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Charles Goss In Norton Folgate

March 25, 2015
by the gentle author

A century ago, a monster redevelopment threatened part of Norton Folgate. The widening of Bishopsgate at this point entailed the demolition of the buildings between the west side of the street and the railway line approaching Liverpool St Station. Fortunately, Charles Goss the far-sighted Archivist & Librarian at the Bishopsgate Institute at that time saw it as his melancholy duty to set out with his camera to record this fragment of London before it vanished from the world.

He climbed down below street level to photograph the rear of the buildings in Norton Folgate seen from the railway line, starting from Worship St and continuing up as far as the Bishopsgate Goodsyard. Among the adverts, placed to attract the attention of passengers arriving and departing the station, is one for a match between Tottenham Hotspur and Everton on January 8th 1910, dating his pictures exactly.

There is an ethereal quality to Goss’ street photographs taken in the grey light of dawn, with just a few early birds on their way to work and no traffic at all on the road yet. These are quiet pictures in which silence is only interrupted by the echo of footsteps. Hoardings upon Lupinsky & Brandon, the progressive tailors – suits to measure at 137 Bishopsgate – announce the impending destruction, “These premises have been acquired by the City Corporation for the widening of Bishopsgate Street.” Fortunately, business was transferring to 80 Bishopsgate directly across the road. You will observe that many businesses had already held clearance sales and vacated their shops, but the Great Eastern Rubber Company, the Dump Shop and the Norton Folgate Toilet Club were valiantly trading on to the bitter end.

I can readily imagine Charles Goss setting up his tripod on the pavement in Bishopsgate in the early morning drizzle, attracting curious looks from passersby and questioning himself even as he went about his business. Sensibly, he reconciled any doubt, bound the pictures into a fine book and put it on the shelf at the Bishopsgate Institute, reassuring himself that he was simply doing his job.

Yet Goss’ photographs capture the strangeness of the performance of human life – rendered tangible only in the moment when the scenery is about to be abandoned and the familiar reality of the street begins to dissolve, just like an abandoned set on the back lot. His views from the railway line enforce this sense of looking at the drama of the world from behind the scenes.

We can only wonder what he would make of Bishopsgate today where just a few remnants of his time remain, entirely overshadowed by the vast disproportionate recent structures worthy of the futuristic novels of H.G.Wells.

West side of Norton Folgate, looking north with St Leonard’s Shoreditch in the distance

In Acorn St

The King’s Arms seen from the railway

West side of Bishopsgate

Entrance to Acorn St

Norton Folgate seen from the railway

Norton Folgate, west side

Norton Folgate seen from the railway

10,000 choice cigars were sold here at less than half price

The facade of the City of London Theatre, Norton Folgate is visible to the left of this picture

B.A. Marcus, Lilley & Skinner, The Lord Nelson and Devon Restaurant

The Middleton Arms for Celebrated Welch Ale

The Middelton Arms seen from the railway line

The poster for the Tottenham Hotspur & Everton match dates these photos to January 1910

Lupinsky & Brandon, progressive tailors.

Spy the roofer upon the ridge above G.Ringrose.

The same buildings seen from the railway line

Observe The Dump Shop and the Norton Folgate Toilet Club.

The early morning sun casts its shadow over Norton Folgate a century ago

Norton Folgate seen from the railway

Bishopsgate Without viewed from Norton Folgate, 1910

Bishopsgate Without viewed from Norton Folgate, today

Archive pictures courtesy © Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to look at

Charles Goss’ Photographs

Charles Goss’ Vanishing London

Charles Goss & The White Hart

The Romance of Old Bishopsgate

Tallis’ Street Views of Bishopsgate 1838

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    March 25, 2015

    So sad that one side of old Norton Folgate only exists in photographs and the other side is set to join it. English Heritage has failed to help preserve this historic area.

  2. March 25, 2015

    marvellous to see so many advertising posters in situ, before hoarding sites were strictly regulated.

  3. Peter Holford permalink
    March 25, 2015

    Norton Folgate certainly wasn’t beautiful. When you view the old photos it isn’t a place that would be a priority for saving. But the last photo is the key. It seems the alternative is walls of bland, sterile glass. Characterless in the extreme!

  4. will permalink
    March 25, 2015

    Is that a horse’s skeleton in the skyline view from the railway over Moseley Veterinary Surgeon?

  5. March 25, 2015

    That horse(?) skeleton on top of the vet’s is amazing, wonder if it was a real one or a bronze cast like the one on the fourth plinth at the moment?

  6. March 27, 2015

    Wonderful historic photographs.

  7. Sambalsotong permalink
    April 26, 2015

    Perhaps it wasn’t beautiful as such but it had a human dimension to it. It wasn’t a faceless, bland and sterile place. It had a history, a human dimension and people could relate to it. The new edifices that spring up as part of so called ‘redevelopment’ leave me feeling cold and remote. Who will want to come to the UK in the future when it is no different from any other place? Developers, councils and, sadly, even English Heritage itself, seem to be engaged in a short sighted, money driven, wanton destruction of our cultural heritage.

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