The East End in the 1960’s – A Pictorial by John Claridge
Starting out as a enthusiast, John Claridge photographed the streets of London’s East End. The pushed, grainy black and white prints perfectly capture and take the viewer back in time.
During the 60s one saw the demise of many corner shops. A chipping away of local communities and the encroachment of tower blocks, the East End was in transformation.
Something about this location always reminded me of a De Chirico painting, although not in colour. Something about the architecture and this solitary man’s journey.
As I was photographing this shop window, a man passing by asked what I was doing. I replied that it was a beautiful window of corsets. He looked me up and down and said “No son, there’s something wrong with you!” and marched off. It was pointless for me to explain that I have a book, A Vision of Paris, with photographs by Atget and words by Proust that contained a wonderful image of a corset shop. No matter what explanation might have been offered, his only thought was “No, son, there is something wrong with you!”
At the Salvation Army’s Booth House, I asked this gentleman if I could take his portrait to which he replied, “Of course, old chap.” What surprised me was his posh accent. He then started quoting from Freud and Shakespeare telling me who said what. But I never knew his story.
Everything was quiet in this building, almost like wandering into an unknown world. It was dark and damp with the stairs worn hollow. For me, it was both surreal and mundane at the same time.
I have always been drawn towards signs, typography and abstract graffiti. I think this photograph has all of the above. It also tells a story of the fragmentation of the East End during the 1960s.
Quite often mist from the river and fog from industrial pollution would create a magical and mysterious atmosphere. Probably not very good for the health but certainly good for photographs, taking one straight into a Dickensian story.
These two brothers owned the butcher’s shop. After I had taken the photograph I mentioned that they must have done well today as there was only one chicken left. One of the brothers replied “No! We only have one chicken!”
From my bedroom window I could see the lights from the docks and hear the foghorns. If the wind was in the right direction, you could smell the river. At night I would go to sleep dreaming of sea adventures.
This was our next door neighbour. I remember my Mum getting his shopping for him whenever he was a bit unwell. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a smile. He was one of the most gentle and charming people I’ve ever met, but with a wicked sense of humour.
I used to read a lot of pulp fiction, especially Raymond Chandler. There seemed to be an affinity between the scenes in the novels and my East End environment. While I was wandering around taking photographs I stopped under this iron bridge. It was getting dark. It reminded me of a Raymond Chandler quotation “The streets were dark with something more than night”.
The brutal architecture and glowering cloudscape… The buildings look like tombstones complete with their inscriptions, rather appropriate given they have now died a death in an area of East London called Silvertown! Although this photograph was taken in 1987, I think it related more to George Orwell’s 1984.
In a 2015 interview with Dave Dye, Claridge talks about his background and professional work.
What was your first job?
The West Ham Labour Exchange sent me ‘up West’.
For a job in the Photographic Department of an Advertising Agency, McCann-Erickson.
Which I got.