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Spitalfields Nippers
April 7, 2011 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Of the two hundred and forty photographs Horace Warner shot in 1912 of the Spitalfields Nippers, only 30 are around today.

Don't bother clicking on the photos unless you're looking for a much smaller version.
posted by gman (29 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
These are obviously children in hardship (ill-clothed, dirty, working hard, etc)...and yet they don't look ill-fed. Baby fat? Earning plenty to eat but not clothe? Stealing food? Donations?
posted by DU at 7:52 AM on April 7, 2011


Oh, wow, these are really interesting photos. Thanks, gman.

These are obviously children in hardship (ill-clothed, dirty, working hard, etc)...and yet they don't look ill-fed


I dunno, some of theme are pretty gaunt for little kids. Also, given that their original use was apparently "to accompany the annual reports of the charitable Bedford Institute, " it wouldn't surprise me to learn that some of them were staged to at least some extent-- torn clothes donned, a little extra dirt artfully applied her or there, etc. Especially the shots of them "working." There was pretty much no such thing as a candid photograph in 1912, so the shots of little girls doing the wash or little boys splitting kindling would have had to be be staged anyway.
posted by dersins at 8:10 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't bother clicking on the photos unless you're looking for a much smaller version.

But if you do want a smaller version that becomes larger again, keep clicking.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:17 AM on April 7, 2011


None of them looks remotely gaunt and some look distinctly plump (in the child sense, not the obese sense).

I suspect street urchins just had more to eat than what we normally think of as poverty conditions. Plenty of corner markets and bakeries to beg/steal from. The tragedy here isn't malnutrition (although I wouldn't be at all surprised if the calories they are consuming aren't ideal) but neglect and..."unfair labor practices" seems to understand the case.
posted by DU at 8:23 AM on April 7, 2011


"The elusive drama of childhood itself". You know what else is illusive? A friggin explanation of what a nipper is.
posted by spicynuts at 8:23 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know what else is illusive? A friggin explanation of what a nipper is.

Behold, the power of the internet!
posted by robself at 8:25 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


A nipper is a smoked child.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:27 AM on April 7, 2011 [22 favorites]


Yeah guess what...I googled it and got all Jack The Ripper results. Then I wiki'd it and got the RCA dog. So, you want to make a post, how about some background?
posted by spicynuts at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


None of them looks remotely gaunt and some look distinctly plump (in the child sense, not the obese sense).


Really? Really? Really?

I'd say all three of those photos contain unhealthy looking children.
posted by item at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2011


A nipper is a bonnie wee bairn.
posted by Flashman at 8:30 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


They are dirty and tired and the first one in particular looks pretty weary. But they don't look underfed, no. Are you familiar with any children? This is pretty much how they look. In that last picture, look at the right hand of the child on the left. He's got actual dimples.
posted by DU at 8:30 AM on April 7, 2011


This is remarkably short of explanation. Are these kids orphans, or just your average child of the working poor?

Was the "charitable Bedford Institute" an orphanage, or what?

It appears that all the photos are scans of halftone prints, so I assume the reason why there are 30 out of 240 surviving is that they were the published ones and the negatives are lost?

This one does look almost exactly like my daughter at a age 5 or so, except our cat was an orange tabby. Kinda scary in that respect -- to think of your own kid in this kind of squalor.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:32 AM on April 7, 2011


Are you familiar with any children?

No, I guess I've never met any of those - what did you call them? Child-ren?
posted by item at 8:32 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]



A nipper is a bonnie wee bairn.


Given I know what 6 of those 7 words mean, I'm going with you don't know what a nipper is either. I'm going to go with the kippered kid definition.
posted by spicynuts at 8:38 AM on April 7, 2011


Posted by Word Camel on May 03, 2002

I've just found a passage in Peter Ackroyd's London biography (apologies in advance - I just keep finding interesting tidbits)quoting a seventeenth century city recorder who was giving evidence about a raid on Watton's Ale house in Billingsgate. Apparently the inn keeper was running a sort of school for child pick pockets. It really could have come directly from Oliver Twist. "Pockets and purses were hung upon a line with 'hawkes bells' or 'scaring bells' attached to them; if a child could remove a coin or counter without setting off the bell 'he was adjudged a judicaill Nypper'".

So I'm guessing this is the origin of calling children "little nippers".
- found on The Phrase Finder
posted by Aquaman at 8:41 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great, evocative photos that bring to mind the descriptions of Rose and her impoverished environs in Brighton Rock
posted by fatfrank at 8:48 AM on April 7, 2011


They look pretty typical for kids of that era--compare and contrast those done in the US by Lewis Hine. These aren't long exposures, like Civil War era photographs.
I don't know what camera Warner was using, but Kodak was selling folding cameras, "vest-pocket" cameras and junior cameras.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:55 AM on April 7, 2011


The pictures are so good and the kids are so just, I don't know, regular-kids-in-a-shitty-situation, that I doubted the authenticity for a moment. Something about the boys' haircuts. They all have really good haircuts. And the short exposures with nobody blurry or that glazed-eye look that people have in really old photographs.
Great pictures.
posted by chococat at 9:23 AM on April 7, 2011


Given I know what 6 of those 7 words mean, I'm going with you don't know what a nipper is either. I'm going to go with the kippered kid definition.

A nipper is a kid, and sometimes more specifically a kid that helps a street vendor or carter.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:36 AM on April 7, 2011


Am I the only person who thinks "Spitalfields Nippers" would be an awesome name for a football club?
posted by Madamina at 10:07 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


None of them looks remotely gaunt and some look distinctly plump (in the child sense, not the obese sense).

Really? Really? Really?

I'd say all three of those photos contain unhealthy looking children.

item, if you put those kids in shoes, shorts, and (momentarily) clean t-shirts, none of them would look the least out of place nor malnourished on a playground in the US today.

Really.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:18 AM on April 7, 2011


Neat photos. I particularly like Mad Nipper Girl with Rabbit, even though someone probably eats the rabbit.
posted by Glinn at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2011


> Am I the only person who thinks "Spitalfields Nippers" would be an awesome name for a football club?
> posted by Madamina at 1:07 PM on April 7

Before I clicked on the link I thought the shots would be of some kind of minor-league or amateur sports team from back in the day.


> Something about the boys' haircuts. They all have really good haircuts.

Or maybe it's just that so many have really dreadful haircuts today. Q: which of today's guy hairstyles will be the mullets of tomorrow? A: all of them, except the ones that look like the boys in these photos.

Also, cats are apparently eternal.
posted by jfuller at 11:35 AM on April 7, 2011


Yes, I was about to say- Contented looking cats in any context thank you.
posted by marvin at 12:07 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was wondering about that. Those cats (I counted three individuals - some in multiple photos) were so relaxed. Not worried about being chased, teased, tormented... Another little ingredient in my suspicion that these were staged PR shots.
posted by likeso at 1:18 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


These images remind me of Walker Evan's photographs of Alabama cotton farmers from 'Let us Now Praise Famous Men'.
posted by bq at 1:25 PM on April 7, 2011


I have a fair number of old photographs from around 1910/1915 that while not candid in the sense of stop action street photography are only somewhat posed. This trombone player isn't in action playing the trombone but it isn't staged.
posted by interplanetjanet at 3:55 PM on April 7, 2011


I believe a nipper is an ankle-biter.
posted by molecicco at 4:40 AM on April 8, 2011


I believe that nippers are our future.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:58 AM on April 8, 2011


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