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

By Wayne Waterson

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.

Shoreditch in the 1970s

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. thumbnail_1. My First Photo_previewMy 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. 

thumbnail_Samartans ClubMen 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.

thumbnail_Bare Foot Girl _previewBare 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.

thumbnail_khllgHomeless Man, Chance Street, 1970s. Photo © Wayne Waterson.

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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.

Brick Lane 


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.

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.

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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