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March 24, 2014

Humans of London: Amazing Vintage Portraits of Londoners on the Streets From the 1920s

Thomas Donald McLeish was born in London on March 11th 1879. In 1893 he joined the photographic firm of Eliot and Fry as negative clerk. In 1900 he began teaching photography at the Regent Street Polytechnic. He joined the firm of Cowe Whelan & Co to make cigarette cards and in 1910 became a freelance photographer supplying photographs to journals such as the Illustrated London News and National Geographic.

In 1916 he joined the RNVR and was sent as a photographer to Port Said. He took some of the earliest aerial war pictures. After the war he lived in Canonbury, London, and developed his library of some 3000 photographs, mostly of Europe and the Middle East. In 1939 he moved to Wimbledon. He died in 1950.

McLeish made his own camera which took 5x4 glass plates.This was exhibited in the Science Museum, and is now at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford. His prints were in the 10x8 format, giving exceptionally fine detail.

Here, McLeish approached and documented these moments of people on London streets in the 1920s.

Old woman who inhabited the alleys off Fleet St

Knife Grinder

Gramophone Man

Telescope Man on Westminster Bridge

Breton Onion Seller


Cats’ Meat Man


Concertina Player

Costermonger and child

District Messenger

Railway Engine Driver

Railway Fireman

Flower Seller

Gas Fitters

Gold Beaters

Railway Porter

Street Sweeper


Hurdy-Gurdy Man

Chimney Sweep

Telephone Cable Man

Telephone Messenger


Islington Window Cleaner

Wandering Harpist

(Photographed by Donald McLeish, via Spitalfields Life)



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