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The Ghosts of Old London

December 26, 2010
by the gentle author

Click to enlarge this photograph

To dispel my disappointment that I cannot rent that Room to Let in Old Aldgate, I find myself returning to scrutinize the collection of pictures taken by the Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London held in the archive at the Bishopsgate Institute. It gives me great pleasure to look closely and see the loaves of bread in the window and read the playbills on the wall in this photograph of a shop in Macclesfield St in 1883. The slow exposures of these photographs included fine detail of inanimate objects, just as they also tended to exclude people who were at work and on the move but, in spite of this, the more I examine these pictures the more inhabited they become.

On the right of this photograph, you see a woman and a boy standing on the step. She has adopted a sprightly pose of self-presentation with a jaunty hand upon the hip, while he looks hunched and ill at ease. But look again, another woman is partially visible, standing in the shop doorway. She has chosen not to be portrayed in the photograph, yet she is also present. Look a third time – click on the photograph above to enlarge it – and you will see a man’s face in the window. He has chosen not to be portrayed in the photograph either, instead he is looking out at the photograph being taken. He is looking at the photographer. He is looking at us, returning our gaze. Like the face at the window pane in “The Turn of the Screw,” he challenges us with his visage. Unlike the boy and the woman on the right, he has not presented himself to the photographer’s lense, he has retained his presence and his power. Although I shall never know who he is, or his relationship to the woman in the doorway, or the nature of their presumed conversation, yet I cannot look at this picture now without seeing him as the central focus of the photograph. He haunts me. He is one of the ghosts of old London.

It is the time of year when I think of ghosts, when shadows linger in old houses and a silent enchantment reigns over the empty streets. Let me be clear, I am not speaking of supernatural agency, I am speaking of the presence of those who are gone. At Christmas, I always remember those who are absent this year, and I put up all the cards previously sent by my mother and father, and other loved ones, in fond remembrance. Similarly, in the world around me, I recall the indicators of those who were here before me, the worn step at the entrance to the former night shelter in Crispin St and the eighteenth century graffiti at the entrance to St Pauls Cathedral, to give but two examples. And these photographs also provide endless plangent details for contemplation, such as the broken windows and the shabby clothing strung up to dry at the Oxford Arms, both significant indicators of a certain way of life.

To me, these fascinating photographs are doubly haunted. The spaces are haunted by the people who created these environments in the course of their lives, culminating in buildings in which the very fabric evokes the presence of their inhabitants, because many are structures worn out with usage. And equally, the photographs are haunted by the anonymous Londoners who are visible in them, even if their images were incidental to the purpose of these photographs as an architectural record.

The pictures that capture people absorbed in the moment touch me most – like the porter resting his basket at the corner of Friday St – because there is a compelling poetry to these inconsequential glimpses of another age, preserved here for eternity, especially when the buildings themselves have been demolished over a century ago. These fleeting figures, many barely in focus, are the true ghosts of old London and if we can listen, and study the details of their world, they bear authentic witness to our past.

Two girls lurk in the yard behind this old house in the Palace Yard, Lambeth.

A woman turns the corner into Wych St.

A girl watches from a balcony at the Oxford Arms while boys stand in the shadow below.

At the Oxford Arms, 1875.

At the entrance to the Oxford Arms – the Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London was set up to save the Oxford Arms, yet it failed in the endeavour, preserving only this photographic record.

A relaxed gathering in Drury Lane.

A man turns to look back in Drury Lane, 1876.

At the back of St Bartholomew’s, Smithfield, 1877.

In Gray’s Inn Lane.

A man peers from the window of a chemists’ at the corner of Lower James St and Brewer St.

A lone policeman on duty in High Holborn, 1878.

A gentleman in Barnard’s Inn.

At White Hart Inn yard.

At Queen’s Inn yard.

A woman lingers in front of the butcher in Borough High St, Southwark.

In Aldgate.

A porter puts down his basket in the street at the corner of Cheapside and Friday St.

In Fleet St.

The Old Bell, Holborn

At the corner of  Fore St and Milton St.

Doorways on Lawrence Pountney Hill.

A conversation at the entrance to Inner Temple, Fleet St.

Images copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You can see more pictures from the Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London here In Search of Relics of Old London

154 Responses leave one →
  1. betsy permalink
    December 26, 2010

    What extraordinary photographs, reminding us of the mortality of mankind…..

  2. Wellwynder permalink
    December 26, 2010

    Magnificent photos. Such incredible buildings – you could hardly believe that a city would allow those to disappear. And a wonderful selection of the shadows of old Londoners. As you suggest, there’s a definite shade of the Peter Quints about the man in the shop window of that top photo. Is it a mark on the print, or do I see the slight glint of a military cap badge there?

  3. the gentle author permalink*
    December 26, 2010

    I think you are right. Maybe he’s a policeman?

  4. December 26, 2010

    Thank you for these wonderful imagges. As a family historian, I adore looking at old photos especially of areas and scenes that my ancestors may have been familiar with.

    Some may think I’m odd but I love nothing better than meandering through old graveyards, reading the inscriptions upon the stones and imagining how the inhabitants lived their daily lives.

  5. December 26, 2010

    Thank you for these truly amazing photographs! How I wish I might have a Tardis! btw Janet, if you are odd so am I. I enjoy ‘meandering’ thru old graveyards, trying to connect with those who once lived in our world. You can learn a lot from the tributes.

