Spitalfields Nippers: East London street-urchins of 1912


From Spitalfields Life, a collection of Horace Warner's "Spitalfields Nipper" photos, of the barefoot urchins that haunted the neighbourhood around London's Spitalfields Market in 1912. I'm typing these words within spitting distance (ahem) of Spitalfields, and I'm pretty sure I recognise some of the buildings. The kids' expressions are a mix of plucky cheek, premature cynicism and desperation.

Little is known of Horace Warner and nothing is known of his relationship to the nippers. Only thirty of these pictures survive, out of two hundred and forty that he took, tantalising the viewer today as rare visions of the lost tribe of Spitalfields Nippers. They may look like paupers, and the original usage of them to accompany the annual reports of the charitable Bedford Institute, Quaker St, Spitalfields, may have been as illustrations of poverty - but that is not the sum total of these beguiling photographs, because they exist as spirited images of something much more subtle and compelling, the elusive drama of childhood itself.

Update: Bill Gibson's Twitter comment on these photos: "Those Spitalfields nippers grew up to successfully fight the battle of Cable Street, breaking Moseley's British Union of Fascists."

Spitalfields Nippers (via How to Be a Retronaut)

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