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Henrietta Keeper’s Photographs

December 8, 2023
by the gentle author

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Henrietta Keeper, Singer

Henrietta Keeper (widely known as “Joan”), the vivacious octogenarian ballad singer who used to perform at E.Pellicci in the Bethnal Green Rd every Friday, once invited me to round to her tiny flat to show me her remarkable collection of photographs and meet her daughter Lesley, custodian of the family album.

These pictures show Henrietta’s life as it existed within a small corner of the East End on the boundary of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green in the nineteen fifties. On one side of Vallance Rd was Cranberry St where Henrietta’s mother-in-law Selina lived and took care of her daughters while the family waited for a house of their own. On the other side of Vallance Rd was Selby St where Henrietta’s husband Joe and his brother Jim ran Keeper & Co, making coal deliveries. And at the end of Vallance Rd was New Rd where Henrietta worked as a machinist at Bartman & Co making coats and jackets.

Having grown up in Bethnal Green during the war and brought her own family up though the austerity that followed, Henrietta was a woman of indefatigable spirit. Most remarkable of all, she sang throughout her life, winning innumerable singing competitions and giving free concerts.

Henrietta with fellow machinist Izzie. “When I was nineteen I started here and I became the top machinist,” she explained, “I think my hair looks a bit like Barbara Windsor’s in this picture.”

Henrietta with Mr Bartman at Bartman & Co.

“This is Selina Keeper, my mother-in-law at her house in Cranberry St. She was real Victorian lady. She used to whip the cup of tea off the table before you had finished it!” said Henrietta. And Lesley added, “She had a best front room that she kept under lock and key, and only once – when she unlocked it – did I go in, but she said ‘Get out!’ You couldn’t touch anything. It had to be kept perfect.”

“My husband Joe took this picture of his two best friends George Bastick and Leslie Herbert in Nelson Gardens next to St Peter’s Church, Bethnal Green. What a pity he isn’t in it?”

Coronation Day, 1953, celebrated at Hemming  St, Bethnal Green. Lesley is in the blazer on the right hand side of the front row and Henrietta can be distinguished by her blonde hair beneath the Union Jack, peering round the lady in front of her.

“This is Jim Keeper, my brother-in-law, with his horse Trigger. My husband, Joe, worked with him and he had the biggest coal round in the East End – Keeper & Co. Joe was so strong he could carry a two hundredweight sack of coal on his back up the stairs of the buildings with ease. The brothers used to go home to lunch with their mum in Cranberry St and take Trigger with them. She always collected the horse manure for her roses while they were there and when the Queen Mother visited the East End, she leaned over the fence and said ‘This one should win best garden.'”

“Taken in 1947 at Southend, when I was twenty, this is Cathy Tyler, my sister Marie and me – I was known as Minxie at the time and we all sang together like the Andrews sisters. I was a bit shocked when I saw it because you can see I am pregnant.  I thought, ‘Is that me?'”

Henrietta (far right) photographed with her workmates by a street photographer around Brick Lane during a lunch break in the fifties.

This is Henrietta’s daughter Lesley visiting Petticoat Lane with her grandfather James Keeper in 1953. “He was a delivery man with a horse and cart, they called it a ‘carman,'” Henrietta remembered, “he was also a cabinet-maker and he brought me beautiful polished wooden boxes that he made.”

Henrietta and her husband Joe with their daughter Lesley on a trip to Columbia Rd.

The two children on the right are Lesley and Linda Keeper playing at Cowboys and Indians with their friends in the nineteen fifties in Cranberry St while they lived with their grandmother. Lesley remembers Mrs Dexter across the road who called out “Play nicely on the debris!” to the children and you can see the bomb site where they played in the back of the photograph. Today Cranberry St no longer exists, just the stub of road beside Rinkoff’s bakery in Vallance Rd indicates where it once was.

Henrietta singing at a Holiday Camp at Selsey Bill in the nineteen sixties.

Henrietta singing at Pelliccis

You may like to read my original portrait

Henrietta Keeper, Ballad Singer

7 Responses leave one →
  1. December 8, 2023

    Henrietta’s photographs remind me of many of my mum’s East End family photos.
    The street scenes and the stories have taken me on a trip down memory lane this morning and remind me of an East End I loved….and miss.

  2. Mark Byfield permalink
    December 8, 2023

    Always enjoy the blog.
    I have it sent to work and now my private email.
    I start my day with it, every day.
    Above…. as always first class photos that are not only a class act in themselves but… what an historical record to our lovely London.

    Thank you


  3. December 8, 2023

    There are so many interesting characters in the East End, it is valuable work that their stories are recorded. What an interesting life Henrietta has led and what wonderful photographic memories!

  4. brian mcmanus permalink
    December 8, 2023

    This was amazing to witness via photographs. Thank you and Henrietta, what a gifted person- Peace to you all- Brion

  5. Eve permalink
    December 9, 2023

    Lovely! so natural photos of those times when everyone knew everyone & recorded their special occasions for the treasured family album. Thanks for sharing these memories..

  6. RiaSunflower permalink
    December 9, 2023

    Interesting to see the photographs portraying a part of another person’s life.

    Thank you, Henrietta and The Gentle Author.

  7. Cherub permalink
    December 10, 2023

    Henrietta looks very glamorous in the photo of her singing at the holiday camp. I love her hair and dress.

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