British photographic history

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London in Black & White: A Photographic Celebration - New Exhibition Opens at Tower Bridge. Images from London Metropolitan Archives of life, people and places from the late 1800s to early 1940s. Visitors to the Tower Bridge Exhibition will have the chance to see a collection of rare images from London’s black and white past when a new photographic exhibition opens on Thursday 30 June in the West Walkway. The 60 images sourced from London Metropolitan Archives offer visitors the chance to step back in time as far back as the late 1800s and immerse themselves in the rich seam of history that surrounds Tower Bridge, the Pool of London and the surrounding areas.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for London Metropolitan Archives to show just some of the gems in the photograph collections we manage and care for,” said Deborah Jenkins, Assistant Director of the City of London’s department of Libraries, Archives and Guildhall Art Gallery. “The power of an old black & white photograph to capture the viewer’s attention and draw them into the scene is quite incredible; the fascination they hold is like an invisible thread that keeps us in touch with the past and induces a feeling of continuity and sense into our busy 21st century lives.”

The photographs have been chosen to represent six categories of London life: Tower Bridge, waterways, work, life, buildings and boats. The shot chosen as the main publicity image is of St Paul’s Cathedral seen behind an early 20th century river frontage that is very different to the present day structures – today, the newest river crossing the Millennium Bridge stretches across the Thames in this very spot.

The hardship of working life is clearly seen on the faces of the men and women as they go about their daily routines before motors and mechanisms lifted the burden from their shoulders; a woman single-handedly pulling a barge along the canal at Camden’s Hawley Lock and men lugging enormous barrels off cargo ships and onto the docks to be stored in ranks portray the tough physical demands they faced every day, just to make a living.

But it wasn’t all nose to the grindstone; children playing with hoops, mothers relaxing with little children in the sun and boys skinny dipping in the river depict a leisure time that appears calm and unhurried, peacefully devoid of the over-stimulation that drives us today.

“There couldn’t be a better venue for this exhibition than Tower Bridge,” said Tower Bridge director David Wight. “Some of the locations shown in the photographs can be seen from the Walkways which adds a unique dimension to the experience. Tower Bridge is a potent symbol of the rich historical significance of the City, surrounding area and the River Thames so the opportunity to be able to share this with visitors from both home and abroad was unmissable.”

Many of the images included in the exhibition have been recently digitised by London Metropolitan Archives in partnership with ‘New Deal of the Mind’, a Future Jobs Fund project which provides internships for young unemployed people in cultural organisations. “We’re delighted that a number of the images included in ‘London in Black and White’ were prepared by our team of interns and look forward to sharing these incredible photographs with visitors to Tower Bridge and via our Flickr pages on the internet,” said Deborah Jenkins.

London in Black & White replaces the River Thames: Source to Sea photographic exhibition which has been taking Tower Bridge visitors on a pictorial journey along the 215 mile length of the River Thames in the West Walkway for the past year.

London Metropolitan Archives, like Tower Bridge, is part of the City of London Corporation. It holds an extraordinary range of collections and records from a wide range of public and private organisations that represent an important part of London life, its past, present and future. The collection dates from medieval times to the present day and is ever-expanding – at the moment there are enough documents to fill around 78 km worth of shelving! The majority of items held by the LMA can be freely viewed by the public.

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