Tag Archives: London Postcards

London Life In Postcards

The problem with trying to research a weekly post is that work frequently gets in the way and the last couple of weeks have been rather busy, so for this week, let me show you some aspects of London Life as portrayed by postcards.

I am always on the lookout for London postcards, they help with understanding how the city has changed over the years and how Londoners have lived and worked. Some postcards show similar scenes that my father photographed and it is fascinating to compare these, and also to visit the locations of these photos today. Some have changed beyond all recognition whilst others are much the same.

Postcards were published covering a wide range of different topics and below are a sample of some individual cards as well as a series of cards published in the early 1950s titled “London Life”.

The Stock Exchange, London – Throgmorton Street.

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The use of roof space for gardens, restaurants and bars is not a new phenomena, Selfridges had the Hanging Gardens of London.

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The view along the Strand towards the church of St.Mary-le-Strand. According to the postmark on this card it was posted on the 8th June 1907.

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The photo used for the following postcard must have been taken around 1932 as it shows the Daily Express building at 120 Fleet Street and presumably from the remaining scaffolding on the top levels, construction was almost complete.

This remarkable building was constructed between 1930 and 1932 as the headquarters of the Daily Express Newspaper and in the early 1930s must have seemed very futuristic.

The building was technically difficult to construct as printing presses had to be accommodated in the basement. A reinforced concrete deck was used between the ground floor and the basement to provide sufficient free space in the basement for the printing presses.

The distinctive facade of the building comprised black panels, clear glass and chrome strips with curved corners. The building is now Grade II listed.

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The Daily Express building must have seemed so out of character with the surrounding buildings on Fleet Street. I do not know what the reaction was at the time, but it does make me question my own views on some of the new developments today, whether in 80 years time they will be considered classic examples of an architectural style and protected.

There are many postcards showing the surprising number of exhibitions that were held in London during the early decades of the 20th century. The scene in the following postcard is of the Scenic Railway at the Coronation Exhibition held at White City to commemorate the coronation of George V. Rather tame by the standards of today, but it must have been an adventurous ride at the time. If you look on the left there are many light bulbs across the rather realistic rock so this must have been lit up at night and must have been a sight for 1911.

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Two very early postcards of Petticoat Lane. Poor quality, but they do provide a good impression of this crowded street market.

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Postcards can confirm that some things do not change. Oxford has always been crowded with buses. The advertising banners on the right selling a Whole Head Permanent Wave for either 30 or 25 shillings. When you have had your hair done, you could then get a passport photo taken at the Venus Studio.

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The Guildhall as it was before bombing during the 2nd World War reduced the Guildhall to a shell, and destroyed the surrounding buildings. The card was posted on the 15th July 1907

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View down Kingsway. The building at the far end is Bush House, the old location of the BBC World Service. The card was posted on the 31st August 1942 so must show Kingsway in the 1930s.

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Leicester Square at night. Interesting that most of the photos of London at night that I have seen on postcards were taken after rain, a trick that brings out the reflections of the lights.

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Queen Victoria Street. The corner building on the right is still there as is the church of St. Mary Aldermary on the left.

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The following photo of Tower Bridge must have been taken from the brewery by Horselydown Old Stairs. I find the scene behind Tower Bridge interesting as it is very different now. If you stood in the same position today, the view would be dominated by the towers of the Walkie Talkie, the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin.

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The following photo must have been taken from the tower of St. Clement Danes looking back along Fleet Street towards the City. The Royal Courts of Justice are on the left, followed by the tower of St. Dunstan in the West, with the tower of St. Brides further to the right with St. Paul’s Cathedral behind.

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View towards Holborn Viaduct. On the left is the shop and workshops of Negretti and Zambra, manufacturers of scientific and optical equipment at 38 Holborn Viaduct.

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Postcards were used for advertising by many businesses including restaurants such as Simpson’s in the Strand. Originally opened in 1828 and still in business with carvers and roast beef a specialty, although I doubt that today’s staff have the same length of service as the carvers in the photo. The “youngest of them has served there for over a quarter of a century”.  I also suspect you would not want to complain about your Sunday Roast to these rather intimidating carvers.

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The original City of London School on the Victoria Embankment by the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge. Although the school has relocated the buildings are still there. At the far edge can be seen the corner of De Keyser’s Royal Hotel.

