Everyday Life in England During the 1950s-60s: The Photos Of John Gay

John Gay, born Hans Göhler (1909-1999), came to England in 1935. He was one of the generation of German emigres who made a contribution to British culture and academia. After a period of war service, he established himself as a leading photographer in the late 1940s and 1950s, illustrating magazines such as The Strand and Country Fair, publishing several photographic books and working with authors such as John Betjeman. His preferred themes included light and shade, animals and children, informal shots of ordinary people at work and leisure, landscapes and rural subjects, modern architecture, and London.

Morris Dancers performing in a rural town. (Probably for St. George’s Day)

Traditional fencing methods in the countryside.

A family skating on a frozen pond.

The Snowman resting on a bench.

This man is homeless, and living rough in the countryside during Winter.

A Buckinghamshire town in Winter.

A cake shop in Padstow, Cornwall. The girl is trying to decide which cake she wants.

A West Indian immigrant in a London Street Market. You can see from the face of the man that she attracted attention at that time.

Feeding the geese in a countryside village.

Urban living in North London.

A Poodle chauffeur.

Old lady walking through a rural town.

Christmas decorations in a Central London shopping street.

A Christmas street market in London.

Traffic at a standstill in North London.

Enjoying the rides at a Summer Fair in North London.

What Kids Did Before The Internet

Being outside was a huge part of growing up. These kids, and their parents, knew how important that was. Wherever you lived, I am sure you will identify with this, as long as you are over forty!

Leap Frog.

Reading Comics.


Hoses in hot weather.

Riding bicycles.

Walking to and from school with a friend.

Hide and Seek.

Playing Jacks. (Or marbles)

Climbing unsupervised at the park or playground.

Pogo Sticks in the street.

‘Oranges and Lemons’.

Hopscotch in the road or school playground.


Family Life Before The Internet: The 1950s

Most of these photos are from America. They show images of an idealised family life in the 1950s. Mum is a housewife, dad goes to work.

Watching TV before dad gets home.

The whole family sitting down to Sunday dinner.

Girls on a sleepover talking to boys outside through the window.

A young couple listening to music.

Helping mum with the baking.

A family that all live in the same house.

Watching TV before the children’s bed time.

Seeing hubby off to work.

Dad reading his newspaper while mum prepares dinner.

All playing with the youngest child.

Well-behaved children at dinner.

Feeding the baby while dad looks on.

1950s London In Photos: Bob Collins and Roger Mayne

I found some more photos by two British photographers who specialised in social history. They both took many photos in London, from the 1950s through to the 1970s. All of these are from the 1950s.

Bob Collins.

This boy is shopping for comics in Romford Market.

A lady haggling over the price of fish in Billingsgate Market.

Tourists photographing a guardsman outside Buckingham Palace.

A lady racegoer at the Epsom Derby.

Roger Mayne.

Boys setting up a lamp-post swing.

Girls using the lamp-post swing.

Playing with a skipping rope in the road.

This little girl has hurt her arm, and is running home crying.

A street scene in West London. The little girl has an ancient toy pram.

Boys playing cards on the front step of a house.

1950s teenagers hanging out on a street corner.

British Social History: Photos By Thurston Hopkins

In the 1950s, immigration from the West Indies was becoming a political issue. At the same time, many people all over Britain were still living in slum conditions and poverty. Thurston Hopkins travelled to some cities in Britain to record what was happening.

1955. Three West Indian men photographed on the streets of Birmingham. Racist attitudes often made it very difficult for them to find accommodation and employment.

1955. Mr Siebert Mattison from St Anne in Jamaica now lives, sleeps and cooks in the same room with his Welsh wife and their three children.

1955. Kwessi Blankson from Jamaica offers a light to workmate Jack White at The Phosphor Bronze Company where he is in charge of the oil burners.

Liverpool Slums, November 1956
A child sleeping in a slum dwelling in the backstreets of Liverpool, where 88,000 of the houses are deemed unfit for human habitation.

Liverpool Slums, November 1956
A woman washing her face over a basin in her rundown Liverpool home.

Liverpool Slums, November 1956
A woman sitting by a stove with two children at their home in the Frank Street slum clearance area of Liverpool. She is probably their grandmother.

Liverpool Slums, November 1956
Three teenage boys with fashionable hairstyles on a street corner.

Liverpool Slums, November 1956
An elderly woman standing among the litter in a back alley of the Liverpool slums.

Liverpool Slums, November 1956
A group of children playing weddings.

