Category Archives: Glimpse of the past

Glimpse of the past…. Eerie Mannequins, a Halloween Special

In March 1925 a huge fire erupted at Madame Tussauds, the famous waxwork museum on Marylebone Road.

The fire at Madame Tussauds, March 1925 (image: Copyright London Illustrated News)

So intense was the blaze that flames leapt up to 5o feet into  the air and, according to a report in the Manchester Guardian, one eyewitness who lived opposite said the “wax models could be distinctly heard sizzling.

The two unsettling images below depict damaged dummies which were salvaged from the building’s smouldering ruins.

Sleep tight….

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Glimpse of the past…Puppy Seller, Shoreditch 1946

It’ll sound unethical (and rightly so) to today’s sensibilities, but for many years Club Row in Shoreditch hosted a pet market every Sunday where punters could buy anything from the tiniest of birds to a fully grown monkey. In 1953 journalist Kaye Webb wrote that “A cacophony of whimpers, yaps, yelps and just plain barking will guide you to the spot…

The market survived until 1983 when new laws banning the sale of live animals on the street were introduced.

The photograph below was taken by the American Life magazine in 1946.

Puppy seller, Club Row 1946 (copyright Life Magazine)

Buffing Nelson’s Column

Londoners of a certain age- and indeed others who’ve visited the capital in years gone by- will remember how Trafalgar Square used to swarm with pigeons. Thousands of them. There was even a family-run stall in the square which sold bird seed to entice the critters.

Myself amongst Trafalgar Square’s pigeons in the early 1980s

Thanks to a clean-up initiative introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone at the turn of the 21st century however, the pigeons have since flocked elsewhere, robbing the square of its ornithological character. It’s now easy to forget just how prevalent those tough little city birds were.

Pigeons at Trafalgar Square (copyright The Daily Herald)

When they ruled the roost the pigeons made quite a mess and it was the statue of Naval hero, Lord Horatio Nelson, standing at the centre of Trafalgar Square, which bore the brunt of their droppings. Consequently his statue often required a scrub- easier said than done when said sculpture is perched upon a 170 ft column.

Nelson’s Column as seen from the National Gallery

The chaps responsible for maintaining Nelson’s statue in days gone by were hardy blokes for sure; scaling the dizzying heights with steeplejack knowhow and practically zero safety gear. Their boldness was famously highlighted in 1977 when legendary children’s TV presenter, John Noakes– who sadly died on the 29th May 2017- joined them up top for an episode of Blue Peter. Just watching John scale the rickety ladders is enough to make your palms sweat… click below to view if you dare!

This wasn’t the only time the hair-raising process of cleaning Nelson’s Column was captured on film- please click below to view earlier footage which appears to date from the late 1950s/early 60s.