London 100 Years Ago Was Different. People Are the Same.
During my research of the early 1900s, I found a fascinating “motion picture” of London taken in 1918, just before the war ended. While a little dark and grainy, seeing the city as it was over 100 years ago really helps me picture Agatha Christie’s world.
The early twentieth century is considered the Edwardian era, named for King Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria who, of course, has era named after her reign. Her son, Edward, wasn’t crowned until he was fifty-nine years old and he only ruled for nine years. After Edward’s death, his son George V succeeded, reigning until 1936, but his pre-war years are lumped into the Edwardian era, which most historians date from the time of Victoria’s death until the drastic societal changes of World War I.
Christie herself straddles several eras. She was born during Victoria’s reign and raised by a mother, grandmother, and great-aunt who were definitely Victorian. She came of age during the elegance of the Edwardian era, shared in the war’s privations and liberties, and went on to experience not only a second world war but the 1960s!
But to get back to London in 1918…
There’s so much in this short film that illustrates Christie’s novels. Somerset House where a records search reveals secret marriages. St. James’s Park where young people stroll. Busy streets where motorbuses vie with the new-fangled automobiles as well horse-drawn vehicles. The famed pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. And an ABC tea room, which seems to have been a favorite hang-out of Tommy and Tuppence.
George V is in it, too, with Queen Mary. He would be succeeded by George VI, who abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson, and then Edward VIII, the present Queen’s father.
The film was created by a man named Burton Holmes, so I looked him up. He was born in Chicago, of all places! Holmes was fascinated by early photography and by travel, so he combined the two. Born wealthy, he was able to indulge in his hobbies at first, but when his father was financially ruined, he turned his hobbies into a career to support himself. Holmes would travel throughout the summer months, develop the film, and then take the show on the road, presenting slides and, eventually, films of his travels to people across the country.
Holmes lived until 1958 and produced a vast amount of travel material including photo collections, stereopticon cards, travel books, documentaries, and government films during World War II. He operated a film production and distribution company in Chicago and even has a star on Hollywood Boulevard!
All these little interconnected details are what intrigue me about history, but don’t let me distract you from watching this film. You’ll probably be struck, as I was, by the onlookers mugging for Holmes’ camera. It may be 100 years later, but they look just like the folks caught on news cameras today!