Shaftesbury Avenue, 1949, by Chalmers Butterfield

Piccadilly Circus, 1949, by Chalmers Butterfield

Pictures by Chalmers Butterfield

50 Responses

  1. Shane

    It’s not until you take a good close look at the people in these pictures that you see how different things were back then.

    I could identify Piccadilly Circus right away, I’ve walked down Regents Street a million times before, and architecturally not very much has changed… but the people look so different.

    I could stare at these photos for hours. Great site, I’ll be checking back often.

  2. All-B

    What would be awesome is if someone finds the same vantage points, and take photos today and put them side by side. London 1949 vs London 2010. Gorgeous colors and the res is awesome.Where these prints, slides or scanned negatives? Was any restoration needed?

    • Avatar of Simon

      These were Kodachrome slides which Chalmers’ son scanned in. I did some minor tweaks by straightening them and balancing out their levels.

      Cool idea about the vantage points. When we launch The Retroscope around July, it will be possible to stand at the same vantage points and, using a smartphone, see these pictures hovering over the scene as it is now, in Augmented Reality

  3. gwyneth

    `oooowh . . . . .takes me back . . . . . Yes everyone did wear hats then, great idea!

  4. Nick Wright

    The last (lowest) one shows, I think, how much better everything looked before there were yellow lines and bollards everywhere. I can just about remember how it was then, but I was only 2 when these pictures were taken and the parking restrictions and such-like didn’t kick in till the early 60s.
    One of the things you I notice in films which fake the past using current locations is how they have to paint out and conceal all the street markings and furniture.

  5. Avatar of Simon

    Hi Gabriel

    The pictures are owned by Chalmers Butterfield’s son and he has specified:

    “Use this image as needed, but for uses other than personal, please credit as “Photo by Chalmers Butterfield”.”

    It would also be very cool if you could mention “How to be a Retronaut”


  6. Myles

    I love those old fashioned neon signs. When lit up they were much more exciting and glamorous than the current “digital” offerings at Piccadilly Circus. Another case of “improvement means less”

  7. John Kelleher

    This is just the sort of thing the web oes so well. Utterly fascinating. please post many many more

  8. Avatar of Simon

    This is great, AA, thanks very much for taking the picture. How extraordinary that the bus is in the same place, and that you happened to capture a man in a hat!

  9. O. Gail Poole

    I am so impressed with the quality of the photos! But at the same time, just looking at them makes me nostalgic and yet angry at “modern” architecture. These unique buildings demonstrate the ambiance possible when men create something other than mere boxes and are willing to spend additional funds to create settings that make one want to be there.

  10. Kenny

    Seriously these photos are glorious! I absolutely love them…Its like a time machine…I so wish I could be there back then…So much better than now

  11. Derek Bowen

    I now life in Canada and was looking for some pictures for my desktop wallpaper, one of these has just become that, with this site added to be favorites.


  12. Murray

    Interesting to see a queue of people at the bus stop. Seems that nowadays we just get a big grouping of people on the pavement near the bus stop with no manners, no consideration of who was there first, etc.

  13. Kristen

    Neat to see different colors of cars. Everyone assumes that all cars were black back then, due to B&W photos. But here we see burgundy, green, blue, black & gold cars!

  14. tug boat toby

    London 1940s in hi res absolutley stunning pics get the feeling you are actually there would be proud to have them in my own collection. Love the website keep up the good work

  15. archer

    did you forget to include the high res of the first image, or was it not available?

  16. Wildaker

    I think it’s “probably in” 1950, not 1949 that these were taken. “Treasure Hunt”, directed by John Gielgud, opened on 14 September 1949 at the Apollo but it ran into 1950. Equally, Kay Hammond and John Clements are presumably in “The Beaux’ Stratagem”, which also ran over the year-end at the Lyric. The clincher is the show at the Globe, which is clearly “Ring Round the Moon”, a 1950 production that opened at the end of January.

    Stunning photographs…

  17. Laura

    There’s something so awesome about these pics like it makes the past go from a fuzzy sort of vision of an old dream to something that’s so vivid it reminds you “Oh yeah, these are real people that existed once and they were as real as you and I and someday we’ll be the one’s in those pictures 50 years down the road” I find the concept of time so interesting

  18. louisa

    That’s the wrong way round: number 3 is the Grosvenor Chapel; number 4 is Holy Trinity Sloane Street.
    Beautiful, beautiful pictures. Thank you.