  6. the gentle author permalink*
    December 26, 2010

    Dear Janet & Bru, May I presume to join this informal association of graveyard meanderers?

    kind regards to you both from The Gentle Author

  7. Nina permalink
    December 26, 2010

    These photographs are like a good book, you watch them and they suddenly disappear… or is it you ? Then you feel like you are in that street, you know that barber, this policeman, this corner.

    I love this blog.

  8. December 26, 2010

    I recently began following this blog and I am fascinated, I love it!

  9. Chris F permalink
    December 26, 2010

    If you look closely at the photo with the woman outside of the butchers shop and then look at the man to her right, you can just make out the faintest impression of another man standing to the left of him. You can see his shadow on the path and the visible man appears to be looking at him. Also in the ‘Fleet Street’ picture, just in front of the book shop window, you can see the face of what looks like a small girl? You can see her face clearly but her body is a shadow. If you look in front of the girl, then I believe that you can see the ghostly image of a portly man. I love these old photos, thanks for posting them.

  10. melbournegirl permalink
    December 26, 2010

    This blog is a constant delight, and your tributes to a place where people have lived and laughed and worked and suffered and loved for so long are an inspiration. It brings back a London that is lost but is also constantly being re-born. Many thanks.

  11. Ros permalink
    December 27, 2010

    this post is as superb as yesterday’s! The power of the writing matches the intensity experienced from studying the photos

  12. jeannette permalink
    December 27, 2010

    this reminded me of the extraordinary passages in Ackroyd’s Dickens (d. 1870) where the author actually encounters to ghost of dickens:

    “You remember so much.”
    “I remember
    everything.” He inhaled deeply. “Even the smells are the same. It is always the smell which brings back the truest memory.” For a moment I might have believed that tears has started up in his eyes but, instead, he burst out laughing. “I was just thinking,” he went on, “of what that child said when he saw you.”
    “I recall no child.”
    “He came up behind you when you first stopped to talk to me. I noticed him at once.” All the time I had been talking to Dickens during those first moments I had observed nothing, and he himself had given no sign. “He said, when he stood behind you, ‘What a shocking bad hat!'” Then he laughed again. “Nothing like a street child to see the comedy of life. Even here.” And you, I thought, you too were once a street child. And now you might be king of this little island of misery around us. “Yes, a child,” he went on. “No home should be without one. Excellent in novels, too.” And I could have sworn that, when he turned towards me, he actually winked — a brief, funny wink — although it might have been a trick of the waning light. We walked together a little more but gradually his footsteps grew faster, leaving me further and further behind. The last I saw of him was when his slight, slender figure was swallowed up in the dusk.

    — Peter Ackroyd, Dickens, pp. 307-8

  13. Anne permalink
    December 28, 2010

    These photographs are absolutely wonderful. I must be crazy but I would love to step back in time and walk those streets. It was a treat to see Borough High Street. I worked there for 20 years and I still walk down that street nearly every day – it looked better over 100 years ago! Thanks for putting them up.

  14. Fiona permalink
    December 28, 2010

    I too love meandering around old graveyards and taking photos of the overgrown tombs/headstones. There’s nothing macabre in it-more a way of trying to connect with people who have gone before you!

  15. December 28, 2010

    Superb. Shows that the medium of photography peaked very early.

  16. Nigel permalink
    December 28, 2010

    A completely wonderful set of photographs! I wished I could climb into them and explore.

    The photograph of a policeman in High Holborn looks like it could be Shervingtons the tobacconists at number 337-8. Here is a small photograph of how it looks now.

    It was modernised somewhat in the 1930s but still looks like it’s from a different era to the rest of High Holborn. An old trade directory might tell us where in High Holborn John S Fowler’s shop was, although High Holborn itself was renumbered in the 1930s.

  17. December 28, 2010

    Thanks for this wonderful Xmastime trip down memory lane. The journey through the city on Xmas night made this Londoner’s Boxing Day here in California!

  18. ottocrat permalink
    December 28, 2010

    “Such incredible buildings – you could hardly believe that a city would allow those to disappear.”

    I don’t know that the Luftwaffe gave the city much choice in the matter.

  19. CarolDC permalink
    December 30, 2010

    What a great collection of images!! But it wasn’t the Luftwaffe, it was late 19th and early 20th-century city planners and improvers, who put paid to these buildings. As our gentle author points out elsewhere, these photographs were taken to record buildings at imminent risk of demolition. Many others like them had already disappeared, and those shown here were almost all gone long before 1940. Gareth Steadman Jones’s “Outcast London” is fascinating on the human impact of the slum clearances in the mid to late 19th century.

  20. December 30, 2010

    Just a quick note to say how much I am enjoying looking at these wonderful photos.

  21. Innocent Bystander permalink
    January 2, 2011

    I’ve just spent the past hour enjoying these photos after having tripped and stumbled into your (delightful) blog by way of googling Christ Church, Spitalfields and The Ten Bells pub.

    With a ‘tip of the hat’ to “jeannette”, upstream, I’ll look forward to reading Ackroyd’s ‘Dickens’ after having read his ‘London’ and ‘Thames’ books this past summer.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the oddness and strangeness of ‘what was’ versus ‘what is now’ and, during these past four years, after having discovered the magic of genealogy and then the avalanche of ancient London relatives that I never, previously, knew that I had, I find that I can easily step inside these photos of yours and have them come alive for me in ways that enrich my comprehension of what we think of as “time” and “change”.

