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The Loneliness Of Old London

March 18, 2020
by the gentle author

Lost in Old London – Rose Alley, Southwark, c. 1910

When I first came to live in London, I had few friends, no job and little money, but I somehow managed to rent a basement room in Portobello. For a year, I wandered the city on foot, exploring London without any bus fare. I think I never felt so alone as when I drifted aimlessly in the freezing fog in Hyde Park in 1983.

As I walked, I used to puzzle how I could ever find my life in London. Then I went back and sat in my tiny room for countless hours and struggled to write, without success.

Today, I am sometimes haunted by the spectre of my pitiful former self as I travel around London and, when examining the thousands of glass slides created by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society for educational lectures at the Bishopsgate Institute a century ago, I am struck by the lone figures isolated in the cityscape.

The photographers may have included these solitary people to give a sense of human scale – but my response to these pictures is emotional, I cannot resist seeing them as a catalogue of the loneliness of old London.

Alone outside Shepherd’s Bush Empire, c. 1920

Alone at the Chelsea Hospital, c. 1910

Alone at the Natural History Museum, c. 1890

Alone at the Tower of London, c. 1910

Alone at Leg of Mutton Pond, Hampstead, c. 1910

Alone in the Great Hall at Chelsea Hospital, c. 1920

Alone outside St Lawrence Jewry, 1908

Alone in Bunhill Fields, c. 1910

Alone in Hyde Park, c. 1910

Alone at the Guildhall,  c. 1910

Alone at Brooke House, Hackney, 1920

Alone on Hampstead Heath, c. 1910

Alone in Thames St, 1920

Alone at the Orangery, Kensington Palace, c. 1910

Alone in the Deans Yard at Westminster Abbey, c. 1910

Alone at Hampton Court, c. 1910

Alone at the Houses of Parliament with the statue of Richard I, c. 1910

Alone in the tiltyard at Eltham Palace, c. 1910

Alone in Cloth Fair, c. 1910

Alone at Marble Arch, c. 19o0

Alone at Southwark Cathedral, c. 1910

Alone outside Carpenters’ Hall, c. 1920

Alone outside Jackson Provisions’ shop, Clothfair, c. 1910

Alone outside Blewcoat School, Caxton St, c. 1910

Alone on the Victoria Embankment, c. 1910

Alone outside All Saints Chelsea, c. 1910

Alone at the Albert Hall, c. 1910

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Take a look at

The Lantern Slides of Old London

The Nights 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

The Streets of Old London

The Fogs & Smogs of Old London

The Chambers of Old London

The Tombs of Old London

The Bridges of Old London

The Forgotten Corners of Old London

The Thames of Old London

The Statues & Effigies of Old London

The City Churches of Old London

The Docks of Old London

The Tower of Old London

22 Responses leave one →
  1. SimoPak permalink
    March 18, 2020

    Thank you for posting these wonderful images. They resonate at a time when the city is emptying out. Brought me to tears. Stay safe and well.

  2. mem permalink
    March 18, 2020

    I have been thinking about loneliness all day . The loneliness being suffered by those who are old and being told to stay at home out of harms way as the virus takes its path through our lives. Foe many the pain of being alone all day without any interaction with others will be an agony . The WHO says that the damage caused by loneliness is similar to smoking a pack a day of cigarettes , such is our need as humans for each other .
    I have moved to a new city and the feeling of not being known and cared about is one of the hardest experience of my life . I found it lasted about a year and the I started to be familiar with my surrounding and with those around me . I will never fro get that pain of enforced isolation . I think its made me a kinder person . Stay in touch people , care especially fro the elderly who often live in great loneliness.

  3. Chips B permalink
    March 18, 2020

    Wonderful photographs, as always, but I would make the subtle distinction between loneliness and being alone. I enjoy being alone … it doesn’t mean I am lonely though!



  4. March 18, 2020

    Is the one at the Tower of London where all the poppies were back in 2014? I wonder if that soldier and his comrades were represented by aa poppy just over a century later

  5. March 18, 2020

    Dear GA . this is so poignant given the turmoil of the world. While we wrestle with the crisis
    we pay scant regard to even mention mental health . Loneliness can be a precursor to serious mental health issues. We can always read Spitalfields Life in our self isolation. 1000s of stories. Thank you

  6. March 18, 2020

    Loneliness is terrible and sad. Lovely photos.

  7. March 18, 2020

    I am moved by the image of your past self communing with these lonely figures from the past. Not pitiful, just incredibly brave. Your home in Spitalfields must feel all the more precious for those alone times, carrying you to this place where you make so many human connections.

