Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: London

  • Secret Loughton by Michael Foley

    An old view of the High Road showing the original ornate fountain that was destroyed in a road accident. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    The Loughton Poisoner

    The nineteenth century was a time of rapid development in the use of drugs to treat illness. Unfortunately not all of the new discoveries were well tested or were even abused for profit. I came across a shocking example while writing Secret Loughton.

    Between October 1877 and March 1878 there were thirteen infant deaths in the Loughton area, as well as sixteen other non-fatal illnesses in young infants, due to skin disease or poisoning. This attracted the attention of The Medical Officer of Health.

    At the Epping Petty Sessions May 1878 Henry George King, wholesale chemist of Kingsland Road London was charged with the unlawful killing of Elizabeth Sears in February 1877. He was charged with unlawfully and fraudulently selling Violet Powders with arsenic which was used on the bodies of those of tender years to endanger their health. It was claimed that the powder contained between 28 and 51 % of arsenic which was cheaper than the starch that the powder also contained. King was told to stop selling the powder by the treasury but did not reply until visited by Sargent Roots from Scotland Yard.

    John Nottage a grocer of Loughton had bought a gross of the powders from King for one shilling and nine pence and had thought that it was the purest of powders for use in the nursery. Nottage sold the powders for one penny a packet. He had also sold the powders from other sources in the past with no complaints. When a Mr Deacon complained about the powder he stopped selling them and contacted Mr King. He asked for a warranty as to the powder’s safety and King took some of the packets for testing. Nottage heard no more until someone from the treasury arrived and took all the rest of the powders.

    Emma Grout a grocer of Baldwins Hill Loughton had known King as a chemist for some years; she bought three dozen packets of the powder from him. Mr Bell, the inspectors of nuisances, called on Mrs Grout after complaints from Mrs Martin, Mrs Scars and Mrs Mead. She wrote to King who again took some of the packets for testing.

    Another old view of the High Road with houses on the right where shops now line the street. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    Sarah Mead of Benjamin’s Mead Loughton had a child in January 1877 named William. She had bought the Violet powder at Grout’s shop which had King’s Name and address on it. She used it until March with no ill effects. She then purchased some more which made the child very red and sore where it was used. This then turned into blisters. She called Doctor Fowler and stopped using the powder and the child got better. She then gave the remaining powder to Mr Bell.

    Isabella Martin of Ash Green Loughton had a baby on 21 November 1877. She bought some Violet Powder from Grouts shop and after using it for nine days the baby died. Where she had applied the powder there were a number of black blisters, again Mr Bell took the powder away. Hannah Reid also of Ash Green had been Mrs Martin’s midwife and said that the baby had been healthy when born.

    Elizabeth Sears of Baldwin’s Hill Loughton had one child early in 1877. She used King’s Powder from Grouts and the baby died after a week. She had another baby in February 1878 and bought more of the powder and the second child died at a week old. The baby had been healthy at birth but had died in agony.

    The defendant King said that he was well known in Loughton and that his mother in law lived next door to one of the witnesses. He very much regretted that the powder may have been the cause of the deaths and said that he would have stopped selling it if he had known. The case was adjourned on a number of occasions and during the various hearings expert witnesses were called. Leadenhall Street examined some of King’s Violet Powders and found 25% of the powder consisted of arsenic.

    An old view of Church Hill, which runs between the High Road and the Goldings Hill. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    It seemed that arsenic was sold for ten shillings a ton which was much cheaper than the starch normally used in the powders. Doctor Du Pre from Westminster Hospital also examined the powders and found that some contained up to 51% of arsenic. It was also said that it was very easy to see the difference between arsenic and the normal starch used in the powder. It was also evident from press reports that the adulterated Violet Powder was on sale all over London, not just in Loughton. Some of this was due to King but not all. There were also cases of adulterated powder being sold in Manchester where two chemists were fined but in this case it was Sulphate of lime not arsenic that was used.

