Monday, 23 May 2011
William Thomas Whiffin
During my last voluntary stint at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, I took the opportunity of finding out a little more about the photographer behind the Whiffin Photographic collection. There is a small collection of papers (Whiffin 770 (Folder 3) includes a few letters written by Whiffin) from which I gleaned a few biographical details. The man behind these photographs was William Thomas Whiffin (circa 1879-1957), a successful and highly accomplished professional photographer, with studios in the East India Dock Road, King's Cross, Harrow Road and Mare Street in Hackney. Whiffin documented significant events in the East End (he turned his lens on the rise of 'Poplarism' in the early 1920s and the General Strike of 1926) but many of his photographs are of inconsequential scenes which are all the more fascinating because of their ordinariness. In September 1939 Whiffin applied for a permit to document life in Poplar during WW2, and was presumably successful, albeit working under restricted conditions. One particularly poignant handwritten note from a municipal official, dated 14 May 1941, presses Whiffin to attend a makeshift mortuary in Knapps Road to photograph the corpse of an unidentified boy aged 14. My first thought was that the young lad was a victim of the Blitz, but I suppose he could have died in some other way. How ever it was he died, it brought me up short when I read that. I wonder if the authorities ever did identify the child.