London 1975

Although I kept reading David Piper’s Companion Guide to London (see My First London Pictures), it was a while before I got the chance to take another walk from it, not until the following year, 1975. Of course I was doing a demanding full-time job – around 70 hours a week with preparation and marking – as Head of Dept in a large (2000+ students) comprehensive, but I’d also bought a house that was almost a hundred years old and wasn’t in the best of condition.

It had been condemned around 20 years earlier, but then they’d built on a bathroom extension (breeze block and asbestos) and given it a reprieve. And at some point it had gas put in, then rather later electricity. The gas light fittings had been pulled off, leaving bare pipes sticking out of the walls, and the electric didn’t include any light fittings on the first floor – the previous occupiers had relied on the street lamp outside.

The decoration was interesting, with a few nastily ‘modern’ features imposed on top of the old. And of course back around 1880 there were no such thing as cavity walls, and the builders had dug a hole in the back garden for the sand, leaving some rather large stones in the render which made drilling holes in the wall interesting.

I’ve never been a great fan of DIY, but spent most of the next year – when I wasn’t busy excavating the garden – stripping doors, putting battens, glass fibre and plasterboard on external walls, stripping off layer upon layer of wallpaper and then the rather nasty distemper underneath, painting or wallpapering etc. It put me off moving ever again, and we are still in the same house 38 years later.

The garden was in an interesting condition too. Carefully planted with lots of border plants to attract buyers near the house twenty yards down it was a bed of nettles. A foot lower under them was a partly broken layer of concrete, a yard around which there had once been pig sties. It took rather a lot of clearing that sent me to the doctor with back problems.

The Barbican gets a brief mention in Chapter 26

So my photo files for the next year or so are very thin, with most of the pictures being taken when I was away from home, as I made a start on the work that in 1983 became ‘Still Occupied – A View of Hull‘, and London got almost left out of the picture.

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Ely Court off Ely Place also in Chapter 26

Finally I did manage a few more of the walks from the book, around St Paul’s, Bank, the Barbican and Piccadilly Circus, but the pictures were nothing special. It was only when I took a brief walk to follow up from my pictures the previous year in Wapping that things began to get just a little more interesting.

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Wapping High St just gets a mention in a final ‘Points of Interest Beyond’

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Scandrett St,Wapping

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Pierhead, Wapping

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Downriver view from St Katherine’s Dock entrance

Piper’s book was a good introduction, full of sometimes interesting anecodote, and the walks in it helped to get me to see London, but as a photographer I needed something different. Perhaps a map of the Berlin Underground would have helped, but I didn’t have one, but what I really needed to do was to simply follow my own path, wandering where things looked interesting. Books – and the Piper was the first of what is now a large collection – were often useful after the event to tell me what some of the buildings I had photographed were, but were not going to tell me what was worth me photographing.

© 1975, Peter Marshall
A new arrival at Key House, Vauxhall

Piper’s book is still worth reading, in part as a reminder of so much that has been lost. The photographs in it are generally workmanlike, but some have a little more to them, and I wasn’t surprised on turning to the credits to find quite a few by Edwin Smith and Eric de Maré, two of the better British photographers of the era in which it was written. I’ve written about both of them in the past, but those features are no longer available on-line.

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