Interview with
Jane Clark

Where were you born and when?
"1949 in Walton on Thames, Surrey"
When did you first move to the East End of London?
"1978 from Archway Rd. I had been squatting and had a small kid, I wanted a more stable set up and had heard of Acme Housing Association so went along and applied as an artist."
So thats why you moved East?
"Yes most of their properties were in the East End so..."
So it was actually Acme that helped you move?
Where did you move first?
"Westgate Street and then and now Ellingfort Road."
And how did you fit into the East End?
"I liked the East End, I found the people locally mostly very friendly.It was a bit of a shock though after living in North London, there were no parks or things like that.I liked the locality of Broadway Market and the London Fields area which was where I landed."
Did you feel then that you were part of an artistic community?
"I think I found that there werent so many artists when I first lived here.I think also the fact that I had a kid put me outside of the artists community."
There were five houses in Westgate Street. The other people were: Zoe Callaghan ?
"Yes she moved in later, there were Gail and Chrissie ceramicists, Jeff Hilliard who is now in Falmouth"
What organisations would you say were instrumental in helping you?
"Acme Housing Association"
Can you remember the train of events that led up to you living in the East End, the reasons, the impetus that started your move?
"It started I suppose because I went to school in London and then I lived mostly in South London when I was at art college.I then got involved with someone who lived in North London and lived for a while in a friends studio in a paper house, that was when I was pregnant.that was an extraordinary building, Noel Forster was in that building too and I was in Bob Janzs' studio. It was Prince of Wales Crescent.There was an artist by the name of Leonard there who was living in the fridge. I had my paper house in the middle of Bobs studio and was involved in the performance group there and the Film Co-op was up above, lots of people in vans in the yard. I was going to have Layla and met a bunch of people who opened a squat through Shirley Reid in Mornington Crescent. While I was in hospital though the squat folded.So I stayed with Axel, Leilas' father until I got another place to stay but we were always moving. It was the early days of squatting so you were either lucky and got a place that lasted a long time or you ended up like I did moving every few months."
So was it exciting when you were offered your first Acme House?
"It was! They offered me one that was a prefab over in Stepney and I was not very happy about that as it seemed really isolated, but the second one they offered me was the house in Westgate Street. I liked the area and so moved there but then of course the Council wanted to redevelop the area after avbout five years. I was there 1978 to 1983 when we moved to Ellingfort Road."
Did you exhibit work in the East End in the early days?
"Yes I was involved with Circles which was a Womens Film Group and also initially with the London Film Makers Co-op. I also exhibited in the foyer of the Half Moon Theatre, in CameraWorks, at Hackney Town Hall,more recently Broadway market, The Round Chapel. "

"There was a scaffolding yard that had been here for years and years and years, in fact the owner also owned the house next door. Over the summer he moved out and it was the first time for example that when I looked out of my window that I could see the whole of one tree because the scaffolding sheds had been removed and gradually over a period of the summer a garden was growing there. A pond arrived and people with caravans, so it became residential but as a transient and fleeting thing because by a certain date it would all be gone again."

Why did you stay in the East end?
"I stayed partly I think because I had a daughter and because she was growing up here and she was going to school here and also partly because I was able to have a house, this one.I didn't expect to get it and then it was supposed to last only for a year or two and actually it has lasted for fourteen.It has been this curious experience of every six months not being sure if I am going to be here."
Was the local Council helpful?
"No, I mean absolutely not. They have no idea, have no understanding of the nature of the community that they are supposed to be the Council for.I dont just mean the artists and squatters I mean local people generally. They tend to have these plans which they tend to force through without any real community consultation, or with any knowledge or regard for peoples skills, orwhat people do or need in terms of housing etc. It is always a grand plan.
It was vociferously pointed out to them particularly when they came to dealing with the Ellingfort Road area that they didnt know what they were doing and did they realise that they had so many artists in the area who could contribute something else to Hackney than that contributed by the Fast Food Factories that were supposed to bring in work.They didnt consider that perhaps local people didn't want part time jobs in Fast Food Factories."

What do you think happened during these years in the East End?
"I think a phenomena happened initially with the second world war and the bomb gaps and I think because of that there were these pockets of land which were able to be built on in a temporary sort of way.What happened with this street was that there was no money available to develop housing but there was monety available to set up small businesses. There was no consideration of what the long term effect of this policy might be, for example the aim to put industrial units next to London Fields park when businesses were already leaving because they could not afford rents.
I walk along Mentmore Terrace now and remember that there were once streets with houses there but they are all gone.
The worst thing was that houses were just left empty to rot. There have been a lot of compulsory purchases causing a great deal of resentment."
What do you think is different about the East End now?
"I think if you were a young artist hoping to move here now the main difference would be financial. It woould be difficult to afford to live here now that it has been recognised that there is a community of artists it attracts people from outside who have the money to move in. There is less turnopver of property and it is a lot less easy to have any alternative form of lifestyle now, to live outside of the main status quo if you like: squatting, short life properties etc.I can remember St.Katharines Dock when artists were putting windows into the buildings, go and look at it now.It seems to be something that just happens, same thing in New York.
Everything is institutionalised with people falling between categories, if the work element of their life fails then they will lose their home.No fallback."
Do you have a particular story or anecdote?
"It was an overcast summer day with the promise of torrential rain. The pile driver on the Gransden Avenue site has ceased its high pitched whine, so i opened the window and looked down, clouds of butterflies played around the buddleia bush, red admirals, cabbage whites and blues, the scent from the bush like honey. all of a sudden there was a massive explosion, I looked up and saw flames the height of the houses on London lane, sirens, and as I watched the flames turned to a massive cloud of black smoke.. I closed the window, the whole house stank of oily smoke, then the rain came. When I ventured into the garden later all the plants were covered in black oil spots. Out on the street a neighbour said that no-one had been killed. later that evening I opened the window in spite of the high pitched hum of the generator, Karen was in her garden she had put candles in bottles around all the garden walls, she lit them one by one, a piece of magic in the night, full moon over the railway bridge."

Jane Clark interviewed December 4th 1997 in Ellingfort
Rd, Hackney

Jane Clark has been part of the campaign to save Ellingfort
for the last 10 years. Other artists have also been involved in the
campaign either artistically or creatively.

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