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Tony Hall’s Shops

May 18, 2024
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields on Saturday 25th May

Tony Hall loved shops, as you can see from this magnificent array of little shops in the East End that he captured for eternity, selected from the thousand or so photographs which survive him.

In the sixties and seventies when these pictures were taken, every street corner that was not occupied by a pub was home to a shop offering groceries and general supplies to the residents of the immediate vicinity. The owners of these small shops took on mythic status as all-seeing custodians of local information, offering a counterpoint to the pub as a community meeting place for the exchange of everybody’s business. Shopkeepers were party to the smallest vacillations in the domestic economy of their customers and it was essential for children to curry their good favour if the regular chore of going to fetch a packet of butter or a tin of custard, or any other domestic essential, might be ameliorated by the possibility of reward in the form of sweets, whether  there was any change left over or not.

Yet, even in the time these photographs were taken, the small shops were in decline and Tony Hall knew he was capturing the end of a culture, erased by the rise of the chain-stores and the supermarkets. To the aficionado of small shops there are some prize examples here – of businesses that survived beyond their time, receptacles of a certain modest history of shopkeepers. It was a noble history of those who created lives for themselves by working long hours serving the needs of their customers. It was a familiar history of shopkeepers who made a living but not a fortune. Above all, it was a proud history of those who delighted in shopkeeping.


Photographs copyright © Libby Hall

Images courtesy of the Tony Hall Collection at the Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read

Tony Hall, Photographer

At the Pub with Tony Hall

Libby Hall, Collector of Dog Photography

The Dogs of Old London

and take a look at these other pictures of East End Shops

Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts of 1988

A Nation of Shopkeepers by John Claridge

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Bernie permalink
    May 18, 2024

    Turog brown bread. I remember the name from my childhood in Hackney, but I do not remember the taste or texture.

    Can anyone else?

  2. May 18, 2024

    Together, Tony Hall and John Claridge have captured some wonderful, now vanished forever images of the East End.
    I always enjoy looking at their amazing photographs, thank you for sharing them GA.

  3. May 18, 2024

    I remember these little shops well. There were two at different ends of the street, which I first lived in as a child. and another in the next street and off licence in the one after that. All long gone, like most of the streets. The top half of my old street avoided demolition

    About three quarters of a mile away. My great uncle kept a small shop. We would visit sometimes. I remember he wore a buff coloured
    overall, like the one worn by Ronnie Barker’s
    character in Open All Hours.

    Uncle Walter was quite a character himself. He had served in WW1, digging beneath the German trenches – like the characters on Peaky Blinders. My dad, who is now in his 90s, told me, recently,
    that Walter was involved in spade-to-spade combat with German soldiers coming the other
    way. The terrible fight to death later took his toll on Walter’s mental health and he spent time in hospital as a result. He came through and ran his little shop with his wife Almost until his death.

    Thanks GA for reviving these personal and socially historical memories, through publishing Tony Hall’s photographs.

  4. Cherub permalink
    May 18, 2024

    I sometimes miss the days when there was no need to troop into town for everything. Looking back to the 60s, 70s and early 80s in my local main street in Scotland there was a Co-op supermarket, 2 grocers, a fishmonger, butcher, greengrocer and 2 bakers. Also a dairy, a drapers, 2 shoe shops and various other things like a haberdashers and gift shop. You could also get a dentist, optician, chemist and have your shoes mended. By the mid 80s most were gone and on one side of the street the council knocked the buildings down for a planned redevelopment that never happened, to this day it is grassed over with a few bushes.

    Now even the town centre and High Street are finished, nothing to do with the pandemic as the decline started way before. The council built a retail park on the edge of town that sucked the life out of the centre, then they made a number of bad decisions on what to do in the centre including building a new pool and gym with barely any parking facilities!

  5. Christine permalink
    May 18, 2024

    Such nostalgic photos! It’s such a shame we can’t go back to this shopping instead of cold clinical over processed plastic wrapped food! x

  6. May 18, 2024

    So totally dense with detail. Even the most austere images (bike in front of J. Baker, and the
    empty bins at J. Berland…………) are just full of time-stamped details and nuances. The lady with the kerchief. Kids in short pants. The emblazoned packaging designs “stacked” and covering some of the storefronts. The tender attempts to make everything orderly and pretty for the viewer – tiny doilies folded into points. Goodness. I especially loved the scuffed scaling decrepit doorway in the corner building — so abandoned that someone needed to make a DRAWING of a smiling person, as the lone greeter. There is something so push/pull about all these images — Warm-hearted and endearing, yet stark and lonely as well.

    So glad that these have survived. I couldn’t stop looking and looking and looking.

  7. Andy permalink
    May 18, 2024

    I wish I could take you by the hand and go back in time to Harry’s and let you talk to him and Marie his wife who kept more out the back .

    I wish I could .

    I wish I could put it on the slate again .

    I wish I could .

    I wish I could see Harry’s smile and tell you how I enjoyed it when Mum said ,”Pick something out .
    Hurry up .”

    I wish I could .

    I wish I could tell you the joy I felt going there for old people and getting their Senior Service and a box of matches .

    I wish I could .

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