Some More Random Historical Photos

Summer 1941. “Detroit, Michigan. Girls playing cards and drinking Coca-Cola.”
Photo by Arthur Siegel for the Office of War Information. This was part of a set showing these girls playing ‘Strip Poker’. As it was commissioned by the War Office, I can only presume it was intended to increase the morale of the troops. Even though it was before Pearl Harbour.

This lady is taking no chances. Having seen the sign, she is removing her high-heeled shoes. America, 1950s

A young woman seeing if a dress will fit her. London, 1960s.

An underage boy smoking in the street. Scotland, 1968.

Female drinkers in a Glasgow pub, 1960s.

A very trendy fashion model showing off the famous ‘Egg Chair’. 1960s.

An underground train passenger noticing the photographer. London, 1980s.

Excitable girls on an underground train. London, 1980s.

A man down on his luck, hoping to get money by selling matches. London, 1984.

Ken Russell’s Post-War London

Before he became a controversial and world-renowned film director, Ken Russell struggled to earn a living as a photographer in London during the mid-to-late 1950s.
(The images can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

A street entertainer in west London. You can see Ken’s director’s eye in this photo.

Little girls playing in the street with a pram and a tricycle. Once again, we see how they were completely unsupervised by adults or parents.

‘Teddy Girls’. These were the girlfriends of the Teddy Boys, followers of Rock and Roll music who dressed in an Edwardian style. Hence their popular name.

Children playing on a bomb site. They have constructed their own version of an adventure playground with whatever debris they could find.

This lady had tried to sell her novels for over 30 years. She eventually gave up, and pasted her numerous rejection letters onto a wall near her house.

Sandwich Board men. They would walk the streets wearing those signs advertising all kinds of different things. The pay was low, but cash in hand. Russell called this photo ‘Old Soldiers’, indicating that many men had left the army with no jobs to go to, and had to resort to such lowly employment.

Two children playing in the rain in west London. They only have some wire milk crates to amuse themselves with.

London in the 1950s and 1960s: Random Images

These various images of London life in the late 1950s and 1960s appealed to me.

A South London school class, 1950s. The children have dressed smartly for the photo, and the teacher seems quite old by modern standards.

Excited children crowd around a horse and cart on a South London housing estate, early 1960s.

Joyce and her husband serving up Pie and Mash in their South London pie shop, early 1960s.

A Covent Garden Market porter balancing produce baskets on his special hat. Early 1950s.

Two happy ladies outside a pub they have just left. Early 1960s.

A much younger Rod Stewart photographed with Long John Baldry in Central London, 1967.

Housewives chatting after hanging out their washing inside the housing estate, 1960s.

A fashionable lady wearing her real fur, early 1960s.

The popular jellied eel stall of the famous Tubby Isaacs, early 1960s. The stall was in the same spot in East London from 1919-2013, run by successive members of the same family.

More Of ‘My’ London

I found some more old photos of the area I lived in until I was 15 years old.

Aylwin Girls’ Grammar School Bermondsey, late 1950s. My cousin went there. It is now called The Harris Academy.

Boys window shopping at a toy shop. Elephant and Castle area, 1960.

Work clothes and overalls for sale. East Street Market, 1960s.

An early self-service supermarket. Elephant and Castle, 1960s.

Some residents of Reverdy Road Bermondsey with their milkman, 1970.

St James’s Church, Bermondsey. My parents married in this church in 1947.

The Norwegian Church, Rotherhithe. Originally for sailors from the nearby docks to use. Still a church, and also a centre for the culture of Norway.

More Of My London Memories In Photos

I managed to find an interesting selection of photos covering the period from 1957-1966. At the time, I was aged 5-14, but not much changed during those nine years.

Small boys collecting Train Numbers at a mainline station, late 1950s. Hard to believe now, but that was a ‘big thing’ up until the late 1960s. I did it a few times with friends in the school holidays.

People queuing to buy groceries from an open air shop, 1957.

‘Glamour girls’ being used to promote cycling as healthy, early 1960s.

The Supremes (with Diana Ross) taking a photo opportunity with some rag and bone men, mid 1960s.

A respectable young couple on an underground train, early 1960s.

A gang of ‘Teddy Boys’, late 1950s. These fans of Rock and Roll music were known for their violence and street fighting.

Mods on their Italian scooters, mid 1960s.

Soho, 1966. A ‘Sex Shop’and Striptease show combined.

Soho, 1966. A ‘Sex Cinema’.

Soho, 1966. A Strip Club.

The famous ‘2 i’s’ coffee bar, Soho. Many pop stars of the day were discovered there, including the young Cliff Richard. (Photographed in 1966)