    Thank you for acting on your impulse to begin a blog like this, ‘gentle author’; you made a good decision – and I, for one, am the better for it.

  22. January 4, 2011

    Great material, very interesting. The people look like dolls, though. Especially that girl, in the picture #4.

  23. January 4, 2011

    ..and the shadows! They look odd too.

  24. January 4, 2011

    Found this site via Twitter. I love these photos. I love architecture anyway, but there is something in how the buildings crowd out everything else that makes them seem more mysterious, even menacing, while the people are tiny and peripheral. And while everything seems so eternal and solid, the viewer knows they’ve been captured in a fleeting moment, and are, sadly, long gone. Magic.

  25. MacDibble permalink
    January 4, 2011

    Such lovely old photos. I like that there are just blurs of people on the move. I saw the same as you, Chris F, but I think the man is talking to a boy who he maybe sends into the shop?

    In the second photo you can see William Barnwell’s ear as he sits possibly at his desk near his upstairs window.

    In the next photo the woman turning into Wych St looks more like a man with a boy on the front of his bicycle (or maybe he holds his hands up either side of the boy for another reason) heading towards the camera. There is a woman standing in the doorway just ahead of them tho with a mannish hat… or perhaps it is a man with something blurred at his legs, just ahead of them. Def looks like a face with a hat in a doorway tho.

    Maybe I’m seeing ghosts. Maybe each photo is different to each of us.

  26. January 4, 2011

    The ghettos of my soul has been touched. Thank you.

  27. KiKi permalink
    January 4, 2011

    Magnificent photos…I especially love those where the people are overlooked at first glance. What an amazing collection. Truly enjoyed…thank you.

  28. January 4, 2011

    Are the captions yours, or from the original photos? Curious about the use of evocative words such as “lurking” and “lingering” and wondered if they were the photographer’s descriptions from the time or your own…

    Great pics, thanks for sharing.

  29. the gentle author permalink*
    January 4, 2011

    These are my captions Claire, drawing attention to the human presence, the pictures come labelled only with locations

  30. January 5, 2011

    Great pictures, which impress!. Dark and mysterious subject matter makes you pass me the shivers. Unique in its simplicity!

  31. DavidR permalink
    January 6, 2011

    These are amazing photographs. You’re right – it’s the details that make them so fascinating. Not just the people, but the advertisements on buildings and the half-hidden objects in the front windows.

    The air of silence that hangs over the pictures is really haunting.

    Thanks for finding and posting them.

  32. January 6, 2011

    Thank you for these wonderful imagges. As a family historian, I adore looking at old photos ;]
    Very Good

  33. January 6, 2011

    That top photo has aother person in it. Not the guy in the doorway, but in the window you can see a man’s face, staring out intensely. It looks almost like a reflection, but he’s got to be inside the building. Truly very ghostly and haunting.

  34. January 6, 2011

    Wow these are great…

  35. JF4design permalink
    January 6, 2011

    Excellent collection of Old London – Thanks for sharing.

  36. Jeff Dakin permalink*
    January 7, 2011

    So many familiar names and places – but would we want to go back to that now?
    Thank you for allowing me to see all the familiar places of 100 years ago.

  37. Jill Hays permalink
    January 8, 2011

    Your passion has given all above and those in the future great interest and expectations of what else is to come Makes one more aware of the life style forebearers lived in so far from

  38. Mr.28 permalink
    January 9, 2011

    The typographer in me loves seeing all the different lettering styles on the posters and shop signs. Wonderful photographs, they genuinely do bring history to life.

  39. robert lockett permalink
    January 9, 2011

    Great pictures; these are the ghosts of the past.

  40. January 10, 2011

    truly amazing shots. emotionally strong images as well as capturing the pure architecture of old london.

  41. Linda Sipe permalink
    January 10, 2011

    My husband and I are dedicated Anglophiles and these photos just reinforce our love for all things British. Oh, how I wish I could talk with those “ghosts” and learn from them what it was like to live in London when they did! The photos bring even more life to such an engaging city. Like others I wonder how those interesting old buildings could have been replaced, but as with all things, the world moves on. Thanks for sharing a glimpse of the past.

  42. January 11, 2011

    Beautiful images. I guess a combination of the Luftwaffe and post war civic planning did for many of the buildings.

  43. Chris permalink
    January 12, 2011

    Just discovered this site, I think it is going to be addictive. I think the doorways on Lawrence Poutney Hill may still be there – Google Earth 51°30’39.16″N 0° 5’19.86″W

  44. January 14, 2011

    The hairdressers in the last photograph is still a hairdressers, although the “groom’s” next door is now a bookshop (or at least it is on Google Street View & it was back in May ’10 when I bought some books there – although they were about to close for refurbishment).
    Very long Google Street View link.
    Fleet Street

  45. Nick permalink
    January 15, 2011

    I bought a copy of Lost London recently, which has prompted me to search for images of a Victorian ancestor’s confectioner’s premises in Fleet Street and his home in St Georges in the East. I haven’t found them yet but I was led to these evocative pictures. Thanks for creating such an interesting site.

  46. Donald Carlton Burns permalink
    January 16, 2011

    These wonderful photos show me a London that was known to my Great Grandfather, William Burns, who was born in London and came to the United States as a young man. I see shadows of this London whenever I look closely to building I pass whilst walking today in London. I have made a list of these streets and locations and will visit them next month when I will make a return trip. I thank the Chief Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Tower of London, John Keohane, for introducing me to this wonderful Web site.

