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A Model Of London, 1840

March 7, 2016
by the gentle author

Andrew Byrne – ‘Today the East End, tomorrow the world!’

Today I introduce the beginning of a long story that will extend over many years to come – it is the making of a complete 1/1500 scale model of London in 1840, extending from Paddington Station in the west to the River Lea in the east. ‘I’d like to have a time machine to go back to London in 1840,’ admitted Andrew Byrne with a wistful smile, ‘but time machines don’t exist, so this model is the next best thing.’

On the top floor of an old stable block, at the edge of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, the project has its genesis. Here, Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I paid a visit upon Andrew and his collaborator David Armitage to record the beginnings of this ambitious endeavour.

Quite naturally, the project is starting with a model of East London. ‘Today the East End, tomorrow the world,’ as Andrew puts it with characteristic bravado. The laser cut baseboard of the territory lay before us with just a few terraces in place at present. David, who trained at the London College of Furniture and has a background in making early music instruments, cuts individual buildings from different strips of wood that have been fashioned to the profile of houses – just as you and I might slice a Battenburg cake. Meanwhile, Andrew scrutinises a table covered with old maps and cross references these with early aerial photographs to establish the nature of the roofs of the houses and terraces.

They have been working on the model since last August and – all being well – they hope to complete the East End before the end of this year. Already, a conversation is underway to discuss the possibility of installing the model in the new Museum of London when it opens in the former Smithfield Market building.

Volunteer model makers with experience are required to participate in this epic project, so if you have the necessary expertise, the willingness and six hours a week spare, please email at_byrne@yahoo.co.uk

You can expect further updates on this project from me in years to come.

David Armitage places a house in the East End, 1840

Andrew Byrne studies old maps and archive photos

David trims terraces of houses from a strip

David Armitage, modelmaker

The buildings are the size of Monopoly houses

Work in progress on the model of the East End at 1/1500 scale

Bedford Sq, Bloomsbury at 1/1500 – an experiment with scale for the model of London

Torrington Sq, Bloomsbury at 1/500, another experiment with scale for the model

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    March 7, 2016

    What a fantastic idea, as a lifelong strictly AMATURE modelmaker this takes me back to my teenage years when I one decided to undertake a similar but less ambitious project to construct a model of the Royal Docks at Custom House, for nearly 3 years I spent all the time I could manage hidden away in the sanctuary of my beloved garden shed at the bottom of our garden in Upton Park painstakingly constructing my masterpiece out of balserwood and cardboard only to eventually begin to realise that I was building it hopelessly out of scale, by the time I had built less than one half of the dock scene I had already used up more than half the space of my entire shed, but then even worse was to come, nearly 4 years into the project an utter catastrophe occurred when one November the 5th a bomb fire in a neighbouring garden got out of control and set fire to our fence and with it my beloved shed which subsequently was burnt to the ground along with my masterpiece, for months and months after every day I would go into the garden and spend ages staring at the pile of burnt wood as all that was left of my beloved shed and with it years of happy childhood memories (and my model) as if somehow it was going to suddenly reincarnate itself from the ashes until eventually my mother insisted on putting an end to this misery by clearing away the remnants and reclaiming part of her garden, there is no suggestion that my model would ever have resembled anything like the detailed professionalism of the one being constructed hear but even now over 40 years since my effort met its fateful end I still lament the fact that I never got to finish it and now this story has brought it all back and reinvigorated my regret €:- (

  2. March 7, 2016

    What a wonderful idea, looking forward to seeing more of the model. Good luck to the makers. Valerie

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    March 7, 2016

    What fun!
    Even more interesting is the date, as then, railways had made it into London, so the original termini at London Bridge, Euston, Paddington, Bishopsgate, Minories & Nine Elms were all open by then ….

  4. March 7, 2016

    This is a worth while project I know this is work in progress. I expect all the buildings, streets, monuments and open spaces will have ‘authentic’ colouring. It would be nice to see the Mk I finished model in 3D with the appropriate glasses of course. I support this project and would make a donation. John

  5. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    March 7, 2016

    Fantastic project. Particularly interested as my gt-gt grandparents lived at 30 Brick Lane in the 1820′s and at 263 Whitechapel Road in 1841 . She was a lamp Cotton Manufacturer . The company was dissolved in about 1863

  6. March 7, 2016

    What a lovely project. And what a buzz it must be to work on.

  7. March 7, 2016

    Your caption on the last photo, Torrington Square, may be incorrect — it looks like the next square east, Woburn Square, with the demolished Christ Church in the middle of the terrace on the east side. Footnote for anyone interested in local history: when the destruction of Woburn Square was proposed the grafitto on the hoardings at the top of the square was ‘Woburn Square is poetry.’

  8. March 7, 2016

    How wonderful,wished I lived nearer if only to sweep up and make tea.I live in Cowes and a model of the old waterfront and docks would be a very interesting project,wonder how many more ideas this will start. how devestating for Robert’s shed and model to burn down,we lost our Dunkirk Little Ship [originally a RN steam pinnace from WW1] in a big fire in Cowes recently ,my ex husband rescued the rudder from the pile of ash,all that remained of such a historic boat.

  9. Mike Brown permalink
    March 7, 2016

    A truly wonderful project. I look forward to up-dates on progress.

  10. pauline taylor permalink
    March 7, 2016

    Have they set themselves limits as to exactly how much detail will be included? It sounds like a wonderful idea, and an enjoyable project, but London was a living, breathing, very busy place so a static model will never capture the atmosphere. Think of all the objects that should ‘people’ the streets, the horses, waggons and so on. Sorry this sounds a bit negative, but it’s not meant to, it is a great project and I wish them well with it.

  11. March 7, 2016

    Fascinating. And what a labour. I’m looking forward to seeing, for very different reasons The Circus/The Crescent behind Minories and also Queenhithe, all of which have been vandalised comprehensively by developers, fire, London Underground the Luftwaffe and planners. In the case of The Circus is is no more and as for The Circus the tiny bit that was left is now laughably a Conservation Area. That’s a story to be told.

  12. Nancy permalink
    March 7, 2016

    How amazing is this! I hope the exhibition includes the maps, diagrams, photos etc that will have helped to establish the finished model. What an amazing sense of scale. Good luck guys, wish I could help, but clueless at model making. I Will definitely be at the exhibition though.

  13. MR J. SHOP permalink
    March 7, 2016

    BRILLIANT, a word used too often? The result being that it has a diluting effect? Yes definitely, although in the case of this painstaking project it would seem to be thoroughly justified. Could this be the same Andrew Byrne whose equally well researched book BEDFORD SQUARE I have owned for 30 years? I suspect so. Keep up the good work chaps, looking forward to viewing the finished thing……

  14. Norman Conquest Esq. permalink
    March 10, 2016

    I cannot help but wonder if a model of London was constructed in 1840, of a London 180 years before that time. If so, and assuming it survived the Great Fire 6 years later, it will still exist inside one of the larger buildings of the 2020 model being built today. Likewise, today’s model will be housed inside a building on the Greenwich Maritime Museum site in the 2200 model and so on into the infinite future…….

  15. May 22, 2016

    As someone who has recently moved away from East London, I am always interested to hear about new projects and who better a model maker then Dave Armitage. Dave Taught me some 15 years ago and his attention to detail and skills always stood out.

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