Just off the Upper Clapton Road sits the Tram Depot. Slightly rundown and a little unkempt, you may have glanced at it while riding past on the bus or when walking down the street. Perhaps you might have wondered what goes on beyond the rusty old gates.

This Victorian building has become an iconic part of Clapton – the gabled rooftops serving as a reminder of Hackney’s rich history. Built in 1873 by the North Metropolitan Tramways Company, it stands as one of London’s last examples of a horse drawn tram depot complex. The site has seen many uses since the horses & the trams moved out.

Giorgione's studio at Clapton's Tram Depot by Tilley Harris & Alex Pielak The Deserted Village, Photomonth 2014 (© Voist Ltd.)
Danny Easterbrook’s studio (© Voist Ltd)

Until September 2013 it was home to a collection of artists, craftsmen, mechanics and light industrial workers. Now – it is mostly empty. The former inhabitants, some of whom had been present for more than 20 years, were moved out as plans progressed for the building’s redevelopment.

Photographers Tilley Harris and Alex Pielak, who run their company Voist on a section of the site, set about documenting the last inhabitants of the Tram Depot in 2013. Their photography exhibition, The Deserted Village, is currently showing at The Depot Studio’s and tells the story of the eclectic mix of trades and tenants that last used the building.

This series of portraits, audio recordings and archive material gives a glimpse into what life was like on the site.

“You had a Turkish garage, a Cypriot joiner, a Jewish joiner, a bunch of furniture polishers, a sweet company, an upholsters, various carpenters and furniture makers all mixed up together – different races intermingling and everybody helping and having fun. The only dysfunctional element was the artists upstairs” says Danny Easterbrook, a Renaissance painter who has lived and worked in the building for over 16 years.

Stuart at Clapton's Tram Depot by Tilley Harris & Alex Pielak The Deserted Village, Photomonth 2014 (© Voist Ltd.)
Stuart Watson pictured in his metal workshop (© Voist Ltd)

The ground floor, with original Victorian features still in tact, such as tramlines and iron colonnades, has provided the perfect industrial workspaces for a variety of tradesmen for decades.

Stuart Watson was based at the Horse Workshop from 1992, working as part of a crew of blacksmiths producing metal works: ‘Even though it looked tatty from the outside, there were always amazing things going on somewhere. I don’t think most people appreciate what they’ve lost.’

On the first floor above the workshops, in what were once stables for horses, were a series of studios and artist live/work spaces. Many units had been occupied for a number of years allowing artists time to apply their craftsmanship to their living space. Each studio, it seemed, so unique to the artist and their work it was hard to tell where the studios ended and the art began.

Artist Andrew Carney who now teaches in Winchester had a studio at the Tram Depot for over 24 years. ‘It’s such an extraordinary space and has such extraordinary potential. It’s just so sad about [the loss of] big spaces. I think it’s changing the way artists work really. Its very difficult to work at scale and work properly – I notice it with the students I teach – their sense of ambition is gone. Maybe that’s a good thing?’

London Foam at Clapton's Tram Depot by Tilley Harris & Alex Pielak The Deserted Village, Photomonth 2014 (© Voist Ltd.)
The inside of the foam factory at the tram depot (© Voist Ltd)

Clapton resident and local historian Julia Lafferty sums up the Tram Depot’s unique influence on the area. ‘Art wasn’t an elitist thing, a thing that operated in isolation, it operated as part of the community. The artists were only too pleased to run events and explain their work to people in the community. The attraction of it was that it grew up organically it wasn’t established by the council, it wasn’t funded by the council. It was people doing it for themselves and doing it for the community.’

The Deserted Village exhibition pays tribute to the unlikely community of tradesmen, craftsmen and artists who worked side by side in this historic building for a significant number of years. It continues at The Depot (38 Upper Clapton Road E5 8BQ) each day 12-7pm until Sunday 30th November.