Many moons ago, in 2013, I came across a large and wonderful set of photos on Flickr. In an album named ‘London Docklands’ were more than 1200 photos ‘showing some of the buildings lost & the changes made to the area’ (the album’s still on Flickr if you want to view it – click here).
The photos were all taken in the 1980s – a period of great change for East London, especially those parts next to the docks and the Thames. Unemployment had never been higher, the docks had just closed, there was a mass demolition of virtually all old dock and riverside buildings (mostly to make room for the development of expensive housing), and whole areas were being redeveloped.
That everything was being demolished was of not much concern to me, being barely an adult at the time. The docks and factories and warehouses were empty, ugly and stank of oil, so who cared about them? That’s what I thought then (mind you, it did irritate me that they were being replaced with homes that nobody I knew could afford).
In retrospect, it appears that this was a sentiment shared by many, even by fully grown-up people. The Glass Bridge, McDougall’s flour silo, the Walls, the sheds and warehouses of the West India and Millwall Docks, the Queen, Kingsbridge, Preston’s Road swing bridge, all the factories and warehouses along the river, and much, much more – all demolished in a short period of time – yet there are very few photos of this process.
As I write this, I am wondering why I find it important that the demolition and redevelopment should have been recorded at all. After all, what does it say about the importance of a place, or its original significance? What does it add to our understanding of its function? Objectively, not a lot. However, that nobody bothered to do so implies that it was not worthy, not interesting.
Well, not ‘nobody’ – some people understood the significance of what was being lost, and few more than the photographer behind ‘London Docklands’, who called himself Steve White. I sent him a mail to ask if our Facebook group – The Isle of Dogs – Then & Now – might reuse some of the photos, and he replied that we could, as long as we credited him. And so we did, using them in ‘Then & Now’ photos such as these two:
Later, while trawling the Flickr album for its rich source of photos to use in our Facebook group, I noticed that the name of the photographer had changed from Steve White to Tim Brown. My first thought – as weird as it is – was that Steve White had passed away, and that his Flickr page had been taken over by a relative named Tim Brown. Don’t ask me why I thought that, I must have been in a dark place at the time 🙂
Assuming that ‘Steve’s’ permission was still valid, I carried on re-using the photos, until I decided to contact Tim to see what had happened to Steve. It turned out that Steve White was a pseudonym, he didn’t exist, it had been Tim all along. I’ve not asked him why he did this – my name on Flickr at the time was ‘Old Gladiola’ and I don’t plan to explain that one either.
We remained in occasional touch, and not so long ago I learned from Tim that Chris Dorley-Brown – who had a hand in the David Granick book, The East End in Colour 1960-1980 (Hoxton Mini Press) – had seen his photos and had proposed to Hoxton Mini Press that they would be a good follow up to the Granick book.
One thing led to another, and now Tim has had many of his photos published in a book: The East End in Colour 1980-1990, published by Hoxton Mini Press.
The published photos are much-improved versions of those online – as Tim himself admits, he didn’t look after the originals too well, so some repair and corrections were necessary. Here are a few of those photos…..
The East End in Colour 1980-1990 by Tim Brown is published by Hoxton Mini Press