    King claimed during the trial that he bought the powder to make the Violet Powders from other chemists and that once he knew that they may be dangerous he tried to stop the sale of them. The trial was moved from Epping Assizes to Essex Assizes and eventually to the Old Bailey and King was placed on bail of £200. The trial eventually ended with King being found not guilty as it was found that the inclusion of arsenic was accidental.

    There were reports of further deaths due to adulterated Violet Powder as late as 1881. This was again due though to Sulphate of lime rather than arsenic. It does seem though that the problems caused by this practice may have caused isolated cases of harm and even death of infants in other areas. In Loughton however the effects were immense with so many cases of death and illness. The publicity over the Loughton cases did however alert other mothers who had lost children to the effects of the powder in other parts of London.

    Michael Foley's new book Secret Loughton is available for purchase now.

  • Death Diary - A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason by Gary Powell

    Death Diary 3 Witnesses give evidence at the coroner's inquest into the death of William Terriss. (Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, 26 Dec 1897, Death Diary, Amberley Publishing)

    Murder is a fascinating subject; one only has to look at the popularity of the crime genre in both literature and television. All elements of the crime, be it human or scientific, are placed under a microscope by the crime writer for the reader or viewers benefit including: motive, DNA, fingerprints, entomology, ballistics, post mortems, conspiracy theories, bent cops, the list is endless. But murder is real one must never forget the genuine victim, the grieving relatives, friends and associates and of course the offender and the anguish their family will inevitably suffer. As a former detective I have seen how such violence can tear people apart, destroy communities but at the same time bring people together in a common cause as we have recently witnessed in the United Kingdom’s major cities.  As English poet W.H. Auden reminds us:

    Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures,

    So that society must take the place of the victim,

    And on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness;

    It is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.

    (The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays, 1962)

    Death Diary examines over four hundred crimes of murder, terrorism and treason covering a period of some four hundred years. The structure – as the title would suggest – is set in the format of a diary with each day of the year (including a leap year) presenting a specific case or cases in British criminal history. Some of the crimes are high-profile but many have been taken from the pages of British history for the first time and can be among the most disturbing. Often the motive for committing such unimaginably cruel crimes is plain greed alongside: jealousy, hatred, racism, religion and mental suffering. Social conditions can feature as motive – too many children to support and in some cases too many wives. Mental illness often features with many of these violent acts committed by soldiers returning from the First World War and other conflicts during that period in our history. Unable to deal with the horrors they had seen or tasks they had been asked to perform or just simply being unable to cope being back on ‘Civvy Street’ with the responsibilities they never had to face within the disciplined environment they had left behind.

    Death Diary 2 'The Black Museum' showing the murder weapons used by retired Head teacher Rev Selby - 8 Oct 1871. (Illustrated Police News, 1890, Death Diary, Amberley Publishing)

    Death Diary also asks questions about how we deal with victims of murder in our ‘self-self’ society and those left behind who in many cases have to rebuild their lives. We often hear on our news bulletins or read in our newspapers of a murderer or terrorist’s human rights being breached– the same murderer or terrorist who failed to show any such compassion towards his victim. Having dealt with many family members of both victim and offender I feel we are – as a society – still indifferent to the enormous pressures people face from the initial identification process through to a judicial system that bends over backwards to protect the rights of a defendant above those of a victim and demonstrates little empathy for the traumatic journey on which they have embarked. The question of re-introducing of capital punishment often surfaces in this country particularly after a horrible crime has been committed such as the murder of a child or a police or prison officer. This strong feeling of seeing justice being administered could be deflected if a sentence of life imprisonment meant life; it is very difficult trying to explain to a bereaved parent that the killer of their child has received a lesser term of imprisonment than an offender who had robbed a bank.

    Statistically, the number of murders in London is at one of its lowest levels since the 1960’s. Even though London’s population has significantly increased and become more diverse, this city is still one of the safest and most tolerant in the world; in many cases our perception of crime is far greater than the crime rate itself. As you read the sometimes harrowing stories which are presented in short, sharp daily bursts, I would just ask that you remember the victims of these crimes, those of future crimes and their families and friends who will bear a sentence far greater than that of the killer.

