Passing Clouds

Gentrification is happening in all of what once were the working-class areas of London, and Dalston is no exception. It’s partly a matter of increasing land values – and land and its ownership is at the bottom of most things that are wrong with Britain, as it is land that is the basis of our class system. Although I wouldn’t quite go along with Proudhon and say that all “property is theft”, clearly the current ownership of land comes largely from actions over the centuries which have appropriated what was once a common resource. The enclosures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries notably led to riots even in the more conservative areas of the country.

As the pattern of work in London has changed over the years, with the destruction of the capital’s remaining industries which had long been declining before Thatcher put the axe in, working class jobs have become more and more concentrated at the bottom end of the service sector, with fewer opportunities for the higher pay enjoyed by skilled workers.

At the same time – and again thanks to Thatcher – we saw a decline in social housing, with council homes being sold off under the ‘right to buy’. It gave a nice windfall to those able to enjoy it, though many later found themselves unable to keep up with their newly acquired properties, many of which were bought up by others and are now expensive private lettings.

People in the new jobs that have been created look for areas of London they can afford to buy property. Years ago that included the working class areas of inner-city London, but now they are more and more likely to have to move to the outer suburbs and face long commutes. But those on higher salaries can still afford the £1m plus in the inner boroughs.

Years ago in the 1980s I started to photograph former industrial sites in London, many then derelict and empty. Some had already been demolished and converted into boxy and expensive private flats, particularly those in more favourable locations. Others became artists studios or community facilities for a while, providing a way of maintaining them in at least basic repair while their asset values increased and increased.

Lenthal Works, where the Hackney Gazette was printed from 1890-1958, was refurbished in 1995 as part of a regeneration scheme. In 2006 it became a popular arts centre for cultural and musical events, and Passing Clouds was celebrating its 10th anniversary when it heard that their landlord – had secretly sold the site for development to ‘Landlord Developments’ who were about to evict them, with the loss of around 100 jobs. In its place would be built ‘luxury flats’ many of which will probably never be lived in, simply acting as investments for over-rich foreigners, mainly in the far east, who buy such properties and re-sell them when rising property prices have generated a hefty profit.

Passing Clouds occupied their venue, but were evicted following a court order.  Several months later they were talking to Landlord Developments about buying the venue, but there have been no further announcements, other than that they still hope at some time to re-open, though I think in a different venue.

The protest was a carnival procession from Hoxton Square by many of those who were regular attenders at Passing Clouds, and we arrived there to find a group of African drummers around a glowing fire. The crowd was densely packed and I could feel the heat on my face from the embers, and more so when pouring capfuls of white rum onto them sent a ball of flame up into the air. The 16-35 16mm fisheye enabled me to capture something of the scene and atmosphere, but rather too much of the atmosphere was getting into my lungs and I soon had to move back.

The protest was scheduled to move on for more music and dancing and speeches in Dalston Square, but I decided it was time to go home and have some food.

More at Save Passing Clouds.


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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