Charles Goss’ Bishopsgate Photographs
West side of Bishopsgate Without, looking north with St Leonard’s Shoreditch in the distance
One hundred years ago, when the City elected to widen Bishopsgate – the ancient meandering thoroughfare lined with straggling buildings that followed the route of Ermine St, the Roman road north from London – Charles Goss, the first Archivist at the Bishopsgate Institute was inspired to get up early in the morning and photograph the streetscapes that were shortly to vanish from the world. Working systematically, he took this set of interconnecting pictures that record the shabby old frontages at the northern end of Bishopsgate where it meets to liberty of Norton Folgate, concentrating on the west side of the street where the Broadgate Tower designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill stands now.
There is an ethereal quality to many of Goss’ photographs taken in the grey light of dawn, with just a few early birds on their way to work and no traffic at all on the road yet. These are quiet pictures in which silence is only interrupted by the echo of footsteps. Hoardings upon Lupinsky & Brandon, the progressive tailors – suits to measure at 137 Bishopsgate – announce the impending destruction, “These premises have been acquired by the City Corporation for the widening of Bishopsgate Street.” Fortunately, business was transferring to 80 Bishopsgate directly across the road. You will observe that many businesses had already held clearance sales and vacated their shops, but the Great Eastern Rubber Company, the Dump Shop and the Norton Folgate Toilet Club were valiantly trading on to the bitter end.
Like Henry Dixon’s images taken for the Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London that recorded ancient buildings about to be demolished in the 1880s, Charles Goss’ pictures belong to the compelling yet melancholic school of photography which illustrates the history of loss. I can readily imagine Charles Goss getting up and leaving the house in the dark with his camera and tripod, and setting up on the pavement in Bishopsgate in the early morning drizzle, attracting curious looks from passersby and questioning himself even as he went about his business. Sensibly, he reconciled any doubt, bound the pictures into a fine book with a red leather spine and put it on the shelf at the Bishopsgate Institute, reassuring himself that he was just doing his job.
Yet behind these pictures lies an unfathomable poetry that engages with the sheer strangeness of the performance of human life – rendered tangible only in the moment when the scenery is about to be abandoned and the familiar reality of the street begins to dissolve, just like an abandoned set on the back lot of a film studio. I can only wonder what Charles Goss would make of Bishopsgate today where just a few remnants of his time exist, entirely overshadowed by the vast disproportionate recent structures resembling illustrations to a futuristic novel by H.G.Wells.
In Acorn St
West side of Bishopsgate.
Entrance to Acorn St.
Bishopsgate Without, West side.
10,000 choice cigars were sold here at less than half price.
The Great Eastern Rubber Company, Mosley’s Rubber Goods stocked here.
B.A. Marcus, Lilley & Skinner, The Lord Nelson and Devon Restaurant.
The Middleton Arms for Celebrated Welch Ale.
Lupinsky & Brandon, progressive tailors.
Spy the roofer upon the ridge above G.Ringrose.
Observe The Dump Shop and the Norton Folgate Toilet Club.
The early morning sun casts its shadow over Norton Folgate a century ago.
Bishopsgate Without viewed from Norton Folgate, 1912
Bishopsgate Without viewed from Norton Folgate, 2012
Archive pictures courtesy © Bishopsgate Institute
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