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E. O. Hoppé’s Londoners

January 23, 2021
by the gentle author

I came upon these intimate and dignified portraits by Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972), accompanying interviews by W. Pett Ridge in his LONDON TYPES, 1926.


‘The costume known as pearlies went out so long ago that it can be regarded as a page of distant history. The presentment of a Cockney type is now achieved by other means. As a fact, Commercial Rd is determined to keep pace with the West End so far as male attire is concerned, but the time may come when Hackney Rd will lead.’


‘An increased use of roadways has added to the range of the chipper. From the motor coach, as he goes along the countryside, he can fire comments at slow pedestrians and he can chaff the young women riding pillion on motor bicycles. As used at public meetings, chipping is sometimes known as heckling and no general election is complete without specimens of his art. A junior in any office or warehouse is wise to submit to the verbal attack made by the chipper of the establishment. In due course and with the passage of years, he too will become a chipper. In this way, traditions are maintained and old customs not allowed to die.’


‘With all the short cuts she is well acquainted and it is not the messenger girl who is deceived by turnings out of Bishopsgate St…’


‘Robinsky – first name Stanislaus – came here many years ago with his wife, neither being acquainted with the English language. Somehow they made their way from the docks to Tottenham Court Rd where they have lived ever since. Robinsky is growing old now and likely enough he does not feel his control over European matters is quite as complete as he once hoped it would be.’


‘All witnesses whether from Hoxton or elsewhere show a pained anxiety to be extremely decorous in language. Only under the encouragement of the magistrate’s clerk do they, in their quotations, consent to be verbally exact and report with coyness words to which, in ordinary life, they are fully accustomed.’


‘Cecil Whitstable swaggered along Latimer Rd, giving a wave of the hand to men acquaintances, with a forefinger to the peak of the cap when they were in the company of ladies. One of the men hurried after him and asked privately if he knew anything worth knowing about the three-thirty race that afternoon. Cecil replied that his mind was on weightier matters.’


‘The home worker pays more dearly than for necessaries  than anyone else in London and this is because she has to buy tea by the two ounces, butter by the quarter pound and sugar by the pennyworth…’


‘There are changes in the musical repertory of London introduced so gradually that one requires an observant ear to detect the alteration of the programme. The rhythmical sound of horses hooves has become rare, even the piano organ has become less aggressive. In order that its voice may not reach a public outside its paying area, it frequently mutes its notes and rarely leaves Saffron Hill until the day is well advanced…’

‘You will find the humble abode of one who has been visited by dire misfortune, deserted by all the acquaintances one knew in happier days and in brighter surroundings, many articles in the shape of furniture have had to go…’


‘Protected by his outstretched arm from the traffic that near the Bank comes from every quarter, I have crossed safely without the trouble of diving into the station of the Central Railway. I have seen him dance with agreeable ladies in the great hall at the Cannon St Hotel. I have watched him at open air sports for an entire afternoon.  I have looked on with awe at his boxing…’


‘An occurrence on which he is an authority is the Clerkenwell Explosion – ‘Wheels a barrel of gunpowder close up against the wall of the prison, then lights a fuse and runs away,’ adding with relish, ‘A few dozen killed and over a hundred damaged. Precious little else talked about at the time I can assure you!”


“Living not far from Shoreditch Church, Mrs Marsden’s husband held a fixed objection to work and the task of earning a wage was left to her. Once he was absent for a fortnight and, when a neighbour brought news that a body had been taken out of the river, Mrs Marsden set out at once for the mortuary. ‘That’s Bill, right enough!’ she said. The insurance was drawn, an almost luxurious funeral provided and a good supply of refreshments laid in. But when the mourners returned, conducted by Mrs Marsden, they found Bill seated at the table. He had eaten the ham and consumed most of the beverages.’


‘One of the bravest officers the division had ever included in its ranks, Mr Chailey was presented by the Chairman with a spontaneous collection amounting to over one hundred pounds.’


‘In the quarters where doorsteps receive daily attention, the maid with her kneeling mat and other necessities of the job, comes up the area stairs early enough to permit of conversation with the acquaintances who pass by and she does not object to the interruptions created. The postman alludes to the temperature. ‘Don’t find I sleep well,’ he mentions autobiographically, ‘during the hot weather.’ ‘Small wonder,’ she remarks, good-humouredly. ‘Look at the life you have led.’ The postman goes on, greatly cheered by the implication.’