    9781445665023

    Gary Powell's book Death Diary - A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason is available for purchase now.

  • East End Jewish Cemeteries by Louis Berk

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 001 Cover _P2M1320-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    An Oasis in Whitechapel

     

    I am a secondary school teacher, and since 2004, I have worked at a school in Brady Street, in the heart of Whitechapel. I did not realise until I was looking out of a second story window one day that my school adjoins one of the oldest Jewish Cemeteries in the UK.

    Brady Street cemetery was founded in 1761, and closed almost 100 years later in 1858 when the grounds became full-up.

    Having no connection to the cemetery, I thought it unlikely I would ever see inside. Then, one day, as I was in school, I heard the sounds of activity as groundsmen were carrying out maintenance, and they kindly allowed me to take a look around.

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 006 Late Summer 02 L1025403-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    The Idea

    Once inside the walls it was as though I had been transported to a forest, as I was surrounded by trees, shrubs and at one point, an inquisitive fox that trotted past me down a path. An idea formed in my mind: it would be wonderful to capture this hidden oasis in photographs, as a record of an interesting environment, and to make it visible to others.

    I was fortunate that when I approached the owners of the cemetery, The United Synagogue of Great Britain, they readily agreed to my request. They even made it possible for me to have access to the cemetery whenever I wanted.

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 003a_DoublePage P0Q0930-Edit (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Early Mornings and Late Evenings

    Undertaking a long-term project right next door to where I worked allowed me to photograph very early in the morning. During the winter months, this was before and during dawn, and also at sunset.

    In the summer it allowed me to capture the sometimes delicate early morning sunlight before the day became bleached out with too much sun.

     

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 055 Winter 18 Scan-120211-0007_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Waiting for snow

    I began the project in July 2011, with the objective of recording a year in the life of the cemetery. By the same time in 2012, I had a lot of material to work with, but I was missing one important element: snow. The winters at the start of this decade were surprisingly mild, and I had to wait until 2013 for a reasonable covering.

    This was no real hardship, as I enjoyed my time alone in the quiet solitude of the cemetery, and continued to visit and take photographs. I also chose to work mainly with medium format film cameras. This requires considerably more concentration than working with digital cameras. It is a slow and careful process. This entirely matched the ambience of my surroundings.

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 102 Alderney Road 06 10 Scan-120908-0005-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Alderney Road

    At the end of the second year I showed my work to the owners, who asked me if I would also photograph in Alderney Road Cemetery, in nearby Stepney Green. This is an even older cemetery than Brady Street, established in 1696, very close to the time that Jews began to settle in the UK.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 002 Frontpiece _1040603-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    East End Jewish Cemeteries: Brady Street and Alderney Road

    In 2016, I approached Amberley Books with a number of ideas for titles, and they were immediately enthusiastic about a book containing my photographs of Brady Street and Alderney Road.

    The book contains 96 pages, mostly filled with photographs, and also an introduction to the cemetery by the recognised authority on its history, Rachel Kolsky, who is an award winning London Blue Badge guide and author.

    9781445662909

    Louis Berk's new book East End Jewish Cemeteries is available for purchase now.

  • A look at "Jack the Ripper" Newspaper Reports by Tony Woolway

    Whilst researching my book Cardiff in the Headlines, I came across many references to the unsolved and gruesome “Jack the Ripper” murders, and the fear that the perpetrator of the horrific crimes in the Whitechapel District of London in 1888 had planned to visit or had been spotted in the town.

    No doubt there have been serial killers before, and after, but the killings were so abominable and shocking in their intensity that newspaper coverage was at a level unprecedented.

    In Cardiff, where victim Mary Kelly lived for some time before heading to London, there was also what some believed sightings of “Jack the Ripper” that spread panic to City and populations further afield.

    Ripper letter Western Mail Oct 11On October 11, 1888, what was described as “a brutal missive” purporting to be written by “Jack the Ripper” and bearing a London postmark, a letter was received at the Cardiff offices of the Western Mail. The writer threatens to visit Cardiff the following Friday in what was described as written in a diabolical style characteristic of these communications.