  19. Ray Harvey

    Despite myself, I keep this site open in my browser. With a WWW filled with websites you would never go back to…this one just keeps calling you back.
    Can you please do a lot more of these, since we live in the present, we need to be reminded of how we had lived yesterday. I was born in a part of the world that has erased most of it’s limited history and many of my childhood places are gone for good.
    Excellent use of technology to remind us of our humanity!

  20. anonymous

    1. I demand expanding Google Street View to cover all epochs past and future!

    2. What strikes me as a retronaut is that the buildings look more aged in 1940s, and even in 19th century, than they do now. Now they are hueless (if not white)… apparently with some modern substance laid on top of the original stone. What kind of “restoration” is this? Some of the original tint could be attributed to black smoke particles and yellow-brown smog particles. But cleaner air in 21st century alone doesn’t explain the disappearance of gaps between stones…

    I have been told about a great cleanup of buildings walls throughout England as the coal-and-smog era has come to an end. Now, thanks to, I can be both a firsthand witness and a judge to this.

    3. Street advertising is much scarcer now than then. Wikipedia (entry “Piccadilly Circus”) attributes this to increased rental price. Is somebody trying to make us stupid? Prices follow demand. The authorities have been aggressively anti-commercial in the recent decades for some incomprehensible reason. They have successfully eliminated many forms of street trade in the city centre over the years and they haven’t finished with their agenda yet. They don’t mind the economic downturn and vacant buildings at all! Who is behind all this antisocial city planning? One of the lords has once remarked at a parliamentary meeting: “We don’t want London to become like Hong Kong.” The Queen (The Crown Estate) owns this area but there is nothing conservative behind this planned extermination of street life, as historical photographs prove.

    Is this somehow related to the mysterious “gentrification” (“starbucksization”) that took place in New York’s Times Square, as well as in public spaces everywhere else around the world, in the last 15 years?

    4. Glimpses of the same spot throughout epochs:



    (The walls are already hueless but still smoky.)

    (The walls are now both hueless and smokeless. If you look very carefully, you can see a sign holder man with a red advertising board.)

    (More advert holding people… Today you get arrested and fined £5,000 if you do this. Human advert holders have been found on depictions of London for centuries. Systematic curbing of available advertising space on buildings around Piccaddilly Circus has sparked exponential growth of a cottage industry of human sign holders. Now authorities have killed off that too, making hundreds of subsistence workers unemployed overnight without any assistance, in a single brave sweep.)

    …and, for those retronauts with a penchant for trips into future – 2012:
    (The last surviving neon adverts – TDK and Sanyo – get discarded, turning the whole Piccadilly Circus wall into a simple TV screen.)

    • Red Cardinal

      >>What strikes me as a retronaut is that the buildings look more aged in 1940s, and even in 19th century, than they do now. Now they are hueless (if not white)… apparently with some modern substance laid on top of the original stone. What kind of “restoration” is this? Some of the original tint could be attributed to black smoke particles and yellow-brown smog particles. But cleaner air in 21st century alone doesn’t explain the disappearance of gaps between stones…

      This is down to a combination of far less pollution and cleaning the buildings’ stonework.

      Where I live (Edinburgh), old photos show nearly all the stonework black with air pollution. Today you’re hard-pushed to find a building that hasn’t been cleaned at some point.

  21. Chenda

    The bottom two images were NOT from 1949 as indicated, but from circa 1927. They are stills from Claude Friese-Greene’s colour films of London in the late 1920s.

    Search You Tube for ‘the open road London’ and you’ll fine the footage.

  22. matthew

    Chenda – they really aren’t from the Open Road film. They’re way too clear to be stills from a film. There’s nothing even remotely similar in Claude Friese-Green’s film. The real question for me is whether the photos are taken in late 1949 or early 1950. I have a feeling that the flowers in the first photo are Daffodils that haven’t quite opened yet, which (if anybody else agrees) would mean the photos are early Spring 1950

    • matthew

      Looking at the trees (no leaves at all) in photo 4, the flowers in Photo 1 and 2, and taking into account the dates of the movie/theatre productions given by Wildaker above, I’d say it’s taken on a chilly day in February 1950. Also, the trees are leafless, there are no leaves on the ground, and there are no Christmas decorations up

  23. Jabba The Lucass

    Looks pretty good not so long after being bombed by the Germans. Not a sign of war to be had…

  24. Hamilton

    Hi Chris

    where can I buy printed photos? love these and would want them on my wall at home




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