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Women getting their hair done in the 1960s
Image: London Cooperative Society Photographs (c.1968)

Party season 1880-1960 – great images of Londoners on a big night out

The Bishopsgate Institute has some amazing images of people getting dolled up across the last 150 years

Written by
Chris Waywell

You might think that ‘party season’ is a relatively modern idea, and that before, say, 1988, everyone just sat indoors or the pub smoking fags, listening to the radio and slowly becoming more right-wing. NOT SO. A talk on December 9 at the Bishopsgate Institute looks at a century and a half of Londoners preparing, enjoying and emerging from big nights out.

Back in the eighteenth century, London’s notorious pleasure gardens along the Thames were permanent locations for vice, boozing and raving (possibly literally). But it was really in the nineteenth century that urban entertainment events really took off – dances, balls, subscription dinners, ‘gentlemen’s excuse mes’ (a kind of speed-dating) and other stuff. 

In ‘A Big Night Out in London (1880s-1960s)’, social historian Dr Michelle Johansen, a specialist in modern London, will look through the evolving identity of going out in the city, since the dawn of photography. Here are a few images from her presentation.

Lads around a piano
Gather round the piano for an East End sing-song. Eton Manor Boys’ Club Archive (c.1955)
Party invite, 1950
See if you can make it across to Earls Court in time to gatecrash the London Cooperative Society staff new year party. London Cooperative Society (1950)
Girls and boys on a night out
Hang out with your girlfriends at the youth club on the estate. River Christian Centre Photographs (c.1965)
Looking for a gig, late 1960s
Folk Theatre. Derek Brook Photographs (c.1967)
Piccadilly Circus c.1900
See if you can catch Kitty Gordon at the Pavilion Theatre on Piccadilly Circus. LAMAS Glass Slides (c.1910)

‘A Big Night Out in London (1880s-1960s)’, Bishopsgate Institute. Dec 9, 7pm. £18, £13 concs. 

This year’s London NYE celebrations will be in Trafalgar Square. 

Check out the best things to do in London this weekend.

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