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Long Forgotten London

March 26, 2014
by the gentle author

Old House on Tower Hill

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

With grateful thanks to LIbby Hall for her assistance with this feature

32 Responses leave one →
  1. Molasses permalink
    March 26, 2014

    I rear and read the below sentences – the syntax, structure, message – all so beautifully composed. It was as inspiring as having an excellent dinner with wonderful company!

    “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. “

  2. March 26, 2014

    Lovely pictures – thanks.

  3. Andrew Jones permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Dickensian images for certain – both Scrooge and Fagan have businesses in Field Lane.

  4. marianne isaacs permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Hello , I am so impressed. Is it possible to get copies of these pictures . Also I noticed that in the picture of Field Lane there are signs which read SCrooge Broker and the opposite FAGAN. Were these real people ? It never occurred to me that Dickens might have used real names or occupations . Is a Scrooge an occupation?? Fascinationg . I would love to know.

  5. March 26, 2014

    Fascinating pictures.
    Astonishing that Paul Pindar’s house was demolished for Liverpool Street!

  6. sbw permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Thank you for this most interesting post. I had not heard of this volume before and shall seek out more information. On reading this post this morning I have been tempted to reach for Gillian Tindall’s wonderful book ‘The House by the Thames’, charting the social history of the lives of those who lived in one house (still existing on Bankside) over several hundred years. But these illustrations, so wonderful, as you say, conjured as if from a dream from the past, give a rich new dimension to my thoughts. With grateful thanks . sbw

  7. March 26, 2014

    As you say, images from a dream, fascinating. Hope there are more.

  8. March 26, 2014

    Wonderful article. Many thanks for your daily postings. Always a pleasure to read with my morning coffee.

  9. steve permalink
    March 26, 2014

    What fantastic detail, in some ways this type of drawing is better than the early photographs. The Old House on Tower Hill seems to have been part of a row. Looking at the end wall, apart from the structural wood work i think i see a doorway. Also, both ends of the upper floor front wall are irregular as though once joined to another building. Would this have been the case?

    The Old Fountain in the Minories is amusing, surrounded by the new buildings of the day as though waiting its turn for demolition.

    Such detail, brilliant.

  10. March 26, 2014

    London Town was a romantic place, just like our Hann.Münden, the medieval half-timbered town, is still today! It lays a stone’s throw away from Kassel, where I live.

    Love & Peace

  11. Chris permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Great article, keep them coming.

  12. Peter Holford permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Fascinating – very interesting buildings unlike so many that followed. But I’m pleased I don’t live in many of them. This was the period of the cholera epidemics and the pictures tell the story.

  13. Barbara permalink
    March 26, 2014

    The best yet – thank you very much. My great-grandmother would have known some of these buildings.

  14. March 26, 2014

    So sad that the beautiful old buildings have gone and been destroyed in the name of modernisation, but the memories are still there, and we can still dream….Valerie

  15. Ruth Richardson permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Old & New London is a wonderful resource, there’s no doubt about it, but remember that it is late Victorian 1870s) and that not all the images in it are exactly documentary. The names of Fagan and Scrooge in Field Lane give the game away – they are obviously post-hoc – Oliver Twist was written forty years earlier, and the illustrators of the Old & New London were fully conversant with the novel, and with Fagin’s location in the book. But it is not at all likely that any kind of real figure (whether called Fagin or Fagan) would have had a shop-sign in Field Lane announcing his thieves’ kitchen. Scrooge did not live in Field Lane.

    If readers of Spitaflfields Life want to know about the real man at the root of the Fagin story there is a wonderful lecture by Michael Allen on the National Archives Website, about a Chancery case he has discovered, which tells the story of the blacking factory in which Dickens worked as a child, and his distant relative by marriage, Henry Worms, who was a ‘fence’ for stolen goods and did not live in Field Lane, but another place nearby called Fox Court.

    Michael Allen’s book Dickens & the Blacking Factory lays all the evidence out beautifully. It is an extraordinary discovery, which deserves to be far better known. Worms was transported, so he may also be the root of Magwitch.

    Kind regards to all Spitalfields Lifers!

  16. Sonia Murray permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Wonderful pictures – thanks so much! How tragic that so many irreplaceable pieces of our nation’s history have been destroyed. The Paul Pindar House should have been removed to a museum. It’s good that there is now a movement to preserve what is left of our history and prevent further destruction of our past. Thank you for your involvement in this!

  17. March 26, 2014

    A number of books by Thornbury can be found at The Online Books Page—though none that I checked reproduces the illustrations with anything like this quality! Thanks for posting the wonderful images.

  18. March 26, 2014

    ok Ruth Richardson’s note answers my question about the Fagin and Scrooge references. lovely post as always. you may have created a run on this gorgeous book!

  19. Deirdre permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Wonderful pictures, thank you. The facade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house is in the V&A. Well worth a visit.

  20. Laurie Gwen Shapiro permalink
    March 26, 2014


  21. March 26, 2014

    An on line copy of the book can be viewed here

  22. marianne isaacs permalink
    March 26, 2014

    Thankyou so much Ruth for your answer re Scrooge and Fagan . I will look intothat . I wonder if Mr Worms has any descendents here in Australia??
    I went looking for info =on the Paul Pindar House and apparently the cfacad was saved and is at the V and A museum.

  23. Telegram Sam permalink
    March 26, 2014

    I really enjoyed the post. What I would give to have a week to walk around old London.

  24. March 27, 2014

    Very interested to see the picture of the Fleet Ditch. Just recently in Manchester a building on Upper Brook Street (behind the BBC) was finally demolished. It had exactly the same kind of “privvy” hanging over the River Medlock.

    Before the advent of digital and Google Street View is was quite possible for a building to rise and fall without a drawing or photograph ever being made of it, particularly outside of the the capital.

    The line drawings are superb.

  25. March 30, 2014

    Wow! These are fabulous. A wonderful glimpse into the past.

  26. April 6, 2014

    Wonderful stuff!

    Clearly the old King’s Cross station was a lot better to look at than the utilitarian thing that replaced it.

    And let’s not think too much about what they did to Euston …

    Where I see they are thinking of restoring the arch.

  27. Marilyn permalink
    June 5, 2014

    Just stumbled across your blog. This is a fantastic read. I loved how the author Walter Thornbury would place his initials in his etchings in various places.

  28. December 8, 2014

    Thank you so much Ruth, for having sent me such fantastic photos and reminders – I am
    entirely captured by them – or even better, I am completely overwhelmed by “The Spitalfields Life” you have introduced me to!! – I am very very grateful to you for such a fantastic collections of reminders and of actual present everyday life in London and other places.
    With my warmest gratitude. Piero

  29. Clive Bowley permalink
    April 17, 2017

    Sonia Murray you would be please to know that Paul Pindars house was indeed taken to a museum ! It is still there at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the part that was recently refurbished. – enjoy your visit

  30. October 3, 2017


  31. May 11, 2020

    Wow what a surprise, no idea such a comprehensive portrait of forgotten London existed. I was fascinated to get a glimpse of the London which met my paternal forefathers when they upped sticks and moved from Sussex/Kent. Thank you so much for posting. A real treasure.

  32. May 17, 2021

    Wonderful; I am transfixed by these views of long ago London.

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