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David Johnson’s Cafes

June 6, 2024
by the gentle author

Click here to book your ticket for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS

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Fredson’s Cafe, Alie St

David Johnson took these magnificent photographs of cafes in Kodachrome around 1980.

“When I lived in East London, I started this project to photograph some classic cafes, mainly in the East End – but also elsewhere as I came across them in my travels. I think it was the sign-writing and eclectic typography which were the main attractions. I realised that they were not going to be around much longer. Many were run by Italian families who started up in the post-war period. Annoyingly, I did not make a note of the locations – so if you can help, please leave a comment.”

David Johnson

Aeron Cafe

Bridge Cafe

Corner Parlour

Alfredo’s Cafe, Islington

Sign at Alfredo’s Cafe

Flock-In

Gee’s Cafe

George’s Cafe, Whitechapel

The Happy Fillet

Jim’s Cafe, Islington

Jubilee Cafe

Moon & Sixpence Cafe

Norman’s Nosh Bar

Norman’s Nosh Bar

Phyllis’s Cafe

Silvio Cafe

The Ninety Eight

The Village Rest

Viking Cafe

Magno Cafe

Leslie’s Cafe

Crawford Cafe

Cafe

Empire Cafe

Photographs copyright © David Johnson

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David Johnson’s East End

June 5, 2024
by the gentle author

Click here to book your ticket for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS

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Liverpool St Station

Shall we take a tour around the East End in the early eighties in the company of David Johnson, courtesy of his wonderful Kodachrome photographs?

“My interest in London’s history goes back to the late sixties, when as a teenager I would take the train from Oxford and then, using a Red Bus Rover ticket and a copy of Geoffrey Fletcher’s The London Nobody Knows, discover some of the most interesting and off-beat parts of the capital. In 1977, seeking a job after graduating and with a strong interest in photography, I ended up in London selling cameras in Tottenham Court Rd. I first explored the old wharves and docklands before they disappeared and then, after moving to Dalston, the East End. Derelict buildings, faded signs, architecture on a human scale are all things which I liked to photograph then – and still do today.”

David Johnson

Liverpool St Station

Liverpool St Station

Liverpool St Station

Artillery Lane

Brushfield St

Christ Church Spitalfields

Fashion St

Spitalfields barber

Hanbury St

Brick Lane

Homeless men in Spitalfields

The City from Spitalfields

Whitechapel Market

Wapping Police Station

Wapping

St Paul’s School, Wellclose Sq

Wapping High St

River Plate Wharf

Wapping

Wapping Pier Head

The Gun, Isle of Dogs

The Black Horse, Limehouse

Grove Place, Hackney

Empress Coaches, Hackney

Regent’s Canal

Cat & Mutton Bridge

Broadway Market

Broadway Market

George Tallet, Fishmonger, Hackney

Carr’s Pet Stores, Hackney

Trederwen Rd, Hackney

Photographs copyright © David Johnson

Doreen Fletcher’s Early Paintings

June 4, 2024
by the gentle author

Click for tickets for The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields

In the week before the opening of Doreen Fletchers’s exhibition of new paintings, EAST, on Saturday 8th June at Townhouse, it is my pleasure to show a selection of her early paintings which originate from the Potteries where Doreen grew up. These pictures comprise a significant body of work painted by Doreen in her teens and early twenties.

Salvation Army Building, 1970 (Courtesy of Brampton Museum)

Brook St, 1975

“This was the very first urban oil painting I ever did. I was inspired by the fact that each time I returned to visit my parents, a little more of their environment had disappeared and I felt an urgent need to record what remained. I little realised at the time I had found both a subject and a content that would last a lifetime.”

Bungalow in Summertime, 1976

“When I painted this, I had already lived in London for two years with my boyfriend, an art student at Wimbledon. During the summers we decamped to our hometown of Newcastle-under-Lyme on his motorbike which I loved riding pillion. On summer evenings, we drove around the countryside, stopping for a drink at a country inn and savouring the contrast between our new, busy lifestyles in London and the peaceful country lanes we travelled.

One evening, I was taken aback to see a suburban bungalow in the middle of a field. It looked completely out of place and reminded me of the house where my great uncle lived in which the heavy oak furniture seemed out of scale in the small rooms. Due to this I had developed a prejudice against what I saw as ‘bungalow culture.’”

House in Whitfield Ave, 1977

“The house where I grew up was declared not fit for human habitation in 1974. My parents were happy to move into a council property they were offered across the road from this one. There was a huge garden with two greenhouses where my dad grew vegetables in regimented rows, with tomatoes and chrysanthemums. He was delighted, but my mother was lonely and missed the intimacy of the cramped streets with a shop on every corner near the town centre.”

