Rare and Amazing Vintage Photos Showing London in the Late 1940s

Photographer Ernst Haas (1921–1986) is best known for his color saturated images of post-war America, where he moved in 1951. Born in Vienna, Haas suffered under the Nazi occupation, turning to photography after being kicked out of medical school for being Jewish. His big break came after his photographs of prisoners of war returning to Vienna in 1947 caught the eye of Magnum founder Robert Capa, who invited Haas to join the agency in New York.

While waiting for his visa, Haas visited London for the first time in late 1948, staying until 1949. He was on assignment for the Austrian magazine, Film, but in his spare time he took to the streets, capturing people at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park or on bustling Shaftsbury Avenue. Fascinated by the city’s spirit and the stoicism of it inhabitants, Haas returned to London in 1951, this time shooting jubilant scenes from the Festival of Britain.

London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a 50-mile (80 km) estuary down to the North Sea, and has been a major settlement for two millennia. The City of London, its ancient core and financial centre, was founded by the Romans as Londinium and retains boundaries close to its medieval ones. Since the 19th century, “London” has also referred to the metropolis around this core, historically split between the counties of Middlesex, Essex, Surrey, Kent, and Hertfordshire, which largely comprises Greater London, governed by the Greater London Authority. The City of Westminster, to the west of the City of London, has for centuries held the national government and parliament.

London, as one of the world’s global cities, exerts strong influence on its arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, health care, media, tourism, and communications. Its GDP (€801.66 billion in 2017) makes it the biggest urban economy in Europe, and it is one of the major financial centres in the world. In 2019 it had the second-highest number of ultra high-net-worth individuals in Europe after Paris and the second-highest number of billionaires of any city in Europe after Moscow. With Europe’s largest concentration of higher education institutions, it includes Imperial College London in natural and applied sciences, the London School of Economics in social sciences, and the comprehensive University College London. The city is home to the most 5-star hotels of any city in the world. In 2012, London became the first city to host three Summer Olympic Games.

London’s diverse cultures mean over 300 languages are spoken. The mid-2018 population of Greater London of about 9 million[5] made it Europe’s third-most populous city. It accounts for 13.4 per cent of the UK population. Greater London Built-up Area is the fourth-most populous in Europe, after Istanbul, Moscow and Paris, with 9,787,426 inhabitants at the 2011 census. The London metropolitan area is the third-most populous in Europe after Istanbul’s and Moscow’s, with 14,040,163 inhabitants in 2016.

London has four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the combined Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret’s Church; and also the historic settlement in Greenwich, where the Royal Observatory, Greenwich defines the Prime Meridian (0° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time. Other landmarks include Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square. It has numerous museums, galleries, libraries and sporting venues, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, British Library and West End theatres. The London Underground is the oldest rapid transit system in the world. (Wikipedia)

Cyclists, London, 1949
A bustling Shaftsbury Avenue, 1949
Speakers corner (singing people), 1949
Speakers corner, 1949
In the post-war years, Speaker’s Corner represented a snapshot of the changing face of British society. Black workers’ unions and socialist political parties were given a platform alongside bowler-hatted gentry.
Men up a ladder outside the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly, 1949
Flower seller
Street sweeper, 1949
A stall on Portobello Road in west London
In the spring of 1951, while en route to America with a ticket paid for by Illustrated magazine, Ernst returned to London. It was a far cry from the city he had visited two years earlier. Street parties and celebrations marking the Festival of Britain were in full swing and Ernst photographed men, women, even babies in their Sunday best.

Photos: Ernst Haas

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