Tag Archives: Photographs

War is over: VE Day

As often happens I had a quite different post in mind for this week but the VE day commemorations reminded me of a publication in our collection, a set of photographs in a loose binding put together by the Ministry of Information sometime during the war. We seem to have just one volume, number 4 in the series. I’ve found this almost random collection of wartime images fascinating so have made a nearly random selection of my own, of images which caught my eye. I started out with the idea of featuring women at war for a reason I’ll reveal later, but there weren’t quite enough so there’s really no proper theme or angle just a few pictures which I hope are unfamiliar enough to be interesting. In the broadest sense of the term these are propaganda images, intended to paint the war effort in a positive light. But I think they go beyond that and show something of the psychology of the nation.

ATS ttraining - Copy

Members of the Auxilliary Territorial Service (ATS) at a gun demonstration. The caption describes “the girls” as “attentive”.

Guards training

Soldiers in the Grenadier Guards, also training, in a dramatically posed picture. “Three fine types”, according to the caption.

ATS volunteers - Copy

The ATS again, on a searchlight.

Home Guard

The Home Guard practice firing on a co-operative RAF plane. The caption assure us that it is not only possible to bring a plane down with guns but that it has already been done.

college

Naval officers at a training college.

Camoflage - Copy

Members of the Women’s Voluntary Service in Edinburgh making camouflage netting.

Howitzer

A camouflaged 12 inch howitzer with a slightly apprehensive looking soldier on board.

Despatch riders - Copy

Royal Navy despatch riders. “The squad is ready for action.”

Bronwen Williams - Copy

Bronwen Williams, described as working in the “experimental section at an aerodrome” clocking up a great many flying hours. The caption makes her work sound mysterious but doesn’t fail to mention that she is “a pretty brunette in her early twenties.”

Mill visit - Copy

A named Flight Lieutenant visits a mill in Oldham where uniforms are manufactured and pays tribute to to the unnamed worker beside him.

Pilots

A debrief of air crew after a raid on Berlin. The flying jacket – always a flattering garment.

Destroyers - Copy

The caption on this image is simply a line of destroyers at sea.

Derna

A group of soldiers walk through a bomb damaged town in North Africa. This is another of those pictures which look casual but show very effective composition.

Finally, back to the ATS.

ATS

A tribute from me, to the lady on the left.

Postscript

As I said at the start I had something different planned this week but I’d always intended to use some of these images so why not  at this appropriate moment.

The answer to last week’s  question was that the last image was of a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1921. The three figures at the back were Titania, Puck and Oberon played by Miss Elizabeth Irving, Miss Iris Hawkins and Miss Mary Grey. I don’t know how often Oberon is played by a female actor but I can see the artistic logic behind it. Now I’ve started wondering if we have any other pictures of productions of that play.


Kensington close ups – part two

The last time we were on Kenington High Street in the last few years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th we were around here, in the stretch of the street east of Kensington Church Street:

Kensington High Street 59 GN37

Number 59 Kensington High Street, home of Lorberg and Turpin.

A slightly closer view:

Kensington High Street 59 GN37 close up

Grinding of all kinds is occuring within and a woman is leaning slightly to one side examining something fascinating in the window. Mr Lorberg’s assistant (or is that the lower case Mr Turpin?) is examining the photographer. My favourite though is the man on the left. Has he sneaked into the picture of his own volition or has the photographer, Mr H or Mr S Stiles included him to add some local colour?

I promised you more of the High Street so let’s move on.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5 close up

I used this picture last time but repeating it gives another chance to mention Mr Jubal Webb once more (sign on the awning) but also to note how narrow this section of the busy High Street was at this time. Road widening did not take place until the early 20th century.

This image is several hundred yards further back.

001 Kensington High St 1893 Town Hall & TH Tavern K1406C

The Town Hall Tavern is there, opposite the Town Hall itself (demolished in the 1980s). If we look closer:

002 Kensington High St 1893 Town Hall & TH Tavern K1406C - Close up

A slice of retail life. A horse takes a meal break ignored by the passers by and the driver (waiting for a fare?).  A trio of workmen deep in conversation. A couple of elaborately dressed girls being addressed by a shop keeper while their parents look in the shop window. In the foreground a lone woman looks after two more similarly dressed girls.

