Empty streets: Brompton Road 1902

Photographers unlike painters or engravers often have no idea of the uses their creations may be put to once out of their hands. Vickie and Nance (see lists of posts opposite) had no idea that their holiday snaps would one day be spun into a kind of narrative by me. That applies to many of the others whose images you can see on this blog such as Kate Pragnell (Games for May) and possibly even James Hedderly (although I think he had a definite eye for posterity). This week’s photographer is another case of the unconscious artist.

The photographs were all taken early in the morning, before many people were about. Shops are closed, some of the shutters are down, and curtains on the upper floors are drawn. He was interested in the buildings not the people in them or the people passing by, or even the signs and banners of the shops and businesses. He wasn’t interested in rain on the pavements or the early morning light or the calm atmosphere of the empty streets.

He’s caught some impressive architecture in the process of his work such as this now vanished building which would have been impressive in any Edwardian high street.

Or this somewhat sinister building.

The highly decorative façade looks decayed as if it belongs in a horror story, an impression enhanced by the closed shutters, deserted pavement and even the condition of this particular photograph.

The other feature which catches our attention is the shops themselves which offer products we see less of these days, and services we no longer require. The signage has an insistent quality which is still part of retail life however curious some of these examples appear.

The tobacconist and his high class cigarettes.

Gooch the boot maker also has an extensive range of travelling accessories according to the sign on the left.

People do get into the pictures though. Photography attracted interest in the early years of the 20th century just like television cameras do today. Once I started looking carefully I saw plenty of early morning people. The policeman on his beat stands to attention as his picture is taken.

A woman leans out of a window taking a moment to stare out at the street coming to life before the working day begins.

At the back of 47 Brompton Road next door to the Aerated Bread Company Depot another woman in a maid’s uniform is at the window, her working day already begun. Look above her to the left. A cage placed in a window so the captive bird can get some fresh air. This was in the days when the air above Brompton Road was still fresh.

A delivery man with a barrow pauses to look at the photographer.

The man in the doorway looks like a waiter. Is he on his way to work, or just coming back to his room on one of the upper floors above the stationers or the corset-maker?

Here is a man on a ladder, precariously perched half way up a tall building. Not window cleaning I should think, but I’m not quite sure what he’s doing. There’s room for speculation.

This photograph gives a clue to the photographer’s mission.

The Great Northern Piccadilly and Brompton Railway Company were in the process of building the Piccadilly Line. The photographs formed part of a legal record of the condition of the buildings above the new line. But they have come down to us as another kind of record showing us a London street coming to life in the early years of a new century.

(Brompton Road Station incidentally didn’t have a long life. It turned out to be too close to South Kensington on one side and Knightsbridge on the other and never had huge numbers of passengers. It closed in 1934. If you’re travelling on Brompton Road you can still see the distinctive ox-blood tiling characteristic of the Piccadilly line stations if you look up the side streets on the northern side.)

3 responses to “Empty streets: Brompton Road 1902

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