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Dennis Anthony’s Petticoat Lane

February 6, 2022
by the gentle author

If you are looking to spruce up your linen cupboard with some fresh bolster cases or if it is time to replace those tired tea towels and soiled doilies, then these two lovely gentlemen are here to help. They have some super feather eiderdowns and quality blanket sets to keep you snug and cosy on frosty nights, and it is all going for a song.

One Summer Sunday in the nineteen fifties, Dennis Anthony took his camera down Petticoat Lane to capture the heroes of the epic drama of market life – all wearing their Sunday best, properly turned out, and even a little swanky. There is plenty of flash tailoring and some gorgeous florals to be admired in his elegant photographs, composed with dramatic play of light and shade, in compositions which appear simultaneously spontaneous and immaculately composed. Each of these pictures captures a dramatic moment – selling or buying or deliberating – yet they also reward second and third glances to scrutinise the bystanders and all the wonderful detail of knick-knacks gone long ago.

When the West End shops shut on Sundays, Petticoat Lane was the only place to go shopping and hordes of Londoners headed East, pouring through Middlesex St and the surrounding streets that comprised its seven “tributaries,” hungry for bargains and mad for novelty. How do I know this? Because it was the highlight of my parents’ honeymoon, when they visited around the same time as Dennis Henry, and I grew up hearing tales of the mythic Petticoat Lane market.

I wish I could buy a pair of those hob-nailed boots and that beret hung up beside the two sisters in shorts, looking askance. But more even than these, I want the shirt with images of records and Lonnie Donegan and his skiffle group, hung up on Jack’s stall in the final photograph. Satisfied with my purchases, I should go round to Necchi’s Cafe on the corner of Exchange Buildings and join those distinguished gentlemen for refreshment. Maybe, if I sat there long enough, I might even glimpse my young parents come past, newly wed and excited to be in London for the first time?

I am grateful to the enigmatic Dennis Anthony for taking me to Petticoat Lane in its heyday. I should like to congratulate him on his superlative photography, only I do not know who he is. Stefan Dickers, the archivist at the Bishopsgate Institute, bought the prints you see here on ebay and although they are labelled Dennis Anthony upon the reverse, we can find nothing more about the mysterious photographer. So if anyone can help us with information or if anyone knows where there are further pictures by Dennis Anthony – Stefan & I would be delighted to learn more.

You might also like to see

Postcards from Petticoat Lane

Laurie Allen of Petticoat Lane

The Wax Sellers of Wentworth St

Fred the Chestnut Seller

Larry Goldstein, Toyseller & Taxi Driver

Rochelle Cole, Poulterer

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Marcia Howard permalink
    February 6, 2022

    An Institution in itself. Oh for the good old days. Fabulous pics and great memories. Thank you.

  2. keithb permalink
    February 6, 2022

    The perspective / point of view and apparent absence of grain in the prints suggests a Rolleiflex camera or similar. Good for markets, you are looking down into the ground glass screen and the camera is at waist height or a little above. Less obtrusive than an eye-level 35mm camera. In late 50s early 60s Rolleis were much used by press photographers. There was a UK made copy called a Microcord (manufactured in part in the Ross optics factory in Handsworth).

    Nice images: the second one down with the chaps in suits suggests a scene in short story, you can almost write the dialogue

    Hope the little girl liked the teddy her Dad(?) was buying.

  3. Rick Armiger permalink
    February 6, 2022

    Seeing the ladies and gentlemen -and also children- dressed so nobly, it is a beautiful thang.

    (One shouldn’t beat oneself up) I and my troupe were V guilty of badly letting the side down.

  4. Johnny Campbell permalink
    February 6, 2022

    Wonderful photographs. Are you positive these are from the 50’s, they look more modern?
    Many thanks.

  5. Mark permalink
    February 6, 2022

    A reminder of when Mum and Dad drove to London from Cambridgeshire and took my 2 Brothers and myself to this great market in the early seventies a couple of times. No problem parking then! I remember the parrots, dogs and monkeys(!) for sale. The men on the stalls out-shouting each other. Then on to Trafalgar square and a museum. A steak house meal then home for eight for Sunday night bath. Exhausted and bed by 9. I was a lucky boy. Thanks Mum and Dad. Thanks London.

