warehouse in the London Fields area in 1987. They had parked their caravans in and around Martello St, near the railway arches by the station. This part of Hackney was very run down in the eighties. The streets were littered with rubbish and many of the decaying Victorian terraces were being demolished. The area was neglected and dangerous, with graffiti everywhere.

The travellers were Irish, mostly families with three or four children, living in modern caravans which looked extremely cramped but comfortable. On the first week I started to take one or two Polaroid shots of the children which I gave to them to show their parents. Some of the parents then dressed the children up and sent them out for me to take more pictures.

I continued to take many more images over a period of three weeks and got to know some of the travellers well. They took me into their confidence and trusted me with their children. It was only when I started to print the images that I realised what an amazing set of photographs they were.

When I returned to the site on the fourth week the families had gone. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was – after all, this is what travellers do, they move on. I had no way of contacting them but I was left with an amazing set of pictures.”

Colin O’Brien

Click here to buy a copy of TRAVELLERS CHILDREN IN LONDON FIELDS for £10

Photographs copyright © Estate of Colin O’Brien

You may also like to take a look at the Spitalfields Nippers.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Eljadi permalink
    June 11, 2022

    Beautiful children. A different life;

    Can’t help noticing their deep, sombre brows.

  2. Nita Heaton - Harris permalink
    June 11, 2022

    Wonderful pictures and subjects In the late 1940s I was fortunate to be taken by a friend to a travellers site near Brentford Underpass There were also Circus travellers there complete with animals in cages. A wake was also being held so I suppose they may have been Irish. I was welcomed an evening I wil never forget

  3. robin permalink
    June 11, 2022

    What beautiful children. They seem so comfortable in themselves, even if sometimes a bit wary of the camera. Thank you for sharing these striking photographs.

  4. Barry Smith permalink
    June 11, 2022

    I remember the Travelling families around Hackney Grove and the bottom of Wilton Way at this time. Terrific photographs. One memory is of carpets hanging on the wire fences and constantly washed.

  5. Andy permalink
    June 11, 2022

    I admire their bravery.

  6. June 11, 2022

    Colin O’Brien’s book is a most beautiful one. — The children look very confident. They seem positively aware that their way of life is an exceptional one.

    Love & Peace

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