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Nights In Old London

October 14, 2016
by the gentle author

The nights are drawing in and I can feel the velvet darkness falling upon London. As dusk gathers in the ancient churches and the dusty old museums in the late afternoon, the distinction between past and present becomes almost permeable at this time of year. Then, once the daylight fades and the streetlights flicker into life, I feel the desire to go walking out into the dark in search of the nights of old London.

Examining hundreds of glass plates – many more than a century old – once used by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society for magic lantern shows at the Bishopsgate Institute, I am in thrall to these images of night long ago in London. They set my imagination racing with nocturnal visions of the gloom and the glamour of our city in darkness, where mist hangs in the air eternally, casting an aura round each lamp, where the full moon is always breaking through the clouds and where the recent downpour glistens upon every pavement – where old London has become an apparition that coalesced out of the fog.

Somewhere out there, they are loading the mail onto trains, and the presses are rolling in Fleet St, and the lorries are setting out with the early editions, and the barrows are rolling into Spitalfields and Covent Garden, and the Billingsgate porters are running helter-skelter down St Mary at Hill with crates of fish on their heads, and the horns are blaring along the river as Tower Bridge opens in the moonlight to admit another cargo vessel into the crowded pool of London. Meanwhile, across the empty city, Londoners slumber and dream while footsteps of lonely policemen on the beat echo in the dark deserted streets.

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Read my other nocturnal stories

Night at the Beigel Bakery

On Christmas Night in the City

On the Rounds With the Spitalfields Milkman

Other stories 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

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Constance Pierce permalink
    October 14, 2016

    Gentle Author ~
    I find I am “in thrall” to the apparitions and images of your poetic vision ~
    I can sense the nocturnal mysteries of old London emerge, as if I were there.

  2. Janet permalink
    October 14, 2016

    Lovely. Very evocative.

  3. October 14, 2016

    Exquisite and atmospheric, how talented were these photographers.

  4. October 14, 2016

    Just goes to show you, Instagram isn’t needed to take stunning photography.

  5. David Fitzgerald permalink
    October 14, 2016

    Lovely Photos. What is that giant statue of two Lions and Britannia (?) on top of Selfridges for? Amazing!

  6. Milo bell permalink
    October 14, 2016

    Brilliant. I so miss London. Stop it.

  7. Barbara H permalink
    October 14, 2016

    wonderful, wonderful pictures. what struck me is the lack of light pollution. London is never that dark now, nor so empty. some amazing skies captured too. more like the
    London of my youth.

  8. Susan lendroth permalink
    October 14, 2016

    If only there were a door to open into Londons past… But at least we have your blog and those images and the magic of imagination.

  9. October 14, 2016

    I can imagine these scenes populated by characters from the pens of Stella Gibbons, Sarah Waters, Anthony Quinn and, especially, Kate Atkinson’s heroine from Life After Life. Atmospheres like these cry out for stories I can read curled up beside the fire in late October and November.

  10. October 14, 2016

    You captured exactly how I feel about walking around in London at night. The mysterious, soft, beautiful words couldn’t have described my feelings better. I think this my favorite post of yours so far. :)

  11. Malcolm permalink
    October 15, 2016

    I have walked in many cities at night – Moscow, Vienna, Paris, Madrid and Berlin to name a few, but none can match the magical nights in London. They all have their great buildings and monuments but none has the same magic as London by night. As an inveterate night time walker I love to wander the highways and byways of the night time streets of wherever I am. There is poetry and mystery abounding in London’s streets, especially in winter when the dark filigree branches of the great Plane trees hang like black lace above the parks and squares of Bloomsbury and Holborn; when the great buildings are lit up and bathed in warm light and mysterious shadows. There are quiet lanes and alleys hidden amongst the thronging thoroughfares of the West End, there are silent Churchyards and quiet corners in the City of London itself. But the nights in London take on an unrivalled majestic beauty when it rains. To walk along the glittering Strand from Trafalgar Square, around the Aldwych and along Fleet Street to St. Paul’s in the rain is one of life’s greatest pleasures. A stroll along the Embankment from Lambeth Bridge to Blackfriars beneath an umbrella is to be a Londoner for me. No other city can match London at night.

  12. touchstone permalink
    October 16, 2016

    The whole of London is being raped by developers. The fascinating, beautiful, characterful cityscape that I have adored all of my life is being wrecked and replaced by shopping malls, apartment complexes, and office units. This is happening at such a scale and pace that it amounts to an all-out assault on he identity and history of our capital city. There is hardly anything left. London is being destroyed before our eyes.

  13. touchstone permalink
    October 16, 2016

    “Brilliant. I so miss London. Stop it.”

    I miss London too. And I live here.

  14. October 16, 2016

    Thank you for another wonderful post and magnificently evocative pictures.

  15. October 17, 2016

    One of my favourite posts, lovely. One of my favourite haunts at dusk/night was St James Park, watching and listening to the water fowl readying themselves for the night, a very beautiful place I used to cycle to on bored Sunday evenings as a teenager.

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