A busy street scene with pedestrians, buses and other vintage vehicles.
A view looking north-east across a busy Piccadilly Circus, London, 1919-20. J J Samuels Limited. Historic England Archive SAM01/01/0024
A view looking north-east across a busy Piccadilly Circus, London, 1919-20. J J Samuels Limited. Historic England Archive SAM01/01/0024

Julian Joseph Samuels Ltd Collection

The Historic England Archive has catalogued a collection of photographs from Julian Joseph Samuels Ltd showing a variety of London streets and landmarks during the first half of the 20th century. The collection is focussed largely on Westminster and the City of London.

Tourist hotspots like Trafalgar Square and London Zoo feature alongside important legal and religious buildings like Lincolns Inn and St Paul's Cathedral. Many of the images in the collection have been digitized and can be viewed online but we have picked out a few of our favourites here.

The photographs were taken by, or possibly for, Julian Joseph Samuels, a postcard dealer based in Westminster. Born in London in 1883, Julian Joseph was one of the six children of Emmanuel Isaac Samuels and his wife Maria. According to census records he was educated at Chatham House School in Ramsgate, Kent before becoming a postcard dealer in the first decade of the 20th century.

During his career Samuels occupied premises along the Strand in Westminster as well as on Piccadilly and Regent Street. The image below shows the front of his shop at 371 Strand around 1900–1910.

Street scenes

Street scenes like this one showing a very congested Bank Junction circa 1905 - 1915 form the back bone of the collection. Here we can see a mixture of motorized and horse-drawn traffic sharing the road, as well as pedestrians trying to navigate their way across. Behind is the Royal Exchange and the old Bank of England building which was demolished in the 1920s. Advertisements are fixed to some of the vehicles and these can give us an insight into popular products, brands and even actors from the period. In some cases, adverts for particular theatre shows have enabled us to narrow the date range for individual photographs in the collection from over a decade to just a few months.

Notable events

In addition to these general street scenes notable events in the Capital like coronations, funerals, jubilees and parades are also recorded in the collection. In this photograph crowds are lining the Strand to watch the procession celebrating the Silver Jubilee of King George V in May 1935. Unfortunately, the King died less than a year later and the journey of his body to Westminster Hall for a period of lying in state was also captured by Samuels the following January.

General Strike

A subset of around 50 images in the collection were taken during the General Strike of 1926 and record both the strikers and the Government’s response to the crisis. We aren’t sure why the photographs were taken, or if Samuels was commissioned to take them for a third party, but some, like this one, appear to be have been posed for.  The General Strike, which lasted from 3 - 12 May 1926, saw as many as 1.5 - 1.75 million workers from a variety of industries walk out in support of coal miners who were facing the prospect of having to work longer hours for less money. The strike was called off after just nine days.

In this image three railway workers pose beside a train, with one reading The British Gazette. This newspaper was only in circulation from 5 - 13 May and was published by the government with Winston Churchill as editor.

Floodlit landmarks

Photographs of floodlit London landmarks are among the most visually striking in the collection. These two show the iconic drum and dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1946 and the fountains in Trafalgar Square in 1948. Other floodlit landmarks featured in the collection include Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster.

Evocative

Here two men are resting between the legs of one of the bronze sphinxes which sit at the foot of Cleopatra’s Needle on the Victoria Embankment. The date of the photograph is unknown but is thought to have been taken between 1920 and 1940. Much of the J J Samuels Collection focuses on the hustle and bustle of life in the Capital, with people and vehicles on their way to one place or another, but this photograph stands out for the sense of calmness and quiet it evokes.  

Unusual

No overview of the collection would be complete without the inclusion of this rather unusual image. We don’t know why, when or where the photograph was taken, nor the identities of the man and little girl. The only information it contains is the name and address of Edward Willman, a watch and clock maker from Dulwich, on the roof of the carriage.

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