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Wonderful London

December 18, 2017
by the gentle author

It is my pleasure to publish these dignified and characterful portraits of Londoners, believed to be by photographer Donald McLeish (1879-1950), selected from the three volumes of Wonderful London edited by St John Adcock and produced by The Fleetway House in the nineteen-twenties.

Telescope Man on Westminster Bridge

Old woman who inhabited the alleys off Fleet St

Breton Onion Seller

Costermonger and child

Cats’ Meat Man

Knife Grinder


Islington Window Cleaner

Flower Seller

Concertina Player

Hurdy-Gurdy Man

Gramophone Man


Wandering Harpist

Street Sweeper


District Messenger

Telephone Messenger

Railway Fireman

Railway Engine Driver


Railway Porter

Gold Beaters

Gas Fitters

Chimney Sweep

Telephone Cable Man

Photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You might also like to take a look at

John Thomson’s Street Life in London

London Characters

William Nicholson’s London Types

Julius Mendes Price’s London Types

Geoffrey Fetcher’s Pavement Pounders

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Yvonne Kolessides permalink
    December 18, 2017

    Just another thank you for your daily london of the in Cyprus makes it even more exciting each day..

  2. John Barrett permalink
    December 18, 2017

    A lovely glimpse of their world all manual stuff a few of these trades linger on. Poet John

  3. Ron Bunting permalink
    December 18, 2017

    Ok, how many ‘phone men fell off the wire when stringing up the phone lines? and now a song is stuck in my head….

  4. Helen Breen permalink
    December 18, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the wonderful individual portraits by Donald McLeish of these ordinary Londoners back in the day. Even the “street sweeper” wears a collar and tie. On the whole they seem pretty accepting of their lot…

  5. December 18, 2017

    Our very own August Sander! Wonderful portraits.

  6. December 18, 2017

    Your headline says it all……”Wonderful London”. In theory each of these photos could comprise an individual post with boundless stories about long-ago professions. This array of photos gives us a glimpse of reality and humanity — and true grit.
    Thank you for your dedicated chronicles of wonderful London.
    Long may she wave. And you, sir.
    Happy Holidays.

  7. Peter Holford permalink
    December 18, 2017

    Great photos of a way of life and occupations long gone. Many look very posed but it hardly matters – the limitations of photography probably required a static, posed subject.

    One or two thoughts:
    How old is the old woman (second photo). It looks as though she has lost her teeth which would make her look older but she could be in her 50s – relatively old in those times.
    I’ve always wondered how it could be profitable to bring onions across the Channel to sell in London. Did they bring huge quantities and perhaps use the money to but things in London to sell in Brittany. There had to be more to it than selling a few ropes of onions.
    Are the escapologist and Peter Cook related?

  8. December 18, 2017

    I do like the cats’ meat man. I used his image from the interesting work at the Bishopsgate Institute
    and included it in The Great Cat and Dog Massacre. In particular it’s one of the only images here that includes a cat!

  9. Ed Hack permalink
    December 18, 2017

    Every morning I look forward to Spitalfields Life, but “Wonderful London”? The folks caught by the camera in an instant of their lives, who smile at the camera’s novelty and the sudden pleasure of being not only noticed but, somehow important enough to be noticed, are, to my eye, living a marginal, in some cases a barely marginal life—take a moment to look carefully at the face of the Wandering Harpist, the upturned hat of the Hurdy Gordy Man—pause for a while and let the Gramaphone Man’s stare settle in on you; imagine the weight of the Knife Grinder’s cart…” Wonderful London?” I don’t think so. Those dirty clothes—the weight of the clothes of the old woman with the steaming cup—of tea?—her world on her back and in the cloth bag next to her. A hard, a brutal social, economic world caught in each portrait. The sadness of the Concertina Man image is heartbreaking.

  10. December 18, 2017


  11. daniel permalink
    December 18, 2017

    Very nice!

  12. December 18, 2017

    Beautiful portraits. Thanks for posting them

  13. Kitanz permalink
    December 19, 2017

    These are the Best Pictures of men and ladies working on there jobs! I’d Love to see more. Thank You!!

  14. Ian Silverton permalink
    December 22, 2017

    Like the Lady selling flowers in picture 9 my Great Grandmother Alice Berry was known as hawker but she sold flowers In London Streets,to keep her and Daugher also called Alice in the work house in Bethnal Green 1800s. She was often fined for doing so,so the records of the time show, no husband no home no money,but they both survived, my Grandmother married and had 6 children, and became a lady Publican in Bethnal Green, no mean feat at the time.

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