Skip to content

The London Alphabet

March 17, 2012
by the gentle author

Although this Alphabet of London that I found at the Bishopsgate Institute dates from more than one hundred and fifty years ago, it is remarkable how many of the landmarks illustrated are still with us. The facade of newly-opened “Northern Station” which will be uncovered again after renovations in 2013 – at the terminus we know as King’s Cross – reveals that this alphabet was produced in the eighteen fifties. The Houses of Parliament which were begun in 1840 and took thirty years to complete were still under construction then, and, consequently, Big Ben is represented by an undersized artist’s impression of how it was expected to look. Naturally, I was especially intrigued by – “O’s the market for Oranges, eastward a long way. If you first ask for Houndsditch you won’t take the wrong way.” I wonder what East London market this could refer to?

Pictures courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

14 Responses leave one →
  1. March 17, 2012

    These are great! Just lovely. And yes, interesting to see how many are still around.

  2. melbournegirl permalink
    March 17, 2012

    What a delightful find. I love the red of the letters, and the confidential tone of the text too. Imagine the youngsters of the past who learned their letters in this charming way. As you so often do, Gentle Author, here you have made history speak to the present.

  3. March 17, 2012

    I especially like ‘P’……..

  4. March 17, 2012

    I did enjoy this. Thank you gentle author. Now I shall have to look through my early maps and see if I can find that orange market.

  5. March 17, 2012

    This is lovely – Alphabet books always have a fascination. It’s great to see all those
    landmarks, and Kings Cross will soon look more as it was depicted.
    Thank you

  6. Rhianwen Guthrie permalink
    March 17, 2012

    I love this!
    Very timely considering the publication of printmaker Chris Brown’s brilliant and more contemporary ‘An Alphabet of London’, published by Merrell. Well worth a look.
    I wonder whether Chris has seen this?

  7. joan permalink
    March 17, 2012

    I came to this entry having just visited the illustrator Sarah McIntyre’s blog – – (my daughter is a huge fan of her work) which featured pictures of the launch party for Chris Brown’s London alphabet:

    As I see there is a St Judes connection and Paul Bommer was at the launch I’m really hoping that you are going to be treating us to some of the images from that book too.

    Best wishes,


  8. Tara Bradford permalink
    March 17, 2012

    This is fantastic! Great architecture endures…where would we be without books and photographs of the past to chart the journey??!! Thanks for sharing this. Makes me want to get on Eurostar to London ASAP!

  9. Teresa Stokes permalink
    March 17, 2012

    The orange market was near Houndsditch, as the poem indicates. Its address was St James Place, now Creechurch Place which in Victorian days was a big open square in the heart of Jack the Ripper territory. If you look on Streetview now, it’s very dull, with one Victorian building, the rest totally modern, and the oranges have been replaced by a row of parked motorcycles.

  10. Paul Seed permalink
    March 17, 2012

    RE the letter O in the London Alphabet:
    The orange and nut market at Duke’s Street, Houndsditch, was described
    in Henry Mayhew’s masterpiece, “London Labour and the London Poor”.
    ( It was an alternative to
    Covent Garden, apparently popular with costermongers because it was easier
    to drive a bargain there. The image may be of the exterior of the Great synagogue.
    Pugin and Rowlandson painted a rather beautiful picture of the interior.

  11. March 21, 2012

    Is O a riddle?
    “Orange and Lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s”

  12. Cat permalink
    March 25, 2012

    Do you know of any copyright on this? Can I download and print these?

  13. the gentle author permalink*
    March 25, 2012

    These are public domain.

  14. Udayan Paul permalink
    July 14, 2013

    Lovely … really enjoyed 🙂

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS