500 years of Londoners’ lives on display at City archives

Images of rat catchers, trapeze artists and leading politicians will feature in a new exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), which will shed new light on the working lives of Londoners from the 15th century to Thatcherite Britain.

The Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 will bring together an extraordinary range of photographs, prints and drawings from in LMA’s collections. As well as displaying a selection of images of unknown Londoners, the exhibition will also include portraits of Charles Dickens, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Oliver Cromwell.

Other images on display will include:

  • London’s Last Night Watchman - prior to the appearance of the first Metropolitan Police constables in 1830, Londoners were protected by the watchmen. The exhibition includes a rare photograph of Charles Rouse, reputedly,the last night watchmen still on duty in London in the middle of the 19th century.
  • Street Trades – an 1830 lithograph of a crossing sweeper, the ‘Old Commodore of Tottenham Court Road’, appears alongside match sellers, boot blacks and an 18th century procuress.
  • The Roaring Twenties - the exhibition features a number of beautiful photographs shot by George W F Ellis in the mid-1920s, a period of significant change in the working world. Portraits include Dora Russell, a feminist and socialist campaigner standing for the Labour party in Chelsea in the 1924 General Election.

Laurence Ward, the City of London Corporation’s Head of Digital Services at LMA, said:

“Our vast collections at LMA are a treasure trove and this exhibition is an ideal opportunity to put on show some fascinating and in many cases, rarely-seen images of Londoners as they went about their daily work. My colleagues and I have been particularly keen to put on display a wide of images, so visitors will come face-to-face with servants, circus performers, famous statesmen, nurses, and even a 15th century City Alderman. 

"Some of the individuals are very well known, while others have been recorded purely because of how their work benefited fellow Londoners and the capital. Some of their jobs and professions will appear very familiar to us, while others will seem like a mystery now.”

The Londoners will run from 6 February to 5 July at London Metropolitan Archives, EC1, and admission is FREE. The exhibition forms part of the ‘950 Years of London’s Archives’ celebrations at London Metropolitan Archives and other City locations during 2017 to celebrate the anniversary of the William Charter (1067), the oldest document in the collections.

The City of London Corporation, which owns and manages London Metropolitan Archives, invests £80m every year in heritage and cultural activities of all kinds. It is the UK’s largest funder of culture after the government, the BBC, and the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Notes for Editors:

Laurence Ward, Head of Digital Services at London Metropolitan Archives, is available for media interviews and a set of high resolution photographs are available on request. Please call Andrew Buckingham (see below) for further details.

For further information, please contact:

Andrew Buckingham, Media Officer, City of London Corporation

Tel: 020 7332 1452 / Mobile: 07795 333060 / Email

About the London Metropolitan Archives:

London Metropolitan Archives is a public research centre which specialises in the history of London. The majority of items in an archive are unique, handwritten documents which cannot be seen anywhere else. LMA cares for, and provide, access to, the historical archives of businesses, schools, hospitals charities and all manner of other organisations from the London area. With over 100 km of books, maps, photographs, films and documents dating back to 1067 in our strong rooms, it is proud to provide access to one of the finest city archives in the world. Its users have a wide range of research interests, including family, community and local history, and we work with students, artists, producers and architects.

London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB

Admission: Free, check websites for opening times.

The nearest underground stations are Farringdon and Angel.

About the City of London Corporation:

The City of London Corporation provides local government and policing services for the financial and commercial heart of Britain, the 'Square Mile'. In addition, the City Corporation has three roles: (1) it supports London’s communities by working in partnership with neighbouring boroughs on economic regeneration, education and skills projects. In addition, the City of London Corporation’s charity, the City Bridge Trust, makes grants of more than £15 million annually to charitable projects across London; and it also supports education with three independent schools, three academic schools, a primary school and the world-renowned Guildhall School of Music & Drama; (2) It also helps look after key London heritage and green spaces including Tower Bridge, Museum of London, Barbican Centre, London Metropolitan Archives, City gardens, Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest, Burnham Beeches, and important ‘commons’ in south London; and (3) it also supports and promotes the ‘City’ as the world’s leading international financial and business centre, with outward and inward business delegations, high-profile civic events, research-driven policies all reflecting a long-term approach. See for more details.