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The Streets Of Old London

December 18, 2019
by the gentle author

Piccadilly, c. 1900

In my mind, I live in old London as much as I live in the contemporary London of here and now. Maybe I have spent too much time looking at photographs of old London – such as these glass slides once used for magic lantern shows by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Institute?

Old London exists to me through photography almost as vividly as if I had actual memory of a century ago. Consequently, when I walk through the streets of London today, I am especially aware of the locations that have changed little over this time. And, in my mind’s eye,  these streets of old London are peopled by the inhabitants of the photographs.

Yet I am not haunted by the past, rather it is as if we Londoners in the insubstantial present are the fleeting spirits while – thanks to photography – those people of a century ago occupy these streets of old London eternally. The pictures have frozen their world forever and, walking in these same streets today, my experience can sometimes be akin to that of a visitor exploring the backlot of a film studio long after the actors have gone.

I recall my terror at the incomprehensible nature of London when I first visited the great metropolis from my small city in the provinces. But now I have lived here long enough to have lost that diabolic London I first encountered in which many of the great buildings were black, still coated with soot from the days of coal fires.

Reaching beyond my limited period of residence in the capital, these photographs of the streets of old London reveal a deeper perspective in time, setting my own experience in proportion and allowing me to feel part of the continuum of the ever-changing city.

Ludgate Hill, c. 1920

Holborn Viaduct, c. 1910

Woman selling fish from a barrel, c. 1910

Trinity Almshouses, Mile End Rd, c. 1920

Throgmorton St, c. 1920

Highgate Forge, Highgate High St, 1900

Bangor St, Kensington, c. 1900

Ludgate Hill, c. 1910

Walls Ice Cream Vendor, c. 1920

Ludgate Hill, c. 1910

Strand Yard, Highgate, 1900

Eyre St Hill, Little Italy, c. 1890

Muffin man, c. 1910

Seven Dials, c. 19o0

Fetter Lane, c. 1910

Piccadilly Circus, c. 1900

St Clement Danes, c. 1910

Hoardings in Knightsbridge, c. 1935

Wych St, c.1890

Dustcart, c. 1910

At the foot of the Monument, c. 1900

Pageantmaster Court, Ludgate Hill, c. 1930

Holborn Circus, 1910

Cheapside, 1890

Cheapside ,1892

Cheapside with St Mary Le Bow, 1910

Regent St, 1900

Glass slides copyright © 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

The Doors of Old London

The Staircases of Old London

The High Days & Holidays of Old London

The Dinners of Old London

The Shops of Old London

14 Responses leave one →
  1. December 18, 2019

    Beautiful, and tragic, to see what we’ve lost – particularly Fetter Lane and Holborn Circus (I see now, finally, how it was a ‘circus’, once). Were these losses due to the Luftwaffe, or the other great enemy, local planners?

  2. Greg Tingey permalink
    December 18, 2019

    “St Clement Danes c 1910” & “Holborn Circus, 1910”
    No motor vehicles at all .. – surely nearer to 1900 or 1905?
    ( Not even an early taxi or motor bus )

  3. Moyra Peralta permalink
    December 18, 2019

    Loved the write-up; text AND photographs much appreciated…

  4. Paul Loften permalink
    December 18, 2019

    Wonderful photos ! London is in state of permanent revolution. From 1969-73 I worked in Bread street Cheapside on the site where John Milton was born and by the time I left the job I thought I knew all the streets in the area like the back of my hand . I returned to it for the first time in years to attend a lecture given by The Gentle Author and upon exiting St Paul’s station was left in a state of bewilderment by all the new buildings with no familiar landmarks that I could take my bearings. I walked in the wrong direction and by the time I arrived at the location of the talk, it had finished. I wonder what London will look like one hundred years in the future. If we were able to come back and revisit it, would we be able to find our way anywhere ?

  5. December 18, 2019

    Could not agree more , Wonderful , Wonderful , Photographs . Thank you and well done to you !

  6. December 18, 2019

    “Maybe I have spent too much time looking at photographs of old London…….”. Wait.
    If YOU aren’t looking, that means WE aren’t looking. Today’s posting thrilled me to my bones. Starting with the top image, I heard the hubbub, the clip-clop, the “H’re ya there, Guv’ nor……”, the call of the merchants and news agents, the raucous laughter of children on the pavement. I heard it ALL, because of your dedication to these photos and these enduring images. I’ve given up having “favorites” among your many posts, but this one was in my Top Ten.

    When I look at these incredible street scenes and notable structures, I am aghast at the “hotel” design you showed us earlier this week. Really? Soul-less, forgettable, disposable architecture, be gone! Let’s all jump in the time machine.

    Keep at it, GA.

  7. Peter Holford permalink
    December 18, 2019

    Interesting to see how scruffy Kensington and Knigtsbridge were! I dimly remember a part of Knightsbridge within spitting distance of Harrod’s as being a red light district with the Pakenham pub as the place where military personnel from the Hyde Park barracks frequented. My aunt and uncle were the licensees; but not for long. They soon moved! That was about 1957.

  8. Pamela Bough permalink
    December 18, 2019

    Regent Street, 1900 I am surprised the road surface is still dirt and not cobbles. OR was it cobbles covered with sawdust to keep the noise down. Could the Gentle Author please find out – so interesting to note the slight fashion changes over the 20 to 30 years that these pictures show. I miss the beautiful places in London.
    From Canada, Pam

  9. Adele permalink
    December 18, 2019

    Amazing photos of a London landscape now lost.

  10. December 18, 2019

    Gosh! The traffic in Cheapside…

  11. December 18, 2019

    The amount of signage and billboards always takes me by surprise. I think it was the CPRE and Clough Williams-Ellis of ‘England and the Octopus’ fame who campaigned to prevent what we now think of as American – style billboards lining the new trunk roads romping through the country in the 1930s. The wonderful Highgate photograph picturing ‘hovels’ titled ‘Strand Yard ….’ is actually Townsend Yard, named after the builder (and demolisher) standing in the picture demonstrating how out of kilter the dwellings are.

  12. Richard permalink
    December 18, 2019

    Wych street in name seems to have disappeared. Looks like an interesting corner of London. Anyone know where it was. How much more teeming London was then. More people crammed into central London I guess. I’m going to Eyre St hill.

  13. Eric Forward permalink
    December 18, 2019

    Despite living here I’m still amazed by London. Leaving soon so maybe that is the reason I haven’t taken it for granted. Yes, it’s sad to see some history lost and that must still be fought for, but a lot of the change is for the positive (except the oversupply of £1m apartments – that I cannot forgive). First came 30 years ago and have lived here the last ~14. Looking at these photos visitor’s minds must have been blown away by the metropolis, as I can imagine most other UK cities & towns would have been so underdeveloped in comparison. London, what an amazing city.

  14. December 19, 2019

    What Wonderful Vintage Pictures!! I Love them So Much!!????????

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