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William Whiffin, Photographer

January 14, 2023
by the gentle author

William Whiffin (1878-1957) is one of the great unsung London photographers, which makes it a rare pleasure to present this gallery of his pictures from the collection of his granddaughter Hellen Martin. Born into a family of photographers in the East End, Whiffin made his living with studio portraits and commercial commissions, yet he strove to be recognised for his more artistic photography.

Lion Brewery and the Shot Tower, South Bank

The photographer’s son Sid Whiffin at Cooper’s Stairs, Old Queen St

Off Fetter Lane

The Pantheon, Oxford St

In Princes Sq, Stepney

Figureheads of fighting ships in Grosvenor Rd

At Covent Garden Market

Jewry Street, off Aldgate High St

Milwall & the Island Horse Omnibus, c.1910

St Catherine Coleman next to Fenchurch St Station

In Fleet St

In Buckfast St, Bethnal Green

At Borough Market

In Lombard St

Rotherhithe Watch House

Wapping Old Stairs

Junction of Cambridge Heath Rd & Hackney Rd

Ratcliff Stairs, Limehouse

Ratcliff Causeway, Limehouse

St Jude’s, Commercial St

Farthing Bundles at the Fern St Settlement, Bow

Houndsditch Rag Fair

At the Royal Exchange, City of London

Weavers’ House, Bethnal Green Rd

Off Pennington St, Wapping

Borough of Poplar Electricity Dept

Pruning in the hop gardens of Faversham

Photographs copyright © Estate of William Whiffin

Hellen Martin & I should be very grateful if readers can identify any of the uncaptioned photographs

You may also like to read about

Horace Warner’s Photography

C A Mathew’s Photography

19 Responses leave one →
  1. Christina Gregoriou permalink
    January 14, 2023

    He truly is a great photographer. An incredible sense of composition and drama.

  2. January 14, 2023

    Farthing Bundles. In 1973 the custom was still taking place.
    The turn of the century saw the founding of a number of settlements in the poorest parts
    of London. The Fern Street Settlement was founded on behalf of the Devon’s Junior School in 1907 by the school’s headmistress and warden, Miss Clara Grant. She therefore started an
    imaginative scheme known as ‘farthing bundles’. Any child who had a farthing and could
    walk under a wooden arch forty- eight inches high without stooping received a bundle. These usually contained note-pads, pencils, small toys, pieces of string, etc. Over the arch she had painted: ‘Enter all ye children small, none can come who are too tall.’ In 1973 children
    had to pay a penny for their bundle and the children had a fifty-two-inch arch to go through every other Saturday; attendance is also down to between fifteen and thirty.

  3. Bernie permalink
    January 14, 2023

    The shot tower: why was such a unique item destroyed? I recall no pressure for its preservation, though that means little. What a shame!

  4. Jim Keltz permalink
    January 14, 2023

    I would love to see what those places look like today. An interesting project for the Gentle Author?

  5. Mike Watts permalink
    January 14, 2023

    Dear Gentle Author, thank you for continuing to provide such a fascinating, rich and illuminating slice of East End life and history every day. My father, Ernest Watts, was born at 192 Vallance Road in Bethnal Green in 1921. His family and his mother’s family, the Browns, lived there from 1919 until the early 1960s in the case of my greatgrandmother Emma Brown. Would you be able to point me towards any pictures in your archive of Vallance Road in the pre-WWII years? I would be most grateful
    With thanks and best wishes
    Mike Watts

  6. Sally Baldwin permalink
    January 14, 2023

    WHAT wonderful photographs!!!!!!!
    Thank you so very very very much for opening them up to us.

  7. Eva Radford permalink
    January 14, 2023

    He had a wonderful eye for composition–his photos capture with it, then draw me in to the people he photographs. The children are so solemn. Levels of ancient London, now long gone. I really enjoyed this post.

  8. Hellen Martin permalink
    January 14, 2023

    Thank you for showing some of my grandfather’s work. It does take you back to another time. Let’s hope there is somebody out there with more info. Kind regards.

  9. Barbara Rose permalink
    January 14, 2023

    It was interesting to see The Pantheon in Oxford Street, where Marks & Spencers is now, between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road.

    It is wonderful to see these lovely historical photographs.

  10. Stanley Kaye permalink
    January 14, 2023

    Great Photos.The photo of the children at an Xmas Party was taken in late 1950 at Mayflower Primary School the Teacher on the right with glasses on is Mr Kelvin. One of the members of my group Upper North Street School confirmed this. The group is to remember the 18 Children Killed 13th June 1917 by a German Bomb, If the family should come across any more photos of the school we would be forever grateful if we could see them.I can be contacted via the facebook Group uppernorthstreetscool1917

  11. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 15, 2023

    Some fabulous and very evocative images. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post.

  12. Mary permalink
    January 15, 2023

    A picture is worth a thousand words. These are suberb photographs of what was still very much Dickensian London.

  13. Michele permalink
    January 15, 2023

    Fabulous photos !!
    I particularly like the one with the woman & the boy with a broken arm ( very fancy sling)
    holding the dog upright !
    One can only speculate on the back story!
    However just a correction One of the photos shows Rotherhithe Engine House where the parish fire engine was kept not the Watch House as captioned
    Built in 1821 at the entrance to St Mary’s Churchyard extension ,a pair of small buildings still in existence The Watchouse is now a lovely cafe but there is only the facade of the Engine House which makes this record even more valuable

  14. Erica permalink
    January 15, 2023

    These old photographic blog posts are my favourite of The Gentle Author’s content – please keep them coming!

  15. mick o'leary permalink
    January 15, 2023

    An absolute gem of a blof today.
    Whiffin was indeed a great “unsung” artist and the more I see of his photos the more I feel angry at his neglect/recognition.
    Was it because his studio was in Poplar?

  16. Hari Ramanathan permalink
    January 15, 2023

    What an absolute treasure trove of Ye Olde London. Thank you so much for sharing these with us.

  17. David Johnson permalink
    January 16, 2023

    These are terrific photos. I’ve only ever seen a Whiffen photo before in a Museum of London book called Photographers’ London (now retitled London Street Photography 1860-2010). There really should be a collection published.

  18. Amos Julien permalink
    January 18, 2023

    Having walked down Lombard Street last week reminds one of how things change and yet there
    remains a certain sense of historical continuity. These photos are good examples of this aspect of city life.

  19. Olivia permalink
    February 22, 2024

    Hello I live in Canada and I have a photograph here that was done by William Whiffin in May 1932.of a soldier. my father was from England and was the only one that moved here in the 1940s and I was wondering where I can send this photo to see who it might be if it may be one of my dad’s brothers last name was Maslen . I hope you can help me so I can leave this information for my children as I am 74 now thank you kindly

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