East End shopfronts brought back to life in Tower Hamlets [Audio]

Alan Dein: 'After You've Gone: East End Shopfronts, 1988' Photo: George Drake Jr

The lost array of East London shopfronts is being celebrated in a new photography exhibition at the borough’s Local History Library & Archives.

After You’ve Gone  opened on Thursday night and captures the East End in the late 1980s, soon before the traditional local shops began to make way for the modern high street.

The photographs were taken by BBC Radio 4’s Alan Dein and are displayed with residents’ memories of the businesses they depict, as well as images of the locations today taken by Ais Clafferty.

Dein told EastLondonLines he only ever intended the photos to be a personal record and is delighted with the exhibition.

He said: “I’ve found through my own passion with the story of the East End, so many people from different generations – whether they’ve known the East End all their lives or they’ve just discovered it last month – they are intrigued by it. They are fascinated by this place and I hope that these kind of images are part of that fascination.”

'After You've Gone: East End Shopfronts, 1988' Photo: George Drake Jr

By 1988, many of the shopfronts pictured had already closed down. One of the most striking images in the exhibition is 111 Mile End Road: at that time it still held the remnants of Walters Man’s Shop but today the Georgian Terrace, which was hidden behind, has been restored.  One would never know that Walters existed.

Shopfronts come and go and so make very good records of change. Dein also wanted to capture the colour of an area so often depicted in black and white:


The exhibition follows a positive response to appearance of the images on the website Spittalfields Life. The present day photographs were taken by Ais Clafferty, who told EastLondonLines she got involved after being shown them by exhibition’s researcher and digitiser Emma Hunt.

Most of Clafferty’s photography involves abandoned buildings.  She said: “It’s the sort of remnants of something that existed before; the kind of clues as to what may have happened there. And you can kind of make up your own narrative from the sort of fragments that are left.”

Clafferty also told EastLondonLines how she found all of Dein’s original locations:


After You’ve Gone: East End Shopfronts, 1988 is at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives until July 12. Free Admission.

Recordings by George Drake Jr.



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