Skip to content

Charles Goss’ Vanishing City

December 14, 2022
by the gentle author

This Thursday 15th December at 6:30pm, I shall be giving a reading in company with my good friends, the novelist Sarah Winman and the poet Stephen Watts at Burley Fisher Books in Dalston, 400 Kingsland Rd, E8 4AA. Tickets are free – click here to book


If you fancy a bracing walk as a respite from the festivities, tickets are available for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.


Click here to buy GIFT VOUCHERS for The Gentle Author’s Tours – the ideal present for friends and family – and I will send a handwritten greetings card to the recipients


33 Lime St

A man gazed from the second floor window of 33 Lime St in the City of London on February 10th 1911 at an unknown photographer on the pavement below. He did not know the skinny man with the camera and wispy moustache was Charles Goss, archivist at the Bishopsgate Institute, who made it part of his work to record the transient city which surrounded him.

Around fifty albumen silver prints exist in the archive – from which these pictures are selected and published for the first time today – each annotated in Goss’ meticulous handwriting upon the reverse and most including the phrase “now demolished.” Two words that resonate through time like the tolling of a knell.

It was Charles Goss who laid the foundation of the London collection at the Institute, spending his days searching street markets, bookshops and sale rooms to acquire documentation of all kinds – from Cries of London prints to chapbooks, from street maps to tavern tokens – each manifesting different aspects of the history of the great city.

Such was his passion that more than once he was reprimanded by the governors for exceeding his acquisition budget and, such was his generosity, he gathered a private collection in parallel to the one at the library and bequeathed it to the Institute on his death. Collecting the city became Goss’ life and his modest script is to be discovered everywhere in the archive he created, just as his guiding intelligence is apparent in the selection of material that he chose to collect.

It is a logical progression from collecting documents to taking photographs as a means to record aspects of the changing world and maybe Goss was inspired by the Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London in the eighteen-eighties, who set out to photograph historic buildings that were soon to be destroyed. Yet Goss’ choice of subject is intriguing, including as many shabby alleys and old yards as major thoroughfares with overtly significant edifices – and almost everything he photographed is gone now.

It is a curious side-effect of becoming immersed in the study of the past that the present day itself grows more transient and ephemeral once set against the perspective of history. In Goss’ mind, he was never merely taking photographs, he was capturing images as fleeting as ghosts, of subjects that were about to vanish from the world. The people in his pictures are not party to his internal drama yet their presence is even more fleeting than the buildings he was recording – like that unknown man gazing from that second floor window in Lime St on 10th February 1911.

To judge what of the present day might be of interest or importance to our successors is a subject of perennial fascination, and these subtle and melancholic photographs illustrate Charles Goss’ answer to that question.

14 Cullum St, 10th February 1910

3, 4 & 5 Fenchurch Buildings, Aldgate, 28th October 1911

71-75 Gracechurch St, 1910

Botolph’s Alley showing 7 Love Lane, 16th December 1911

6 Catherine Court looking east, 8th October 1911

Bury St looking east, 3rd July 1911

Corporation Chambers, Church Passage, Cripplegate, 31st January 1911 – now demolished

Fresh Wharf. Lower Thames St, 28th January 1912

Gravel Lane, looking south-west, 11th October 1910

1 Muscovy Court, 5th June 1911

3 New London St, 28th January 1912

4 Devonshire Sq

52 Gresham St, 17th September 1911

9-11 Honey Lane Market, Cheapside, 16th October 1910

Crutched Friars looking east from 37, 11th February 1911

Crutched Friars looking east, 28th October 1911

35 & 36 Crutched Friars, 28th January 1912

Yard of 36 Crutched Friars looking north, 11th February 1912

Yard of 36 Crutched Friars looking south, February 11th 1912

Old Broad St looking south, 24th July 1911

Charles Goss (1864-1946)

Photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Ghosts of Old London

A Room to Let in Old Aldgate

and see more of Goss’ photography

Charles Goss’ Photographs

Charles Goss’ Bishopsgate Photographs

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Bernie permalink
    December 14, 2022

    Some extraordinary items can be seen, such as the two square frames above the roofline in the last image. What ever do they do/represent?

  2. Ken Green permalink
    December 14, 2022

    What stunning pictures, so sharp and clear.

  3. Christine permalink
    January 17, 2023

    I loved looking at these and all old photos! I looked at Crutched Friars on todays maps and so sad that it is nearly all windows and stainless steel x

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS