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The Dogs Of Old London

November 25, 2018
by the gentle author

Click to enlarge

Sometimes in London, I think I hear a lone dog barking in the distance and I wonder if it is an echo from another street or a yard. Sometimes in London, I wake late in the night and hear a dog calling out to me on the wind, in the dark silent city of my dreaming. What is this yelp I believe I hear in London, dis-embodied and far away? Is it the sound of the dogs of old London – the guard dogs, the lap dogs, the stray dogs, the police dogs, the performing dogs, the dogs of the blind, the dogs of the ratcatchers, the dogs of the watermen, the cadaver dogs, the mutts, the mongrels, the curs, the hounds and the puppies?

Libby Hall, who has gathered possibly the largest collection of dog photography ever made by any single individual, helped me select the dogs of old London from her personal archive. We pulled out those from London photographic studios and those labelled as London. Then, Libby also picked out those that she believes are London. And here you see the photographs we chose. How eager and yet how soulful are these metropolitan dogs of yesteryear. They were not camera shy.

The complete social range is present in this selection, from the dogs of the workplace to the dogs of the boudoir, although inevitably the majority are those whose owners had the disposable income for studio portraits. These pictures reveal that while human fashions change according to the era and the class, dogs exist in an eternal universal present. Even if they are the dogs of old London and even if in our own age we pay more attention to breeds, any of these dogs could have been photographed yesterday. And the quality of emotion these creatures drew from their owners is such that the people in the pictures are brought closer to us. They might otherwise withhold their feelings or retreat behind studio poses but, because of their relationships with their dogs, we can can recognise our common humanity more readily.

These pictures were once cherished by the owners after their dogs had died but now all the owners have died too, long ago. For the most part, we do not know the names of the subjects, either canine or human. All we are left with are these poignant records of tender emotion, intimate lost moments in the history of our city.

The dogs of old London no longer cock their legs at the trees, lamps and street corners of our ancient capital, no longer pull their owners along the pavement, no longer stretch out in front of the fire, no longer keep the neighbours awake barking all night, no longer doze in the sun, no longer sit up and beg, no longer bury bones, no longer fetch sticks, no longer gobble their dinners, no longer piss in the clean laundry, no longer play dead or jump for a treats. The dogs of old London are silent now.

Arthur Lee, Muswell Hill, inscribed “To Ruby with love from Crystal.”

Ellen Terry was renowned for her love of dogs as much as for her acting.

W.Pearce, 422 Lewisham High St.

This girl and her dog were photographed many times for cards and are believed to be the photographer’s daughter and her pet.

Emberson – Wimbledon, Surbiton & Tooting.

Edward VII’s dog Caesar that followed the funeral procession and became a national hero.

A prizewinner, surrounded by trophies and dripping with awards.

The Vicar of Leyton and his dog.

The first dog to be buried here was run over outside the gatekeeper’s lodge, setting a fashionable precedent, and within twenty-five years the gatekeeper’s garden was filled with over three hundred upper class pets.

Libby Hall, collector of dog photographs.

Photographs copyright © The Libby Hall Collection at the Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to read my original profile

Libby Hall, Collector of Dog Photography

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Julia harrison permalink
    November 25, 2018

    My sister has a collection on cork boards in her kitchen inspired by Libby’s books. I love looking at the mixture of old family pictures and anonymous dogs and owners all with stories to tell. Thank you for this marvellous, touching selection. I especially love Carlo with his toy sitting on the chair back.

  2. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    November 25, 2018

    such wonderful photos, thanks for sharing

  3. Rick Armiger permalink
    November 25, 2018


  4. November 25, 2018

    Such a touching collection. I love “Our Billy and Me”.

  5. mlaiuppa permalink
    November 25, 2018

    Caesar wrote a book called “Where’s Master?” about the sudden death of the King. Caesar didn’t see a King, he just saw his person.

    I have several books of old postcards and photos of pets, cherished and members of the family whose photos were taken as remembrances.

    My own Ramses has passed away just two days ago. I’ve been looking at photos of him today. I am luckier than these distant Londoners in that pixels are cheap so I have many photos. I imagine it cost a pretty penny to have a photo taken in a studio. That they cared enough to have their dog’s photo taken shows how cherished these pets were. There is even a photo in our family album of my Mother’s ancestors and there in the family photo with Mom, Dad and all of the children there is a dog preserved from over a century ago.

  6. Helen Breen permalink
    November 25, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, we all know that you are an avid “cat person,” so thanks for sharing these great photos of dogs past. An astounding collection by Libby Hall. As you said, “these pictures reveal that while human fashions change according to the era and the class, dogs exist in an eternal universal present.”

  7. aubrey permalink
    November 25, 2018

    The vicar and his dog: they look alike. Were they related?:-)).

  8. Gary Arber permalink
    November 25, 2018

    When I was on a cycling holiday in France in 1948 I was taking a photo in a market when a lady behind a stall full of lettuces called stop while she picked up her poodle and sat it on the lettuces and stood smiling for the photo. When I got home and developed the picture I posted a copy of the picture to the mayor with a note asking him to give it to her.

  9. November 25, 2018

    I love the little schipperke.

  10. Josephine Rogers permalink
    November 25, 2018

    Such delightful photos , and surprisingly moving. Plus ca change….!

  11. November 25, 2018

    such wonderful photographs! they made me happy.

  12. November 25, 2018

    Lovely, wonderful. THank you.

  13. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 25, 2018

    Great pics! Our Billy and me is my favourite photo, and I love the girl’s very obviously home made dress.
    I also can’t help feeling that the dog shaking hands with his rather fat mistress would be thoroughly spoilt, rather smelly and very yappy. Give me a sensible looking dog like Our Billy any day…

  14. November 26, 2018

    I love dogs. These pictures were great to see. There seemed to be many terriers. Carlo the spaniel was adorable as were the other dogs.

  15. Derek Bailey permalink
    November 28, 2018

    Great piece but I was a little surprised to see no large dogs. Maybe that is big city life for you?

  16. Stella permalink
    March 14, 2021

    My eyes welled up at your last paragraph.

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