London 1976

© 1976, Peter Marshall
The Reading Room at the British Library (British Museum)

1976 was another lean year for my pictures of London, partly because I was still busy on house and garden. But there were other family reasons too, with my first son arriving within hours of my finishing work for the summer holiday in July. He began to make his presence felt as midnight approached, and an ambulance, blue lights flashing, sped us the couple of miles to the maternity unit at Ashford. But after a couple of hours they sent me home, deciding there would be nothing happening until the morning, and it was late the next day when I noticed some unusual activity on the monitor and called the nurse into the room and things really got moving. Soon I was banished as things started to get clinical, and a fainting husband would only have complicated matters.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
The stacks where the books were stored

But before that we’d made a few trips, including a visit to Hull and a week in Amsterdam. In London, one was on Linda’s last day working at the British Museum, and I went up at lunchtime for a quick tour of the place -including that famous Reading Room, still in use and sneaked a couple of pictures in there, and in the stacks where the books were kept. The 35mm f2.8 Minox was a nicely inconspicuous little camera, though the results were a little variable, even after I’d persuaded Leitz (it took some persistence and a trip to Luton) to swap my initial purchase for one with a properly assembled lens. I was doubtless in breach of the Official Secrets Act, but I think these can now be shown.

Linda’s boss at the museum had invited us to go out to lunch, and we walked to a rather expensive Greek restaurant in Fitzrovia. The lunch was pleasant and we got through several bottles of wine too, before Linda and her boss had to go back to put in a token appearance at work. I strolled down to Trafalgar Square and spent half an hour or so taking candid pictures of the tourists with the Minox, which, with a few jokey captions and a bit of a story made a nice article in Amateur Photographer.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
I always travel by tube

Looking at the contact sheet, the wine certainly shows, with some very odd horizons, though there were some pictures where I was ‘shooting from the hip’ to work close and unseen to the subjects.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
I still make it only 15 Brown Owl, and I don’t like the smile on that lion’s face…

Going to anywhere in London away from the centre or the tube was not so easy back in the 1970s, before the advent of the Travelcard. Even on the Tube things were trickier than now as tickets were simply from place A to place B (either single or return) and bus fares depended on how far you were going. Some journeys I might need to buy 3 or 4 separate tickets for, and it was hard to plan journeys. Bus, train and tube route plans or timetables were not widely available (although the tube plan was at least in street atlases) and there were no web sites on which to look things up. But about the only way to get any information about buses was to look on their route boards, ask the conductor or go along to the enquiries office at the bus garage.

Piper’s Companion Guide to London has one of its longer sections on transport in London, much of it now rather like the misleading advice to tourists on ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a Clue’.

Using a bike was one way round this, but again in some ways it was much harder. You could put a bike on some trains, but had to rush along the platform to find the guard and the luggage area where they were allowed – if there were space.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
Our route took us to the Thames at Rotherhithe

© 1976, Peter Marshall
Crops were growing on the dockland at Rotherhithe

We lived a little too far out of London for it to be easy to ride in, though one weekend we made our way from Staines to a green event in the Surrey Docks, at the Surrey Docks Farm which had started the previous year on a 1.5 acre site of derelict dockland between the entrance to Greenland Dock and the River Thames (it moved a short distance from there to a slightly larger site in 1986.)  It was a ride of around 25 miles each way across South London.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
Surrey Docks City Farm was at the entrance to the former South Dock

I think I took a total of 35 frames on the ride and at the farm, with one hopelessly underexposed. Film was still a rather expensive luxury for a young man with a large mortgage expecting soon to become a father.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
Our route back took us along County Way past the waterworks at Hanworth

It was the hottest summer on record, and by the beginning of July we – and particularly a heavily pregnant Linda – were finding it rather a strain, so we didn’t get out a great deal. I had a day out looking at exhibitions in London, taking some rather random street photography, and we enjoyed a trip out to Chiswick House, but I took few pictures. And I’d found a new interest in Family Pictures.

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