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So Long, Moyra Peralta

June 13, 2024
by the gentle author

Next tickets for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS are available for Saturday 22nd June


Photographer Moyra Peralta (1936-2024) died on 8th May aged eighty-eight

Men sleeping outside Itchy Park

“I felt Spitalfields was my home at one time, even though I was never resident there apart from staying at Providence Row for the occasional night.” admitted photographer Moyra Peralta when she showed me these pictures, taken while working in the shelter in Crispin St during the seventies and eighties.

Every time I look at these, I see myself there,” she confided, contemplating her affectionate portraits of those she once knew who lived rough upon the streets of Spitalfields, “yet it doesn’t feel like me anymore, now that I am no longer in touch and I have no idea how many have died.” Despite its obvious social documentary quality, Moyra’s photography is deeply personal work.

Recalling the days when she and her partner, Rodger, studied under Jorge Lewinsky in the sixties, Moyra revealed the basis of her vision. “It opened up the mental apparatus to see photography not as an amateur hobby but as something fundamental to life. And it was doing the Soup Run that triggered off the urge to record. At first, I couldn’t believe what I saw, because in the day you didn’t see it. At night, you see a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see – hundreds of men sleeping at the back of a hotel in Central London, when there was no sign of them by day because they went to the day shelter.”

Forsaking her chosen path as a teacher, Moyra spent more than a decade working in shelters and on the street, befriending those with no other place to go and taking their pictures. “I started out as a volunteer on the night Soup Run, but once I got to know the men individually, I thought – that’s it, I don’t want to be anywhere else. I realised they didn’t lose their soul, and that spirit was what turned me from a volunteer into a full-time worker at Providence Row,” she confessed.

“Our children were exposed to the scene and spent every Christmas with us at the night shelter where we volunteered. We used to have people home for the weekend as long as they didn’t drink, but I think they found it quite a struggle to stay sober for two days. I could quite understand why people would drink, when it’s so cold you can’t sleep and you’re scared of being attacked by ‘normal’ people.”

Gerry B. in his cubicle at Providence Row – “Gerry sent me a letter containing only a few lavender seeds and a one pound note – the significance of which I shall never know,  for Gerry died a few days later. He always had been so very kind and I never quite knew why. Like many before him, his remains were laid in a pauper’s grave.

I remember, above all, his intervention on my first evening at work, when men in the dormitory had planned a surprise to test the reaction of the greenhorn on the night shift. Forewarned is forearmed, and the equanimity with which I viewed a row of bare bottoms in beds along the dormitory wall stood me in good stead for future interaction.”

“The women’s entrance at the corner of Crispin St & Artillery Lane, where Sister Paul is seen handing out clean shirts to a small group of men.”

Dining Room at Providence Row.

“The two Marys, known as ‘Cotton Pickin’ and ‘Foxie,’ making sandwiches at Providence Row for the daily distribution in Crispin St.”

Providence Row Night Refuge, Crispin St.

Men waiting for sandwiches outside Providence Row Night Refuge, 1973. “Established in 1880, this refuge offered free shelter and food to those who needed it for over one hundred years.”

Market lorries in Crispin St.

White’s Row and Tenterground.

Charlie & Bob outside Christ Church. “Charlie was a well-known East End character and Bob was my co-worker at the night shelter.”

Charlie, Bob & J.W. “Charlie rendering ‘Danny Boy’ to his captive audience.”

Charlie & Bob.

Sleeping in a niche, Christ Church 1975. “The crypt was opened in 1965 as a rehabilitation hostel for meths and crude spirit drinkers.”

Mary M. in Spitalfields.

“In Brushfield St beside Spitalfields Market, Dougie is seen having his lunch at ‘Bonfire Corner.’ Traditionally there had been a fire on this corner since the fifties.”

Sylvia, Tenterground 1978. “This homeless woman slept rough but accepted meals from Providence Row in Crispin St.”

Brushfield St, 1976. “Discarded vegetables at the closing of each market day proved a godsend to people on low incomes.”

Painter, Providence Row.

The bonfire corner at Spitalfields Market, 1973. “There had been deaths here from market lorries reversing. Ted McV., however, died of malnutrition and exposure. “


Old Mary, seventies.

John Jamieson, Commercial St 1979.

John Jamieson smiling.

J.W. with harmonica

J.W. & Pauline in Whitechapel, eighties

Pauline in Whitechapel, eighties.

Willie G. in pensive mood, rolling a fag in Whitechapel, 1976.


Gunthorpe St, 1974

Michael, Cable St 1973

Moyra & her partner Rodger in Spitalfields, late seventies.

Photographs copyright © Estate of Moyra Peralta

You may also like to read about

The Doss Houses of Spitalfields

The Return of Vicky Moses

At Itchy Park

John Claridge at the Salvation Army

Down Among the Meths Men

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Marcia Howard permalink
    June 13, 2024

    The resilience of certain human beings constantly impresses me. I hope all of us who’ve never been in this position remember to count our blessings.