  6. Penny Gardner permalink
    February 6, 2022

    Oh , don’t I remember it !
    A long walk from Kings X,got a blister from new sandals.
    My Mother went for the linens and it was always sunny.
    Very thirsty and had to wait till we got home for a drink of water .

  7. Susan Glen permalink
    February 6, 2022


    You asked for help regarding Dennis Anthony. One of my tutors on my photography course in Farnham in the late 1970’s early 80’s was called Dennis Anthony. He was in his 50’s during that era. I remember that he was Greek. I don’t recall him sharing his work with us.
    Incredibly, I was recently in touch with my course tutor who is now in her late 70’s. I’ll ask her is she can help.

  8. Linda Granfield permalink
    February 6, 2022

    According to this 2020 article, Dennis Anthony is 92 years old. I think the info in the article can help you locate/contact him? (Would be wonderful to see a follow-up story about him!)

  9. February 6, 2022

    It is sub-zero here on a Sunday morning, but thanks to these photos, I am walking the sunny aisles of this remarkable outdoor market. What a hubbub! Pointing, gesturing, cajoling, debating, gossiping, tidying, primping, smoking, corralling kids, silently watching or noisily huckstering. What a parade of humanity.

    And the two ladies in the flowered frocks, choosing costume jewelry? — Look just like my dear Mom and her girlfriend Marie. With their red lipstick smiles, and sweet feminine ways —
    they would make those bargain baubles look like a Queen’s ransom. Great memories.

    Stay cozy, all.

  10. Paul Loften permalink
    February 6, 2022

    Well whoever Dennis Anthony is he certainly captured the essence of the Lane that I knew with these photos

  11. Yutman permalink
    February 6, 2022

    Look at the stylish, well-groomed, handsome man in the rolled-up sleeves in picture one, with his fine bone structure, and look at the well-dressed fellow in picture three; note his careful attention to neckerchief-cravat and shades and look at the relaxed , confident pose of the Hindu gentleman in the sunglasses at the Wadwhani stall.

    Thanks for these great pictures – why don’t people wear suits like these nowadays? Compare their flash and audacious cool with the plastic kidult clothes people wear these days — I know which I prefer.

  12. Yutman permalink
    February 6, 2022

    Can anyone confirm if the tall gent with the moustache in picture three Hans Keller, the Austrian- Jewish art and music critic?

    It looks like him — there’s a very comical interview on youtube in which he conducted with Syd Barrett for the BBC ‘Look of the Week’ arts show in 1967 in which he attempts to psychoanalyse bemused, baffled band members.

  13. Yutman permalink
    February 6, 2022

    Can anyone confirm if the tall gent with the moustache in picture three is Hans Keller, the Austrian- Jewish art and music critic?

    It looks like him — there’s a very comical interview on youtube which he conducted with Syd Barrett for the BBC ‘Look of the Week’ arts show in 1967 in which he attempts to psychoanalyse bemused, baffled band members Syd and Roger Waters.

  14. February 6, 2022

    The feeling of life in the 50s in London’s Petticoat Lane very beautifully described. I wish one could be out and about there again…. And besides, the country has just got its new Queen!

    I consider it my duty to commemorate today’s Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II. — God Save the Queen!

    Love & Peace

  15. Andy Strowman ownan permalink
    February 6, 2022

    These photos make my day brilliantine.

  16. Cherub permalink
    February 6, 2022

    I used to love Petticoat Lane, also the shops behind it. I bought the shoes and matching handbag for my registry office wedding down the Lane in 1986. Believe it or not, I spent a whole day looking for something in the West End, couldn’t find anything and was nearly in tears on the tube home. Following week I went to the Lane in my lunch break and came back triumphant with exactly what I wanted ?

  17. February 7, 2022

    My mum and dad loved Petticoat Lane. Both Londoners but living in Cheam they loved the atmosphere of the market. As a a young lad I looked forward to coming up to London by train with them . Particularly being enthralled by the stallholders and their banter. The china seller adding more and more pieces to the armful he already had on offer and throwing the lot in the air and catching it. Infamous Club Row and trainspotting at wonderful Liverpool Street in the mid fifties were to be my only experience of East London until recent times. When Spitalfields Life, Fournier Street and you GA gave me a new lease of life and adventure.

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