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Mat Hughes’ East Enders of 1984

January 3, 2023
by the gentle author


Mat Hughes sent me these fine portraits of the East Enders of 1984 from Australia where he lives today. They are published here for the first time and we hope readers can perhaps identify the subjects. Last year, we published Mat’s photographs of East End streets and there is another set to come of his pictures of the Spitalfields Market.


“Back in 1984, I was a nineteen-year-old student studying photography at the Plymouth College of Art & Design. For my final assignment, I visited Whitechapel and spent two days in April walking the streets taking these photographs. I remember the first day was wet and rainy, and the second day was hot and bright.

In all honesty, I had no plan and in the end my assignment was never fully realised. I had too many pictures to print, it was expensive and I had no real story to tell or way of displaying them. Out of several hundred exposures, only a dozen were printed.

When I read about the controversial redevelopment of the Truman Brewery, it prompted me to dig out my 35mm negatives. Initially, I scanned one or two out of curiosity but I found myself captivated.

Time has given these photographs a context that I was unable to provide. Photographs that thirty-nine years ago I might have discarded have become treasures. Thank goodness I did not have a delete button back then.”

Mat Hughes


Photographs copyright © Mat Hughes

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Mat Hughes’ East End, 1984

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Wendy permalink
    January 3, 2023

    I am so glad you didn’t have a delete button too! What interesting photos and characters you captured on your couple of days out. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Kitty Shepherd permalink
    January 3, 2023

    Fantastic, thanks for sharing.

  3. January 3, 2023

    Splendid warm pictures. Yes, thank goodness the delete button hadn’t been invented. But my question is, why is the lady on the left on the first picture wearing a paper bag on her head? The woman with the bicycle is my favorite. Thank you, Mat and dear G.A.

  4. simon davies-hall permalink
    January 3, 2023

    another superb set of photos unearthed – thank you so much. hoping to come back with some locations in due course.

  5. January 3, 2023

    Yes, I know exactly how it is — photos are just “clicked” at the time they are taken. Years or even decades later, they become of a completely different value: you realise their incredible quality. That’s how it often happened to me. And this will lead me this year to publish my own book of photos taken 30 years ago. (The subject is still “secret”!)

    Love & Peace

  6. January 3, 2023

    A lovely range of photographs. Full of life.

  7. simon davies-hall permalink
    January 3, 2023

    lady with bag on head is cable street

  8. simon davies-hall permalink
    January 3, 2023

    final shot is bow common lane gas works. stockholm house right and hutton or shearsmith left

  9. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 3, 2023

    Truly wonderful images. So glad they’ve survived the intervening years.

  10. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 3, 2023

    I’m also hoping the Paper Bag on Head mystery will be explained!

  11. Paul Huckett permalink
    January 3, 2023

    These photos take me back . I worked for an Australian antique dealer and in 1984 I was buying loads of old Victorian furniture and exporting it . I stayed in the East End and used a firm of packers and exporters in the Mile End area , down some dingy back streets in an old factory . They packed the shipping containers we used , five and six at a time . I forget their name now . I walked everywhere during those trips . What memories these photos invoke . It’s wonderful they were recovered and are now seen again . As is often said , it’s a window in time . Thanks Mat

  12. Ros permalink
    January 3, 2023

    small and not very important point but might the bag on the lady’s head in the first picture be a plastic bag with a lining, turned inside out and with plastic handles tucked at the back, rather than a paper one? Plastic bags might be frowned on today but you can see this one has been used many times and is possibly now being inventively re-used to keep its wearer’s head dry.

  13. Stephen Watts permalink
    January 4, 2023

    Some of the images are of, or just off, Cable Street (the final one to me looks like two tower blocks on the south side of Cable Street seen from the other, north side of the railway, rather than Bow Common Lane ?), others look like Fieldgate Mansions & one or two may be on Commercial Road : that might also reflect a route taken by the photographer ? Some faces look familiar to me, though at this distance in time I can’t be sure. Thanks for showing them all.

  14. simon davies-hall permalink
    January 4, 2023

    final picture is NOT bow common lane gasworks.

    shearsmith House Cable St is in the background and it’s the LBTH Council Depot in the foreground situated in backchurch Lane/Pinchin St E1

  15. simon davies-hall permalink
    January 4, 2023

    lady with bicycle is commercial road. watney market behind the photographer

  16. simon davies-hall permalink
    January 4, 2023

    lady with scarf possibly fieldgate mansions – myrdle or romford street

  17. simon davies-hall permalink
    January 4, 2023

    stephen watts yes you’re quite right. i got a lot of comments re: that final picture and got confused. all the best

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