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William Whiffin’s London

October 6, 2015
by the gentle author

William Whiffin (1878-1957) is one of the great unsung London photographers, which makes it a rare pleasure to present this gallery of his pictures from the collection of his granddaughter Hellen Martin, many of which have never been published before. Born into a family of photographers in the East End, Whiffin made his living with studio portraits and commercial commissions, yet he strove to be recognised for his more artistic photography. I recommend you visit the exhibition of William Whiffin’s East End at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives until November 19th.

Lion Brewery and the Shot Tower, South Bank

The photographer’s son Sid Whiffin at Cooper’s Stairs, Old Queen St

Off Fetter Lane

The Pantheon, Oxford St

In Princes Sq, Stepney

Figureheads of fighting ships in Grosvenor Rd

At Covent Garden Market

Milwall & the Island Horse Omnibus, c.1910

St Catherine Coleman next to Fenchurch St Station

In Fleet St

In Buckfast St, Bethnal Green

At Borough Market

In Lombard St

Rotherhithe Watch House

Wapping Old Stairs

Junction of Cambridge Heath Rd & Hackney Rd

Ratcliff Stairs, Limehouse

Ratcliff Causeway, Limehouse

St Jude’s, Commercial St

Farthing Bundles at the Fern St Settlement, Bow

Houndsditch Rag Fair

At the Royal Exchange, City of London

Weavers’ House, Bethnal Green Rd

Off Pennington St, Wapping

Borough of Poplar Electricity Dept

Pruning in the hop gardens of Faversham

Photographs copyright © Estate of William Whiffin

Hellen Martin & I should be very grateful if readers can identify any of the uncaptioned photographs

You may also like to read about

Horace Warner’s Photography

C A Mathew’s Photography

36 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    October 6, 2015

    I’m interested in this, last Saterday an organized walk took place in Poplar to visit some of the sights that Whiffin had taken photos of, I tried to book myself a place on the walk but unfortunately they wouldn’t let me join in ( I don’t know what I’ve done wrong ? ? ) so anyway, undetered, I did some research myself to identify some places around Poplar that Whiffin had taken pictures of and set out on my own (diss organized) walk to re visit as many of the sites as I could of the ones I had identified, I found it really quiet interesting to look at an area I’m very familiar with and yet see things in a very different perspective on account of Whiffins photos and because of this I began to see many aspects of the area that to my astonishment I had never noticed before, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, plus of course I had the added bonus of being guided around by the most charming guide (ME) who I am sure was far more entertaining than who ever was leading the OFICIAL tour ! !

  2. October 6, 2015

    Lovely photos. I wish I knew the stories that go with them.

  3. October 6, 2015

    Gentle Author, a Google Image search identifies the church with the gent doing a jig on a chimney as St. Jude’s, Commercial St.

  4. October 6, 2015


  5. October 6, 2015

    The photos are a treasure trove of glimpses into London and the East End as it was, really wonderful. Thanks for sharing, Valerie

  6. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    October 6, 2015

    I remember the shot tower before it was demolished!In addition didnt the black lion get moved to the front of Waterloo Station & get painted red?

  7. libby hall permalink
    October 6, 2015


  8. October 6, 2015

    Fascinating pictures by an early street photographer. Judging by the tramlines and signposts in image no. 21, this is Cambridge Heath Road looking north, with Hackney Road running off to the left.

  9. Richard permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Where is Lavender place?
    Brilliant view into past times. Thank you.

  10. John Finn permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Wonderful photos – thanks for publishing them on your blog. Must get to the exhibition. I think that the photo below Wapping Old Stairs might be of the junction of Hackney Rd and Cambridge Heath Rd looking north. Clues for me are the signpost and that angle of the road going north towards Mare Street.

  11. October 6, 2015

    I’m a long time reader of your blog so was delighted to see the photo of Castles Ship Breaking Yard as it was started by my ancestor Henry Castle. Feel fee to contact me if you want further info. I’ll be going along to the exhibition.

  12. Annie G permalink
    October 6, 2015

    These cheered my heart no end! Mostly because, with a few exceptions, I haven’t seen these before. I love the scale of pre-war London, something that has been lost and looks set never to return. Much as I love London, I do not love a megalopolis. Well done, Mr Whiffin!

  13. Susan permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Could this be in relation to Lavender Place photograph? Wonderful photos 🙂

  14. Barbara Hague permalink
    October 6, 2015

    wonderful photos of London as it was. The farthing bundles must have been long ago – I had heard of (I think) penny bundles.

  15. Vicky permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Excellent photos, I did enjoy these.
    Richard – I too wondered where Lavender Place was and found it used to be in Wapping just to the east of, and parallel to, Chigwell Hill (which still exists).

  16. Roger C permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Marvellous photos of a long lost London. Well done GA, another great post 🙂

  17. October 6, 2015

    @Richard: Probably the Lavender Place that once ran off Pennington Street, Wapping.

  18. Peter Harrison permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Thank you for posting these immensely evocative images. They conjure up a world that seems almost unimaginable now.

