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Frank Derrett, Photographer

October 19, 2020
by the gentle author


Recently I published Frank Derrett’s splendid photographs of the West End in the seventies which Paul Loften rescued from a skip and donated to the Bishopsgate Institute.

At first, these pictures appeared to be anonymous but when I examined the transparencies closely, I found several were annotated by a neat italic hand on the cardboard mount, including a name, F.L. Derrett, and an address, 56 Jessel House, Judd St, WC1.

These notes were upon a poignant set of images of interiors – that I assume are Jessel House – which I find especially fascinating. Taken at Christmas, they record an abundance of cards and festive decorations. Upon closer examination, they reveal an enthusiasm for ballet and there are letters from the Royal household framed upon the wall.

At this point, I called in Vicky Stewart, Spitalfields Life’s own private investigator, who famously discovered the location of Horace Warner’s Spitalfields Nippers a few years ago, to see what she could find about the mysterious F.L. Derrett.

Frank Lionel Derrett was born in 1912 and lived at Jessel House his whole life. Frank worked as a clerk at the British Museum from when he was twenty-seven years old in 1939. His father had been killed in Greece at the age of thirty-four, during the First World War, when Frank was only five. He and his mother lived together in Jessel House through the rest of the century, until Frank’s death in January 1995 at the age of eighty-two. It was shortly after this that Paul Loften saved Frank’s photos.

So now these photographs that Frank took in his sixties are all we have. There is a certain intimacy, even affection, in his colourful pictures, taken by Londoner to whom these locations were familiar. They reveal a delight in a London that was all local for Frank, living in Bloomsbury. It was natural for him to walk to work at the British Museum and then into the West End in search of entertainment. The photographs tell me that Frank loved London.


An enthusiasm for ballet and Lotte Lenya

Letters from the Royal household

Clint Eastwood at Christmas

Whidbourne St

London Wall

The Marie Lloyd in Hoxton

Windmill at Wimbledon

Frank’s florist, Annie in Marchmont St – where he bought flowers for his mother

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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Frank Derrett’s West End

10 Responses leave one →
  1. paul loften permalink
    October 19, 2020

    They were given to me just as they were about to be thrown onto the skip about 25 years ago at the time nobody wanted these slides. Although London was gradually changing .The scenes were then all too familiar. I purchased a slide viewer to look a them on my home computer a bit later on. It was all brand new technology then and when I saw them I thought they were wonderful and I stored them away in my loft. I did not know anything about Mr Derrett until this morning when I read all that the GA had discovered about him . There were three boxes of slides of many locations . The photo of the flower lady who stood in Marchmont street stands out in my mind because I remember her vividly, standing there at her spot. for many years . I would often have to visit that location in the many blocks of flats behind the Camden Town hall in the course of my work and there she was, at her stall. I would give her a smile and nod as I passed her I would walk down Whidbourne street past the Duke of wellington pub so many times but I cannot recall the little white corner shop being open. It was always boarded up
    . It really does give me a thrill to know that they are now at the Bishopsgate Institute and are now a part of Londons history for everybody to see. . I was amazed to read Dave Howes comment that he noticed his grandfathers car parked outside of Captain Watts chandlery. People should look closely at the photos they may see some more extraordinary coincidences captured in time by Mr Derrett
    . It is thanks to the talent of Frank Derrett and the Gentle Author and his amazing blog that these stories and scenes are not lost forever and are able to travel through time to visit us today

  2. October 19, 2020

    How touching, how beautiful, how moving and how just plain interesting! How I wish Frank Derrett could know his photographs have ended up being cherished. 

    Congratulations!! To Paul Loften for saving them and for giving them to the Bishopsgate Institute, for amazing detective Vicky Stewart for finding out so much about Frank Derrett, and for the Gentle Author for once again sharing with us a sweet and important  bit of our history.

    (I wonder why Frank Derrett was getting prints of the Xmas photos. Presumably he always – very sensibly – wrote his name on transparencies he left to be printed. It seems, since he was getting more than one print of some, that he was sharing those images?)

  3. October 19, 2020

    Is there a date (or year) for the Whidbourne St, photograph : the pub & the narrow house are still there (& somehow reassuring in times of wholesale gentrification). Also, is there a photograph of Frank Derrett anywhere ? Thanks (Stephen Watts)

  4. Saba permalink
    October 19, 2020

    My saying that history is whatever did not end up in the trash proves to be literally true in this case. I am so grateful to those who have preserved and researched the documentation to establish this fascinating slice of history. Without documentation what appears to be history is no more than popular lore.

  5. Nina Archer permalink
    October 19, 2020

    … such a lovely, interesting post, thanks… all the tinsel and trimmings reminded me of Christmases long gone …

  6. October 19, 2020

    I know that many readers will rightfully comment about the other amazing aspects of this
    posting — but I felt tearful admiration for Frank’s holiday décor. And it made me think about the reality gap between art-directed-and-styled depictions of holiday decorations in so-called shelter magazines —- and the total GLORY of the real thing. I zoomed in on all the divine realism of these holiday photos, and crowed with delight at the network of crisscrossing wires, knickknacks clinging perilously to the edges of angel-hair-festooned side tables ( oh, gulp, WATCH out there!), the happy sprig of mistletoe stuck into the fascinating swan painting, and the array of small tree ornaments that seemingly tinkle and shudder as we watch. As far as why he would want or need prints/repos of these — Why, naturally, Frank would be the kind of generous, thoughtful gent would mail these to pen pals, or relatives, or perhaps keep in an album for his own remembrance.

    This posting started out in a compelling way — I was instantly drawn in, wanting to know more about the studiously- labeled slides; and was richly rewarded with the heartfelt story-telling. A treasure trove! And what is that lyric from the musical “Mame”? — “We need a little Christmas NOW!!!!”.

    A million thanks, GA. Stay safe, all.

  7. Gayle permalink
    October 19, 2020

    He must have loved swans! Ceramic pair, the painting of two, Swan Lake album, and Swan themed Christmas cards. Fascinating glimpse of a life…

  8. Akkers permalink
    October 19, 2020

    I loved these photos – I was instantly taken back in time to my Nan’s in the 1970s as those Christmas decorations could have been hers, plus she had the same mirror and TV too. So pleased that these photos were not just thrown way. Lets hope there is a photo of Frank amongst the collection as it would be great to see a photo of him.

  9. Georgina Briody permalink
    October 20, 2020

    Looking at the Christmas decorations took me back to old memories when I was at home….comforting….and the flower lady when I work around the corner in Queen Square. Returned in recent times and all changed.

  10. Bernie permalink
    October 20, 2020

    The windmill at Wimbledon was unexpected. Does it still exist? Open to visitors?

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