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John Thomas Smith’s Ancient Topography

March 27, 2015
by the gentle author

Bethelem Hospital with London Wall in Foreground – Drawn June 1812

Two centuries ago, John Thomas Smith set out to record the last vestiges of ancient London that survived from before the Great Fire of 1666 but which were vanishing in his lifetime. You can click on any of these images to enlarge them and study the tender human detail that Smith recorded in these splendid etchings he made from his own drawings. My passion for John Thomas Smith’s work was first ignited by his portraits of raffish street sellers published as Vagabondiana and I was delighted to spot several of those familiar characters included here in these vivid streets scenes of London long ago.

Bethel Hospital seen from London Wall – Drawn August 1844

Old House in Sweedon’s Passage, Grub St – Drawn July 1791, Taken Down March 1805

Old House in Sweedon’s Passage, Grub St – Drawn July 1791, Taken Down March 1805

London Wall in Churchyard of St Giles’ Cripplegate –  Drawn 1793, Taken Down 1803

Houses on the Corner of Chancery Lane & Fleet St – Drawn August 1789, Taken Down May 1799

Houses in Leadenhall St – Drawn July 1796

Duke St, West Smithfield – Drawn July 1807, Taken Down October 1809

Corner of Hosier Lane, West Smithfield – Drawn April 1795

Houses on the South Side of London Wall – Drawn March 1808

Houses on West Side of Little Moorfields – Drawn May 1810

Magnificent Mansion in Hart St, Crutched Friars – Drawn May 1792, Taken Down 1801

Walls of the Convent of St Clare, Minories – Drawn April 1797

Watch Tower Discovered Near Ludgate Hill – Drawn June 1792

An Arch of London Bridge in the Great Frost – Drawn February 5th 1814

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana II

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana III

23 Responses leave one →
  1. March 27, 2015

    What mavels of engraving and architecture and history! How lucky that they were captured in print.

  2. March 27, 2015

    The drawings are wonderful, how good that he managed to record these places before they disappeared. Valerie

  3. March 27, 2015

    dreamy and incredible to think this was London once.

  4. Greg Tingey permalink
    March 27, 2015

    It shows how much/many Tudor/Medieval buildings were left, only to be knocked down by the great Georgian rebuild of London – & what’s more, how late this was – mostly after the start of the long wars against France in 1792.

  5. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Brilliant! So many stories in those buildings and places.

  6. March 27, 2015

    How absolutely fantastic these drawings are. Thank goodness for them, for without them we would never know these scenes. Beautiful.

  7. March 27, 2015

    Fantastic illustrations — these etchings show even more details than any photograph could ever do!

    Love & Peace

  8. Ros permalink
    March 27, 2015

    these are spectacular! We are transported back to a London unknown to us. So much to study in the figures too. The woman on the right of picture 8 (Duke Street West Smithfield) looks as if she’s walking out of a Magritte painting. What is she walking with – crutches on loan from Bart’s hospital? And what’s the chap in the coach jumping out to look at below?

  9. Susan P permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Fantastic! How amazing that he gave us these ” snapshots” of the past.

  10. David Whittaker permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Thank You so much…just Beautiful..

  11. aubrey permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Incredible draughtsmanship!

  12. Pauline Taylor permalink
    March 27, 2015

    It just goes to show does it not that we no longer know how to build such attractive and interesting buildings now, these drawings and etchings are wonderful, and it makes one weep to think just how much we have lost.

  13. Stephen Barker permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Interesting to see how many wooden framed buildings survived in central London until the end of the Eighteenth Century. It puts into perspective how unique is the front elevation in the V&A of Sir Paul Pindar’s house is. The carving on the houses is fascinating, it is hard to imagine that it was all swept away probably finishing up as firewood.

  14. March 27, 2015

    Presumably these buildings were ‘taken down’ by the early nineteenth-century equivalent of British Land?

  15. Linda M permalink
    March 27, 2015

    These are completely fascinating – I could study them for hours. Thanks so much GA..

  16. Su C. permalink
    March 28, 2015

    There is a parallel to what John Thomas Smith did to preserve a London the future generations would not know to what you do here, Gentle Author, for those generations yet to come. Much will be learned about the London/East End of today – that which is changing so rapidly – through study of your archives.

    Heartfelt thanks and admiration for what you do for us.

    Su (California)

  17. Ros Dick permalink
    March 28, 2015

    Heart-stopping,aren’t they?
    I love the faces peering out of windows

  18. The Idle 'Prentice permalink
    March 30, 2015

    See also the works of Jacob Schnebbelie and his son R.B. Schnebbelie for more examples of London’s pre fire architectural styles.

  19. Gloria permalink
    April 6, 2015

    What marvels you have given us! The details, the life portrayed here! Now I am trying to figure how to create aboard on Pinterest…London Lost…

  20. Eileen Bates permalink
    May 30, 2015

    Thank you….in a way it breaks my heart….Eileen

  21. June 13, 2015

    We have a set of 23 hand coloured London architectural etchings (same as those depicted but in colour) , drawn and etched by John Thomas Smith and published between 1811-1814.

  22. March 22, 2019

    Wow, exponentially! What a treasure…

  23. FKPR permalink
    May 30, 2021

    Wonderful drawings. Thank you so much for sharing them.

    In the drawing of ‘Houses on the Corner of Chancery Lane & Fleet St’ there are 4 interesting almost modern-looking, bollard-type structures sticking out of opposite corners on the edge of the pavement – almost looks as if they were made of metal.

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