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The Dogs Of Old London

March 20, 2021
by the gentle author

Spring begins in the northern hemisphere with the vernal equinox at 21:58pm tonight. In celebration, we are having a SPRING SALE with all titles in the Spitalfields Life Bookshop at half price. Enter ‘SPRING’ at checkout to claim your discount.


Click here to visit the Spitalfields Life online bookshop


‘The Dogs of Old London’ are published in ‘The Gentle Author’s London Album’ which is included in the sale

Click to enlarge

Sometimes in London, I think I hear a lone dog barking in the distance and I wonder if it is an echo from another street or a yard. Sometimes in London, I wake late in the night and hear a dog calling out to me on the wind, in the dark silent city of my dreaming. What is this yelp I believe I hear in London, dis-embodied and far away? Is it the sound of the dogs of old London – the guard dogs, the lap dogs, the stray dogs, the police dogs, the performing dogs, the dogs of the blind, the dogs of the ratcatchers, the dogs of the watermen, the cadaver dogs, the mutts, the mongrels, the curs, the hounds and the puppies?

Libby Hall, who has gathered possibly the largest collection of dog photography ever made by any single individual, helped me select the dogs of old London from her personal archive. We pulled out those from London photographic studios and those labelled as London. Then, Libby also picked out those that she believes are London. And here you see the photographs we chose. How eager and yet how soulful are these metropolitan dogs of yesteryear. They were not camera shy.

The complete social range is present in this selection, from the dogs of the workplace to the dogs of the boudoir, although inevitably the majority are those whose owners had the disposable income for studio portraits. These pictures reveal that while human fashions change according to the era and the class, dogs exist in an eternal present tense. Even if they are the dogs of old London and even if in our own age we pay more attention to breeds, any of these dogs could have been photographed yesterday. And the quality of emotion these creatures drew from their owners is such that the people in the pictures are brought closer to us. They might otherwise withhold their feelings or retreat behind studio poses but, because of their relationships with their dogs, we can can recognise our common humanity more readily.

These pictures were once cherished by the owners after their dogs had died but now all the owners have died too, long ago. For the most part, we do not know the names of the subjects, either canine or human. All we are left with are these poignant records of tender emotion, intimate lost moments in the history of our city.

The dogs of old London no longer cock their legs at the trees, lamps and street corners of our ancient capital, no longer pull their owners along the pavement, no longer stretch out in front of the fire, no longer keep the neighbours awake barking all night, no longer doze in the sun, no longer sit up and beg, no longer bury bones, no longer fetch sticks, no longer gobble their dinners, no longer piss in the clean laundry, no longer play dead or jump for a treats. The dogs of old London are silent now.



Arthur Lee, Muswell Hill, inscribed “To Ruby with love from Crystal.”

Ellen Terry was renowned for her love of dogs as much as for her acting.

W.Pearce, 422 Lewisham High St.

This girl and her dog were photographed many times for cards and are believed to be the photographer’s daughter and her pet.

Emberson – Wimbledon, Surbiton & Tooting.

Edward VII’s dog Caesar that followed the funeral procession and became a national hero.


A prizewinner, surrounded by trophies and dripping with awards.

The Vicar of Leyton and his dog.

The first dog to be buried here was run over outside the gatekeeper’s lodge, setting a fashionable precedent, and within twenty-five years the gatekeeper’s garden was filled with over three hundred upper class pets.

Libby Hall, collector of dog photographs.

Photographs copyright © The Libby Hall Collection at the Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to read my original profile

Libby Hall, Collector of Dog Photography

12 Responses leave one →
  1. March 20, 2021

    Libby Hall’s collection must be incredible. Great piece, dear G.A., thank you.

  2. Mark permalink
    March 20, 2021

    Really nice saturday morning smiles.
    The love goes both ways in each photo.
    That dog don’t half look like the vicar y’know?

  3. March 20, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the great collection of dog portraits from the distant past. Agreed – that their owners “might otherwise withhold their feelings or retreat behind studio poses but, because of their relationships with their dogs, we can can recognise our common humanity more readily.”

    I admit I am not really a “dog person,” but I am quite taken with my daughter’s new golden retriever pup, three months old. I just finished sending a great pic of “Bessie” to several friends. The pooch had just ascended a steep hill in Meredith, New Hampshire with the family. Overlooking beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee. I couldn’t resist.

  4. paul loften permalink
    March 20, 2021

    Thank you, GA and Libby Hall for showing us this wonderful collection of faithful friends .

  5. JAR permalink
    March 20, 2021

    God bless each and every one of them whereever they are.

  6. David Antscherl permalink
    March 20, 2021

    There is something so poignant about the young child’s shaky caption, ‘OUR billy and Me’ written below the image. Thank you!

  7. March 20, 2021

    Lovely images. Do you have any of English Bull Terriers?

  8. Pamela Traves permalink
    March 20, 2021

    What Beautiful Pictures of these Vintage Dogs!! They are So Lovely!!?????????

  9. Boudica Redd permalink
    March 21, 2021

    Great pics of thee dogs and Libby’s pics she is a great lady and a very good friend and her books and you’re wonderful writing brings souch happiness to thee masses up here we only here thee haunted sound of thee pairey dogs

  10. Cherub permalink
    March 21, 2021

    I love the photo of the young woman in service with the dog. She looks very pretty and cheerful in her uniform. I wonder if the dog belonged to her employer?

  11. March 21, 2021

    These are just wonderful in a heartbreaking way. Could you compile some photos of cats??

  12. mlaiuppa permalink
    March 22, 2021

    There is something so lovely about these photographs of dogs long gone as well as their owners.

    The gentle looks of love and pride. Both from the dogs and from their caretakers.

    Just, truly lovely to behold.

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