london diary

dec 2003


my london diary

christmas is on its way, and houses all over britain are beginning to display the signs, some more tastefully than others.

some i've found are rather impressive, others i find amusing, but your opinions may well differ.

christmas has almost completely lost the connection it had to the nativity, and the 'christmas story' is now one of cash registers and a santa claus who owes as much to advertising as to saint nicholas.

originally of course this was a pagan festival, from over 4000 years ago, the feast of the goddess of nature, an occasion for drinking, gluttony and gifts, so perhaps we really are getting down to our roots for once.

many celebrations, especially those for yule (the 'wheel' or sun) were on the winter solstice - the shortest daylight, usually on Dec 21 or 22, when the rebirth of the sun was celebrated.

pope julius I decided it would be a good idea for christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus on dec 25 back in 350, so that christians could go on celebrating yule and not feel bad about it, celebrating the birth of the son while others were celebrating the birth of the sun.

though christmas as we knew it only came in around the 1500s in germany, many of its customs only really coming here when victoria married albert.

our modern picture of santa developed in the usa in the mid nineteenth century, particularly in the drawings of thomas nast for 'harpers', and the jovial fat bearded man in red and white was well-established before haddon sundbloom annexed him for his fantastically successful coke adverts.

although coke didn't invent santa, it was largely the power of their advertising that sold him to the world.

these decorated houses, often an attempt to go one better than the joneses, have become an urban folk art

one of the glories of folk art is that it is seldom polite or tasteful, sometimes incredibly kitsch and over the top. despite my misgivings on grounds of religion, ecology, upbringing and reserve i love them.

at the very least they add a little colour to our lives.

(they are also very difficult to photograph well. in full darkness the contrast between the lights and the rest of the scene is too high. if you want to take pictures, then try and do so at twilight, when there is still enough light around to see clearly. the lupine hour is the best time for most 'night' photography. unfortunately I've had to photograph some of these under less than ideal conditions.)

my thanks to those people - mainly from Cix - who have sent me information about the houses in some of these images. If you know any fine examples in London I missed this year, please send me details and I will try and include them for next year.


justice is simply not happening for those imprisoned at guatanamo bay. what is happening is in breach of the conventions on human rights. it makes nonsense of the claims of the usa to be fighting against terrorism when they are acting in this way. most of the muslim world seems convinced the usa is a terrorist state because of actions like this. it wasn't a huge demonstration, at times there seemed to be more speakers than demonstrators. i turned down an invitation to speak, though i think it was just a case of mistaken identity ... but at least this didn't lead me to be incarcerated without trial.
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the 15th was a glorious december day, cold but with a clear blue sky and sun. i took the brompton to angel road, then spent a couple of hours around there before heading north to ponders end, further up the lea valley. around here there are still some of many industries that once filled much of the lower lea.
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as it got dark i went to enfield, in search of some houses i'd been told about, then on to north tottenham and new southgate and finally west finchley. somewhere i tried to cycle where the council had left a flower bed in the pavement and went flying, with rather painful results, but fortunately i don't seem to have broken anything.
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the weather was still good a couple of days later as i reached rotherhithe in late afternoon, with a post-sunset glow along the thames. much of the surrey docks redevelopment seems sadly suburban, the new riverside flats depress by their lack of imagination, but there are some fine views along the river, even canary wharf can look good from a distance.

here are a couple more houses with Christmas decorations worth photographing, before i leap on the east london line to new cross. unfortunately there don't seem to be any trains running to hither green from here (despite the timetable) but its only a couple of miles to cycle.

the lights in newstead road are perhaps the most impressive of any i've seen, but i can't really find a good way to photograph them, and there are too many people around. apparently last year they raised £3000 for charity.
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back on my bike to the station, train to waterloo and then raynes park and a cycle down grand drive to lower morden lane. fingers cold because i lost a glove on the way to rotherhithe. this is impressive for the number of houses with decorations, and the queue of cars driving slowly past to admire them. but none of them are really exceptional, and there isn't a lot to photograph. so its back on the brompton to raynes park and a couple of trains home. great to come in and find a hot dinner in the oven waiting for me.



some of my work

gets put into nice organised websites.

this isn't meant to be like that, but you can see some of the rest at

london pictures
londons industrial history

and you can read what I think about photography at


All pictures on this site are © Peter Marshall 2002;
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contact me

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Ashford          more pictures


Opposite 10 Downing St, Whitehall. Mr Azmat Begg (father of Moazzam Begg), imprisoned without trial at Guantanamo Bay.          more pictures

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This house in Ruislip attracts many visitors who contribute to charity.

Another ride along and around the River Lea in north-east London - and the day ended with more decorated houses          more pictures

Christmas decorations on a Rotherhithe house.

Hither Green has one of the finest displays around           more pictures

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