    The letter addressed to the editor, Western Mail, said:

    Dear Old Boss, - What do you think of my little games here – ha! Ha! Next Saturday I am going to give the St Mary St girls a turn. I shall be fairly on their track, you bet. Keep this back until I have done some work. Ha! Ha! Shall down Friday.

    Yours

    JACK THE RIPPER

    (Trade mark)

    In Roath, a district of Cardiff, some excitement was created in a hairdresser's shop by a stranger, carrying a black bag and declaring that he could easily “cut a woman's throat without any blood getting upon his clothes”. The man had suddenly left the shop, and a rumour gained ground that he was “Jack the Ripper.”

    PICTURE SHOWS: JACK THE RIPPER.     COPYRIGHT: NO NAME.  DATE: 2, APRIL, 1988.It wasn't only in Cardiff that the threat of a visit by “Jack the Ripper” was causing some considerable concern. Another letter signed in his name was received by a Llanelli woman, in which it stated that he planned to “do a murder in William Street on Monday or Saturday” that week. In the left-hand corner was roughly drawn, with the words, “This heart of a woman.”

    On a Swansea barque Picton Castle, dock labourers at Middlesbrough made a discovery believed to have been the work of “Jack the Ripper.”

    Arriving in the Tees from London a woman's hand was found plus a bag, the contents of which emitted a putrid odour. It was found to contain human remains in the state of advanced decomposition.

    The Western Mail, October 9 1888 reported a story of a man, Alfred Pearson, who was charged at Brierly Hill with stopping a man and his sweetheart in a dark lane and threatening them with a long knife and proclaiming himself as “Jack the Ripper.” The lady was driven into hysterics, and Pearson bound over to keep the peace. At Goven, Glasgow on the same day, a man who described himself as “Jack the Ripper the second” was fined three guineas for knocking over a married woman and brandishing a knife.

    In Yeovil, in January 1889, it was reported that a local “atrocious murder” was the work of “Jack the Ripper,” and that he was on some “murderous tour.”

    PICTURE SHOWS: JACK THE RIPPER.     COPYRIGHT: NO NAME.  DATE: 2, APRIL, 1988.All over world sightings or copycats littered the press. On December 5 1888 it was reported, again in the Western Mail, of the sensational discovery of an American “Jack the Ripper.” who hides in dark corners and darts out at women with a knife and muttering threats, whilst, in Brussels, a newspaper reported it had received postcards, letters, even telegrams, all signed “Jack the Ripper,” and announcing the writer's intention of visiting the city to murder women in a manner similar to his London prototype.

    In Corunna, Spain, the disappearance of two girls was attributed to “The Ripper” who it was thought had recently reached the town and had been “prowling about the place after dark.”  Young women and girls no longer went out at night, and even had their doors barricaded, to keep out the “mysterious assassin.” It was also reported that the “Whitechapel ruffian” had written one of his customary cold-blooded epistles to the authorities, telling them that he means to disembowel several “ladies” before he leaves Corunna.

    February 9, 1889, brought more reports, which this time, “Jack the Ripper” was in Jamaica. Fearful stories of crimes and mutilations similar to that of Whitechapel which the Western Mail noted that, in the reporter's mind unquestionably indicates that “Jack the Ripper” had gone from England to Jamaica committing a series of “diabolical and mysterious murders.”

    A woman had been found early in the morning lying by the roadside, her throat cut from ear to ear, her cheeks, nose and forehead slashed in a manner that would indicate it to be the work of a master butcher. The body mutilated exactly as had been done in London cases and the first of three and on the body by the blade of a small penknife was a card the bore the inscription, JACK THE RIPPER, fourteen more, then quit.

    The above was just the tip of the iceberg. Whilst the reports can be easily written off as the work of a copycat killer or just a mad frenzy whipped by a new and sensationalist media. There's no doubting that the unsolved Whitechapel murders were a template for the reporting that was to following in the wake of these unspeakable crimes.

