An Alphabet Of My Life: N


I have always been a nostalgic person, even when I was quite young. Once life started to become ‘modern’, in the late 1960s, I was only 16, and already looking back to when I was at primary school, spending a lot more time around my family, and living close to the docks in South London.

Once I was in my twenties, and married, I looked back on my teens as my ‘golden years’, before the onset of adulthood and responsibility made me into a different person. I backed this up by having a collection of records from long before I was even born, the dance bands and crooners of the 1920s. I preferred the fashions of those pre-war years too, and often felt I had been born in the wrong decade.

That applied to films too. I was never happier than when watching the musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or the ‘film-noir’ productions of the late 1930s and 1940s. My favourite architecture was Art Deco, and my favourite painter was Tamara De Lempicka. The singer I listened to more than any other was Al Bowlly, who was killed during the bombing of London in 1941.

By the time I turned 40, I had moved back to the area of London where I grew up, and revelled in the nostalgia that surrounded me, even though the Docklands Developments of the early 1980s had changed parts of it beyond recognition.

During my time as an EMT, I always felt that job was better during the first ten years I did it. Once it became more complex, and the staff more self-important, I would drone on about how much better it had been in the past. I couldn’t shake that feeling, despite being advised by everyone to ‘look forward, not back’.

Once I retired in 2012 and moved away from London, I wallowed in nostalgia on a daily basis. As any regular reader of this blog will know, I not only have a Category that covers nostalgia posts, I write them and publish them all the time. I hasten to add that I am not seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses. I am well-aware of how much harder life was for so many back then, and even more so when I was a child.

But I loved it, and I am not apologising for being nostalgic.

An Alphabet Of My Life: B


Very few people will know about the existence of Bermondsey. It was once a London Borough, and is now just a district, consumed into the huge Borough of Southwark, in South London. It had its own council, Bermondsey Borough Council, responsible for refuse collection, Libraries, swimming baths, housing, public buildings, street lighting and roads, among other things.

It is where I come from, born into two rooms above an old lady who lived next door to the gates of the biscuit factory. It was close to the River Thames, boasted docks and wharves, and is directly at the southern end of Tower Bridge.

When I was a child, it provided a happy life for most residents. There was the Solarium, for public health, and the marvellous main Library in Spa Road, where I discovered my love of books in an atmosphere of complete silence, presided over by severe female librarians. I could take out three books a week, every week. And I did.

There was also full employment. The Docks, the Leather Tanneries, the Jam factory, the Vinegar factory, and the Sausage factory where my paternal grandmother once worked. The biscuit factory priovided employment for my mother, who worked in the offices, and the Flour Wharf was where my maternal grandfather worked, on the banks of the River Thames close to London Bridge.

It was a working class area, with predominantly white British residents. In fact they were predominantly Londoners, and most from the same families well-known in the area. We played in the parks and on the many bombsites left over from WW2, and most of our relatives lived in the same street, or the next street over.

Every corner had a pub and a corner shop. Some streets had small rows of shops, and there was the nearby street market in Southwark Park Road. We had a small cinema, a branch of Woolworths, and there was nothing we needed to leave the borough to buy, unless we wanted to. It was a self-contained community, in every sense of that description.

For many years, I described my self as being ‘From Bermondsey’. Not London, not South London, but Bermondsey. I was proud to be a ‘Bermondsey Boy’, to go to school in Bermondsey, get my haircut in Bermondsey, and to go to the Wimpy Bar in Bermondsey. I felt I had little or no need (or desire) to leave that small borough.

Then in 1967, when I was fifteen years old, my dad decided to leave Bermondsey and buy a house in the Kent suburbs, fifteen miles east. I never really forgave him for that, and for the next two-plus years I made the long commute to and from school, often staying with friends or relatives back in Bermondsey at weekends. I had my first serious girlfriend in Bermondsey, and once I was driving, it was my first choice to drive back and spend time where I felt comfortable.

Many years later, and much of that area has been gentrified. The pubs have closed, and outsiders have moved in paying small fortunes for houses once considered to be slums.

I remain content with my memories, and have written quite a lot about it on my blog. Here’s a link.

Candid Photos Of London Life: 1873-1978

Many photographers seek out situations where the subjects are not posed, or perhaps completely unaware of the camera. These are generally known as ‘Candids’, and there are many to be found on the Internet. Here is a selection, covering a long period of London’s history.

1873. A fish-porter at Billingsgate Market.

1873. A woman selling magazines and newspapers on a London street.

1900. A street scene taken in the North London borough of Barnet. It looks like a village in the countryside.
The children are resting against a horse-trough, which would be filled with water for thirsty horses.

