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Street Scenes

A fascinating record from British cinema's earliest days

Main image of Street Scenes

Some of the earliest filmed moving images were street scenes, beginning in the 1890s and filmed all over the UK. The visual appeal of the movement of crowds of people and traffic provided ideal subject matter. They were often filmed from a moving vehicle, usually a tram, in films known as 'phantom rides'.

The films were sometimes commissioned by showmen, who ran attractions at local fairs, and had spotted the potential of film to attract an audience. These films were shot and then screened at shows and fairs a few days later, and audiences were encouraged to attend by the possibility of seeing themselves on screen. "See yourselves as others see you," was one of the phrases used on advertising placards.

A short lifespan was intended for the films, which were often discarded once the local screenings has taken place or when the fair moved on. In the early days of film, it was regarded as a working-class form of entertainment and, by many, as a fad that probably would not last more than a few years.

Fortunately, many of the films have survived, usually by chance. These films provide fascinating historical records of the evolution of town and city centre buildings and streets, as well as changing modes of transport and fashion.

Ros Cranston

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Belfast Street Scenes (c. 1898)Belfast Street Scenes (c. 1898)

Horsedrawn buses and other traffic and pedestrians in Belfast

Thumbnail image of Central London Street Scenes (1920)Central London Street Scenes (1920)

Various central London scenes, possibly shot for a feature film

Thumbnail image of Dumfries Street Scenes (1910)Dumfries Street Scenes (1910)

Actuality footage of Dumfries streets circa 1910-20

Thumbnail image of Leeds - Street Scenes Near Bridge (1903)Leeds - Street Scenes Near Bridge (1903)

Actuality footage of an unidentified Leeds street.

Thumbnail image of London Street Scenes c.1920sLondon Street Scenes c.1920s

Busy traffic scenes on the streets of central London

Thumbnail image of Mitchell and Kenyon: Liverpool Street Scenes (1901)Mitchell and Kenyon: Liverpool Street Scenes (1901)

People and traffic at the intersection of Holy Corner

Thumbnail image of Old London Street Scenes (1903)Old London Street Scenes (1903)

Early Edwardian London streets, teeming with horse-drawn traffic

Thumbnail image of Panorama of Ealing from a Moving Tram (1901)Panorama of Ealing from a Moving Tram (1901)

A tram's eye view of turn-of-the-20th century Ealing

Thumbnail image of Petticoat Lane (1903)Petticoat Lane (1903)

Vivid scenes of the venerable East London market

Thumbnail image of Plymouth Streets (1912)Plymouth Streets (1912)

Vivid hustle and bustle on a Plymouth high street

Thumbnail image of Royal Visit to Bolton. Street Scenes and Celebrations (1913)Royal Visit to Bolton. Street Scenes and Celebrations (1913)

King George V and Queen Mary visit Bolton, July 1913

Thumbnail image of Street Scene in Boar Lane (Leeds) (1898)Street Scene in Boar Lane (Leeds) (1898)

A busy Leeds street corner at the turn of the century

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Thumbnail image of Mitchell and KenyonMitchell and Kenyon

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Thumbnail image of Phantom RidesPhantom Rides

Vehicle-mounted cameras provide a popular spectacle for early filmgoers

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