CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

Monday, November 4, 2013

DICKENS’ OF LONDON

 

 

 

 

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DICKENS’ OF LONDON

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Fascinating snapshot of Victorian street traders taken at the dawn of photography

         
  • The hard-hitting collection of London life in 1877 was taken by photography pioneer John Thomson
  • Was one of the first photo projects to focus on working-class people and not the aristocracy or landscapes

They are images of devastating poverty and life on London's streets that look like they come straight from the pages of a Charles Dickens book.

The collection, taken by pioneering photojournalist John Thomson in 1877, show what life was really like for thousands of Londoners in Victorian Britain.

Unlike most pictures taken at the time, they show the daily grind and backbreaking work undertaken by the capital's working-classes.

 

The faces of Victorian London: A 'temperance sweep' (left) featured in the Street Life in London book on auction at Dominic Winter Auctions, South Cerney, Gloucestershire The faces of Victorian London: A 'temperance sweep' (left) featured in the Street Life in London book on auction at Dominic Winter Auctions, South Cerney, Gloucestershire      

 

 

Faces of Victorian London: A 'temperance sweep' (left) and an elderly woman holding a baby, in a picture titled 'The Crawlers' (right), are part of the historical document

 

 

Street sellers: Covent Garden flower women (left) are some of the characters featured in the book on everyday life in 1877 Photograph showing 'Dealer in fancy ware' (jewelry, imitating gems and ornaments)      

 

 

Street sellers: Covent Garden flower women (left) and a 'dealer in fancy ware' with a wary-looking customer (right) are some of the characters featured in the book

Window into the past: Photograph pioneer John Thomson and journalist Adolphe Smith trawled the streets of London to take pictures such as this 'Water-Cart' for their book

Window into the past: Pioneer John Thomson and journalist Adolphe Smith trawled the streets of London to take pictures such as this 'Water-Cart' for their book

From road sweepers to flower sellers, the collection gives a fascinating snapshot into the past at the dawn of photography.

Thomson worked with radical journalist Adolphe Smith on the project, which was one of the first to concentrate on working-class people.

It features child labourers working on the streets of London, as well the back-breaking jobs of many people in the capital.

The hard-hitting collection, compiled into a book called Street Life In London, shows the grim reality of life for millions of poverty-stricken Londoners during the Victorian age.

The pioneering project came after the likes of Dickens and philanthropists such as Thomas Barnado began highlighting the conditions in the inner cities.

Like scenes from Oliver Twist, Thomson's pictures show barefoot children fending for themselves in the capital.

His depictions of extreme poverty in classics such as Our Mutual Friend are also shown in the heartbreaking images, such as the ill woman cradling a baby on the streets.

 

Historic rarity: The book of photographs, such as 'Carey the Clown' (right) and 'Public disinfectors' (left), is up for auction in Gloucestershire Historic rarity: The book of photographs, such as 'Carey the Clown' (right)      

 

 

Historic rarity: The book, which includes photographs titled 'Public Disinfectors' (left) and 'Carey The Clown' (right), is up for auction in Gloucestershire

Forgotten treasures: The book is filled with scenes such as this one of 'November effigies' for Bonfire Night

Forgotten treasures: 'November Effigies' shows an impressive-looking monster headed for the flames on Bonfire Night

 

Child labour: The book shows children at work - a common sight in Victorian London. Pictured right is a boot shiner, called an 'independent shoe black' Child labour: The book shows children at work - a common sight in Victorian London. Pictured right is a boot shiner, called an 'independent shoe black'      

 

 

Child labour: The book shows children at work on the streets of London, including an 'independent shoe black' (left) and 'Italian street musicians' (right)

Forgotten trades: Two men sit in the sunshine as they try to hire out donkeys for rides on Clapham Common

Donkey ride, anyone? Two likely looking entrepreneurs sit in the sunshine as they try to hire out novelty rides on Clapham Common

 

Extreme poverty: Some of images show people such as the 'London Nomades' (left) living in shocking conditions Extreme poverty: Some of images show people such as the 'London Nomades' (left) living in shocking conditions      

 

 

Extreme poverty: Some of images in Street Life In London (pictured right) show people such as the 'London Nomades' (left) living in shocking conditions

Thomson took the 36 photographs between 1877 and 1878 and published them in a monthly serial over 12 parts.