The next picture is essentially the same view but from slightly further away.

003 Kensington High Street 1905 K12308-B

You can see a clearer view of the intersection with Kensington Church Street and the Civet Cat. You can also see more of the Station in its original form before the familiar arcade was built around it. The sign reads “City and back 4d”. That’s four old pennies for those who can’t remember pre-decimal coinage.

003a

In the background by the single storey kiosk (A picture of it here), a trio of women all wearing white blouses. In the foreground, a pair in darker clothes with a weary looking small dog between them. In the centre a couple of men, one of whom has only one leg. He’s using a single crutch to move along. These details always seem surprising, although they shouldn’t as these kind of visible disabilities were more frequent then.

The next picture takes us back even further:

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN12

The street is crowded with horse drawn vehicles. On the right you can see the awning of Ponting’s store on the corner of Wright’s Lane. (We caught a glimpse of it here). On the right:

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN12 close up

A more impressive dog, with his man. The number 11 is still advertising Pear’s Soap.

Further back still:

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN2

This is the southern side of the street. The Town Hall Tavern sign is barely visible in the distance. (It’s there – I just checked the original scan). You can read the sigh on the delivery wagon though:

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN2 close up

Pearson and Sons. The milk churns show what line of business Mr Pearson was in – urban dairies were big business on high streets in the days before refrigeration. I believe the rest of the sigh reads: “Cows milked on the premises”. I’ll do a post on urban dairies sometime in the coming months – they were usually assiduous in promoting their services.

I don’t know what the girl in the foreground is doing – hiding her face from the camera? Possibly. Note the woman on the right holding the umbrella, wearing her hair down. An adult but maybe younger than the other women you see in these photographs.

This picture is taken from a viewpoint even further west.

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18

The retail and buiness section of the High Street is now in the distance. The building on the left is the Holland Arms. (see a print of an earlier version here , from the post on Hosmer Shepherd in Kensington) The trees beyond it are in the grounds of Holland House, still of course a private estate at this time. The trees on the right belong to more private houses and gardens behind iron railings. This is the road to Hammersmith. There’s a certain amount of traffic, private and public:

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18 vehicle detail

I can’t make out the lettering on the horse bus but as we’ve seen before it could easily be a route we recognise from today, a 10 or a 73.

On the other side:

Kensington High Street looking east with Holland Arms GN18 detail

To the scanner’s dismay those two strolling ladies remain in the shade of the tree. No amount of coaxing from me will get them to take a few paces forward so we can see them properly. I’ve reached this point with old photographs many times before. The fascination is as much with what you can’t see as what you can.

To compensate for this, let’s remain in the general vicinity of Holland Park and move back to the gates to the public path way on the east side of the park. We’ll have to jump forward a hundred years or so to another summer day and another pair of women walking side by side unaware that the photographer was taking a picture of the gate.

Holland Walk looking north from Kensington High Street 1973 KS3802

The fashions of 1972 are different but the wide pavement and the foliage are not dissimilar and ladies are still taking a leisurely stroll away from the busy High Street.

Postscript

If the pictures seemed a little blurred this week my apologies. I suppose you can only zoom in so much. Actually I feel a little blurred myself. After last week’s successful exhibition launch I came down with an infection involving much coughing and a general feeling of feverish lassitude so it’s a wonder I got this written. I had a few more ambitious ideas but they’ll have to wait for another week. I owed you a return visit to the High Street anyway. I’m not finished with the Stiles brothers either. But possibly something more exotic next week.

A reminder that as many of you already know this year’s City Read book is the excellent Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, the first in his series about the adventures of the Metropolitan Police’s apprentice sorcerer Peter Grant. If you haven’t read any of these (and why haven’t you?) this is a good time to start as many London libraries, including Kensington and Chelsea are giving copies away this month.  Ben Aaronovitch is appearing at Kensington Central Library on April 20th.

