Once Upon A Time In Brick Lane: documenting East End life in the 1970s and ’80s








London’s Brick Lane has always been one of the critical markers of the capital. Located just outside the City (the financial area), it was settled by Huguenot protestants in the 18th century, Jews in the 19th and Bangladeshis in the mid-20th. 
After Hoxton took the focus of London to the east in the mid-1990s, the artists, bands and international trendies moved in, turning the north end of the street into a millennial paradise of Instagram-ready cafes and vegan barbers. 
But in between its various incomers, Brick Lane was always something else: a working-class London street that reflected the ups and downs of the city. And it was never more ‘down’ than in the 1970s and ’80s. 
Before the yuppies and ‘loadsamoney’ wide boys took over the City, Brick Lane and its environs were poor. Home to the working and non-working classes, its population was an ever-changing mix of factory workers, migrants and the unemployed. 
Into this stepped photographer Paul Trevor. Over two decades he documented life in E1, from the makeshift street markets and crumbling back yards to the cockney women on their way to bingo or the pub. And now a new book showcases the best of Paul’s photos. 
Once Upon A Time In Brick Lane shows a London suffering depopulation and a ‘brain drain’ of its best and brightest – seems endlessly grey – foggy streets, falling-down houses, ugly flared trousers, sideburns and litter. So much litter. 
And while there’s an argument that gentrification has robbed much of the area’s ‘character’, it’s also brought in life, people money, choice, shops and work. And if you lived through the grim poverty of the ’70s and ’80s, that’s not to be underestimated. 
One thing is unarguable, though: Brick Lane will remain a pulsing highway – reflecting the soul of London and the fortunes of the city – for decades to come. 
Once Upon A Time In Brick Lane is published by Hoxton Mini Press, priced £25. hoxtonminipress.com 

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