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John Thomas Smith’s Antient Topography

July 31, 2017
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. 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

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Brigitte permalink
    July 31, 2017

    Wow, these are little gems. Thank you.

  2. Jim McDermott permalink
    July 31, 2017

    The skill and intricacy make one trust Smith absolutely, as if we were seeing photographs of a lost, beautiful world.

  3. Helen permalink
    July 31, 2017

    What lovely buildings and architecture. A shame none have been preserved. Prince Charles used an excellent word – carbuncles – it most definitely applies to some of the nondescript rubbish we have to look at today.

  4. July 31, 2017

    Lovely hand crafted set of pics basic art work probably done on site, to get the scale right every one tells us a story of that time. Just breathtaking quality every one worth a fortune !you know what I mean. I liked the detail, bed sheets & a cross hanging out of hospital windows. Poet John

  5. Roger C permalink
    July 31, 2017

    I love these drawings, the ‘photos’ of the day.

    Another great post from the GA :)

  6. Leana Pooley permalink
    July 31, 2017

    I could weep. The craft, the skill, the wonderful carvings, the charming wonkiness of age, the glorious ankle-breaking cobbles. And now our featureless drab streets.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    July 31, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a great selection. I had to keep studying that first print “Bethelem Hospital with London Wall in Foreground” – loved the interplay of sun and shadow on that brick wall. What patience and attention to detail.

    Also “Houses on the Corner of Chancery Lane & Fleet St” remind me of the backdrop for scenes from Dickens on Victorian Christmas cards. And all Smith’s people are rendered in a postive light – basically happy going about their daily lives. All good stuff…

  8. Hetty Startup permalink
    July 31, 2017

    These images are so fascinating for what they record about some still existing and some lost London buildings. One image of a house (still extant?) on the south side of London Wall from March 1808 shows abundant bas-reliefs. I wonder who made them? As usual, gentle author, you lay an appetizing table before us….thank you.

  9. Chris permalink
    July 31, 2017

    What fascinating images these are!

    My gt-gt-grandfather was born in America Square, just off the Minories, in 1796 and it’s wonderful to think that he probably looked upon most of these buildings when he was growing up.

  10. November 15, 2017

    These are amazing! The three final images put me in mind of Piranesi, one of my favorite artists

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