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Homer Sykes’ Spitalfields

May 27, 2023
by the gentle author

Meet me on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and we shall spend an afternoon walking eastward together through the square mile to explore the wonders and the wickedness of the ancient City of London.

Click here to book for my next City of London walk on Sunday 4th June


At the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in Brick Lane

From the moment he first came to London as a student until the present day, Homer Sykes has been coming regularly to Spitalfields and taking photographs. “It was very different from suburban West London where I lived, in just a few tube stops the contrast was extraordinary,” he recalled, contemplating the dislocated world of slum clearance and racial conflict he encountered in the East End during the nineteen seventies when these eloquent pictures were taken.

Yet, within this fractured social landscape, Homer made a heartening discovery that resulted in one of the photographs below. “The National Front were demonstrating as usual on a Sunday at the top of Brick Lane.” he told me, “I was wandering around and I crossed the Bethnal Green Rd, and I looked into this minicab office where I saw this Asian boy and this Caucasian girl sitting happily together, just fifty yards from the demonstration. And I thought, ‘That’s the way it should be.'”

“I walked in like I was waiting for a taxi and made myself inconspicuous in order to take the photograph. It seemed to sum up what should be happening – they were in love, and in a taxi office.”

In Princelet St

In Durward St

Great Eastern Buildings

In a minicab office, Bethnal Green Rd

Selling the National Front News on the corner of Bacon St

Photographs copyright © Homer Sykes

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. May 27, 2023

    Excellent set of photographs. Thank you Homer and the GA. Black and white photographs definitely allow you to focus on the subjects in greater detail. I remember well the clashes with the NF in various spots around London almost as a weekly fixture. Slum clearance was seen in many eyes as progress but it did sweep away a great deal.of history too. Once it’s gone, it is lost for ever. I think this is why the Save Brick Lane campaign is so poignant for me, we mustn’t lose anymore.
    I love the mini cab office photo. That’s my favourite.

  2. Milo permalink
    May 27, 2023

    Wonderful photos. At first i thought how on earth did he make himself ‘inconspicuous’ in the – usually – spartan surrounds of a mini cab office but then i saw the photo. Those two wouldn’t have noticed if a herd of elephants had walked it. Lovely. cheered me up no end.

  3. Cherub permalink
    May 28, 2023

    A really interesting collection of photos. I love the old fashioned frontage of Taj Stores.

    Back in 1978 I paid a visit to my sister in London and a friend of hers took me to Brick Lane on the Sunday. There was a National Front demonstration, coming from a quiet town in Fife I was terrified and asked if we could leave. It was horrible, I wasn’t used to witnessing such anger and felt sad for the people who had to put up with it. I was only 17 at the time and had not long started work in an office.

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