    9781445648880

    Tony Woolway's book Cardiff in the Headlines is available for purchase now.

  • Hanwell and Southall Through Time by Paul Howard Lang

    Hanwell & Southall Through Time Manor House, Southall The war memorial was unveiled in 1922 and stands proudly near the Manor House. Hanwell has no similar war memorial but there is a small memorial in Churchfields Park commemorating the scouts who died in the First World War. (c. Hanwell and Southall Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    My job from 1982 until my retirement in 2014 was Hospital Librarian at St Bernard’s Hospital where I had dealt with many enquiries concerning the history of this establishment and had built up a store of knowledge in regard to this subject. I also collect postcards relating not only to the hospital but also to other buildings and scenes around the area. St Bernard’s is a large psychiatric hospital in West London, and although technically situated in Southall, it is only just over the border (the Brent River being the boundary) thus it is sited nearer to Hanwell than to the town centre of Southall.

    The former asylum, known as the Middlesex County Asylum dates back to 1831, so a relatively early asylum. It was designed by the architect William Anderson and built by William Cubitt. The Rev. Norris, the hospital chaplain, started to write a history of the asylum, but sadly died before it was published, and only his notes remain. Therefore I felt compelled to try and put this right, and include some historical facts about the asylum in my book.

    Hanwell & Southall Through Time Farm House, Dormers Wells The drive leading to Dormers Wells Farm can be seen in this Edwardian view. The farm consisted of the farm buildings themselves, Dormers Wells House and Dormers Wells Cottage. (c. Hanwell and Southall Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    I further felt that there were many buildings of interest in Hanwell and Southall that should be better known, for example the Manor House in Southall, which dates back to the 16th century. I have given talks to various historical societies on the history of St Bernard’s and other aspects of Ealing’s history. My talk on ‘Ealing’s Private Asylums’ led me to research the Southall Park Asylum and also Featherstone Hall. Another talk I gave was on ‘The Great Fires of Ealing’ and this inspired me to research the 1914 fire at Endacott’s store in King Street, Southall. I have also detailed the fire at Southall Park Asylum in the book.

    I thought Dormers Wells, originally known as Dormoteswell, was possibly not an area greatly known to the public, and was delighted to source two images that show the rural nature of this area, notably the Farm House and a view of Dormers Wells Lane.

    I think there are some rare images in the book that have never been published before, for example the picture of William Vincent Taylor’s shop in the Norwood Road, also the image showing the Rev. Broadbelt outside the King’s Hall, Southall and the picture of the grocers in Norwood Green, to name but a few.

    Hanwell & Southall Through Time Maypole Margarine Works An aerial view of the margarine works, clearly showing its good transport links and the unspoilt rural surrounds. The factory opened in 1895 and closed in 1929. It was owned by Otto Monsted Ltd, a firm of Danish origin. Note, however, the British flag flying above the works. (c. Hanwell and Southall Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Other buildings of interest featured in the book include the Maypole Margarine Works, the largest margarine factory in Europe at the time, which opened in 1895 and closed in 1929. Also the almshouses in North Road, Southall, which were commissioned by William Welch Deloitte, who founded the famous accountancy firm.

    The most remarkable contrast in the whole book in my opinion, is the view of Leggett’s Forge, which in the book is under the heading The Broadway, Southall ll. It is difficult to equate the modern view with the tranquil scene of the old forge, at all. Equally incredible is the Hanwell scene of the Boston Road. The older scene reminds one of an image straight from the pages of a Thomas Hardy novel, and in contrast the modern view shows how the urban sprawl has entirely spoilt the countryside.

    9781445654942

    Paul Howard Lang's new book Hanwell and Southall Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • The Secrets of London's Squares: Westminster and Bloomsbury by Alan Brooke & David Brandon

    Many cities of the world are famous for their squares. For example: Red Square in Moscow, Times Square in New York, Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City and Tiananmen Square in China. When it comes to London many people, if asked, would name Trafalgar Square or even Leicester Square. The squares (and one might add the parks and gardens) are a defining feature of England’s capital city. ‘Square’ is a generic term for urban open spaces and as we know many are not actually square or even rectangular. Squares are a form of architecture and town planning not exactly unique to the metropolis but never exploited to the full in other cities although it could be said that Bath, Edinburgh and Liverpool all made some use of the concept.

    secrets-of-central-londons-squares-2 The statue of William Shakespeare with fountain at Leicester Square. (Secrets of Central London's Squares, Amberley Publishing)

    Given the hundreds of squares in London we decided to focus on Bloomsbury and Westminster. We also included a handful of what might be called ‘stand alone’ gardens so see this as a bonus!

    Some squares have an abundance of features including statuary, gardens, inscriptions on benches, fountains, gravestones, commemorations and of course many London plane trees, which account for over half of the city’s tree population and are in evidence in many of the squares in this book. It was the unusual, quirky and curious that fascinated us as well as the familiar features of the selected squares.

    Garden squares provide a welcome retreat for people seeking rest and for those who work nearby. However there are many squares off the main streets that are probably less known to the visitor. Of course there are limits to what can be seen in London in a short space of time but some of the squares and gardens in Westminster and Bloomsbury are certainly worth seeking out and do provide many unexpected discoveries as well as a peaceful haven.

    The London Square has to be seen as an evolving historical and architectural phenomenon. Its origin probably lies in the work of Inigo Jones in Covent Garden in 1631-39 on land then owned by the Earls of Bedford and of which very few traces still exist. Despite the Georgian association of some squares many were built in the Victorian period notably between 1840 and 1880, in such districts as Kensington. The grandest squares were largely in estates whose ground landlords were the Russell, Grosvenor, Portman and Cavendish-Bentinck families or their connections.

    secrets-of-central-londons-squares-1 One of many benches with personal inscriptions in Berkeley Square Gardens. (Secrets of Central London's Squares, Amberley Publishing)

    The earlier squares were paved and largely of open access which made them less exclusive. The private enclosed garden in the centre of a square emerged as a conscious attempt to safeguard the existence of at least some open space as London expanded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and especially the nineteenth century. Even the resulting ‘green’ amenity was only available to a small privileged elite. As the nineteenth century wore on many resented the social privilege of these gated spaces. The closed or private garden squares had few, if any occupants. Those that had open access drew huge numbers of visitors, clearly enjoying, respecting and appreciating the space and the surroundings.

     

    George Orwell felt strongly about the exclusive nature of the squares. ‘…the railings are returning in one London square after another…So the awful denizens of the squares can make use of their treasured keys again, and the children of the poor can be kept out. When the railings round the parks and squares were removed, the object was partly to accumulate scarp iron, but the removal was also felt to be a democratic gesture…The parks were improved out of recognition by being laid open, acquiring a friendly, almost rural look that they had never had before’ (As I Please 1943-45).

    Most squares did their duty in the Second World War and not just in giving up their iron rails. Belgrave Square became a tank park, St James’s Square was dug up and given over to vegetable growing and air raid shelters were built in Soho and Manchester Squares.

    The building of residential squares started to decline in the early twentieth century and many faced demolition. It was the London Squares Act of 1931 that saved many from such a fate. There has been a minor resurgence of squares in the latter part of the twentieth century notably with the expansion of office squares such as Canada Square in Canary Wharf. In more recent years events and organisations such as the London Open Garden Square Weekend and the London Parks and Gardens Trust have added to the interest and upkeep of these places.

    As with much of London the most fascinating aspects are those in the less familiar places. Do seek out both the lesser as well as the better-known squares and gardens – there is much delight to be had and discoveries to be made.

    9781445656649

    Alan Brooke & David Brandon's new book Secrets of Central London's Squares is available for purchase now.

  • What We Did Before Selfies by Robert Hallmann

    Celebrities do it. Politicians do it. Tourists, travellers and friends do it. People even do it with sticks at arm’s length in some very dangerous situations.

    They take their own photographs - selfies.

