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The Nights Of Old London

November 29, 2023
by the gentle author

I am reading my short story ON CHRISTMAS DAY next Saturday 2nd December at 11am as part of the BLOOMSBURY JAMBOREE at the Art Workers’ Guild in Queens Square, WC1N 3AT.






The nights are drawing in fast 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

5 Responses leave one →
  1. November 29, 2023

    Love your atmospheric descriptions of London!

  2. November 29, 2023

    I am enthralled with all of these. But I was especially taken with the photo of streams of people viewing holiday windows. At first I thought…….”hardly a person appears in any of these photos”, making them seem ghostly and solitary. And then I spotted the jolly flocked holiday tree in the large store window……and then noticed the groups of people, gathering and (probably) exclaiming. Since holiday window decor is a yearly source of inspiration (since childhood!)
    I felt so connected to this photo. I imagined a young person, their mittened hand held tightly by a parent, staring up into the displays and feeling that surge of excitement and destiny. These early stirrings of the creative spirit are the beginnings of the “inevitability” of art. (Robert Henri, I think?) Sometimes the spark comes from something grand and exalted, and sometimes it comes from the glittered world of a decorated window.

    Thank you for this glorious array of images — and the invented stories they sparked.

  3. November 30, 2023

    What wonderful images, especially that of St Paul’s dome with the searchlight, I presume, reflected in the fog. I have some similar views taken using my smartphone camera. London in the cold and fog. It is irresistible to capture. Incredible that these have survived and appear so similar to today.

  4. Ann permalink
    November 30, 2023

    Absolutely beautiful pictures.
    Could anyone tell me about the building with the banners and statues in the 5th shot? I wonder what was happening there that night.

  5. Sue permalink
    November 30, 2023

    Ann I think it is Selfridges in the 30s.

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