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Dennis Anthony’s Petticoat Lane

September 24, 2017
by the gentle author

If you are looking to spruce up your linen cupboard with some fresh bolster cases or if it is time to replace those tired tea towels and soiled doilies, then these two lovely gentlemen are here to help. They have some super feather eiderdowns and quality blanket sets to keep you snug and cosy on frosty nights, and it is all going for a song.

One summer Sunday in the nineteen fifties, Dennis Anthony took his camera down Petticoat Lane to capture the heroes of the epic drama of market life Рall wearing their Sunday best, properly turned out, and even a little swanky. There is plenty of flash tailoring and some gorgeous florals to be admired in his elegant photographs, composed with dramatic play of light and shade, in compositions which appear simultaneously spontaneous and immaculately composed. Each of these pictures captures a dramatic moment Рselling or buying or deliberating Рyet they also reward second and third glances to scrutinise the bystanders and all the wonderful detail of knick-knacks gone long ago.

When the West End shops shut on Sundays, Petticoat Lane was the only place to go shopping and hordes of Londoners headed East, pouring through Middlesex St and the surrounding streets that comprised its seven “tributaries,” hungry for bargains and mad for novelty. How do I know this? Because it was the highlight of my parents’ honeymoon, when they visited around the same time as Dennis Anthony, and I grew up hearing tales of the mythic Petticoat Lane market.

I wish I could buy a pair of those hob-nailed boots and that beret hung up beside the two sisters in shorts, looking askance. But more even than these, I want the shirt with images of records and Lonnie Donegan and his skiffle group, hung up on Jack’s stall in the final photograph. Satisfied with my purchases, I should go round to Necchi’s Cafe on the corner of Exchange Buildings and join those distinguished gentlemen for refreshment. Maybe, if I sat there long enough, I might even glimpse my young parents come past, newly wed and excited to be in London for the first time?

I am grateful to the enigmatic Dennis Anthony for taking me to Petticoat Lane in its heyday. Stefan Dickers, Archivist at the Bishopsgate Institute, bought the prints you see here online and although they are labelled’ Dennis Anthony’ upon the reverse, nothing more is known bout the mysterious photographer.

You might also like to see

Laurie Allen of Petticoat Lane

The Wax Sellers of Wentworth St

Fred the Chestnut Seller

Larry Goldstein, Toyseller & Taxi Driver

Rochelle Cole, Poulterer

9 Responses leave one →
  1. September 24, 2017

    That’s how a shirt should be bought – in a box! And that closely-coiffured gentleman in the shades and cravat is one cool dude.

    Lovely photos, of a fine, lost Sunday.

  2. September 24, 2017

    Excellent evocative photos – if only one could also hear the voices.

  3. September 24, 2017

    By the time I was a teenager I had graduated from shopping in Petticoat Lane with my mum, to going there regularly with my best friend. We’d look for mod fashion bargains. You could pick up a Biba copied dress for a song. The ambiance was amazing: noisy, crowded, diverse and vibrant. Then it was a bagel, still warm from the oven before getting the bus home.

  4. September 24, 2017

    This was a nice trip back in time. I often sneaked off to Petticoat Lane as a kid and had fun watching the world go by. Valerie

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    September 24, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, great pics. Everyone in their Sunday best on a beautiful summer’s day. Particularly liked the one of the gals behind the hanging jewelry …

  6. September 24, 2017

    Are there any more early photographs of the flea market?
    Love to see them

  7. Gary Arber permalink
    September 24, 2017

    When I visited the Lane in the 1940’s one stall keeper amused me, he had a galvanised bucket full of beer into which he kept dipping a pint pot, I was told that this was his wages for running the stall.

  8. September 25, 2017

    People knew how to dress in those days and Sundays were dress up days..Petticoat Lane back them must have been something wonderful.

  9. Rosie Drake permalink
    November 24, 2020

    I might know who Dennis Anthony is. I might be wrong but I know a wonderful old gentleman who was a photographer based in London and would have been around 20 or so years old in the 1960’s. He lives in Devon now, I could ask him???

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