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Winter Light In Spitalfields

December 7, 2017
by the gentle author

The inexorable descent into the winter darkness is upon us, even if just two weeks from now we shall reach the equinox and days will start to lengthen. At this season, I am more aware of light than at any other – especially when the city languishes under an unremitting blanket of low cloud, filtering the daylight into a grey haze that casts no shadow.

Yet on some recent mornings I have woken to sunlight and it always lifts my spirits to walk out through the streets under a clear sky. On such days, the low-angled sunshine and its attendant deep shadow conjures an exhilarating drama.

In these particular conditions of light, walking from Brick Lane down Fournier St is like advancing through a cave towards the light, refracting around the vast sombre block of Christ Church that guards the entrance. The street runs from east to west and, as the sun declines, its rays enter through the churchyard gates next to Rectory illuminating the houses opposite and simultaneously passing between the pillars at the front of the church to deliver light at the western end where it meets Commercial St.

For a spell, the shadows of the stone balls upon the pillars at the churchyard gate fall upon the houses on the other side of the street and then the rectangle of light, admitted between the church and the Rectory, narrows from the width of a house to single line before it fades out. At the junction with Commercial St, the low-angled sun directed through the pillars in the portico of Christ Church casts tall parallel bars of light and shade that travel down Fournier St from the Ten Bells as far as number seven, reflecting off the window panes to to create a fleeting pattern like stars within the gloom of the old church wall.

As you can see from these photographs, I captured these transient effects of light with my camera to share with you as a keepsake of winter sunshine, for consolation when those clouds descend again.

The last ray

The shadow of the cornice of Christ Church upon the Rectory

The shadow of the pillars of Christ Church upon Fournier St

Windows in Fournier St reflecting upon the church wall

In Princelet St

You may also like to read about

Midwinter At Christ Church Spitalfields

A View of Christ Church Spitalfields

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg Tingey permalink
    December 7, 2017

    When I tokk my pictures of part of that area ( Christ Church & Fournier St mostly ) for the “Images of England” project, I did it in December & January – no leaves on the trees to obscure the church for a start…
    And, if you can be there at the correct time of day, then the low sun-angle gives such superbly revealing lighting.
    I’m not sure if the RPS are maintaining their archive, or whether they have decided to redo it with digital imaging ….

  2. December 7, 2017

    I needed this promise of sunshine and longer days…I start treatment for illness on Monday and it all feels a bit dark right now. I am looking forward to spring and summer. Thank you as usual for a great post.

  3. December 7, 2017

    Lots of skill shown here in picking out those bright spots, pics taken in nice clean air. Poet John PS Nice to have a big feature on the equinox sometime.

  4. Helen Breen permalink
    December 7, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what can I say, except that your piece is beautifully written and photographed. A welcome ray of light on this side of the pond too on this winter morning.


  5. December 7, 2017

    Spectacular images of the season and the place, so transformed by gentrification. No bad thing!

  6. Richard Pascoe permalink
    December 7, 2017

    Dear G A
    Thank you for my daily fix , wonderful photographs and words as usual , next best thing to being there ! Merry Christmas .

  7. Jonathan Madden permalink
    December 7, 2017

    These are really evocative pictures, I think in photography terms it’s known as “the golden hour’, which is either one hour after sunrise or one hour before sunset. In these short winter days that hour can seem to extend beyond these times, especially when there’s little cloud covering.
    There are many painters of the city who have managed to capture this, Atkinson Grimshaw is one who springs immediately to mind.
    Thanks for the post and lovely pictures.

  8. Matt permalink
    December 7, 2017

    Great photo article. I really enjoy the moments of golden light this time of year.

  9. Ardith permalink
    December 7, 2017

    GA, your prose and photography are so moving, particularly in this post. It makes your experience with the day palpable to readers like me. Your post about missing Mr. Pussy this season made me cry for you both. Take care, good sir. Cheers, Ardith

  10. Kitanz permalink
    December 7, 2017

    Such Beautiful Buildings. I Hope they came keep them alive from many years later!

  11. pauline taylor permalink
    December 7, 2017

    Lovely images of the way that light can change our perceptions of everyday scenes and I agree with all that you say here, Thank you for posting these GA, they have cheered up a very gloomy, dismal winter day.

  12. Debra Matheney permalink
    December 7, 2017

    Sunshine in winter creates such gorgeous light. Reminded me of a December day I spent at the Tower of London 40 yeas ago. Thanks for rekindling that memory for me.

  13. Denise Bryant permalink
    December 8, 2017

    You walk with Brassai …

    ‘Unreal City,
    Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
    A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
    I had not thought death had undone so many.
    Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
    And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
    Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
    To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
    With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.’

    And Eliot understood these places in an earlier time …

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