Work, protest and play on the streets of Hackney

Published
image copyrightNeil Martinson

During the 1970s and first half of the 80s photographer Neil Martinson recorded the lives of those who lived and worked in Hackney, east London.

At that time, children still played in the street and on old bomb sites yet to be developed.

Indeed, some of the pictures were taken when Martinson himself was still at school, using a Zenith-E camera, which he describes as "everything a boy could want from a camera".

"It had lots of knobs and dials and they all had a satisfying clunk when operated," he says.

"Hackney was a place to leave, with its crumbling council estates and high unemployment.

"Yet there was vitality and resilience among local people.

"Few people owned their own homes.

"There were no gated communities and no gastropubs.

"Students, radicals and artists started to move into Hackney.

"It was an exciting time to be a photographer and activist."

image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionGiorgi’s Cafe, Bethnal Green Road, 1971
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionDalston, 1971
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionRiver Lea, 1971
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionGraham Road, 1971
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionA family living in Rachel Point, Nightingale Estate, 1974, one of the high-rise housing blocks being built in the area
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image caption"It was common to see children playing on the streets in the 1970s," says Martinson. "The lack of traffic, and very different attitudes, gave children a freedom that seems quite remote now. My own memory was of going out to play all day long and my parents having no idea of where I was or what I was doing."
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionThe Telsner family, Stamford Hill, 1981, photographed for a book on Jewish life in Britain
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionRidley Road Market, 1981
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionMartinson photographed these nurses, protesting over pay outside Bethnal Green Hospital, for the Hackney People's Press
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionInside Lesney's factory, where Matchbox cars had been produced since the late 1950s. At its peak, it employed 3,600 people, mostly women, but when this was taken, production had all but ceased, with closure coming a year later
image copyrightNeil Martinson
image captionGarment factory, Shacklewell Lane, 1981

Hackney Archive: Work and Life 1971-85, by Neil Martinson, is published by Hoxton Mini Press.

All photographs courtesy Neil Martinson / Hoxton Press