They were then printed in Street Life in London, with the work regarded as being hugely important for its use of photography as social documentation.

The book is going under the hammer on Thursday at Gloucestershire auctioneers Dominic Winter and is expected to sell for between £4,000 and £6,000.

John Trevers, a valuer and auctioneer at Dominic Winter, said: 'The book is famous in the sense it is one of the first social documentations shown in photographs.

Stunning slideshow of Street Life in London images

Street trades: A 'dramatic shoe black' waits for customers in this image that features in Thomson's book

'Dramatic Shoe Black': The reason for the title of this photograph may have diluted over the years, as there doesn't seem to be much 'drama' going on (but their shoes DO look clean)

 

Everyday London life: Workmen put up advertising posters (left) including one for Madame Tussauds and Recruiting Sergeants relax outside a pub (right)      

 

 

Everyday London life: Workmen put up advertising posters (left), including one for Madame Tussauds, while recruiting sergeants relax outside a pub (right)

Bizarre: A 'street doctor', dressed in massive platform shoes and a large top hat, plies his wares on the streets with a sign reading: 'Prevention Better Than Cure'

Cough sweets: A 'street doctor', wearing a corrective shoe and a large top hat, plies his wares on the streets with a sign reading 'Prevention Better Than Cure'

 

Scenes of relaxation: Three men drink from tankards outside a pub and a group are shown sitting (right) under the caption 'Hookey Alf of Whitechapel'      

 

 

Scenes of relaxation: Three men drink from tankards outside a pub (left), and a group are shown sitting under the caption 'Hookey Alf Of Whitechapel' (right)

 

Traders: A trio of 'Mush-Fakers [umbrella makers] and ginger-beers' (left) and the street locksmith (right)      

 

 

Traders: A trio of 'Mush-Fakers [umbrella sellers and makers] And Ginger-Beers' (left) and the street locksmith (right)

'Rather than photographs of the Royal Family or of pretty parks, this is real people at the bottom of society.

'It was around the same period as Charles Dickens was exposing the underclass and it must have been shocking to see the photographs at the time.

'One of the photographs shows a lady who looks very ill, she was dying.

'It really shows a grim London life and must have been very hard-hitting, this is a very important book.'

 

Changing times: 'Cast-Iron Billy' (an omnibus driver, holding whip) Changing times: London cabmen wait for customers (right) and 'Cast-Iron Billy' (an omnibus driver, holding whip)      

 

 

'You'll never guess who I had in my cab last night': Omnibus driver 'Cast-Iron Billy' (left, holding whip) chats to a friend, while London cabmen wait for customers (right)

Costermonger: John Walker, a licensed hawker known as 'Black Jack', who made his living by buying goods for wholesale prices and selling it for more

Costermonger: John Walker, a licensed hawker known as 'Black Jack', who made his living by buying goods for wholesale prices and selling it for more

 

Past times: 'The London Boardmen' (left) were jeered at in the street for being walking advertisements Photograph showing 'An old clothes shop,      

 

 

Making a living: 'The London Boardmen' (left), who were jeered at in the street for being walking advertisements, and women working in a clothes shop (right)

'A convicts home': Former policeman Mr Bayliss (left) ran a home for released prisoners. He is seen talking to Indian drummer Ramo Sammy, known as the 'tam-tam man'

'A convicts home': Former policeman Mr Bayliss (left) ran a home for released prisoners. He is seen talking to Indian drummer Ramo Sammy, known as the 'tam-tam man'

 

For sale: A fishmonger (left) talks to customers at his stall and youngsters enjoy ice-creams from an Italian vendor (right)      

 

 

For sale: A fishmonger (left) talks to customers at his stall and youngsters enjoy ice-creams from an Italian vendor (right)

John Thomson made his name as one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East where he documented the people, landscapes and artifacts of eastern cultures.

He returned to the UK 1872 and moved to Brixton to live with his family where he published his photojournalism.

It was on his return he started documenting Victorian London. He later returned to Scotland, living in Edinburgh until his death from a heart attack in 1821 at the age of 84.

Refuse collectors: These 'flying dustmen' collected rubbish and dust from across the capital in their horse-drawn characters

Refuse collectors: These 'flying dustmen' collected rubbish and dust from across the capital in their horse-drawn wagon

Day in the park: A nanny and a child pose for a picture on Clapham Common and in the centre of the picture if the photographer's portable darkroom

Day in the park: A nanny and a child pose for a picture on Clapham Common. The odd-looking contraption in the centre of the picture is a portable darkroom

Victorian street food: A shellfish vendor is surrounded by customers interested in trying his wares

Victorian street food: A shellfish vendor is surrounded by customers interested in trying his wares

 

Window into the past: Boatmen on the River Thames (left) who were known to work on the 'silent highway' and 'Covent garden labourers' (right)      

 

 

By water or on land: Boatmen on the River Thames (left) who were known to work on the 'silent highway', and a picture titled 'Covent Garden Labourers' (right)

 

 

 

 

 

     

Haunting photographs of the dead taken in Victorian age shows fad for relatives posing alongside bodies of their dearly departed

  • The invention of the daguerreotype - the earliest photographic process - in 1839 brought portraiture to the masses
  • Enabled the middle classes to have affordable keepsake of their dead family members
  • Known as post-mortem photography, some of the dearly departed were photographed in their coffin
  • This particular style, often accompanied by funeral attendees, was common in Europe, but less so in the United States

Lined up for a family photo these Victorian children look miserable as they stare sternly at the camera.

But their grim expressions may be understandable after it becomes clear they are posing for a macabre photo with their dead younger sibling who is laid out on a chair.

These remarkable pictures show the morbid way that the deceased were remembered in the late 19th century

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Macabre: Lined up for a family photo these Victorian children look miserable as they look sternly at the camera. But their grim expressions may be understandable after it becomes clear they are posing for a macabre photo with their dead sibling who is laid out on a chair

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Phot

Macabre: These remarkable pictures show the morbid way that the deceased were remembered in the late 19th century

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Keepsake: The invention of the daguerreotype - the earliest photographic process - in 1839 brought portraiture to the masses. It was far cheaper and quicker than commissioning a painted portrait and it enabled the middle classes to have an affordable, cherished keepsake of their dead family members

Memory: The invention of the daguerreotype - the earliest photographic process - in 1839 brought portraiture to the masses

Memory: A young girl is displayed in a tiny coffin before her funeral in this grim photo

The invention of the daguerreotype - the earliest photographic process - in 1839 brought portraiture to the masses. It was far cheaper and quicker than commissioning a painted portrait and it enabled the middle classes to have an affordable, cherished keepsake of their dead family members.  

Known as post-mortem photography, some of the dearly departed were photographed in their coffin.

This particular style, often accompanied by funeral attendees, was common in Europe but less so in the United States.

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Laid out: Known as post-mortem photography, some of the dearly departed were photographed in their coffins, while others were laid out in funeral dressage

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Victorian Post

Trend: Post-mortem photography, often accompanied by funeral attendees, was common in Europe but less so in the United States

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes: The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. The Victorian after-death photos continue to haunt

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Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

In some photos the subjects were made to look like they were in a deep sleep or even life-like as they were positioned next to family members

However, in others, they were made to look like they were in a deep sleep or even life-like as they were positioned next to family members.

It was an age of high infant mortality rates - and children were often shown in repose on a couch or in a crib, while adults were more commonly posed in chairs.

Sometimes the subject's eyes were propped open or the pupils were painted onto the print to give the effect they were alive.

In early images, a rosy tint was added to the cheeks of corpses.

By the early 20th century, the practice fell out of fashion as photos became more commonplace with the arrival of the snapshot.

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Tragic: It was an age of high infant mortality rates - and children were often shown in repose on a couch or in a crib, while adults were more commonly posed in chairs

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Eerie: Sometimes the subject's eyes were propped open or the pupils were painted onto the print to give the effect they were alive

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Remembrance: A young child surrounded by flowers is photographed in an open coffin as a keepsake for its family

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Victorian Post Mortem Tintypes The deceased were immortalized in photographs during the Victorian era. Victorian After-Death Photos Still Haunt

Effects: In early images, a rosy tint was added to the cheeks of corpses

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Portrait: Parents pose for a photo holding the body of their little girl clothed in a white dress

Disturbing: An adult male is photographed as if he is asleep on a bed

Disturbing: An adult male is photographed as if he is asleep on a bed

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Sign of the times: By the early 20th century, the practice fell out of fashion as photos became more commonplace with the arrival of the snapshot

Our image of the Victorians is too often of a repressed, conservative, starchy, uptight and blinkered people. They were allegedly so prudish they even covered their table legs, were harsh to women and children, vicious to those who refused to conform and determined to entrench privilege. In fact, such an impression could not be more wrong. The Victorians were people of vision, insatiably intellectually curious, wedded to the idea of progress and determined to improve their own lives and those of others. They were the first meritocrats, opening up opportunities to those with the brains and qualities to exploit them rather than them being awarded simply according to social status.