 


Modern life in Kensington:1937

This week we’re going back to that house we caught a glimpse of in the post about two photographs from the 1860s. In the course of the research about them I came across not only an estate agent’s brochure for the house but also a hand written mock-up of the brochure from Chesterton’s, who have been long established in Kensington.

This week’s pictures are not of the same house though, not really, because in 1937 when it went on the market the Victorian suburban villa had been turned into an ultra-modern town house, with every new convenience. It was “a model example of the art of reconstruction, combing all the advantages of the old and new; with every possible labour-saving refinement.” They always say that though, don’t they? Let’s go on a tour and see for ourselves.

Front view - loose photo

The house was re-modelled according to the design of George Grey Wornum, a leading architect of the day, now remembered best for the RIBA building in Portland Place, and the interior of the ocean liner the Queen Mary. One of the pieces about him I read called him something like a progressive traditionalist. You can see that. It looks like a 30s building but not nearly as radical as say the two houses in Chelsea Old Church Street we looked at last year.

Inside the prospective buyer could see some understated luxury.

Drawing Room 02

One end of the drawing room, with its “recessed hardwood staircase providing additional access from the dining room ..and leading to the south terrace.”

The view of the other end of the room shows “the maximum natural light” (the 20s and 30s were the era when people really began to appreciate , and even worship sunlight”. This “superb room” is “of a height quite unusual in a modern London house and, while homely, is suitable for receiving 150 guests”. Not that homely then.

Drawing Room 01

In those days you also had a library, “panelled in a rich brown walnut” with “large concealed cupboards built in.”

Library - Study

There’s another example of a library in a 30s conversion here.

“The casement door leads to the garden beyond.”

Garden view - loose photo

“Campden Hill is quiet and healthy” Far from the madding crowds of Kensington High Street down the hill but still convenient for the shops. The three big stores on the high street all owned by the John Barker company by this time were in their heyday in the 30s.

rear view showing terraces

“The Terrace is electrically lit”. The door on the left is the Library. The other three open off the drawing room. Note the sun terrace on the second floor, another favourite feature of the sun worshippers.

Far end of the garden

The far end of the garden “contains an Italian pool and a delightful sunken rose garden, overlooked by a small summer house.”

You could have quite exhausted yourself by this point, trekking to the rear of the property. Just have a quick look at some of the “fittings and equipment”:

Boiler

“The Iron Fireman Stoker fitted to the Boilers is Thermostatically controlled and stokes automatically for weeks on end with no labour other than the simple operation of the removal of clinker.” Sounds great. Just get the parlour maid some overalls and she can do it. She can relax afterwards in the Servants  Sitting Room.

“The house is centrally heated on the Panel System. Electric Power Points are also provided in every room.”

There’s more natural light in the dining room through the “glazed ornament cases”. The artificial lights are “cleverly concealed in ceiling and cornice”.

Dining Room

Here’s the view of the dining room from the hall.

Hall

At this point in the tour you’ll want to have a look upstairs, via the “circular sweep of the landing”.

1st floor landing

And we can relax in the principal bedroom.

Principal bedrom 01

It’s another nice large room, with a shiny ceiling.

Principal bedrom 02

You get a rug by the fireplace with its own sheep.

The suite is completed by a large dressing room, two bathrooms in pastel shades and a wardrobe corridor, its walls lined with seven completely fitted and automatically lit lady’s wardrobes (gentleman’s wardrobes are in the dressing room).

Principal bedrom 03

Is that the door to the wardrobe corridor? Some nice padding there. If you get lost in there, the maids’ bedroom (for four occupants) is also on this floor, with their own bathroom in a seperate corridor. An improvement on the attic, no doubt.

I certainly wouldn’t complain. Just take the weight off your feet before you go.

cover - sitting room

Postscript

The house is still there, in Upper Phillimore Gardens with some alterations to the front (and possibly many inside). Apart from the other links I’ve inserted you could also have a look at some slightly earlier “modern” interiors added to the gothic mansion known as the Abbey, which was just down the hill. There are some colour pictures of 1930s interiors here.