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Earl’s Court was an entertainment and exhibition centre long before the large exhibition centre (currently being demolished) was built-in the 1930s. An early wooden roller coaster is on the right and I am not sure what the ride is on the left which seems to provide some means of gliding people to the top.

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London Life

In the 1950s, Charles Skilton published a series of twelve postcards called “London Life”, typical scenes of people and events across London. Often this type of postcard would be a posed, however these photos all look to be natural.

Costermonger ‘Pearly Kings and Queens” in Southwark.

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Orators’ Corner, Hyde Park. A well known spot for open-air speaking.

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The busy docks in the Port of London.

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Judges leaving a service in Westminster Abbey.

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Posing for a photograph with the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

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A Flower Seller in Piccadilly Circus.

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An Entertainer escapes from a bound sack in the Charing Cross Road. I think this must have been Johnny Eagle as the performers look the same as in the photos my father took on Tower Hill.

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A pavement artist outside the National Portrait Gallery.

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A Street Market in Soho – the view is looking down Rupert Street with Archer Street running to the immediate left. The pub on the corner, The White Horse is still there and the building on the immediate right is the Gielgud Theatre, which at the time was called the Globe (the name change to Gielgud Theatre was in 1994 as a tribute to Sir John Gielgud).

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Artists show their pictures in the open-air at Hampstead. There were a number of open-air art exhibitions in London, as well as Hampstead, I have a series of photos my father took of an open-air exhibition in the Victoria Embankment Gardens.

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An East End Rag-and-Bone Man. Crockery is offered as an alternative to cash.

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The Guards in Whitehall are a familiar spectacle.

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Postcards were generally used by tourists to London, or for sending a brief message which could be quickly written down and posted rather than writing a letter. With the growth in use of technologies such as e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp etc. I suspect that the future for postcards is in a very sharp decline and postcards of London Life will no longer provide a record of the changing city.

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London Postcards

Back in August, I published a number of London Postcards showing the city during the first decades of the 20th Century. For this week’s post I have another series of postcards from the same time period.

I find these fascinating as they show many different aspects of London and provide a tangible link with those who lived in, or were visiting London.

The first postcard is of a very wintry Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Taken at a time when this was still a working observatory. Very rare to see such snowfall in London today.

The postcard was posted at a very different time of year to the pictured scene, on the 31st August 1905. With a Greenwich postmark, posted to a child in Lowestoft with a birthday wish from his aunt and uncle.

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As well as scenic views, early postcards are also populated by Londoners. This postcard shows Covent Garden with some fantastic detail of a very busy street scene. This was at a time when wearing a hat was almost mandatory, with the type of hat indicating your position in the social structure of the day. The scene is also piled high with baskets ready to transport goods to and from the market.

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The following postcard shows Regent Street at a time when almost all shops had awnings or shop blinds. The shop on the right is the London Stereoscopic Company. Formed during the 1850s, the company started selling stereoscopic photos and viewers and then went into the general photographic business selling cameras, photographic paper and other photography supplies. The company lasted until 1922.

The bus in the foreground is the number 13 covering Finchley Road, Baker Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Charing Cross and Fleet Street. The number 13 bus route today covers many of the same locations.

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Another street scene, this time Holborn (posted on the 18th September 1913).

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All these photos show the main street lamps on islands in the centre of the road. When electric lighting was introduced to the streets of London, the centre of the road was found to be the best location to spread light across both sides of the road. These lighting islands also had other benefits. A report presented to the Vestry of St. Pancras in 1891 covering the use of public lighting by electricity claimed that one advantage of central street lighting in busy thoroughfares is that they regulate the traffic. The report stated:

“Your committee are informed that the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police has suggested that there ought to be a rest at that point to prevent the numerous stoppages and accidents that occur there. The Police seem to be strongly of the opinion that the fixing of rests assists very materially in the regulation of the traffic, and your Committee feel therefore that although at first sight many people may think the lighting from the centre of the road would tend to obstruction, it really assists in facilitating the traffic and preventing obstruction in crowded thorough-fares.”

“Rests” refers to the islands built in the centre of the road where a street lamp could be installed and protected from traffic. They also provided a safe stopping point, or rest, for pedestrians trying to cross the road. The report was written as part of the planning for the installation of electric arc lamps in Tottenham Court Road. The following postcard shows Tottenham Court Road taken looking north from the junction with Charing Cross Road. The buildings on the left, along with the pub are still there.

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The above postcard was sent by a visitor to London from North Wales who “has been seeing the sights and are now going to the zoo.”

