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The Forgotten Corners Of Old London

November 22, 2019
by the gentle author

Who knows what you might find lurking in the forgotten corners of old London? Like this lonely old waxwork of Charles II who once adorned a side aisle of Westminster Abbey, peering out through a haze of graffiti engraved upon his pane by mischievous tourists with diamond rings.

As one with a pathological devotion to walking through London’s side-streets and byways, seeking to avoid the main roads wherever possible, these glass slides of the forgotten corners of London – used long ago by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society for magic lantern shows at the Bishopsgate Institute – hold a special appeal for me. I have elaborate routes across the city which permit me to walk from one side to the other exclusively by way of the back streets and I discover all manner of delights neglected by those who solely inhabit the broad thoroughfares.

And so it is with many of these extraordinary pictures that show us the things which usually nobody bothers to photograph. There are a lot of glass slides of the exterior of Buckingham Palace in the collection but, personally, I am much more interested in the roof space above Richard III’s palace of Crosby Hall that once stood in Bishopsgate, and in the unlikely  paraphernalia which accumulated in the crypt of the Carmelite Monastery or the Cow Shed at the Tower of London, a hundred years ago. These pictures satisfy my perverse curiosity to visit the spaces closed off to visitors at historic buildings, in preference to seeing the public rooms.

Within these forgotten corners, there are always further mysteries to be explored. I wonder who pitched a teepee in the undergrowth next to the moat at Fulham Palace in 1920. I wonder if that is a cannon or a chimney pot abandoned in the crypt at the Carmelite monastery. I wonder why that man had a bucket, a piece of string and a plank inside the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. I wonder what those fat books were next to the stove in the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries’ shop. I wonder who was pulling that girl out of the photograph in Woolwich Gardens. I wonder who put that dish in the roof of Crosby Hall. I wonder why Charles II had no legs. The pictures set me wondering.

It is what we cannot know that endows these photographs with such poignancy. Like errant pieces from lost jigsaws, they inspire us to imagine the full picture that we shall never be party to.

Tiltyard Gate, Eltham Palace, c. 1930

Refuse collecting at London Zoo, c. 1910

Passage in Highgate, c. 1910

Westminster Dust Carts, c. 1910

The Jewel Tower, Westminster, 1921

Fifteenth century brickwork at Charterhouse Wash House, c1910

Middle Temple Lane, c. 1910

Carmelite monastery crypt, c. 1910

The Moat at Fulham Palace, c. 1920

Clifford’s Inn, c. 1910

Top of inner dome at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1920

Apothecaries’ Hall Quadrangle, c. 1920

Worshipful Company of Apothecaries’ Shop, c.1920

Unidentified destroyed building near St Paul’s, c. 1940

Merchant Taylors’ Hall, c. 1920

Crouch End Old Baptist Chapel, c. 1900

Woolwich Gardens, c. 1910

The roof of Crosby Hall, Richard III’s palace in Bishopsgate , c. 1910

Refreshment stall in St James’ Park, c. 1910

River Wandle at Wandsworth, c. 1920

Corridor at Battersea Rise House, c. 1900

Tram emerging from the Kingsway Tunnel, c. 1920

Between the interior and exterior domes at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1920

Fossilised tree trunk on Tooting Common, c. 1920

St Dunstan-in-the-East, 1911

Cow shed at the Queen’s House, Tower of London, c. 1910

Boundary marks for St Benet Gracechurch, St Andrew Hubbard and St Dionis Backchurch in Talbot Court, c. 1910

Lincoln’s Inn gateway seen from Old Hall, c. 1910

St Bride’s Fleet St, c. 1920

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Nights of Old London

The Ghosts of Old London

The Dogs of Old London

The Signs of Old London

The Markets of Old London

The Pubs of Old London

13 Responses leave one →
  1. November 22, 2019

    Thank goodness for your old photos.

    Who was the Charterhouse Wash House built for in 1910? Is it still standing and being used today?

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 22, 2019

    Absolutely agree with you about not being able to resist any back street or courtyard…the more unexpected and secretive the better!

    And great photos to wander and wonder in…

    To add to your ponderings – what was the chap doing on the ladder outside Merchant Taylor’s Hall? And what was the cow doing at the refreshment stall in St James’s Park??

  3. November 22, 2019

    Truly superb! You have no idea how much I look forward to reading your articles. Your knowledge and writing style are superb. I do hope to attend your course in 2020. Maureen.

  4. November 22, 2019

    Wonderful pictures recording the old world as it turns into the new. I particularly love the tiltyard gate at Eltham. Also, is it me or does Charles II (even sans legs) seem incredibly lifelike?

  5. Paul Loften permalink
    November 22, 2019

    The refreshment stall in St James’ Park is very interesting . I take it a cow and milk churn was there to provide fresh raw milk. This was a period when pasteurisation of milk was becoming a public issue due the spread of TB and the many deaths in urban areas from other diseases linked to drinking unpasteurised milk. According to research it seems that fresh raw milk did not carry the bacteria and it was only after a few days that the bacteria in the milk appeared.

  6. marla mazar carr permalink
    November 22, 2019

    I’m with you…always looking for the hidden bits of life. Many years ago I started leaving my own trail of intended mystery for future visual sleuths.

  7. JohnB permalink
    November 22, 2019

    Entrancing. Captivating. Spellbinding. Its been 15 years since I could wander the cities of the UK at leisure, and especially my beloved home town London. Your blog has warmed my heart during my many years in the Middle East and Far East. Thank you.

  8. November 22, 2019

    I Love the Old Streets of London. These are Great Pictures. Thank You So Much😘🥰😊🌼💐🌻💝🦢.

  9. Ian Silverton permalink
    November 22, 2019

    Tilt Yard Gate in Eltham London SE9 formed the Red brick wall of a friends house that ran along side it from Court Yard Eltham, he upgraded it to its former glory back in the 1970s along with the red brick wall you see in the picture,he had the best kept lawn ever behind it, further along was the Palace, then you came out to the Farm and fields,still there to this day,also loved seeing Old Pictures of my former Home Clifford’s Inn off Fetter Lane EC4 had a small Appartment there back in the 1960s it looked a lot better then, thanks GA for all your pictures great to see them as was. Stay safe UK.

  10. Charlotte Hunter permalink
    November 22, 2019

    Ah, for a time travel machine so I could explore the old streets and alleys. Lovely pictures.

  11. November 23, 2019

    Those three objects in the inner dome of St Paul’s are curious indeed. If they were in a garden shed with a pile of old clutter they would not evoke such mystery. But in a place so beautiful in its simplicity, so minimalist, it seems they must have a purpose. I wonder, if you had to paint the inside of those railings would you use the plank for simple scaffolding? Seems a bit risky. And that rope: is it a light rope or a chain? Whichever, it is surely not long enough to lower the bucket down into the knave below. I cannot escape the conviction that my grandfather would look at that plank and tell me exactly what it was for. Did a hundred years just obscure the obvious?

  12. Eric Forward permalink
    November 23, 2019

    Strongly agree with the approach to use back streets as much as possible. They’re quieter and thus quicker despite being less direct. I really think you need to organise some paid walks – long and short.

  13. Marty permalink
    November 24, 2019

    “Tram emerging from the Kingsway Tunnel, c. 1920”

    It’s actually descending into the subway. That’s the conductor on the back, wearing a ticket punch and with his hands not on the controls…

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