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The Dogs Of Old London

September 19, 2012
by the gentle author

Click to enlarge

Sometimes in London, I think I hear a lone dog barking in the distance and I wonder if it is an echo from another street or a yard. Sometimes in London, I wake late in the night and hear a dog calling out to me on the wind, in the dark silent city of my dreaming. What is this yelp I believe I hear in London, dis-embodied and far away? Is it the sound of the dogs of old London – the guard dogs, the lap dogs, the stray dogs, the police dogs, the performing dogs, the dogs of the blind, the dogs of the ratcatchers, the dogs of the watermen, the cadaver dogs, the mutts, the mongrels, the curs, the hounds and the puppies?

Libby Hall, who has gathered possibly the largest collection of dog photography ever made by any single individual, took me down to the Kennel Club in Mayfair yesterday to show me her trove in the archive there. Libby was complicit with me in my quest. Surrounded by oil paintings of pooches in the heroic style by great masters such as Sir Edwin Landseer, we took Libby’s treasured photographs from their storage boxes, spread them out upon the polished table top and began to look.

We were seeking the dogs of old London in her collection. We pulled out those from London photographic studios and those labelled as London. Then, Libby also picked out those that she believes are London. And here you see the photographs we chose. How eager and yet how soulful are these metropolitan dogs of yesteryear. They were not camera shy.

The complete social range is present in this selection, from the dogs of the workplace to the dogs of the boudoir, although inevitably the majority are those whose owners had the disposable income for studio portraits. These pictures reveal that while human fashions change according to the era and the class, dogs exist in an eternal universal present. Even if they are the dogs of old London and even if in our own age we pay more attention to breeds, any of these dogs could have been photographed yesterday. And the quality of emotion these creatures drew from their owners is such that the people in the pictures are brought closer to us. They might otherwise withhold their feelings or retreat behind studio poses but, because of their relationships with their dogs, we can can recognise our common humanity more readily.

These pictures were once cherished by the owners after their dogs had died but now all the owners have died too, long ago. For the most part, we do not know the names of the subjects, either canine or human. All we are left with are these poignant records of tender emotion, intimate lost moments in the history of our city.

The dogs of old London no longer cock their legs at the trees, lamps and street corners of our ancient capital, no longer pull their owners along the pavement, no longer stretch out in front of the fire, no longer keep the neighbours awake barking all night, no longer doze in the sun, no longer sit up and beg, no longer bury bones, no longer fetch sticks, no longer gobble their dinners, no longer piss in the clean laundry, no longer play dead or jump for a treats. The dogs of old London are silent now.

Arthur Lee, Muswell Hill, inscribed “To Ruby with love from Crystal.”

Ellen Terry was renowned for her love of dogs as much as for her acting.

W.Pearce, 422 Lewisham High St.

This girl and her dog were photographed many times for cards and are believed to be the photographer’s daughter and her pet.

Emberson – Wimbledon, Surbiton & Tooting.

Edward VII’s dog Caesar that followed the funeral procession and became a national hero.

A prizewinner, surrounded by trophies and dripping with awards.

The Vicar of Leyton and his dog.

The first dog to be buried here was run over outside the gatekeeper’s lodge, setting a fashionable precedent, and within twenty-five years the gatekeeper’s garden was filled with over three hundred upper class pets.

Libby Hall, collector of dog photographs.

Photographs copyright © The Libby Hall Collection at the Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to read my original profile

Libby Hall, Collector of Dog Photography

You may also like to take a look at

A Room To Let in Old Aldgate

The Ghosts of Old London

The Signs of Old London

38 Responses leave one →
  1. georgie permalink
    September 19, 2012

    I love dogs and just lost a beloved dog a few months ago here in the U.S.. He was a rescue dog, adopted eight years ago. He was known as “the auxilliary dog” because we had an older dog and I never want to have a home without a dog ever again. Auxilliary dog passed away despite the best efforts of the vet, modern medicine and my love. Magically, friends found a puppy for our home. I was expecting to get a new dog in a few months later, but this puppy was meant to live here. The old dog is still with us, and the five month old standard poodle puppy is keeping us all on our toes/paws….especially the cat. Thank you for this wonderful article! I hope Ms. Hall gets a new dog companion very soon. A home without a dog, no matter which country, is just a house. A dog makes it home.

