Eugenia Russell, editor of The British Isles in Colour: Southern England and the Channel Islands, takes us back to London 1900, by way of incredible images taken in 'Photochrom'.
Our vision of the past from old photographs tends to be a black and white one. Early photographers were keen to portray the world in its colourful glory but this was difficult and expensive. Before true colour photography became commercially available in the 1930s, a Swiss chemist, Hans Jakob Schmid (1856–1924), invented Photochrom, a lithographic technique that applied colour to a black and white image.
The heyday of the Photochrom, between 1890 and 1910, was dominated by two publishing companies, Photoglob Zürich AG and the Detroit Publishing Company, Michigan, operating under licence. They bought in existing black and white negatives for colourisation and also commissioned photographers to go out and capture scenic views aimed at cashing in on the burgeoning tourist industry for use as prints and postcards.
The result was an extensive archive from interesting, picturesque and exotic locations including America, Europe and further afield in Asia and Africa. They give us a collection of beautiful images as well as a valuable historic resource.
Seaside, tourist attractions and striking landscapes were popular, but so too were important cities and cultural landmarks. To capture the vibrancy of London — the nation's capital and a world city — in colour was a must and the results are stunning.
The seven images here shows major landmarks of London brought to life in colour as they were around 1900. These busy, lively scenes capture the metropolitan character of the great city and the energy and endeavour of those in it.
Everybody in these streets can be seen teaming with life and activity. Purposeful businessmen, policemen, well-prepared people carrying umbrellas in case the weather changes, ladies in impressive dresses — notice that pretty much everybody is wearing a hat! The majestic architecture for which the city of London is famous can also be enjoyed in these images.
One of the most iconic sites of London, Piccadilly Circus, opened in 1819. Connecting Piccadilly with Regent Street, at the heart of the West End with its shops and theatres, it is presided over by the famous Eros statue erected in 1893, not long before this image was taken (though 'Eros' is probably a misnomer.) The monument was moved from its original position after the second world war.
The view of Hyde Park Corner, at the other end of Piccadilly, on the other hand looks more sedate, with the Georgian Apsley House, the one-time home of the Duke of Wellington, and the screen built by Decimus Burton in 1823 as a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace.
The three river scenes underline the importance of the Thames in the life of Londoners. The peak period of the paddle-steamer taking passengers on the Thames was already over, but a brisk trade could still be had in the summer months taking sightseers past Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The horse-drawn buses, trams, cabs and carts on London Bridge remind us that stables were common throughout the city at that time, and several are still in existence today. The large goods vehicles would use nets to prevent their wares from falling off. Society ladies would make social calls to friends or visit the shops in their carriages to avoid getting their fine clothes dirty on the heaving London streets. Many hotels and inns kept their own horse-drawn vehicles.
Traffic jams were common, especially on the bridges. The 'new' London Bridge built in 1831, replaced the old medieval bridge that could no longer cope. It was in turn superseded in 1967 and sold to Lake Havasu City, Arizona where it now stands.
The older looking Tower Bridge, built in the 'Gothic style', opened in 1894, close to when the photograph here would have been taken. The growth of the East End and the docks further downstream meant there was a need for a new river crossing, but a traditional fixed bridge would have prohibited the passage of sailing ships into the Pool of London up to London Bridge.
The bustling view of Cheapside in the City of London, originally the site of a market, has been greatly altered since its destruction during the blitz, but some of the character of the view of the iconic Royal Exchange, built in the 1840s, with the corner of the Bank of England (although modernised in the 1920s), still exists.
These beautiful early photographs of London are included in The British Isles in Colour: Southern England and the Channel Islands. The book features the counties of Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, Berkshire, Oxford, Buckinghamshire and Essex, plus London.
The British Isles in Colour: Southern England and the Channel Islands by Eugenia Russell, published by London Fox Publishing, RRP £16.99