  47. January 18, 2011

    Perhaps its the effect of age on the prints, or on the master image, but under magnification it seems there are blurry images on many of these photos indicating considerable more activity at street level than appears to be the case from a more casual observation. Not knowing the amount of time for the exposures (or the time of day and amount of expected street activity, for that matter) leaves me to speculate that these may be ‘phantoms’ from any person who may not have remained stationary for a moment, as would be the case with most traffic on a street at, say midday, during the work week? To my eyes, these phantoms seem especially evident in front of darker doorways or intersections.

  48. January 20, 2011

    i adore these old pictures. the quality is superb.
    they are even emotional because of the nostalgia.
    dreamy i would say

  49. February 2, 2011

    Great write-up and these old photos are fantastic. It’s incredible how life was and how these buildings seem ghostly even when some of them might still exist. My home town of Sheffield did a pretty good job of clearing many Victorian sites after WW2 but London has thankfully hung onto quite a few!

  50. Gillian permalink
    February 9, 2011

    I wonder what time of day these photographs were taken? Before most people were up maybe. I always imagine London as seething with a mass of humanity. Yet here it seems everyone is hiding! Perhaps they were warey of the camera. In my great – great aunt’s postcard collection everyone is posed and ready. I have a couple of slightly later street scenes replete with people. I will endeavor to attach them…

  51. Barb permalink
    February 12, 2011

    Read ‘The Worst Street in London’ by Fiona Rule don’t let the title put you off, it’s a sympathetic and evocative portrayal of the Spitalfields area over time.
    Love the photos, thank you.

  52. February 23, 2011

    WOW. I’m speechless. These pictures are flawless. Amazing. Thanks so much for posting them. Cheers from Argentina! 🙂

  53. February 25, 2011

    Amazing pictures. Thank you for posting them.

  54. March 18, 2011


    Brilliant pictures, thanks for posting them!

    I have the first picture as a screen saver so it is quite enlarged. Do you think the figure looking out of the window could be a policeman? I think I can see the shape of his helmet and the buttons on his jacket.

  55. March 22, 2011

    Awsome photos. I somehow wished I had been around then. Perhaps we were there in a different dimention or previous life?

  56. March 31, 2011

    Absolutely staggering, mindblowing pictures. I desperately want to build a time machine and go there to take a stroll through those streets.
    Cheers from Buenos Aires!

  57. April 27, 2011

    I really like the butchers shop with the meat hanging off the hooks in the window.

    Who the bleep wants to buy at supermarkets when you can have fresh meat, not pay for packaging AND a local community??????

    I always try and support small shops.

  58. May 23, 2011

    facinating pictures and your captions to the pictures bring them to life.!

  59. May 23, 2011

    thankyou for letting me see these photos,theyre lovely

  60. May 27, 2011

    Beautiful pictures.

    One thing I found interesting was that in the richest city in the world in 1876 there were so many rickety unmaintained buildings along with the huge and grand structures funded by the profits of the Empire.

    Now…if only the photos could capture the smells of London in 1876 it might not seem such an attractive place to time travel to…

  61. Сергей permalink
    June 8, 2011

    Что-то в этом есть теплое, несмотря на гору камня и серые стены. Интересно было бы посмотреть эти же фотографии, но в тумане

  62. June 9, 2011

    What a great collection of times gone by; love old pictures like these. London certainly did look a disheveled place.

  63. Young Bat permalink
    June 18, 2011

    So much of early London survived until the Victorians demolished it. And lots was lost in the World War II. I suppose everything has a sell by date, but still!

  64. LINDA SMITH permalink
    June 21, 2011

    Found your pictures whilst doing a hunt round for pictures of London that might relate to my Family Tree.

    I’m currently looking for Billingsgate, Bermondsey, West Ham, Camberwell and various others.
    Whilst your pictures aren’t what I seek, I found them fascinating. Also the Library in South London, Borough area – it was the area where either Mr Yale or Mr Harvard came from has a brilliant collection in the Library – well worth a look.

    Keep up the work – Are you planning on doing any more? If so – look forward to having a look…………..

  65. Carl Rossini permalink
    July 8, 2011

    My first thought the instant I magnified the picture of the man behind the window was that he was clearly a police officer. If only we could know the story behind it, but we never will. Doubtless something terribly mundane, and yet as real to those four as this chair I am sitting in and the laptop I am typing on now.

    Thank you so much for posting these wonderful photos.

    I love poring over old photos of London with a magnifying glass. I like to imagine that some tiny detail I notice, something that someone in the picture would have seen at that moment, establishes a bond, albeit a gossamer-thin one, between someone in a photo who is long since gone and me. It sounds daft put down on paper, and probably is. Or maybe I have expressed myself badly.

    But thank you again.

  66. Steve permalink
    July 12, 2011

    I was transfixed. Thank you very much indeed

  67. Helen Hay permalink
    July 20, 2011

    It is amazing to read of people who, like me, would love to travel back in time and walk around, see those faces, touch the stone and wood. I used to think I was strange indeed but it seems I am not alone- far from it! This is an absolute treasure. Thank you

  68. August 3, 2011

    this is truly beautiful … after reading this, I spent more than an hour looking over the large versions of these photos – really made me think of things in a different way after reading it

  69. p oconnor permalink
    August 15, 2011

    thankyou for your time in sortin these photos of the old london town ive read so much about there is a book called the stink i beg you to read its of the same pireod

  70. kirsty permalink
    August 24, 2011

    wow what else can i say, other than lovely pictures of the old london. really makes u wonder what they would think of london today?

