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The Gentle Author in Piccadilly

January 28, 2014
by the gentle author

Next week, I shall be climbing aboard a number twenty-three bus at Liverpool St Station and going up west to alight in Piccadilly Circus, then walking down Piccadilly to just where this photograph was taken and entering Joseph Edgerton’s modernist shop front of 1935 that you can see on the right.

Originally opened as Simpsons of Piccadilly, today it is Britain’s largest Waterstones bookshop where I shall be giving a MAGIC LANTERN SHOW at 7pm next Wednesday 5th February showing one hundred of my favourite photographs of London old and new, selected from more than sixteen thousand pictures I have published on these pages, and telling the stories of the people and the places. It is my honour to present this as the inaugural event in The London Salon and tickets are free but should be reserved by emailing events.piccadilly@waterstones.com

Contemplating my trip to the West End inspired me to take a look through the collection of thousands of glass slides, once used for education lectures by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society around a century ago at the Bishopsgate Institute, and show you these old photographs of Piccadilly.

Piccadilly Circus was my first view of London as I ascended the steep staircase from the underground on the western side and later, when I came to reside here, I felt that unless I went through Piccadilly at least weekly I was not really living in London. Stephen Spender once told me that he also enjoyed passing through Piccadilly and the thrill of feeling that he was at the centre of the world and – although I hardly ever seem to go there these days – whenever I see the cylindrical structure at the core of Piccadilly Circus, I still cannot resist the notion that it is the hub around which the earth revolves.

Rush hour in Piccadilly c.1900

Piccadilly Circus, c.1900

Piccadilly Circus in the fog, c1910

Piccadilly Circus, c.1880

Piccadilly Circus, c.1930

In Piccadilly Circus, c. 1910

In Piccadilly, c.1920

In Regent St, c.1900

Outside the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, c.1930

Old shop in Haymarket, c. 1900

The Haymarket Theatre, c.1900

The Ritz Hotel, c. 1900

Commissionaire, c. 1930

Piccadilly and Green Park, c.1890

Walking down Piccadilly beside Green Park at the time of Victoria’s Jubilee, 1897

Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner, c.1910

Strolling at Hyde Park Corner, c.1920

St James Palace, c. 1900

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S MAGIC LANTERN SHOW, Waterstones Bookshop in Piccadilly, 7pm Wednesday 5th February

You may also like to take a look at

The Lantern Slides of Old London

The Nights 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

The Forgotten Corners of Old London

The Thames of Old London

The Statues & Effigies of Old London

The City Churches of Old London

The Docks of Old London

The Tower of Old London

The Loneliness of Old London

St Paul’s of Old London

17 Responses leave one →
  1. January 28, 2014

    When I was 8, our family came to London to see the film Oliver!

    My earliest memory of London is that visit. We were going round Piccadilly Circus in a red London bus and my Dad pointed to a young woman on the street in a big floppy purple hat. ‘There’s a hippy’ he said and at that precise moment I fell in love with London.

    Good luck with the show x

  2. Greg Tingey permalink
    January 28, 2014

    the first picture is fascinsating – it shows a solitary open-staircase bus, whilst the rest are all fully-enclosed – so when was that taken? It could be just post-war, when a few were kept, because of a bus shortage …
    Please do tell!

  3. Linda permalink
    January 28, 2014

    Wonderful images, thank you

  4. January 28, 2014

    Fantastic! — I saw Piccadilly Circus first in 1978 and had much the same feelings as you… My intent was to find the shop “Musique Boutique”(doesn’t exist anymore?) in Shaftebury Ave. There I detected a lot of pop books about David Bowie, my favorite star at these times (what he is still today!).

    It’s too bad — I haven’t got time to come to London these days. Please: write a report on the photo show!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

    PS: Found a nice link:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/constructionandproperty/8555771/Piccadilly-Lights-a-history-in-pictures.html

  5. Roger Lewis permalink
    January 28, 2014

    Thank you GA. Wonderful photographs. After leaving school in 1963 my first job was at an art reproductions firm off Piccadilly. I would spend my lunch hour strolling along the backdoubles leading to Piccadilly Circus. Sometimes after work I would meet my Dad who worked at Hector Powe, Regent Street. We would arrange to catch the 38 bus together from Piccadilly back to our council flat in Islington. Happy memories.

  6. January 28, 2014

    How fun! The structures haven’t changed so much at all. I can see Mrs. Dalloway among the throngs.