  2. Andy Strowman permalink
    June 13, 2024

    Poem to Moyra
    By Andy Strowman
    Dedicated completely to her and the people she helped .

    You gave these people ,
    Who victorious politicians gave offensive names
    And showbiz stars had their rear faced luxury flats
    Blocked off from our community .

    I lathered in your photographs ,
    And found my childhood again feeling free .
    Now, you are gone , this pungent world 🌍
    Is still the same .

    The politicians get in chauffeured cars
    While some get lathered with thrown over cups of tea.

    Where are the broken backs of charities now ?
    Lost in the coffers of the Chief Executive champagne glass .

    Written on June 13 th 2024

  3. Malcolm permalink
    June 13, 2024

    Moyra’s photographs of Spitalfields and East London are incredibly important and a powerful indictment of how this area of London, and the people who lived there, were left to rot by successive governments and politicians. I remember Spitalfields in the period of the 1970s – 1980s that Moyra’s photographs bear witness to, I was working in the City and regularly walked around those streets, later in the 1980s I began taking photographs for myself. At that time Spitalfields and the surrounding area was almost Dickensian in its apparent squalor and decrepitude. Decaying and crumbling, uncared for and almost abandoned, and yet, within this tableau of broken streets, the beating heart that was the people never gave up or gave in. Moyra’s photographs tell a story of hope and how people do make a difference. I was lucky enough to meet Moyra once and I treasure the signed copy of her book Nearly Invisible, in which these photographs appear. Spitalfields has now been swept away by corporate interests and avaricious developers, replaced by an anodyne, ugly and souless steel and glass precinct, a landscape without a social heart or any kind of residential soul. But Moyra’s photographs captured something of the heart and soul of Spitalfields and its people in a way that nobody else has ever done. There are many, many photographs of this period around Spitalfields but few really get in as close as Moyra did and show the picture from the inside out. Here are the people that are almost invisible revealed. Thank you Moyra.

  4. June 13, 2024

    This is very sad news for me. The photographer Moyra Peralta was a very passionate woman who not only documented street life and homelessness in the centre of London, but also helped many people in need. She wanted to rescue people from oblivion. She was therefore an artistic social worker.

    On 14 June 2014, exactly ten years ago, I received her book “Nearly Invisible” from London, which she dedicated to me. Dear Moyra Peralta (1936-2024), thank you for your wonderful work. May you rest in peace.

    Love & Peace

  5. Gillian Tindall permalink
    June 13, 2024

    I think that Malcolm’s remark that `Spitalfields has been swept away’ may give a false impression to many of your far-flung readers. As all those of us who have been interested in the area for many years well know, though the fruit-and-veg. market has been changed out of all recognition, many of the original streets (which the Post-War Plan was intended to sweep away) were saved in the nick of time by the valient personal efforts of the likes of Dan Cruickshank, Raphael Samuel, Gavin Stamp and others, who squatted the 18thC. houses and successfully repelled the workmen sent in to demolish and rebuild.

  6. Dorothy V. Malcolm permalink
    June 13, 2024

    Dear gentle author,

    Today’s blog brought back so many memories of my working with these people whom I have a heart for. I’ve worked with them at several shelters in the past and I don’t think I will ever get over what they have endured and are often still enduring.

    One young man showed me a photo of himself as a 7-year-old boy, smiling under a Christmas tree with toys (in his birth home), and he looked so happy. So many of these people HAD ordinary lives, much like ours, but the fates have often dealt them a dreadful blow, sometimes from substance abuse or emotional issues. I remember Huck who came from an affluent home, and lived under a highway flyover; Billy whose marriage ended, lost his favorite job, then his home, was unwell, and landed on the streets; Ben who was 50 and couldn’t rent a flat because he was habitually unemployed and living rough (yet he genuinely wanted to be housed); the war veterans suffering from PTSD, using drugs/alcohol, depressed, and feel forsaken; and then there are the many whom we’ve assisted in finding a job and a home, only to go back to the streets because it felt more familiar to them.

    Many have myriad causes and backgrounds, yet each and every one of them suffers and endures the hardships that come with living on the streets, often on their own terms; some even prefer that life, while others are eager to get back into a warm bed and home.

    Each life is so very different–but they all count because they are part of our human race, deserving of moral support and love. God bless them all!

  7. June 13, 2024

    Moyra’s book “Nearly Invisible” with its text by John Berger is a gem. My well worn copy is better each time I look at it. She deserved more recognition. A life well lived.
    David Hoffman

  8. Adrian Jackson permalink
    June 19, 2024

    Thanks as ever. She also did seminal pics of the bullring at its height. Always love what u do. When I led Cardboard Citz u featured my great colleague Terry O’Leary. She is v ill now sadly – do u have great pics of her we can share? Adrian

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