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Daniele Lamarche’s East End

October 16, 2022
by the gentle author
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Cheshire St Doorway –  “He once ran after me into the beigel shop and urged me to follow him. I had no idea what he wanted, but he led me back to my car on Bethnal Green Rd to show me that I’d left my keys in the door – he was desperately worried I would lose them. It made me chuckle after that when passers-by clutched their shoulder-bags firmly and crossed the street at the sight of him.”

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Photographer Daniele Lamarche came to stay in a flat in Wentworth St for two weeks in 1981 and ended up staying on for years. Working as an international news scriptwriter for Independent Television News in Leadenhall St, Daniele first visited Brick Lane when the Indian correspondent brought her here for lunch and she was capitivated. “As you crossed Middlesex St, coming from the City of London, all the windows were smashed and things were desolate.” she recalled, yet for Daniele it was the beginning of a fascination explored through photography which continues until the present day. “I found it interesting that a lot of people would not come and visit me in East London,” she confided to me, “Because it was the first place I found in London with a sense of wonder, a sense of poetry.”

In 1982, Daniele began taking photographs in Brick Lane. It was a time of racial discord in the East End and, working for the GLC Race & Housing Action Team, Daniele employed her photography to record injuries inflicted upon victims of racial assault, the racist graffiti and the damage that was enacted upon the homes of immigrants, the broken windows and the burnt-out flats. “People actually spat at me and shouted at me in the street,” she confessed. Undeterred, Daniele became part of the Bengali community and was called upon to photograph poor living conditions as residents campaigned for better housing – with the outcome that she was also invited to record more joyful occasions too, weddings and community events.

A Californian of French/American ancestry who grew up in Argentina and was taught to ride by a Gaucho, Daniele found herself in her element working at the Spitalfields City Farm for several years where she kept dray horses and rode around the East End in a cart. An experience which afforded the unlikely observation that the lettered fascias on shops and street signs are placed high because they were originally designed to be at eye-level for those sitting in horse-drawn vehicles. Becoming embedded in Spitalfields, Daniele photographed many of the demonstrations and conflicts between Anti-Fascist and Racist groups that happened in Brick Lane, taking pictures  for local and national newspapers, as well as building up a body of personal work which traces her intimate relationship with the people here, reflecting the trust and acceptance she won from those whom she met.

George, Nora & the Pigeon Cage – “East Enders who once cared for the ravens at the Tower of London, they  soon took to raising racing pigeons for club meetings and competitions.”

Bethnal Green Pensioner – “A delicately-faced woman answered the door when I knocked and talked to me at length about her life, her dreams and her memories…”

Elections – “A group of Bengali women vote in 1992 – when the BNP stood in Tower Hamlets – many for the first time,  following a drive made by groups including ‘Women Unite Against Racism.’ This was formed when local women found themselves to be three or four in meetings of over a hundred men and decided that, rather than be patronized as token females, they preferred to reach out to empower and support those women who might not otherwise vote.”

Eva wins the prize – “Eva came from Germany in the fifties, and grew plants and made soups out of what others might consider weeds – nettles, spinach, beet root tops – as well as sewing and embroidering all manners of pillows and textile pieces, from hop-pillows to aid sleep at night to tablecloths in the Richelieu style – and she was always game to show her wares of jams, sewing and plants at local events.”

French waiter in the docklands.

John & John – “This is John Lee, formerly of Spitalfields City Farm, now an organic dairy and pig co-operative farmer in Normandy, and ‘John’ who would often pop in to visit from Brick Lane Market and use the toilet.”

Immigration  – “This refers to the moment when individuals of Asian origin in East Africa were told their colonial British passports would be no longer valid after a certain date – thus causing many to come to Britain to establish their rights to nationality, and as a result, many families camped out at the airport waiting to be met.”

Toy Museum Lascars – “a set of nineteenth century figures which represent seamen from a range of ethnicities and cultures who would have once been seen in the docklands.”

Lam at Fire – “Lam who worked for the GLC’s Race and Housing Action Team visits a family of Vietnamese heritage in 1984 in the Isle of Dogs after they were petrol bombed the night before and only saved because the granny awoke and saw smoke.  Lam lived as a refugee in Hong Kong, and then in England where he was housed at first in a small village which greeted him with a gift of dog faeces through the letter box. ‘Is it the same in the USA?’ he asked me.”

Minicab – “A traditional minicab sign hovers over a resident whose front door, back door and side doors touched three different boroughs, causing him havoc and much correspondence with council tax officers.”

