“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show”*…
Colin O’Brien grew up Colin grew up fifty yards from Hatton Garden in Victoria Dwellings, a tenement at the junction of Faringdon Rd and Clerkenwell Rd – the center of his childhood universe in Clerkenwell, London. In 1948, at the age of 8, he began taking pictures of his world– first with a Brownie box camera, then a Leica.
Since then he has captured over half a million images of a London changing, a London now disappeared.
O’Brien’s work is currently on display at the Hackney Museum. But it is permanently available on his website and at Spitalfield’s Life, where he’s a regular contributor– and more lately, subject (e.g., here and here).
[TotH to Richard Rodriguez for the pointer to Spitalfield’s Life]
* Samuel Johnson
As we speculate on the special relationship, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that the Vigilantes (AKA, the Secret Committee of Ex-Servicemen) broke into a vacant house in Roundhill Crescent, Brighton, to house a homeless sailor’s wife and her two children– the beginning of a “squatters” movement that grew to an estimated 45,000 over the next few years. Even before the Second World War began there had been an acute housing crisis in Britain. During the war, six years of house building were lost, over 100,000 houses were destroyed by bombing, and many hundreds of thousands more were evacuated because of structural damage. So, when the war ended a massive number of families were left homeless. The Vigilantes first targeted unoccupied properties in coastal resorts, then in other cities, and finally abandoned military facilities. While the official reaction was hardly positive, the squatters were ultimately very successful: the Ministry of Works (a government department formed in wartime to take charge of property for military use) handed over 850 former military camps to those occupying them and many of the London squatters were given alternative housing.
“These people are referred to by the ungraceful term ‘squatters’, and I wish the press would not use this word about respectable citizens whose only desire is to have a home.”
– Clementine Churchill, wife of the ex-Prime Minister, August. 1946