Monthly Archives: December 2016

London Christmas Lights – 1978 and 2016

Before I start this week’s post, which also falls on Christmas Day, can I wish you a very Happy Christmas, and thank you for reading and subscribing to my blog. I am almost at the end of Year 3 and have lots more to write about which I hope you will find of interest.

For a Christmas Day post, a comparison of London Christmas Lights from the rather gloomy late 1970s with those in 2016.

In 1954 Regent Street was the first of the central London shopping streets to have Christmas lights, Oxford Street followed five years later in 1959. There were a number of years in the 1970s when Oxford Street did not have any Christmas lights due to the recession of the middle years of the decade and the general financial climate, however they restarted again in 1978 with the unusual option of having laser lights shining up and down the street. I assume it was thought that these would be a rather novel form of lighting and much cheaper than large light decorations run across the street.

To mark the return of Christmas lights to Oxford Street and to record what was hopefully an impressive display, I took my first decent camera up to Oxford Street (a Canon AE1 recently purchased on HP – Hire Purchase before the days of Credit Cards) and without a tripod I attempted some photos using Kodak Kodacolor 400 film, faster than my normal film in the hope that I would not suffer too much with camera shake.

Arriving at Oxford Street as it got dark, the lasers did not really meet with expectations. A number of laser systems were mounted a various places along Oxford Street with a beam of light from each running the length of the street. There were not enough lights and a thin beam of blue, red or green light did not seem to have any relevance to Christmas. It was all rather strange and I can understand why it has not been repeated since.

Oxford Street in the mid 1970s was generally much darker than it is now. Shops did not have the same level of Christmas displays and window lights that they have today.

The following photos are a sample I took in 1978 and then for comparison I went for walk one evening in December 2016 to look at the lights across the main shopping streets of central London today. The 1978 photos also show some of the retail brands that have since disappeared.

One of the Oxford Street lasers. The Christmas tree is on the construction site for the new Bond Street station and the Jubilee Line. The large sign on the left reads “Work in progress for the Jubilee Line – Reconstruction of Bond Street Station”.

London Christmas Lights

Looking up Oxford Street towards Marble Arch. Selfridges has a row of lights just above street level. A Take 6 store is on the right.

London Christmas Lights

Blue and red lasers. The sign of the 100 Club is on the right – fortunately still there today.

London Christmas Lights

Blue laser running down the street. Debenhams on the right, Dolcis shoe shop on the left.

London Christmas Lights

A rather faint laser shines down a gloomy 1970s Oxford Street. The vertical lights are advertising the now defunct shoe shop Saxone.

London Christmas Lights

Christmas trees along D.H. Evans, with a fan of blue and green lasers from just above the main entrance to the store. The D.H. Evans store disappeared in 2001 when it was re-branded as the House of Fraser.

London Christmas Lights

Woolworth’s on the left, D.H,. Evans on the right. Just beneath the Berlitz sign (language school) is a sign for the Lady at Lord John fashion chain (click on the photo to enlarge) – one of the many high street brands that have disappeared in the last 40 years.

London Christmas Lights

The best place to see the lasers seemed to be from directly underneath when they were at their brightest.

London Christmas Lights

Regent Street kept to their more traditional Christmas lighting with displays running across the street and were more impressive than those at Oxford Street. Looking down Regent Street with a Take 6 store on the right.

London Christmas Lights

Dickens and Jones.

London Christmas Lights

So how does 1970s London compare with the Christmas lights of 2016? In the week before Christmas, I took a walk one evening starting at Monmouth Street, through Seven Dials and up to Oxford Street, then down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus.

Starting in Monmouth Street with lights across the street and in the trees.

London Christmas Lights

Seven Dials looking very festive.

London Christmas Lights

Neal’s Yard just off the northern leg of Monmouth Street.

London Christmas Lights

View down Monmouth Street.

London Christmas Lights

Penguins decorating the front of Arthur Beale, London’s Yacht Chandler on Shaftesbury Avenue.

London Christmas Lights

From Shaftesbury Avenue, it was along St. Giles High Street and into Denmark Street. Not known for Christmas lights, although the music shops look good after dark.

London Christmas Lights

London Christmas Lights

Regent Sound Studios with their take on Christmas window decorations.

London Christmas Lights

Up now into Oxford Street and the lights of John Lewis.

London Christmas Lights

Oxford Street’s 2016 Christmas lights.

London Christmas Lights

House of Fraser.

London Christmas Lights

Looking down New Bond Street from Oxford Street.

London Christmas Lights

Oxford Street at Christmas. Pavements crowded with people and the street at times seems more like a car park for buses……

London Christmas Lights

…..and taxis.

London Christmas Lights

Back down into Regent Street who in most of the years I can remember since 1978 have more ambitious street lights than Oxford Street.

London Christmas Lights

The length of Regent Street looking down towards Piccadilly Circus.

London Christmas Lights

Carnaby Street from Regent Street with their own interpretation of Christmas lights.

London Christmas Lights

Lights continue down the southern end of Regent Street towards Waterloo Place.

