Spitalfields Nippers

Spitalfields Nippers

Last night, the book of Horace Warner’s photographs of the Spitalfields Nippers was launched.

Introduced by the Gentle Author, who runs the Spitalfields Life blog (“In the midst of life I woke to find myself living in an old house beside Brick Lane in the East End of London”), it is a lovely book, printed on high-quality paper, and made to last.

But of course it is the photographs which are the main thing. Most of us have probably photographed our children and grandchildren, and have noticed that children have a very strong tendency to put on silly faces or gestures. Warner’s Nippers don’t: they look confidently at the camera, self-assured, sometimes tough, sometimes vulnerable, and sometimes amused, each one an individual. Though they were some of the poorest people in Britain at the start of the twentieth century, they are not patronised by the photographer. Occasional props are both an ordinary part of their everyday life and startling in a photograph: a luxuriant cabbage, a fancy pigeon.

Horace Warner was superintendent of the Quaker Sunday school at the Bedford Institute. As the editor points out, Quakers believe in social equality and in the divine in everyone, and these principles come out very clearly in the photographs. An interesting sequence shows the Nippers in the Whitechapel Gallery, where Warner had taken them to see an exhibition by Burne-Jones. The photographs treat the children and the paintings equal-handedly.

The index of the book includes stories of those of the Nippers who can be traced in the records. Many grew up, married people with similar backgrounds, had children …

The photographs were kept in Warner’s family, and almost unseen by the world until their “discovery” this year. I am delighted with the result.

About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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