Victorian London in Photographs

Art, Photography Free
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
 (Building the Metropolitan Railway, 1862. © London Metropolitan Archives)
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Building the Metropolitan Railway, 1862. © London Metropolitan Archives
 (– The Oxford Arms Coaching Inn, 1875, by Henry Dixon. © London Metropolitan Archives )
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– The Oxford Arms Coaching Inn, 1875, by Henry Dixon. © London Metropolitan Archives
 (The Crystal Palace, 1854. © London Metropolitan Archives)
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The Crystal Palace, 1854. © London Metropolitan Archives
 (Trafalgar Square, 1890. © London Metropolitan Archives)
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Trafalgar Square, 1890. © London Metropolitan Archives
 (Portrait of a destitute woman with an infant, 1877. © London Metropolitan Archives)
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Portrait of a destitute woman with an infant, 1877. © London Metropolitan Archives
 (Portrait of a boy, The Ragged School, c.1860. © London Metropolitan Archives)
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Portrait of a boy, The Ragged School, c.1860. © London Metropolitan Archives
 (Portrait of actor William Terriss, late 19th century. © London Metropolitan Archives)
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Portrait of actor William Terriss, late 19th century. © London Metropolitan Archives
 (Portrait of a woman, cabinet card, no date. © London Metropolitan Archives)
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Portrait of a woman, cabinet card, no date. © London Metropolitan Archives
 (Whitehall from Trafalgar Square, 1839. © London Metropolitan Archives)
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Whitehall from Trafalgar Square, 1839. © London Metropolitan Archives

Rapacious, unchecked development, a growing gulf between the richest and poorest and a realisation that modern life is damaging to mental health. Anyway, enough about London in 2015: here are some photos of dead people. There are plenty of contemporary resonances in these images of London from 1839 to 1901. One thing above all else drove Victorian photographers, and saw their technology evolve incredibly quickly: change.

Almost all these pictures – many of them stunningly technically accomplished as well as being fascinating documents – reflect a city and a society whose pace of change is both thrilling and terrifying. So we have the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London, who couldn’t get the plates in their cameras fast enough to record the historic buildings getting pulled down around them. There was no legislation to protect architecture, so they were about all there was in terms of awareness-raising. At the same time, photographers strove to reveal the social iniquities beneath the Victorian dream of progress: the appalling slums just streets away from fashionable thoroughfares; the children cast aside by their parents; the homeless, the destitute, the maimed and the mad.

Most moving is a series of portraits of inmates of the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. Literally shorn of luxuriant Victorian hairdos and dressed with institutional severity, these men and women look startlingly contemporary. The unusually close-up portraiture (presumably they had little choice) is also what we expect today when we associate photography with invasion and analysis as much as documentation. In context, though, the images bleakly reveal all the vulnerability of their subjects, and all the responsibilities that a city and a society might or might not choose to accept.

Chris Waywell

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Tastemaker

Fascinating collection of Victorian photography of the capital and it's people, interesting how the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London were as keen over 100 years ago to preserve history before it disappeared as we are now.  


If you want to learn more about London and it's history, the Archives itself is definitely the place to go - a treasure-trove of information.


Moving collection of portraits along with an interesting insight into the lives of victorian workers and the development of London. All in all an interesting exhibition