Posts Tagged ‘dancers’

The Sultan’s Elephant, Buddha’s Birthday & May Queens

Friday, May 6th, 2022

The Sultan’s Elephant, Buddha’s Birthday & May Queens – Satiurday May 6th was another varied day for me.


The Sultan’s Elephant – Westminster

Just why does it take so many people to drive an elephant when one elephant can do it on its own?” was the question that came to me while watching the Sultan’s Elephant making its ponderous way around central London. The 12 metre high mechanical elephant, along with the Little Princess was constructed by French company Royal De Luxe and appeared to have around 20 drivers as well as a cast of under-employed actors.

And, as I commented, “it did occur to me to ask why the Arts Council was spending so much of our money on guys who wanted to play with big toys.” Rather than art it seemed to me to be “more or less a larger version of model railways to me, or perhaps even more a simplistic version of a computer game fantasy made manifiest” and little about art. “More Disneyland.”


Buddha’s 2550th Birthday – Leicester Square

A quarter of a mile to the north, celebrations were taking place in Chinatown of Buddha’s 2,550th birthday, organised by London Fo Guang Temple, one of two UK branches of the Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan Order who have a temple in Margaret St in a rather nice Grade II listed former Parish School and Church House designed by William Butterfield and built in 1868-70.

The festival was continuing over two days, but I only stayed for around an hour, photographing a colourful procession which included two lions and the Mayor of Westminster.


Chislehurst May Queen Ceremonies – Chislehurst

Chislehurst is around ten miles from the centre of London, in Kent until brought into Greater London on the edge of the London Borough of Bromley in 1965. Fortunately trains from Charing Cross go there in around half an hour, which makes it a popular commuter town, and took me there, where I had been invited by the organisers of the Chislehurst May Queen to photograph their May Queen Ceremonies.

Traditionally May had been a time when the New Year and Spring was celebrated, when young men and women danced together and often rather more, and a queen of the may was chosen to lead the event. Oliver Cromwell banned the celebrations as sinful pagan events, and although they came back after the restoration the events slowly died out or became more formal.

As I noted: “There was a revival of interest in old customs in the Victorian era, with various ‘Merrie England’ events being organised. Some schools had maypoles and learnt the dances and many Sunday Schools had their may queens who often took a leading part in Whit Walks.

I became interested in these continuing events in 2005, going to photograph the Merrie England and London May Queen Festival at Hayes, Kent (also in LB Bromley.) It was the start of a project that led to my self-published book London’s May Queens (ISBN: 978-1-909363-06-9) and almost to a major museum exhibition, plans for which fell through at the last hurdle.


London's May Queens

Book Preview

The book preview contains an essay on the history of London’s May Queens and a number of photographs from various May Queen events. Although print copies of the book are expensive you can purchase a reasonably priced PDF version.


But putting the pictures from this first event I photographed in 2005 on-line attracted a great deal of interest, particularly among the families involved, and led to me being invited to other events such as this at Chislehurst, who were particularly keen that I should photograph their proper maypole dancing.

Last year’s Queen crowns the new May Queen

As I explain on My London Diary, “Any girl five or over who lives or has grandparents who live in Chislehurst can join the retinue. They then work their way up the ranks, with the oldest girl of the year of joining having the choice of being Queen or Prince. Several months of twice-weekly rehearsals are required, and as well as the festival they also perform at other events.” From the various ‘realms’ such as Chislehurst, the girls then move on to become a part of the London May Queen group. The Chislehurst group is now open to both boys and girls.

Chislehurst first took part in the London May Queen festival in 1923, ten years after it was founded by Dulwich schoolmaster Joseph Deedy in 2013 – there is more of the history in my book. Their festival involved other groups in the area and seemed very much a community festival. It ended with a tea for the May Queen group in the Methodist church hall, and I waited for the May Queen to cut the cake with the help of her ‘Prince’ before leaving to catch the train back home.

I’m pleased to see that the Chislehust May Queen Society is still continuing – and has a Facebook group and a web site. They will be crowning their 99th May Queen tomorrow, as usual on the first Saturday of May.


More on all these events on the May 2006 page of My London Diary.


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All photographs on this page are copyright © Peter Marshall. Contact me to buy prints or licence to reproduce.


Notting Hill Carnival 2006

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Children’s Day 2006

I’d missed Carnival in 2005 for the first year since 1990. I’d tried to get there despite a painful knee injury a few days earlier, but had had to abandon the journey; the quarter mile walk from home to railway station ending with me collapsing in pain and deciding it just wasn’t possible.

