Lost East End: Vintage Photo Exhibition Captures 1970s Community

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 15 months ago

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Last Updated 18 April 2023

Lost East End: Vintage Photo Exhibition Captures 1970s Community
A group of kids pose on a heap of rubble
Stepping Stones Farm in Stepney © Philip Cunningham

Clearly there were more people than we realised dashing around 1970s/80s London with a Kodak swinging round their neck.

Following in the wake of shows like Roy Mehta's Revival and Neil Martinson's Rare Hackney, comes a showcase of photos of the East End's community, taken by teacher Phillip Cunningham during the late 1970s.

Protestors with huge banners
Kingsley Hall Protest 1970s © Philip Cunningham
Protestors with huge banners
Kingsley Hall Protest © Philip Cunningham

Lost East End sees a collection of 40 of Cunningham's photographs on show at Bethnal Green's Oxford House, from 20 April-27 October 2023. These visual reminisces depict an east London that was often gritty, underfunded and underrepresented. Brick Lane appears boarded up and semi-derelict, while local children parade through the streets with banners, demanding that Kingsley Hall — a community centre in Bow — remains open. (It is, thanks to their efforts, still open today.)

An old man and woman pose on their doorstep
Mr and Mrs Jacobs, Neighbours © Philip Cunningham
Two young boys posing in the street, wearing flares
Kids in Flares 1970s © Philip Cunningham

In spite of challenging circumstances — including anti-social behaviour and rampant racism — community comes up trumps; in one image, a group of kids club together to help with the foundation of Stepping Stones Farm. Again, their legacy is writ large: today, the place thrives as Stepney City Farm.

Various bordered up establishments
Brick Lane in 1970s © Philip Cunningham
A woman sorting through laundry in a laundrette
Mile End Laundry 1970s © Philip Cunningham

Born in the East End in the 1940s, Philip Cunningham studied art at Ravensbourne College in the 1970s, and was a fixture of the East End streets, where he snapped thousands of photos. A teacher in Tower Hamlets and Hackney himself, he was particular drawn to working class lives, community and activism.

Various mothers in saris with their children
Parents at John Scurr School Stepney © Philip Cunningham
A woman walking past a closed corner cafe
Corner Cafe © Philip Cunningham

Oxford House is a fitting location for Lost East End — founded in 1884 as a 'settlement house' by a group of students, it remains at the heart of the Bethnal Green community, hosting exhibitions, dance classes, live music and the like.

A special programme of events accompanies Lost East End, including a screening of Rubika Shah's award-winning documentary White Riot, charting the rise of the Rock Against Racism movement.

A corner shop with various signs for lemonade and cigarettes in the window
Antil Road Corner Shop © Philip Cunningham

Lost East End, Oxford House, Bethnal Green, 20 April-27 October 2023, free.