England at war and at play: John Topham photographs feature in new exhibition


With her hand planted firmly on her hip, a woman dressed in a cardigan and a long, flowing skirt wakes East London dockers with a peashooter.

The famous image, taken in Limehouse in 1927, shows the then well-known Mrs Mary Smith carrying out her work as a knocker upper: someone who earned money waking up industrial workers so they got to their shifts on time.  

The photograph of the woman performing the long-vanished job was the first one licensed by British photographer John Topham and its success prompted him to give up his job as a policeman and spend the rest of his life taking pictures. 

The image is one of many currently featuring in an exhibition of the photographer’s work at the Lucy Bell Fine Art Gallery in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex. The show runs until June 26. 

One of the most famous images of the Second World War – of hop pickers’ children taking shelter in a trench as German and British planes fight overhead during the Battle of Britain in 1940 – is also on display. 

The eclectic collection also includes an image of a British soldier wearing a woman’s bonnet while sewing in 1940. 

A fourth photo in the set shows a small boy with his hands covered in dirt and his shirt falling to pieces as he plays while sitting inside a car tyre.  Viewers can see more of the images online at the Top Foto archive.  

Topham, who died in 1991, was particularly noted for his images of the 1939-1945 war. He amassed more than 121,000 negatives during his long career. 

With her hand planted firmly on her hip, a woman dressed in a cardigan and a long, flowing skirt wakes East London dockers with a peashooter. The famous image, taken by John Topham in Limehouse in 1927, shows the then well-known Mrs Mary Smith carrying out her work as a knocker upper: someone who earned money waking up industrial workers so they got to their shifts on time

With her hand planted firmly on her hip, a woman dressed in a cardigan and a long, flowing skirt wakes East London dockers with a peashooter. The famous image, taken by John Topham in Limehouse in 1927, shows the then well-known Mrs Mary Smith carrying out her work as a knocker upper: someone who earned money waking up industrial workers so they got to their shifts on time

The image is one of many currently featuring in an exhibition of the photographer's work at the Lucy Bell Fine Art Gallery in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex. The show runs until July 17. One of the most famous images of the Second World War - of hop pickers' children taking shelter in a trench as German and British planes fight overhead during the Battle of Britain in 1940 - is also on display

The image is one of many currently featuring in an exhibition of the photographer's work at the Lucy Bell Fine Art Gallery in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex. The show runs until July 17. One of the most famous images of the Second World War - of hop pickers' children taking shelter in a trench as German and British planes fight overhead during the Battle of Britain in 1940 - is also on display

The image is one of many currently featuring in an exhibition of the photographer’s work at the Lucy Bell Fine Art Gallery in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex. The show runs until July 17. One of the most famous images of the Second World War – of hop pickers’ children taking shelter in a trench as German and British planes fight overhead during the Battle of Britain in 1940 – is also on display

A third photo in the set shows a small boy with his hands covered in dirt and his shirt falling to pieces as he plays while sitting inside a car tyre

A third photo in the set shows a small boy with his hands covered in dirt and his shirt falling to pieces as he plays while sitting inside a car tyre

A third photo in the set shows a small boy with his hands covered in dirt and his shirt falling to pieces as he plays while sitting inside a car tyre

The eclectic collection includes an image of a British soldier wearing a woman's bonnet while sewing in 1940

The eclectic collection includes an image of a British soldier wearing a woman's bonnet while sewing in 1940

The eclectic collection includes an image of a British soldier wearing a woman’s bonnet while sewing in 1940 

Topham, who died in 1991, was particularly noted for his images of the 1939-1945 war. He amassed more than 121,000 negatives during his long career. Above: Topham takes a photo as a tame jackdaw sits on his camera in July 1948

Topham, who died in 1991, was particularly noted for his images of the 1939-1945 war. He amassed more than 121,000 negatives during his long career. Above: Topham takes a photo as a tame jackdaw sits on his camera in July 1948

Topham, who died in 1991, was particularly noted for his images of the 1939-1945 war. He amassed more than 121,000 negatives during his long career. Above: Topham takes a photo as a tame jackdaw sits on his camera in July 1948

This image, taken in 1939, shows the difficult conditions which photographers had to work in during the Second World War. The an above is seen taking a photograph whilst wearing a gas mask to defend against Nazi attacks from the air

This image, taken in 1939, shows the difficult conditions which photographers had to work in during the Second World War. The an above is seen taking a photograph whilst wearing a gas mask to defend against Nazi attacks from the air

This image, taken in 1939, shows the difficult conditions which photographers had to work in during the Second World War. The an above is seen taking a photograph whilst wearing a gas mask to defend against Nazi attacks from the air

On the breadline: Topham also showcased the harsh realities of life for the poorest Britons. The above image, taken in 1946, shows a hop picker sheltering with young children

On the breadline: Topham also showcased the harsh realities of life for the poorest Britons. The above image, taken in 1946, shows a hop picker sheltering with young children

On the breadline: Topham also showcased the harsh realities of life for the poorest Britons. The above image, taken in 1946, shows a hop picker sheltering with young children

This image, taken in 1933, shows a small child walking down a street. Robin Bell, who curated the new exhibition, has printed the pictures for the first time as silver gelatin prints from Topham's orginal glass slides

