Weird & Wonderful London 7
I reshoot these images from bound collections, not from online versions, and in a great many of the old photography books I search there are unimaginably crowded scenes of protest or celebration. Of course we still do that now, but what impresses is the size of the gatherings then. Similar events today garner a fraction of the numbers. The best shots are always the ones where people are caught off-guard, but it’s hard finding them. I’ll do a couple more of these if I get time (I’m meant to be writing!)
So, to the question on everyone’s lips. Where did ‘Polly Parrot’ come from? This, it seems, was the original Polly Parrot, a foul-mouthed old bird who entertained kings and queens. Here she is at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in 1919, about to share dinner with Queen Mary. On Armistice Night in 1918 she imitated the popping of champagne corks over 400 times and passed out. When she died in 1926 at the age of 40, news of her death was broadcast around the world, along with over 200 obituaries. She’s still there in the Cheese somewhere, stuffed.
The British Empire loved its colonies and endlessly celebrated them with festivals and holidays, mainly because they supplied us with cheap goods. So it appears Canada was simply ‘Britain’s Granary’, which seems a bit insulting. However, as a stable model of democracy Canada always had a special right of place in British hearts. Canada Arch was in Whitehall, here decorated for the Coronation of King Edward VII.
In Theobald’s Road, very near where I live, the Blitz bombing was so heavy that almost nothing survived and the streets became wastelands. German pilots were trying to hit St Paul’s Cathedral nearby, and had been instructed not to return with any bombs left in their bays, so they expended them. The bakery is open as usual, and there’s a customer.
Business went on as usual in the bookshops, too, although this is all that remains of the great library at Holland House, the historic Jacobean mansion in Kensington that was utterly destroyed in October 1940. It seems members of the public were still intent on browsing, even after the building had been blown up. There were frequent salvage sales of remaining items after shops had been destroyed in Central London.
London’s rail and tube staff have the strongest unions and still go on strike more often than any other public sector. In 1965 the porters at St Pancras Station walked out and the public, who had had enough, simply took to the task themselves.