The old East End

Ezra-Street,-Colombia-Road-DSCF5595©Geoff Wilkinson

In the second 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. Pictured here is Ezra Street in Bethnal Green

Although I have, during my lifetime, continued to be aware of the changing East End, it is only since opening Gallery 84 in 2008 and spending more time exploring the vast area for photographic opportunities that I have realised how much of it has actually disappeared.

Huge swathes of tenement buildings have been replaced by modern dwellings, much better living conditions for the residents, I’m sure, but the loss of the architecture leaves a void not filled by the modern equivalent. Or is that just nostalgic thinking?

Some gems still survive; the Georgian town houses at the southern end of Bethnal Green’s Paradise Row are a fine example. They have survived and live in harmony with the fashionable restaurants and bars that have taken over the railway arches at the northern end.

The shops and houses of Columbia Road remain unchanged since the Victorian era. Its Sunday flower market attracts tourists and shoppers from all over London searching for perfect blooms and garden plants. With the hustle and bustle of a full market, plants being bought and sold, the unchanged shopfronts are the perfect backdrop for the day. Had this example of a market street been swept away, the economic and social benefits to the community as a whole would have been lost.

Change will happen and, of course, it should, but perhaps we should think just a little more before pulling down buildings and thus changing the character of an area.

Living in Wanstead, I never take for granted how lucky I am to live in such a unique place that has people within the community who strive to protect and conserve both buildings and a community environment for future generations.

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