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Book event: Photographers challenge view of Olympic Park as former Stratford wasteland

PUBLISHED: 17:00 05 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:17 05 October 2017

The J Gliksten & Son Ltd timber yard on Carpenters Road and environs, Stratford, from the south, 1949. Picture: Historic England

The J Gliksten & Son Ltd timber yard on Carpenters Road and environs, Stratford, from the south, 1949. Picture: Historic England

Historic England

It becomes harder each year to remember how the Lower Lea Valley looked before the 2012 London Olympics arrived in Stratford.

Marion Davies and Debra RappMarion Davies and Debra Rapp

History would have it written as a wasteland – a smelly relic of its industrial past – but the authors of a new book aim to contradict that.

Photographers Marion Davies and Debra Rapp, alongside academic Juliet Davis, provide photographic and statistics-based evidence to show the area’s “hive of activity” in Dispersal.

They depict bagel bakers, vinyl record manufacturers and sheepskin producers as buoyant as the once prevailing “noxious” manufacturers of paint oils, soap and chemicals.

Their photos were taken after the London Development Agency’s compulsory purchase order instructed 208 mainly small to medium-sized enterprises, employing 4,984 staff, to vacate a 266 hectare area by July 2007.

Kevin, Vaida and Sauda, cleaning and deboning salmon, H Forman & Son. Picture: Marion DaviesKevin, Vaida and Sauda, cleaning and deboning salmon, H Forman & Son. Picture: Marion Davies

“We did not want to be seen as profiteering from their bad experience,” said Debra of the people she documented over 18 months with Marion.

“We wanted to make sure we were taking an independent stance, photographing a moment in time and not taking a political position.”

The pair’s photos are a historical snapshot capturing people in their daily routines, whether recycling clothes for shipping or deboning meats.

“The point of the photos is that these are real people, they have families, they have livelihoods,” said Debra.

Seamstress checking Hackett coats in finishing station, Panache Outerwear Ltd. Picture: Debra RappSeamstress checking Hackett coats in finishing station, Panache Outerwear Ltd. Picture: Debra Rapp

She and Marion, who met on a photographic course, often only had 30 minutes with their subjects during site visits - even if that meant snapping steel beams being galvanised in a 450 celsius zinc tank

Her colour photos were taken on a digital Nikon camera while Marion took black and white images.

The pair revisited 11 of the businesses in 2015. New research showed 31 per cent of the 208 firms had closed, including 28 of the 70 businesses they photographed.

Juliet Davis, senior lecturer in architecture and urban design at Cardiff University, said market forces had an impact.

“It was whether people were an established name in London still and were able to acquire property as it immediately made them more secure,” she said.

All three hope lessons can be learned for the future.

Dispersal: Picturing urban change in east London, published by Historic England is out now in paperback, £30 The public book event is on tonight at Pages of Hackney bookshop 7pm to 9pm, Sutton House, Homerton High Street, Hackney. Tickets £5.

Case Study: H. Forman & Son

H. Forman & Son’s salmon-smoking factory in Marshgate Lane, Stratford, had been there one year when the compulsory purchase order was issued.

Lance Forman, whose great-grandfather established the company in 1905, was one of the most vocal critics after being told his site was earmarked for the Olympic Stadium.

He challenged the decision and the ensuring media coverage inspired Debra and Marion to contact him as a starting point for their project.

H. Forman & Son is now located opposite the stadium in Stour Road, Hackney Wick.

Lance said: “Our business was far more profitable back then than it is today.

“However, we are more diversfied now and people are more aware of the brand too.”

In addition to curing salmon, Forman’s also operates as a restaurant and art gallery.

Lance says he credits his initiatives, including the Smoke and Bubbles hospitality packages for West Ham fans, for his success.

“That is not really Olympic related,” he said.

Case Study: Panache Outerwear

Panache Outerwear Ltd used to be based in an Art Noveau-influenced building overlooking the Bow Back River in Marshgate Lane.

In Dispersal, pictures of the cutting room and finishing station show the large amount of space required for industrial-sized textile machines.

Staying local to the area was of vital importance for the couture fashion coat manufacturer as it relied on the skilled workforce of the local Bangladeshi communities.

Panache moved to Tower Hamlets in 2007 but struggled under increasing rents due to the area’s regeneration and the impact of paying the London Living Wage.

Operations manager Tipu Ahmed said the ‘Made in Britain’ label was essential to the brand’s identity.

There were no plans to outsource labour abroad but the company face moving further east due to increasing costs.

Tipu told the book’s authors: “The future isn’t good because London is so expensive.”


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