The Gentle Author on Spitalfields Nippers

In the last years of the nineteenth century, Horace Warner took a series of portraits of some of the poorest people in London – creating relaxed, intimate images that gave dignity to his subjects and producing great photography that is without parallel in his era.

Born into a Quaker family that had its roots in Spitalfields in the seventeenth century, Horace was a Sunday school teacher at the Bedford Institute which still stands in Quaker Street. The wealth of the family business, Jeffrey & Co – the wallpaper printers who printed William Morris’ wallpaper – enabled the Warners to be generous benefactors to the Bedford Institute which offered practical support to the residents of Quaker St and the surrounding courts and alleys.

Horace’s photographs revolutionise our view of Londoners at the end of the nineteenth century, by bringing them startlingly close and permitting us to look them in the eye. Unseen outside the Warner family for more than century, most of these breathtaking photographs have been published for the first time by Spitalfields Life, including biographies of many of the children.

This boy is wearing Horace Warner’s hat for the photograph

Pigeon fancying has always been a popular tradition in the East End.

Horace Warner collected boots for children who had none and some of his photograph record the delivery of the new boots.

This little girl is leaning on a parsley basket. Parsley came by train from East Anglia and children were paid to bunch it up.

Walter Seabrook Walter was born in 1890 to William and Elizabeth of Custance St, Hoxton. At 24, he was conscripted and fought in World War One but returned to marry Alice Noon on Christmas Day 1918 at At Matthews Bethnal Green. He lived nearby in Gibraltar Court and worked as an electrician, having three children and dying in Ware, Hertfordshire in 1971 aged 81.

Abigail Springett in all her best clothes Abigail was born in 1893 in Wapping. Her father William came from Marylebone and her mother Margaret from Old Street. Both parents were costermongers. Adelaide’s twin sisters Ellen & Margaret died at birth, and her other sister Susannah died aged 4. Yet Adelaide died in 1986 in Fulham aged ninety-three.

Jessica & Rosalie Wakefield Jessica was born in 1891 and Rosalie in 1895. Their parents were William & Alice Wakefield, a printer and housewife. Jessica married Stanley Tayler in 1915 and lived until 1985, aged 94. Rosalie married Ewart Osborn in 1918 and had a son named Robert. She died in 1979 in Waltham Forest, aged 84.

Spitalfields Nippers by Horace Warner, with an introduction by The Gentle Author, is available from Spitalfields Life books for £20. spitalfieldslife.com


The Gentle Author writes daily about the culture of East London at spitalfieldslife.com. You can also follow @thegentleauthor on twitter.

Images courtesy of The Gentle Author