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I wanted to visit the Victorian London in Photographs exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives, which I became aware of thanks to The Exhibitionologist’s excellent review. The LMA is open late several nights a week, so I headed down after work.

The exhibition consists of selected images from the LMA collections, photographs taken in the nineteenth century from 1839, when photography first arrived in London. Though small, it is a rich collection, consisting of portraits and street scenes, people at work and at leisure. One of my favourite sections consisted of actors and actresses, including Henry Irving and William Terriss, the latter murdered outside the Adelphi stage door by a disgruntled actor. Another was a collection of images of orphan boys, taken before they left for Canada to start new lives. Yet another poignant collection was made up of inmates of the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum.

Less personal, but equally interesting, pictures covered the Crystal Palace, the construction of the Metropolitan Railway, and the Blackwall Tunnel. The earliest images captured ancient inns, roadways and other buildings which had grown up since the Great Fire, and which are no longer around. We have the Society for Photographing Old Relics of London to thank for this: founded in 1875, they could not stop the demolition of these beautiful old buildings in the name of “progress”, but they could, and did, capture them on camera.

Many buildings from the Victorian period were destroyed in the Blitz, and new construction means that modern-day London looks very different from its Victorian counterpart, as two contrasting images taken from the same spot demonstrate. However, there are still recognisable elements to be seen in the pictures, and these clear, crisp images seem to bring the past even closer. A fantastic, free exhibition that is well worth a visit.


London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road