London Christmas Lights

London Christmas Lights

An elevated platform had been built around the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain – or Eros as it is more commonly known. A choir huddled together against the cold and breeze of a December evening but sounding beautiful above the noise of traffic.

London Christmas Lights

View from Piccadilly Circus towards Leicester Square.

London Christmas Lights

My photos from 1978 probably do the lasers a slight injustice due to my lack of photographic experience at the time and the equipment in use, however London after dark at Christmas is now much brighter than it was in the 1970s. The crowds and traffic do seem much the same in the weeks running up to Christmas, but as ever I will take any excuse for a walk around London.

Thanks again for reading, and a very Happy Christmas.

Hitler Passed This Way

At the end of the last war, there were a range of booklets published by local authorities, postal and transport organisations, police, fire service etc. documenting London at war and their participation in the six years during which the destruction of the city would be at a level not seen since the Great Fire of London. These were published quickly, and reading them they have a common theme of wanting to set on record the challenges of the last six years before the country quickly moved on to what was hoped to be a period of reconstruction and prosperity. I have already featured two of these booklets, “It Can Now Be Revealed” and “The Post Office Went To War”.

My father bought a large number of these as they were published, and in this week’s post I want feature another of these publications.

“Hitler Passed This Way” records the damage across London following years of bombing by using before and after photos to show what had been lost. The booklet also provides a short history and a record of the casualties at each location. Looking through the photos, there are some where my father also took photos of the same area, some almost identical. I have found this in a number of books where I suspect he went out to photo the scenes recorded in many of the London books he owned.


The introduction to the booklet reads as follows:

“In these pages are pictured examples of what Hitler, would-be world conqueror, did to London during four years and seven months of relentless and intensive bombing.

They present the aftermath of the new kind of war in which non-combatants were to be killed off like insects, and their homes, hospitals, schools and churches were to be smashed to pieces. This tremendous and forceful terrorism was to reduce all opposition to cringing, whimpering fear, and easy subjection. And this it partly did in Europe for a time.

Many times from September, 1940, until March 1945, did Hitler single out London for his major effort of destruction. The docks, the City, the east end, the west end, north and south London, the railways, the bridges and the suburbs, all had their turns of high explosive bombs, great and small. Night after night Hitler rained incendiary bombs on London. He dropped huge land mines by parachute to wipe out whole districts. To make certain the killing of large numbers of non-combatants, women and children alike, he employed delayed action bombs of devilish ingenuity.

London took these grave wounds, month after month, year after year, with heroic fortitude, as all the world knows. In course of time damage will be repaired and vacant spaces gradually will be filled. But what Hitler did to London, must never be forgotten. It is believed these photographs will help us to remember well, and to pass on our grim, hard memories of 1939-1945 to the generations to come.”

So, to continue the aim of the last paragraph of the introduction, here are a sample of the photos and text from “Hitler Passed This Way”:

St. Anselm’s Prep School, Park Lane, Croydon


John Lewis, Oxford Street


All Hallows, Barking. Tower Hill


Brewers Quay, Tower Stairs


On the far right of the above photo is the tower of the church of All Hallows. My father took a photo of the remains of the church from the bombed area in the above photo. This is his photo below:


St. James’s Church, Piccadilly


Sloane Square Underground Station


Manchester Hotel, Aldersgate Street


Negretti & Zambra, Holborn Circus


The Ring, Blackfriars Road


Cordwainers’ Hall, Cannon Street


The Salvation Army, Queen Victoria Street


Chelsea Old Church


My father’s photo of Chelsea Old Church is below, almost identical to the one in the booklet.


St. Giles Without, Cripplegate


My father took a number of photos across this area that would later become the Barbican development which would obliterate the streets and lanes that had occupied this area for hundreds of years. I plan a future post on the landscape that now lies beneath the Barbican in the future.

In the lower photo above, to the left of the church can be seen part of the Redross Street Fire Station. It was here that London Fire Brigade Commander, Sir Aylmer Firebrace spent part of the night of the 29th December 1940 and later recorded the following:

“In the control room a conference is being held by senior London Fire Brigade (LFB) officers. How black – or, more realistically, how red – is the situation, only those who have recently been in the open realise.

One by one the telephone lines fail; the heat from the fires penetrates to the control room and the atmosphere is stifling. earlier in the evening, after a bomb falls near, the station lights fail – a few shaded electric hand lamps now supply bright pin-point lights in sharp contrast  to a few oil lamps and some perspiring candles.

The firewomen on duty show no sign of alarm, though they must know, from the messages passing, as well as from the anxious tones of the officers, that the situation is approaching the desperate.

A women fire officer arrives; she had been forced to evacuate the sub-station to which she was attached, the heat having caused its asphalt yard to burst into flames. It is quite obvious that it cannot be long before Reccross Street Fire Station, nearly surrounded by fire will have to be abandoned.

The high wind which accompanies conflagrations is now stronger than ever, and the air is filled with a fierce driving rain of red-hot sparks and burning brands. The clouds overhead are a rose-pink from the reflected glow of the fires, and fortunately it is bright enough to pick our way eastward down Fore Street. Here fires are blazing on both sides of the road; burnt-out and abandoned fire appliances lie smouldering in the roadway, their rubber tyres completely melted. the rubble from collapsed buildings lying three and four feet deep makes progress difficult in the extreme. Scrambling and jumping, we use the bigger bits of masonry as stepping stones, and eventually reach the outskirts of the stricken area.