This image, taken in 1933, shows a small child walking down a street. Robin Bell, who curated the new exhibition, has printed the pictures for the first time as silver gelatin prints from Topham's orginal glass slides

This image, taken in 1933, shows a small child walking down a street. Robin Bell, who curated the new exhibition, has printed the pictures for the first time as silver gelatin prints from Topham’s orginal glass slides

British troops have a laugh as they do the can-can while rehearsing for the pantomime in 1941. The image was censored by the War Office when it was first released

British troops have a laugh as they do the can-can while rehearsing for the pantomime in 1941. The image was censored by the War Office when it was first released

British troops have a laugh as they do the can-can while rehearsing for the pantomime in 1941. The image was censored by the War Office when it was first released

Curator Mr Bell said hat whilst it would have been 'almost impossible' for Topham to take spontaneous photographs - because of the 'cumbersome' nature of his photography equipment, he still conveyed an appearance of 'happily being in the right place at the right time by sheer luck'. Pictured: Children are led by their father as they sit on horses at a farm in 1934. Behind them, a black cat is seen running past

Curator Mr Bell said hat whilst it would have been 'almost impossible' for Topham to take spontaneous photographs - because of the 'cumbersome' nature of his photography equipment, he still conveyed an appearance of 'happily being in the right place at the right time by sheer luck'. Pictured: Children are led by their father as they sit on horses at a farm in 1934. Behind them, a black cat is seen running past

Curator Mr Bell said hat whilst it would have been ‘almost impossible’ for Topham to take spontaneous photographs – because of the ‘cumbersome’ nature of his photography equipment, he still conveyed an appearance of ‘happily being in the right place at the right time by sheer luck’. Pictured: Children are led by their father as they sit on horses at a farm in 1934. Behind them, a black cat is seen running past

Mr Bell added: 'Topham had a policeman’s forensic eye for detail and a rare gift for somehow pre-empting the nostalgia that his observations would no doubt inspire later generations'. Pictured: Swimmers enjoy a dip in the rain at Bexley Heath Swimming baths in Kent in 1936

Mr Bell added: 'Topham had a policeman’s forensic eye for detail and a rare gift for somehow pre-empting the nostalgia that his observations would no doubt inspire later generations'. Pictured: Swimmers enjoy a dip in the rain at Bexley Heath Swimming baths in Kent in 1936

Mr Bell added: ‘Topham had a policeman’s forensic eye for detail and a rare gift for somehow pre-empting the nostalgia that his observations would no doubt inspire later generations’. Pictured: Swimmers enjoy a dip in the rain at Bexley Heath Swimming baths in Kent in 1936

A young woman riding a bicycle in 1949. Churchill joined the RAF as a staff photographer in 1941 but went on to work as a freelancer again after the conflict ended

A young woman riding a bicycle in 1949. Churchill joined the RAF as a staff photographer in 1941 but went on to work as a freelancer again after the conflict ended

A young woman riding a bicycle in 1949. Churchill joined the RAF as a staff photographer in 1941 but went on to work as a freelancer again after the conflict ended

A little boy riding a cart pulled by his pony proudly shows off the bottle of milk he is taking back to his family despite the war torn housing all around him , Eynsford , Kent , England 30 September 1940

A little boy riding a cart pulled by his pony proudly shows off the bottle of milk he is taking back to his family despite the war torn housing all around him , Eynsford , Kent , England 30 September 1940

A little boy riding a cart pulled by his pony proudly shows off the bottle of milk he is taking back to his family despite the war torn housing all around him , Eynsford , Kent , England 30 September 1940

The long arm of the law: A British policeman is seen in his then standard Custodian helmet and jacket as he directs a pedestrian in 1934

The long arm of the law: A British policeman is seen in his then standard Custodian helmet and jacket as he directs a pedestrian in 1934

The long arm of the law: A British policeman is seen in his then standard Custodian helmet and jacket as he directs a pedestrian in 1934

A bullock and cart holding up traffic in Sidcup, Kent, in 1938. Behind them, a bus bearing an advert for the Daily Mail can be seen. To the right, pedestrians walk on the pavement whilst a car is parked in front of them

A bullock and cart holding up traffic in Sidcup, Kent, in 1938. Behind them, a bus bearing an advert for the Daily Mail can be seen. To the right, pedestrians walk on the pavement whilst a car is parked in front of them

A bullock and cart holding up traffic in Sidcup, Kent, in 1938. Behind them, a bus bearing an advert for the Daily Mail can be seen. To the right, pedestrians walk on the pavement whilst a car is parked in front of them 

Fancy a dip? Bathers are seen above going for a swim near London's Tower Bridge in 1933. Mr Bell added: 'There’s no chocolate box folksiness here, just a wonderful appreciation of the times in which he lived , good and bad'

Fancy a dip? Bathers are seen above going for a swim near London's Tower Bridge in 1933. Mr Bell added: 'There’s no chocolate box folksiness here, just a wonderful appreciation of the times in which he lived , good and bad'

Fancy a dip? Bathers are seen above going for a swim near London’s Tower Bridge in 1933. Mr Bell added: ‘There’s no chocolate box folksiness here, just a wonderful appreciation of the times in which he lived , good and bad’



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