Express & Star

16 pictures from the past of Scotlands estate and Wolverhampton's wholesale market

Real people, real lives – that was the principle behind the photography of George Foster.

A young woman and an older relative

He called many of his subjects the Forgotten People. Old Soldier, Waistcoat Man, Man in Suit ... only Mrs Quinn is remembered by name.

The images were a snapshot in time of Wolverhampton. They say every picture tells a story, but George never got to find how the stories ended.

In 1973, he was a graphic design student at what was then Wolverhampton Polytechnic. He had a special interest in reportage photography, so one of his lecturers suggested he spent a bit of time on the then rundown Scotlands estate, capturing on camera the different characters who lived in the area. He also decided to pop down to the city's wholesale market to see who and what he could find – and then revisited it after it was demolished.

More than five decades on, George’s dark, dramatic pictures show just how much better off people are today, at least in material terms. But George also recalls a close-knit community where people made the most of their lot, and never forgot their sense of humour.

Speaking of the Scotlands, he said: “I can still smell the place, the damp, the urine, the rubbish, and the neglected cold, grey houses that were well past their sell-by date.

“For a rather innocent 21-year-old from a sheltered middle-class background, what I saw there remains with me to this day.

“It may have been 50 years ago, but I recall my anger that people should be treated so badly.”

A mother and her two children

George placed pictures from the project, which at the time won him a photography prize, as the basis of a book he released in 2021.

People of all ages stand in dimly lit, sparsely furnished rooms, with peeling plaster and bare floorboards, long before the latter became a style statement.

George was introduced to many of the local characters by an easy-going young social worker called Stewart, who he recalls as being well-liked by everyone on the estate.

Stewart, says George, would go from house to house, patiently listening to people’s stories, and trying to sort out their many problems. “He was a saint, he really was an amazing character,” says George. “How he put up with that, I don’t know.”

The one character, apart from Stewart, who is identified by name is the formidable Mrs Quinn.

The formidable Mrs Quinn

“Mrs Quinn really was a real old, tough, battleaxe who had been through everything,” says George. “They were about to cut off her electricity, they had sent the final demand, and Stewart was pulling the strings, trying to make sure that didn’t happen.”

He recalls many of the people remaining stoically optimistic, despite their hardship, and the youngsters seeming oblivious to the problems around them. One of the most haunting pictures is of a middle-aged man in a crumpled suit standing in a dingy hallway. The walls are half covered with wallpaper, half covered with peeling paint, the floor paved with grubby quarry tiles.