  2. September 19, 2012

    amor manet (love remains,)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iIInHxr3io

  3. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    September 19, 2012

    I shall make an appointment with Libby to view her collection at the Kennel Club – in Mayfair. I am sue it will be worth coming to London.
    Mevlyn Brooks Karkur, Israel

  4. Annie permalink
    September 19, 2012

    Brilliant. Guess what I’m using for comprehension homework with my class of 10 year olds? Fabulous writing, wonderful images. That’ll get the brains working.

    We love you. And spend happy mornings discussing the photos and how your writing evokes moods. Particularly last week and Len the taxi driver.

    Enjoy the autumn weather as you tramp the streets.

  5. September 19, 2012

    What a fascinating series, love it!

  6. Nina permalink
    September 19, 2012

    Lovely article Gentle Author – your sweet sad words have made me cry ( in a good way !) …

  7. September 19, 2012

    Thank you for sharing all those wonderful photos. It is amazing to see how the different breeds have altered over the years. What struck me ,as I studied each photo, was how it was the dog that held my attention. The people were just props and backdrops.

    Thanks again for one of the most charming posts I’ve ever seen!
    Debs

  8. Margaret permalink
    September 19, 2012

    Great photos.I live in Scotland mostly but have a flat in the city (for work purposes) and I love the area around Spitalfields.Have got to know it well over the years.These photos are so nostalgic – people and dogs who are all gone now.
    Is the dog cemetery still in Hyde Park?

  9. Bookish Miss permalink
    September 19, 2012

    Wonderful! You’re quite right, some of these look like they could have been taken yesterday. The one labelled “Carlo, died June 1868″ just tugs at my heartstrings; I think it’s because he’s alone, staring straight into the camera. The notation on the photograph makes it clear how missed he was by his people. Thank you for posting these, and to Libby Hall for collecting them.

  10. Kim permalink
    September 19, 2012

    Lovely, so lovely.

    Thank you from a daily reader in California.

  11. Judy permalink
    September 20, 2012

    Beautiful article and photos you never get tired of.
    Thank you Gentle Author!
    Judy Poleg, Karkur, Israel
    (I see Dr. Brooks from Karkur is also a fan…..)

  12. September 20, 2012

    A real devotion when it comes for their own pets. I wonder if we as people could be as same with each other nowdays.

  13. September 20, 2012

    Beautiful charming photographs – I love them.

  14. Adrianne LeMan permalink
    September 20, 2012

    Great pictures, They remind me of my grandmother, who had an oil shop (she sold paraffin, cigarettes, tobacco and any food that was wrapped or in tins) near Peckham Rye. She had a gingery mongrel dog, Bobby, and a cat, Nimmy, both of which were out all day. During the second world war, she knew that if both animals came home during the day an air raid was imminent, even though the air raid siren hadn’t yet sounded. She would shut the shop and sit under the stairs with the animals until the “all clear”.

  15. September 21, 2012

    Love love love the pictures, we have three dogs who are our lives.
    It makes a change from the usual pictures of austere Victorian men that stare straight into the camera. The people in these pictures show a softer side that only our beloved animals can bring out of us.

  16. Patricia Celeveland-Peck permalink
    September 21, 2012

    The sentence ” Sometimes in London I wake late in the night and hear a dog calling out to me on the wind, in the dark silent city of my dreaming” is pure poetry. Well done once again G.A

  17. September 21, 2012

    I enjoyed this post so much – words and pictures. Thank you for sharing a truly wonderful photo collection. Those of us who are not lucky enough to live in London might never have learned about Libby Hall’s collection otherwise. (And really – what a refreshing change from the ‘cute puppy’ trope that usually dominates the online world for us dog lovers… )

  18. September 23, 2012

    Lovely selection of dog photos with their owners from the days gone by… and a very touching post indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Teresa Stokes permalink
    September 28, 2012

    What fantastic pictures. I live near the pet cemetery in Hyde Park and it’s still there but the last burial was in 1967 and it is closed to the public. You can glimpse it through the railings on the Bayswater Road by the Gate House at Victoria Gate, near Lancaster Gate tube.

  20. October 15, 2012

    Wonderful pictures! The pet cementery is fantastic, hope i can visit though it is closed to the public. Love from Argentina and congratulations for the site.

  21. October 15, 2012

    ‘Our Billy and ME’…what a beautiful shot; much less contrived than the studio portraits.

  22. Eileen Coleburn permalink
    October 17, 2012

    “Our Billy and me”—just so lovely, the love of this little girl for her dog shines through! Love them all, but particlarly this one,

  23. Sam Walker permalink
    October 24, 2012

    A wonderful glimpse into the past – so many jack russells !

