Skip to content

Aerial Views Of Old London

October 27, 2013
by the gentle author

In my dream, I am flying over old London and the clouds part like curtains to reveal a vision of the dirty monochrome city lying far beneath, swathed eternally in mist and deep shadow.

Although most Londoners are familiar with this view today, as the first glimpse of home on the descent to Heathrow upon their return flight from overseas, it never ceases to induce wonder. So I can only imagine the awe of those who were first shown these glass slides of aerial views from the collection of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Institute a century ago.

Even before Aerofilms was established in 1919 to document the country from above systematically, people were photographing London from hot air balloons, zeppelins and early aeroplanes. Upon first impression, the intricate detail and order of the city is breathtaking and I think we may assume that a certain patriotic pride was encouraged by these views of national landmarks which symbolised the political power of the nation.

But there is also a certain ambivalence to some images, such as those of Horseguards’ Parade and Covent Garden Market, since – as much as they record the vast numbers of people that participated in these elaborate human endeavours, they also reduce the hordes to mere ants and remove the authoritative scale of the architecture. Seen from above, the works of man are of far less consequence than they appear from below. Yet this does not lessen my fascination with these pictures, as evocations of the teeming life of this London that is so familiar and mysterious in equal measure.

Tower of London & Tower Bridge

Trafalgar Sq, St Martin-in-the-Fields and Charing Cross Station

Trafalgar Sq & Whitehall

House of Parliament & Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge & County Hall

Tower of London & St Katharine Docks

Bank of England & Royal Exchange

Spires of City churches dominate the City of London

Crossroads at the heart of the City of London

Guildhall to the right, General Post Office to the left and Cheapside running across the picture

Blackfriars Bridge & St Paul’s

Hyde Park Corner

Buckingham Palace & the Mall

The British Museum

St James’ Palace & the Mall

Ludgate Hill & St Paul’s

Pool of London & Tower Bridge with Docks beyond

Albert Hall & Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum & Victoria & Albert Museum

Limehouse with St Anne’s in the centre & Narrow St to the right

Reversed image of Hungerford  Bridge & Waterloo Bridge

Covent Garden Market & the Floral Hall

Admiralty Arch

Trooping the Colour at Horseguards Parade

St Clement Dane’s, Strand

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Take a look at

The Lantern Slides of Old London

The Nights of Old London

The Signs of Old London

The Markets of Old London

The Pubs of Old London

The Doors of Old London

The Staircases of Old London

The High Days & Holidays of Old London

The Dinners of Old London

The Shops of Old London

The Streets of Old London

The Fogs & Smogs of Old London

The Chambers of Old London

The Tombs of Old London

The Bridges of Old London

The Forgotten Corners of Old London

The Thames of Old London

The Statues & Effigies of Old London

The City Churches of Old London

The Docks of Old London

The Tower of Old London

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    October 27, 2013

    Love the sight of the tiny, newly planted, trees on the Mall.

  2. Christina permalink
    October 27, 2013

    Amazing! Thank you for sharing them.

  3. October 27, 2013

    Lovely to see these pictures again, I remember being shown similar slides at school, showing us what London had looked like before the war….Valerie

  4. Greg Tingey permalink
    October 27, 2013

    to reveal a vision of the monochrome dirty, misty & ofetn black city lying far beneath
    We forget, or don’t know, because we are not old enough, just how DIRTY London used to be – from the coal-smoke from tens of thousands of homes …. In fact, the clarity of some of the photographs is exceptional, & one would not normally expect to see such views in those days.

  5. Norbert permalink
    October 27, 2013

    Thanks for these images, I lost myself in them as well. .

  6. October 27, 2013

    The Cheapside, General Post Office and Guildhall photograph is particularly interesting since it shows the tightly packed little streets to the north of London Wall, later to become the Barbican as a result of the devastation of that whole area in the Blitz.

  7. October 27, 2013

    A friend introduced me to your website …..I look forward to my daily Spitalfields…..thank you I love London and know less about the actual City of London so you’re educating me. Did some research myself at Bishopgate – what a treasure trove. You are amazing.

  8. John Campbell permalink
    October 27, 2013

    ‘Over the rooftops sails Billy,
    A string tied to his underwear,
    Through cobbled stone streets a child races,
    And shouts, “Billy come down from there”

  9. Gary permalink
    October 27, 2013

    They must have flown very low to take Peter Pan

  10. October 28, 2013

    A fine city London, but should the Capital City of the English any longer also be the Capital City for the British? Why does the Capital City for the British continue to divide one of the Countries of the British?

  11. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Spectacular!! Thank you.

  12. Peter Holford permalink
    October 29, 2013

    I looked down the river towards the City from the Embankment earlier today. I felt dismay at how the great iconic buildings are being swamped by the ‘Cheese-grate’, the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ and other monstrous nonentities. These photos show what we have lost. There were many poor buildings that may have needed redevelopment but…….

  13. October 31, 2013

    It’s amazing to see the river busy with so many ships and Hyde Park Corner with so few cars! And like Glen, I can’t get over how young the trees on The Mall look.

  14. November 2, 2013

    Wonderful photographs of yesterday’s London. I can see my old office in the Trooping the Colour one, how very different it looked then!

  15. Siri permalink
    December 15, 2013

    These images awaken the wearied traveler to take wing and fly again to see the new London while understanding the old London.
    An overview gives incredible insight to the minutiae of daily life.
    Well done.

  16. December 17, 2013

    These are wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS