A Working Class Kid | Wayne Waterson’s Images of Hackney during the 1970s & 80s.

My name is Wayne Waterson. I was born in 1958 by Victoria Park, in 1963 my family and I picked up sticks and moved to Hackney where I went to school and lived for the next 50 years.

After leaving Shoreditch Comprehensive I worked at all those jobs you do when from a working class background with no A levels and little or no prospects, factory work, the print trade, shops, market stalls etc.

I began taking photos at the age of 14 and loved it for the sense of freedom it gave me, I also idolised David Bailey for he was a working class kid who had made it and made something out of himself. This inspired me and in the late 1980s I applied to do a photography course. I had no idea if I would be excepted but I had nerve, a big mouth, and confidence, and talked my way into a foundation course at The London College of Printing. I later went on to study film and have been a Casting Director for the past 38 years.


Hackney between the 1960s and 1980s was its own world, nobody ever came in from outside of the borough for fear of violence, which was real and had to be negotiated daily even for those who lived there. Hoxton was not the playground of the middle classes or the fashionista’s as it is today.

There were no clubs, bars or much of anything really, just your youth hangouts like The Lion Club or the many pubs that littered the streets. This meant you had to make your own fun and along with forming a pop group I picked up a camera and started taking photos of the streets and it’s people. I continued to do this from about 1974 to 2000, in and around the streets of Hoxton, Shoreditch and Brick Lane, but by the late 1990’s the streets no longer belonged to us. Many people had been moved on or priced out, factories had been converted to commercial studios or high priced flats, the youth clubs and the people had vanished. The gentrification of most of London had happened but Shoreditch and Hoxton seemed to be the most affected and I wasn’t really interested in taking pictures of boring hipsters. In 2015 I left Hoxton for Ramsgate. I still take pictures.

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My First Photograph, circa late 1960s. Photo © Wayne Waterson

My first photograph. This was taken circa late 1960s at Riverside Mansions in Wapping and is of my family. When my Granddad had this developed and showed me what I had shot I was fascinated. He later bought me my first camera a little ‘Box Brownie’.

Boxing Boy, Hoxton, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

It’s hard to believe these days but not many people seemed to take photos of people who were not either family members or at parties, so people were often happy and excited to have their picture taken. This was just some young kid who was a friend of my brothers.

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Men at The Samaritans Club, Hoxton, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

This is the Samaritans club on New North Road which is actually still there. I used to go there as they had great jumble sales. The people didn’t mind you taking their photo’s as they seemed to enjoy the attention.

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Bare Foot Girl, Hoxton, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

Hoxton was a quite poor place in the seventies with not much money around for much other than the essentials, it was quite common to see kids with no shoes or looking unwashed, as everyone was in the same boat no one seemed to mind or care.

Homeless Man, Chance Street, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.
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Homeless Man, Brick Lane, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.
Homeless Man, Brick Lane, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

Brick Lane and Spitalfields back in those days was pretty run down with a high number of homeless people on the streets, often drinking window cleaner or other horrible concoctions. It was not a place you would want to be after dark, there was often fighting on the streets and you had to be careful taking photos as you would get screamed at and chased down the road, it felt like Victorian London at times. A great market though and the first time I ever saw a bear and a tiger cub was at Club Row. Homeless people were commonly referred to as hobos, tramps or vagrants back then, strange days indeed.

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Legs at Brick Lane, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

Brick Lane was the greatest market for bargains and the one place I would love to invent a time machine for. You would see the weirdest and strangest things down there all of which could be bought for pennies, most of my record collection and pop music memorabilia was started here. It was a place I would go to each and every Sunday morning for over 20 years before they destroyed it with hipster bars and high end retail shops. Dreams were bought here.

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Old Men in Brick Lane 1970s/80s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

Another strange thing was that people would hang around and sell jewellery such as watches, gold and silver rings and all such things. It was very undercover but very much in the open streets. I never knew if they were knocked off gear, people selling their only worldly goods or just an excuse to make a little extra and have conversations with others. I do know that there was always the same people around for ages and then they would vanish suddenly.

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Old Teddy Boy, Brick Lane 1970s/80s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

You would see people who were down on their luck selling their possessions on the street. Nobody charged them so they would often turn up with a box, tip it up and start selling. I think this guy was once a Teddy Boy and was driven to sell his drape jacket. There was a lot of sad faces around that market.

Legs, Brick Lane, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

Just another thing you would see on the streets of Brick Lane.

