Random Photos Of London: 1880s-1970s

A horse-drawn bus and its conductor, 1880s.

A young girl cuddling her cat. Spitalfields, 1890.

The Rotherhithe Tunnel under construction. South London, 1906.

The same tunnel in regular use, 1930.

Women chatting in a street in Spitalfields, 1935.

Small boys teasing a guardsman at the Tower of London, 1959.

An impromptu street dance, 1970s.

1960s London: Photos by Dorothy Bohm

She was born Dorothea Israelit in 1924, into an affluent German Jewish family. ‘My grandfather lived very near a main road, and there was a procession of Hitler Youth, but at nine I didn’t know what it was,’ she recalls, ‘and that stayed in my mind, seeing them march with the swastika.’ She was called a ‘Judische Kröte’ – a Jewish toad – and kicked in the street. Bohm’s father, fearing the worst, sent her to England in 1939. ‘My father was one of those who believed in anything new and so in the 1930s he was using a Leica. And when I was shipped off to England because Hitler had come, and life had become impossible, saying goodbye to me he took off his Leica and gave it to me. It was strange. He said, “It might be useful to you.”’

The Chelsea Flower Show. The lady in the foreground appears to want to be photographed.

Members of Parliament entering The Houses of Parliament.

Children playing on old gravestones in Kensington.

A busker trying his luck in Trafalgar Square.

Outside St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden.

A view over Westminster Bridge from the south side.

Narrow boats on the canal at Little Venice, Maida Vale.

Pet Meat: The Sellers In Photos 1880-1936

From 1800 until the late 1930s, the ownership of pets in London increased to huge levels. Especially cat ownership, as cats were favoured to contol the mice that invaded every home, and rats too. In the year 1861 alone, it was recorded (by Henry Mayhew) that around 300,000 cats lived in London homes.

This was an opportunity for a new trade, selling pet meat. Starting out by wandering the streets with carts or baskets, pet meat sellers soon established regular rounds. After WW1, some traders transferred to market stalls, or rented shops.

They sold horse meat, which was widely available due to the hundreds of worn-out or injured horses slaughtered each day in London. Generally considered to be unfit for human consumption, and often tainted or spoiled, this meat was cheap to buy, and readily eaten by cats and dogs.

There were so many pet meat sellers in the city, they attracted the attention of street photographers who captured this lost trade for us, and preserved the history of it.

London Street Jobs: 1920-1927

After WW1, not that much had changed in London in almost 100 years. Photographers were still keen to document life on the streets, and the jobs of ordinary working people.

A Concertina Man. This elderly man is trying to make a living as a street entertainer, playing his Concertina. His female companion carries the box for the Concertina, and a smaller one for collecting any money people give him.

The Pet Meat Man. These traders would sell meat considered to be unfit for human consumption, and people would buy the cheap cuts to feed their pets.

The Telescope Man. Sitting at the corner of Westminster Bridge opposite the Houses of Parliament, this man would charge a nominal amount to look through his telescope at the surrounding views. He also sold leaflets about the history of Queen Boadicea, who is on the statue behind him, and of Big Ben, the famous bell in the tower oposite.

Gas fitters installing ‘modern’ street lighting.

The window cleaner. This man carried his ladders around on a cart, and would wash the windows of better-off Londoners. They usually had a regular ’round’ of customers. We have a version of those in Beetley, in 2022. They use vans instead of carts, but little else has changed.

The Telegram Messenger. Telegrams were run by the Post Office, and were a popular way to get a message across a long distance to impart urgent information to the recipient.

A 1920s Chimney Sweep. Sweeps were still essential, as everyone had coal fires. But they were no longer allowed by law to employ small boys as assistants.

A Gramophone Man. Pushing a wind-up gramophone in his old pram, this man would wander around the streets playing popular songs of the day. He hoped that people would give him a few pennies for the ‘entertainment’.

A female ‘knocker-upper’. Before the widespread use of alarm clocks, workers who had to start work very early in the morning would employ someone to wake them up by tapping a long pole against their bedroom window. This lady has made life easier for herself by using a pea-shooter to fire hard peas against the windows.