“Noore’s sister-in-law and friends help with wedding preparations, and a spot of toothpaste for intricate designs on her forehead.”

Paula, Woodcarver in her studio.

“Peter’s trades ranged from wheeling an old cart around as a rag & bone man to performing Punch & Judy puppet shows at children’s parties. Furniture and objects of interest flowed through his flat, and overflowed into the courtyard when a boat, which he’d sit in for evening cocktails, wouldn’t fit through the front door….”

Salmon Lane Horses – “A girl and her mother wait for the farrier after returning from school. Stables with horses for work and leisure dotted the streets and yards until developers picked off the remainder of the wasteland and yards where the animals were housed.”

Somali Girl – “This shows one of a group of children playing in a courtyard off Cable St where homes backed onto one another, enabling children to play within sight and ear-reach of parents indoors.”

Vietnamese Baby – “A voluntary sector advocate visits a Vietnamese family to check on their newborn’s progress. Over five hundred Vietnamese children of Chinese origin attended Saturday supplementary school classes at St Paul’s Way School in the eighties and nineties, most from Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs.  Many had been housed across Britain but chose to leave the isolation of village homes, offered in a Home Office policy of dispersement, preferring the security of living in the metropolis – sometimes with thirteen family members in two rooms –  thereby linking with community networks leading to jobs, further training and more fulfilling lives.”

Members of the Vietnamese Friendship Society.

Lathe, Whitechapel Bell Foundry – “Photographed in the eighties when the Bell Foundry was more a local point of interest, before it grew internationally famous.”

Brick Lane at Night – ” At a time when women were rarely seen on Brick Lane, I was once asked where my ‘friend’ was. I said the person I usually shopped with must be out and about  – to which the questioner kindly patted my hand and whispered ‘they always come back…’ Some time passed before it dawned on me that many of the white women accompanying Asian men on the street were ‘working women’….”

Market Cafe Farewell – “Market traders, artists and local characters, ranging from Patrick who directed traffic from the Blackwall Tunnel and Tower Bridge to Commercial St- regardless of whether it flowed without his assistance – all squeezed into this one-room-cafe which opened in the early hours of each morning. Then it vanished one day with only a farewell note left to confirm where it had been.”

Photographs copyright © Daniele Lamarche

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    October 16, 2022

    This makes me so proud to be brought up in the East End.

  2. October 16, 2022

    A fantastic archive of social history. Wonderful stuff.

  3. Mark permalink
    October 16, 2022

    On my many visits to London in the eighties, I remember the vibrancy and run down areas of the East End, especially Brick Lane, where my London dwelling friends and I spent many a Saturday afternoon. I also remember the Nazi skins, menacing everyone, not just people of colour, at the tube stations. God forbid if you had to share a carriage with them. As lefties, the old C.N.D. badges and Ruts, Damned, Clash badges were swiftly hidden.
    Lovely article, what a lovely great big stew London was back in the day. Suella Braverman and her ilk, ironically, would’ve hated it and sided with the skinheads.

  4. October 16, 2022

    What a wonderful article. Fantastic photogragrahs. Thank you.

  5. October 16, 2022

    Those were the days — wonderful photos!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  6. Stephen Watts permalink
    October 16, 2022

    So glad to see Daniele’s very lovely & important work so well shown !

  7. Saba permalink
    October 16, 2022

    What a cast of strong people who overcame the status quo! The Bengali above and the wood carver tapped into their individual courage to write very personal histories. GA gathered his creativity, skills, knowledge of history, and interest in others to initiate this very 21st-century, yet timeless, blog. I find this all a celebration of individual gifts and viewpoints along with a sanctuary from the hardships along the way. I’ve realized that the variety of interesting people highlighted in this blog affirms the individuality of the many readers as well.

  8. Marcia Howard permalink
    October 16, 2022

    I am ashamed at how so many people who moved to Britain were treated so badly when they should have been welcomed with open arms. Their stories are inspirational, and wonderfully captured on film by Daniele.

  9. Jane B permalink
    October 17, 2022

    Great work Daniele 🙂 — both the photography (certainly) and also the community action and support, ‘on the ground’ and ongoing …informed by a particularly perceptive, enquiring, and well trained eye and mind, and the ability to engage the people of East End in any number of languages, not least Bengali and Spanish 🙂 Let’s hope the horsesfind their way back to E1 somewhere sometime soon 🙂 We both know one particular green space in particular that would be all the better for having a stable-block 🙂

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