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London’s Ancient Topography

August 24, 2015
by the gentle author

(Celebrating the sixth anniversary of Spitalfields Life with a week of favourite posts from the last twelve months, before recommencing with new stories on 31st August)

Bethelem Hospital with London Wall in Foreground – Drawn June 1812

Two centuries ago, John Thomas Smith set out to record the last vestiges of ancient London that survived from before the Great Fire of 1666 but which were vanishing in his lifetime. You can click on any of these images to enlarge them and study the tender human detail that Smith recorded in these splendid etchings he made from his own drawings. My passion for John Thomas Smith’s work was first ignited by his portraits of raffish street sellers published as Vagabondiana and I was delighted to spot several of those familiar characters included here in these vivid streets scenes of London long ago.

Bethel Hospital seen from London Wall – Drawn August 1844

Old House in Sweedon’s Passage, Grub St – Drawn July 1791, Taken Down March 1805

Old House in Sweedon’s Passage, Grub St – Drawn July 1791, Taken Down March 1805

London Wall in Churchyard of St Giles’ Cripplegate –  Drawn 1793, Taken Down 1803

Houses on the Corner of Chancery Lane & Fleet St – Drawn August 1789, Taken Down May 1799

Houses in Leadenhall St – Drawn July 1796

Duke St, West Smithfield – Drawn July 1807, Taken Down October 1809

Corner of Hosier Lane, West Smithfield – Drawn April 1795

Houses on the South Side of London Wall – Drawn March 1808

Houses on West Side of Little Moorfields – Drawn May 1810

Magnificent Mansion in Hart St, Crutched Friars – Drawn May 1792, Taken Down 1801

Walls of the Convent of St Clare, Minories – Drawn April 1797

Watch Tower Discovered Near Ludgate Hill – Drawn June 1792

An Arch of London Bridge in the Great Frost – Drawn February 5th 1814

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana II

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana III

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Bee [TINGEY] permalink
    August 24, 2015

    Oh to have been around when they were taking down those old buildings!! No reclamation yards in those days.

  2. brian hawxwell permalink
    August 24, 2015

    Early 1800`s London looks like Rye or Canterbury…

  3. Jane permalink
    August 24, 2015

    John Thomas Smith – what superb architectural detail as well as observing and recording everyday social life. A treasure trove.

  4. August 24, 2015

    Quite something to see that even before the bulldozers and the tower blocks arrived, so many beautiful buildings and streets were demolished. Only they were replaced with equally beautiful buildings, while today it is office blocks and luxury apartments for the well to do.

  5. Roger C permalink
    August 24, 2015

    Fantastic drawings, squint your eyes and they could be 18/19c monochrome photos :)

  6. Helen kinsey permalink
    October 5, 2015

    Its amazing that my great great grandfather as a londoner would have lived with these wonderful buildings and to think they survived so long. On another site i found buildings like these that were around spitalfields that were still standing just before W11 now long gone. They keep destoying the old and so solidly built often with such graceful lines and style with buildings not worth keeping even for a day, especially those from the 60,s and 70,s.

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