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Wonderful London

February 26, 2014
by the gentle author

It is my pleasure to publish these dignified and characterful portraits of Londoners, believed to be by photographer Donald McLeish (1879-1950), selected from the three volumes of Wonderful London edited by St John Adcock and produced by The Fleetway House in the nineteen-twenties.

Telescope Man on Westminster Bridge

Old woman who inhabited the alleys off Fleet St

Breton Onion Seller

Costermonger and child

Cats’ Meat Man

Knife Grinder


Islington Window Cleaner

Flower Seller

Concertina Player

Hurdy-Gurdy Man

Gramophone Man


Wandering Harpist

Street Sweeper


District Messenger

Telephone Messenger

Railway Fireman

Railway Engine Driver


Railway Porter

Gold Beaters

Gas Fitters

Chimney Sweep

Telephone Cable Man

Photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You might also like to take a look at

John Thomson’s Street Life in London

London Characters

William Nicholson’s London Types

Julius Mendes Price’s London Types

Geoffrey Fetcher’s Pavement Pounders

22 Responses leave one →
  1. marianne isaacs permalink
    February 26, 2014

    Again some wonderful photos , I am just amazed by the telephone wire man . OMG no health and safety regulations then . We have it so good now .

  2. February 26, 2014

    What an astonishing collection!
    So evocative.
    That little costermonger looks like a right bruiser 🙂

  3. February 26, 2014

    Amazing views into a long gone period. — Note the technical progress between the Hurdy-Gurdy Man and the Gramophone Man!

    PS: Trying without effect to get trousers like the Telephone Messenger have!

    Love & Peace

  4. Susan Goldman permalink
    February 26, 2014

    This is a wonderful collection of photographs. Thank you Gentle Author.

  5. Peter Holford permalink
    February 26, 2014

    Oh dear – I’m old enough to remember some of these. Great photos as ever. I think the escapologist went on to become Peter Cook!

  6. February 26, 2014

    These are amazing. My dad started as a messenger boy in the early 30’s working out of Post Office Headquarters in St. Martins LeGrand. I’m guessing your one is a lot earlier, but I remember my old man describing the same daft hat. The escapologist also wonderfully terrifying. As a very small kid I remember a bloke with a massive moustache who worked the crowds on the foreshore under the Tower – he escaped from a chain and then ate a length of it. Asked me to tap his stomach to ‘make it rattle’. I was frozen to the spot.

  7. annie permalink
    February 26, 2014

    Great pictures!

    I love the telephone cable man – imagine working like that, no one worried about safety equipment in those days.

  8. Maureen permalink
    February 26, 2014

    Thank you for the brilliant photographs – the telephone cable man sure had some guts !

  9. February 26, 2014

    Wonderful portraits that give us some idea of what those occupations really meant, if we know what our ancestors did from the census records. I assume they are all anonymous, which is a shame, as how great would it be to have a photo like that of someone in your family tree? I love all those cart contraptions they used.

  10. Gary Arber permalink
    February 26, 2014

    Note the ornate carving on the knifegrinder’s cart.
    Those working class men had pride

  11. Patty Sullivan permalink
    February 26, 2014

    These are simply amazing portraits of the everyday worker. I only wish that I had as charming a work portrait today. Many thanks always for this column/blog,

  12. March 1, 2014

    Amazing photos as usual , I saw an escapologist on Tower Hill as a kid bent a metal bar over his arm as I remember .


  13. Lottie Alexander permalink
    March 1, 2014

    I look through these photos and wish I could find one of my London ancestors somewhere – I have seen many old photos of London but not these.

  14. Karenn Juhnke permalink
    September 14, 2014

    I love these wonderful old photos! Just what did a Costermonger do, an entertainer, or what? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word before.

  15. June 24, 2015

    I’ve just picked up all three volumes of this amazing book from a charity shop for just a fiver 🙂

  16. January 21, 2016

    Thanks for sharing these. As someone who has recently acquired this set myself, I know how wonderful they really are, what a wealth of mages. The usual publication date given for the set is 1922, but that can’t be right as one photograph shows an aerial view of the 1923 Wembley cup final, and mentions the dismantling of the exhibition site in 1925. It seems the books were originally published in serial form over the period 1926-27, and then, presumably as books that year.

  17. J burrows permalink
    November 18, 2016

    “Scavenger” too well dressed belt and hat tells me he’s a gpo messenger

  18. Robert McLeish permalink
    March 27, 2017

    Yes, some but not all of these pictures are by my father, Donald McLeish.

    I have my copy of the 1935 Silver Jubilee edition of Wonderful London and in the preface, the editor, St John Adcock refers to him as ‘that master of the camera art’. The earlier three volume edition was 1926. The Donald McLeish libraryof over 2000 pictures still exists.

  19. Barbara Wager permalink
    October 29, 2018

    Thank you this was very informative ,
    I have been looking at the profession’s of the people in my family tree these photos make them seem more real .

  20. Brian Stokoe permalink
    January 3, 2019

    Regarding your London Types from Adcock’s Wonderful London: The old woman in an alley, the costerwoman and child, the charlady and the flower seller are by E.O. Hoppe. Hoppe shared models with William Nicholson. He also produced a book, London Types: Taken from Life, made with William Pett Ridge. The telephone cable man is by Walter Benington. I can reference further articles I’ve written on Hoppe, some for the London Journal, if you wish.Regards
    Brian Stokoe

  21. Pamela Daly permalink
    December 2, 2021

    Please, can anyone tell me what is holding the cable man up in the air? I see no suspension cables or ladders.

  22. Peter J Harris permalink
    July 5, 2023

    These are great volumes. I believe they were compiled from weekly magazines around the 1920’s. Some interesting photo also show the before and after photos of developments in that period & before. In particular The Haymarket, which has 3 different periods of development. Sadly you can add a 4th to it now of bland modernist.

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