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The Nights Of Old London

October 8, 2022
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for my Spitalfields tour throughout October & November


The nights are drawing in and I can feel the velvet darkness falling upon London. As dusk gathers in the ancient churches and the dusty old museums in the late afternoon, the distinction between past and present becomes almost permeable at this time of year. Then, once the daylight fades and the streetlights flicker into life, I feel the desire to go walking out into the dark in search of the nights of old London.

Examining hundreds of glass plates – many more than a century old – once used by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society for magic lantern shows at the Bishopsgate Institute, I am in thrall to these images of night long ago in London. They set my imagination racing with nocturnal visions of the gloom and the glamour of our city in darkness, where mist hangs in the air eternally, casting an aura round each lamp, where the full moon is always breaking through the clouds and where the recent downpour glistens upon every pavement – where old London has become an apparition that coalesced out of the fog.

Somewhere out there, they are loading the mail onto trains, and the presses are rolling in Fleet St, and the lorries are setting out with the early editions, and the barrows are rolling into Spitalfields and Covent Garden, and the Billingsgate porters are running helter-skelter down St Mary at Hill with crates of fish on their heads, and the horns are blaring along the river as Tower Bridge opens in the moonlight to admit another cargo vessel into the crowded pool of London. Meanwhile, across the empty city, Londoners slumber and dream while footsteps of lonely policemen on the beat echo in the dark deserted streets.


Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Read my other nocturnal stories

Night at the Beigel Bakery

On Christmas Night in the City

On the Rounds With the Spitalfields Milkman

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Milo permalink
    October 8, 2022

    Isn’t it so very noticeable how uncluttered the skyline is around these buildings? How these great landmarks were allowed to breathe and make their presence felt? Half of them you could stumble over without realising they were there these days.

  2. October 8, 2022


  3. Mark permalink
    October 8, 2022

    What Mathilde says.

  4. Marcia Howard permalink
    October 8, 2022

    Wonderful images. The B&W world we grew up in

  5. October 8, 2022

    I so appreciated your comments about all the “overnight” activity that happens in a great city.
    We lived in Manhattan for many years, and it was truly an around-the-clock metropolis. I loved the specialty restaurants, mostly in ethnic neighborhoods, that were beacons of bright lights, interesting food, and unique “night prowler” clientele. One would take a cab, through deserted nighttime streets, and suddenly come upon these illuminated places, wonderful aromas, and boisterous kindred travelers.
    Plus your mention of the Fleet Street presses reminded me of the Saturday night ritual of acquiring the door-stop-sized Sunday NY Times at the huge bustling news kiosks in Greenwich Village.
    This array of photos of London at night is gasp-worthy, and so atmospheric. Where’s my muffler and mittens?
    Thank you, GA.

  6. Christine permalink
    October 9, 2022

    Amazing photos and always look atmospheric in black and white! When we visit London and get the 15 bus from Aldwych to our hotel in Whitechapel, when I pass St Pauls I love this view of the dome x

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