Children’s Day 2006

By 2006 I had a considerably improved camera, the Nikon D200, still DX APS-C format (Nikon were still adamant it was all you needed) but with a hugely improved viewfinder and 10.2Mp. And a rather wider range of lenses, though for carnival I only took the remarkably versatile Nikon 18-200mm zoom (equivalent to 27-300mm). Looking at the full-size images its hard to fault the lens quality, though it had more distortion than prime lenses, but this was of no consequence for these pictures.

Notting Hill Carnival 2006

The other big change was in processing software. Pixmantec had brought out its ‘Raw Shooter’ software and it was streets ahead of anything else. So good that Adobe had just bought out the company as it couldn’t face the competition. Even though this gave them the Pixmantec raw processing engine it was some years and several versions of Lightroom later that reached a similar level.

Notting Hill Carnival 2006

As in most years I went to Notting Hill on both the Sunday – Children’s Day – and the Bank Holiday Monday for the Carnival proper. I’d photographed the Sri Mahalakshmi Temple Chariot Festival earlier on Sunday, as well as taking a few pictures around Stratford, so I didn’t arrive until after 2pm on the first day, and for some reason I only put a few of the pictures on My London Diary. But there are rather more from Monday, and I’d decided to concentrate more on the actual procession than in most earlier years.

Notting Hill Carnival 2006
Notting Hill Carnival 2006

More pictures on My London Diary.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Notting Hill Carnival 2003

Monday, August 30th, 2021

Notting Hill 2003

2003 was the first year I photographed Notting Hill Carnival using a DSLR, a Nikon D100. It was primitive by current standards with a small, dim viewfinder image and on 6.1Mp with a half-frame size sensor. Nikon at the time swore that what they called the APS-C sensor was all that you needed for a professional digital camera, and although they were right, later brought out ‘full-frame’ cameras to keep up with the Canons and others in what was really a marketing rather than technology led decision.

Notting Hill 2003

I’d switched to Nikon for the D100 but was still also using various Leica mount film cameras as well as occasionally my pair of Olympus OM4 cameras for both of which I still had a range of lenses from 15mm to 90mm for Leica and 21 to 200mm for Olympus. But for the Nikon all I had was a 24-80 zoom, bought largely because it was one of the cheapest Nikon lenses available. On the smaller sensor this was equivalent to 36-120mm full-frame, so meant I was working with no really wide lens.

Notting Hill 2003

The colour quality of these images is also rather limited, not by the camera but mainly by the raw processing software then available and also by my relative inexperience in using it. If I have time one day I will find the raw files from my backup disks and reprocess them. But although I think they are a little drab I think they still show the carnival spirit.

Notting Hill 2003
Notting Hill 2003
Notting Hill 2003
Notting Hill 2003

And here’s just one I rather like from the following year – by which time I and the processing software had improved a little.

Notting Hill 2004

More at the bottom of the August 2003 My London Diary Diary page
And for those from August 2004.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Dancing and Dereliction – TQ30

Saturday, June 6th, 2020

North of Covent Garden in the 1km wide strip of London in TQ30 we come into the areas of St Pancras in LB Camden (which includes Kings Cross) and Pentonville in Islington which were largely outside the tourist zone, apart from housing a number of hotels, none of which appear in my colour pictures from 1986-93.

Printer, Kings Cross Rd, St Pancras,1990 TQ3083-057

Businesses here catered for London, and many were failing thanks to changes in technology and the de-industrialisation of our economy. A large swathe was blighted by plans for development of the railway lands, including much outside the actual rail areas that were threatened by demolition, though thanks to local opposition much has so far been saved.

Wellers Court, Somers Town, 1990TQ3083-048

North of Kings Cross there was to be wholesale demolition, and even listed buildings were not safe. The gasholders that were such a prominent landmark in the area were soon to be dismantled, with some being re-erected some distance away on the opposite side of the canal.

Gasholder, Pancras Rd, Kings Cross, 1990 TQ3083-030

And the dancers on the side of Stanley Buildings were having their final dance before they and the other nearby buildings were demolished.

Dancers, Stanley Buildings, Kings Cross, 1990TQ3083-009

Perhaps surprisingly I took few pictures of the Regent’s Canal in colour, though rather more in black and white, but I had photographed around here fairly extensively in the previous few years and perhaps felt I had little more to say.

Works, Albert Wharf, New Wharf Rd, Pentonville, 1986 TQ3083-021

But it was good to have a picture of the road side of Charles Bartlett, Export Packers & Shippers, whose chimney and works dominate this stretch of the canal.

Door and Brooms, Caledonian Rd, Pentonville, 1990TQ3083-064

But the road that fascinated me most was the Caledonian Road and its side streets, as a number of the pictures here show. You can see these and others on the third page of my album TQ30 London Cross-section.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.