The Escapologist.

At one time, these street entertainers were very common on the streets of London. They would stage miraculous ‘escapes’ after being bound in heavy chains or tight ropes. They could be seen outside major tourist sights like the Tower of London, or entertaining cinema queues before the film show started. They always had an assistant who secured them first, then collected money by passing a hat around the crowd.

Telephone Cable Erector.

As home telephones became more common, these men would do the dangerous job of stringing telephone cables across street to be attached to poles. They had no safety equipment then.

An Alphabet Of My Life: V

V=Violence

Fortunately, I have been more of a witness to violence than a victim of it during my life, save for a few notable occasions when I was on the receiving end.

At school, fights were common. They seemed to start over nothing, and end quickly. If teachers did not step in fast enough, a larger boy usually overpowered a smaller one to gain victory. I was popular enough not to be picked on, and good enough at talking my way out of potentially violent siuations when the need arose.

In my teens, South London pubs could sometimes be violent places. Older men, sometimes criminals or gangsters, might suddenly start fighting. Those fights could be brutal, involving bottles, broken drinking glasses, and anything heavy that came to hand. I tried to leave when that happened, or at least keep out of the way. But one time a man hit me with a bar stool, which knocked me flat and made me see stars. When he realised that I was not one of the people he was fighting, he helped me up and apologised.

Some years later, I was involved in a violent street robbery, attacked by three men as I was about to deposit money in a bank. When I tried to hang on to the cash-bag, they kicked me in the head until I had to let go. Luckily, I was young and strong then, so suffered no long-lasting effects.

Being an EMT can be dangerous. More dangerous than you might ever expect it to be. Drunk people, plain nasty people, psychiatric patients, drug users hallucinating, all of those are likely to try to do you harm. I have been kicked in the face by a drunk, threatened with knives, a machete, and even a loaded shotgun. It was hard to believe when I joined the Ambulance Service, that such a large percentage of the public in London would consider me to be a valid target of their violent aggression.

But the real violence was what I witnessed in my job, not what happened to me personally. Stabbings, shootings, terrorist bombings. Faces slashed with knives or burned with acid, terrible beatings with blunt objects. Long bones broken, skulls fractured, noses and ears cut off. Murders by strangling, murders by drowning someone in a bath, toilet bowl, or wash-basin, and on one occasion, even a decapitation using a hand-axe. It is equally hard to believe how quickly I got used to such things, and was not fazed by them.

London can be a violent city. If you are somewhere at the wrong time, or involved with the people for whom violence is always their first option.

Female Fashion: Edwardian London, 1906

I found these photos by the keen amateur photographer Edward Linley Sambourne, who was also the chief cartoonist for Punch magazine. They are early examples of candid street photography, using a hand-held camera. He was obviously interested in the fashions of the day, and as you can see, most women were still wearing corsets and very long dresses or skirts at the time.

A ‘modern’ young lady, stepping out. She appears to be full of confidence.

Described by the photographer as a ‘Common shop-girl’, this lady is reading a book as she walks along. Much like people looking at their phones today.

A ‘progressive’ lady walking with her bicycle. She would have been making something of a ‘statement’, in 1906.

This lady is carrying a ‘modern’ handbag. The forerunner of today’s familiar female handbags.

Another ‘handbag and book’ lady.

Two elegant friends walking together. They are also carrying books and one has a letter in her hand, ready to post it.

And two more doing the same.

Some ladies at the time favoured black, or dark clothing. Sometimes this was to indicate modesty, or they may have been in mourning. Here are two of them. The first lady appears to have spotted the photographer.

A well-to-do older couple exiting their carriage in Central London.

Women and children wandering in a London Park. The children were dressed in very similar clothes to the adults.

Can you imagine wearing so much clothing in high Summer?

London: More Street Scenes From the 1880s

I found some more! I hope you are not bored with these yet?
All of these photos were taken between 1880 and 1889, when Victoria was still The Queen.
(Some can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

An early electric car in Lower Regent Street. You can see the chauffeur and footman in the front, and the very rich owners enjoying the ride in the back.

