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The Forgotten Corners Of Old London

November 14, 2022
by the gentle author

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Who knows what you might find lurking in the forgotten corners of old London? Like this lonely old waxwork of Charles II who once adorned a side aisle of Westminster Abbey, peering out through a haze of graffiti engraved upon his pane by mischievous tourists with diamond rings.

As one with a pathological devotion to walking through London’s side-streets and byways, seeking to avoid the main roads wherever possible, these glass slides of the forgotten corners of London – used long ago by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society for magic lantern shows at the Bishopsgate Institute – hold a special appeal for me. I have elaborate routes across the city which permit me to walk from one side to the other exclusively by way of the back streets and I discover all manner of delights neglected by those who solely inhabit the broad thoroughfares.

And so it is with many of these extraordinary pictures that show us the things which usually nobody bothers to photograph. There are a lot of glass slides of the exterior of Buckingham Palace in the collection but, personally, I am much more interested in the roof space above Richard III’s palace of Crosby Hall that once stood in Bishopsgate, and in the unlikely  paraphernalia which accumulated in the crypt of the Carmelite Monastery or the Cow Shed at the Tower of London, a hundred years ago. These pictures satisfy my perverse curiosity to visit the spaces closed off to visitors at historic buildings, in preference to seeing the public rooms.

Within these forgotten corners, there are always further mysteries to be explored. I wonder who pitched a teepee in the undergrowth next to the moat at Fulham Palace in 1920. I wonder if that is a cannon or a chimney pot abandoned in the crypt at the Carmelite monastery. I wonder why that man had a bucket, a piece of string and a plank inside the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. I wonder what those fat books were next to the stove in the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries’ shop. I wonder who was pulling that girl out of the photograph in Woolwich Gardens. I wonder who put that dish in the roof of Crosby Hall. I wonder why Charles II had no legs. The pictures set me wondering.

It is what we cannot know that endows these photographs with such poignancy. Like errant pieces from lost jigsaws, they inspire us to imagine the full picture that we shall never be party to.

Tiltyard Gate, Eltham Palace, c. 1930

Refuse collecting at London Zoo, c. 1910

Passage in Highgate, c. 1910

Westminster Dust Carts, c. 1910

The Jewel Tower, Westminster, 1921

Fifteenth century brickwork at Charterhouse Wash House, c1910

Middle Temple Lane, c. 1910

Carmelite monastery crypt, c. 1910

The Moat at Fulham Palace, c. 1920

Clifford’s Inn, c. 1910

Top of inner dome at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1920

Apothecaries’ Hall Quadrangle, c. 1920

Worshipful Company of Apothecaries’ Shop, c.1920

Unidentified destroyed building near St Paul’s, c. 1940

Merchant Taylors’ Hall, c. 1920

Crouch End Old Baptist Chapel, c. 1900

Woolwich Gardens, c. 1910

The roof of Crosby Hall, Richard III’s palace in Bishopsgate , c. 1910

Refreshment stall in St James’ Park, c. 1910

River Wandle at Wandsworth, c. 1920

Corridor at Battersea Rise House, c. 1900

Tram emerging from the Kingsway Tunnel, c. 1920

Between the interior and exterior domes at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1920

Fossilised tree trunk on Tooting Common, c. 1920

St Dunstan-in-the-East, 1911

Cow shed at the Queen’s House, Tower of London, c. 1910

Boundary marks for St Benet Gracechurch, St Andrew Hubbard and St Dionis Backchurch in Talbot Court, c. 1910

Lincoln’s Inn gateway seen from Old Hall, c. 1910

St Bride’s Fleet St, 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

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Marcia Howard permalink
    November 14, 2022

    Absolutely fascinating images above. Thank you Gentle Author. Makes me immediately want to follow your same route and see them all first hand.
    So there’s always been graffiti? (I know ‘cos I worked as a volunteer on a graffiti project for English Heritage at Richmond North Yorkshire Castle’s cellblock, whose walls are covered in graffiti from the First World War; then subsequently attended a conference on Graffiti at Winchester Univ a while back)
    And obviously rubbish too, ‘cos that’s one big pile from London Zoo in 1910!

  2. Bernie permalink
    November 14, 2022

    Of course one wants to know what of the imaged structures can still be seen today?

  3. Vicki Heneker permalink
    November 14, 2022

    What absolutely incredible and amazing photographs. Thank you so much, means a lot to me, my genealogy coming from these areas of London

    Kind regards
    Vicki from South Australia

  4. Claire Jamoulle permalink
    November 14, 2022

    Are the photos from a personal collection or displayed in a museum or elsewhere, belonging to the public?

  5. November 14, 2022

    GA, you always take us the BEST places. Sometimes those places are exalted and elevated, and sometimes we all get a bit scruffy as we walk down those “back streets”. Either way, the journey is always illuminating.

    I grew up in an American city replete with alleys. Actually, my hometown of Pittsburgh has officially declared that such byways are now called “ways”. (another example of how a formerly-gritty city has become, ahem, more refined. Give me the former version.) In childhood, one could wander and explore our local alleys; away from observant adult eyes. This was where real life, in all its messiness, was visible. Garages full of mysterious and wonderful junk, still lifes of brooms/clothes pins/laundry lines and flower pots of wilting-but-hopeful geraniums. Aprons hung on hooks. Umbrellas and galoshes, at the ready. The utilitarian things of life, necessary
    to every household, but out of public view. Divine imperfection. Long live alleys!

  6. gkbowood permalink
    November 14, 2022

    That bucket in St Pauls has water in it, perhaps? You can just see a reflection in the surface.

  7. Cherub permalink
    November 14, 2022

    I wonder what happened to that creepy looking waxwork of Charles II? Perhaps it’s in a creepy looking gothic house somewhere!

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