Bignell’s people

This week we’re back with the skilled eye of John Bignell and if there is a theme to this collection it’s “ordinary” people going about their lives barely realising that a photographer can take a moment of that daily life and turn it into something permanent.

World's End c1958 jb46

A group of men standing outside a pub  in 1958 waiting for it to open, bantering with each other. A regular activity that by time, memory and the photographer’s art becomes emblematic of all the men who have ever waited outside a pub.

Peter Jones  JB3 vmbp0125

A pair of women look  into a  window at the Peter Jones store on a quiet morning.

Demolition in Manresa-Kings Road c1955 JB296

A lone man hacks away at a wall. Dangerous work, perched on top of a crumbling building that you yourself are making more hazardous to stand on. Did Bignell see the poster for the 1958 film The Last Days of Pompeii? A classical case of destruction echoing the destruction of a building in Manresa Road? The star of the film was former bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the hero of many sword and sandal epics. Reeves played Hercules on several occasions. Is it stretching a point to say that the man above the poster is engaged in a Herculean labour? Probably. You can find lots of fascinating and possibly unintentional details in photographs just like when you walk down a familiar street and notice some telling detail in a building or a shopfront.

Magrie's forge Dovehouse Street c1951 jb122

In Magrie’s forge in 1951 a moment of high concentration

Man on bench in Dovehouse Street jb45

Not far away on Dovehouse Street a man resting on a bench looking for all the world like he’s using a mobile phone. Except that it’s  still the 1950s. One of those poses we always had ready for when the relevant technology emerged. As if I had been blogging in 1966. Speaking of the sixties:

Royal Avenue opposite Crapper's 1960s jb89

Royal Avenue: a trio consult a map or a guide book, a couple of genuine hippies, a woman surprised or a bit shocked at something she sees. But not at that dog behind her and what he’s doing. There used to be a sign forbidding “illegal dog fouling” in Royal Avenue. It’s one of those phrases that fascinates me because it can be read a number of different ways, like “hot bread shop” or “building alarmed”. Perhaps it’s me.

King's Road jb29

I’m not entirely sure where this street market was. My first thought was that it was opposite Royal Avenue. Before they built the mini shopping mall there was an open area like this with a Sainsburys and a Boots (and a shoe shop?). The mall was built in the late 80s or early 90s with a big Virgin shop at its heart, But I wonder about the building behind it, a residential block not really visible on this picture. Any suggestions?

Couple JB4

Back on the King’s Road, a cool looking girl and a man with big ears.

King's Road c1961 jb62

A collector for the British Red Cross meets up with one of those end of the world guys you used to see on London streets. I’m not sure what the earnest young man (who looks like a young version of Michael Gove) is saying. Is it an impromptu theological discussion, or is he resolving a dispute? We may never know.

King's RoadWellington Square jb24

Not far away geographically but in the previous decade a couple pose for the camera in Wellington Square.

Below, a picture Bignell has set up:

St Pancras rail strike day

A pensive child in a near deserted St Pancras Station. Bignell’s writing on the back of the print says “rail strike day”, which explains the quietness of the scene. The girl is cooperatively looking away from the camera, probably at one of her parents. Perhaps the photograph was a welcome distraction from the tedium of waiting for a train that might not come.

Victor Sylvester's - girls dancing

This picture of a Victor Sylvester dance class is not exactly set up but it’s a pleasing image of the girls having to dance with each other because you could never get the boys to go to these things.

The all girl sporting picture below is more unexpected:

Cricket at Duke of York's jb75

Cricket practice outside the Duke of York’s Headquarters.

Nearby, at the Royal Hospital:

Oak Apple Day Royal Hospital jb98

Oak Apple Day, according to Bignell’s note. A very effective picture – the two Pensioners standing at ease echoing the line of bandsmen. The conductor in the background provides the only sense of movement.

Finally, another puzzle.

Unknown shop front with bus reflection

Who are these four sixties people? Where was that shop? The bus, I’m told, doesn’t look much like a London bus. Again I’m happy to hear any ideas about people or location.


Hardly anything to add this week. Bignell’s book Chelsea Photographer can still be found from second hand dealers although prices vary considerably.


7 responses to “Bignell’s people

  • Carrie Starren

    I am pretty sure the market was behind Marks & Spencer’s on the south side of the King’s Road. I worked as a waitress in a restaurant there called the Spot in the mid-sixties. The boutique, which was on the north side of the King’s Road, I believe was called Just Looking. What is certain I bought the dress for my 21st birthday party there!

    The Bignell photographs were acquired from the owner of Marsden’s rare book shop on the corner of Wellington Square adjacent to Fred Hillsdon’s flower stall who sold them on behalf of Bignell’s partner Catherine.

  • Reg Francis

    Hello Carrie,when you worked at Spot was the Cozy Cafe,now Joseph and about opposite you ,still going? Cheap and cheerful and excellent simple food.Often full of cabbies and sometimes me.I worked in an Art studio,C. A ..S .Cooperative Art Services,first tiny mews on the left in Smith Street as you come in off the Kings Road.Mary Quant had just opened Bazaar on the opposite corner and Di Dors used to queue with me for the milk at Express Dairy’s on the corner of Smith Street.Robert Newton,Actor of the twinkling eye lived a few doors down.Great fun for us all when Robert would turn up in the late afternoon delightfully pissed after a session with Augustus John and mates at The Six Bells.His wife would not let him into the house and he would kip under the workbench of our sign writer and Union Banner man(all that real gold leaf} dear Reg Weedon,tail gunner on Lancaster Bombers during the war.All working in the studio were former R .A F. bods .

    Fun days and happy memories of our dear Chelsea in 1954/55

    Yours,Reg Francis

  • (((Ian))) (@SlashHairNet)

    The Market: if you had The Pheasantry behind you,the market would be 2 minutes past 12! Basically, almost opposite. During the week it was a car park, but on Saturdays it turned into a market. I knew one of the traders, he was just like Adam Faith in Budgie – he sold jeans. It closed in about 1976.

    Can I use the image on my blog please:

  • Walking down the King's Road, Chelsea in the 1970s

    […] The slightly tatty Saturday market – Photo: via John Bignell, thank you: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Bignell’s People […]

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