Pictures of a Run-down Soho and Covent Garden in 1979

It's almost shocking how much the West-End of London has changed in the last forty years or so...

Joan Collins on at the Cambridge Theatre, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, 1979 MC Morgan

These fascinating photos were taken by an American student MC Morgan. In his words this is how he came to take them:

I was in London studying at London University College from 1978-9 and 1980-81. (End of punk, rise of new wave and the new romantics). I lived in Maida Vale with 14 other university students in a 1840s Victorian 4 storey house converted to double and multiple bedrooms. This was before Maida Vale was gentrified in the late 1980s and 1990s. The house we lived in has been converted back to a Victoria single-family house in the £500k range. There were squats in Clifton Gardens where we went to parties. My local was The Warwick Castle. We couldn’t live there again – too expensive – but we visit.

I shot with a Pentax 35mm, with 50mm and 135mm lenses. I used Tri-X and pushed it to 1000 ASA for low light shots in the pub and in the underground. I developed most of the film myself in one of the small attic rooms. I bought a portable Russian enlarger for £20 at a shop in the Edgware Road, and used that for printing, washing the prints in one of the bathtubs.

My wife – we met in London – is from Bristol, so we spent some time there. There are a few shots of Clifton and Brandon Hill, but not a lot.

All the images are scans from prints rather than negatives. I had some of the of the film processed in the States years after I shot it, and scanned the 4X5 print proofs.

We moved back to the States in 1981, but visit whenever we can.  I teach digital rhetoric at a state university in Minnesota, and my wife is a visual artist.

Berwick Street Market

‘Oh, I love London Society! It is entirely composed now of Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics. Just what society should be.’ – Oscar Wilde

Hard Core Cine Club, Soho

‘London is a roost for every bird.’ – Benjamin Disraeli

Neals Yard, Covent Garden

‘London is the epitome of our times, and the Rome of today.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wardour Street

‘It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent.’ – Henry James

Berwick Street market

‘Nothing in London is certain but expense.’ – William Shenstone

London 1979

Great Windmill Street at night

‘There are two places in the world where men can most effectively disappear – the city of London and the South Seas.’ – Herman Melville

Piccadilly Circus underground station

‘This melancholy London – I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually. One feels them passing like a whiff of air.’ – William Butler Yeats

London 1979

Monmouth Street, Covent Garden

‘There’s nowhere else like London. Nothing at all, anywhere.’ – Vivienne Westwood

London 1979

London underground

‘The walls of London may be battered but the spirit of the Londoner stands resolute and undismayed.’ – King George VI

The Dilly Cinema on Great Windmill Street.

‘London opens to you like a novel itself… It is divided into chapters, the chapters into scenes, the scenes into sentences; it opens to you like a series of rooms, doors and passages. Mayfair to Piccadilly to Soho to the Strand.’ – Anna Quindlen

London 1979

Berwick Street market

‘On March 4th, 1830, I arrived in London, where a new world seemed opened to me.’ – Henry Bessemer

London 1979

Sitting on the Northern Line

‘London is sexy because it’s full of eccentrics.’ – Rachel Weisz