The Pastimes of the People: Photographing House and Garden in London’s Small Suburban Homes, 1880-1914

Rebecca Preston

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As access to photographs and improved housing increased from the turn of the century, images of front and back gardens taken by or for householders became a popular form of photography. While all kinds of streets were photographed in this way, those built for an expanding artisan and clerical class who migrated to London’s ‘bye-law’ suburbs form a significant proportion of surviving images. Carefully delineated photographs of terraced and semi-detached house fronts and back gardens may be read as individual records of family advancement and personal celebrations of the space and privacy of the new homes. Yet specific forms of these photographs were designed for sharing beyond the family, creating a semi-public visual culture and a dispersed photographic record of the exteriors of the working-class and lower-middle-class suburban home. Using representative examples of two groups of these sources—photographic postcards and readers’ photographs published in Amateur Gardening magazine—this essay explores how and why the inhabitants of London’s outer suburbs presented themselves, at home in their gardens, to family, friends and fellow gardeners. It finds that both photography and gardening could be social pastimes, and that through their exchange, these ‘suburban’ photographs reflected and even consciously demonstrated social progress in the form of increased leisure time and self-contained space in which to exercise it productively at home.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-226
JournalLondon Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014

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