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The High Days & Holidays Of Old London

May 3, 2021
by the gentle author

On Bank Holiday Monday, let us to consider the high days & holidays of old London in the days before social distancing.

Boys lining up at The Oval, c.1930

School is out. Work is out. All of London is on the lam. Everyone is on the streets. Everyone is in the parks. What is going on? Is it a jamboree? Is it a wingding? Is it a shindig? Is it a bevy? Is it a bash?

These are the high days and holidays of old London, as recorded on glass slides by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and once used for magic lantern shows at the Bishopsgate Institute.

No doubt these lectures had an educational purpose, elucidating the remote origins of London’s quaint old ceremonies. No doubt they had a patriotic purpose to encourage wonder and sentiment at the marvel of royal pageantry. Yet the simple truth is that Londoners – in common with the rest of humanity – are always eager for novelty, entertainment and spectacle, always seeking any excuse to have fun. And London is a city ripe with all kinds of opportunities for amusement, as illustrated by these magnificent photographs of its citizens at play.

Are you ready? Are you togged up? Did you brush your hair? Did you polish your shoes? There is no time to lose. We need the make the most of our high days and holidays. And we need to get there before the parade passes by.

At Hampstead Heath, c.1910.

Walls Ice Cream vendor, c.1920.

At Hampstead Heath, c.1910.

At Hampstead Heath, c.1910.

Balloon ascent at Crystal Palace, Sydenham, c.1930.

At the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, 1896.

Christ’s Hospital Procession across bridge on St Matthews Day, 1936.

A cycle excursion to The Spotted Dog in West Ham, 1930.

Pancake Greaze at Westminster School on Shrove Tuesday, c.1910.

Variety at the Shepherds Bush Empire, c.1920.

Dignitaries visit the Chelsea Royal Hospital, c.1920.

Games at the Foundling Hospital, Bloomsbury, c.1920.

Riders in Rotten Row, Hyde Park, c.1910.

Physiotherapy at a Sanatorium, 1916.

Vintners’ Company, Master’s Installation procession, City of London, c.1920.

Boating on the lake in Battersea Park, c.1920.

The King’s Coach, c.1911.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession, 1897.

Lord Mayor’s Procession passing St Paul’s, 1933.

Policemen gives directions to ladies at the coronation of Edward VII, 1902.

After the procession for the coronation of George V, c.1911.

Observance of the feast of Charles I at Church of St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, 1932.

Chief Yeoman Warder oversees the Beating of the Bounds at the Tower of London, 1920.

Schoolchildren Beating the Bounds at the Tower of London, 1920.

A cycle excursion to Chingford Old Church, c.1910.

Litterbugs at Hampstead Heath, c.1930.

The Foundling Hospital Anti-Litter Band, c.1930.

Distribution of sixpences to widows at St Bartholomew the Great on Good Friday, c.1920.

Visiting the Cast Court to see Trajan’s Column at the Victoria & Albert Museum, c.1920.

A trip from Chelsea Pier, c.1910.

Doggett’s Coat & Badge Race, c.1920.

Feeding pigeons outside St Paul’s, c.1910.

Building the Great Wheel, Earls Court, c.1910.

Glass slides copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Nights of Old London

The Ghosts of Old London

The Dogs 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

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 3, 2021

    Oh to be in a London crowd again… the jostling… the banter… and the welcome company of random strangers!

    Can’t wait…

  2. May 3, 2021

    Wall’s ice cream still used the three wheeled bike in Gloucester up until the late 80’s with a local celebrity rider, a Mr Knipe and boy could be give the lorries a run for their money.

  3. May 3, 2021

    Greeat post. I checked what was “Beating bounds” (a very old tradition, apparently), but my favorite is the “Pancake Greaze” (I checked that one to0.) I quite like the “Litterbugs” followed by the anti-litter band. Thank you.

  4. May 3, 2021

    Pictures from that time are always highly interesting. I’m experiencing this at the moment because I’m going through my father’s archive. He was born in GDAŃSK in 1926 and passed away peacefully at home after Easter this year.

    The following short film provides an impressive insight into the time when my father was a child:

    Love & Peace

  5. Maggie permalink
    May 3, 2021

    This feels so uplifting!

  6. May 3, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a great collection of happy London scenes – such variety. My favorites are: “Walls Ice Cream vendor, c.1920;” “A cycle excursion to The Spotted Dog in West Ham, 1930;” and “Pancake Greaze at Westminster School on Shrove Tuesday, c.1910” – to name a few.

    Such fun!

  7. Lizebeth permalink
    May 3, 2021

    What strikes me is the fact that all of these people are so PRESENT. Everyone is sharing with everyone else, and everyone is concentrating on getting the most out of the experience — even the children. This is something our society today has totally lost. Perhaps when we can finally enjoy being part of a crowd again, we will wish to participate in the reality of other people a bit more? One can only hope.

  8. May 3, 2021

    Wonderful, wonderful images of places I know so well. I believe the annual Pancake Greaze still takes places every Shrove Tuesday at Westminster School.

  9. Dan permalink
    May 3, 2021

    Ha! Here’s me regularly getting exasperated with the littering that goes on today, as if it’s a modern societal problem, and there’s Hampstead looking like a landfill site in 1930!!

  10. Kelly Holman permalink
    May 4, 2021

    Another wonderful collection, thank you. How we all need these high days and human connection.
    I was also delighted to discover there is a church called St. Andrew by the Wardrobe. Fantastic.

  11. Pamela Traves permalink
    May 5, 2021

    These Wonderful Vintage Holiday Pictures are Wonderful. I have Really Enjoyed it!!??????✨

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