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The Lantern Slides Of Old London

December 11, 2021
by the gentle author

Hundreds of lantern slides from the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society Collection are published in THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S LONDON ALBUM, making it the ideal present for lovers of London’s history.

A few years ago, I became enraptured by a hundred-year-old collection of four thousand lantern slides. They were once used for educational lectures by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Institute in Spitalfields. When Stefan Dickers became archivist there, he discovered the slides in dusty old boxes – abandoned and forgotten since they became obselete. Yet it has become apparent that these slides, which were ignored for so long, are one of the greatest treasures in the collection. And it is my delight to be the one responsible for publishing a selection of these wonderful images in my London Album.

When I was first offered the opportunity of presenting these lantern slides which have been unseen for generations, I was overwhelmed by the number of pictures and did not know where to start. The first to catch my fancy were the ancient signs and symbols, dating from an era before street numbering located addresses and lettered signs advertised trades to Londoners.

Before long, I grew spellbound by the slide collection because, alongside the famous landmarks and grand occasions of state, there were pictures of forgotten corners and of ordinary people going about their business. It was a delight to discover hundreds of images of things that people do not usually photograph and I was charmed to realise that the anonymous photographers of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society were as interested in pubs as they were in churches.

The more I studied the glass slides, the more joy I found in these arcane pictures, since every one contained the rich potential of hidden stories, seducing the imagination to flights of fancy regarding the ever-interesting subject of Old London. Once I had published The Signs of Old London, I realised there were many other such sets to be found among the slides, as a result of the systematic recording of London which underscored the original project by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, a hundred years ago, and parallels my own work in Spitalfields Life, today.

I arranged them quite literally – in terms of doors, or night, or dinners, or streets, or staircases. I did this because I was interested to explore how the pictures might speak to me and to you, the readers. No evidence has survived to indicate in what sequence or order they were originally shown and it was my intention to avoid imposing any grand narratives of power or poverty, although these pictures do speak powerfully of these subjects. Recognising that objects and images are capable of many interpretations, I am one that prefers museums which permit the viewer to decide for themselves, rather than be presented with artefacts subject to a single meaning within an ordained story and so, with the Album, we have presented the pictures and invited the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Equally, in publishing the slides, we chose not to clean them up or remove imperfections and dirt. Similarly, we did not standardise the colour to black or a uniform sepia, either. Instead, we have cherished the subtle variations of hues present in these slides and savoured the beautiful colour contrasts between them, when laid side by side. There is a melancholic poetry in these shabby images, in which their damage and their imperfections speak of their history, and I came to glory in the patina and murk.

Above all, in publishing these pictures in my Album, I wanted to communicate the pleasure I have found in scrutinising them at length and entering another world imaginatively through the medium of this sublime photography. Today I publish this serendipitous selection of glass slides which fascinate me but that did not make it into my Album.

In the Inns of Court

At Eltham Palace

At Euston Station

The Anchor at Bankside

Crocodiles at the Natural History Museum

Reading Room at the British Museum

Chelsea Pensioner

In Fleet St

In Fleet St

St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell

Between the inner & outer dome of St Paul’s

Along the Embankment

The Old Dick Whittington, Clothfair, Smithfield

Firemen take a tea break

Lightermen on the Thames

Flood in Water St, Tower of London

The White Tower, London’s oldest building

Glass slides courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute

Take a look at these sets of the glass slides of Old London

The Nights 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

The High Days & Holidays of Old London

The Dinners of Old London

The Shops of Old London

The Streets of Old London

The Fogs & Smogs of Old London

The Chambers of Old London

The Tombs of Old London

The Bridges of Old London

The Forgotten Corners of Old London

The Thames of Old London

The Statues & Effigies of Old London

The City Churches of Old London

The Docks of Old London

The Tower of Old London


7 Responses leave one →
  1. Peter Hart permalink
    December 11, 2021

    Lovely old photos thank you for posting GA

  2. December 11, 2021

    Very pretty photos. I like the firemen best, who don’t want to be denied their tea ceremony. But that’s what you expect from “us” English — as a Royalist, I would count myself among them!

    Love & Peace

  3. Boudicca Fawkes permalink
    December 11, 2021

    Great pics and story we lyke to wish everyone in London a very happy Christmas and a happy new year

  4. December 11, 2021

    What fabulous images. My siblings and I spent much of our 1950s childhood visiting the Natural History Museum, but don’t ever remember seeing the crocodiles. Just as well, because I’d have probably been scared witless by those jaws

  5. December 11, 2021

    Utterly fascinating. it is the people who make it so for me; the two men at St Johns Gate, one in uniform-what were they talking about? The little lad peering round a drainpipe at the Dick Whittington-what happened to him? Captured instants in lives.

    Thank you GA. These pictures make them live still.

  6. Lizebeth permalink
    December 11, 2021

    What amazing photographs. Do you know if the “Hair Cutting Saloons” were over what are now called Prince Henry’s Rooms? These seem to be closed to the public, and have been for some time now. I would love to find out how to get in and see them.

    Thank you once again for sharing these magical visions of a London past.

  7. Helen H permalink
    December 11, 2021

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful images, which accompany those in the “Album”, which I have, and which I can thoroughly recommend! I worked on a project for some years at our local library, to digitize an archive of historical images of our town, on glass plate slides. It was utterly fascinating and it really brought home how much has changed over the last 130 years or so. We decided to copy them warts and all, with cracks and breaks, smudges, marks, and their original tonal colours intact. We too, just didn’t it was right to disturb the patina of history.

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