The Victorians were wedded to the idea of progress and improving their own lives and those of others. Pictured: Workers start the new Stockport Viaduct, which became the biggest brick structure in Europe

The Victorians were wedded to the idea of progress and improving their own lives and those of others. Pictured: Workers start the new Stockport Viaduct, which became the biggest brick structure in Europe

Harnessed to phenomenal intellectual, physical and moral energy, and often (albeit in an age of profound religious doubt) informed by a deep sense of Christian purpose, their vision helped transform Britain from a fundamentally medieval country when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 to a startlingly modern one within just four or five decades.

Certainly, there was resistance, but they overcame it relentlessly. By 1880 education — the key to all progress — had been made widely available. Equally significantly, women’s rights had been extended. Conditions in factories and mills had been properly regulated. Jews had been allowed to sit in parliament, and religious minorities were allowed to teach in universities. And, of course, working men had been given the vote.

The list of achievements seems endless. From the 1830s, railways had criss-crossed the country, opening it up to people in a way that had never been possible before. Rowland Hill’s penny post began in 1840.

Sanitation had been greatly improved. Slums were cleared and new, healthy housing for the poor had been built in many cities. The middle class expanded and, with it, the commercial and residential areas of towns. University colleges, schools, churches, libraries and museums sprang up all over the country.

Above all, the capital city — London — became a showpiece of modernity, with a building boom that included the Palace of Westminster, the Albert Hall, the Law Courts, St Pancras Station and the Natural History Museum, all of which remain beacons not just of the Victorian age, but of our nation, recognisable around the world.

But in 1840 the prospect of such advances appeared impossible in an unhappy, poor, fractious country. 

A worldwide slump in trade put mills, mines and factories on short time. Many people were laid off, and in the summer of 1842 matters were so bad, with even the workhouses running out of resources, that riots began and the militia was called out.

The Victorians' vision helped transform Britain from a fundamentally medieval country when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 to a startlingly modern one within just four or five decades

The Victorians' vision helped transform Britain from a fundamentally medieval country when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 to a startlingly modern one within just four or five decades

Yet the country was turned around within a couple of decades. In what is a lesson for today, this had little to do with state intervention, and much to do with the energy, intelligence and determination of the people.

All government did was to enable entrepreneurs, businessmen, visionaries and philanthropists to transform the country.

A collection of brilliant individuals, usually motivated by little more than the desire to make things better, were allowed to get on with building a more prosperous and more equal future.

First, the Victorians took steps to free up trade and ease communications. To the outrage of the landowners whose party he led, Sir Robert Peel, the Tory Prime Minister from 1841 to 1846, cut import duties on corn, ostensibly to ensure cheaper food for the restive masses.

As a result, the idea of free trade caught on. And Britain’s mills and factories, combined with its world-beating merchant fleet, were perfectly positioned to capitalise on the export boom that this deregulation brought.

The wealth this made helped create a new, large middle class whose red-brick villas still adorn the suburbs of thousands of British towns and cities. But it also trickled down to the working class, who demanded better housing and education as they became less poor.

Those things, too, were enabled by the State, not provided by it.

William Gladstone’s government of 1868-74 ensured that a school place was available to every child up to the age of 12. Most of these schools were run by the Church of England, or other religious denominations and voluntary groups.

Attendance did not become compulsory for a further decade, and until 1892 parents were expected to pay a nominal fee — 3d or 4d a week, usually — for their children’s place. Although governments came, belatedly, to realise how vital the education of children was for the nation’s progress, both Liberal and Tory administrations firmly believed that it was the voluntary sector’s job, with support from the State, to provide it, rather than the State doing it directly.

In the mid-19th century cholera epidemics, such as we now associate with the Third World, were rife in British cities. One that occurred between 1848-49 killed 52,000 people. Until the 1850s nobody understood that the disease was waterborne, and so continued to pump sewage into water that would be drunk.

