This is a postcard view taken in St. Martin’s Place one night at 2am during the early part of the 20th century.
There is quite a bit of mystery to the picture, taken on a foggy night near Trafalgar Square.
Who is the man on the left? Was he talking to the policeman? Or was it the other way round? The mystery man has a satchel so perhaps is on his way to work. He may know the policeman, or perhaps as was customary in those days, stopped by to have a chat.
Why is the officer there? Did something happen at the National Gallery? Or is he just quietly passing the time?
London at 2 a.m. in those days was very quiet. The photographer was in the right place at just the right time to discover these two individuals and take a picture.
The rarity of such an event indicates the photograph was staged. Its no doubt a longer exposure taken on a tripod. The shadowy figures may have been asked to stay still while the composition was being taken. Even in the 1900’s night shots still required a fair amount of photography skill.
The site is the National Gallery’s side entrance opposite St Martin-in-the-Fields. It’s described as ‘Trafalgar Square’ because that was better known.
The exact position in 2016.
There are a few subtle changes between 1913 and nowadays as shown above. The trees have changed, thus the shadowy man would have been out of sight behind the tree in the foreground. The lamp posts are different and the steps into the National Gallery are a ramp. The policeman stood right by the first of the three manhole covers that can be seen today. A vendor’s stall obscures the gallery entrance.
The National Gallery St Martin’s entrance. A ramp has replaced the steps.