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John Claridge’s East End Shops

January 29, 2024
by the gentle author

Ross Bakeries, Quaker St, 1966

“I used to go to the shops with my mum every Saturday morning, and she’d meet people she knew and they’d be chatting for maybe an hour, so I’d go off and meet other kids and we’d be playing on a bombsite – it was a strange education!” John told me, neatly illustrating how these small shops were integral to the fabric of society in his childhood.“People had a pride in what they were selling or what they were doing” he recalled,“You’d go into these places and they’d all smell different. They all had their distinct character, it was wonderful.”

Although generations of the family were dockers, John’s father warned him that the London Docks were in terminal decline and he sought a career elsewhere. Consequently, even as a youth, John realised that a whole way of life was going to be swept away in the changes which were coming to the East End. And this foresight inspired John to photograph the familiar culture of small shops and shopkeepers that he held in such affection. “Even then I had the feeling that things were going to be overrun, without regard to what those in that society wanted.” he confirmed to me with regret.

As small shopkeepers fight for their survival, in the face of escalating rents, business rates and the incursion of chain stores, John Claridge’s poignant images are a salient reminder of the venerable tradition of local shops here that we cannot afford to lose.

Shop in Spitalfields, 1964.

C & K Grocers, Spitalfields, 1982 – “From the floor to the roof, the shop was stocked full of everything you could imagine.”

Cobbler, Spitalfields, 1969.

Flo’s Stores, Spitalfields, 1962 – “All the shops were individual then. Somebody painted the typography themselves here and it’s brilliant.”

Fruit & Veg, Bethnal Green 1961 – “I’d been to a party and it was five o’clock in the morning, but she was open.”

W.Wernick, Spitalfields, 1962.

Fishmonger, Spitalfields, 1965.

Corner Shop, Spitalfields, 1961 – “The kid’s just got his stuff for his mum and he’s walking back.”

At W.Wernick Poulterers, Spitalfields, 1962 – “She’s got her hat, her cup of tea and her flask. There was no refrigeration but it was chilly.”

Fiorella Shoes, E2, 1966 – “There’s only four pairs of shoes in the window. How could they measure shoes to fit, when they couldn’t even fit the words in the window? The man next door said to me, ‘Would you like me to step back out of the picture?’ I said, ‘No, I’d really like you to be in the picture.”

Bertha, Spitalfields, 1982 – “Everything is closing down but you can still have a wedding! She’s been jilted at the altar and she’s just waiting now.”

Bakers, Spitalfields, 1959 – “There’s only three buns and a cake in the window.”

Jacques Wolff, E13 1960 – “His name was probably Jack Fox and he changed it to Jacques Wolff.”

Waltons, E13 1960 – “They just sold cheap shoes, but you could get a nice Italian pair knocked off from the docks at a good price.”

Churchman’s, Spitalfields, 1968 – “Anything you wanted from cigarettes to headache pills.”

White, Spitalfields 1967 – “I saw these three kids and photographed them, it was only afterwards I saw the name White.”

The Door, E2 1960.

The Window, E16  1982 – “Just a little dress shop, selling bits and pieces. The clothes could have been from almost any era.”

Victor, E14 1968 – “There’s no cars on the road, the place was empty, but there was a flower shop on the corner and it was always full of flowers.”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge

This was my Landscape

6 Responses leave one →
  1. January 29, 2024

    When I moved to Worcester it too was full of little old shops from a bygone era. We gave in to the supermarkets far too easily and the high street perished. Good to see that some communities have resisted this and still provide plenty of custom for all manner of interesting things. We even have a corner shop again! More power to the independent trader!
    Great photos John and thank you GA.

  2. Carol Miers permalink
    January 29, 2024

    Really nice to read about this – I recently found a hat box from my mother’s younger days and I kept it – photos exist of the shop where it was bought – An elderly friend told me that everyone wore hats in those days. To hear stories is to keep them alive. Thank you

  3. Mark permalink
    January 29, 2024

    Step aside David Bailey, John Claridge is in the building.

  4. January 29, 2024

    The photos of John Claridge always bring me to a full stop. He is a master of capturing a moment, an era, a conversation, a silent stare, a fleeting gesture. I so appreciated reading his words about
    scampering over bombsites as his mother stopped in the various shops, making her rounds. The Buddhists have a phrase about being out-and-about-in-the-world, contributing to commerce as well as celebrating community………Wish I could recall it today. John Claridge brings a stately beauty to his gritty hard-worn surroundings (see “The Door” above) and insists that we stop and look deeply.

    Thank you, GA.

  5. John Venes permalink
    January 29, 2024

    It is, of course, good to look back and remember those times.
    However, my feeling is one of sadness at what we have lost.
    I lived in Bethnal Green at the same time as John was taking his photos.
    I had the same experiences which he mentions.
    Yes, it was a run down area but it had warmth.
    Now, a lot of the old characters have gone and it is sanitised.

  6. Ian silverton permalink
    February 1, 2024

    Had shoes made in that Shoe Makers in Brick Lane, 1959 cost 6 UK pounds think? Had to return them week later, as a nail had passed into the heal. But he repaired as waited for them, winkle pickers with roll top slip-on, thought they looked the bees knees, in Barry’s in Mare Street on Friday Night, Mohair Suited and booted. Never went back though, moved on to Mr Lobbs Mayfair. East End Boys Memories.

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