A couple of days ago we had a launch for our World War 1 exhibition which will travel around libraries, schools and community centres in the Borough over the next few months. My tanks to everyone who made it happen. For those of you who won’t get to see it, much of the material we used, from our archives, and contributions from local people, is also on our Great War website: http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk. Have a look.

Postscript to the postscript – April 1st

I’ve just looked at a copy of Trystan Edwards’s Good and bad manners in architecture (1924) courtesy of my colleagues at Westminster Central Reference Library. It contained a picture of the house prior to Wornum’s remodelling. Here it is:

15 Upper Phillimore Gardens from Food and bad manners in archittecture - Edwards 1924 p138 captioned a house designed by Ruskin - Copy

It’s the gothic one. If you remember this was also discussed in the post Two streets in Kensington. Thanks to Susie H for retrieving the book.


Manufactured in Chelsea

I was looking through some old proof sheets for John Bignell’s book Chelsea seen from its earliest days (enlarged edition 1987 but now out of print), in which Bignell contrasted his own photographs with equivalents from an earlier era. I decided to use some of the old photographs in a post but couldn’t think of a unifying theme. Then we got an email enquiry about the effect of that “structured” reality TV show set in Chelsea on the real borough. (Short answer: none at all probably.) And so I had a title for a random selection of images of Chelsea as it was in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The first image is probably the oldest. We begin as Chelsea itself did on the riverside.

The Old Swan

This is the Old Swan Tavern, before the Embankment, at low tide I would assume judging from how far back the photographer is standing from the river steps and the obliging patrons. I think this is a James Hedderly photograph. The Old Swan lay at the end of Swan Walk near the Physic Garden. This of course was not the original Old Swan but I don’t want to make things too complicated (for myself) at the moment. There are some paintings of the Old Swan in this post.

I’m following a winding path through Chelsea east to west, south to north taking in high and low society. This entails a few leaps back and forth in time. This picture is a distinctly post embankment view of Lombard Terrace, which lay to the west of the Old Church.

Lombard Terrace

The distinctive art nouveau buildings on the left are 72-74 Cheyne Walk, designed by C R Ashbee. They were built on the site of Maunder’s fish shop, a building painted by many, including Whistler which is appropriate as number 74 was  the last house in which he lived. The building was demolished by 1927 and the fight to save some of the remaining houses was one of the causes around which the Chelsea Society was formed. Whatever was left was destroyed along with the Old Church in an air raid in 1941.

The picture below shows part of the original Lombard Terrace with Mr Spell’s Post Office and store on the corner of Danvers Street. I think that’s Mr Spell and his daughter standing in the doorway. This is another picture by James Hedderly.

Cheyne Walk - Hedderly

I’d quite forgotten this picture so I was quite struck by this view looking north from Battersea Bridge up Beaufort Street.

Beaufort Street

Belle Vue House on the left remains and the terrace of tall houses beyond, but on the right all the old houses of Duke Street have gone.

We’re not quite finished with Cheyne Walk. Let’s take a walk past the King’s Head to the pleasingly named Aquatic public house.

Cheyne Walk - Turner's House

The three boys are just about to reach the house with the balcony rail on the roof line, where JMW Turner lived. We saw a picture of it by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd in a previous post.

If we turn back back and go up Beaufort Street we can cross the King’s Road into a quiet cul-de-sac called The Vale, where William and Evelyn de Morgan lived.

The Vale

The Vale now intersects with Elm Park Road but at this time it was a dead end, just a pleasant residential enclave. (That man Whistler lived at mumber 1) Here is an interior from number 4:

2 the vale

We don’t know who the lady is, but she looks quite comfortable.

We go back to the main road for a couple of pictures

Kings Road

A horse bus on the King’s Road, at the corner of Sydney Street, pretty much where the Old Town Hall (and Chelsea Library of course) are today. The King’s Road still had many purely residential houses along this stretch.