  71. August 31, 2011

    Just found these from a Tweet! Fantastic; what a treat to see them.

  72. September 7, 2011

    Extraordinary. Thank you so much for finding and posting these incredible photographs. And your haunting introduction. We will all be ghosts in London sooner or later. All those silent voices….those shadowy faces…very evocative.

  73. Gwen permalink
    September 17, 2011

    I came across your beautiful pictures whilst searching for images of Blackfriars and what a treat
    it has been to see them. Although I didn’t find what I was initialy looking for, it has been a wonderful journey back in time. Thank you so much.

  74. Peter Green. permalink
    September 21, 2011

    What a collection of wonderful pictures, they spark memories of my boyhood in Bermondsey. I can’t really add to what other lovely people have already written.

  75. Stacey permalink
    November 15, 2011

    Absolutely fascinating pictures of Old London. Thank you very much!

  76. Clayton permalink
    December 3, 2011

    Fantastic. I could look at old photographs like this all day.

  77. John permalink
    December 10, 2011

    Wonderful, haunting images of London life – what will people say when they look back on our photos in 100 years + ?

  78. December 13, 2011

    I think I saw these photos in an exhibition at Kenwood House, about a year ago. They’re just as moving now as they were then, so thank you for reminding me of them 🙂

  79. Linda A Mountney permalink
    December 14, 2011

    I just love these old photos, thank you so much for going to the trouble of finding them , so good to see.

    So many of my ancestors came from this area during that time and long before that!

  80. LING permalink*
    December 29, 2011

    Looks like old Shanghai.

  81. Peteatseti permalink
    January 10, 2012

    Hello, great photos. London still retains many old buildings but now there is no continuity between the architecture and particular areas: it’s a sort of moderno-Victoriana with occasional glimpses of what went before such as St Helens and the environs or parts of Fleet St. St Paul’s used to be a fabulous part of London with Old Change and Watling St etc; now it’s a ruined skeleton of its former glory although still wonderful. I would have been nice to walk the streets of Georgian London with a smattering of the Medieval as oppose to the former

  82. mike permalink
    January 15, 2012

    Although London was dirtier then, the absence of street furniture,painted markings on the road and the abundance of roadsigns that we have now makes it look tidier and less cluttered. Great photo collection. I can ponder over them for hours!

  83. Heather Payne permalink
    January 22, 2012

    I’m thrilled to see the picture of The Old Bell Inn in Holborn. My mother told me that her father, James Guest, was Head Waiter at that inn before he lost his job due to asthma. He found another job at Lipton’s Warehouse. His misfortune woke him to the tragedy of many working men’s lives and he became a Labour supporter and unionist.

    I’m writing a book that includes details of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives. This blog is a treasurehouse for those who yearn to know more about those years.

    Thank you.

  84. Simon Varley permalink
    January 28, 2012

    Quite remarkable.

    It amazes me how clean it all looks. No litter, packaging anything. In a world before mass marketing it seems so neutral.

    There is a decadence to even the most rundown buildings that is missing in a lot of modern efforts.

  85. January 28, 2012

    Magníficas fotografías, con unos comentarios estupendos, no dejaré de visitar tu página porque tiene un sabor a añejo que, a mi me encanta. Felicidades y muy buen trabajo.

  86. Lola permalink
    January 31, 2012

    “But it wasn’t the Luftwaffe, it was late 19th and early 20th-century city planners and improvers, who put paid to these buildings.” And still going on today …. Save old buildings !

  87. March 4, 2012

    What an amazing collection of photographs and I love the stories with them , as well as all the comments… Thank you so much for taking us to a time we will never know , yet as many of us are researchers, we will always feel an affinity with… another graveyard wanderer.

  88. PJ Boereboom permalink
    March 13, 2012

    A truly amazing collection, interesting comments, thank you.

  89. Pauline Elizabeth May Cowie permalink
    March 29, 2012

    Gosh it looks like parts of a movie set …yet that was life then fantastic photo :O)

  90. Louise permalink
    April 9, 2012

    There are some great ghosts of man and city gone by in Atget’s collection of photographs of Paris in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Enjoy!

  91. Andrew permalink
    April 14, 2012

    Beautiful photos, they capture the essence of London at that time. I love this city with all of its charms. Its been burned, it’s been bombed and its been redesigned by every generation that have lived here. Every corner you turn there is something different to look at. There will be a building from the Tudor era and next to it a building from the victorian era and then next to that a 21st century, modern hulk of chrome and glass which, in 200 years time will stand and show the future generations that we were here and we made our mark on this beautiful place too. The thing that I love about London the most is that it is forever changing, evolving and moving forward but the past can always be glimpsed. It has a soul like no other city and yes it may be messy and mismatched but that is why it is so stunning. If every building looked the same there would be no delight of discovery. This city shows its history on every corner. Roll on the next 1000 years and lets hope that in that time the future generations continue to redefine and contribute to it.

  92. Tariq Anwer permalink
    April 14, 2012

    Really beautiful pictures,I love the stories behind that photographs, london is a beautiful city.

  93. Ruby Kay permalink
    May 4, 2012

    never mind location, location, location…. such character, character, character!!!

  94. Paul Scott permalink
    May 7, 2012

    Amazing, wonderful photographs – I love sourcing these types of photographic recollections.