A policeman directing traffic under Ludgate Viaduct.

A busy morning outside Charing Cross Station.

The Aldgate Pump, East London. A source of fresh water for local people.

Harrods, the famous department store.

Islington High Street. The horse-drawn tram is running on tracks in the road.

The busy junction outside Kings Cross Station.

The Royal Courts Of Justice. They look just the same today.

Customers and children pose outside the Old King’s Head pub, St Pancras.

Threadneedle Street, close to The Bank Of England.

Tottenham Court Road.

Whitechapel Road, East London. The London Hospital is on the right. It was once home to the famous ‘Elephant Man’, John Merrick, before his death. He would likely have been living there at the time this was taken. There is still a very busy hospital on that site. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_London_Hospital

An Alphabet Of My Life: L

L=London

It had to be London of course. Anyone born and raised in that city will know how it gets into your blood. It goes further than being British, or English. You are a Londoner, and that is what you portray to the rest of the country, and to the world.

There is history on every street corner, much of it dating back to the Romans and beyond. You can walk the same streets as Shakespeare did, and stroll past the house where Charles Dickens lived. You develop a London accent, one that marks you out wherever you go in the rest of the country. You have your own slang terms, even a kind of local language. Other Londoners get you. They shared the same experiences.

There is architecture dating back to the time of the Norman invasion in 1066, alongside medieval, Victorian Gothic, Edwardian, Art Noveau, Art Deco, and the very latest styles. Something to please everyone. You can look into the dark corners where Jack The Ripper committed his famous murders, and gaze at a river that started the great commercial expansion of the British Empire.

Drink in pubs steeped in history. The one where the Mayflower tied up, before leaving with the pilgrims to America. Others that featured in the writings of famous authors, and were the hangouts of artists, criminals, or penniless aristocrats.

The restaurants are so numerous, you can eat almost any dish available anywhere in the world, as well as traditional British food that has not changed in hundreds of years.

Culture is everywhere. Museums, galleries, theatres, opera houses, jazz clubs, dance halls, concert venues. You are spoilt for choice. It is also green, in the sense of open space. Huge parks, ornamental gardens, fountains, lakes, all beautifully maintained and lovingly tended.

Yes, it is noisy. Yes, it is crowded. It is a 24-hour non-stop city, with awful traffic problems. Londoners are not that popular with the rest of England either. Derided as ‘Soft Southerners’, or ‘Cockney Bastards’, that accent can sometimes get you into trouble if you venture too far North. A city of districts, boroughs, areas, all distinctly separated by the River Thames. It is not a city for everyone, but it was everything to me.

It is London.

Scenes From Old London: 1900

More everyday scenes from London, photographed around 1900.

A policeman directing the busy horse-drawn traffic in Piccadilly.

A similar scene in Piccadilly on a different day. Traffic congestion was just as bad 122 years ago as it is now.

Piccadilly Circus at the time.

Clerkenwell, known as ‘Little Italy’.

A street in Kensington, when that area was considered to be a slum.

A woman selling fish from a cart. (Jon has let me know this was actually taken in Whitby, Yorkshire. It was listed along with the others as ‘Old London’. I have left it in anyway, as it is evocative of the era.)

Wych Street.

Seven Dials, Covent Garden.

Some parts of London were still very rural in 1900. Here is a blacksmith’s forge in Highgate at the time, and a residential street nearby.

Images Of London In 1875

I found a nice group of photos taken in London during 1875. The photographers were not credited.

The Oxford Arms, in East London. There was a group trying to save this old coaching inn from demolition, and they employed a photographer to publicise their campaign. Sadly, they did not succeed.

Wych Street, WC2.

Old Palace Yard, Lambeth.

Old Aldgate. Rooms to let.

Fleet Street. This was once the home of every newspaper.

The Old Bell, Holborn.

Smithfield.

High Holborn.

The White Hart Inn.

Borough High Street, South London.

Drury Lane.

A milkman delivering, Lambeth.