The Albert, Liverpool Rd, 1977

Takeaway Chip Shop, 1979

“This is typical of chip shops dotted all over Newcastle and the Potteries where long queues would form at tea-time and again after the pubs had closed.”

Black & Yellow Door, 1980

“Notice the foot scraper that all terraced houses had in those days, for knocking off the clay from clogs and later Wellingtons. The bright colours of the paintwork were trendy in the early-mid seventies, as opposed to the dull browns, navy blues and maroons favoured in the fifties and sixties.”

Beats Grocers, 1980 (Courtesy Potteries Museum & Art Gallery)

Finesse Hair Salon, 1980

“Hairdressers such as this abounded in the sixties and many remain today. My mum went every Friday to have her hair ‘set’ and, twice a year, she subjected herself to the torture of strong-smelling perm lotion, with her hair screwed in rollers, then baked under a hairdryer for a couple of hours. As a result, she did not have much left of her once luxurious hair by the time she was fifty. I grew up fearful of these hairdressers and, to this day, I delay a haircut as long as possible.”

House with Pylon, 1980

Gardeners’ Hut, Westlands, 1980

11 Whitfield Avenue

Red House in Talke, 1980

“When I went on the bus with my mum to visit my gran at Talke  during the school holidays, we passed this house somewhere around Talke Pitts and, even amongst the red brick of the Midlands, it struck me as very red indeed. I must have been eight or nine but the memory of it remained and, when I went in search of it fifteen years later, I was delighted to find it was still standing.”

Sheldon’s Hair Salon, Knutton, 1982

“It is my mother who is looking in the window of Sheldon’s hairdressers and dress shop. She went once a week to have her hair ‘set.’ At that time, she was ten years younger than I am now but considered herself old at fifty-five and dressed accordingly. When I was a child, we used to take a walk each Sunday afternoon to places such as Knutton, a former mining village on the outskirts of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Even in such a small place, a shop like Sheldon’s could support its proprietors.”

Chatwins Bakers, 1982

“I painted this ten years after I left Newcastle and five years after I first envisaged it. 

Chatwins Bakery was a family business, alive and thriving today, having expanded from fresh bread baked daily by John Chatwin and sold by horse and cart to twenty shops throughout Staffordshire, Cheshire and North Wales.”

Wrights Grocers, 1982

“I painted this in the early eighties while I was living in Paddington but it recalls a corner shop in my hometown. In the background, a row of condemned houses awaits demolition and it is apparent the grocery store is not long for this world either. The goods it contains are typical of what was on offer in any small shop across the country.”

Church in Brampton, 1982

“Although I was sent to a strict Church of England Primary School, I have been a non-believer since the age of five and a committed atheist since I was twelve. In spite of this, the Methodist, puritanical blood runs deep in my veins and I have never been attracted to Baroque architecture preferring the severe Victorian architectural styles of Newcastle and Stoke.”

View from Clayton Fields, Newcastle-under-Lyme, 1985 (Courtesy of Brampton Museum)

“This was a commission from Newcastle Borough Council. I was asked to removed the green and white stripes on the side of one of the buildings in the distance because the Chief Executive considered them an eyesore.”

Tiffany Dance Hall, 1979

Tiffany’s at Night, 1988

“Tiffany’s in the early seventies was the centre of the universe. I went there on Saturday afternoons with my friend Janet and later we graduated to Wednesday evenings from 7pm-10pm. It was the only time in my life that I visited a Dance Hall, they have never interested me since”

Winter in the Park, 1989

“This is the sister painting to the ‘Gardeners’ Hut’ but done many years later.”

Northern Stores, 1998

“Even in the sixties, the Northern Stores was an anachronism. It was a hardware shop I enjoyed visiting with my dad on Saturday mornings when he would buy something for his allotment, perhaps chicken feed or paraffin or a bag of nails for mending a fence. My pleasure at being out with him was heightened by the awareness that our next stop would be the art materials shop or the bookshop where he always spent more on me than he did on his own needs.”

