The eyes of the past

Today we are once again singing the praise of an archive, but one at a slight tangent to our usual interests.  The Persephone Post alerted me to the existence of English Heritage’s Viewfinder, which is the online archive of their photographic collections.

The title suggests that you’re meant to put in a place and see what you can discover; I decided (unsurprisingly) to see what happened if you put in poster.  It’s much more interesting.

Once you’ve got past the odd collection of turn of the century topographic posters,

Great Marlow poster from oxfordshire CC collection on EH viewfinder

And the 1970s.

Charing Cross Station in 1970 from EH viewfinder

As well as the numerous four poster beds (I won’t actually bother), there are a few gems, of which the best of all is this.

Fortnam Road, Holloway in late 50s from EH viewfinder

It’s Fortnam Road, Upper Holloway, probably facing onto the Holloway Road.  I used to live round there, once upon a time, although long after this picture was taken.

These posters, meanwhile, are in Manchester in 1956.

Failsworth Manchester 1956 from EH viewfinder

Notably there isn’t a decent piece of design to be seen on a wall anywhere.  I wish I liked earlier posters a bit more, because then I’d find this picture mesmerising.

Port Sunlight poster storeroom 1897 from EH viewfinder

It’s the poster and publicity storeroom at the Port Sunlight works in 1897 and its stock is probably worth hundreds of thousands of pounds today.

Although for those of us who like our graphics a bit more modern, the archive does have one intriguing piece of design.

Cold war posters from eH Viewfinder

Four CoI posters, probably designed for within the Civil Service, and photographed for a mysterious Cold War project.  I would love to know more about what English Heritage was about with that, and where the rest of it is.

But there are plenty of other words to put in too.  ‘Cat’ is entirely off-topic for Quad Royal really, but produced this fine trio in Shephards Market in Mayfair.

Cats in Shephards Market Mayfair from c1960 EH viewfinder

The works or office cat is something which has now entirely disappeared, but when H V Morton walked the City of London at night in the 1930s, the streets were alive with office cats, free to be wild now that the workers had gone.

While inputting the obvious place name did at least bring me this fine fireplace from 1680.

Trinity Street fireplace from  EH Viewfinder

It apparently lives in the next street from us. For the next three weeks at least.

  • Kitty Hauser’s ‘Bloody Old Britain: O. G. S. Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life’ (Granta, 2008) contains some interesting photographs of hoardings covered with posters which Crawford apparently took to record an evil he regarded as blighting the British countryside.

    Since Crawford was a singularly grumpy fellow he appears to have taken a large number of pictures of his pet hate which now lurk in what I seem to remember, having the read book some time ago, is the archive of the Oxford department of archeology. Photography was a key feature of Crawford’s professional life and so the photographs are all of good quality and show the posters to advantage to what, I suspect, is his eternal annoyance.

  • Now I have actually read that book, and don’t remember being hugely struck by the hoardings he photographed. Having found one again (
    I think it’s a combination of the earlier date and the fact that he has deliberately photographed the ugliest ones he can find. I should probably go back and have another look, though, like you I read it a while back.
    The book by Kitty Hauser that I really want is the history of aerial archaeology, but it costs about £80 and I can’t think that any information, however wonderful, is worth that much. So if anyone has one just cluttering the place up, do let me know.

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