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Thomas Onwhyn’s Pictures Of London

June 12, 2013
by the gentle author

Born in Clerkenwell in 1813, as the eldest son of a bookseller, Thomas Onwhyn created a series of cheap mass-produced satirical prints illustrating the comedy of everyday life for publishers Rock Brothers & Payne in the eighteen forties and fifties. In his time, Onwhyn was overshadowed by the talent of George Cruickshank and won notoriety for supplying pictures to pirated editions of Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby, which drew the ire of Charles Dickens who wrote of, “the singular Vileness of the Illustrations.”

Nevertheless, these fascinating ‘Pictures of London’ that I came upon in the Bishopsgate Institute demonstrate a critical intelligence, a sly humour and an unexpected political sensibility.  In this social panorama,originally published as one concertina-fold strip, Onwhyn contrasts the culture and lives of rich and the poor in London with subtle comedy, tracing their interdependence yet making it quite clear where his sympathy lay.

The Court – Dress Wearers.


The Opera Box.

The Gallery.

The West End Dinner Party.

A Charity Dinner.


Rag Fair.

Music of the Drawing Room.

Street Music.

The Physician.

The Medical Student.

The Parks – Day.

The Parks – Night.

The Club – The Wine Bibber.

The Gin Shop – The Dram Drinker.

The Shopkeeper.

The Shirtmaker.

The Bouquet Maker.

The Basket Woman.  (Initialled – T.O. Thomas Onwhyn)

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

George Cruickshank’s Comic Alphabet

The London Alphabet

Paul Bommer’s Cockney Alphabet

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Molasses permalink
    June 12, 2013

    My heart went out to the mother and child in the caption ‘The Parks – night’

  2. June 12, 2013

    These were marvelous. Thanks for these pictures. They really say it all.

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    June 12, 2013

    The more things change, the more they remain the same (!)

  4. Mike Brown permalink
    June 12, 2013

    A lovely set of contrasting pictures. Very Dickensian. Thank you, Gentle Author, for sharing these

  5. June 12, 2013

    What evocative drawings, and as the person before me writes, The Parks – night was particularly poignant.

  6. Peter Holford permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Not a great deal has changed apart from the fashions except that the making of clothes has been removed to less visible locations. These are good and deserve to be better known. Dickens probably slated them because of anger rather than as a judgement about their quality.

  7. June 12, 2013

    And mine! I think there’s a baby in there too.
    Interesting, we have all this now (though not sure re homeless women & children sleeping rough) but there aren’t social voices like Dickens and Mr Onwhyn. Is our 21st century UK poverty less clearly defined perhaps?

  8. June 12, 2013

    Another excellent post, thank you. He seemed to be very sympathetic towards the seamstresses. They remind me of ‘The Song of the Shirt’.

  9. Molasses permalink
    June 12, 2013

    >but there aren’t social voices like Dickens…

    With able bloggers and community coordination, a new set will build on the great work of pioneers such as Dickens, Elizabeth Fry etc.

    It took a generation or two to propel the Victorian pioneers. Humanity will again rediscover community as the state appears to be limiting its social contract with citizens.

  10. Chris F permalink
    June 12, 2013

    The park at night……. That one got to me. Amazing how a simple illustration can evoke such an emotion in you.

  11. sprite permalink
    June 14, 2013

    fashion week –
    the dressmakers of Bengladesh
    a century later

    at night
    urchin on a park bench –
    a century later
    abandonned kids
    in airport terminals


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