Features

The old East End

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In the third of a series of articles, local photographer Geoff Wilkinson discusses his new exhibition – entitled ‘Quick! Before it goes’ – depicting London’s East End, an area which resonates with many residents here.

A walk around London’s East End is now a fascinating experience. The changes are enormous, as I have discovered on this latest photographic odyssey for my current exhibition. Buildings and whole streets have disappeared, often replaced with modern glass and steel structures our parents and grandparents would never recognise.

Visitors to my photography gallery in Wanstead had talked about their parents’ lives and childhood memories of playing on the streets of Bethnal Green, Bow, Mile End and other parts of the East End.

It was the night I got off the DLR at Canning Town station to take some more photographs that it suddenly became a more personal journey. My grandfather’s house, now long gone, on Bidder Street was next to the railway line and what was known at that time as ‘Peggy Leggy Steps’, the pedestrian footbridge over the railway. This was part of my East End playground when we visited him and my grandmother. The ‘Steps’ have been replaced by Star Lane DLR station. When lit at night, it acts as a beacon for shift workers finishing in the darkness. The Woolwich ferry, connecting the north and south of the River Thames, was always a Sunday morning treat with my grandfather. Being on the boat as it moved through the river those few hundred yards was a real adventure. It was that memory which led me to take the photograph on these pages of the ferry named the Dame Vera Lynn.

This photograph, although not what you might think of as a typical east London scene, sums up everything for me, with the new East End (Canary Wharf) behind the ferry and the old dock cranes on the right symbolising the past.

Geoff’s exhibition of East End photographs runs until 1 March at Gallery 84 on Nightingale Lane, Wanstead, E11 2EZ. For more information, call 020 8530 1244 or visit wnstd.com/gw
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Geoff Wilkinson