  95. June 4, 2012

    This is such a beautiful post.
    Those pictures are the most magical thing I’ve seen in a long time – they really do have the power to take us back in time.

  96. Richard Cocks permalink
    June 23, 2012

    Wonderful photos, London,..what have they done to you!

  97. Celt permalink
    June 24, 2012

    Many,many thanks for this wonderful site.Wonderful to spend a few happy hours perusing what was.Such beautiful,evocative photographs!

  98. July 6, 2012

    its truly amazing to see London as it used to be.. Working in London, I recognise many of the road names and amzingly some of the buildings too!!

    Like you, i like to wonder who these people were, what they were doing.. their bodies may be long gone, but thanks to the internet and people like your good self, their images will live on for many hundreds of years more.

    If only we had a time machine to take us back to expereince this bygone world for ourselves… What would you say to these people? would they understand our strange modern dress and our even stranger modern language?? Who knows!!??

    thanks so much for posting these 🙂

  99. Nina permalink
    July 30, 2012

    ….. thank you for these lovely pictures and commentary – melancholy and beautiful.

  100. Hilary permalink
    July 31, 2012

    what amazing, beautiful photos.
    Thank you so much for sharing

  101. Sonia Murray permalink
    September 19, 2012

    Thanks so much for this fascinating glimpse of a bygone time, and my great-grandparents’ world! Gran was four in 1882, when the pictures were taken; her mother would have held her hand as they crossed the streets and looked in shop windows. What a contrast between the delapidation of the inns, and the smart buildings on main roads! I’d love to walk those streets for a day – but wouldn’t want to live there!

  102. Simon Varley permalink
    September 23, 2012

    The address on one of the doorways photographed on Lawrence Pountney Hill appears to be 2 Cannon St, right by St Pauls Cathedral. I searched for Woodcock and Sons listed top of the signs on the right and came across an entry in the ABC court directory.:

    Laurence Pountney Hill
    1 Cannon St. EC
    Woodcock R.J – Architect, Woodcock R. W – Architect

    Building seems to be gone now….

  103. Judy Poleg permalink
    October 14, 2012

    Dear Gentle Author,

    Thank you for these delightful photos which evoke in me memories from long ago of all the buildings from my childhood which were leftovers from Victorian and Edwardian times – the well-worn stairs up to the grocer’s shop, the cobbled streets and worn pavements on my way to school.

    And what a delight to see sooooo many peo0ple enjoying your blog.

    With best regards,


  104. October 21, 2012

    I just adore theis site I have just spent ages looking at these photos imagining, the buildings look so much more attractive to the’modern’ ones infecting our once fine City today.

  105. Andrea permalink
    October 26, 2012

    Very moving pictures.

  106. María José permalink
    December 9, 2012

    I love your city and its history. Thank you for your photografies from Spain

  107. December 24, 2012

    what a wonderful selection of old photos. I loved seeing old London. just fascinating. thanks for sharing

  108. Mark permalink
    January 5, 2013

    These images proves that the camera is a jewel in preserving history ,it is also proves that children s novels such as Oliver Twist the characters portrayed did exist as not just fiction but fact.

  109. Paul permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Brilliant photos.

  110. Judith Atkinson permalink
    March 30, 2013

    Thank you so much for this blog, I have been following it for some time now and it never fails to delight. I now live in Devon but in the mid 60’s lived in Stoke Newington and my son was born in Hackney Hospital.

  111. Jan Mahoney permalink
    April 12, 2013

    What fantastic photos. It’s like looking at sets for films such as ‘Oliver’.

  112. Insa permalink
    April 16, 2013

    Loving these photographs – am absolutely fascinated by London’s history… one thing I’d like to find out, though: do I spy the Ghost of a Toilet Club on Borough High St, Southwark, next to the Butcher’s? – Do my eyes deceive me?? Was there such a thing?!??

  113. glenn shallcross permalink
    May 24, 2013

    fascinating photographs. does anyone know if the old bell holborn is the same place as the bell inn greys inn lane ?

  114. Jazz permalink
    May 27, 2013

    Awesome photos! so eerie, love them all…

  115. Pat Hughes permalink
    September 1, 2013

    Wonderful photographic collection of old London buildings.I have a similar (though perhaps not so good) collection of Birmingham photo’s. Perhaps I should post those. Thank you for sharing yours with us all. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

  116. David Williams permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Super photos of times past.

  117. claire permalink
    October 26, 2013

    I found your site while delving into my Family Tree as we came from Spitalfields and Aldgate area
    with all the classic trimmings of Poverty!
    This absolutely Wonderful collection of Photographs and memorabilia adds more to the reality of the lives that they led way back then..

    Thank you once again

    PS is there a book that I can purchase

  118. Cathy permalink
    December 13, 2013

    Beautiful photographs. Thank yu for showing them

  119. Julie Kemp permalink
    February 22, 2014

    Thank you for such a marvellous collection of photos. I love looking at them, pondering, reflecting and looking for clues to my own ancestry; some ran pubs in the East End. I love the mood of those photos. Such clarity. I was struck by how clean the streets and the buildings appeared to be.
    Just a treat,
    Many thanks,

  120. Frances Evesham permalink
    June 4, 2014

    These wonderful photos help so much. I write Victorian romance and like to set stories in London. It is wonderful to see and get a feel for the streets and shops. Thank you.

  121. June 24, 2014

    These are amazing! They remind me of an English version of the work Eugene Atget was doing in Paris around the same time. Thank you for sharing.