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Burnt out Capri, Haggerston, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

Burnt out cars and motor bikes were a common sight on the streets of Hackney. This was taken from the canal path alongside the Haggerston side.

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View From Dalston Junction, 1980s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

I can’t remember much about this but always reminded me of Soviet Russia for some reason. Taken from a vantage point in Dalston when there was a station there. It was the place you boarded a train to Richmond, our escape to the ‘countryside’.

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Hoxton Kids, Hoxton, 1980s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.
Billy? Hoxton, 1980s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.
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Hoxton Kids, Hoxton, 1980s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

I saw these kids hanging around the flats and just asked them if I could take their pictures and they were more then happy to do so, less complicated times.

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Kid smoking a cigarette, Hoxton, 1980s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

I just saw this kid on the street pushing a broken pram and smoking a cigarette, that confusion of being a kid and doing something he saw adults doing. You could still buy ‘singles’ (cigarettes) in those days.

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Kids playing at Terrorists, Hoxton, 1980s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

These were the days when the IRA were still active and these kids were just playing something that they had seen on television.

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Boy in Telephone Box, Brick Lane, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

Before the advent of mobiles, I just snapped this as I was walking past.

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Man on the street, Hoxton, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.
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Women on Street, Hoxton, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

This was a time of high unemployment so seeing men down and hanging out on street corners was sadly not a rare sight. This could have been anywhere in the UK in the late 70s, early 80’s. The lady looks beaten and worn out.

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Young Boy & Old Man, Victoria Park, Hackney, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

There was always young kids running around and playing unaccompanied by adults in those days. It was normally the older children who had to look after their kid brothers and sisters, much to their displeasure I remember.

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Young family on a bus, Shoreditch, 1980s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.
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Old Couple on Bus, Shoreditch, 1980s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

I used to take a lot of pictures of people on transport, as they were often locked into their own thoughts and totally unaware of me.

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Guitar Man, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

This is my friend Danny Holloway who was the drummer in our band, we were all from Hoxton and were called ‘The Numbers’ hence the numbers written on the guitar.

Thank you to Wayne Waterson, a casting director, born and raised in Hackney and now living in Ramsgate.

Words and pictures by Wayne Waterson. All images © Wayne Waterson. All images in this article are owned by Wayne Waterson for use on this site only.

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33 thoughts

    1. Thanks Nigel for your kind comments. I have so many more photos but have never thought that there would be interest enough outside Hoxton to even think of doing an exhibition!
      Wayne Waterson

  1. What a wonderful photo story. A poignant personal reflection on times gone by – and the harsh realities of some people’s lives… beautifully done Wayne!

  2. These are great pics Wayne. I agree with a previous comment about you having a show in Hoxton. I would love to know what happened to those Hoxton kids. Wether they managed to break away like you or what direction their lives went.

  3. Really interesting read Wayne, I’ll come find you when I’m down the coast in the school holidays
    Cheers Chris

  4. Wayne, the photographs and article are both brilliant, and certainly brought back memories. I would definitely come to an exhibition. Hope Ramsgate is treating you well. Last time I saw you, you were just getting things ready to leave. Colleen (Edney).

    1. Dear Colleen.

      Thank you for your lovely comments. I hope you are well and everything is going wonderful for you.
      I am going to get the pictures printed up and do a show in Hoxton sometime very soon and will let you know when that happens as would be lovely to see you again.
      Love Wayne x

  5. I can’t believe it looking through your photos. There’s a picture of me my brother and sister and a few old friends. (Hoxton kids) bring bk some good memories great work

    1. Hey Billy. Thanks for posting a comment, it’s much appreciated.

      Which one is you ? I hope to show the photos at a show in Hoxton once I get them reprinted and would love to invite you and your family along to see it when it happens.

  6. I wam also a Hoxton boy from the sixties..I also took to photography and my brother the pop group.I willl have to dig out some old photos.. Thank you for inspiring me to do so.. Also in Brick lane my father used to sell on ” the wall ” when he needed some money..Thanks.A

  7. Fantastic images and a great read! I felt as if I stepped back in time. You really captured the time and people beautifully and authentically.

  8. I absolutely love these photos. You should contact Hoxton Mini Press who specialises in publishing books with these kinds of photos.