    What we did not do before the proliferation of image catching devices was to then share our efforts with all the world and her aunt.

    We did have self-timers, where the camera was placed on a tripod or somewhere else secure and then after pressing the button we joined the group of friends or family before the delayed moment of exposure. I never owned a self-timer; I never felt that self-important. But I did experiment.

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    1) Germany, 1950s:

    A small printing company’s party in a private house. I had been asked to bring my camera, which was a simple Agfa box similar to the Kodak Brownie. That camera had been my father’s and while the house burnt down under phosphor grenade attack in 1945 the camera survived the inferno in the cellar, almost intact. It has two levers – exposure and time exposure.

    The flash available before flash bulbs was a small sachet of magnesium powder, somewhat resembling a tea bag with a strip of paper attached to it, about a foot long. This could be hung up, well away from flammable material – my favourite support was a broom handle balanced on tall furniture or a door. I had told the company of typesetters, printers, bookbinders and office staff, including the boss’s wife to huddle together as it was difficult to gauge exactly the area that would be included. Of course, to some of my colleagues this was great fun when the light had to go out before I set fire to the hanging strip of paper and opened the shutter before piling onto the heap of celebrants myself (far left).

    Most people’s attention is expectantly focused on that burning strip of paper. Somehow my boss managed to avoid the crush, but of course one of our group chanced his luck with the nearest lady in the darkness, a fact he found difficult to live down once the 60 x 90 mm evidence was developed and printed.

    Magnesium powder burning in air produces a brilliant-white light, hence its use in photography. The downside is the flammability. I ruined a perfectly good friendship once when I had placed the flash powder sachet too close to the curtains at a girlfriend’s home…

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    2) Dublin 1960-61:

    Commuting between my lodgings and my place of work in Dublin I passed a very boring end-of-terrace edifice, which I decided needed some artistic embellishment. A double exposure was needed.

    My landlady was not best pleased. Well, what self-respecting house-owner would not be surprised to find someone hopping to the bathroom on one leg, the other foot dripping red paint that looked like blood? I’d painted the sole of my foot and pressed my footprint on a large sheet of black card and photographed it. Then, without winding the film on, I went out with my camera and photographed the bland wall in question onto the same peace of film. It’s perhaps not perfectly placed, but of course this was long before Photoshop. But does a foot count as a ‘selfie’?

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    3 & 3a) Reflections in Essex, late 1960s:

    As a special experimental background I had covered a wall in metallic foil, but of course it will never reflect with the clarity of a mirror. That was the point. Distortions were very acceptable and if Pablo Picasso could do it, one could at least try. Among the experimental results were a self-portrait with an abstract dimension, and even one where I turned myself into a pair of very humdrum trolls with rather odd-shaped cameras. Oh, my beloved Kowa 66.

     

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic4) Cumbria shadow, 1970s

    Never have I felt so alone and been so far removed from any other human being as on Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, one 1st of November. And I loved it, even while carrying a cumbersome camera case with me. It was time to leave. The sun was sinking, but when I saw this giant shadow bestriding the snow scape beside me, following me about, I had to record it, even gave a wave to another snow-capped top. I trust that’s Great Gable in the background?

     

     

     

     

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic5) London reflection, June 1977

    Balancing on tiptoe on the kerb of Savile Row, I caught my reflection in a doorway of a gentlemen’s outfitters, while trying out a new 35 mm camera. My London selfie. Did I actually frequent the premises? Not on my income.

    London was rich in reflections. Every shop window would reflect something of the street scenes about it. You were never alone. Along the large glass panes your twin would follow you everywhere at a sideways glance. You and the thousands of others. Photographing the window displays, the shops and the shoppers in juxta-position was great fun. I often pretended to photograph something particular while including Londoners, too.

    As an antidote to crowds, an escape to quiet places like Scafell Pike out of season offered a kind of balance.

    Selfies - 9781445645629

    Robert Hallmann's Londoners Street Scenes of the Capital 1960-1989 is available for purchase now.

7 Item(s)