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The Doors Of Old London

October 14, 2012
by the gentle author

The door to Parliament

Look at all the doors where the dead people walked in and out. These are the doors of old London. Some are inviting you in and some are shutting you out. Doors that lead to power and doors that lead to prison. Doors that lead to the parlour, doors that lead to the palace, and doors that lead to prayer. These are the doors that I found among hundreds of glass slides once used for magic lantern shows by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, many more than a century old, and housed today at the Bishopsgate Institute.

Looking at life through a doorway, we are all either on the way in or on the way out. Like the door to your childhood home that got sold long ago, each one pictured here is evidence of the transient nature of existence, reminding you that you cannot go back through the portal of time.

Yet there is a powerful enigma conjured by these murky pictures of old doors, most of which will never open again. Like the pauper or the lost soul condemned to wander the streets, we cannot enter to learn what lies behind these doors of old London. But a closed door is an invitation to the imagination and we can wonder and dream, entering those hidden spaces in our fancy.

London has always been a city of doors, inviting both the curiosity and the suspicion of the passerby. In each street, there is a constant anticipation of people popping out, regurgitated onto the street by the building, and the glimpse to be snatched of the interior before the door closes again.

I cannot resist the notion that every door contains a mystery and all I need is a skeleton key. Then we can set out to explore as we please, going in one door and out another, until we have passed through all the doors of old London.

The entrance to the Carpenters’ Hall

The doors of Lambeth Palace

Door in the cloisters in Westminster Abbey

The door to the chamber of Little Ease at the Tower of London.

In St Benet’s Church, Paul’s Wharf.

Back door of 33 Mark Lane

Back door to Lancaster House.

In Crutched Friars.

14 Cavendish Sq.

The door to 10 Downing St

39a Devonshire St.

The door to the House of Lords

Wren doorway, Kensington Palace.

The door to Westminster Abbey

St Dunstan’s in the West

The entrance to Christ Church, Greyfriars.

The door to St Bartholomew’s, Smithfield

Temple Church

The Watchhouse, St Sepulcre’s, Smithfield.

Door by Inigo Jones at St Helen’s Bishopsgate.

Prior Bolton’s Door at St Bartholomew the Great.

At the Tower of London

Glass slides © 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

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Adrienne permalink
    October 14, 2012

    How I love this blog! Always touching and absorbing…always written from the heart.

    I found the house where my dad was born in Islington and was so lucky that the person living there invited us in. What an emotional moment for my son and me to walk through the same portal my dad did, as a little boy. We both felt a real connection.

    Thanks so much for bringing this memory back.

  2. Royston Clarke permalink
    October 14, 2012

    Lovely photographs showing exquisite workmanship – pity that they not all identified so that we can look at the real thing.

  3. October 14, 2012

    What a treasure trove the Bishopsgate Institute is. It would be great if we knew where all these doors were. Lovely post.

  4. CHRIS MILLS permalink
    October 14, 2012


  5. Walter permalink
    October 14, 2012

    Outstanding post: a prayer for those who suffered the Little Ease.
    The Downing Street image reminded me of a linkexplaining the peculiar font used for the ’10’.

  6. Justin permalink
    October 14, 2012

    The second photograph down (with ‘Standard Society’) in the window can be identified with some precision. A stone on the next building identifies it as the Rugby Estate in Bloomsbury. This was a tiny area around Great Ormond St, according to UCL outlined as –

    ‘…extending from Great Ormond Street east of Powis Place, along the southern and eastern edges of what would be Landsdown Mews, then apparently following the parish boundary (between St Pancras and St George the Martyr) east across Lamb’s Conduit Street, including Lamb Yard and Long Yard, and turning south at the north-east of Millman Street.

    It apparently included the western end of Little James Street and the north tip of Great James Street, as well as the eastern half of the extensive mews south of Great Ormond Street (Little Ormond Yard and part of Great Ormond Yard).’

  7. Julia permalink
    October 15, 2012

    These wonderful photos also remind us of the splendid ironwork surrounding and framing the doors that was so common in London before the world wars, and much of which was removed and melted down to support the war effort.

  8. October 19, 2012

    St. Bartholomews, Smithfield, is part flint clad I see….do you know its building date? Flint walls are very much a Sussex phenomenon (whole, napped, in bits and mixed with rubbish as bungaroosh) and wondering how much of it there is in London. If you know can you tweet me @saveHOVE?

  9. October 21, 2012

    another excellent post to this fascinating blog.

    Have re-blogged this to

    Hope that is ok.

  10. October 22, 2012

    I am a lover of doors and this was a feast of doors – a phenomenal collection – so many had such atmosphere – just loved it.

  11. Margot Thomson permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Great post! I have always been intrigued by doors,keys, locks. I long to walk through the last door at the Tower and see what’s in there………

  12. Ian Silverton permalink
    November 9, 2019

    Just seen this today about old London doors,have to say in bought back some very good memories for me of my SchoolDays back in the 50s at St Bartholomews Church Smithithfield, the the Schooll was first placed in the Gate House at the entrance to St Bartholomews,then as it grew in pupils through the main doors featured in this piece of history, to a class room on the right hand side,now the tea rooms, remember also Prior Boltons Door also featured in this bit of History of Doors, think this led outside to a smal yard used as a playground for us young Children running along a Street called Clouth Fair were Sir John Benjamin lived and worked,often visited us children when he came to Tea with the Head Mistress Mrs Wallbank MBE. We also had permission to use the Grave Yard at the front for a rest over period in the summer heat. The name of the School was called in the end THE GATE HOUSE SCHOOL, became a leader of Montessori Education in the UK with a visit no less from the Lady Herself Madam Montessori or was it Dame Montessori. Perhaps anybody reading this will tell me.

  13. Ian Silverton permalink
    November 9, 2019

    As an add on, The BBC filmed us on her visit to the School something of a land mark at the time, inside the church and grounds, Richard Dimbleby gave the voice over for the film and it was shown on the one and only TV Channel a year later, we children who where lucky to have a Black and White TV saw ourselves as we where for the first time,a truly exciting event at the time 1950s, last saw a clip my self and them when the BBC had a programme of its History of TV some 15 years ago in the UK. Stay safe London.

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