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The Motor Mechanics Of Bow

September 12, 2023
by the gentle author


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Yaima at Bow Tyres

Over the years, Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I have visited many railway arches documenting the life of these charismatic spaces where people have sought the liberty of earning a living indepently and enriching the city in the process.

At Arnold Rd in Bow, we dropped in on a parade of a dozen arches where garages offering all aspects of motor repair have thrived over recent decades, supplying a reliable and conscientious service to local people.

In common with other railway arches across London and the entire country, we found these small businesses are subject to escalating rent increases which mean they are struggling to make a living and which threaten to destroy their livelihoods entirely.

Yet in spite of this crisis, we received a generous welcome from this mutually-supportive community of twenty-five to thirty mechanics who work together across their different garages, sharing skills and helping each other out as necessary.

Sultan Ahmed at Bow Motor Aid

Minar Uddin and his son Mostafa at Jonota Motors

Mostafa Uddin – “We do mechanics and some body work, small jobs. I have been working here for ten years, learning from my dad. I began by doing stuff with him and now I am running it. My dad set up the business thirteen years ago. He had another garage before this one in Bancroft Rd, but he had to leave that one because the rent was high. Now this rent is sky-high as well, our last recent increase was nearly double. With the amount of rent we have to pay, it is not worth us working for the small income we can make. If the business continues like this, we cannot carry on.”

Abdul Faizey at Best Motors – Abdul’s father was a mechanic in Afghanistan and he has had his garage since 2005

Opal Meah, proprietor at S Motors

“I do car mechanics and electrics. I have been in business since I left school, over twenty-five years now, and I have been in this arch for about eight years. Every year the rent goes up and now they are increasing it more. I am not making any money. One month you are lucky and you make enough to pay the bills but other months are very hard. I don’t know what I am going to do, I don’t know anything else but car mechanics. I want to stay here, but if I cannot afford the rent how am I going to stay? Before it was good but now it is so tight.”

Mohammed Chowdhury at S Motors –

“It’s really close knit here – like a big family – and everyone looks after everyone else if anyone gets stuck. Everyone has their own speciality and their own trades, so we can always ask everyone else to help us out. Yesterday, I was not too sure how to remove a panel from a Volkswagen golf but the bodyshop next door gave me a hand and I had the job done in a matter of minutes. Round here, it is beautiful because you can rely on each other, if anyone needs help or a push for a car. It is brilliant.

Quite a few new businesses have established themselves here in small arches and then grown substantially and looked for bigger premises and are doing really well. Some of these arches have been renovated and everybody has enough business to keep themselves afloat and cover their wages. It is a great starting point.

Some customers are drive-throughs, other are local. Word of mouth and friends and family have built our business. No-one who works here lives too far off from here.

If someone has background knowledge and they are looking to get into it and pick up some skills, there are opportunities here for young people to learn, develop themselves and climb up the ladder.

Rents are increased here without any reasoning and the landlords want to move this place upmarket, trying to get in other kinds of businesses. But if they are constantly bumping the rent up, how are people supposed to survive? Everyone’s struggling to survive here now, to be honest.”

Faisal Siddiqi at Ali Auto Repairs

Shajhan at Jonota Motors

Arif Giulam at Reliance Motors

Tommy, Misa Sheink, Sayed Uddin, Arif Giulam and Naiem at Reliance Motors

Shajahan Ali at Ali’s Body Work

Ali Noor at Ali Auto Repairs

Ahmed Shuhel at Spanner Work

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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Len Maloney, Garage Mechanic

At Three Colts Lane

The World of the East End Car Wash


Click here to discover more about this autumn’s blog course

3 Responses leave one →
  1. September 12, 2023

    These garages are incredibly important, especially nowadays as prices are exploding. Without one of these proper “screwers”, motorists are out of luck. I wish everyone in the Bow workshops many projects and a bright future!

    Love & Peace

  2. Jan permalink
    September 12, 2023

    Really sad that these small private repair shops are having to pay exorbitant rents for under the arches premises.

  3. Milo permalink
    September 12, 2023

    Why is it that as soon as people try to make something of themselves and utilise spaces that were not being used and band together to help each other out – all laudable and inspirational and good news – then greedy landlords swoop in and ruin it?

    I’m presuming these arches are owned by Transport for London? But whoever own them they have no compassion or empathy. Why does it always have to be like this?

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