Results 1 to 9 of 9
Like Tree9Likes
  • 5 Post By Honey
  • 4 Post By A*O

Thread: Photographs of life in Victorian London go to auction

  1. #1
    Elite Member Honey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Default Photographs of life in Victorian London go to auction

    They are images of devastating poverty and life on London's streets that look like they come straight from the pages of a Charles Dickens book.
    The collection, taken by pioneering photojournalist John Thomson in 1877, show what life was really like for thousands of Londoners in Victorian Britain.
    Unlike most pictures taken at the time, they show the daily grind and backbreaking work undertaken by the capital's working-classes.

    Faces of Victorian London: John Day (above left) was sent out to work young, as his father was addicted to drink and encouraged John to work for beer money. When this photo was taken, however, he was described as a prosperous family man and an advocate for total abstinence, 'well known as the temperance sweep'. Old 'Scotty', by comparison, had been the wife of a wealthy man who spent all his money before dying, leaving her peniless and one of London's 'crawlers' (beggars). She told John Thomson: 'I am becoming more accustomed to it now... What, however, I cannot endure, is the awful lazy, idle life I am forced to lead; it is a thousand times worse than the hardest labour, and I would much rather my hands were cut, blistered, and sore with toil, than, as you see them, swollen, and red, and smarting from the exposure to the sun, the rain, and the cold'

    Street vendors: The flower women of Covent Garden, above left, of whom Thomson and Smith write: 'A child has generally been reared to follow in her parents' footsteps; and the "beat" in front of the church is not merely the property of its present owners, it has been inherited from previous generations of flower-women'. The 'dealer in fancy ware' (pictured right) has a barrow that is one of the 'most attractive I have seen during my wanderings about town', writes Thomson. The dealer himself, who admits that not all 'swags' are the gentlemen they used to be, marvels at the fact that even the poorest women want pretty jewellery. He says: 'I have had them come with their youngsters without shoes or stockings, and spend money on ear-drops, or a fancy comb for the hair'

    The water cart: 'The men employed on the water carts work according to the state of the weather. Thus, in summer under a hot dry wind, they emerge at early morning from the vestry yards and radiate over the parishes. During wet weather some are employed in cleansing the roads, others in carting materials for the contractors who supply the building trade'
    From road sweepers to flower sellers, the collection gives a fascinating snapshot into the past at the dawn of photography.

    Thomson worked with radical journalist Adolphe Smith on the project, which was one of the first to concentrate on working-class people.
    It features child labourers working on the streets of London, as well the back-breaking jobs of many people in the capital.

    The hard-hitting collection, compiled into a book called Street Life In London, shows the grim reality of life for millions of poverty-stricken Londoners during the Victorian age.
    The pioneering project came after the likes of Dickens and philanthropists such as Thomas Barnado began highlighting the conditions in the inner cities.
    Like scenes from Oliver Twist, Thomson's pictures show barefoot children fending for themselves in the capital.
    His depictions of extreme poverty in classics such as Our Mutual Friend are also shown in the heartbreaking images, such as the ill woman cradling a baby on the streets.

    Working long hours: Public 'disinfectors' (above left) earned the princely sum of sixpence an hour for disinfecting houses and removing contaminated clothing and furniture - mites and lice were the usual culprits. The book's authors note that 'these are such busy times that [disinfectors] often work twelve hours a day'. Poor Carey The Clown (above right) was forced to give up his day job after a burst varicose vein at Stepney Fair ended his capering. At the time of this photo, he's found employment as a chair mender - but Thomson softens the blow by writing that 'thousands remember how he delighted them with his string of sausages at the yearly pantomime'

    November Effigies: A street vendor living in the south-east of London has decided that he must go all out to fund a homemade 'guy' for Bonfire Night. Dressed in women's clothing, literally drumming business, and assisted by a pair of delighted boys, the sight is not one met with good humour by Johnson, who writes: 'This meaningless monstrosity, together with the absurd appearance of the man in woman's clothes, amuses some persons, and the conductor of such an exhibition can hope to realise about thirty shillings the first day'

    Child labour: While the boy cleaning shoes in the photo above left looks barely a teenager, by the time this photo was taken he had served in two brigades (the 'blues' and the 'reds'), sailed the oceans as a sailor, and was now an 'independent shoe-black' to support his mother and invalid father with a few pence cleaning boots. Italian street musicians (above right) were much admired in Victorian England, despite being a somewhat scruffy lot. Thomson and Smith offer: 'There is an element of romance about the swarthy Italian youth to which the English poor cannot aspire'

    Donkey ride, anyone? Two likely looking entrepreneurs sit in the sunshine as they try to hire out novelty rides on Clapham Common. The man leaning over the stoic animal is the son of the owner - a Mr Laurence. The ornately saddled beasts of burden could be hired for a quick frolic around the common, or leased for an entire day if required