  122. derek permalink
    August 2, 2014

    the photos are amazing its a time machine to the past

  123. EUNICE GREAVES permalink
    February 11, 2015

    what wonderful photos,I to prefer to look back in time.

  124. kerry permalink
    March 1, 2015

    I am researching my family history, much of it in London, and greatly appreciate these wonderful photos. It gives a great insight into how the ancestors lived and worked. Thanks so much for them.

  125. Ian permalink
    June 6, 2015

    in The Photo “A man turns to look back in Drury Lane, 1876.” what is that spire or monument in the background? Is it still there?

  126. Wendy permalink
    June 9, 2015

    Absolutely amazing photos, I am a Londoner and was born in the 1950s. So naturally I’m very interested in these lovely photos of London. A bygone era, its hard to believe that London once looked like that, compared to what it looks like today. I love London history.

  127. August 29, 2015

    Thank you to my genuine East End friend whom I worked with in London in 1972 for introducing me to this wonderful site. As an Australian I want the buildings and the ghosts of past lives to be there when I visit, and they are – just around every corner. Beautiful evocative photographs.

    My grandma born in 1894 longed to visit the home of her ancestors but sadly she never did.
    She would have seen these images for herself.

  128. Georgina Briody permalink
    August 29, 2015

    To my dear friend, Margaret Grover, who loves all things English past and present, it has been a joy and pleasure to take her on my Huguenot journey around Spitalfields. I have had an amazing time in recent years discovering my roots and she has never ceased to be enthralled by what I have researched, appreciating all that I send to her.

  129. Bruce Eames permalink
    September 2, 2015

    I could cry every time I see these photographs of what we have lost…

  130. Iris Hills permalink
    September 24, 2015

    Wonderful photos.
    My ancestors were French Huguenots. I love to walk in their footsteps in Spitalfields.
    My grandparents and seven children lived in Quaker Street then Vallance Road
    Bethnal Green. Old photos of London are a treasure.

  131. Linda Briggs permalink
    September 24, 2015

    Thank you so much for bringing these beautiful photos to public notice. I was born in London in Festival of Britain year and did not move away till 2008. My ancestors were Londoners too and it is fascinating to see the city as they did.

  132. Katherine Bell permalink
    September 28, 2015

    Such a treasure these are. Sadly, these are photos of a world I will never get to experience and yet I am grateful considering how far our world has come. On the other hand, because of the state our world is in now, would it have been better to live then?

    Anyways, I could stare at these all day.

  133. Christine Dalton permalink
    December 17, 2015

    So want to join a Society of photography in London for the images but I live in Birmingham. Think some of the images where duplicated with different streets but does not matter as they are priceless.

  134. December 18, 2015

    I am living in London’s past and it is a different world. I simply cannot go there enough. Marvellous writing and photographs to send shivers down the spine. Old London will live on for as long as you will allow. Thank you so much for sharing.

  135. Sue D permalink
    February 20, 2016

    I have really enjoyed looking at your site, so sad that most of those lovely buildings have long gone. I came across your site while doing research on my family tree, seeing where and how they lived has bought them alive to me, thanks very much for sharing these photos.

  136. Ian Luck permalink
    March 2, 2016

    Thank you so much for sharing these frankly astonishing photographs. As a big fan of Victorian literature, it is wonderful to see the alleys, courts, and the fascinating corners that time, the Luftwaffe, and, worst of all, developers have swept away. As Samuel Beckett once said: “All human life is here.” Faces of people shaped by hard toil stare out. The sort of faces one rarely sees anymore. That might sound odd, but it’s true. I’m 52, and I can remember, and indeed, had family members who looked similar. They are wonderful faces, where every line tells a story. People looked older in the recent past, too. Children grew up to be miniature adults, wearing the same clothes as their parents. But I’m waffling on. I love this site – it’s a superb archive, and I’m so glad to have stumbled across it. Great work, and best regards from me. Cheers.

  137. Richard J permalink
    April 25, 2016

    I was born in the East End in 1951 and although an only child I had a very large extended family. These images help to bring to life stories told to me by grandparents and older family members. Life expectancy was short but steadily increasing in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s and that, together with the two world wars, deprived us of relatives to give us first hand accounts of how things used to be. Poverty and hardship were the norm for many along with sub standard housing until the slum clearance programme which led to many families re- locating to the suburbs. I feel proud to be a Londoner and I am fascinated how this city developed and evolved over time and also of the people, however insignificant, that played a part in the development of the place we now inhabit. The face of London is changing at an increasingly rapid rate but it is imperative that we do not forget the struggles and hardships that those who went before us endured to make it possible for the London we know today to exist.

  138. Glenys Hutchinson permalink
    May 2, 2016

    A man turns to look back in Drury Lane, 1876. – am I the only person who can see the ghostly half of a woman in a bonnet and shawl at the bottom right of the picture? Wonderful photographs – thank you.

  139. DAVID WHITTAKER permalink
    November 10, 2016


  140. Rita Hannah -Rogers permalink
    November 18, 2016

    Thank you for those wonderful photographs.I was born in St Marylebone, as was my Mother who had a Greengrocers Shop in Leather Lane Holborn.I went to St Ethelredas Convent in Ely Place High Holborn.My Grandparents had Greengrocery Stalls and Stables in Chuch Street Market off of Edgeware Road .So they bring back some wonderful memories as we ourselves are Londoners who have been living in France for Fourteen very Happy Years.