Paintings copyright © Doreen Fletcher

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The Creeping Plague Of Ghastly Facadism

June 3, 2024
by the gentle author

I am giving a free lecture based on my book THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM at the Barbican Library on Tuesday 11th June at 6pm. CLICK HERE TO RESERVE YOUR TICKET

An affront in Spitalfields

As if I were being poked repeatedly in the eye with a blunt stick, I cannot avoid becoming increasingly aware of a painfully cynical trend in London architecture which threatens to turn the city into the backlot of an abandoned movie studio. If walls could speak, these would tell tales of bad compromises and angry developers who, dissatisfied with the meagre notion of repair and reuse, are driven solely by remorseless greed.

Meanwhile, bullied into sacrificing historic buildings of merit, cowed planning authorities must take consolation in the small mercy of retaining a facade. The result is that architects are humiliated into creating passive-aggressive structures, like the examples you see below – gross hybrids of conflicted intentions that scream ‘Look what you made me do!’ in bitter petulant resentment.

A kind of authenticity’ is British Land’s oxymoronical attempt to sell this approach in their Norton Folgate publicity, as if there were fifty-seven varieties of authenticity, when ‘authentic’ is not a relative term – something is either authentic or it is phoney.

Shameless in Artillery Lane

Not even pretending in Gun St either

A sham marriage in Chiswell St

Lonely and full of dread in Smithfield

Can you spot the join in Fitzrovia?

Looming intimations of ugliness in Oxford St

A fracture in Hanway St

A hollow excuse in Central London

The veneer of luxury in the West End

A prize-winning abomination on the Caledonian Rd

Barely keeping up appearances at UCL Student Housing

In Gracechurch St, City of London

St Giles High St, Off Tottenham Court Rd

‘A kind of authenticity’ – Facadism in Norton Folgate according to British Land

CLICK HERE TO ORDER A COPY FOR £15

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Visit The Secret Gardens Of Spitalfields

June 2, 2024
by the gentle author

Gardens in Spitalfields are open for visitors this year on Saturday 8th June from 10am – 4pm. Find details at the website of the National Gardens Scheme. 

I have just four tickets remaining for The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields at 2pm that day, so if you are clever you can fit both in on the same day.

These hidden enclaves of green are entirely concealed from the street by the houses in front and the tall walls that enclose them. If you did not know of the existence of these gardens, you might think Spitalfields was an entirely urban place with barely a leaf in sight, but in fact every terrace conceals a string of verdant little gardens and yards filled with plants and trees that defy the dusty streets beyond.

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So Long, The Gallant

June 1, 2024
by the gentle author

I am sorry to report that The Gallant sank after capsizing in a sudden violent storm early on Tuesday 21st May, twenty-two nautical miles north of the Bahamas island of Great Inagua with eight sailors on board. Six – four men and two women – were rescued from a life raft, but the two other crew members – Emma T (31) and Léa B (28) – were lost at sea.

The Gallant arriving in Greenwich

In 2019, photographer Rachel Ferriman & I were at the shore to welcome the first sailing ship in more than a generation arriving at the London Docks with a cargo of provisions from overseas. Over subsequent years, the Gallant became a regular sight on the Thames, bringing produce from Portugal and the Caribbean. Although it was a small beginning, we were inspired by this visionary endeavour which set out to connect farmers directly with customers and make the delivery by sail power.

On board, we met Alex Geldenhuys who explained how she started this unique project.

“We are very excited because this is our first visit to London and we believe this cargo has not been delivered here by sail for forty years or more. We have olive oil, olives, almonds, honey, port wine from Portugal and chocolate and coffee from the Caribbean.

I set up New Dawn Traders in 2013. At first, we were working with ships crossing the Atlantic once a year bringing chocolate, coffee and rum but then I started the European voyages three years ago. We do two or three voyages a year which means we are learning more quickly.

With the captains, we decide when and where we will go and what we will pick up. We started in Portugal and most of our suppliers are based in the north of the country, small family farms producing olive oil. They give the best care for the land and contribute most to the local community. These farmers do mixed agriculture and so they also produce honey, almonds and chestnuts.

Next year, we look forward to working with Thames barges, meeting the Gallant in the estuary after the long distance voyage and delivering the cargo to London, just as they were designed to do. We will be back in the spring and customers can order online and then come down to the dock to collect their produce.”

The Gallant was a handsome schooner and we were delighted to explore such a fine vessel moored in the shadow of Tower Bridge while the tanned and scrawny crew were unloading crates of olive oil, coffee and rum, loading them onto bicycle panniers for transport to the warehouse in Euston.

Down in the cabin, we met captains Guillaume Roche & Jean Francois Lebleu, studying charts of the estuary in preparation for their journey to Great Yarmouth, the next port of call. Guillaume began by telling me the story of the Gallant and revealing his ambition and motives for the undertaking.