1900. Busy financial workers close to The Bank of England.

1905. Sloane Square in London. It appears to be amazingly quiet on that day.

1957. Children playing cricket on a Paddington Street.

1957. A street scene on Latimer Road, Notting Hill. One of the first multi-cultural districs following post-war immigration.

1957. A woman feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square, Central London. The sale of pigeon food was banned there, in 2000.

1961. A top-hatted banker outside the Bank of England.

1961. This lady saw the camera, and was not happy to be photographed outside a branch of Woolworth’s.

1961. A street flower-seller brandishing his bunches of flowers.

1969. Piccadilly Circus, Central London. A group of neo-Nazi skinheads strut past some hippies relaxing on the statue. A clash of cultures.

1973. Two women chat on an East London Street.

1978. A bus stuck in traffic on London Bridge.

A London Character: Stanley Green

Any Londoner who has ever worked or shopped in the West End may well remember the eccentric character, Stanley Green. He ran a one-man campaign against ‘Lust’, which he was convinced was caused by eating too much protein, and sitting for too long. He would walk around the busiest shopping streets in London carrying his placard, and trying to sell his information pamphlet for a few pence.

I bought one from him once, and waited until he was out of sight before placing it in a litter bin.

For 25 years, from 1968 until 1993, Green patrolled Oxford Street and the surrounding area with a placard recommending “protein wisdom”, a low-protein diet that he said would dampen the libido and make people kinder. His 14-page self-published pamphlet, Eight Passion Proteins with Care went through 84 editions and sold 87,000 copies over 20 years.

Green’s “campaigning for the suppression of desire”, as one writer described it, was not always popular, but Londoners developed an affection for him. The Sunday Times interviewed him in 1985, and the fashion house Red or Dead used his “less passion from less protein” slogan in one of its collections. When he died aged 78, the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times all published obituaries, and the Museum of London acquired his pamphlets and placards. In 2006 his biography was included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Green was born in Harringay, north London, the youngest of four boys to May Green and her husband, Richard Green, a clerk for a bottle stopper manufacturer. After attending Wood Green County School, a mixed grammar school, Green joined the Royal Navy in 1938. According to Philip Carter in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Green was shocked while in the Navy by the obsession with sex. “I was astonished when things were said quite openly—what a husband would say to his wife when home on leave,” he told the Sunday Times “A Life in the Day” column in 1985. “I’ve always been a moral sort of person.”

After leaving the Navy in September 1945, Green worked for the Fine Art Society. In March 1946, Carter writes, he failed the entrance exam for the University of London, then worked for Selfridges and the civil service, and as a storeman for Ealing Borough Council. On two occasions he had lost jobs, he said, because he had refused to be dishonest. In 1962 he held a job with the Post Office, then worked as a self-employed gardener until 1968 when he began his anti-protein campaign. He lived with his parents until they died, his father in 1966 and his mother the following year, after which he was given a council flat in Haydock Green, Northolt, West London.

Years after his death Green was still remembered by writers and bloggers. In 2006 he was given an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, while the artist Alun Rowlands’ documentary fiction, 3 Communiqués (2007), portrayed him as “trawling the city campaigning for the suppression of desire through diet”. In 2013 Martin Gordon included a track about him on his album Include Me Out. He was also the subject of a biographical song Stanley Green on The Melancholy Thug’s 2018 album A Trip to the Sewers of Paris. Peter Watts wrote in Londonist in 2016 that Green was for a time “the most famous non-famous person in London, a figure recognised by millions even if few ever actually spoke to him.

Oxford Circus has never felt quite the same without him

1950s London In Photos: Frank Horvat

Frank Horvat was an Italian professional photographer who made a name for himself whilst working in France after WW2. Between 1954 and 1959, he often travelled to London, capturing city life just before the Swinging Sixties changed so many things in England.

(Most but not all of the photos can be further enlarged by clicking on them.)

Teenagers in a snooker club, 1959.

A policeman on traffic duty, 1959. He is wearing white oversleeves so that drivers notice his directions.

A bowler-hatted man admiring a fashionable lady. Piccadilly, 1955.

A well-off man having made-to-meaure shoes fitted in the shop of the famous shoemaker, Lobb’s. 1955.

Salvation Army ladies having a tea break during one of their meetings. 1959.

Lady friends chatting on a bench in Hyde Park. 1959.

This man is standing on London Bridge, admiring the view of Tower Bridge in the distance. 1955.

Children having a boxing match in Lambeth, 1955. They have chalked out their ‘Boxing ring’ and corners.

