Paul Talling’s feels like a Londoner’s story — he got sick of never walking anywhere, never coming across anything expected in his familiar public transport routes. So he started doing just that. A lot. With a camera.
The eventual result was DerelictLondon.com, a 15-year old photographic project detailing the disused, in-between places so prevalent in his native East End. It led to books, t-shirts, and a walking tour programme for which tickets go faster than glasto. As he told me when I joined his ‘Bank Holiday Tower Hamlets Walk & Buffet Special’: it’s that whole punk rock ethos, do what you love and make something of it.
Paul’s is a distinctive style; just like his photography, he doesn’t approach being a guide the way a professional would, and it’s all the better for it. Not many tour guides tell you about slipping into condemned buildings and public toilets every few minutes.
Of course, there’s something visually compelling about ruins. But his tours are so much more than the aesthetics of decay.
As we moved from dead pub to dead pub, it occurs to me he’s straight up wish-fulfilment for me. When walking through cities, I’ve always wanted to open an app and point it at a building or site, and see what was there before, and before that. Paul’s the closest I’m going to get. Passing on personal or local anecdotes, he peals back the visible present on every unremarkable corner.
This lived experience of the East End peppers his tours, backed up with forensic research (he casually mentions Boreholes and Wells of London, 1904). You’ll gain insights on the used as much as the unused. And of course there’s plenty of food for thought about the changes rapidly changing one to the other in this contested part of our capital.
Perhaps the most charming aspect though remains the loyal community around DerelictLondon.com. Many of the attendees being regulars, the tours end in a traditional boozer where Paul knows the landlord. On this particular day, he introduced us to Callaghan’s. Originally named ‘The Festive Britain’ and built as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain, it bore no name above the door but filled itself with good people and good food. For the £3.50 pints alone, I should thank him.