After the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858 — when in that year’s hot summer the Thames smelt so toxic that MPs regularly fled the Commons chamber with feelings of nausea — the Government supported London’s parishes in enabling a great network of sewers to be built by the engineer Joseph Bazalgette along the Embankment and through the West End and the City.

The Victorians were the first meritocrats, opening up opportunities to those with the brains and qualities to exploit them rather than them being awarded simply according to social status

The Victorians were the first meritocrats, opening up opportunities to those with the brains and qualities to exploit them rather than them being awarded simply according to social status

Support: The Government helped London's parishes in enabling a great network of sewers to be built by the engineer Joseph Bazalgette (pictured) along the Embankment and through the West End and the City

Support: The Government helped London's parishes in enabling a great network of sewers to be built by the engineer Joseph Bazalgette (pictured) along the Embankment and through the West End and the City

Other towns and cities followed London’s example. Mortality rates and the incidence of diseases tumbled — an important factor in the rise of the United Kingdom’s population from 11 million in 1801 to 41 million in 1901.

All these people had to be housed. So Benjamin Disraeli’s government from 1874 to 1880 passed the Artisans’ Dwellings Act, which enabled local authorities to clear slums and invite private developers in to build new homes for workers. Birmingham was the first major city to use this legislation to great effect, and others soon followed suit.

And a truly prosperous country needed to move its people and its goods around. The coming of the railways in the 1830s changed everything in this regard, and again the Government made development as easy as possible, streamlining legislation that allowed the building of lines between major cities, and using new companies legislation to head off a wave of fraud and irrational speculation that threatened to bring the new industry quickly to its knees.

With the railways, people were no longer tied to working within walking distance of their homes. And residents of inland towns were able to eat fresh fish, delivered straight from the sea, for the first time.

Free up trade: To the outrage of the landowners whose party he led, Sir Robert Peel, the Tory PM from 1841 to 1846, cut import duties on corn, ostensibly to ensure cheaper food for the restive masses

Free up trade: To the outrage of the landowners whose party he led, Sir Robert Peel, the Tory PM from 1841 to 1846, cut import duties on corn, ostensibly to ensure cheaper food for the restive masses

Iconic: London became a showpiece of modernity, with a building boom that included the Palace of Westminster, the Albert Hall, the Law Courts, St Pancras Station and the Natural History Museum

Iconic: London became a showpiece of modernity, with a building boom that included the Palace of Westminster, the Albert Hall, the Law Courts, St Pancras Station and the Natural History Museum

Yet for all these advances, half of the population remained disadvantaged. Women could not obtain a divorce without an Act of Parliament, however barbarically their husbands behaved towards them, and any money they brought to the marriage became their husband’s property.

No wonder one of the leading philosophers of the age, John Stuart Mill, described the condition of women as ‘subjection’ and as akin to ‘slavery’ — ironic when the head of state from 1837 to 1901 happened to be a woman.

A vigorous group of feminists — including some quite prominent men, such as Mill and the eminent Cambridge philosopher Henry Sidgwick — determined to start to put these matters right. Divorce courts were established from 1858, and by the 1870s property law had been reformed so that a wife was no longer her husband’s chattel.

The women’s suffrage movement, often considered an Edwardian phenomenon, had its roots in the 1860s. One of its supporters was Florence Nightingale, a disciple of Mill, and sympathetic MPs tried from 1868 to secure the vote for women.

William Gladstone's government of 1868-74 ensured that a school place was available to every child up to the age of 12. Most of these schools were run by the Church of England, or other voluntary groups

William Gladstone's government of 1868-74 ensured that a school place was available to every child up to the age of 12. Most of these schools were run by the Church of England, or other voluntary groups

Women also demanded higher education. Colleges for them were founded in London in the 1840s and by the late 1860s women were beginning to storm the ancient citadels of Oxford and Cambridge, with Cambridge’s Girton College being founded in 1869, and Newnham shortly afterwards.

Oxford had its own women’s colleges by the early 1880s. Graduates of these institutions (though neither university would until the 20th century allow women to be admitted to degrees) founded and staffed girls’ schools — notably the famous headmistresses Dorothea Beale, of Cheltenham Ladies’ College, and Frances Buss, who founded the North London Collegiate School for Ladies.

