Photographs of Spitalfields a century ago

Much has been made of how rapidly the landscape of east London has shifted.

Artillery Lane, towards Artillery Passage
Artillery Lane, towards Artillery Passage

It’s fascinating, then to see how Spitalfields – the space between commuter-crammed Liverpool Street, tourist-packed Brick Lane and the bright lights of Shoreditch – looked more than 100 years ago.

Bell Lane, towards Crispin Street
Bell Lane, towards Crispin Street

A show opening this week at London’s Eleven Spitalfieds gallery is showcasing a series of photographs from 1912.

Crispin Street, towards Spitalfieds market
Crispin Street, towards Spitalfieds market

The images were all captured on one day – Saturday 20 April, 1912 – by C.A Mathew, though their purpose remains unknown to this day.

White Lion Street
White Lion Street

The photographer lived in Essex’s Brightlingsea, and according to the gallery, had only taken up the discipline a year before he captured these images. He died in 1916, and the images have been preserved in the Bishopsgate Institute archive and restored by contemporary Spitalfields photographer Jeremy Freedman.

We love the unposed spontaneity of the images, capturing people going about their days, like this flat-capped chap on the right, at Norton Folgate:

Norton Folgate, towards Shoreditch.
Norton Folgate, towards Shoreditch.

The picture of Widegate Street, meanwhile, shows that the narrow passage is largely unchanged today:

Widegate Street.
Widegate Street.

One of the highlights of the show is this wonderful photograph of Crispin Street, with curious – if slightly confused- looking – children gathering in front of Mathews as he takes his shot:

C.A Matthews :Photographs of Spitalfields a Century ago runs from 6 March – 25 April at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery, 11 Princelet Street
, Spitalfields, 
London ­ E1

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