London in Vivid Color 125 Years Ago: See Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, Tower Bridge & Other Famous Landmarks in Photocrom Prints

“When a man is tired of Lon­don,” Samuel John­son so famous­ly said, “he is tired of life.” Of course, P.J. O’Rourke lat­er added that “he might just be tired of shab­by, sad crowds, low-income hous­ing that looks worse than the weath­er, and tat­too-faced, spike-haired pea brains on the dole,” but then, every­one expe­ri­ences the Eng­lish cap­i­tal a bit dif­fer­ent­ly. John­son’s Lon­don, the Lon­don of the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, looks to some like a city at its zenith; oth­ers might even think the same about the Lon­don O’Rourke made fun of in the 1980s. Every era in Lon­don is a gold­en age to some­one.

Today, we offer a vivid glimpse into anoth­er dis­tinct peri­od in Lon­don his­to­ry, the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, by way of the Library of Con­gress’ col­lec­tion of pho­tocrom prints. A few years ago we fea­tured images of Venice cap­tured with the same col­orized-pho­tog­ra­phy process, which pro­duced what the Library of Con­gress describes as ink-based images made with “the direct pho­to­graph­ic trans­fer of an orig­i­nal neg­a­tive onto litho and chro­mo­graph­ic print­ing plates.”

They may “look decep­tive­ly like col­or pho­tographs,” but “when viewed with a mag­ni­fy­ing glass the small dots that com­prise the ink-based pho­to­me­chan­i­cal image are vis­i­ble. The pho­to­me­chan­i­cal process per­mit­ted mass pro­duc­tion of the vivid col­or prints.”

The late nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry saw the emer­gence of a robust mar­ket for pho­tocrom prints, “sold at tourist sites and through mail order cat­a­logs to globe trot­ters, arm­chair trav­el­ers, edu­ca­tors, and oth­ers to pre­serve in albums or put on dis­play.” Hence, per­haps, the focus on Lon­don sites of touris­tic appeal: Tow­er Bridge, Trafal­gar Square, the British Muse­um, and even the ful­ly out­fit­ted “Yeo­man of the Guard” you see just above. But print also (and by appear­ances more cor­rect­ly) describes him as a “Beefeater,” the pop­u­lar name for the dif­fer­ent body of cer­e­mo­ni­al tow­er guardians the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Roy­al Palace and Fortress the Tow­er of Lon­don, and Mem­bers of the Sov­er­eign’s Body Guard of the Yeo­man Guard Extra­or­di­nary. (Got that?)

You can browse, and in var­i­ous for­mats down­load, the 33 images in the Library of Con­gress’ Lon­don pho­tocrom print col­lec­tion here. They all date from between 1890 and 1900, as do the near­ly 1000 images in their Eng­land pho­tocrom print col­lec­tion, whose loca­tions extend far beyond Lon­don. Go to Eng­land today and you’ll notice how much has changed in the past 125 or so years, of course, but how much has­n’t. Grum­bling being some­thing of a nation­al sport over there, espe­cial­ly in Lon­don, the trav­el­er hears no end of com­plaints about how the city and coun­try have gone to the dogs, but can also take some com­fort in the fact that, even back in the pic­turesque pho­tocrom era, peo­ple were air­ing all the same gripes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion Lets You Fly Through 17th Cen­tu­ry Lon­don

1927 Lon­don Shown in Mov­ing Col­or

Lon­don Mashed Up: Footage of the City from 1924 Lay­ered Onto Footage from 2013

2,000 Years of London’s His­tor­i­cal Devel­op­ment, Ani­mat­ed in 7 Min­utes

Venice in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images 125 Years Ago: The Rial­to Bridge, St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, Doge’s Palace & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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