ADVERTISER 150: We look back to Titanic and what a photographer finds in Spitalfields after the drama at sea

19:00 30 November 2016

1912: Titanic is the big news

1912: Titanic is the big news


Our nightly review of the big stories of the day we’ve covered since 1866, marking the East London Advertiser’s 150th anniversary this month, has reached 1912 and the dramatic sinking of Titanic. Here we look at how a photographer waiting for a train out of Liverpool street wanders the streets of Spitalfields snapping everyday street life—and catches news of the Titanic on a billboard down a cobbled back turning...

1912: Dramnatic scene of Titanic sinking and (inset) how newsvendors sell the story1912: Dramnatic scene of Titanic sinking and (inset) how newsvendors sell the story

1912: Photographer CA Mathew walks out of Liverpool Street station with a camera in hand on a mild Saturday afternoon on April 20.

It is a moment we can date as his camera catches a billboard at a corner newsagent’s shop in Artillery Lane close by, with sensational news about the Titanic sinking with the loss of 1,500 souls—still making the headlines a week after the tragedy.

No-one knows for certain why Mathew wanders through the streets of Spitalfields taking photographs that day. It is likely he is waiting for the train home to his studio at Brightlingsea in Essex and simply takes his pictures to pass the time.

1912: Corner shop in Artillery-lane [photo: CW Mathew/Bishopsgate Institte archives]1912: Corner shop in Artillery-lane [photo: CW Mathew/Bishopsgate Institte archives]

But they leave a fascinating legacy of working class street life of London’s East End, with its large immigrant Jewish population, now kept in the Bishopsgate Institute archives.

The pictures are taken five days after the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic ocean liner goes down on its maiden voyage to New York, despite its advanced safety features—and not enough lifeboats for all those aboard.

It hits an iceberg at 11.40pm on April 14, four days into the ocean crossing, 375 miles south of Newfoundland, leaving a gash in the hull along the starboard side and gradually filling with sea water.

1912: Billboard in Artillery-lane showing Titanic news1912: Billboard in Artillery-lane showing Titanic news

Titanic slowly starts to sink and finally breaks apart at 2.20am, after two-and-a-half hours, with just 705 survivors out of 1,500 passengers and crew.

The lucky ones are rescued by the Carpathia which arrives at the scene two hours later, answering the Titanic’s earlier radio Morse Code distress call.

The disaster is met with worldwide shock and outrage in the press at the huge loss of life and the failed maritime safety regulations.

1912: Artillery-lane, Spitalfields [photo: CW Mathew/Bishopsgate Institte archives]1912: Artillery-lane, Spitalfields [photo: CW Mathew/Bishopsgate Institte archives]

Major improvements are brought in with the 1914 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea—still governing maritime safety a century later.

The man who snapped the everyday life of Spitalfields amid the Titanic drama at sea dies four years later.

But the photographs CA Mathews leaves showing the people of 1912 peering at his lens with unknowing curiosity are an ever-lasting legacy.

We can observe the people of 1912 from the reverse of time’s two-way mirror through his pictures, a record of moments in time for us to look back at the Spitalfields of 1912, the consequence of a delayed train.

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