Picturing urban change in east London

Historic England


September 26th, 2017





Dispersal considers the period of change in Stratford, East London prior to the 2012 Olympic Games. It is both a visual record of a place that has transformed beyond recognition and a commentary on the impact of these changes.

Though often represented as a post-industrial ‘wasteland’, this part of East London was a melting pot of over 200 trades and industries. Photographers Marion Davies and Debra Rapp documented 60 of these small businesses – from belt-making, zinc- galavanising, kebab-making and salmon smoking – before they were forced to move from the area in 2007. These unique photographs reveal the atmosphere and processes of the workplace alongside a short account of the personal histories of each business.

While the photographs provide an impression of the site at the cusp of change, they also suggest a landscape shaped over time. How this landscape or urban ‘edgeland’ developed and evolved from the mid-19th century is explored by urban planning and architectural historian Juliet Davis. A series of maps from 2007 to 2015 analyse the patterns of dispersal of these businesses.

The three authors have charted the progress, successes and failures of these large and small firms, re-photographing a selection in 2015. They show how this major urban redevelopment project has had a permanent and dramatic impact on the Lea Valley’s industrial areas; and at the same time they have created a lasting record of this previously diverse and often unappreciated working environment.

In times when the pace of urban redevelopment is increasing, 'Dispersal' raises awareness of the human and physical effects produced by regeneration projects as they rapidly sweep away large areas of cities. It emphasizes the importance of recording urban landscapes before they vanish, as well as the histories of those who will be displaced, so that we can reflect on the processes of change. ... provides a valuable tool with which to focus the attention of planners and development authorities on the human, as opposed to purely physical, impacts of those processes.
Sol Perez Martinez, Planning Perspectives

Bartlett School of Architecture & Institute of Education

Author Information

Marion Davies is a fine art documentary photographer. Juliet Davis is a senior lecturer in urban and architectural design, history and theory at Cardiff University. Debra Rapp is a documentary photographer.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
1. A lens on the past: reconstructing traces of an industrial edgeland
2. Dispersal: the archive
3. Out of sight/site: legacies of CPO and dispersal