  141. David Barnwell permalink
    January 23, 2017

    Thank you for the wonderful pictures. The second picture showing William Barnwell’s, Turnery Manufacture business, and is either that of my 3 x great grandfather, William Barnwell, or his son William. I know that my 3 x great grandfather also had a similar business in the following addresses: 71 Old Street Spitalfields, London, 10 Bridgewater Gardens, Barbican, London or 1 Golden Lion Court, Aldersgate Street, London.

  142. christine naylor permalink
    March 3, 2017

    What fantastic photo’s

  143. Shawdian permalink
    June 2, 2017

    This is one of GA’s most moving posts, the one I find myself returning to. I find great comfort putting out cards from loved ones been and gone, beautiful memories abound bringing happinness with a tinge of sadness and the thankfulness our paths crossed. Then there is something about Centuries old past that draws me to those who were before and it is the winter months which seems to make me feel closer to their past world of which there is a warmth I cannot describe when I look at the ghosts of the past. This post fits it nicely and I agree with you whole heartedly GA. Regarding the Ghost Man in the shop, at first glance he appears to be wearing a soldiers uniform, then when I look again he is a ghostly presence who could represent all of his sex .Intriguing.

  144. Matilda Woodhouse permalink
    September 6, 2017

    I clicked on this page and the photos make me gasp “Wow look at that! ” with a sigh. Modern photos of modern life don’t fascinate and enchant me as these old photos do. Who cares that they are in black and white- they are a window into time; a past age and places, with people largely forgotten, whose names we don’t know, but they are immortalised in these photos, captured frozen in time. How they fascinate me- I can sit and look at just one photo like these for up to an hour! If I let my mind wander it is almost possible to feel like I’m there- what a different world. I love your writing that comes with it and the one on the room in Aldgate- so poetically put, and I totally understand the sentiments you express. Not a day goes by when I don’t long for a time machine ( as long as I can come back though lol)….

  145. September 20, 2017

    Those memories of the past leave me utterly speechless, struggling for air. A bittersweet nostalgia mingled with pain, with deep regrets, mourning and grieving for people just like us but never to be known, to be spoken to, hugged and loved. Photography may be seen as morbid, the clicking of the shutter literally cutting us off the past for ever, similar to a heavy blade. Nonetheless photography brings dead people back to life. No need for a time machine, photography does the trick. Having the option between a time travel and a trip into the future, nobody in their right minds woud chose the latter.

  146. Tina Mattocks permalink
    July 7, 2018

    I love looking at these old photographs. My g g g grandmother said on one of the census returns that she was born in Drury Lane. Are there books with these photographs? I would love to buy them if there are.

  147. Andy May permalink
    August 18, 2018

    Wonderful pics ! One last galleried pub remains in London (similar in design to the Oxford Arms , White Hart and Queens Inn above) and that’s The Old George at Southwark. Restored and now owned by The National Trust, it sits under the shadow of the Shard so you can gaze upon teh splendour of 21st century architecture while quietly quaffing a beer in a building dating back to Bill Shakespeare’s day.

  148. Joycebyrne permalink
    December 2, 2018

    WOW! Great photographs – glad there are people out there who also love old photographs of a time long gone. My family think I’m crazy for being interested in Victorian life and what Victorian’s wore and what they looked like. They often say that historic photos are trying to tell me something about my ancestors and that I’m searching for enlightenment of my past. Glad there are people out there who are also history mad.

  149. marc hopla permalink
    February 26, 2019

    Great photographs. It’s a sobering that we are only tenants of this world. In a hundred or so years time, many of the buildings we use everyday, like us, will be gone. All those people in the photographs belonged to somebody. An unknown ancestor to somebody looking at those very photographs.

    Joyce Byrne, don’t worry, I’m always being accused of “LIVING IN THE PAST.”

  150. March 26, 2019

    Great pics, thank you 🙂

  151. Chris Grant permalink
    December 20, 2019

    Thank you for making this wonderful collection of photographs available. They are priceless in their way, and their informational value can only increase. Almost all this has now gone, and it is healthy to be able to see again what once was peoples reality not all that far back in time.

  152. September 13, 2020

    In response to an earlier comment here, yes, that does look like ‘toilet club’ in Borough High St. Intriguing. Of the two shops either side of it, one (apparently just selling tires) has a sign reading Chaplin & Co, and the other is a butcher’s called Redman. Charlie Chaplin’s grandfather was a South London butcher, so who knows, maybe these businesses were related.
    This is a fantastic website, by the way.

  153. Rachel Gardiner-Hill permalink
    November 15, 2020

    I’m currently time travelling across London in the company of my maternal ancestors. I’ve been in the Labour In Vain yard in 184 where my great great grandmother was born, part of the outdoor relief for the poor in Old Fish Street, then onwards to the notorious Bleeding Heart Yard and Saffron Hill of Dickens fame, and again into the appalling sights and smells of Sharps Alley then again into Cock Lane, where tantalizing I can see the wonderful old photos of the Fortune of War pub with the Golden Boy, knowing my Great Great Great Grandmother was just down the lane at No. 25 not far from the famous Cock Lane Ghost scandal. These wondrous photographs make all these stories come to life for me. They are so atmospheric of what was endured. May they always be available. Thank you.

  154. Winnie permalink
    November 14, 2022

    Love these. The photos of the Inns especially. Oliver Twist. I look at the people and what they are wearing. Fascinated by the clothes and the stance.

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