Fiona Fisher – Viewing the institutional interior through the pages of Living London

Royal Holloway University of London Department of History

Event Date:

14 and 15 September 2010

11 Bedford Square, Royal Holloway (Central London)


Inhabiting Institutions in Britain, 1700-1950

Spaces and Institutional Structures

Institutional environments and boundaries

Fiona Fisher (Kingston): Viewing the institutional interior through the pages of Living London

This paper will explore the visual representation of institutional interiors within a three volume collection of writings, Living London, edited by George R. Sims and published by Cassell & Company between 1902 and 1903. In the prologue to Living London Sims set out the editorial aims of the publication:

The history of London has been written, the story of its streets has been told, again and again. But the life of London in all its phases and aspects has never until now been exhaustively attempted…With pen and pencil, with camera and snapshot, those who are associated with this work have laid every phase of London life under contribution. Wherever photography has been practicable it has been relied upon, because no other process of reproduction is at once so actual and so convincing.

Living London contains around sixty photographs of institutional interiors, including those of metropolitan prisons, lodging houses, workhouses, orphanages, lunatic asylums, charitable institutions and shelters for immigrants. These images record a variety of interior environments, which can be broadly divided into spaces for sleep, work, recreation, food preparation and dining, and include, among others, parlours, wards, kitchens, refectories and workrooms. In contrast to contemporary architectural photographs, which often depict uninhabited interiors, the photographs are heavily populated and attempt to ‘document’ lived experience within the environments that they record. Through an analysis of a selection of photographs the paper will explore the evidence that the collection offers of the spatial, material and aesthetic organisation of London’s c.1900 institutional interiors, and of everyday life within them. In doing so it will consider the ways in which the environments represented might be interpreted in relation to other public and private interiors of the period, and within the context of a broadly defined domesticity extending beyond the individual private dwelling.





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