  8. Lucinda permalink
    March 18, 2020

    A poignant but thought provoking start to the day, thank you – there are so many stories to tell.

  9. lyn permalink
    March 18, 2020

    looking at pictures of a currently deserted london , when all this is over it may be interesting to have an exhibition comparing the two . such a sad time now, loneliness is spreading

  10. March 18, 2020

    Much of London looks empty like this at the moment as we find ourselves in worrying times.
    Gentle Author you are no longer alone…….you are surrounded by all your readers who join you on your daily walks, share your concerns about issues dear to us all, delight in your wonderful blogs and appreciate the hidden ‘gems’ in London you have introduced to folks all over the world. Thank you.

  11. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 18, 2020

    Well GA – you have certainly found your life in London now, and there are thousands of us who enjoy your wonderful writing and photos every day.

    And perhaps your years of loneliness have helped give your blogs the empathetic insights which make them so special.

    Please keep it up – yours blogs will be even more appreciated in the ‘social distancing’ days to come. (I’m going to take the opportunity to read lots of your previous blogs, and follow all the links for a cyber London fix!)

    Stay safe x

  12. Milo Bell permalink
    March 18, 2020

    I moved to London in 79 and also didn’t know anyone. I wandered the city day and night but didn’t feel lonely because i recognised just how many people were doing the same. It was reassuring somehow. I look back on those days now with great fondness. Loved the photos.

  13. March 18, 2020

    “The man who goes alone can start today…….” — Thoreau.
    There is more to that quote, but as an Only Child, I’ve always enjoyed the abbreviated version.
    I salute the message above from Di Corry who perfectly expressed what I feel today. Thank you GA for your daily offering of optimism and insight.

    Onward and upward.

  14. March 18, 2020

    Greetings from London,

    GA, what a unique way of viewing London, from the perspective of lone figures against such a variety of backdrops. I never tire of views of the city. In recent years my trips there have been solo, an experience shared with many fellow travelers.

    I also learned a new word –“tiltyard” – “an enclosed courtyard for jousting… a common feature of castles and palaces.”

    Kudos to the Bishopgate Institute for preserving these images.

    Given the current circumstances, I regret that I have cancelled my annual trip to London this June. But I look forward to your daily posts and remain with you in spirit.

  15. paul loften permalink
    March 18, 2020

    The pictures say it all but the post is full of thought and makes you remember. Anyone who has gone through times when they have been without a friend not only in London but anywhere will be deeply touched by this. I have so I am.

  16. Saba permalink
    March 18, 2020

    A song from James Taylor that played in the streets of Washington, D.C., on beaches, and everywhere —
    I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
    I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
    I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
    The song, particularly the first line, means even more to me now.

    Your blog, GA, gathers your own tribe around you because your writing shows a soulfulness that never becomes artificial. And, you bring your GRs a sense of normalcy among kindred spirits.

  17. March 18, 2020

    Thanks for curating these images. They have a special resonance today. Over the coming months the importance of this blog will magnify.

  18. March 18, 2020

    Very evocative photos. I recall many happy wandering the streets of London alone in my student days. I am 66 now, my husband 74. Sheltering at home together is not as anxiety producing as it would be were I alone. I agree, Phil, this blog is important to our mental health and having a sense of community with fellow travelers in this way will only grow in importance. Take care, everyone.

  19. Catherine permalink
    March 18, 2020

    Beautiful and poignant. I think of Dickens, walking London alone at night for miles and miles. Or Arthur Machen, newly arrived in London from Wales, living in poverty, half-starving, walking, walking.

  20. Rhonda Alperin permalink
    March 18, 2020

    Yes, some of these no doubt portray loneliness, but many I found to perhaps simply reflect a moment of tranquility before or during a hectic day. Maybe taking a morning walk extra early to enjoy a more quiet time in the big city, hear the birds, stop to smell the flowers, admire the trees or a sculpture, whatever. Wonderful photos no matter what one’s perspective…

  21. Miriam Delorie permalink
    March 20, 2020

    The most fantastic pictures – they speak for themselves – I just love your posts – thank you and please don’t stop! all the best good luck and keep well.

  22. Catherine Morris permalink
    March 20, 2020

    I moved to London in October 1979 from Toronto and really got to know London by walking for hours and hours on my own. Coming from a close family, I often felt a bit lonely but delighted in getting to know idiosyncratic streets and buildings. I look back on these days and remember the damp and cobbled together dinners when I came home at night. I was lucky enough to make friends and put down roots. Those early lonely days stay with me though and I always try to make it up to people who I think might be in a similar situation

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