This supply of well-educated young women not only made it harder for governments to refuse them the vote, it also made it harder for professions that were male strongholds to refuse to admit them. The pioneering doctors Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex Blake (who eventually set up a medical school together) blazed the trail, but only after having pursued their studies in Europe.

The fight was a long one. Even after Garrett Anderson had qualified and been registered by the General Medical Council, it changed its rules to forbid any other women from following her — an act of discrimination that soon had to be reversed.

As with so much else, all of these institutions for the education and improvement of women were founded with charitable or private money. 

In an age when taxation was minimal (Gladstone, indeed, tried to abolish income tax altogether), it was far easier for the under-taxed rich to follow Christian precepts and engage in philanthropy.

The greatest Victorian philanthropist was, indeed, a woman. The heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts built churches, established (with the help of Charles Dickens) a refuge for prostitutes, funded schools in Devon, built a hall for market traders in the East End (for which she was dubbed ‘Queen of the Costermongers’), funded public parks and, above all, built modern, clean apartment blocks for working people all over London, most of which still stand today. Gladstone had her given a peerage in recognition of her generosity — though she was barred, as a woman, from sitting in the Lords.

Octavia Hill, best known today as a founder of the National Trust, began her philanthropic career assisting her mother in voluntary work among the urban poor in London as a girl of 14. Later, having hardly any means of her own, she raised money from private donors (notably John Ruskin) to turn decrepit properties into housing fit for human beings.

Florence Nightingale used a fund raised in her name to build a training school for nurses, greatly raising standards of medical care

Florence Nightingale used a fund raised in her name to build a training school for nurses, greatly raising standards of medical care

Charitable societies, not the state, helped co-ordinate the relief of poverty, the better to ensure that help went to deserving and not undeserving cases.

Florence Nightingale used a fund raised in her name to build a training school for nurses, greatly raising standards of medical care. And there were great male philanthropists too — notably George Peabody, the American businessman who showed his love for his adopted country by building apartment blocks for working people that still stand today, and Thomas Holloway, who made a fortune selling quack remedies to a people who as they prospered became more hypochondriac, founded not just a magnificent university college for women — Royal Holloway at Egham in Surrey, one of the finest buildings of the 19th century — but also a mental asylum for the middle classes.

Today, vast amounts of public money, and a vast bureaucracy, would be required to achieve such monumental things — and they still would not do half so well.

In their buildings and in their institutions, but also in establishing values that we take for granted, the Victorians are still with us. They invented the world we live in, and we should be conscious of the debt we continue to owe them for laying the foundations of our way of life.

Above all, they proved how a troubled and struggling country could be transformed almost beyond recognition with astonishing speed — not by state meddling but by liberating the natural energy, inventiveness and idealism of its people. It’s a lesson today’s politicians would do very well to learn

 
 

Pictures of times past: Forgotten photographs give a rare and fascinating insight into 19th Century city life in Britain

from Newcastle stumbled on an amazing treasure trove of street photographs which capture the city's Victorian residents going about their daily lives.

Aaron Guy, who works at Newcastle's Mining Institute, discovered the 300-image collection of early glass negatives after peering into a long-forgotten box.

He was moving some old furniture for the Society of Antiquaries when the innocuous container caught his eye.

Children gathered outside of the station hotel, Neville street watching a performance.

Children gathered outside of the station hotel, Neville street watching a performance.

Women's work: Two Newcastle matrons pass the time over some knitting by the city's Quayside, while children loiter nearby

Women's work: Two Newcastle matrons pass the time over some knitting by the city's Quayside, while children loiter nearby. Mr Guy explained: 'The society were moving to a smaller building and were passing some of their belongings to other organisations.

'I was just being nosy really, peering into boxes, when I happened to spot that one contained some really old glass negatives. I thought they seemed interesting so we asked for permission to bring the plate boxes back to our office to have a proper look.' Further inspection revealed a whole raft of lively, high-quality images of everyday street life, dating from at least 1880. The shots feature a ragtag collection of ordinary North Easterners, and were taken at locations such as meat markets, fairs, and tiny corner shops. Experts believe at least a third of the pictures were created by the same photographer, and while many of them depict life in Newcastle, the cache also includes scenes from nearby Tynemouth and Lindisfarne.



Scouting the wares: A young girl examines the window display of a city shop selling fresh veg, sunlight soap and sweets

Scouting the wares: A young girl examines the window display of a city shop selling fresh veg, sunlight soap and sweets

Making their own fun: Children skip and play around a lamp post

Making their own fun: Children skip and play around a lamp post

Maritime legacy: Onlookers wait for the launch of a ship in Tyneside

Maritime legacy: Onlookers wait for the launch of a ship in Tyneside

While early photography was largely the preserve of the rich, this unknown photographer went out of his or her way to document the lives of the working classes.

The decision is all the more interesting because Newcastle was a thriving industrial centre by the 1880s, with no shortage of prominent people to photograph.

The city was also home to industrialist Joseph Swan, who in 1871 devised a method of producing dry photographic plates which removed the need for a dark room and made photography more commercially viable.

Up it goes! A doughty competitor tests his strength at the Temperance festival on the Town Moor, Newcastle

Up it goes! A doughty competitor tests his strength at the Temperance festival on the Town Moor, Newcastle

A little girl looses her hat, while men in bowlers listen to a speech at the Temperance Festival on the Town Moor, Newcastle

A little girl looses her hat, while men in bowlers listen to a speech at the Temperance Festival on the Town Moor, Newcastle

Starting young: A little girl selling cordial with meat sellers at either Paddy's Market or Bigg Market, Newcastle

Starting young: A little girl selling cordial with meat sellers at either Paddy's Market or Bigg Market, Newcastle

Pondering the collection's origins, Mr Guy said: 'We know very little about where these negatives have come from.

'They were never catalogued and the society doesn't recall how or when it came by them.

'We aren't even completely sure whether they are one photographer's archive, or if they were produced by several individuals.

'Photography would have been a very expensive hobby at that time, but this person was shooting in a very contemporary way.

'Despite the cumbersome equipment he would have been using – a large plate camera, probably on a tripod – I would describe this as observational documentary, almost photojournalistic in style.

'The work doesn't look staged, but if it was then the photographer was doing things very differently from his contemporaries. This work feels less distant and more engaged than other series I have seen.

'It may have been someone with means, or a commercial photographer with quite a distinctive viewpoint, who decided that Joe Bloggs on the street was more interesting to photograph in his spare time than the high society of Newcastle.

'He was really quite ahead of his time in that respect.'

Earning a crust: A young peanut seller captured at work

Earning a crust: A young peanut seller captured at work

Catching 40 winks: A man makes time for a nap in what was then the centre of Newcastle

Catching 40 winks: A man makes time for a nap in what was then the centre of Newcastle

The Society of Antiquaries is now carrying out research work in connection with the pictures, in the hope of figuring out where they were shot, and by whom.

It is also keen to trace another 15 boxes of plates which the Society sent elsewhere.

Mr Guy hopes the city of Newcastle will soon be able to share this insight into its history.

'I was really quite lucky to find this box,' he said. 'I don't know if someone forgot it or planned to pick it up later. The aim now is to date and catalogue the work, and then to put it out to other organisations in the city and hopefully get it seen, because it really belongs to the people of Newcastle.'

Having a chin-wag: Women chat outside caravans stationed at the city's Town Moor

Having a chin-wag: Women chat outside caravans stationed at the city's Town Moor

The Mountain Nymph Sweet Liberty June 1866: Julia Margaret Cameron was one of the greatest portraitists in the history of photography

The Mountain Nymph Sweet Liberty June 1866: Julia Margaret Cameron was one of the greatest portraitists in the history of photography

Philip Stanhope Worsley: An Oxford-educated poet who translated the Odyssey and part of the Iliad into Spenserian verse, Worsley died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty. Cameron¿s portrait was made the year of his death

Philip Stanhope Worsley: An Oxford-educated poet who translated the Odyssey and part of the Iliad into Spenserian verse, Worsley died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty. Cameron¿s portrait was made the year of his death

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Julia Margaret Cameron lived next door to the poet laureate on the Isle of Wight. It took three years of pleading before Cameron convinced Tennyson (who jokingly referred to her models as 'victims') to sit for his portrait

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Julia Margaret Cameron lived next door to the poet laureate on the Isle of Wight. It took three years of pleading before Cameron convinced Tennyson (who jokingly referred to her models as 'victims') to sit for his portrait

Zoe, Maid of Athens: Here Cameron photographed May Prinsep, her sister's adopted daughter. By allowing Prinsep's slight movement and by intentionally softening the focus, Cameron instilled a sense of breath and soul in this living apparition

Zoe, Maid of Athens: Here Cameron photographed May Prinsep, her sister's adopted daughter. By allowing Prinsep's slight movement and by intentionally softening the focus, Cameron instilled a sense of breath and soul in this living apparition

Kate Keown: In spring and summer 1866, having purchased a new, larger camera capable of making twelve-by-fifteen-inch negatives, Cameron produced a series of twelve life-sized heads.

