Lives of local shopkeepers recorded in new book

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Mike Edwards. Mike Edwards.

A new book looking into the lives of traders has been released this week.

Wanstead resident Mike Edwards, 60, officially launched Shelf Life at Eightyfour Gallery in Nightingale Lane, Wanstead, on Sunday and sold over 100 copies.

Mr Edwards, of Redbridge Lane West, Wanstead, five years ago began investigating the lives of 41 traders and volunteers from Wanstead, South Woodford, Woodford Green and Chingford as part of a photography course.

Mr Edwards said: “Firstly we were sent out to our high streets to capture images of shopkeepers at work as part of a style of photography called environmental portraiture.

“My tutor encouraged me to gather more images as he saw a good relationship between me and my subjects.

“An idea for a book was forming in my mind and I sought out people who had been in their jobs for many years as they seemed to have the stories I wanted.

“They had interesting backgrounds and an unspoken pride and fortitude in the work to which they were devoted.”

The book provides an insight into the traders' hardships, including the Second World War, and their family background.

One character in the book is Wanstead's milkman Steve Hayden, who has been serving the area in his float for over 35 years. 

Mr Hayden prides himself on being an agony aunt to the area and regularly checks on residents, especially the elderly. 

On one particular occasion, Mr Hayden saw that milk had been left on the door step of an elderly woman for a couple of days.

He and a neighbour entered the house to find she had been stuck in her chair for two days and called paramedics, who claim his discovery may have saved her life. 

"At first people were cautious about talking to me, but eventually they opened up and after a few drinks it almost turned into a counselling session," Mr Edwards added. 

“I was amazed when occasionally they thought they had nothing interesting to say. I was hooked and it never was the case.

“Some came from unprivileged backgrounds and others had done well for themselves. Since I started the project five years ago some have now retired and sadly one has died."

Another character featured in Shelf Life is 87-year-old Joyce Nicholls from Chingford, who has been running a keep-fit class in the area for almost 53 years. 

Four of the women she teaches are in their nineties and she is set to meet the Queen next year after being awarded a British Empire Medal for her services to the Keep Fit Association. 

"I have decided to include all of these people as a celebration of those who have dedicated a large part of their lives to their trade, with passion, pride and modesty," added Mr Edwards.

A book signing will take place at the Village Bookshop in High Road, Woodford Green, on Sunday, between 1pm and 4pm, with copies being sold for £30.

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