Early photographs of London

Books containing early photographs of London.

As the new picture making technology, photography, evolved in the 19th century photographers and reporters began to gain access to the camera – a tool that would allow them to record and report on daily life in a way never seen before. For the first time this new device allowed the lives of ordinary people to be captured and recorded in a new way.

It is believed that the earliest photograph of London is this one by the French maker of daguerreotype images, M de St Croix. He was creating these images in London in 1839. This view is of Parliament Street viewed from Trafalgar Square. This is the oldest photograph in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection in London.

M de St Croix, London

Books of photography began to be published, such as Street Life in London, published in 1876. Street Life in London has been reprinted in modern editions, but the London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Digital Library in London has now published the photographs on their website. Click here to see this remarkable set of photographs.

You can also read the entire book Street Life in London on the LSE Digital Library.

Living London

Another set of books that contain a wonderful set of early photographs of London is the three volume set ‘Living London, Its work and its play, its humour and its pathos, its sights and its scenes’. published in c.1901.

Living London, George R Sims
Living London: Arrival of waitresses at a City restaurant, City Express Omnibus and Outside King’s Cross Station.

The most remarkable aspect of the Living London books is their early use of candid reporting photography; photographs that were not staged and did not require the subjects to remain still. The photographs in Living London are snapshots. They capture street scenes where the people are moving and alive. Look closely at these pictures and you can see wonderful detail in the backgrounds, and insights into what London life was like in the late 1890s.

In the prologue to Living London George R. Sims states:
With pen and pencil, with camera and snapshot, those who are associated with this work have laid every phase of London life under contribution. Wherever photography has been practicable it has been relied upon, because no other process of reproduction is at once so actual and so convincing”.

This set of books are also wonderful to read. The articles cover a wide range of subjects from poverty, to a trial at the Old Bailey, Christmas in London, waterside London, Holloway Prison, artistic London, ethnic communities and more.

The Pageant of the Century – photographing other parts of Britain

The Pageant of the Century

This book, The Pageant of the Century, is a single volume full of photographs of the period 1900 to 1933. It focuses more on the entire United Kingdom rather than just London but has the most fascinating photographs of early vehicles. These rare pictures uniquely show the transition from horse-drawn transport to the first days of the motor car.  The Pageant of the Century also covers the Boar War, the First World War, the Royal Family and social life in Britain over a thirty three year period.

These early photographs make these books so valuable as a record of London and life in Britain.

We have written this article with the aim of finding and preserving these important books. We will add more information as we find and research these fascinating books.

Living London, George R Sims
Living London: Berwick Street on a Sunday Morning. This is still a bustling street in London’s Soho.
Living London, George R Sims
Living London: Selecting a pet at a cat’s home.
Living London, George R Sims
Living London: Waiting for free meals.
The Pageant of the Century
The Pageant of the Century: Showing the first view of a motor car in Southend, Essex.
Early Flying Magazine, 1929

This photograph of London was published in a 1929 magazine ‘Flying‘.

See the photography books in our bookstore.

Article by Christopher Sharville, 2018. If you spot any inaccuracies please get in touch. We are always willing to learn more.