In 1977 I was working on secondment at an office on Euston Road in London. I had recently upgraded to a Minolta SRT 303b and happening to see an invitation for entries to a photo competition sponsored by Camden Council I decided to have a go. I can’t remember exactly what the subject of the competition was but I’m guessing that it was something to do with what it was like to live in the council’s area. The closing date was only a few days away so I spent the next lunchtime exploring the streets nearest the office to the south of Euston Road, taking a few shots and then rapidly developing and printing them for submission.
Needless to say the prints were returned with no comment. As I suspected, the grimy, grainy look that most of us were trying to emulate back then did not appeal to a council wishing, as they always do, to project an up-beat image. Good news snaps were what they were after, and so with a wry chuckle I filed away the negatives and forgot about them.
Twenty years later most of my negative files were lost to a flood but the few sheets that were salvageable were rescued and again forgotten about. Forgotten about that is until retirement coinciding with Covid lockdown gave me ample opportunity to spend hours at the scanner with transparencies and the surviving negatives. I didn’t realise it at the time but the seeds of a project had been sown.
Some of those seeds started to germinate when in an exchange of comments here on 35mmc I listed my current (too many) projects. Among them was one of then and now photographs using, if possible, the same combination of camera and lenses. Having thus committed myself, when I had reason to be in the Kings Cross area earlier this year I uploaded the images to my phone and took time out to track down the locations.
In the early nineteenth century this area of London was the site of the dust heaps which feature in Dickens’ last completed novel Our Mutual Friend as a symbol of tainted wealth. These dust heaps can be considered as an early recycling system, dust being a prim Victorian euphemism for household waste. Rich pickings literally could be had by dust contractors as the contents of the heaps were labouriously sorted and sieved. Most of the results of this sorting had a marketable value, especially ash and cinders for brick making and organic matter as manure for agriculture. There was of course always the possibility of finding something more valuable. This possibility forms part of Dickens’ story of Noddy Boffin who inherits a complex of dust heaps and takes up residence on-site in a house he names Boffin’s Bower.
Sanitary improvements led to the decline of the dust trade and by the mid nineteenth century such was the growth of London’s population that the area was redeveloped speculatively as part of the Battle Bridge Estate. As the Duke of Argyle owned property in nearby Kentish Town his name was appropriated to give the development an aristocratic nuance in the form of Argyle Square, Argyle Street and Argyle Walk. Notwithstanding this attempt at gentility the area soon became infamous for, shall we say, a night-time economy of the oldest kind. Later still the East End Dwelling Company, a philanthropic non-profit making housing association built model apartments to the west.
Most of the locations of the original photos were identifiable although some viewpoints would have to be changed slightly in order to avoid obtrusive street furniture. Looking at the reconnaissance shots I took on my phone I decided to deviate from my original intention and shoot the current scene in colour. That decision made, I further deviated by using the Minolta XG1 which I’ve featured here before albeit more for the sake of the 45mm Rokkor that it came with.
The original images were taken on HP5 and the recent ones on Kodak Gold which I hadn’t used for some considerable time but used to like its blowsy, rather over-stated colour rendition. Unfortunately in its current 200ASA form it does not seem to be the same beast any more, it certainly didn’t have the colour I was expecting and I was disappointed with the resolution. I would have reservations about using it again. 28mm f3.5 Rokkors were used on both occasions.
Mundane images of mundane scenes maybe, but I believe such photos are important from a social history point of view if nothing else.
Thank you for reading and staying with me through the many permutations of Argyle.