A few minutes later L.F.B. officers wisely evacuate Redcross Street Fire Station, and now the only way of escape for the staff and for the few pump crews remaining in the area lies through Whitecross Street (also now lost under the Barbican development)”.

The Monster Public House, Pimlico


Isaac Walton’s Shop And Distribution Centre, Elephant and Castle


The Stadium Club, High Holborn


Twinings, Devereux Court


Pancras Square, Pancras Road


The Shaftesbury Theatre


Britannia Theatre, Hoxton Street, Shoreditch


Whitefield Memorial Church, Tottenham Court Road


Jamaica Road, Bermondsey


Pollock’s Toy Theatre Shop, Hoxton Street, Shoreditch


Shops In Lordship Lane, East Dulwich


Market, Corner Of Farringdon Road And Charterhouse Street


Hughes Mansions, Vallance Road, Stepney


The booklet provides a summary of the damage and casualties across London:

In the London Region:

Hitler killed 29,890 civilians and injured (detained in hospital) 50,497 civilians.

Hitler destroyed or damaged beyond repair, more that 100,000 houses and damaged about 1,650,000 houses. (In 10 months he damaged by rockets and flying bombs over 1,000,000 houses.)

687 air raid incidents affected hospitals, or kindred institutions, in London region. 84 such incidents were caused by flying bombs and 33 by rockets. 326 hospitals, or kindred institutions were actually hit.

In the Square Mile of the City of London:

Hitler destroyed buildings covering 164 acres out of the 450 acres of built-up land.

Hitler destroyed or heavily damaged 20 City livery company’s halls.

Hitler destroyed or damaged heavily, 4 medieval churches, and 2 other churches of historic value – all in the City of London.

It can be rather depressing to read of the number of casualties and the lost buildings across London, however the booklet really does achieve its target: “It is believed these photographs will help us remember well, and to pass on our grim, hard memories of 1939-1945 to the generations to come”.

The Space Shuttle At Stansted Airport

I have recently been scanning some of my old negatives from the early 1980s. The Lord Mayor’s Show post from a couple of weeks ago included some of these photos, and this week’s post covers a rather more unusual event when in 1983 the Space Shuttle Enterprise landed at Stansted Airport – or London Stansted Airport to use the current full name and provide the hopefully not too tenuous link to the theme of the blog.

The first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle took place in April 1981 and in 1983 the Space Shuttle fleet was increasing the number of flights with four taking place that year. There was considerable interest in this new method of reaching space and in 1983 the Space Shuttle Enterprise made a visit to the Paris Airshow, also landing in the UK and Germany.

The Enterprise did not launch to space. It was the first of the Space Shuttles (named after the space ship from the Star Trek TV series), completed in 1977 and used to test the piggy back method of transport on a Boeing 747 and also for drop tests to evaluate how the design would fly and land.

The Enterprise arrived at Stansted Airport on Sunday 5th June 1983. Stansted was then a small airport with relatively few flights. Approval was granted the following year for the first phase of the significant developments that have seen the airport reach the capacity it has today, so back in 1983 it was still quiet and an ideal location to host the Space Shuttle’s visit.

The arrival was a major event with significant numbers of people turning up to try and see this unusual combination of aircraft land. There was major congestion on the majority of roads in the Stansted area. For some reason I cannot remember now, I could not get to Stansted for the Sunday, but did manage to visit on one of the evenings the following week.

I was working in Lambeth at the time so it was a dash up to Stansted after work on a lovely sunny evening which I do remember very well. It seemed a very casual event. Compared to today, hardly any security of any sort.

Drive up to the airfield, park on the grass and take a walk around – I doubt this would happen today.

I cannot remember which day it was, or the time but it must have been late evening judging by the length of the shadows (which is rather depressing to write on a dark December evening).

There is a BBC report on the Space Shuttle visit and the 25th anniversary which can be found here. The report contains some excellent film of the landing of the Shuttle / 747 combination at Stansted.

A sample of my photos from that June evening in 1983:









I did not get to see the Space Shuttle leave Stansted, but did catch a glimpse of the flight over London, although unfortunately I did not have my camera with me.

After the visit to the UK, France and Germany the Space Shuttle Enterprise returned to the US where it was used for test purposes, then a period in storage and then on display with the Smithsonian Institute.

Space Shuttle Enterprise is now on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York along with a British Airways Concorde – another form of flight which seemed technologically very advanced at the time, having started the first supersonic passenger flights just a few years earlier in 1976 and in some respects would go on to have a parallel history to the Space Shuttle.

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


The busy docks in the Port of London.


Judges leaving a service in Westminster Abbey.


Posing for a photograph with the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.


A Flower Seller in Piccadilly Circus.


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.


A pavement artist outside the National Portrait Gallery.


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).


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.


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


The Guards in Whitehall are a familiar spectacle.


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.