  9. Wayne I love your photos , I’m 44, Hackney born and bred and left when it got ‘ regenerated ” . These photos remind me so much of being a kid . It was a different world in Hackney then . I grew up in Haggerston and Dalston and all my cousins lived in hoxton . It’s so heartwarming for me to see my memories in black and white. Thank you ( especially cos you’re a Hackney boy too . )

  10. Hi Wayne, I hope alls well with you, I used to live in the flats opposite you in Benfleet Court (I lived in Orme House) in Haggerston & went to Laburnum School…. I knew your brother John quite well as kids as he was West Ham. My memory of you as I’ve always said to Danny Holloway was how sharp you dressed, I have to admit I copied the way you dressed, as it was different to the punk/skinhead style of the time when I became a mod circa 77/78 . Love the old photo.

    1. Hi.
      Thanks for posting and would love to know who you are as would love to tell John. I speak to Danny all the time and would love to pass on your kind thoughts. Hope life has treated you well and as you know Hoxton has changed beyond all recognition now and although it maybe safer and cleaner it’s lost so much of what made it special in the first place.


  11. Really enjoyed this article, Dee Cooper sent it to me, I still live in Hoxton & yes some of it has really changed, but I still love it, your photos are so real and nostalgic, & please let me know detail if you have an exhibition, a friend of mine held one at a lovely space just a couple of doors along from the post office, she has a florist in Whitmore Rd (House of Old Hoxton) Joeanne, she’s also an artist, you maybe even know her, perhaps check it out, anyone thank you for the memories x

  12. Fantastic photos Wayne. I moved to Spitalfields in the 80s,the tail end of the real East End before the major gentrification. I remember so many things going on in Brick Lane and surrounding areas. The sole has been dug out of the East End sadly. Your photos reminded me of my early days discovering the area. However you go way back and your work shows how life really was. I hope you put together an exhibition soon. It would be unusual to have a show in Hoxton from somebody who had actually lived there. Looking forward to seeing more of your east end life.. all the best, Daniel James.

  13. Yeah born Hackney Hospital 1952, lived in and around Hackney, then moved to Florida in 83. Visited again when Mum died and could barely recognize the place. I couldn’t afford to live there now days, go figure.

  14. I’ve just had this article/photograph link forwarded to me by a Hoxton friend. She knew that it would be of interest to me because you have captured an image of my mum on the streets of Hoxton. There’s a hint of sadness because she is no longer with us. However, she too managed to move on and spent her later years living in Cliftonville, Margate. Her grandchildren’s memories of her are those of a smiling face, spoiling them with chocolates and small gifts.

    I too remember the old Hackney, especially Hoxton. I knew Danny Holloway from hanging out down the Heaters and the Pitfield Youth Centre. It’s a shame that you haven’t captured images of these hang outs too because they would have proved very interesting.

    I eventually moved on to pastures new in the late 90s, to raise a family and get on the property ladder in a London suburb The interesting thing is, my daughter, now in her 20s and working in London, would move back to my roots in a heartbeat to hang out with those hipsters in the trendy bars. Sadly she can’t afford it.

    Your article was a very interesting read, very nostalgic. I have fond memories of Hoxton, Haggerston and the life long friends I made along the way, something I wouldn’t change. I return to my roots quite often on flying visits and am amazed at the changes in the vibe and skyline view. Everything must move on for the next generation.

    Thanks for your insight into our past.

  15. This article was forwarded to me by a Hoxton friend. She knew that It would be of interest to me because it contains a photo of my mum ‘Woman in the Street’. This brought a touch of sadness because she is no longer with us. However, she moved on to pastures new and spent her later years living in Cliftonville, Margate. Her grandchildren’s memories of her are those of a smiling face, spoiling them with chocolates and small gifts.

    I too remember Hoxton and Haggerston in the 70s and 80s. I knew Danny Holloway from hanging out down the Heaters and the Pitfield Youth Centre. It’s a shame that you didn’t capture images of these hangouts because they would have proved interesting. I left the area in the late 90s to relocate in a London suburb, get on the property ladder and raise a family. Interestingly, my daughter, now in her 20s and working in London would move back to my roots in a heartbeat. She would be quite happy hanging out with the hipsters in the trendy bars. Unfortunately she can’t afford it.

    Thank you for an interesting read, very nostalgic. I have fond memories and made life long friends growing up in Hoxton, something I would never change. I often return to the area on flying visits, the changes are amazing – very diverse chilled out vibe with an ever changing skyline. We must embrace change for the next generation.

  16. Really enjoyed looking at the pics, bought back many memories from my younger days. We grew up in hoxton lived in the prefabs in Newton Grove that were where shoreditch park is now .then moved to dalston then back to hoxton and still live there now ..hoxton market is not the same as what is was all those years ago but I suppose everything has to change that’s just the way it is ..

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