    Extreme poverty: Travelling folk known as the 'London Nomades' were homeless Londoners who 'attend fairs, markets, and hawk cheap ornaments or useful wares from door to door'. A group are pictured (above left) around the caravan of William Hampton, who has no interest in a fixed abode or a formal education. He tells the authors: 'Why what do I want with education? Any chaps of my acquaintance what knows how to write and count proper aint much to be trusted at a bargain.” The tales and captions within Street Life In London (pictured right) are as fascinating as the photos they accompany

    Thomson took the 36 photographs between 1877 and 1878 and published them in a monthly serial over 12 parts.
    They were then printed in Street Life in London, with the work regarded as being hugely important for its use of photography as social documentation.
    The book is going under the hammer on Thursday at Gloucestershire auctioneers Dominic Winter and is expected to sell for between £4,000 and £6,000.
    John Trevers, a valuer and auctioneer at Dominic Winter, said: 'The book is famous in the sense it is one of the first social documentations shown in photographs.

    A full life: Jacobus Parker, described as a 'Dramatic Reader, Shoe-Black, and Peddler' stands at his accustomed pitch. Parker, who has kept away from the devil drink his whole life, told Thomson and Smith: 'I am near three-score years and ten, have fought life's battle and won, and will carry with me to the end its chief prizes - a hale heart and a contented mind'

    Entertainment and the military: The authors marvel at the street advertising trade (pictured above left), writing: 'There is a certain knack required in pasting a bill on a rough board, so that it shall spread out smoothly, and be easily read by every pedestrian.' These days bill posters have to worry about being prosecuted as well. Above right, Army recruiters hang around a pub waiting to encourage young lads into service. For posterity, they are (from right to left): Sergeant Ison, of the 6th Dragoon Guards; Sergeant Titswell, of the 5th Dragoon Guards; Sergeant Badcock, of the 2nd Dragoons, or Scots Greys; Sergeant Bilton, of the Royal Engineers; Sergeant Minett, of the 14th Hussars; and Sergeant McGilney, of the 6th Dragoons

    Sight for sore eyes: The 'street doctor' in this photo lost his job as a driver due to a degenerative eye disease. After spending months in hospitals, he met a man selling ointment that led to his eyesight gradually returning. The ointment seller set the man up in business. The man told Thomson and Smith: 'I had no money, but he gave me everything on trust. It was a good thing for both of us, because I was a sort of standing advertisement for him and for myself'

    Scenes of relaxation: Three men drink from tankards outside a pub (above left). While little is known about the other two men, the one seated on the right is a Mr Cannon, who describes himself as a 'wall worker'. Such employees were used to hang advertising boards on any available public wall space - hung up in the morning and then taken in again at night. The demon drink pops up again in the photo above right, titled Hookey Alf, Of Whitechapel - where the authors lament the plight of the child in themiddle of the photograph. They write: 'There is no sight to be seen in the streets of London more pathetic than this oft-repeated story the little child leading home a drunken parent'

    Park life: 'Mush-fakers' and ginger beer sellers (above left) could turn a brisk trade on a summer's day in London parks. 'Mush-fakers' were in fact makers and menders of umbrellas, while the authors write: 'More than £1 may be taken during one day by those who have a sufficient supply of ginger-beer with them.' As for the street locksmith in the picture above right, he earnestly told the authors that it was against the law 'these days' to sell more than one key for any lock - as 'thieves would find easy access to other people's property'

    'Rather than photographs of the Royal Family or of pretty parks, this is real people at the bottom of society.
    'It was around the same period as Charles Dickens was exposing the underclass and it must have been shocking to see the photographs at the time.
    'One of the photographs shows a lady who looks very ill, she was dying.
    'It really shows a grim London life and must have been very hard-hitting, this is a very important book.'

    'You'll never guess who I had in my cab last night': Omnibus driver 'Cast-Iron Billy' (left, holding whip) chats to a friend, no-doubt bemoaning the fact that younger and fitter omnibus drivers are stealing all the passengers on his route. Street Life In London tells his story, revealing that the younger omnibus drivers overtake him and get to the waiting passengers first. Furthermore he has become infirm after 43 years in the business, and has to be helped up into the driving position. The book shows that some things never change, as it describes London Cabmen (above right) thus: 'Despite the traditional hoarse voice, rough appearance, and quarrelsome tone, cab-drivers are as a rule reliable and honest men'

    John Walker, a licensed hawker known as 'Black Jack', who made his living by buying goods for wholesale prices and selling it for more. He ended up in court charged with cutting and wounding his donkeys with an 18-inch knife. In his defence, Walker produced the weapon in court and said: 'This is the flail, your honour, and I use it for tickling Tom and Billy, my donkeys. They want no more to make 'em fly.' The case was dismissed

    Making a living: London Boardmen, like the man above left, were jeered at in the street for being walking advertisements. But many of the men had held far loftier positions earlier in their lives - such as metalworkers or members of the military. Advances in technology, a lack of education, or simply the advancement of years had meant that they had slipped to a life on the streets. A cheerier scene can be seen above right in Lumber Court, St Giles. These women are gainfully employed in the second-hand clothes busines - back when vintage really was vintage

