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A Walk Through Walter Thornbury’s London

December 27, 2015
by the gentle author

Golden Buildings off the Strand

There is the London we know and the London we remember, and then there is the London that is lost to us but recalled by old photographs. Yet beyond all this lies another London which is long forgotten, composed of buildings and streets destroyed before the era of photography. Walter Thornbury’s ‘Old & New London – how it was and how it is‘ of 1873 offers a glimpse into this shadowy realm with engravings of the city which lies almost beyond recognition. It is a London that was forgotten generations ago and these images are like memories conjuring from a dream, strange apparitions that can barely be squared with the reality of the current metropolis we inhabit today.

“Writing the history of a vast city like London is like writing a history of the ocean – the area is so vast, its inhabitants are so multifarious, the treasures that lie in its depths so countless. … The houses of old London are encrusted as thick with anecdotes, legends and traditions as an old ship is with barnacles. Strange stories of strange men grow like moss in every crevice of the bricks … Old London is passing away even as we dip our pen in the ink…” – Walter Thornbury

The Four Swans Inn, Bishopsgate - shortly before demolition

Garraway’s Coffee House – shortly before demolition after 216 years in business

Roman wall at Tower Hill

Dyer’s Hall, College St, rebuilt 1857

Old house in Leadenhall St with Synagogue entrance

Yard of the Bull & Mouth, Aldergsgate 1820

The Old Fountain, Minories

Demolition of King’s Cross in 1845

Clerkenwell in 1820 before the railway came through

Middlesex House of Detention, Clerkenwell

In the Jerusalem Tavern above St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell

Cock Lane, Smithfield

Hand & Shears, Clothfair

Smithfield before the construction of the covered market

Last remnant of the the Fleet Prison demolished in 1846

The Fleet Ditch seen from the Red Lion

Back of the Red Lion seen from the Fleet Ditch

Field Lane 1840

Leather Lane

Exotic pet shop on the Ratcliffe Highway with creatures imported through the London Docks

Sir Paul Pindar’s Lodge, Spitalfields

Room in Sir Paul Pindar’s House, Bishopsgate – demolished for the building of Liverpool St Station

Kirkby Castle, Bethnal Green

Tudor gatehouse in Stepney

Boar’s Head Yard, Borough High St

Jacob’s Island, Southwark

Floating Dock, Deptford

Painted Hall, Greenwich

Waterloo Bridge Rd

Balloon Ascent at Vauxhall Gardens, 1840

House in Westminster, believed to have been inhabited by Oliver Cromwell

Old shops in Holborn

Mammalia at the British Museum

Rookery, St Giles 1850

Manor House of Toten Hall, Tottenham Court Rd 1813

Marylebone Gardens, 1780

Turkish Baths, Jermyn St

Old house in Wych St

Butcher’s Row, Strand 1810

The Fox Under The Hill, Strand

Ivy Bridge Lane, Strand

Turner’s House,  Maiden Lane

Covent Garden

Whistling Oyster, Covent Garden

Tothill St, Westminster

Old house on Tothill St

The Manor House at Dalston

Old Rectory, Stoke Newington 1856

Sights of Stoke Newington – 1. Rogers House 1877 2. Fleetwood House, 1750 3. St Mary’s Rectory 4. St Mary’s New Church 5, New River at Stoke Newington 6. Queen Elizabeth’s Walk, 1800 7. Old gateway

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

A Room to Let in Old Aldgate

The Ghosts of Old London

14 Responses leave one →
  1. dave whittaker permalink
    December 27, 2015

    FABULOUS ! Thank You.

  2. Annie G permalink
    December 27, 2015

    What a wonderful collection. Here I am, post Christmas, looking for something to unjade the palate and here it is! The image of Westminster Abbey is excellent and makes incredible sense – the abbey part of a whole environment, not just standing there. You can stand on the same spot today and look at the abbey but it is completely different. Odd to think that royal personages now alight where once there were ramshackle ancient houses…

  3. December 27, 2015

    Absolutely fascinating! Thank you, and Season’s Greetings.

  4. December 27, 2015

    Wonderful that these buildings were recorded and drawn before they were destroyed. Valerie

  5. December 27, 2015

    Terrific quality of the artisans shows through in these fine pictures.

    Question: were those cross-beams shoring up the old structures there from the time of construction, or were they added years later as the buildings shifted out over the street?

    (always learning from your blog, GA!)

  6. Sonia Murray permalink
    December 27, 2015

    Fascinating pictures – thank you! What a shame so many historic buildings have been destroyed. Love the picture of the rookery – now I know what the rookeries Anne Perry describes in her books looked like!

  7. Roger C permalink
    December 27, 2015

    Another great post from the GA. Marvelous images from a bygone era.

  8. Peter Holford permalink
    December 27, 2015

    Well that got me motivated to look up where to get a copy of this great archive. Available on eBay as a CD-ROM at a giveaway price. It must be Christmas. Thank you again, GA.

  9. Ellen Lee Russell permalink
    December 27, 2015

    Thank you for such a wonderful post holiday treat.

  10. Cornish Cockney permalink
    December 28, 2015

    Love that one of the pictures shows a Brokers by the name of Scrooge, and a shop named Fagins! Makes you wonder if Charles Dickens had also walked down the street!

  11. GKBowood permalink
    December 28, 2015

    Engrossing etchings, thank you for sharing. Noting the number of buildings shored up with bracing it is no wonder they were demolished!

  12. December 29, 2015

    Just discovered your site today…Incredible etchings, which reveal in a palimpsest fashion the fathomless layers of your great city’s history….Shall look for the Thornbury book, and to reading more of your posts : )

  13. December 29, 2015

    What wonderful pictures – as atmospheric and informative as any photographs. I’m fascinated to see the great beams shoring up the buildings, stretching across streets. Thank you for posting – I’m learning so much from your blog!

  14. Luke McGann permalink
    February 20, 2016

    Wow! Absolute gem of a find!
    What really impressed me was the accuracy of the sourcing and description helping to fill in the gaps. I live in Clerkenwell so found relevant areas especially enjoyable and had just read Tom Bolton’s new book Vanished City which has a chapter on old Clare Market where LSE and Aldwych were built so the very unexpected image of Butchers’ Row was a fantastic surprise.

    Am very interested in finding images of Cripplegate before the Blitz bombings in 1940. Any help greatly appreciated.

    Kindest regards
    Luke

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