Collage is one of London’s greatest online picture archives, providing the public with free access to over 250,000 images of London through the ages. Managed by the London Metropolitan Archives, the Collage Archive is an important record of much of the lost architecture of London. While the focus of many of the photos in the archive are building, they also capture great numbers of classic cars parked on the streets of London. It is a wonderful snap shot of motoring in the capital with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered, their journey frozen in time.
The Collage Archive allows the public to browse the collection using the London Picture Map. This is essentially a Google Map of the capital, over which have been laid the locations of the thousands of photographs and illustrations from the collection. Zooming in on the tightly packed streets of the city shows the sheer number of photos available to view. It is at this point that the real classic car treasure hunt begins.
Sifting through the collection street by street is time consuming but it really is worth the effort as the photos capture a wonderful snap shot of motoring in the capital from a by gone era. Cars of all ages from the 1920s right through to the 1980s sneak into the foreground and the background and while some of the architecture recorded for posterity is significant, so too are the vehicles that were captured in the process.
What is particularly exciting about browsing through the archive is finding that rare classic, that long lost model that has almost vanished from UK roads. Plus for the owners of classics cars today that once resided in the city, it gives them an opportunity to try and find their car parked on the streets. The chances of stumbling on your old car in one of the archive photos are pretty low obviously, but out of the many thousands of cars captured in the archive, there are bound to be some survivors out there.
One detail that stands out very prominently in the photos is how quiet many of the streets are. With congestion a major issue in modern day London, the sight of numerous parking spots on the streets are a far cry from today’s motoring experience in the city. It shows how much the pace of life has changed and how much private car ownership has grown since World War 2.
The real joy of hunting through the archive however is being able to see what life in the city was like through the ages, the visual record of the changing built landscape and the fortunes of its residents, which are displayed both through its architecture and the cars on the street.
Moving through the decades to the 1960s and the 1970s it is fascinating seeing all the makes and models that had captured the eye of the British public. It is clear from looking at many of the photos that the BMC Mini was a clear favourite in London (note there are three in the article feature image), for obvious reasons. It was then and still is now, one of the best city cars out there (the modern day equivalent is a noted exception however!).
Another brilliant aspect of sifting through the streets is coming across something that makes you stop and wonder “whats going on here?” A case in point with the Fiat 127 below which has plastic covering part of the boot. Perhaps water was getting in the window or the boot seals… who knows really. It is a strange one for a car that was first registered on November 1973.
Another interesting spot was a left hand drive Jaguar E-Type 2+2 with no number plates present at a location in Battersea. One can only wonder what a sports car of that caliber was doing in that part of the city, which at the time was a bit run down.
The London Collage Archive really is a wonderful cultural snapshot of life in the city of London and it is a credit to the original photographers for capturing so many cars that we now consider to be classics. One really could spend many many hours wandering the streets of the capital, looking for automotive treasure. The images selected for this piece are just a drop in the ocean of what is available in the archive.
Choosing what to include and what to leave out was a difficult choice as each photograph is unique and its own merits from an automotive history perspective. And if you just love a bit of nostalgia and drinking in cars of yesteryear, the archive really is a superb trip down memory lane. So make yourself a nice brew and site back and see what you can find…
It is also worth noting that the photographs in the London Collage Archive are available to purchase as a digital copy, or as a high quality print. Details of thee can be found with each photograph on the archive website.
Many thanks to the London Collage Archive for permission to use the photos in this article