Cabbie’s Curios: London’s Earliest Photograph

Can you imagine just how many photographs of London have been taken over the years, both by professional snappers and casual clickers?

If it were at all possible to produce such a figure, I’m sure it would be even higher than the number currently associated with the level of debt held by Greece (about 340 Billion Euros at the moment; give or take a cent!)

I sometimes find myself wondering how many of those London photos I’ve accidentally appeared in? How many albums, created by tourists from all over the world, contain unintentional pics of myself, my family and friends?

Every single time I venture into London; both for cabbing and leisure, it’s inevitable that I’ll be caught in the background of some picture or other, so prevalent are cameras in our highly photogenic capital.

When I’m out working, this number increases, as the London Taxi is a tourist attraction in its own right. Not a day goes by when I don’t spot at least one tourist pointing a camera in my direction and, on some occasions, I’m even asked to pose! Gosh, it’s like being a celebrity sometimes!

Bearing such things in mind, I find the following image almost impossible to comprehend…

I give you, London’s earliest surviving photograph:

This picture was taken in 1839.

To put that into some context, Queen Victoria had only been on the throne for two years, and Charles Dickens’ early novel, Oliver Twistwas fresh off the press, having being published only a year before.

Frederic Chopin and Giuseppe Verdi were actively composing music, and JMW Turner was the talk of London’s art scene. 

The photograph is essentially a tourist snap, captured by Frenchman, ‘M de St Croix‘, who’d travelled to London in order to demonstrate the new-fangled science of photography, which was being pioneered back home by his fellow countryman, Louis Daguerre

The scene depicts a statue of King Charles I on horseback, which was sculpted in 1633 by another French fellow called Hubert Le Seur (after the King was executed in 1649, this statue was buried and hidden by John Rivet; a metal worker and secret Royalist. Upon the Restoration of the monarchy, he dug it up and presented it to a grateful King Charles II). 

If you wish to see the statue today, it’s very easy to find- just head for Trafalgar Square, where you’ll find it looking pretty much the same, gazing down towards Whitehall, and proudly perched in front of Nelson’s column (which hadn’t even been built when this pioneering photograph was taken!)

Today, the location is called ‘King Charles Island‘, and this long-surviving statue, now besieged by roaring circles of traffic, marks the official centre of London, from which all distances to the British Capital are measured.


Funnily enough, I took my very first photograph of London a few feet away from King Charles Island. It was quite a few years after M de St Croix’s shot though… I snapped this one back in September 1986! 

13 responses

  1. 1986 – two years before I arrived. I hate that it looks so old now. The camera shop in particular looks ancient to me, and the little blue car. But hey, not as old as the first snap. Amazing shot! I also enjoyed your insight on how photographed London is, and rightly so. Isn’t it strange when you think of how many personal photo boxes you may be in?

    By the way, cheers for the including me on your blogroll in the sidebar.


    1. No problem, Melissa and thanks for the kind words.

      Although not that long ago in historical terms, I do find the photo I took in 1986 a world away from the London of today, especially the old-fashioned camera shop and simple, little cars! As the saying goes, “the past is a foreign country.”

      We’ve got an old, silent cine-film somewhere which was taken on that same day (the occasion being my Canadian cousin, Lisa’s visit to London- that’s her in the red jumper). In it, I can be seen jumping up and down in front of Big Ben (which never changes!) and we also have pictures of us standing outside 10 Downing Street, in the days when there was practically zero security!

      And to put it into context, 1986 was the year in which the ‘Eurythmics’ were in the charts, and Peter Gabriel released ‘Sledgehammer.’ David Bowie’s movie, ‘Labyrinth‘ was playing in cinemas, as was the antipodean movie, ‘Crocodile Dundee‘!

    2. I vacationed in London from 8/17/86 to 8/24/86. I was in that spot just weeks ahead of you. Thanks for posting the photo.

      1. Wow! Thanks for that, great comment 😀

  2. I like the fact they needed health and safety railings around the base of the statue to stop the drunks back then. Nothing changes 🙂

    Lovely picture!

  3. […] The blog featured this week tells the experiences of a London taxi driver. It’s called View From The Mirror and you can see it here. Not only is it interesting to find out the weird and wonderful experiences that the London cabbie has on a regular basis, such as having to play the part of an ambulance service taxiing a increasingly sick girl to A&E, but due to the test that all cabbies in London have to take called The Knowledge, in which they must learn every inch of the capital, it’s also packed with lots of fun trivia about London that you can’t find anywhere else, such as a post about London’s earliest photograph. […]

  4. Finally got a chance to read this today, and as always, i learned something new!!! awaiting your next installment!

  5. Great story. Thanks.

  6. I find this picture and your description absolutely fascinating. Thank you very much.

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