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Streets Of Old London

February 18, 2016
by the gentle author

Piccadilly, c. 1900

In my mind, I live in old London as much as I live in the contemporary London of here and now. Maybe I have spent too much time looking at old photographs – such as these glass slides once used for magic lantern shows by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Institute?

Old London exists to me through photography almost as vividly as if I had actual memory of a century ago. Consequently, when I walk through the streets of London today, I am especially aware of the locations that have changed little over this time. And, in my mind’s eye,  these streets of old London are peopled by the inhabitants of the photographs.

Yet I am not haunted by the past, rather it is as if we Londoners in the insubstantial present are the fleeting spirits while – thanks to photography – those people of a century ago occupy these streets of old London eternally. The pictures have frozen their world forever and, walking in these same streets today, my experience can sometimes be akin to that of a visitor exploring the backlot of a film studio long after the actors have gone.

I recall my terror at the incomprehensible nature of London when I first visited the great metropolis from my small city in the provinces. But now I have lived here long enough to have lost that diabolic London I first encountered in which many of the great buildings were black, still coated with soot from the days of coal fires.

Reaching beyond my limited period of residence in the capital, these photographs of the streets of old London reveal a deeper perspective in time, setting my own experience in proportion and allowing me to feel part of the continuum of the ever-changing city.

Ludgate Hill, c. 1920

Holborn Viaduct, c. 1910

Trinity Almshouses, Mile End Rd, c. 1920

Throgmorton St, c. 1920

Highgate Forge, Highgate High St, 1900

Bangor St, Kensington, c. 1900

Ludgate Hill, c. 1910

Walls Ice Cream Vendor, c. 1920

Ludgate Hill, c. 1910

Strand Yard, Highgate, 1900

Eyre St Hill, Little Italy, c. 1890

Muffin man, c. 1910

Seven Dials, c. 19o0

Fetter Lane, c. 1910

Piccadilly Circus, c. 1900

St Clement Danes, c. 1910

Hoardings in Knightsbridge, c. 1935

Wych St, c.1890

Dustcart, c. 1910

At the foot of the Monument, c. 1900

Pageantmaster Court, Ludgate Hill, c. 1930

Holborn Circus, 1910

Cheapside, 1890

Cheapside ,1892

Cheapside with St Mary Le Bow, 1910

Regent St, 1900

Glass slides courtesy 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

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Mem permalink
    February 18, 2016

    They are so wonderful to see . It really strikes me how dirty everything was , The Muffin man was not a particularly hygienic looking chap !! I imagine he wouldn’t have been given a permit to sell anything these days !.

  2. Sara permalink
    February 18, 2016

    I love how the old photos are all so full of people – there’s a perfect balance of people and places. If you look at photos today (*sweeping statement warning*), they are either just people or just places, but never seem to be such great observations of everyday normality.

  3. Pamela V. Cullen permalink
    February 18, 2016

    In the photo of Pageantmaster Court, you will see opposite the shopfront of Hope Brothers: next door and above the shop was their tie factory, making silk ties. My uncle, Leonard Dix ran this factory and was the silk buyer as well, and later on the board of directors of the firm. His great-grandmother and my great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Fleming nee Hanchard was a Huguenot and a silk-weaver, as were two of her daughters, in Spitalfields. He bought silk mainly from Spitalfields firms which had moved to Sudbury and Macclesfield, as well as from Italy and Switzerland. I used to visit the factory regularly and have some of his silk souvenirs, which include a piece of the silk used for the Queen’s coronation robe.

  4. February 18, 2016

    Wonderful photos. I grew up in the smoke blackened London of the post war era. It may look cleaner now, but a lot of character has gone, too. Valerie

  5. Sue Condon permalink
    February 18, 2016

    Wonderful photos, really enjoyed seeing these, the closest you can get to going back in time. Love your website so much!

  6. February 18, 2016

    A good friend of mine uses the word “muchness” from time to time. As I peered at these remarkable photos this morning, it was the ONE word that floated to the top. Muchness.
    There is so much to see, consider, speculate about, squint at, observe, enjoy, and celebrate.
    Perhaps due to my upbringing in a so-called “gritty city” of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania ( once known as “Hell with the Lid Off”) I am enthralled with the layers and accumulations that appear
    in these photos. A living breathing fiercely-inhabited (amazing!) city. Long may she wave.

  7. dave whittaker permalink
    February 18, 2016

    WONDERFUL Thank You

  8. Roger C permalink
    February 18, 2016

    TGA’s done it again :) Another great post from the GA. I never tire of these old London photos, they take me back to a time before ‘my’ London.

  9. Patty/NS, Canada permalink
    February 18, 2016

    My great-grandfather,on my Dad’s side, was first a stable man then became a milkman for a dairy in East London. I can only imagine the traffic of horse carriages and delivery wagons along with foot traffic he went through everyday. Thanks for another great post that brings the past alive.

  10. Stephen Barker permalink
    February 18, 2016

    I am interested with the photo of Fetter Lane, Some of the buildings look like they could date from the Seventeenth Century.

  11. February 18, 2016

    You can spend ages peering at one single photo and see a whole variety of objects and things going on. Whenever I see old cine film – or photos – I always pick out one, seemingly insignificant, person who may be in the background… and start wondering about the details of their life…

  12. Gary Horton permalink
    February 19, 2016

    I am a film maker. I am constantly astounded by every single image of old London I ever see, either in books, here on your excellent site or looking at old film reels as well as experiencing all the photographs often displayed in the pubs and cafes and numerous restaurants all over various parts of London. I often share the view as many other comments indicate, that one has enjoyed a time elapsed glimpse into the past by looking at old photos. They always to me it seems, to be so vividly captured with such clarity by the street photographers of times long gone. They never fail to amaze me! I plan to make the ultimate turn of the century story as an epic definitive London based film one day that truly captures, through the medium of film, by utilizing to the maximum effect, all the astounding technology of high definition visual effects available now that will totally re-create the visual feast that was London of the 1900′s …..no expense spared. thats my dream film project.

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