“I am co-owner of the ship with Jean Francois, we take it in turns to be captain. The Gallant was built as a fishing boat in Holland in 1916, but, when we bought her two years ago to use her as a cargo vessel, she had been converted to carry passengers so we had to build a hatch for loading and enlarge the hold.

We are both professional seamen who have worked on big ships in the merchant navy and we want to do something about Climate Change, but the only thing we know is how to sail a ship. As well as delivering cargo by sail, we want to spread the word to encourage others so this can be the beginning of something bigger.”

Jean Francois outlined the pattern of their working year.

“This summer we did two voyages to northern Europe from Portugal, two ports in France, a lot of ports in England – Bristol, Penzance, Newhaven, Ramsgate, London and Great Yarmouth. Next we go to Holland to deliver cargo there.

Over the winter, we will do maintenance before we sail across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Central America to load rum, chocolate, coffee, mezcal and spices, and stop off in the Azores on the return voyage to pick up honey and tea. And we will bring this cargo back to London next year.”

The work of The Gallant goes on. You can order produce from Sail Cargo London and learn more by following New Dawn Traders.

The crew of the Gallant

Alex Geldenhuys, founder of New Dawn Traders

Guillaume Roche & Jean Francois Lebleu, Captains of the Gallant

Celestin, First Mate of Gallant

Davide, Deck Hand

The cargo is delivered to the warehouse by pedal power

Photographs copyright @ Rachel Ferriman

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Doreen Fletcher’s Spitalfields Paintings

May 31, 2024
by the gentle author

Click for tickets for The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields

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It is my delight to publish Doreen Fletcher‘s paintings of Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and beyond. These new pictures are to be seen in Doreen’s forthcoming exhibition at Townhouse Fournier St, E1 6QE, from next Saturday 8th until Sunday 30th June. Below Doreen introduces her paintings in her own words.

Lost in Spitalfields 

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“My title refers both to the maze of streets in this neighbourhood and also to the thousands of refugees from all over the world who have found sanctuary here through the centuries.

In my painting you see Christchurch in the distance, yet it does not dominate for this is an area of markets. Wentworth St has packed up for the day, all the traders and customers have gone home but a few lost souls wander, giving the place a melancholy atmosphere.

Despite the brightly painted frontage of Majestic London, Petticoat Lane only becomes truly vibrant on Sunday when the whole world strolls through these streets.”

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Crossing 

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“When I was young, I discovered that if I drew my surroundings sitting on top of a ladder, I was able to observe with fresh eyes. Standing on the balcony of the block where a friend lives, I was struck by the geometry and emptiness of the streets once the Petticoat Lane traders had packed up and gone. So I sought to capture this quiet aftermath when the market has closed for the day but office workers are still at their desks.”

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Elegant Corner

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“Standing on a the balcony, I was struck by the eccentricity of this shopfront on the corner of Middlesex St and Wentworth St. An enormous amount of effort has gone into creating this eye-catching scheme.

I discovered the shop has been in the same hands since 2004, so perhaps the fact it is still trading twenty years later is down to the undoubted enthusiasm of the proprietor?

Drawn to this corner, I wanted to celebrate the optimism I sensed in the exuberantly exterior and hint at the treasure trove lying in the cool, dark interior.”

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Middlesex St 

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It was a hot sunny afternoon and, from my vantage point, Middlesex St appeared sliced in half by shadow. My eye was caught by the flash of an orange t-shirt crossing below, offset by a splash of turquoise from the back pack of a cyclist further up the street.

I prefer to wander these streets when they are deserted with just a few passersby and, recently, I discovered Mien 3, a Vietnamese restaurant with an excellent reputation. The cyclist is not just passing, he has collected an order from this restaurant.”

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Galaxy Textiles, Wentworth St

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“This shop has been here since 2000 and sells wholesale, shipping off merchandise in trucks and lorries. I was drawn to the empty chair on the pavement. Perhaps it is there to allow the proprietor to sit and watch the world go by when business is quiet? Such a rare human touch. “

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House of Hair 

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“I was struck by the colours of this façade in bright sunshine and the incongruity of its position, a crumbling edifice dwarfed by towers of concrete and glass.  

I chose to paint this scene not only because of its abstract qualities of light, colour and composition, but also because I wanted to record one of the last isolated fragments of ‘old Spitalfields’ that remains.

Bruised and battered but not broken, House of Hair is still in business. A few months ago, the dilapidated signage was replaced by machine-cut letters mounted onto glossy perspex. Progress of a sort, though I have to admit that personally I preferred the previous, crooked lettering.”

