Where are they now? The Hackney businesses kicked out of the Lower Lea Valley before the Olympics

The J Gliksten & Son Ltd timber yard on Carpenters Road and environs, Stratford, from the south, 194

The J Gliksten & Son Ltd timber yard on Carpenters Road and environs, Stratford, from the south, 1949. Picture: Historic England - Credit: Historic England

It becomes harder each year to remember how the Lower Lea Valley looked before the 2012 London Olympics came.

Marion Davies and Debra Rapp

Marion Davies and Debra Rapp - Credit: Julia Weiner

History would have it written as a wasteland – a smelly relic of its industrial past – but the authors of a new book say that’s wrong.

Photographers Marion Davies and Debra Rapp, alongside academic Juliet Davis, provide photographs and stats in Dispersal to argue the area was actually a “hive of activity”.

They depict bagel bakers, vinyl record manufacturers and sheepskin producers as buoyant as the once prevailing “noxious” manufacturers of paint oils, soap and chemicals.

Their photos were taken after the London Development Agency’s compulsory purchase order instructed 208 mainly small- to medium-sized enterprises, employing 4,984 staff, to vacate a 266-hectare area by July 2007.

“We did not want to be seen as profiteering from their bad experience,” said Debra of the people she documented over 18 months with Marion.

“We wanted to make sure we were taking an independent stance, photographing a moment in time and not taking a political position.”

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The photos are a historical snapshot capturing people in their daily routines, whether recycling clothes for shipping or deboning meats.

“The point of the photos is that these are real people – they have families, they have livelihoods,” said Debra.

Curved Pressings. Picture: Debra Rapp

Curved Pressings. Picture: Debra Rapp - Credit: Debra Rapp

She and Marion, who met on a photographic course, often only had 30 minutes with their subjects during site visits – even if that meant snapping steel beams being galvanised in a 450C zinc tank

Her colour photos were taken on a digital Nikon camera while Marion took black and white images.

The pair revisited 11 of the businesses in 2015. New research showed 31 per cent of the 208 firms had already closed, including 28 of the 70 they photographed.

Juliet, a senior lecturer in architecture and urban design at Cardiff University, said market forces had an impact.

“It was whether people were an established name in London still and were able to acquire property as it immediately made them more secure,” she said.

All three hope lessons can be learned for the future.

Dispersal: Picturing Urban Change in East London, published by Historic England, is out now in paperback. A launch event is on tonight at Pages of Hackney bookshop 7pm to 9pm, Sutton House, Homerton High Street, Hackney. Tickets £5.

Creating donor kebabs, Harringay Meat Traders Ltd. Picture: Debra Rapp

Creating donor kebabs, Harringay Meat Traders Ltd. Picture: Debra Rapp - Credit: Debra Rapp

Case study: Curved Pressings Ltd

“It was the only building that wasn’t knocked down. It is really painful.”

Engineer Lawrie Dunster says he feels sick whenever he has to drive past the former factory of Curved Pressings Ltd, which operated in King’s Yard, Hackney Wick, back in 2007.

Unlike many of the surrounding buildings, the site for the vinyl and CD mastering and manufacturing company was not demolished. It is an unwelcome reminder of what happened.

Curved Pressings Ltd had been generating £700,000 a year, but the small collective was not fully in profit so had to go into liquidation with 25 people losing their jobs.

Starting over, co-owner Shane Whittaker moved the company to Darnley Road off Mare Street, where it remains today – it featured in our Made in Hackney column earlier this year.

There is a mastering studio and lacquer cutting suite, but the records themselves are now manufactured in France.

Case study: Harringay Meat Traders Ltd

Harringay Meat Traders Ltd, founded by Cypriot immigrant George Sergiou in 1977, was forced to moved to Dagenham in 2007 after being handed its compulsory purchase order.

It has been a tough move for the company that was previously situated in the East Cross Centre, Waterden Road.

George originally supplied meat to donner kebab restaurants and wholesalers but happened upon a way of making ready-made donner kebabs, by using frozen mince at –2/3C, which allowed the meat to be cooked on a vertical rotisserie in 1983.

However, he couldn’t find a suitable site in Dagenham meaning production was downsized and the minced donor kebab venture had to fold.

George believes the CPO hugely disadvantaged his business and is still seeking redress from the London Development Agency today.