London In Six Pictures No.1

London

This is going to be a regular feature, because I now have such a vast fund of London photographs that it seems a pity to just leave them inside an electronic folder, never to be seen. I’m going to choose shots from time to time to illustrate different aspects of the city. Today, Englishness.

1. St Paul’s Cathedral after the Blitz

It’s getting harder to see the effects of the devastating wars on London (people forget that the first also dropped bombs on the capital). As a child I clearly remember playing in bomb craters, sliding down rubble on a sheet of corrugated steel. The rebuilding involved tearing down most damaged buildings and replacing them, because repairs required skilled craftspeople. As a result you could always walk down any London street and count the houses removed by bombs. Today that’s getting harder, because so many buildings that had nothing wrong with them, save for being in the way, have been destroyed. More were lost to clumsy councils than bombs.

2. Covent Garden

I can’t even recall which of the celebration days these flags commemorated but the shot is recent, so it’s probably a Royal wedding. We do grand-scale pageantry very well and fairly often. Having said that, I don’t know any Londoners who attend such events. I’ve never seen the changing of the guard, nor do I want to. Past experience of standing in rain at the back of a crowd seeing nothing is for mostly for tourists now, colourful pageantry divorced from political meaning.

3. South Bank

Considering our love of dumping the past and replacing it with something more commercial, it is surprising how much of an older London still pokes through around the edges of all that glass and steel. Number 49 Bankside is a three-hundred-year-old property still in private hands that overlooks the Thames and stands opposite St Paul’s. Humbler buildings abound, made graceful by beautiful, functional Victorian design. Backstreets still reveal warehouses, depositories, chapels and buildings housing ‘societies for the public good’.

4. Harley Street

If there’s one point in England that can be universally agreed upon, it’s that HRH The Queen is a Good Thing. She was crowned in the year I was born and is still there in the background of London life, and when she goes we will all feel the loss. Preaching unity, peace and acceptance, she has given her life to her duty in a way few other monarchs have. And she is out and about in London life. I went for a test at a London clinic because a particular specialist was working there that day, and HRH had signed the visitors’ book before me. She got the page to herself. It was dead posh there; instead of a waiting room they had a library, and the nurse said, ‘You should stay until after lunch.’ I said, ‘But I feel fine.’ She replied, ‘Yes, but the monkfish is fabulous.’

5. King’s Cross

London is raffish. It can be trouble. We’re prone to a bit of a kick-off. As they say, a pint and a fight is a great British night. Protests, pubs, rowdy boyz and girlz, fly-by-night entertainments and attractions now called pop-ups. When I stumbled across this photograph of early 20th century King’s Cross it felt perfectly logical to me that there should be a roller coaster in the middle of one of London’s busiest main roads. I wish it was there now.

6. Bloomsbury

Arthur Bryant lives in a flat in this building. I decided to move him when I moved, so that I would still be in sight of the book’s locations. There are affordable homes in some of the most exclusive streets in Central London, oases of calm which become timeless at certain times, in snow, at night, on hot summer days. Bloomsbury is surprisingly unchanged, unlike Soho, which has effectively been sawn off from its past. East Soho today is completely unrecognisable, and therefore not Soho anymore. Bloomsbury, bookish and quiet, feels like Arthur’s natural home.

16 comments on “London In Six Pictures No.1”

  1. SteveB says:

    The rollercoaster outside Kings X / St Pancras is brilliant! Does it say ‘Figure 8 Railway’?

  2. Brooke says:

    Flaneur Christopher Fowler’s book please.

  3. Brooke says:

    Or Bryant’s View of London.

  4. Peter Tromans says:

    Very happy that Mr Bryant is living somewhere that looks comfortable and not about to collapse in a hole.

    Now, putting anorak on, shouldn’t the Queen be HM? She may well be HRH as an alternative as I’ve noticed it several times lately. Quite reasonably, she might want to dissociate herself from organisations like HMGov and HMRC and H&M, where I’m sure she never buys clothing. I’m not very good with titles. Though I’d heard it many times, the first time I read Ms (used in place of Mrs or Miss) was in a newspaper report of a court case and I assumed the journalist was referring to a merchant ship.

  5. SimonB says:

    As always, thanks for these snippets.

    And while I am writing thanks also to all the commenters here. As mentioned previously I’m working my way from the beginning as well as keeping up with current posts and am continuing to enjoy the discourse as well as the features. Loads of ideas I would have loved to join in with had I known about you all 5+ years ago.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Figure 8 makes more sense but I thought it was a 4.
    A building that is 300 years old could scarcely have “graceful Victorian” details.
    If you mentioned her in full she would be Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth etc. but isn’t HRH sort of acceptable for anyone of royal lineage? There’s only one HM of course and I agree she might want to disassociate herself from the agencies of the crown. I’ve seen photographs of her signature over the years and this one is a little sad because you can really see that she is becoming frail. Of course it was an eye specialist’s book and it could be put down to temporary sight problems.
    Played on bomb craters. We compartmentalise events so The War is now usually WWII (unless it’s the Falklands) and we forget that people were born before and lived after and, in fact, are still alive. We do it with historical figures, too, and writers and our grandparents. Londoners that cowered from the first war’s buzz bombs would have been primed for the terror of the second war’s bombing. Think of the effect on writers. Take Chris for example. What influence has the memory of those bomb craters had on his writing? Could this be a reason why he loves London and its history so much? (I remember Prince Charles being born and watched the coronation on a neighbour’s television, which was magical and almost the same day it happened. The film (film!) was flown from London to Toronto and developed (developed!) on the way over.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I wonder if I’ll ever learn to close my parenthetical phrases.

  8. Jo W says:

    # Helen, I’m sure you’ll learn when you get older. 😉

  9. Brooke says:

    ” Think of the effect (of WWII) on writers.” Try poems from Canaan by Sir Geoffrey Hill..looks backward at what is lost during the war as a foretaste of what destroy ourselves.

  10. Denise Treadwell says:

    Great photos; rubble still near Saint Pauls; no suprise there , what date do you think it was?
    A street party in Covent Garden?
    I didn’t go to a street party when I had a chance. We lived on the A12 , it would have been dangerous to have a street party! The party was held at a school on another street , but I thought the street party was farce for us unless we could have had it on the roundabout!

  11. jeanette says:

    Born in London, but no longer live there. I always grow ‘London Pride – Saxifraga x urbium’ in the gardens where I have lived, as a reminder of my roots. The photo of Saint Paul’s remind me of the story I was told as a child that after the war where the craters were these flowers bloomed and gave hope.

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    Like the shadow hands. I guess now there are people who don’t remember the IRA bombings, hopefully in years to come there will be no bombs from whatever source.

    On BBC there is a nice bit of film showing the new police recruits at Hendon, crikey look at that rain. In Manchester the fire on Winter Hill (Bolton) is finally out after 41 days. If your are in Manchester keep an eye out for the trail of Bees (until Sept 23), a few years ago it was cows.

    Wayne.

  13. Berenice says:

    I’d like to join the chorus of people wanting your photographs and commentary in a book please. Fowler’s London has a nice ring to it.

  14. Susan says:

    I agree with others about the concept of a book of London photos with commentary. I first visited England and London in 1972 and again in 1973. The city certainly still showed signs of the war though I didn’t know it well enough to recognize them all. But I fell in love with the city. I last visited in the 1990s and of course so much had changed. But still a walker’s city. Don’t know if I will ever get back again, but your photos help me cross the ocean and miles.

  15. davem says:

    wonderful pics, more please

  16. Doug Murphy says:

    Your perspective on these snaps is insightful and enjoyable!

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