    A convicts home: Former policeman Mr Bayliss (left) ran a home for released prisoners. He is seen talking to Indian drummer Ramo Sammy, known as the 'tam-tam man'. Before it was a halfway house providing food and shelter for felons, it had served a similar purpose - as a 'cookhouse' frequented by nefarious criminals

    For sale: A fishmonger (above left) called Joseph Carney is having a good day at his pitch near Seven Dials in Covent Garden. He has bought a barrel of 500 fresh herrings for 25 shillings and is selling 200 of the bigger ones for a penny each. He's unloading the smaller ones for a halfpenny. The toil of the ice-cream man (above right) remains a mystery to Thomson and Smith, who write that the work starts at 4am, is 'generally ignored by the public at large, so far as it's intimate details are concerned', and seems to be only followed keenly by the ice-cream men themselves and 'groups of eager and greedy children'

    John Thomson made his name as one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East where he documented the people, landscapes and artifacts of eastern cultures.
    He returned to the UK 1872 and moved to Brixton to live with his family where he published his photojournalism.
    It was on his return he started documenting Victorian London. He later returned to Scotland, living in Edinburgh until his death from a heart attack in 1821 at the age of 84.

    Flying dustmen: Fail to give these refuse collectors their accustomed 'tip', and life will become disagreeable. They'll turn up any time day or night - and usually when it's wet outside - tramping their muddy boots through the house. He'll bounce off all the walls from the dustbin to the door, leaving no small trace of his visit on the wallpaper or floor - or he'll plead that his cart is too full and that he must call at another time, A tip usually clears this right up

    Day in the park: A park photographer can make a decent wage - but dares not leave his camera and portable darkroom, lest a subject presents himself. He must stand for hours until his trade tickles someone's fancy - or a passing wagon wants a picture of their groceries before delivering them to the 'prosperous bourgeoisie of Clapham'

    Victorian street food: 'The street purveyors of shellfish find their principal customers among the poor in such quarters as Whitechapel, Drury Lane, the New Cut, Lambeth, and in the immediate neighbourhood of theatres and places of amusement.' Alcohol is a large part of their success, as they tend to have patches in the 'thirstier' neighbourhoods, which support a large number of public houses

    By water or on land: Boatmen on the River Thames (above left), who were known to work on the 'silent highway'. The authors note: 'These men are rough and poorly educated... Never stationary in anyone place, it is difficult for them to secure education for their children, and regular attendance at school would be impossible unless the child left its parents altogether.' The men above right are labourers in the service of Mr Dickson, 'the well-known florist'. They are among 2,000 men employed to distribute flowers to their various purchasers. Only a small proportion are seen at Covent Garden during the daytime; it is in the early morning that they congregate

    Read more: Dickens' London brought to life: Fascinating snapshot of Victorian street traders taken at the dawn of photography | Mail Online
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

  2. #2
    Elite Member Beeyotch's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006


    These are so cool. Fascinating.

  3. #3
    Elite Member Witchywoman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    vat of chocolate


    and not one of them is flipping us off. Kidding aside these are amazing, can't imagine living like that.

  4. #4
    Elite Member Sarzy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007


    I love seeing photos from around that time. Very interesting.

  5. #5
    A*O is offline
    Friend of Gossip Rocks! A*O's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Being Paula


    A useful reminder about how far technology has come in only 2-3 generations. A man who could remember the first motor cars would also have been alive to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and the technology available to NASA then would now look positively agricultural compared to what's going on in your smart phone. I sometimes wonder what marvels our grandchildren will take for granted as "normal". I am still in awe of the Internet and it's possibilities to be honest.
    Dubah, thordis, rollo and 1 others like this.
    I've never liked lesbianism - it leaves a bad taste in my mouth
    Dame Edna Everage

    Just because you're offended doesn't mean you're right.

  6. #6
    Elite Member Novice's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Beyond Caring, then hang a left.


    I know A*O, one of my father's family was one of the first to have a motor car and my mother's parents were the first people in their street to get a television (for the corronation!). How far we have come since then is quite amazing.
    Free Charmed.

  7. #7
    Elite Member Air Quotes's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Seattle, Washington


    Those are incredible, thank you for posting!
    "A true whore just loves her life." - Sluce

  8. #8
    Hit By Ban Bus! rockchick's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    midwest USA


    So interesting. Life wasn't so simple then, these photos are great.

  9. #9
    Elite Member darksithbunny's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005


    I bet a lot of the older looking people are actually in their twenties. God bless em. Life just sucked it all out of them.

Thread Information

Users Browsing this Thread

There are currently 1 users browsing this thread. (0 members and 1 guests)

Similar Threads

  1. Replies: 10
    Last Post: August 8th, 2012, 02:26 PM
  2. A Victorian London home
    By Honey in forum Home and Garden
    Replies: 13
    Last Post: May 14th, 2009, 09:23 PM
  3. A Victorian home in London
    By Honey in forum Home and Garden
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: January 3rd, 2009, 06:04 PM
  4. Replies: 3
    Last Post: March 19th, 2007, 10:34 AM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts