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William Whiffin, Photographer

September 24, 2020
by the gentle author

William Whiffin (1878-1957) is one of the great unsung London photographers, which makes it a rare pleasure to present this gallery of his pictures from the collection of his granddaughter Hellen Martin. Born into a family of photographers in the East End, Whiffin made his living with studio portraits and commercial commissions, yet he strove to be recognised for his more artistic photography.

Lion Brewery and the Shot Tower, South Bank

The photographer’s son Sid Whiffin at Cooper’s Stairs, Old Queen St

Off Fetter Lane

The Pantheon, Oxford St

In Princes Sq, Stepney

Figureheads of fighting ships in Grosvenor Rd

At Covent Garden Market

Jewry Street, off Aldgate High St

Milwall & the Island Horse Omnibus, c.1910

St Catherine Coleman next to Fenchurch St Station

In Fleet St

In Buckfast St, Bethnal Green

At Borough Market

In Lombard St

Rotherhithe Watch House

Wapping Old Stairs

Junction of Cambridge Heath Rd & Hackney Rd

Ratcliff Stairs, Limehouse

Ratcliff Causeway, Limehouse

St Jude’s, Commercial St

Farthing Bundles at the Fern St Settlement, Bow

Houndsditch Rag Fair

At the Royal Exchange, City of London

Weavers’ House, Bethnal Green Rd

Off Pennington St, Wapping

Borough of Poplar Electricity Dept

Pruning in the hop gardens of Faversham

Photographs copyright © Estate of William Whiffin

Hellen Martin & I should be very grateful if readers can identify any of the uncaptioned photographs

You may also like to read about

Horace Warner’s Photography

C A Mathew’s Photography

26 Responses leave one →
  1. William Cahill permalink
    September 24, 2020

    What are we looking at? What of all this survives? Who made the artwork for Mr. Wiffin’s advertisement?

    Wonderful, wonderful photographs, and thank you.

  2. September 24, 2020

    Wonderfully evocative pictures of a bygone age. The ones on the river in particular.

  3. Graham Barker permalink
    September 24, 2020

    After a bit of sleuthing I’ve managed to identify that the eighth photo depicts a scene in Jewry Street, off Aldgate High Street.

    On the left (No 8) is Jones’ dairy – apparently agents for the Aylesbury Farm Dairy.

    The building in the middle (No 7) dates from c1650. I’ve found a copy of John Cole’s painting of this “picturesque shop which survived the Great Fire”, as published in The Sphere (14 Dec 1935). I’ll email a copy to you. In Cole’s painting, the name painted on the fascia is JE Sly & Son, “Sacks, Bags, Ropes, Twines, Tents, Canvas etc” – though Slys appear to have left by the time of Wm Whiffin’s photo.

    And the building on the right (No 6) was Harding & Co. In the London Gazette (16 Sept 1924) – described as “export packers, shipper and forwarding agents” – they appear with a bankruptcy order. No 6 had previously been occupied by Tower Tea Limited; there was an extensive fire here in Jan 1901, so the building shown in Wm Whiffin’s photo might have been built after the fire.

    With thanks to the British Newspaper Archive.

  4. September 24, 2020

    Thanks for publishing these wonderful photographs. London keeps shedding its skin – unfortunately.

  5. Jane permalink
    September 24, 2020

    Such beautiful pictures- it made my day finding these in my inbox. My nan used to life in Rahere st, EC1 and I subscribed to your site as I used to love visiting her there. I love all the posts but this one is fantastic. Particularly the picture of all the woman in their hats in the meeting hall. Thanks

  6. Sharon permalink
    September 24, 2020

    Wow, such amazing photographs! The architecture of some of the buildings captured in these photos is truly stunning. I also loved the photo of the children waiting expectantly for their Farthing Bundles – just lovely.

  7. September 24, 2020

    On the second photo you have the photographers son listed as standing on Cooper’s Stairs. Nowadays, this is called Cockpit Steps. I was wondering why the name was changed?

    I should also mention that I went to school with a Bob Whiffen from the East End. His father drove trucks. I wonder if he was related to William and his son Sid? Whiffen is such an unusual name.

  8. Pauline Taylor permalink
    September 24, 2020

    These are inspiring, photography at its very very best, what a gifted man William Whiffin was, I take my very critical rating of photographs hat off to him. Please pass on sincere thanks from me to his granddaughter, Hellen Martin, for allowing you to publish these, they are not just photographs they are works of art. Thank you.

  9. Lorraine Prentice permalink
    September 24, 2020

    Such interesting and evocative photos of yesteryear.

  10. Ruth Fleming permalink
    September 24, 2020

    absolutely fascinating and so atmospheric. Amazing photos.

  11. September 24, 2020

    I am totally enthralled with the building adorned by the ship’s figureheads. Would love to know the who/what/when/why of this amazing collection, and how this “family” of figures ended up in this remarkable location. Likeable giants — their sea-faring days are over.

    Thank you for this amazing array of historic photos. What a city!?
    Stay safe, all.

  12. Jonathan Fink permalink
    September 24, 2020

    These photos are fabulous- it’s a shame there is no printed collection of his work, or biography!

  13. Judy Sumray permalink
    September 24, 2020

    Echo all the praise and thanks….every day a new interest/delight/discovery…..and this one is superb and all the other adjectives I can’t conjure up……thank you so very very much.”… words inadequate…..

  14. September 24, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for sharing the great photos from William Whiffin’s collection. Such great perspective.

    My favorite are “Off Fetter Lane,” “Ratcliff Causeway, Limehouse,” and “In Fleet Street.”

  15. paul loften permalink
    September 24, 2020

    Magnificent photos . Still photography can be like a piece of music or perhaps more like a particular smell . A moment caught in time can evoke a chain of memories and discover long forgotten feelings , hidden by layers of time. Some of these photos were taken in the early 20th century. However they contain within them a sense of a generation and era that one can now only imagine. The two images that remain in my mind are of the men at the table in the social club and the women seated at the meeting . They speak volumes without a word.

  16. Reg Watlinger permalink
    September 24, 2020

    What interesting photos! Thanks for posting!

  17. Mark permalink
    September 24, 2020

    You know I’m a sucker for the photos you show and these are up to your usual high standard.
    Youg Sid staring balefully out at the street, a freshly glossed door and postbox catch my eye. Smell that lead based paint!
    The poor tramp, filthy from god knows what, bringing to mind Orwells Down and Out in London and Paris. Waiting for the spike to open?
    Excellent photographer.

  18. Linda Granfield permalink
    September 24, 2020

    Love the workmen ‘de-constructing’ St. Jude’s Church.

    And the mum, ‘posing dog,’ and the boy smiling despite his arm in a sling. What a well-swept yard!

    I, too, want to know who designed that magnificent business card. It’s very ‘House of Morris.”

    Wonderful photos! Many thanks.

  19. Richard Pascoe permalink
    September 24, 2020

    Thank you G A , and Hellen for showing us these wonderful photographs .

  20. Thomas Andrews permalink
    September 24, 2020

    How wonderful it would be if you, or someone else were to locate these views and take a snap of what we would see today from the same point these were taken so long ago. What fun it is to compare then and now.


  21. September 25, 2020

    Thank You So much for these Vintage Pictures. Some Very Sad, Some Beautiful, as Life is.???????

  22. Philip Binnd permalink
    September 25, 2020

    Thank you for these evocative images.
    I was particularly taken by the image of the Pantheon in Oxford Street and the marvellous 3D lettering advertising Veno’s Cold Cure on the brick wall of the adjacent building.
    My parents always had a bottle on standby when I was growing up and it always seemed to work.
    The typography surely was an inspiration for later 20th century designers.

  23. linda kincaid permalink
    September 27, 2020

    Beautiful photographs. Thankyou for showing them to us.

  24. David Dean permalink
    August 16, 2021

    I have recently discovered that William Whiffin is a distant relative of mine. It’s wonderful to see these evocative photographs. Thank you for sharing

  25. Chris Griffin permalink
    January 3, 2022

    Is he the William Whiffin who has the square in Tower Hamlets named after him.
    My grandfather was William Wellings Whiffin.

  26. Denise Booker [whiffin] permalink
    June 21, 2024

    Would love to here from you as we maybe related.

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