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A Walk Through Old London

December 24, 2017
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

23 Responses leave one →
  1. December 24, 2017

    Beautiful, and heart-wrenching. The disappearance of Tothill St in particular is tragic, considering the nothingness that replaced it. I suppose the only two unmissed losses would be the near-adjacent Fleet Prison and Ditch.

    I believe could contentedly serve my eternal portion in the Jerusalem Tavern, contemplating things with those two thoughtful gentlemen.

  2. Lisa Tuckett permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Can you tell me the reason why so many of these illustrations show large wooden beams between two buildings? It seems that they may be for reinforcement or to keep walls from collapsing. It’s very interesting, and I really enjoyed seeing these. Thank you.

  3. David Tarrant permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Thank you so much for sharing these images. Stunning draughsmanship! What an amazing talent! What a wonderful tribute to the architects and craftsmen of long ago!

  4. Jude permalink
    December 24, 2017

    I suppose this reminds me that all cities regenerate and change over the years but I still can’t help feeling the streets and buildings depicted here, even though not in good repair, have more character than anything a modern architect can throw up.

  5. Colin Nicolson permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Outstanding images of a London now vanished.

  6. Marc permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Much appreciated – terrific pictures.

  7. John Barrett permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Absolutely outstanding illustrations of Old London in one place. Many cross braces keeping some buildings apart. Lots of building material change after the great fire of London in 1666. John a bus pass poet

  8. StephenJ permalink
    December 24, 2017

    I don’t find these images unrecognisable, many of the street and place names are still there, and if one can excuse the filth, the buildings look a whole lot more like the work of human beans, than many of the replacements that exist in those places today, which to me often look like the works of “the divil”.

  9. Juliet Wrightson permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Thank you for those, especially liked Smithfield and Kings X, and for all the short essays you have given me to read during the year. Have a Happy Spitalfields Christmas. warmest wishes Juliet

  10. Mike permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Wonderful series of pictures of old London; most interesting

  11. Richard Smith permalink
    December 24, 2017

    A wonderful post containing truly fascinating illustrations of a bygone age. Thank you so much.

  12. December 24, 2017

    What a gift. It will take hours to give these images their proper attention — and it will be the Gift that keeps on Giving. The quote by Thornbury just blew me back in my chair. It was nearly as compelling and atmospheric as the images — which is saying a lot. So much to “notice”.
    This dovetails perfectly with a book I just “gave” myself for Christmas…..”The Lost House Revisited” by artist Ed Kluz. His passion for long-destroyed great homes (lost to fire, neglect, other calamities) is expressed in beautiful distinctive collages. A British artist who is a standard bearer for your great traditions.
    Cheers, and holiday wishes.

  13. December 24, 2017

    It’s a Christmas Eve chuckle to see Scrooge Broker on Field Lane (and Fagan) as well as all the other interesting details throughout. Thank you, and a happy Christmas.

  14. December 24, 2017

    Lovely post – as usual. You do great work – and it’s much appreciated!

  15. Robert Redford permalink
    December 24, 2017

    A wonderful selection of prints of old London. What a pity that so much has been swept away as it would be fabulous to be able to see some of the old streets and buildings in reality. The modern monstrosities that have replaced the old buildings are so boring by comparison. Just loved the prints of the Fleet Ditch and the massive timber supports crossing it.
    Thank you for this excellent series which I follow avidly. Happy Christmas and a prosperous happy and healthy New Year for 2018.

  16. Mary permalink
    December 24, 2017

    What beautiful illustrations of a past age!

    Dear GA I have only recently found your wonderful blog and it is like receiving a Christmas gift every day. It has already led me to an exhibition of East London Group artists at my local city gallery. My New Year resolution is to read all your archived stories during 2018.
    I have the fondest memories of the East End in the early 1970s when I was a student at The London and lived in Tredegar House in Bow Road and then in a flat above Harry Rose bookmakers by Bow Church.

    May you have a peaceful Christmas and New Year.

  17. Kitanz permalink
    December 25, 2017

    These pictures are my Favourite of pictures. The paintings are Amazing and look to Real. Thank You for them So Very Much!!!

  18. Sarah Johnson permalink
    December 25, 2017

    Thanks for a year of spectacular posts, and I nominate this one as my favorite. A great picture show while reading Dickens. Thank you, and please keep up the great work of documenting London.

  19. Martin permalink
    December 25, 2017

    Another wonderful year of post nearly at a end.
    May 2018 bring more fascinating stories.
    Hope you are having a marvellous Christmas.

  20. Marcelle Garner permalink
    December 26, 2017

    As I looked through these wonderful pictures,I could not help but reflect on the lives of my ancestors , who would have known these buildings & streets . Wonderful buildings in our eyes ,but a lot of poverty in & around them .A life of hardship for so many .Thank you so much for your articles , they are greatly appreciated .A Happy & Healthy New Year .

  21. Edward Hilson permalink
    December 28, 2017

    The best historical pictures of London that I have seen. Thank you for all the work you have put into this site which will give so much pleasure to so many people

  22. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 6, 2018

    Beautiful pictures, some familiar ones and others seen for the first time. Thank you

  23. Steven Burr permalink
    January 22, 2018

    Wonderful article, love the early pictures. What happened to Manor House of Toten Hall, Tottenham Court Rd 1813? Also were these building largely built of wood?

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