Photos Of An East End That No Longer Exists

Photos Of An East End That No Longer Exists
A man sits on a stool in brick Lane, surrounded by kids
Brick Lane, 1977. © Syd Shelton

Anti-racist skinheads pose in doorways in their Doc Martens. Towering industrial chimneys are toppled at the plunge of a blasting machine. Silhouetted figures fish for their tea in the Limehouse Basin.

This captivating collection of photographs from the 1970s and 80s captures an East End that was on the cusp of great change, and is barely recognisable today.

A moustachioed man stares into the camera, as someone behind him holds out a sheet billowing in the wind
© Tom Hunter

It's the cumulative work and passion of five photographers — and is now on display at a free exhibition in Mile End, called The Vanished East End: Documentary Photography from the 70s and 80s.

'Down the Lane' is the work of Tom Hunter, who snapped passers-by while he had a stall on Brick Lane from 1989 to 1990.

Two elderly ladies studies the wares on brick lane
© Tom Hunter

Hunter says: "I had moved into a squat with an old mate, Josh and we started selling bric-a-brac down 'The Lane'... These were no places for the faint-hearted, the bargains were there for the taking but you had to be quick with your small change and know what you wanted. The 'feeding frenzy' was over in half an hour and with lamps, 501s and records securely stuffed in rucksacks, there was just enough time for a 'cuppa' before the cycle to the next venue to commence battle again.

"At the end of the day it was back to the squat to lay out our goods and compare trophies — what would sell, what you would keep for yourself."

A young woman with blonde hair and thick eyebrows looks straight into the lens
Down the Lane. © Tom Hunter

In the mids 1970s, Diane Bush was working with EXIT — a collective, which harnessed photography to contribute to positive social change — when she created 'East End'.

Two steel drummers lead the festivities at the E1 festival, with kids in tow
E1 Festival Steel Band, 1974. © Diane Bush

Remembers Bush: "The group’s first project was to photograph the area immediately before its transformation from a former working class docklands community to one for the upwardly mobile with converted warehouse apartments and chic bars."

The work was subsequently published in the 1974 book, Down Wapping.

Customers grinning at the camera through the window of the Seven Up Cafe
Seven Up Cafe, 1974. © Diane Bush

'London Docklands' saw Mike Seaborne capture seismic shifts in the east End through the 1970s and 1980s, as the industrial landscape was toppled chimney by chimney.

A woman sweeps outside her terraced house, which has a huge industrial crane looming behind it
Glen Terrace, Isle of Dogs, 1983. © Mike Seaborne

Says Seaborne:" The country’s shift from being an industrial powerhouse to a largely service-based economy has had the most profound impact on both the landscape and the make-up of our society. This is something that we are still struggling to come to terms with and if my photographs serve to give pause for thought about what we have lost then I will have succeeded in my ambition.

"For most of us, memory is more important than history."

An indsutrial chimney is toppled behind a billboard with John Major's face on it reading 'the best future for britain'
Demolition of Deptford Power Station, 1992. © Mike Seaborne

Brian Griffin's 'The Broadgate Development' project commented on economic shifts in the 1980s, as local borough borders were re-drawn and the City spread with the deregulation of the financial markets. Griffin honed in on the development of Broadgate, which now occupies 32 acres within the City of London.

A worker in a helmet stands tall like a statue holding an steel girder
Broadgate Development, 1986. © Brian Griffin

Says the photographer: "I documented the entire course of the development from pitching and planning to completion. As new methods of fast construction were pioneered on the project, I responded to these innovations with an experimental photographic approach that engaged the subjects as participants in the story.

"I saw the workmen as the true heroes of the project and wanted to celebrate their vital contribution through a particular stylistic approach, one which has subsequently been described as 'Capitalist Realism'."

A carpenter lays diagonally, balancing the back of a saw on his face
Carpenter, Broadgate, 1986. © Brian Griffin

'Street Portraits' by Syd Shelton — a photographer well known for his documentation of the Rock Against Racism movement — is described as an 'ongoing 45 year conversation with people of the East End'.

Three young skinheads poses in a doorway looking tough
Anti-racist skinheads, 1979. © Syd Shelton

Says Shelton: "For many years I lived in the area and used the street as a portrait studio. All the subjects agreed to be photographed and I continued to work in the neighbourhood up until the pandemic hit.

"I would regularly wander the streets, looking for people who could add to the ongoing story of East End life."

Two young Asian men stand in front of a big sign that reads 'jubilee mansions'
Jubilee Street, 1977. © Syd Shelton

The photographs on display form part of the East End Archive collection at the School of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University.

A hip looking guy in jacket, jumper and specs holds a model of a knight he's presumably just bought
© Tom Hunter

In addition, there will be a selection of photographs exhibited from London Metropolitan University's East End Archive by the world renowned photographer Don McCullin and the actor Steven Berkoff.

Two young girls petting their puppies on a housing estate
Wapping Estate, 1974. © Diane Bush

The Vanished East End: Documentary Photography from the 70s and 80s, Tower Hamlets Local History Library, Monday-Friday, and the first and third Saturday of each month, till 4 February 2022. Free

Figures silhouetted beneath a canal bridge
Limehouse Basin, 1982. © Mike Seaborne

Last Updated 19 October 2021