Tag Archives: King Charles Island

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!