  19. October 6, 2015

    What wonderful photos; such depth, so many stories – thank you for bringing them to our attention. Would love to see the exhibition; probably won’t be able to get to London before it closes but will make every effort . . .

  20. Ken permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Worth noting that St Jude’s was the parish of Revd Samuel Barnett – he and his wife Henrietta were notable social reformers and founders of Tornbee Hall. Barnett was vicar 1873-93. The church was closed in 1923 – presumably because the area was by then so largely Jewish.

  21. October 6, 2015

    lavender place pennington street….inbetween chigwell hill and wapping lane

  22. Jane B permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Lavender Place …off Pennington Street, Wapping (E1W 2BB)

    — rightly or wrongly it would seem to be William’s photo that is being used in the Jack the Ripper Casebook (Compiled by John Bennett and Robert Clack) …without attribution

    It’s only a ‘first-think’ (and so far unsubstantiated other than by ‘the images in my mind’!) but the high windowless walls in Image 9 suggest the fortified compound and bonded warehousing that was the neighbouring London Docks …where, of course, in its place, a new ‘London Dock’ is now rising, and rising, to 19 storeys of ‘luxury residential’, post-Murdoch’s disposal of his Wapping stronghold…

    The ‘Version 2’ image — above the wonderful Faversham ‘Hopping’ Stiltwalkers — could in fact be (noting the curve of the river, the nature of the boat on the foreshore barge-bed, and what can be seen/worked out of the roofline of the waterside buildings) the shoreline view east from Free Trade Wharf to Limehouse Reach? Think Whistler’s ‘Series of Sixteen Etchings on the Thames’, specifically his 1859 ‘The Free Trade Wharf in Ratcliffe’ …which certainly would have been available as inspiration to any Thames-inclined art photographer 50-75 years later.

  23. October 6, 2015

    The wooden (lapstrake) house with the family and dog ouside, reminds me of the house I was brought-up in, although 20 miles down river: Blue Town, Isle-of-Sheppey.

    Some great photographs here, really in enjoyed them, thank you.

  24. Lynn D. permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Again a lovely blog. What thoughtful photos of a long-gone London.

    Being Californian, I had never heard of a farthing bundle and the name and the expectation on the children’s faces made me do some research. What a marvelous, heart-warming story of Clara Grant and The Fern Street Settlement. From my readings, I understand the Settlement is still doing good works.

    GA, your work did what a good article should do: it made me want to dig deeper into the stories you tell. Thank you as always.

  25. Peter Holford permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Fascinating – not least the hop pruners and the process by which they get up on the stilts and how they manage to negotiate the rough terrain. Thank you GA for another set of wonderful photos.

  26. October 6, 2015

    These are wonderful photographs, and so interesting to me as this would have been the London that my ancestors knew so well. I have never seen most of these views before so thank you so much GA.

  27. Phillip Stark permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Nicely done!

  28. Ros permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Riveting! I ‘m going to get to the exhibition by hook or by crook. This lovely selection has convinced me.

  29. October 6, 2015

    Intrigued by the untitled photograph of a large group of women at some kind of church or community gathering.

  30. Janet Kelly permalink
    October 7, 2015

    I am glad I came upon these great photos of a bygone London one that my mother inhabited. I am more interested because my mother has large beautiful portraits of herself and her mother taken by William Whiffen. They still hang in her living room.

  31. Annie G permalink
    October 7, 2015

    The photo of the little house with strange wooden gable at the front beneath the picture of Covent Garden is 7 Jewry Street.

  32. Sue permalink
    October 7, 2015

    What a wonderful selection of photographs, thank you.

  33. James permalink
    October 7, 2015

    Re lion picture and Elizabeth’s comment – it was the Lion Brewery. The lion itself was only black through pollution. Yes, it was painted red and stood outside Waterloo for a time but then went back to its ‘Coade stone’ original white in 1966 and was erected at Westminster Bridge, where it still stands.

  34. Margaret permalink
    October 7, 2015

    Very evocative photographs. Inspiring.

  35. October 13, 2015

    These photos are absolutely wonderful. So evocative, so atmospheric. My maternal grandfather was born to a very poor family in Limehouse and my father was born just off Sidney Street, so the East End is my root – I’ve lived all my life in Ilford and Wanstead, and now I’m back near Ilford. I write books for families to explore free-to-see London and I just love walking around exploring and thinking. The East End has one of the richest and most interesting histories in our great city, yet further enriched with these photos. I will most definitely be going to the exhibition as soon as I can! Thank you.

  36. Eddie Knight permalink
    September 27, 2016

    I found myself in the Whiffen photo of the Coronation street party in Southill St Poplar 1937,Iwas 3 and a half years old and I can still remember the day and Mr Whiffen ducking under the black cloth setting up his camera on the corner outside Boots chemists earlier in the day before the party for a shot of the opposite aspect,15 members of my family are in the picture which is outside my dad`s shop/warehouse which we lived above at No 32 which I believe became the ARP post B32.The cake on the table weighed 20lbs.The photo of the bomb damage is not of that location but the Kerby St right hand corner of Southill St as can be seen by the flank wall of the house which would have shown Boots shop window had it been so . Good old days.

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