“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Chinese Paper Lanterns For Sale in Cloth Fair, London, 1912

Posted: February 7th, 2019 | No Comments »

The picture below is of Mrs. Flora Jackson, who was the listed proprietor of Jackson’s Newsagents (& Provisions Store) at no.22 Cloth Fair (just by the junction to Red Lion Passage – now sadly demolished) in Smithfield, City of London. It is March 1912 and she has, as you can see, a display of Chinese lanterns in her window…

Now, this image comes from a wonderful book of old London photographs – Panorama’s of Lost London, by Philip Davies (Transatlantic Press, 2011). The images are mostly from the London Metropolitan Archive. The caption to the photo (provided, I assume, by Davies, reads: ’20 Cloth Fair and entrance to Red Lion Passage looking west, 26 March 1912 – Note the patriotic paper lanterns for sale in the shop window…’ Incidentally it is the Kelly’s Post Office London Directory of 1911 that tells me Flora Jackson was at no.22 – but no matter. It’s the lanterns we’re interested in….

Now this reference to ‘patriotic lanterns’ intrigued me. Chinese paper lanterns were imported into England in quite large numbers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The vogue for them had really got going in 1887 at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations as towns and villages across the land hung Chinese lanterns out to celebrate (see my post of that – http://www.chinarhyming.com/2013/11/25/the-1887-jubilee-perhaps-a-highpoint-in-chinese-lanterns/

By the turn of the century and after World War One garden parties, tea dances, street parties and decorated homes all often featured these Chinese paper lanterns which were, I believe, quite inexpensive, decorative and pleasingly exotic. (see here for Chinese lanterns at the dances at the Metropole Hotel in London in 1926 – http://www.chinarhyming.com/2013/10/20/chinese-lanterns-dancing-all-night-at-the-metropole-in-1926/

1912 though has no particular patriotic connotation in England. Nor do the lanterns appear to be particularly aimed at any sort of British patriotism. Of course it is the first year of the establishment of the Chinese Republic, but do we really think that Jackson’s Newsagents of Cloth Fair was celebrating the end of the Qing Dynasty and the creation of Dr Sun’s Republic? Possibly?

I might venture that it appears as if a makeshift Chinese-style shrine has been created in the display too. I checked the records in case that window wasn’t Mrs Jackson’s, but a Chinese curio store next door – it was her window. And so I have a few possibles:

  1. Mrs Jackson simply sold Chinese paper lanterns and either she, or the sales rep, created the window display?…
  2. Mrs Jackson had a Chinese husband? If anyone has access to ancestry.com they might like to check that out…
  3. Mrs Jackson saw a sales opportunity around Chinese New Year – however, that was late January in 1922 (year of the Dog, by the way) so (if the book’s label of March is correct) she’s carrying on the theme a bit long…
  4. Mrs Jackson really did want to celebrate the establishment of the Chinese Republic and created a window display to mark that momentous event.

I would, of course, welcome any thoughts or ideas?

Finally, looking through the archives I found this shot of Mrs. Jackson’s shop that shows you her front window that is cut off in the picture above…this one was taken by Edward Yates, two years earlier in 1910 and shows the provisions part of her store and clearly that her shop was no.22 .

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