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French Riviera

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“I first came to Bethnal Green Rd in December 1983, looking for a jacket, and found a bargain in a leather goods shop. Apart from Woolworths, Burger King and McDonalds, I recall the place as mainly butchers with red-and-white awnings and secondhand shops.

Years later, so much has changed. Not one butcher remains and charity shops have replaced the secondhand stores. To me, the curious facade of French Riviera with its ironic signage and paintwork epitomises the transformation of the area. I assumed it was a trendy cafe, although further investigation revealed it to be a contemporary art gallery!

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Pink Fiat 

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“E. Pellicci has been a constant in Bethnal Green Rd since it was opened by the Pellicci family in 1900. Even during the pandemic, it ran a takeaway service, as I discovered during the second lockdown. I was wandering around Bethnal Green in the sleet when everything was closed. The streets felt bleak, lonely and eerily quiet.

Then I spotted this Fiat parked outside Pellicci’s and my spirits lifted at the splash of bright pink in front of the yellow facade. Closer investigation revealed that the cafe was open for hot drinks served through a hatch, which was wonderfully reassuring.

Despite the grim winter’s afternoon, the juxtaposition of these two Italian icons evoked Neapolitan ice cream for me. So I went home and set about planning a painting. Three years passed before I felt satisfied with it, which is quite normal with my work.”

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Barber’s Shop 

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“Woodgrange Rd is next to Forest Gate station and, shortly before the Elizabeth Line opened, the shopfronts were cleaned and repainted. Yet a grittiness remains that is refreshing to encounter after a trip to the West End. It is mostly small shops, including four barbers. This one is always busy with sofas inside for customers to waiting.

My painting was begun during the pandemic and the barber is wearing a mask. Yet there is still an intimacy between barber and client which exists despite the necessity of wearing a mask.” 

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The Bookmakers 

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“Until 1961 betting shops were illegal and betting took place clandestinely. In the fifties, my gran took bets from punters in her kitchen and even before I was tall enough to see the scribbled bits of paper and money placed on the table, I was told to keep quiet about the frequent comings and goings at her house. 

Paddy Power is on Stratford Broadway, opposite a bus stop where I have spent a lot of time over the past fifteen years, waiting for the 308 home after visiting the Picture House. Many years of looking at this view have resulted in The Bookmakers, tempting with the allure of warmth and security within.”

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Jo’s Diner

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“The funfair always comes to Wanstead Flats at Easter, Whitsun and August Bank Holiday. Every Easter, I marvel at the spirit and optimism of the fairground fraternity as they set up their rides and stalls only to be deluged by the downpour. Nevertheless, these people are resilient and here we see them set up and ready, awaiting visitors. 

I made a coloured pencil study of this scene six years ago then made the painting two years ago, inspired the range of emotions present in this moment. When the funfair returned recently, Jo’s Diner had disappeared, replaced by a new food truck and I have not glimpsed it again.”

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Capel Point

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“I have lived near Wanstead Flats since 2007 but this is the first time I have made the Common the subject of a painting. It lies just yards from my house yet I hardly visited. This all changed when the pandemic curtailed our lives and I acquired Charlie, an energetic spaniel puppy.

For the first time, I appreciated how lucky I was to be living next to a vast open expanse where we could roam freely. Slowly I began to appreciate the immense variety of light created by the seasons, weather and time of day. I came to understand that a flat landscape has its own poetry.”

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Play Zone 

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‘This is the funfair on Wanstead Flats at August Bank Holiday when the night is fine although chilly. After a hot summer, the grass is brown and parched. 

Expectation is the best part of any adventure – the coloured lights glowing in the dusk, beckoning revellers from the roads nearby even as the music has ceased, the fair is winding down and punters leaving. The stalls may look tired yet there is still a blaze of light and colour that holds a promise for tomorrow.” 

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Theatre Royal, Stratford East

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“This theatre opened in 1884 and has survived, despite name changes, fires and closures. In 1953, it was famously taken over by Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop.

I have been familiar with the facade of Theatre Royal, Stratford East, for many years, and often sat in the bar upstairs at the Picture House opposite, gazing across at it, glowing like a watchman’s brazier.

About five years ago, the theatre was repainted. Yet the memory of what had been stayed with me – the statue of Joan Littlewood against the backdrop of the facade, with its red and white paintwork glowing in the light. This is Theatre Royal, Stratford East, as I wish to remember it.”

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Paintings copyright © Doreen Fletcher

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