The Old Clothes of St. Giles in Seven Dials, London, ca. 1877

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This vintage photograph represents a second-hand clothes shop in a narrow thoroughfare of St. Giles, appropriately called Lumber Court, where several similar tradesmen are grouped together, all dealing in old clothes and furniture of a most varied and dilapidated description. It is here that the poorest inhabitants of a district, renowned for its poverty, both buy and sell their clothes.

Photographer John Thomson (1837–1921) used the ‘Woodburytype’ process patented in 1864 for the images in Street Life in London, including this photograph. This was a type of photomechanical reproduction using pigmented gelatin, usually of a rich purple-brown color. The process was complicated but remained popular until about 1900 because of the high quality and permanence of the finished images.
The people in the pictures were arranged or posed by Thomson to form interesting compositions. However, the results were often naturalistic because the subjects and surroundings were always authentic.
St Giles is an area in the West End of London. It gets its name from the parish church of St Giles in the Fields. The combined parishes of St Giles in the Fields and St George Bloomsbury (which was carved out of the former) were administered jointly for many centuries; leading to the conflation of the two, with much or all of St Giles usually taken to be a part of Bloomsbury. Points of interest include the church of St Giles in the Fields, Seven Dials, the Phoenix Garden and St Giles Circus. The area falls within the London Borough of Camden local authority area.

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