Everyone’s childhood should be a golden age of wonder and exploration. But as adults we often seem to think that our own young days were the truly magical times and that the current crop of kids aren’t having as good a time as we did. You often hear it said that today’s children lead circumscribed lives either in their bedrooms in front of a screen or being ferried from one organised activity to another. Perhaps it’s nostalgia but I do remember long afternoons going off with friends across fields, or along the canal, sometimes ending up in places my parents wouldn’t have liked. I was reminded of those days a few weeks ago when I included this John Bignell picture in a post.
A couple of boys in a precarious position on a half sunken wrecked barge at high tide with the river waters rising around them. Wouldn’t you have wanted to be with them? The Thames riverbed would have been a magnet for adventurous kids. This picture was taken nearly ten years before but the fun was much the same.
My childhood was largely spent in rural places, but post-war London, still full of bomb sites and damaged buildings had plenty of empty urban spaces ripe for exploration.
A trio of boys playing at the back of Wentworth Studios in Manresa Road. Are they constructing a den underneath a fallen tree? Even quite young looking children got in on the act.
These kids from the 1950s and early 60s look exactly like you imagine they did in those Children’s Film Foundation films that were made for the Saturday morning pictures. Each one a future Dennis Waterman.
This group posed for Bignell during demolition at Dovehouse Green.
If a demolition site wasn’t available you could still find plenty to do in the street in those days when traffic was lighter, playing football.
Or just hanging around.
A couple of teenagers in the background anticipating future pleasures with grown-up toys.
Some of the grown up toys got discarded like this abandoned car.
Or these unattended roadworks.
This picture looks a little later than the other and the kids a little more middle class. Don’t imagine playing in the street was an activity confined to Chelsea’s mean streets as this classic Bignell view of Tite Street shows.
You’ve mostly seen gangs of boys so far. But the girsl knew how to have fun too. This group have crashed a jumble sale.
Note the Tip Top Annual held by one girl. This group were actively taking the mickey out of adult life.
Of course everyone grows up and starts to rehearse for adult life. The fun goes indoors.
The girls are usually in the lead when it comes to dancing. But the boys get there in the end.
The photographs are by John Bignell of course. Like all great photographers part of his talent is the ability to be in the right place at the right time to catch those moments. Not to mention the ability to make people want to have their picture taken. This process used to be a lot easier than it is today when a random image can make its way round the world before the photographer even gets home and people are wary of a camera being pointed at them. I’m not complaining about the ease of digital photography. But the old processes of developing and printing film gave photographers like Bignell the time to think about their work and select the best.
Bignell didn’t always date his pictures so I can’t give you dates on most of these, but they span a period from about 1955 to 1965, a good time to be young in Chelsea.1965 was the year the first album by the Who was released, including the song The Kids are alright. If anyone reading this recognizes themselves or someone they know please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.