  7. Malcolm Woods permalink
    January 28, 2014

    The Old Shop In The Haymarket – No.34 – was, for many years, the home of Fribourg and Treyer, tobacconists – http://londonstreetviews.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/fribourg-and-treyer-tobacconists/ – and is now a shop offering a wide selection of tourist goods. It is grade II* listed, principally for its fine surviving C18 shopfront, and retains many early shopfittings. The National Heritage List description is as follows: “Terrace house with drop. c.1741 with late C.18 shop front and interior. Brown brick, concealed roof. 4 storeys (top floor as attic storey) and basement. 2 windows wide. Ground floor has good late C.18 double shop front with central shop door and house door to right,both panelled with patterned fanlights, the display windows, with original glazing bars to the small panes, prominently bowed either side of doorway with entablature fascia over. Upper floors have recessed glazing bar sashes under flat red brick gauged arches. Stone modillion cornice over 2nd floor, parapet with coping. The shop interior retains late C.18 fittings (counter, shelving etc.) with Adam style wooden screen to the rear position. Survey of London; Vol. XX.”

  8. John Campbell permalink
    January 28, 2014

    Some more on your conversations with Stephen Spender would be very welcome at some point.
    I remember my mum taking me on a red tube train to Piccadilly on my first visit from the tranquil NW suburbs to the real London. I remember climbing the station stairs and stepping out blinking into the daylight and just being overwhelmed by the speed, colours, and immensity of it all. Then we went of to Simpsons and Lillywhites. Happy memories!

  9. Classof65 permalink
    January 29, 2014

    Break a leg!

  10. Ellen in NEW England permalink
    January 29, 2014

    Great photos and stories, and I am sad to miss the magic lantern show.

    I am sorry to disappoint you, but the actual Hub of the Universe is Boston, Massachusetts (USA). The Center of the Universe is Grand Central Terminal, in New York City. You can tell by the ceiling there. Picadilly must be something a little different. ;)

    Best wishes from NEW England.

  11. Stephen Barker permalink
    January 29, 2014

    Surely the centre of the world is Greenwich on the meridian.

  12. January 29, 2014

    When I moved to London in 1992 there were still old ladies selling Nottingham lace outside what was then Tower Records. They seemed to vanish overnight.

  13. Jill permalink
    January 30, 2014

    Good luck with the lantern show ‘up west’ – love that phrase. The photos are fascinating; the Ritz looks so French! I can remember visiting McDonalds in the Haymarket in the mid 1970s (I think) when it first opened, it seemed so exciting.

  14. Roger Lewis permalink
    February 5, 2014

    Dear GA, Within the theme of Piccadilly I thought you and your readers might enjoy this song by the man who wrote ‘Lord of the Dance.’

    EROS Sydney Carter (1915-2004; tune: “Yankee Doodle”
    Performed by the Spinners; John Foreman; Mike Sparks

    1. Me father was a Cupid and me mother pushed a barrer.
    I was born in Piccadilly, with a bow and arrer.

    CHORUS: One leg up and one leg down, like an old cock sparrer,
    Flying over Piccadilly with me bow and arrer.

    2. Caesar came to London Town, thought the girls were pretty.
    Look at all those Roman noses, walking round the City.

    CHORUS

    3. Up the river came a load of whiskers long and flaxen.
    If your eyes are china blue, then blame it on a Saxon.

    CHORUS

    4. Up the river came a Viking, out for blood and thunder,
    Saw a lady to his liking, then began to plunder.

    CHORUS

    5. William came to conquer us, then we got the Yanks, sir;
    So, if you look like Georgie Bush, then you know who to thank, sir.

    CHORUS

    6. I’ve got feathers on me back, and arrers in me quiver,
    Just because me father came a-flying up the river.

    CHORUS

    7. Where’s your Cockney pedigree? I’m surprised you asked it.
    Cos, everybody’s been and put a bun into the basket!

    CHORUS

  15. Chris Garner permalink
    January 21, 2015

    Message for Roger Lewis,
    Would your father still be alive?
    I am trying to trace employees at the Bishopsgate branch of Hector Powe.
    Thanks

  16. February 11, 2015

    I stumbled on this request for former employees at Hector Powe’s, 50 Bishopsgate.
    Yes, I worked there in my early life. London, at that branch of Hector Powe, was
    always full of bankers and stockbrokers from Threadneedle St. and yes, the occasional
    salty cockney who had found success in his business world. The clients came from
    a variety of backgrounds seeking classic British styling, many of whom could do justice
    to the characters of the bowler hat brigade, depicted by the hilarious John Cleese.
    Write should you seek more information of daily life in the world of Hector Powe.
    For me, I gained some great lessons in life which contributed to my success in later years.

    K.Baker

  17. Chris Garner permalink
    February 17, 2015

    Kenneth,
    Appreciate you responding. I am probably clutching at straws but my natural father worked there, I think as a Manager, before, during and possibly after WW11.
    His name was Eric Burningham.
    Do you have any information on him, however meagre?
    Many thanks
    Chris Garner.

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