Recently rediscovered, they have acquired in the intervening decades a historical resonance that complements their original human and aesthetic interest. This is a London that has vanished: a London of stability and hierarchy, of rigid social convention, of chirpy cockneys and friendly bobbies and bowler-hatted businessmen.
Some Britons remember that era with nostalgic affection; others shudder to recall its stifling class structure. These are quintessentially British images. But it took the eye of one of the greatest of Frenchmen to preserve them for posterity.
Faces of Fifties Britain: opposite page (above), a paper-seller and a bowler-hatted gent show the cut of class and clothes in 1955; below, a boy reads a comic, 1951. Close encounter of an urban kind, this page: at a street pet market, 1955
Cartier-Bresson captured the real-life images of Dock Green and Ealing Studios. Above: a police officer telephones the station, 1955. Right: a calmer time for making money on the Stock Exchange, 1955The daily grind and the social round: above, buying London Underground tickets at Piccadilly Circus, 1951; below, soldiers gaze as socialites make their way to the Ascot train at Waterloo Station, 1953; right, the Lyceum dance hall, the Strand,1955
One city, two nations: above, the East End, 1955, still bearing the scars of the Blitz; left, the West End, 1959, with dancers enjoying Queen Charlotte's Ball. An orderly crocodile, below: schoolchildren in Kensington, 1955
Decisive moments in young Londoners' lives: a deux, left, at Queen Charlotte's Ball, 1959; and alone, below, in a deserted Portobello, 1955. Cartier-Bresson caught character and attitude without artificial preparation or compositionReuse content