We can take a short detour down nearby Oakley Street to take a look at one of its famous residents.

Dr Phene

The good Dr Phene strikes a pose outside the house in which he never actually lived. He only had to go across the road to his actual house. Read more in this post. It’s a fact that I’ve never been able to use on the blog, but another local resident I’ve written about, Margaret Morris once took a party of local residents on a tour of the house. I don’t suppose the two of them ever met but I’d like to imagine they did.

Speaking of my personal obsessions here’s another one, a photograph showing the teacher training establishment Whitelands College, home of the May Queens. Behind those walls lay a unique story, which I have covered here and here. (You can probably expect another one in April). Readers of History Today (February issue) can see a rather disturbing photograph of the college quadrangle a few years after the Staff and students moved to Putney.

Whtelands College

I promised you a bit of high life so here is a picture of the King’s Dinner held in Burton’s Court in 1902 as part of the celebrations for the coronation of Edward VII. The idea was that the poor of Chelsea would be served by charitable members of high society.

Coronation

The lady in white is clearly doing her best but apparently the whole affair was a bit of a disaster, with not enough food, general bad behaviour and insulting language used against the lady volunteers, some of whom had to flee the scene.

By contrast there was a servants’ dinner at Chelsea Town Hall (organised by the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants), where 40 ladies served the maids.This was a smaller and much more civilised affair

Servants' dinner

And everyone went home with a gift bag.

The Chelsea Flower Show was always a big social event, attended by the highest in the land.

Queen Alexandra at the Chelsea Flower Show

Queen Alexandra in 1913 accompanied by some important men.

But let’s go back to ordinary life. This is the street market in Marlborough Street.

Marlborough Road

The shoppers of 1900 look pretty smart.

Finally a picture in another Chelsea street, Upper Cheyne Row showing a horse drawn fire engine.

80

Is there something wrong here? I’ll leave that thought with you.

Postscript

I think I must have set some kind of record for the number of hyperlinks I’ve inserted into this post, so just ignore them if they irritate you. I balked at linking to all the Hedderly posts. Why not try the search box?

And I’ve had to rush through some of the background detail so fact checking is welcome. Next week I’ll go back to a much smaller area.

 

 


Street life: Kensington close ups – part one

This week’s post is in a similar vein to the Secret Life  of Postcards series. I select a picture, then zoom in on some detail, usually a person or group of people. It’s surprising how much of a sense of actual people going about their lives you can get by this simple method. So pardon me for repeating myself, but for me the close examination of photographs never gets old.

This selection comes partly from the glass negative prints of the H and R Stiles company and partly from other paper prints in our collection. They cover a period from about 1890 to 1909. They cover the short stretch of Kensington High Street from the corner of Kensington Gardens to the junction with Kensington Church Street, a distance you can walk then and now in five minutes or less. Even with such a small area I still had about 20 images to choose from including close ups.  I’ll be doing more in another post, going further west down the High Street. Next week I’ll do something different but I’ll come back to this set soon.

Kensington High Street looking west c1880s - Copy

In this picture you’re looking west where a crowd of smart looking men has gathered.

Kensington High Street looking west c1880s

The full picture shows flags over the street and carriages going by. This could be a royal visit to St Mary Abbott’s church whose tall spire towers over the streets like…well it’s like a tall church spire, from an era when churches were some of the tallest buildings in London. Despite the growth of high rise office blocks and imposingstructures like the Imperial Institute, church towers were the great landmarks.

This picture looks back in the opposite direction. I’ve left the reverse writing on the edge of the plate.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5

In the distance, the trees of Kensington gardens. On the left you can see the Civet Cat, an old inn at the bottom of Kensington Church Street. In front of it is an orderly queue for the number 9 bus. The route in those days went from Mortlake to Romford, so Liverpool Street (you can see the sign on the stairs) was somewhere in the middle of the route.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5 looking west another close up

A few seats left on top, but those ladies might prefer to travel inside. Do you see the man crouching on the narrow balcony?