Men selling puppies at Club Row market, 1955.

People travelling on an underground train during the evening rush hour, 1959. Everyone seems to be busy doing something.

A self-portait of Frank Horvat captured opposite a street market mirror stall.

Rich diners at a Cafe Royal function, 1955.

A veteran car rally from Westminster Bridge to Brighton, 1954.

Victorian London In Photos: 1861-1899

I found some very early photos of London online. The photographers were not credited, but there were some explanatory captions.

Working sailing barges on the River Thames in the centre of London. 1862.

A factory making boilers for steamships. This was taken in South London, in 1863. The factory owner was John Penn. He is to the centre-right of the photo wearing a top hat, and you can tell him by darker trousers and watch-chain.

Lower Fore Street, Lambeth. This was a poor district by the shore of the River Thames in South London. The photo was taken in 1865, by which time almost 300,000 people were living crammed into the shoreline area there.

The construction of the London Underground Railway at Paddington, 1866.

A Punch and Judy show attracting crowds in Waterloo Place, Central London.It is believed to have been taken some time in 1865.

Leather Tanners working on skins in Bermondsey, South London. That was the leather tanning district of London, and also happens to be where I am from originally. The photo was taken in 1861, just 91 years before I was born.

St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell. This photo was taken some time during 1865.

A view of The Strand, Central London. The photo was taken in 1889, and many of those buildings still remain today.

Gray’s Inn Lane. This is the part of London known for housing the offices of lawyers and barristers. The photo was taken in 1885, and four years later, the houses shown were demolished to make the road wider.

London Bridge packed with traffic and pedestrians, 1875.

Boat builders working on the southern shoreline of the River Thames at Lambeth. This is an early photo, believed to have been taken in 1861. The same year as the outbreak of the American Civil War.

England In Photos: George Rodger

George Rodger captured English life from 1946 until the late 1960s. Many of these photos seem to be from some years earlier than that, showing how little changed during that time.

Shops reopening after the war, 1946. This shop seems to offer almost everything, and also carries advertising postcards for people selling items.

Well-to-do friends enjoy a picnic at an event, 1950s

A West Indian immigrant family arrives at a mainline station in London, 1964.

The interior of a Central London pub, 1969. Note the absence of any female customers.

The sleepy village of Smarden in Kent, 1964.

Morris dancers performing their traditional dance in Smarden, 1964.

An elderly resident of Smarden fixes a bicycle wheel, 1964.

The funeral of Winston Churchill. Central London, 1965.

Rare Photos Of London. 1900-1910

Before the outbreak of the First World War, uncredited photographers were recording daily life in Central London. I found some rare photos of places that no longer exist. The streets are still there, but the buildings have changed completely. Some were destroyed by bombing in WW2, others demolished later for the building of modern office blocks.

Women working at spinning wheels in the City of London, 1908.

A nursery for working mothers. Deptford, South London. 1909.

A chimney sweep photographed with his family. City of London, 1900.

Cloth Fair. A street in the City of London, 1908.

A shop with the owners living above. Central London, 1910.

A stationery company. Smithfield, London, 1908. They also sold tobacco products, and a shop in the alleyway sold meats.

An upholstery business. Smithfield, London, 1909.

London Life In Photos: 1959-1967

Another random selection of old photos to take me down Memory Lane.

Fish Porters outside the Old Billingsgate Fish Market in 1959. This was not far from The Tower of London, and traded in fish from the 16th Century until 1982, when it was relocated. The porters wore special hats called ‘Bobbin Hats’, and they could carry many boxes of fish on their heads.

Street musician, 1965. It was not unusual to see such accordion players wandering around playing for the public in the hope of receiving a few pennies. If they found a lucrative spot, they might stay there all day.

A road repair gang posing in front of their lorry, 1964.

This studious small boy was an orphan, photographed in ‘halfway house’ accommodation in the mid-1960s.

A street trader in fruit and vegetables. He operated in Barking, East London during the 1960s. he would have had a regular ’round’ and customers would know when he would show up.

This immigrant family had been targeted by neo-Nazi racists of the National Front, in 1967. The house had been fire-bombed, and the sign ‘WOGS’ put on their door. That was a racist insult derived from the toy dolls called Golliwogs.

An East London pub owner who famously adopted a rescue donkey. The donkey would stay in the bar during opening hours, and liked to drink beer.

Gypsy families living on Beckton Marshes, 1966. That area later became a huge new housing development.

This well-known East London street trader was photographed in 1967. He looks like it could have been 100 years earlier.

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.