Photos Of London In The 1980s Show A Very Different City

By M@ Last edited 20 months ago

Last Updated 29 November 2022

Photos Of London In The 1980s Show A Very Different City
A punk woman with a large blond Mohican hair style stands in front of a K6 red phone box. A second punk-style woman with Young Einstein hair is in the background

The 1980s seems so recent, and yet London in that decade was a very different place.

New book 1980s London: Portrait of a Decade of Change shines a light on a city where the hair is a little longer, the walls are a little grimier and the streets have not yet been corporatised into sterility.

Author Alec Forshaw introduces around 200 photographs from the decade, taken mostly by his friend and colleague Theo Bergström (sadly no longer with us).

It's a beguiling collection, showing a city undergoing great change: "This was the era of the Big Bang and deregulation of the financial institutions in the City, the abandonment of Fleet Street by the newspaper industry, the demise of the GLC, the beginning of regeneration in Docklands, and the last days of old Billingsgate Market. While some areas witnessed gentrification, spiralling property prices and a myriad of new places to eat out, other places like Brixton and Tottenham were recovering from riots."

We've selected 10 representative images below, to give you a feel for the book. The captions are adapted from those of Forshaw.

A colourful street scene full of people with red umbrellas on the right outside a pub
Westminster City Council repaved Carnaby Street with jazzy coloured tiles, to enhance its reputation as a ‘centre of fashion’, but it was hard to shed its tawdry image.
An old caravan in front of a Wren brick-and-stone church, in black and white.
In the early 1980s the ‘prayer caravan’ was a curious feature of the forecourt of St James’s, Piccadilly, but by the end of the decade had been replaced by retail stalls. The stonework of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece was still caked in centuries of black soot.
A small protest outside a rusticated Portland stone building
Throughout the whole of the decade an anti-apartheid vigil continued outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square, campaigning for the release of Nelson Mandela.
A large crowd huddles round a book stall. Three-storey buildings can be seen across the Fleet valley
The Farringdon Road book market was run by the indefatigable George Jefferies (seen here carrying a bundle of books). The elegant building behind had been used by Booth’s gin distillery as a warehouse, and was converted into studios in 1984, with the famous Turnmills bar and nightclub in its cavernous basements.
An ad hoc market stall sees a person bend over to inspect clothing while the stall holder sits down looking to camera
North of the Marylebone Road there were still surprising pockets of poverty, such as the Bell Street second-hand market, a quiet backwater but with the ramp to the beginning of the Westway flyover in the background.
Graffiti on a wall says London Needs Another Office Block Like It Needs Another Plague
A market had started up at Swiss Cottage as a temporary affair while arguments raged over how the vacant land should be developed. The protestors eventually ensured that a permanent market was created next to the new development.
A man in a raincoat, hands in pockets, walks along a street of rag-tag antiques, with a 70s-style car parked behind him
The northern end of Portobello Road was far from affluent, as the antiques and objets d’art stalls transformed into second-hand junk, and the buildings facing the street became shabby.
Various people walk up and down a litter-strewn street. Posters for an Antique Fair are on a corrugated wall

On Sunday mornings the northern end of Brick Lane, Sclater Street, Cheshire Street and the alleys and courts off them, were taken over by the sprawling second-hand market. It was a melting pot for the growing local Bangladeshi community, the longer-established Jewish community, and others who came from far and wide in search of a bargain. The range of goods on sale was extraordinary, and very often prices were not fixed but subject to haggling. Until its abolition in 1994 the buying and selling of goods was also protected here by ‘market overt’, which enabled stolen goods to change hands without recourse.

A large war ship (HMS Belfast) floats on the murky Thames. Part demolished industrial buildings can be seen behind.
Taken in 1986 from the viewing platform of the Monument in the City, looking across the river to what is now More London, it is a landscape of deserted warehouses and vacant sites, covered in a sprinkling of snow.

1980s London: Portrait of a Decade of Change is out now from Amberley Publishing.

Front cover of 1980s London: Portrait of a Decade, shows a black and white image of a tatty street with no buildings on the right, and parked cars