    I have a jack russell cross myself. It’s heart- warming to know that dog love goes way back.

    Thank you for sharing these nostalgic pictures.

  24. October 30, 2012

    A beautiful and poetic essay, and wonderful pictures. It really brightened my day very much!

  25. Olga ,British Columbia,Canada permalink
    October 31, 2012

    Love them ALL

  26. Cathy permalink
    November 18, 2012

    Fabulous !! As one comment said, the dogs are the focus the people merely background. Loved the expressions of endearment.

  27. Anne Copeland permalink
    November 19, 2012

    What a wonderful collection. I loved the picture of the ChowChow as that is how I remember the breed from my childhood as opposed to the way the breed currently appears in the showring. Not surprising that most of the dogs are terriers as those are the breeds of England.

  28. Miriam Delorie permalink
    November 23, 2012

    Absolutely gorgeous. My dog is my best friend. First there were 3 (Saussage dogs), and only Daddy’o is left now aged 15. No home is complete without a dog – obviously nothing has changed over all these years! regards Miriam

  29. December 8, 2012

    …. what a beautiful collection of old photographs… especially loved the images of Schipperkes, as they are my favorite breed…

  30. Ann Seemann permalink
    December 13, 2012

    So poignant, so sad, so joyful. A series of pictures not to be forgotten. To be kept.

  31. Miriam Delorie permalink
    December 16, 2012

    Dogs are your friend – they only ask for love. This year we already had to put down 2 of our 3 daschund family. Gigi and son Ticky have gone and Papa Waldi has just had a growth taken out of his gum – we are waiting for it to be analysed. 15 years of pleasure and love – and I loved your pictures and dogs are obviously everything to all of us – going back so long ago. Thank you for the beautiful pics.

  32. Eileen Chapman permalink
    January 26, 2013

    What great pictures, as an animal lover I keep taking a peep at the beautiful “cards” My heart just swells when I see them ,always having dogs and cats in my life it was a sad time for me when I had to leave a dog behind when I came to New Zealand although he went to a good home; since then I have had many breeds my beautiful and faithful ( Labrador”) is now in doggy heaven but have since aquired a Jack Rusell just as faithful
    Thank you so much for letting me see these lovely pictures
    Eileen ex Londoner

  33. February 17, 2013

    As another commenter said, ‘pure poetry’ I loved this moving description, which is so well-written. I have all Libby Hall’s dog picture books (I think) and the pictures here just bought a lump to my throat. I’ve just been directed to your blog by a fellow Sepian (we like old photographs) and I am enjoying it immensely. Here’s a post I wrote last year about how Libby started me off. My dog is not from old London sadly.

    http://hangingonmyword.blogspot.com.es/2012/02/to-say-nothing-of-dog.html

  34. August 12, 2013

    SUCH a treat! Those bright eyes really lift the spirit.

  35. Barbara Hague permalink
    September 1, 2013

    My grandparents used to live at 5 Lear Street (previously Cordelia St I believe) during the war and beyond. It was behind Mile End Station, down Southern Grove (with the “buildings” as the flats were called) and turn right, opposite what I think might have been a workhouse, or such. They were all knocked down in about the early1970s and my grandmother was moved to a downstairs flat somewhere nearby – might have been Hadleigh House(?). During the war,( I was born 1940), there was a communal shelter down the middle of the street, which was blocked off by a wall at the end. It was said that there was a factory there, but no trace of any record of it when I tried a while ago – perhaps secret war effort. While German planes were “going over” people in the shelter used to sing, waiting for the all-clear. We kids used to be put to bed on bunks and adults put their coats on tops of us to keep us warm. It would be lovely to have a photo of this place. We used to be walked down the Roman Road if we had a cough, as the tar blocks on the road were reckoned to be good for breathing.

  36. October 17, 2013

    A new study declares what many of we dog lovers already know: our canine loved ones are very human in so many ways. Thanks for these photos, Libby!

  37. pym permalink
    October 22, 2013

    The dogs of old London no longer cock their legs at the trees, lamps and street corners of our ancient capital, no longer pull their owners along the pavement, no longer stretch out in front of the fire, no longer keep the neighbours awake barking all night, no longer doze in the sun, no longer sit up and beg, no longer bury bones, no longer fetch sticks, no longer gobble their dinners, no longer piss in the clean laundry, no longer play dead or jump for a treats. The dogs of old London are silent now.

    this so made me cry

  38. Dog Images permalink
    March 23, 2014

    nice

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