Dark City: London in the 30s

There was another London, before clean air, before the Blitz, before post-war reconstruction. It was a night time London.

It was a city of alleys lit by dim lamps.


Grand but mysterious arches leading to dark halls and obscure institutions.


Secret squares.


Forbidding locked doors in isolated precincts


Deserted paths.

Path to the Temple

Cyclopean columns.

Seven pillars

Deserted back streets.


Gardens you should never enter.


Cul-de-sacs in which someone is waiting for you.


Dark alleys, barred windows. Whoever is in upstairs won’t let you in.

Black Raven Alley

There is an occasional welcoming light indicating a place of refuge and a waiting getaway car.

Blue Dog

A few signs of a new order.


But in most of the city the dark rules. Down long staircases you go.


To a place of ancient brickworks, hoping for refuge or an exit.


Just walk into the light. Will you find release?

Night Fantasy

“Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light? Or just another lost angel…City of Night?”

Pictures from London Night – John Morrison and Harold Burkedin 1934

Quotation from Jim Morrison 1971


Quite a few people have looked at this post, rather more than I imagined. So my thanks to you all and here is a more definite set of captions to the images;

1. Grange Street, the Strand. The original Charing Cross Hospital in the background.

2. The Gateway to the General Post Office

3. Middle Temple Hall

4. The Sanctuary, All Hallows, Lombard Street

5. Path outside St Paul’s Cathedral

6. The Royal Exchange

7. A street in the City

8. Villiers Street, Charing Cross

9. Cul-de-sac, Brompton Road

10. Black Raven Alley

11. Cottage Place, Brompton

12. 55 Broadway, London Transport Headquarters

13. Essex Stairs Temple

14. Adelphi Arches, the Strand

15. St Bartholomew’s Hospital

How many of them did you know?

More Dark City pictures here.


26 responses to “Dark City: London in the 30s

  • Christoph

    Wow, wonderful pictures and I love the blue tone …

  • Dark City: London in the 30s | December,2012 | Scoop.it

    […] There was another London, before clean air, before the Blitz, before post-war reconstruction. It was a night time London. It was a city of alleys lit by dim lamps. Grand but mysterious arches leadi…  […]

  • Debbie Robson

    Absolutely brilliant pictures! Did the same photographers chronicle London shortly after the blitz – the time when London was very alien – ruined buildings, completely altered suburbs?

    • Dave Walker

      As far as I’m aware Burkedin and Morrison never worked together again and Burkedin didn’t publish anything after 1944. They had no idea what was coming when they did their chronicle of London at night.

      • Debbie Robson

        That’s sad. I hope you don’t mind me saying but London really doesn’t have a great photographer that chronicled the city (particulary during the aftermath of the war when the city was so alien). Sydney is so lucky to have had two fine photographers who really did chronicle the city for nearly the whole of the last century – Harold Cazneaux and Max Dupain. Perhaps I’m wrong about London but I’ve often done images searches and don’t seem to come up with much.

      • Dave Walker

        The problem with London is that the photographs are scattered throughout a large number of different collections in public and private hands and only a relatively small proportion of them have been digitised. And also different local and national governement bodies did things differently during and after the war. For example there was very little post bombing photography done in Kensington and Chelsea but my colleagues at Westminster City Archives have an extensive set of bomb damge photographs. It makes me wish I really had a time machine.

      • Debbie Robson

        I would love to see the Westminster Archives photos! I take it they haven’t been digitised. One of my favourite books is The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay set in that eerie bomb damaged London. I posted your link to @filmsnotdead on twitter!

  • Theo Paijmans

    Brilliant and atmospheric, just the kind of thing to have in mind when reading the ‘Not At Night’ series by Christine Campbell Thomson, published between 1925 and 1937.

  • helenofpeel

    Absolutely stunning photos. So glad you published them.

  • David Hamilton

    You will be getting more visits than you expected because the Daily Mail have an article about it today 07/01/13

    • Dave Walker

      In case anyone is concerned the Mail Online did seek permission before publishing the images. I even supplied them with a couple of extras I didn’t use. The same applies to the Polish news site that used them (welcome to any new Polish readers). And Retronaut has standing permission. I have no objection to images from this blog being posted elsewhere so long as the Time Machine gets a link. I admit to being surprised by the enormous interest in what I thought was a quirky left field post for Christmas. I will have to start looking through our London collection for more vintage images like these and the ones I used in the Halloween post.

  • trollo

    Kurwa Łódź

  • dicanda

    Wonderful photos!!!!

  • KP

    I would love to see Photos of the area around Poplar before the Blackwall Tunnel was built, especially Bromley By Bow, Gillender St area.

    Have seen a coulple of photos of Sunflower Mills and ‘Emu House’ & Bromley Hall( post bombing). The whole area changed when the road came.

    Photos may not exist because it was a poor area – anyone out there know where any can be seen?


  • Gurney Slade

    Beautifully atmospheric images. Remind me of the night pictures taken by Bill Brandt during the blackout.
    The original book is available via Abebooks (for a price!).
    I know copyright is a tangled web but a hard copy publication of these images would be worth buying.
    There must be so many other wonderful images sitting in archives that, if published, would be very popular and help raise some funds for the archive concerned.

  • Jim Delaney

    It is disingenous to present these images as true pictures of a deserted after dark London. They are not: the relatively slow reaction time that 1930s photographic emulsion took to record an image when used to take exposures of 2-3 minutes required for night photography means that the apparently deserted after dark London streets – in reality teeming with the inhabitants of the largest city in the world – would not record the perhaps dozens of people, or their vehicles, who individually would move through a scene far too quickly at walking pace (perhaps with encouragement from a phototgrapher who did not want blured, staring figures in his pictures) to to be recorded in the resulting photographs.

    • Dave Walker

      I wasn’t aware of the photographic techniques Burkedin might have used in taking the photographs. I just thought they were mysterious and atmospheric pictures and that readers of the blog would like them. It is possible that Burkedin and Morrison could have found a few deserted spots in night time London especially in the City which would have pretty quite after working hours as so few people lived there. I take your point that photographs don’t always tell the whole story but if Bukedin was being tricky that’s a good story too. Now I’ll have to read the book.

  • Jim Delaney

    Thinking moe about exposure times for these pictures, it would need a bit of research into film emulsions used and a measuement of light given by a typical gas street light of the time to determine an approximate exposue; but I’m fairly confident that we would find exposue times that would be easilly long enough to allow for people and vehicles moving through the scenes without registering an image.

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