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The Forgotten Corners of Old London

January 18, 2013
by the gentle author

Who knows what you might find lurking in the forgotten corners of old London? Like this lonely old waxwork of Charles II who once adorned a side aisle of Westminster Abbey, peering out through a haze of graffiti engraved upon his pane by mischievous tourists with diamond rings.

As one with a pathological devotion to walking through London’s sidestreets and byways, seeking to avoid the main roads wherever possible, these glass slides of the forgotten corners of London – used long ago by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society for magic lantern shows at the Bishopsgate Institute - hold a special appeal for me. I have elaborate routes across the city which permit me to walk from one side to the other exclusively by way of the back streets and I discover all manner of delights neglected by those who solely inhabit the broad thoroughfares.

And so it is with many of these extraordinary pictures that show us the things which usually nobody bothers to photograph. There are a lot of glass slides of the exterior of Buckingham Palace in the collection but, personally, I am much more interested in the roof space above Richard III’s palace of Crosby Hall that once stood in Bishopsgate, and in the unlikely  paraphernalia which accumulated in the crypt of the Carmelite Monastery or the Cow Shed at the Tower of London, a hundred years ago. These pictures satisfy my perverse curiosity to visit the spaces closed off to visitors at historic buildings, in preference to seeing the public rooms.

Within these forgotten corners, there are always further mysteries to be explored. I wonder who pitched a teepee in the undergrowth next to the moat at Fulham Palace in 192o. I wonder if that is a cannon or a chimney pot abandoned in the crypt at the Carmelite monastery. I wonder why that man had a bucket, a piece of string and a plank inside the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. I wonder what those fat books were next to the stove in the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries’ shop. I wonder who was pulling that girl out of the photograph in Woolwich Gardens. I wonder who put that dish in the roof of Crosby Hall. I wonder why Charles II had no legs. The pictures set me wondering.

It is what we cannot know that endows these photographs with such poignancy. Like errant pieces from lost jigsaws, they inspire us to imagine the full picture that we shall never be party to.

Tiltyard Gate, Eltham Palace, c. 1930

Refuse collecting at London Zoo, c. 1910

Passage in Highgate, c. 1910

Westminster Dust Carts, c. 1910

The Jewel Tower, Westminster, 1921

Fifteenth century brickwork at Charterhouse Wash House, c1910

Middle Temple Lane, c. 1910

Carmelite monastery crypt, c. 1910

The Moat at Fulham Palace, c. 1920

Clifford’s Inn, c. 1910

Top of inner dome at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1920

Apothecaries’ Hall Quadrangle, c. 1920

Worshipful Company of Apothecaries’ Shop, c.1920

Unidentified destroyed building near St Paul’s, c. 1940

Merchant Taylors’ Hall, c. 1920

Crouch End Old Baptist Chapel, c. 1900

Woolwich Gardens, c. 1910

The roof of Crosby Hall, Richard III’s palace in Bishopsgate , c. 1910

Refreshment stall in St James’ Park, c. 1910

River Wandle at Wandsworth, c. 1920

Corridor at Battersea Rise House, c. 1900

Tram emerging from the Kingsway Tunnel, c. 1920

Between the interior and exterior domes at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1920

Fossilised tree trunk on Tooting Common, c. 1920

St Dunstan-in-the-East, 1911

Cow shed at the Queen’s House, Tower of London, c. 1910

Boundary marks for St Benet Gracechurch, St Andrew Hubbard and St Dionis Backchurch in Talbot Court, c. 1910

Lincoln’s Inn gateway seen from Old Hall, c. 1910

St Bride’s Fleet St, c. 1920

Glass slides copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Nights of Old London

The Ghosts of Old London

The Dogs of Old London

The Signs of Old London

The Markets of Old London

The Pubs of Old London

The Doors of Old London

The Staircases of Old London

The High Days & Holidays of Old London

The Dinners of Old London

The Shops of Old London

The Streets of Old London

The Fogs & Smogs of Old London

The Chambers of Old London

The Tombs of Old London

The Bridges of Old London

15 Responses leave one →
  1. January 18, 2013

    middle temple lane looks like diagon alley. And it’s reassuring to know that there once was a place where a cow could get a cup of tea. Fascinating to see the hidden parts of London, some so countrified. As the buildings grow, the ancient and the green are gradually lost. These photos are a valuable reminder of the old fabric of this wonderful city.

  2. January 18, 2013

    Thank you for posting these wonderful photos.
    You are so right in that it’s what we can never know about them which lends them poignancy. Each one contains the ghosts of so many stories.

    Got my morning smile from the self-serve (?) refreshment stall.

  3. Jorge permalink
    January 18, 2013

    Hello from Spain

    I just came to your blog and tell you I have fascinated. Congratulations for the quality and so well done that mixture of past and present.

    It gives me an event every time I go to your blog.

    Thank you.

  4. January 18, 2013

    Wonderful pictures, gives a real sense of old London

  5. January 18, 2013

    I agree with you G.A , it is the overlooked , the spaces inbetween ,the mysterious and magical that interest me too and thank you for sharing these glorious overlooked moments in time with us, they indeed are very rewarding.
    One can only imagine the delight you feel in the Bishopgate Institute library.
    By the way,on a rare enough trip back to London, I spent a glorious hour and a half in the fine company of Mr P.Gardner (market sundriesman and purveyor of gentleness and kindness) what a sanctuary !………..,itself much much more than a sum of its parts.

  6. January 18, 2013

    An absolute gem of a post. Thanks for sharing! :)

  7. January 18, 2013

    Simply wonderful. Thank you again for digging up such treasures and sharing them with us.

  8. Maggie permalink
    January 18, 2013

    Wonderful to have you back Gentle Author. I’ve missed your daily blogs.

  9. TokyoDon permalink
    January 18, 2013

    Love this post. Thanks GA.

  10. Bob Gladding permalink
    January 18, 2013

    Great evocative photographs. Strange banner on the right in the Kingsway Tunnel tram photo which appears to say “SEE IF THE MIDLAND FURNISHES…..” (what I wonder?). Couldn’t help but notice St Brides slide was printed in reverse……but doesn’t really matter. Thanks & welcome back GA.

  11. January 19, 2013

    Thank you for sharing these really fascinating and evocative photographs!

  12. January 20, 2013

    Those two domes leave me breathless.

  13. Colin permalink
    January 21, 2013

    The photo for the ‘Bar at a Livery Company, c.1920′ is in fact a shop for the Worshipful company of Apothecaries, it would have sold all manner of apothecaries’ medicines and ingredients.

    Thanks for sharing, very enjoyable.

  14. Prasad permalink
    August 14, 2013

    Hello, I m from India ( Bombay ).

    The pics are fascinating…..I was surprised that details in some of the pics are very similar to those in old buldings / streets of Bombay.

  15. Pauline Allen permalink
    January 7, 2014

    Oh Wow! Such treasures.

    I used to work up the City, in the 60′s.
    I was always fascinated by the lanes,
    passages and ancient buildings. Still
    am.

    Thank you for such wonderful photo’s.

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