One of the great frustrations attending (relatively) early film is the reluctance of the cameramen to venture too far off the London tourist track. Mitchell and Kenyon were northerners, filming relatively small towns and cities where heavy industry was not only unavoidable, but was the sole source of a mass audience. London was a different matter, and we have been left with a rich heritage of early film of Piccadilly Circus and Whitehall. Here, on the other hand, is film ofthe sort of territory that gave birth to that famously pioneering football club, Thames Ironworks. (Ironworks, who later became West Ham, were one of the first clubs to experiment seriously with floodlights, sixty years before the Football Association permitted their use).
The film follows a barge up the Regents Canal from Docklands all the way around London’s East End, going on into Camden (with shots of the chaotic surroundings of Kings Cross as they were then, and a view into St Pancras Station) and finishing in Paddington Basin. From time to time, the cameraman leaves the boat and captures priceless street scenes in otherwise rarely filmed places like Hackney and Kentish Town.
By 1924, London’s footballing heartland had only just shifted away from the river and the parks. Spurs had won the FA Cup two decades earlier as a non-league club, the last to do so; in 1919, Arsenal effectively conned their way into the top division over the heads of Barnsley, who’d only catch them up in modern times, and then only for one season. So what this film shows is London’s first footballing heartlands – the sorts of places where the original fans of Millwall, West Ham and Charlton lived and worked. In another twenty years, quite a lot of what you see in this film would have been flattened by Luftwaffe attack – although if you know this part of London, you’ll be gratified by just how much there remains now to be recognised here: