A Find…

I’ve never really had much luck with the ‘antiques’ bit of Greenwich Market. I’m convinced that most of the stuff I see on display was in a job lot at the auction the week before for a fraction of the price, and although I always have a poke about, generally I come to the conclusion that much of it’s just (whispers) tat.

But then I made that one find that negates all the times I’ve come away with nothing, and my interest has been rekindled.

The sweet old gent who sold me The Queen’s London – a massively heavy souvenir book of 434 giant photographic plates, a pictorial record of London life at the time of Victoria’s death, told me he was delighted to be selling something that was actually older than he was, and we spent a good 15 minutes flipping through the pictures together before he’d part with it.

It must have cost a fortune when it came out – every page is a full size photograph. It wasn’t dirt cheap now (fifteen quid) but it will keep me happy for hours. That’s the kind of tragic Phantom I am…

It covers all of London, so most of it’s not Greenwich-y, though there are the obligatory pics of the park, the ORNC and a splendidly robust picture of the Royal Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal…

…but I love it all, whether it’s “Luncheon at Ascot,” “Morning Assembly at a Board School,” “Teaching Boys to Swim at Kensington Public Baths” or the rustic charm of Mile End Road.

I particularly like the bits where the photograph didn’t come out very well or there was a boring section, so they just got an artist to pencil-in figures, such as this dapper chap outside the Military Academy at Woolwich:

The picture at the top of this post was taken in May 1897, when the Prince of Wales (“accompanied by his beautiful wife”) arrived at the Northern end of the newly-built Blackwall tunnel, on its official opening day. If you look carefully at the bottom of the photo, the book’s publishers clearly didn’t think the original picture was festive enough, so they’ve got their pet artist to draw some extra bunting and another policeman on horseback for good measure…

Just out of interest, the plate facing this scene in the book is ( off-topic, I know, but you’ve got to see this…) the Field Lane refuge in Clerkenwell, showing a couple of hundred derelicts in flat caps and shaggy beards being doled out mugs of something from a watering can, the poor sods’ only solace being quotes from the Scriptures. The Queen’s London is impressed – “there are no forms of philanthropy more admirable,” it gushes.

Eeek.

So – don’t give up on Greenwich Market’s ‘antique’ days. There are gems to be found. It just takes some dedication – and patience…


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