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John Thomas Smith’s Antient Topography

February 1, 2016
by the gentle author

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.  Click on any of the images published here to enlarge them and study the tender human detail that Smith recorded in these splendid etchings he made from his own drawings, published as Antient Topography of London, 1815. 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 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

12 Responses leave one →
  1. February 1, 2016

    Delicious.
    I love the flyposter and the graffitis in the first picture.

  2. February 1, 2016

    Stunning drawings beautifully executed sense of ruin

  3. February 1, 2016

    Some of these buildings look clearly in need of demolition. They look like they could collapse at at any moment. Others look worthy of restoration. I sense the Victorians wanted to remake the city in their image. I remember being surprised by Dickens’ dislike of the buildings of older London in Our Mutual Friend and this is manifested in the collapse of Arthur’s mothers’s house during the climatic section of that novel.

  4. Vicky permalink
    February 1, 2016

    Fantastic! I would have campaigned to save the lot. Of course there would have been the Lord Mayor to deal with, probably as powerful as our present Mayor, but hey ho I would have tried.

  5. Shirley Brittin permalink
    February 1, 2016

    My Father would have been thrilled to see these. He walked to work in Roseberry Avenue every day from Holborn or Blackfriars Station through Smithfield and loved the history of the area. I joined him on that walk in the fifties and learnt much from him. Thank you for sharing this on FB.

  6. stan rondeau permalink
    February 1, 2016

    I think these pictures are great, as they were like this when my ancestor John Rondeau
    was sexton at Christchurch Spitalfields 1760/1790

    Stan Rondeau

  7. February 1, 2016

    I love these detailed glimpses, and it added even MORE to review the individual portraits under
    “Vagabondiana” that you included, by the same artist. An example of “having it all” — We can enjoy the long view of the scene with all it’s accompanying atmospheric details; and then also
    study the amazingly vivid characters within the tableau. I was totally unaware of many of the trades that were depicted — each and every one was so narrative, a tribute to the artist.
    Apropos of nothing, these individual portraits reminded me a bit of the so-called composite portraits by French artist Nicholas de Larmessin — his depictions of various professions made up from the “tools of the trade”. But, certainly, Smith’s characters have the edge with their foibles, humanity, and tenacity; so wonderfully depicted. Thank you for providing such vivid time
    travel this morning.

  8. February 1, 2016

    A marvellous record. Hints at street photography to come.

  9. Roger C permalink
    February 1, 2016

    Marvellous drawings, wonderful details, as good as 18th century photography. Zoomed in I could look at these for hours.

    Another great post from the GA to be saved for posterity :)

  10. aubrey permalink
    February 1, 2016

    The drawings depicted that some of the timber framed houses with walls that were so out-of-plumb, that is amazing that they managed to stand up at all! I would hazzard a guess that some of them didn’t. After the Great Fire of London, a London Building Act was brought in to obviate the spread of fire by insisting that all external walls be built with non-combustible masonary. The various London Building Acts were in operation up until 1986 whence they were superceded by the current Building Regulations.

  11. Carl Moss permalink
    February 2, 2016

    It might be of interest to know that a smaller-scale but complete facsimile edition of the “Antient Topography of London” was printed some years ago by Taro. Copies are still available from http://www.maps.thehunthouse.com/Ancient_Topography.htm

    It really is a lovely, fascinating book book, particularly for those of us who live near to some of the places that Smith illustrated. When I look out of my window I can see the site (at the north end of Long Lane) of one of his drawings.

  12. Tom Richards, artist TomR permalink
    December 17, 2016

    My son noticed this compendium of John Thomas Smith’s beautiful recordings of neighborhood buildings soon to go, which is what I sometimes paint of local structures. Go to folder NORTH ATTLEBORO in https://goo.gl/photos/JmUXwZp5LWr1JFsT6

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