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Date updated: 5/17/2022

Since March 2020 London Metropolitan Archives staff, later joined by volunteers, have been working on a fascinating project: geotagging and improving the descriptions of nineteenth and twentieth century images of London streets and buildings, in order to make them more informative and research friendly. Originally created by the London County Council for administrative purposes, Series 01 comprises about 96,000 photographs, many of which document places that no longer exist, having been demolished, destroyed in wartime air raids, or redeveloped.

Fully digitised and available to view on the London Picture Archive website, the images are excellent resources not only for the built environment of London, but also for social history. However, as they were created by council officers for office use, their original titles and descriptions are very brief, focusing primarily on addresses. As such, they are not particularly suitable for online research. In quite a few cases, the original descriptions are inaccurate or simply wrong, as mistakes have crept in along the way during the images’ long journey from an LCC officer’s desk to the LPA website. In such cases, researching the location shown in the image requires some serious detective skills.

Queens Arms Court, 1900. LPA ref: 115024
Queens Arms Court, 1900. LPA ref: 115024

Image 115024

Let’s take a look at Image 115024. It comes from a Southwark box, and was originally described as Queen Anne’s Court: general view. The problem is that no search for ‘Queen Anne’s Court’ in Southwark yields any results; there’s no mention of it in street directories, and it does not appear on OS maps. As the image itself does not give any clues either – there is no street name or house number in sight – it ended up in our ‘unidentified locations’ database, with the improved description changed simply to View of terraced housing, a street lamp and a cat in an unidentified location in Southwark, allegedly in Queen Anne’s Court. At least the image was now searchable for our ‘spot the cat’ challenge!

A few weeks later, I received an email from Chaz Kinnear, one of our eagle-eyed volunteers with enviable research skills, suggesting this description improvement:

'View of Queen's Arms Court, Bankside, looking south from the arched entrance on Upper Ground Street. At the end of the court, behind the wooden fence, is Bennet's Court, and behind that is the rear elevation of the Sainsbury headquarters building on Stamford Street. In the centre of the courtyard is a cast iron lamp post, a cat and a dustbin. The buildings were later demolished to allow the Sainsbury building to be extended.'

How was that feat of identification even possible? Chaz explains:

"This image, that I came across when I was working on another box, has evaded me for weeks but I've just had one of those light-bulb moments which has enabled me to finally identify it. I have been searching high and low for a 'Queen Anne's Court' without success (I'm now fairly confident that there isn't one) but if you look at the very top of this image you can just make out the bottom of large letters "...NSBU..". I am learning that it always pays to look at every corner of images for clues! I happen to know that the Sainsbury head office was around Blackfriars and have previously geotagged paintings of Queen's Arms Court in the area. Sure enough, referring to Goad's 1888 fire insurance map, the size and shape of Queen's Arms Court matches the image (and the angle of the sun makes sense) so the mystery is solved."

Chaz Kinnear

Spotting the letters Chaz is talking about is certainly not as straightforward as spotting the cat.

If you would like to find out more about the LCC Series 01 Photo Project, please email us at LPA support. We currently have no more places available for volunteers, but opportunities may arise in the future.