The view on the other side of the street shows more horse-drawn vehicles and even a couple of hand carts.

Kensington High Street 1890 GN5 close up

The ladies with their  umbrellas up seem to be using them for shade, so this is probably a summer’s day. The men with handcarts are in their shirt sleeves, hot and sweaty no doubt. Look at the lady on the right holding an umbrella. Above her you can see the name Jubal Webb (retail proprieter and property developer ) on the awning. We’ve come across him before. Don’t imagine this is his last mention either, as he seems to have a knack for inserting himself into history.

This is another one for bus lovers:

Kensington High Street looking east at junction with Church Street1890 GN23

The bus on the right may be an early form of the number 28, on its way to Fulham. I like the two guys slouching against the shop fronts on the edge of the picture. The one on the left is another 9, advertising Pears Soap and a product called Taunus. Any ideas?

Kensington High Street looking east at junction with Church Street1890 GN23 - Copy

The next image flips around again to look from east to west.

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN22

On the left are the substantial premises of Frank Giles and Co, “cabinet makers, upholsterers, auctioneers  and house and estate agents and builders and house decorators” according to Kelly’s Directory. On the right:

Kensington High Street looking east 1890 GN22 close up

Two ladies having a spirited discussion.

You must be getting use to the change in viewpoint by now.

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN10

I’m rather taken with this westward looking picture but mostly because of the detail in the bottom right corner:

Kensington High Street looking westt 1890 GN10 close up

The dangerously overladen wagon seems to hold no fear for the young man walking past Anthony Bell’s establishment on the narrow side street to Kensington Court.

The next picture almost seems to have been taken seconds later.

Kensington High Street north side 32 onwards Q

There is a similar wagon full of baskets and straw, the same shop front on the right, and another view of the shop of H and R Stiles (“art photographers [side door]”). But let’s look at the group at the bottom right.

Kensington High Street north side 32 onwards Q - Copy

And zoom in again.

Kensington High Street north side 32 onwards Q detail - Copy (2)

An eldely lady with a cadaverous face, and behind her a pair of fashionably dressed women. I also like the  woman on the left facing away from us, checking her hair in a timelsss gesture.

I’ve become fond of some of these people you can only see in fleeting images. This picture is a good one, a paper print, looking east towards the Royal Garden Hotel.

Kensington High Street 1909 G37-47

There are a couple of familiar names on the shop fronts- Keith Prowse and Budgen. This is about 1909 so it’s a few years later than the others but it contains possibly my favourite back view of people standing in the street.

Kensington High Street 1909 G37-47 - Copy

These two women are wearing the slightly more modern and extravagant fashions of the Edwardian era. What intrigues me most is the similarity of their oufits combined with the disparity in their height.

Kensington High Street 1909 G37-47 zoom

I imagine them intent on what’s in the shop window and talking intensely about that or some other matter of interest but this is all we’ll ever see. We’ll never get them to turn round and say a few words. We’ll need an actual time machine for that. But if that time ever comes, we’ll know where to go.

Postscript

Thanks to Matthew, my transport correspondent who covers bus-related matters for the blog.

In today’s (Tuesday’s) Guardian is a piece about the reissue of Roger Perry’s book about 70s graffitti, The Writing on the Wall. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/feb/03/the-writing-on-the-wall-1970s-pioneers-of-british-graffiti.  Inspired by the original edition I wrote a post about graffitti in Kensington and Chelsea here.

 


Christmas Days: in another Kensington garden

Today’s post is the last of my Christmas mini-posts and this one has nothing to do with the time of year. Consider it the equivalent of one of those nostalgic TV costume dramas. We’re back in another of those country house gardens on Campden Hill which I looked at a few weeks ago. This is the garden of Aubrey House which is of course still exists.

Aubrey House garden front c1893 GN71 - Copy

I featured this lethargic group of young women before in a post called Victorian dreamtime. The eldest stands waiting with her tennis raquet, surely not expecting the younger pair to stop reading. One of them looks far too engrossed, the other momentarily distracted. In another part of the same garden:

Aubrey House 5047 woman and boy - Copy

A woman and a boy inspect the contents of a stone bowl or planter. The same set of steps came be seen closer up below.

