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A Walk Through Time In Spitalfields

February 12, 2020
by the gentle author

Sandys Row from the north

After seeing the work of photographer C.A.Mathew in these pages, Adam Tuck was inspired to revisit the locations of the pictures taken over a century ago. Subtly blending his own photographs with C.A.Mathew’s images of Spitalfields in 1912, Adam initiated an unlikely collaboration with a photographer of the beginning of the last century and created a new series of images of compelling resonance.

In these montages, people of today co-exist in the same space with people of the past, manifesting a sensation I have always felt in Spitalfields – that all of history is present here. Yet those of the early twentieth century ago knew they were being photographed and many are pictured looking at the camera, whereas passersby in the present day are mostly self-absorbed.  The effect is of those from the past wondering at a vision of the future, while those of our own day are entirely unaware of this ghostly audience.

It is hard to conceive of the meaning of time beyond our own lifespan. But these photographs capture something unseen, something usually hidden from human perception – they are pictures of time passing and each one contains more than a hundred years.

Sandys Row from the south

Looking from Bishopsgate down Brushfield St, towards Christ Church

Looking down Widegate St towards Sandys Row

Looking down Middlesex St towards Bishopsgate

From Bishopsgate looking up Middlesex St


In Bell Lane

In Artillery Lane looking towards Artillery Passage

From Bishopsgate through Spital Sq

Frying Pan Alley

Montages copyright © Adam Tuck

C.A.Mathew photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to read the original stories

C.A. Mathew, Photographer

In the Footsteps of C.A.Mathew

24 Responses leave one →
  1. February 12, 2020

    These photos are cool and a little unsettling, brilliant idea to mix the two ages, I wonder if it would be possible to do it the other way around, have the modern picture see through and the past solid?

  2. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    February 12, 2020

    Beautifully done.
    Would love to see in real life

  3. February 12, 2020

    These are such extraordinary pictures. They bring to past back into our lives. I often walk around London, and here in Norfolk, imagining what it would have been like. This does so in such a poetic and moving way.

  4. Helen permalink
    February 12, 2020

    I love these photographs. Preferring the architecture of the old, yet knowing many people were so poor in those days and living in unsanitary conditions. But, if you put on your rose-tinted glasses, you can be swept back in time. I just wish the architectural vandals had a sense of history, to see what buildings stood the test of time.

  5. PennyP permalink
    February 12, 2020

    Bravo! These are astonishing. The juxtapositions of past and present are indeed ghostly and thought provoking.

  6. Paul Boucher permalink
    February 12, 2020

    I so love your blog. Thank you!

  7. February 12, 2020

    Fascinating and thought provoking…….’we are but shadows’ comes to mind.

  8. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    February 12, 2020

    Haunting. Is it my imagination, or do our ancestors look slightly reproachful of our modern culture? Remember William Faulkner? ‘The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.’

  9. Ann Keil permalink
    February 12, 2020

    Great pictures! Thought provoking, past times being more human,contrasted by today’s scenes of total ignorance of surroundings and of others.
    Really enjoyed looking at these.
    Thank you!

  10. February 12, 2020

    I specially like “Looking down Widegate St towards Sandys Row” where the young man seems to throw a surprised glance towards the past.

  11. Peter Holford permalink
    February 12, 2020

    Brilliant! Looking at old photos can be a bit like looking at a foreign place with no connection to the here and now. These montages illuminate the changes of a location in a very immediate way and show more clearly the huge differences better than before and after pictures.

    More please, Adam. And thank you!

  12. February 12, 2020

    I love how this has been done, to see the two different time featured as one makes you see that time is in fact linear and we co exist with many other energies than our senses can percieve. The photographer has done marvels with these I especially love the first two, brilliant idea.

  13. February 12, 2020

    Firstly thank you great memories secondly I have a collection of photographs taken in and around Spitalfields in the early seventies taken on my old Rolleiflex and have recently exhibited them near my home in Suffolk. Some of them are rather poignant and I think you would rather like them if so will mail them to you they are rather large files so will have to reduce them-all the best to you David Truzzi-Franconi

  14. paul loften permalink
    February 12, 2020

    Albert Einstein was once reported to have taken a stroll in Central Park and was approached by a boy who asked him the time ( no mobiles. in those days). Absorbed in his thoughts he replied, “There is no such thing as time “. The boy looked at him bewildered and walked away.
    As we exist we occupy a space that has no memory apart from our own imagination. Is it not the purpose of human existence to create the time and fill it with history?

  15. February 12, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, kudos to Adam Tuck for blending those turn of the century photos of C.A. Mathew into contemporary street scenes.

    Indeed, “people of today co-exist in the same space with people of the past, manifesting a sensation I have always felt in Spitalfields – that all of history is present here.”

  16. February 12, 2020

    This series totally struck a chord. We get self-absorbed in our daily lives, sometimes not even looking up, believing that the current news headline is a substitute for real life. I am so grateful to photographer Adam Tuck and The Gentle Author for providing this deep awareness today. We are part of a continuum, true — but it is all so fleeting. Seeing those young ghostly faces in the foreground, it reminded me of the (was it?) Mary Oliver quote about “what do you plan to do with your one life?”.

    Down to the studio, with refreshed dedication.

    (I’d give anything to see what this photographer would do with the Old Streets of Manhattan.)

    Many thanks.

  17. Jill Wilson permalink
    February 12, 2020

    Spooky and very thought provoking… thank you both for sharing the images.

  18. Elizabeth Olson permalink
    February 12, 2020

    These photographs are indeed evocative. I keep viewing and seeing things I missed and have different emotions each time. Brilliantly presented. Thank you.

  19. Valerie Gonzalez permalink
    February 12, 2020

    So many children everywhere, the streets must have sounded so different then;
    wonderfully evocative photos, thank you so much.

  20. Vicki Lovell permalink
    February 13, 2020

    Oh my gosh, how fantastic, an Australian with Joseph/Jacobs East End ancestors, I am blown away with the photo’s and imagination in these photographs . Many of my ancestors lived in the street’s shown, Brushfield Street, Bell Lane and Sandy Row, how fantastic to imagine them in these photos, and having visited London I love the juxtaposition of modern and old. Thank you so much I am totally in love with this concept and location. Your blog continues to enthuse my imagination and educate me.
    Vicki, Adelaide

  21. February 13, 2020

    I Love these “These Then and Now ” Pictures. They look a little sad.???????

  22. Ian Silverton permalink
    February 13, 2020

    Loved looking at all these pictures, great idea would like to see some more sometime GA,on other parts of East London if possible, some may its sad to to see the poor from the past like ghost looking at you from poverty and hunger, must say I agree make me sad looking at there poor faces, then I lived in and played in the same Streets as them and we where all dirt poor but not hungry, just very thin. Stay safe UK especially London.

  23. Ruth Fleming permalink
    February 13, 2020

    I love these pictures, and the ghostly figures juxtaposed with present-day shots. Part of me wonders if the ghostly figures are there all the time, we sense them but cannot see them. This is part of the mystery of places where humans have lived their lives over a long period of time.

  24. sara midda permalink
    February 18, 2020

    Amazing. Thank you, sara

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