Perhaps one of those sights was Leicester Square, much quieter than it is today, possibly a weekend in winter when sitting in, or running through the square was the ideal way to pass the afternoon. The building in the background with the large flag is the original Empire Theatre. Opened in 1884 and demolished in 1927.

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It was not just central London locations that were popular subjects for postcards. The following card, postmarked 1912, shows Clapham Junction. Although the type of traffic has changed, the scene looks remarkably similar today, although the Arding and Hobbs department store on the corner is now a Debenhams.

The sender of the card wrote “On back is the new Arding & Hobbs. Old building burnt down a few years ago.” The new building shown in the postcard was completed in 1910.

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At first glance, the following photo looks to be of Charing Cross Station, although, as the name across the building confirms, it is the original Cannon Street Hotel, forming the entrance to Cannon Street Station.

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To show how similar they are, the following shows Charing Cross Station. This is no coincidence as they were both designed by Edward Middleton Barry who also designed the replica Queen Eleanor Cross which stands in the forecourt of the station. The hotel at Cannon Street has long gone, and the station entrance now looks very different. Charing Cross provides a physical reminder of what once stood in Cannon Street.

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The next postcard is of the Monument, however what I find more interesting about the scene are the people, and also the large amount of advertising on the building to the left. The postcard was posted at the station at Walton on Thames by someone who had just moved into a new house in Weybridge. Perhaps a City worker who had bought the postcard in London.

Postcards from London 2 6The posters include adverts for, Nestles Swiss Milk, Bass beer, the Royal Military Tournament, Regie Cigarettes, Allsopp’s Lager and Triscuit, which if it is the same thing is a cracker produced in America and is still in production today. The building on the corner on the right is the Monument Tavern.

London’s bridges have always been popular subjects for postcards, and the following view is of London Bridge. The bridge shown is that designed by John Rennie and opened in 1831. It was sold in 1968 to make way for the current London Bridge and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Both the buildings on either side of the end of the bridge are still there, Adelaide House on the right and Fishmongers Hall on the left.

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And the following postcard shows Blackfriars Bridge. The large curved building at the left of the bridge is De Keyser’s Royal Hotel which was opened on the 5th September 1874 by Sir Polydore de Keyser who came to London as a waiter from Belgium and eventually became Lord Mayor of London. The Uniliver building is now on this site.

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The following postcard is titled “The Hanging Gardens of London, Selfridges Water Gardens Looking West”. The roof of the Oxford Street department store, Selfridges, had gardens and cafes during the 1920s and 30s and were a popular location after shopping. The roof gardens were damaged during the last war and never reopened.

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The following postcard shows the London County Council Millbank Estate, and judging by the condition of the streets, this must be soon after construction of the estate finished in 1902. The building halfway down the road on the left is a school. The estate and the school are still in existence and the buildings today look much the same although there is now parking lining most of these streets. The Milbank Estate is Grade II listed. The people in the photo are probably some of the first occupants of the estate.

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Although the Tower of London is the subject of the following postcard, I find the background of more interest as it shows London when the height of buildings was relatively low compared to the City we see today. This postcard has a 1931 postmark and was sent to Belgium by a visitor to London.

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The following photo taken from Bankside shows the north bank of the river with the original wharfs.

Paul’s Wharf in the centre with St. Paul’s Pier in front, the London & Lisbon Cork Wood Company (the smaller building towards the right with the white upper part), and Trig Wharf to the right. The Millennium Bridge now crosses the river here, roughly at the site of the London & Lisbon Cork Wood Company.  The Bankside location has always provided a superb view across the river and has a fascinating history which I wrote about here, mainly involving the transport of coal and other goods on the river hence the lighters on the river in the foreground.

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In the days before the personal ownership of portable cameras, postcards were about the only means of sending a message showing where the author lived or was visiting and as such they provide a fascinating insight into early 20th century London.

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Postcards From London

The photos we as a family have been taking of London only go back to 1947, so to go back further I also collect any old London postcards I can find with photographs of London. These really help to understand how London has changed, what specific areas looked like at a moment in time and what it would have been like to have been walking the streets when the photographs for these postcards were taken.

The following postcard is from the top of the Monument and shows how much the London skyline has changed over the last 100 years. Long gone are the days when the City churches stood well above their surroundings.