Aubrey House 5047 woman - Copy

The creased picture shows a woman also making a close examination of the flowers

Copy of Aubrey House 5047 woman

A close up version in greyscale shows her taking a very close interest in a particular flower. The leg of mutton sleeve of her dress places her in the 1890s. It’s possible she may be one of the two in this picture:

Aubrey House Two women in the garden MS5047 160 - Copy

Or one of them may have featured in a previous post set in wilder territory, Mary and Rachels’s Walk in the Country. Once again a little bit of gardening is going on. I think this is a view of the same path from the opposite direction facing away from the stairs.

This small set of pictures shows the tranquil but perhaps restricted life of women in affluent households at the tail end of the 19th century. Or maybe they’re just snapshots of sunny afternoons more than a hundred years ago, of no particular significance. After all if you changed the clothes you could still find women in gardens today looking just as tranquil and picturesque.

magazine-edith-wharton-05_140528156279 - Copy

Photo by one of the greats of modern photography, Annie Leibowitz, for a series inspired by the work of Edith Wharton featured in Vogue.

Next week we’re sticking with fashion and the 1890s as it’s time for another visit to the ever-popular 1897 Duchess of Devonshire’s Jubilee Costume Ball.


Christmas Days: a little bit of Bignell

I had another mini-post almost written when I realised that with a few related pictures and a bit of research I could make it into a full-length post and I never waste those ideas when they come so who could I turn to for today’s mini-post but my old friend John Bignell? I’m breaking my own mini-post rule because I could easily grab a few more Bignell pictures and make it another long post but actually putting this handful of images into a short post throws them into relief and emphasises how special they are.

So here are three great Bignell pictures.

From the artistic world, the Tate Gallery in 1959.

Tate gallery Epstein retrospective 1958

A group of men wrestle with a massive sculpture at a retrospective for Jacob Epstein. Struggle seems to bleed out of the statue into the effort to move it. Not being familiar with Epstein’s work at first glance I thought this was a kiss between two titans, but of course thanks to Google Images I realise now that this is a Biblical struggle – Jacob and the Angel. The figure at the rear is lifting the other upward supported by his alabaster wings.

I’ve taken photos of men moving a massive object (a giant safe which had to be taken out of an archive room and moved the length of the basement to a suitable lift) so I understand the process but Bignell has caught the emotional content of the action. The comparatively thin sculpture at the rear seems to convey a sense of anxiety, for the movers, or the statue.A clever bit of framing by Bignell, or just a piece of luck?

If you look at my post about Lionel Davidson’s novel the Chelsea Murders you’ll see one of Bignell’s fanciful pictures, Satan Triumphant featuring a black clad man in a devil’s mask with a woman in white.

This picture from 1955 is in the same vein.

Virtue fight back - Bignell 1955l

Entitled “Virtue fights back” this is a very strange image. On a rooftop opposite St Paul’s Cathedral another black clad man with the face of a skull and clawed hands fences with a woman who looks like a circus performer. What is going on? Is it the same couple? It looks like the same cape. I’ve yet to find any more Bignell pictures in this vein so you may never read a long post about Bignell and urban fantasy. That’s what it reminds me of though,Neal Gaiman’s novel/TV series Neverwhere and Christopher Fowler’s first (and best in my opinion) novel Roofworld, both about hidden worlds which co-exist with the mundane version of London.

From the circus to a funfair:

Battersea fun fair 1957 jb113

This is another late 50s picture, one of a small set featuring the fun fair in Battersea Park. The woman having some 1950s difficulty with her wide skirt and its supporting petticoat is climbing out of the Caterpillar, a favourite ride for couples.You have to wonder if Bignell set this up but what is definitely genuine is the atmosphere of good humoured fun.

So there’s Bignell playing with the real and the artificial, in three different ways. Every photograph sits somewhere on the line between chance and intention.


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