Piccadilly Circus, Westminster LB: looking west, 1912 (b/w photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / London Metropolitan Archives, City of London

The London Metropolitan Archive

The London Metropolitan Archive contains almost half a million extraordinary photographs and footage covering the history and topography of London, particularly the central London area. Mostly taken for official purposes for the London County Council and Greater London Council, the LMA collection prominently features subjects such as schools, housing estates, churches, parks, cinemas, theatres, hospitals, pubs and areas of war damage, dating from 1067 to the present day.

Explore our curated highlights from the footage collection, and view the remarkable changes that London has undergone over the past few decades:

1. Barbican

 

Barbican 1969, clip 8 / London Metropolitan Archives, City of London / Bridgeman Images

This 1969 film was commissioned by the City of London Corporation to promote the now famous and pioneering Barbican development scheme and complex. The focus of the film is to explain how the new scheme will ‘bring life back into the heart of the City’. It describes how the City (the Square Mile) is no longer a residential area and underlines the point by showing empty streets at the weekend.

In this somewhat comical clip from the film, prospective tenants are shown around a new and ‘fashionable’ Barbican flat, complete with modern appliances and stylish interior décor. The people imagine themselves living in the flat, playing music, taking a bath, etc.

View more footage of the Barbican

2. Living at Thamesmead

 

Living at Thamesmead, 1973, part 13 / London Metropolitan Archives, City of London / Bridgeman Footage

A funny, semi-fictional film made in the 1970s to promote the Thamesmead Estate. In this retro film a young couple growing up in the Thamesmead community stroll around the area, giving us a glimpse of the everyday lives of the Estate’s residents, from the local schools and playgrounds to the shops and nightlife.

View more footage of Living at Thamesmead

3. Somewhere Decent to Live

 

Somewhere Decent to Live 1967 part 2 / London Metropolitan Archives, City of London / Bridgeman Footage

This is a documentary-type account of the provision of new housing for Londoners, made by Chess Valley Films. It looks at London’s housing shortage and the work of the Greater London Council in creating new council housing schemes. Interviewees discuss how challenging it is to buy a house in London and offer opinions as to the controversial GLC estates and surroundings. The film also includes commentary by television presenter Michael Aspel OBE.

In this clip we see shots of children living in poor conditions, including a family with two kids staying in a single room, in a ‘slum’ house with an outside toilet. It is very interesting to compare the situation then with the ongoing housing issues that London faces today.

View more footage of Somewhere Decent to Live

4. Cycling for London

 

Cycling for London, 1983, part 1 / London Metropolitan Archives, City of London / Bridgeman Footage

This is part of an info-film by Parallax Pictures Production about cycling in London, 1983. It explores the history of London cyclists and the GLC’s plans to improve their experience of travelling in London. Written, produced and directed by J.R. Davies, the film demonstrates the significant changes in cycling in London over the past 35 years. Boris bikes are only a recent development after all!

Shots include cyclists in a number of areas of London, planners working at drawing boards, street interviews with the general public explaining the benefits of cycling, and fabulous 80’s fashions

View more footage of Cycling for London

5. Changing Face of London

 

Part 9 of The Changing Face of London, 1960 / London Metropolitan Archives, City of London / Bridgeman Footage

The film focuses on the clearance of bomb-damaged buildings following World War II and the projects to rebuild the capital. The role of the London County Council, the architects department, and the development plan and processes all feature. It is stated that a lot of the new development will be high rise and that Londoners will be ‘looking up’ to see new buildings, and in doing so they will be looking up towards a hopeful future.

In the film we see new commercial office buildings and the restoration of Wren designed churches in the square mile, along with the area around St Paul’s Cathedral. Modern materials and construction techniques are covered, particularly the use of steel, glass and concrete.

Models of Elephant and Castle and Crystal Palace Sports Centre are also shown, along with shots of the derelict Kings Theatre, demolished Victorian terraces, and ‘Motopia’, an unrealised scheme. This particular clip discusses the futuristic plan for Piccadilly Circus, which would have dramatically changed the landscape of central London today if it had been carried out.

View more footage of the Changing Face of London

6. Seeing London

 

Seeing London: London Types 1929 (HD) / London Metropolitan Archives, City of London / Bridgeman Footage

A beautiful and nostalgic series of HD footage that captures London in 1929. This clip entitled ‘London Types’ contains a range of remarkable shots, such as a policeman directing traffic at Marble Arch; a chimney sweep; a postman; the Household Cavalry; a knife grinder; a group of women shelling peas in  Covent Garden market; street hawkers; motorcars and horse drawn carriages; a flower seller; a district messenger boy; a boot black polishing the paws of a dog; a bus interior and exterior and passengers boarding a train.

View more footage of the Seeing London series

7. Green Islands

 

Green Islands, 1954, part 6 / London Metropolitan Archives, City of London / Bridgeman Footage

A 1954 film about the parks and pleasure gardens of London, showing many of the pastimes carried out in them and the activities they have to offer. It journeys through the changing seasons in London hotspots such as Hampstead Heath, Battersea Park and Victoria Embankment Gardens, from swimming in the summer to snowball fights in winter and through to spring.

View more footage of the Green Islands

Find out More

Explore the entire London Metropolitan Archive collection

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