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News / City Life

Meet the woman who’s photographed more than 200 London bollards

Maggie Jones, photographer of bollards
Andy Parsons

Photographer Maggie Jones is obsessed with documenting the ordinary, overlooked bits of London – but one thing in particular catches her attention…

‘I moved to London in 2002 from Swansea after retiring from the NHS as a nurse, and fell in love with the city the day I arrived. London has so much history and it’s so photogenic, so it’s a wonderful place for someone like me to live, because it lets me combine my two lifelong loves: photography and history. At first I photographed everything and anything I saw, but after a while it was obvious I needed to bring some order to my photos. That was when bollards caught my attention.

I’m interested in urban, industrial and social history, and for me the ordinary is far more interesting than the grand. Bollards are very ordinary: they’re ubiquitous and we hardly notice them except when they get in the way. But the humble bollard deserves a second look – if not for the design then for the history that is sometimes written on them. Some are even old cannons from various wars, put to good use in peacetime.

All of my 37,000-odd photos of London are posted on Flickr. I photograph lamps, windows, utility plates, old signs, fountains, ghost signs, clocks, pineapples, plaques, graves, fanlights and thousands of other assorted London things. But most of all, I photograph bollards.

I’ve shot well over 200 bollards, all in London. The city has a huge number of them – probably more than any other city in the UK. Many bollards doubled as parish boundary markers before the boroughs were formed in 1899. Each parish was an administrative area, so it was important to know which one was in charge of sewers, crime,  education and so on. And because there were so many parishes in London before the new boroughs replaced them, there are hundreds of bollards that still survive on the streets.

One of my favourite bollards is outside St Helen’s church on Bishopsgate in the City. It is believed to be a cannon from a French ship that the British fought in a battle in 1797 – and took as a spoil of war. Some bollards include the date that they were installed, and one of the oldest I’ve discovered with a date on it is on the King’s Road in Chelsea. On it are the words ‘St Luke Chelsea, 1820’. St Luke’s church was designed in 1819 and completed in 1824, so the bollard is probably acting as a parish boundary marker.

By piecing together the clues, you can find out so much about the city. There’s a large bollard that I like on City Road in Shoreditch, with the words ‘Imperial Sawmills’ written across it. A quick web search shows that this company was once based in Wenlock Basin on City Road and went bankrupt in 1887. This bollard is all that’s left: a big metal chunk of history that thousands of people walk past every day.

When I tell people that I like to photograph bollards, they do sometimes give me a funny look. I always feel compelled to explain where my obsession comes from, but once they hear how interesting the humble bollard can be, most of them seem to get it. They then usually ask me to tell them more about bollards – and I’m always happy to oblige.’

See Maggie’s photos at www.flickr.com/maggiejones.

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