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The Staircases Of Old London

February 12, 2022
by the gentle author

Mercers’ Hall, c.1910

It gives me vertigo just to contemplate the staircases of old London – portrayed in these glass slides once used for magic lantern shows by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Institute. Yet I cannot resist the foolish desire to climb every one to discover where it leads, scaling each creaking step and experiencing the sinister chill of the landing where the apparition materialises on moonless nights.

In the Mercers’ Hall and the Cutlers’ Hall, the half-light of a century ago glimmers at the top of the stairs eternally. Is someone standing there at the head of the staircase in the shadows? Did everyone that went up come down again? Or are they all still waiting at the top? These depopulated photographs are charged with the presence of those who ascended and descended through the centuries.

While it is tempting to follow on up, there is a certain grandeur to many of these staircases which presents an unspoken challenge – even a threat – to an interloper such as myself, inviting second thoughts. The question is, do you have the right? Not everybody enjoys the privilege of ascending the wide staircase of power to look down upon the rest of us. I suspect many of these places had a narrow stairway round the back, more suitable for the likes of you and I.

But since there is no-one around to stop us, why should we not walk right up the staircase to the top and take a look to see what is there?  It cannot do any harm. You go first, I am right behind you.

Cutlers’ Hall, c.1920.

Buckingham Palace, Grand Staircase, c.1910.

4 Catherine Court, Shadwell c.1900.

St Paul’s Cathedral, Dean’s staircase, c.1920.

House of Lords, staircase and corridor, c.1920.

Fishmongers’ Hall, marble staircase, c.1920.

Girdlers’ Hall, c.1920.

Goldsmiths’ Hall, c.1920.

Merchant Taylors’ Hall,  c.1920.

Cromwell House Hospital, Highgate Hill, c.1930.

Ironmongers’ Hall, c.1910.

Cromwell House Hospital, Highgate Hill, c.1930.

Stairs at Wapping, c.1910.

Cromwell House Hospital, Highgate Hill, c.1930.


Staircase at the Tower of London, Traitors’ Gate, c.1910.

Hogarth’s “Christ at the Pool of Bethesda” on the staircase at Bart’s Hospital, c.1910.

Lancaster House, c.1910.

2 Arlington St, c.1915.

73 Cheapside, c.1910.

Dowgate stairs, c.1910.

Crutched Friars, 1912.

Grocers’ Hall, c.1910.

Cromwell House Hospital, Highgate Hill, c.1930.

Salters’ Hall, Entrance Hall and Staircase, c.1910.

Holy Trinity Hospital, Greenwich, c.1910.

Salter’s Hall, c.1910.

Skinners’ Hall, c.1910.

1 Horse Guards Avenue, 1932.

Ashburnham House, Westminster, c.1910.


Buckingham Palace, c.1910.

Home House, Portman Sq, c.1910.

St Paul’s Cathedral, Dean’s Staircase, c.1920.

Glass slides courtesy 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

10 Responses leave one →
  1. February 12, 2022

    What a fabulous post, thank you Gentle Author. Do you have any information about the photographer or photographers who took these? The images are indeed so evocative of people who may have used the staircases, as well as being of architectural interest

  2. Rick Armiger permalink
    February 12, 2022

    many thanks for including one or two derelict ramshackle ones

  3. Jonathan Fink permalink
    February 12, 2022

    Fantastic article – the old images are superb, and so atmospheric. Other sets of stairs to look out for: the lost main stairs at Charterhouse, burned during WWII, and the ingenious cantilever stairs in one of buildings off Lincoln’s Inn Fields, designed by Sir John Soane

  4. Roger Button permalink
    February 12, 2022

    So beautiful! Where have all the craftspeople gone who used to be able to make such things?

  5. Mary permalink
    February 12, 2022

    I suddenly shot back 60 years! I had an overwhelming urge to slide down those handrails – but think I may come to grief on some of those impressive newel posts!

  6. Marnie Sweet permalink
    February 12, 2022

    Wonderful collection of elegant old staircases, GA, which beckon us to venture further in time and distance. How weary I am of modern tasteless box-like stairways. Small wonder kids lack imagination.

    Have you done a ‘Then and Now’ of the amazing variety of stairs down to the Thames foreshore?

  7. February 12, 2022

    What a splendid collection! Some of these staircases are absolutely stunning. Cromwell HOuse Hospital’s staircase has magnificent carvings, but I also very much like Girdler’s Hall, 2 Arlington St, Grocers’ Hall and 1, Horse Guards Av. , they surge upwards so lightly… Thank you, dear G.A.

  8. Cherub permalink
    February 12, 2022

    I could visualise myself making a grand entrance down some of these magnificent staircases – not the one at Traitor’s Gate though!

  9. Julie permalink
    February 12, 2022

    I am so grateful that I found your site several years ago!

    The history of the guildhalls is engrossing and you have sent me on many a quest for additional information on their history in London. I am amazed at the wealth that they displayed in their architectural projects. A much different story here in the U.S. for our union headquarters. Was their wealth used properly for the retirees at the homes the guilds built and maintained? Perhaps you wrote an entry on this and I missed it.

    I also find the photos snd etchings that you have published on the the river steps enjoyable-and to honest, slightly sinister looking in the original black and white photos!. I only wish that the York stairs had been on our places to see list when we were in London many years ago.

    Thank you for your hard work!

  10. NoOneYouKnow permalink
    February 17, 2022

    It’s a nice pun how the Girdlers’ Hall staircase completes a circle.

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