The road to the right is King William Street running up to the Bank. On the left of the photo is the original Cannon Street Station. The platform roof running off the edge of the photo with the station hotel being the large building to the right of the station roof. One of the adverts on the building to the lower right is for the “Aerated Bread Company” – a company formed in 1862 by a Dr. John Dauglish using a special yeast free process to produce an additive free bread. the company also had well over 200 tea shops, many of which were in London.

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The next postcard is also from the Monument but this time the photographer has moved to the left and much of Cannon Street station is now visible. These old postcards also show how dominant St. Paul’s Cathedral was on the London skyline.

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In the following postcard the photographer has moved further round the viewing platform at the top of the Monument and is now looking towards Tower Bridge. Billingsgate Market is to the lower right. Opposite Billingsgate Market is the London Coal Exchange, the building with the ornate tower on the corner. The church tower on the left is that of St. Dunstan in the East.

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As it still is today, St. Paul’s Cathedral was another favourite spot for views of the London skyline. This time we can look back at the Monument. Compared to today where the Monument is surrounded by much taller buildings,  in the early years of the last century it was one of the City’s highest points. This photo also provides another view of Cannon Street station and the substantial hotel / station entrance at the front.

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We can continue past St. Paul’s and now have a look at the City from the tower of St. Brides Church, Fleet Street. This photo again shows how dominant the cathedral was and by far the tallest building in London. The church in the foreground is St. Martin-within-Ludgate. The large building to the left is the old Post Office headquarters.

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The following postcard is from the Second World War. On the rear of the postcard is an extract from a broadcast speech made by Winston Churchill on the 11th September 1940 at the time when the major air raids on London had begun:

“This is a time for everyone to stand together, and hold firm!”

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The next postcard also has an aerial view of St. Paul’s Cathedral before the devastation of the area by bombing. This shows how close the buildings used to press up against the cathedral. The area behind the cathedral, Paternoster Row and Square was a major location for the publishing trade with many book sellers and book warehouses. For a view of the devastation to this area see my posts with my father’s photos taken just after the war which can be found here and here.

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Some old postcards capture a moment of major change in London. The following postcard shows not only the original Waterloo Bridge, but also the temporary bridge to the right that was constructed to carry traffic during the demolition of the old bridge and construction of the new.

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I find the subject matter of some postcards rather surprising. The following two postcards show bomb damage in London during the last war. I would have thought to maintain morale, postcards showing significant bomb damage in the heart of London would not have been available, alternatively they could also have been used to inspire when coupled with the speech extracts on the reverse of the cards.

The first postcard shows the damage to Paternoster Row to the north of St. Paul’s. Both postcards carry extracts from speeches made by Winston Churchill. The first postcard has the same extract as the one above.

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The following postcard shows St. Andrew’s Church from High Holborn. Note the “Passed by the Censor” statement on the lower right of the card.

On the rear of this postcard is the following extract from one of Winston Churchill’s speeches:

“Let us all strive without failure in faith or in duty”

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The following postcard shows the view from the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament. This is a post war card of the late 1940s / very early 1950s, and what I find interesting with this one is the empty patch of land on the right between Hungerford Bridge and County Hall. The photo for this postcard had been taken at a moment in time when the land had been cleared in preparation for the construction of the Festival of Britain. The Shot Tower can also be seen between Hungerford and Waterloo bridges.

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Postcards also show the busy streets of London during the first years of the 20th century. The following postcard shows the view down Cheapside with the church of St. Mary-le-Bow on the right. If you look on top of the buildings on the left you can see the telegraph poles that carried the wiring for the early telegraph / telephone system in the City. This was before the installation of underground cabling and much of the wiring was carried across the roofs of the City.

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And this postcard shows a very busy Piccadilly Circus.

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The following postcard is looking down the Strand towards Trafalgar Square. The building to the right is Marconi House. Originally built as the Gaiety Restaurant, it was taken over by the Marconi Company in 1912 and played a key part in the development of wireless. During 1922 and 1923, the original 2LO – London Broadcasting Station was broadcast from this building.

Wrapped around the stairs on the buses are adverts for some of the consumer brands of the time – Wrigley’s, Swan Vestas and Dunlop.

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Postcards also show that London has always been a centre for tourists and visitors with some of the postcards above being sent from London to destinations across the world.

Today, with the ability to take a photo on a phone and instantaneously send it across the world, the future of postcards looks rather bleak, however for roughly the past 150 years they provide a fascinating view of a changing city.

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