Kate Keown: In spring and summer 1866, having purchased a new, larger camera capable of making twelve-by-fifteen-inch negatives, Cameron produced a series of twelve life-sized heads.

Christabel: Coleridge's unfinished poem 'Christabel' (1816) tells the story of a young woman debased by sorcery. A dark poem, full of rolling fog and lesbian innuendo, 'Christabel' was the kind of tale that appealed to the Victorian palate

Christabel: Coleridge's unfinished poem 'Christabel' (1816) tells the story of a young woman debased by sorcery. A dark poem, full of rolling fog and lesbian innuendo, 'Christabel' was the kind of tale that appealed to the Victorian palate

A Study: This image, also titled After Perugino / The Annunciation, is one of more than 130 religiously themed images inspired by Cameron¿s deep Christian devotion and her artistic admiration of Italian painting of the early Renaissance

A Study: This image, also titled After Perugino / The Annunciation, is one of more than 130 religiously themed images inspired by Cameron¿s deep Christian devotion and her artistic admiration of Italian painting of the early Renaissance

Sappho: Mary Hillier, a beautiful young house servant at Cameron's home was often pressed into photographic service, frequently in the role of the Virgin Mary. She managed to assume her various guises in a remarkably unselfconscious way

Sappho: Mary Hillier, a beautiful young house servant at Cameron's home was often pressed into photographic service, frequently in the role of the Virgin Mary. She managed to assume her various guises in a remarkably unselfconscious way

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere: In 1874 Tennyson asked Cameron to make photographic illustrations for a new edition of his Idylls of the Kings. Cameron willingly accepted the assignment. Costuming family and friends

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere: In 1874 Tennyson asked Cameron to make photographic illustrations for a new edition of his Idylls of the Kings. Cameron willingly accepted the assignment. Costuming family and friends

Pomona: The Roman goddess of gardens and fruit trees. Here, Alice Liddell (1852¿1934) who, as a child, was Lewis Carroll¿s muse and frequent photographic model - posed for Cameron a dozen times in August and September 1872

Pomona: The Roman goddess of gardens and fruit trees. Here, Alice Liddell (1852¿1934) who, as a child, was Lewis Carroll¿s muse and frequent photographic model - posed for Cameron a dozen times in August and September 1872

King Lear Alotting His Kingdom to His Three Daughters: The three Liddell sisters¿Lorina, Elizabeth, and Alice¿posed with the photographer¿s husband playing the tragically deceived King Lear in one of Cameron¿s few Shakespearean compositions

King Lear Alotting His Kingdom to His Three Daughters: The three Liddell sisters¿Lorina, Elizabeth, and Alice¿posed with the photographer¿s husband playing the tragically deceived King Lear in one of Cameron¿s few Shakespearean compositions

Mrs. Herbert Duckworth: The success of this portrait of Julia Jackson, lies partly in its subject¿s actual beauty and partly in the way the photographer modeled it to suggest Christian and classical ideals of purity, strength, and grace

Mrs. Herbert Duckworth: The success of this portrait of Julia Jackson, lies partly in its subject¿s actual beauty and partly in the way the photographer modeled it to suggest Christian and classical ideals of purity, strength, and grace

Sir John Herschel: Sir John Herschel (1792¿1871) was Victorian England¿s preeminent scientist, astronomer, and mathematician, considered the equal of Sir Isaac Newton. Cameron met him in 1836 in Capetown, South Africa

Sir John Herschel: Sir John Herschel (1792¿1871) was Victorian England¿s preeminent scientist, astronomer, and mathematician, considered the equal of Sir Isaac Newton. Cameron met him in 1836 in Capetown, South Africa

 

 

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