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East Enders In Uniform

May 18, 2017
by the gentle author

In this selection from Philip Mernick‘s splendid collection of cartes de visite from nineteenth century East End photographers, I publish portraits in which clothing and uniforms declare the wearer’s identity. All but two are anonymous portraits and I have speculated regarding their occupations, but I welcome further information from any readers who may have specialist knowledge.

Superintendent of a Mission c. 1880

Dock Foreman 1891-4

Merchant Navy Officer c. 1880

Policeman c. 1880

Sailor c.1880

Beadle in Ceremonial Dress c. 1900

Private in the Infantry c.1890

Indian Gentleman 1863-5

Naval Recruit c. 1900

Sailor Merchant Navy c.1870

Chorister c. 1890

Cricketer c. 1870

Merchant Navy Officer c. 1870

East European Gentleman c. 1910

Clergymen c. 1890

Telegram Boy c.1890

Member of a Temperance Fraternity c. 1884

Naval Recuit

Policeman c.1890

Merchant Navy c. 1870

Royal Navy  1887/8

This sailor’s first medal was given by the Royal Maritime Society for saving a life, his second medal is the Khedive Star Egyptian Medal and the other is the British Egyptian Medal. The ribbon on his cap tells us he served on HMS Champion, the last class of steam-assisted sailing warships. In the early eighteen-eighties, HMS Champion was in the China Sea but it returned to the London Dock for a refit in 1887 when this photograph was taken, before going off to the Pacific.

Photographs reproduced courtesy of Philip Mernick

You may also like to take a look at

Philip Mernick’s East London Shopfronts

Libby Hall’s Dogs of Old London

9 Responses leave one →
  1. May 18, 2017

    Wonderful photos. Valerie

  2. Shawdian permalink
    May 18, 2017

    Good collection, would like to see more. The gallant young sailor with his shiny new medals casually leans as if at his local public house awaiting that long for well earned pint of beer, in contrast to the presumptuous standing Temperance man.

  3. May 18, 2017

    GA uniforms are well documented here the tall policeman’s helmet C1880 has not changed. Uniforms are in continual evolutionary change and being refined every few years since man first donned one, it also establishes his rank within a service. Today there is lots of change with materials such as synthetics/mixes improving manufacturing techniques’ making uniforms more crisp and machine manageable – wearing makes one walk tall with lots of pride in ones service. Us 20-21st C people have devised a kind of uniform/clothing called a sweatshirt & tee-shirt, used in all walks of life including the military & astronauts they are convenient and sometimes desirable !yes I do like. Poet John

  4. Sue permalink
    May 18, 2017

    What a splendid collection of portraits.
    (The clergymen did remind me of an episode of Father Ted, however)

  5. Orit Friedland permalink
    May 18, 2017

    Thanks for these delightful photos.
    The writing in pencil on the back of the photo of the “East European Gentleman” is in Hebrew letters. I would like to think it is the gentleman’s name:
    Rabbi Shmuel David son of Rabbi Joseph Einbinder.
    Best regards from O in Tel Aviv.

  6. May 18, 2017

    History of Costume devotees — and lovers of vintage decorative typography — salute you!
    What amazing details, revealed in these formal-yet-humane portraits. It was tempting to
    dream up mythic biographies for each one.
    Ahh – that little telegraph boy!

  7. mandy francis permalink
    May 18, 2017

    Fantastic photos – but really struck me how much shorter – and slighter – people were back then. A lot of the men have the same type of physique you would see on a teenage boy now.

  8. pauline taylor permalink
    May 18, 2017

    Oh, the wondrous cartes de visite, how envious I am of a collection like this, and how many more are there I wonder? I like them all but I find the expression on the face of the cricketer particularly interesting, I wonder what he was thinking about, somehow I don’t think that it was cricket !

  9. Chris F permalink
    May 18, 2017

    Dear GA.. The gentleman described as a Beadle in ceremonial dress, is actual a ‘Past Chief Ranger’ in the Ancient Order of Foresters, which at that time, was an extremely popular friendly society and one of the oldest. Although the picture is slightly blurred, you can just make out the initials PCR on his sash. He is also carrying a ceremonial hunting horn as part of his regalia of which I have two in my collection. In Forestry, the hunting or bugle horn was considered to be the most ancient instrument of music ever used. The ritual was heavily based on the story of Adam’s fall from grace and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Arming himself with a club, Adam became the first hunter in the ‘Uncultivated forests of the world.’ The Foresters held their ‘Courts’ in ale houses, so if you are able to find evidence of any public houses in Spitalfields called the Foresters Arms or the Ancient Foresters, then that is more than likely where they met.

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