It is rare for Mrs Miller to take a journey in a public conveyance without being recognised by a fellow passenger. Her bonnet assists her identification. Being no slave to fashion, she has always, in living memory, worn the same style and she retains the headgear when engaged in her daily tasks. I am unable to say whether of not she sleeps in it.’


‘George found himself a junior at a salary which juniors of an earlier period would have deemed impossible. A chief clerk to whom he was introduced gazed at him steadily through a pince-nez and said, not discouragingly, ‘I daresay we shall be able to knock some sense into you.’ To which George replied – having been warned to be polite to his superiors – ‘Much obliged, sir!”


‘The beauty of the hand diminishes when it has to perform tasks at the Council Washhouses.’

Photographs copyright © Estate of E O Hoppé

You may also like to take a look at

Bill Brandt, Photographer

Edith Tudor-Hart, Photographer

Kurt Hutton, Photographer 

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 23, 2021

    Wonderful portraits, especially of the old people. Makes one wonder what their back stories were…

  2. Mark. permalink
    January 23, 2021

    The messenger girl is exceedingly beautiful.
    Never seen so much stoicism in me life as I live and breathe.

  3. Pauline Taylor permalink
    January 23, 2021

    Are there more of these? They are fascinating; I love the story of Mrs Marsden’s husband and surely the two lady home workers must be twins, they look so similar. Thank you for yet another photographic find GA and how sad it is that there will be no such wonderfully revealing photographs of the times that we live in.

  4. January 23, 2021

    Incredible portraits. Thank you.

  5. January 23, 2021

    Dear G.A., never seen these Pictures before! Incredible — thanks a lot.

    Love & Peace

  6. January 23, 2021

    Thanks for publishing this. They are truly wonderful portraits of people and life at that time. So evocative.

  7. Bernie permalink
    January 23, 2021

    Jill Wilson’s comment I second. Wonderful portraits; much more human and affective than most.

  8. January 23, 2021

    When you’re a hopeless old-movie buff, you can never find the “off” button. As I looked through these amazing photos, I started “casting” them. Edna May Oliver, C. Aubrey Smith, etc. And — Alert the Wardrobe Department, and dust off the crepe!

    However, no matter how atmospheric an old film is, nothing compares to REAL. These portraits radiate with pathos and humanity; introducing us to vivid characters with “life” written across every face. Goodness, even that young boy in his Pearlie get-up already seems to be an old soul.

    Thank you for introducing us to this remarkable array of compelling folks.

  9. paul loften permalink
    January 23, 2021

    Wonderful character portraits of an era with traces that we can still relate to. I am The Complete Letter Writer. At this very moment sitting on an old wooden crate in an empty room. Well it’s not that bad really I have a well-upholstered cushion between myself and the crate

  10. Hilary permalink
    January 23, 2021

    Those lovley hands are grinding coffee beans – coffee break at the wash house?

  11. January 23, 2021

    Bravo what a great a story from London’s past

  12. Linda Granfield permalink
    January 23, 2021

    Exceptional! Thank you so very much for sharing these images.

    I had a good giggle with Mrs./Mr. Marsden’s story, and would love to chat with that capped boy–“Oh, what became of you, young man?”

  13. Cherub permalink
    January 23, 2021

    I felt very touched by the photo of the 2 elderly ladies who were homeworkers, earning a pittance to survive. People sometimes don’t realise what hard lives people had before the introduction of the welfare state and things are often taken for granted.
    The current pandemic situation has made me think more about how we should be grateful for even the smallest of things.

  14. Christy S. permalink
    January 23, 2021

    Oh my. Such intimate vignettes

  15. Pamela Traves permalink
    January 23, 2021

    What Lovely Vintage Pictures. Each Person is Very Special!!?????????

  16. January 24, 2021

    A couple days later…….I have continued to follow some links to further info about E. O.
    Hoppe (go ahead – treat yourself!!!!) and discovered that he did a whole incredible series of theatrical portraits of the Ballet Russes performers. This is one of my enduring passions — and
    the Hoppe portraits are incredibly evocative and quite meaningful. The Ballet Russe was an endeavor that brought together artistic people of that era; including artists, choreographers, designers, writers, graphics, performers, photographers …. everyone. These portraits really added to my wealth of knowledge and obsession. Thank you, GA!!!

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