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Vanishing London

May 16, 2016
by the gentle author

Four Swans, Bishopsgate, photographed by William Strudwick & demolished 1873

In 1906, F G Hilton Price, Vice President of the London Topographical Society opened his speech to the members at the annual meeting with these words – ‘We are all familiar with the hackneyed expression ‘Vanishing London’ but it is nevertheless an appropriate one for – as a matter of fact – there is very little remaining in the City which might be called old London … During the last sixty years or more there have been enormous changes, the topography has been altered to a considerable extent, and London has been practically rebuilt.’

These photographs are selected from volumes of the Society’s ‘London Topographic Record,’ published between 1900 and 1939, which adopted the melancholy duty of recording notable old buildings as they were demolished in the capital. Yet even this lamentable catalogue of loss exists in blithe innocence of the London Blitz that was to come.

Bell Yard, Fleet St, photographed by William Strudwick

Pope’s House, Plough Court, Lombard St, photographed by William Strudwick

Lambeth High St photographed by William Strudwick

Peter’s Lane, Smithfield, photographed by William Strudwick

Millbank Suspension Bridge & Wharves, August 1906, photographed by Walter L Spiers

54 & 55 Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the archway leading into Sardinia St, demolished 1912, photographed by Walter L Spiers

Sardinian Chapel, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, August 1906, demolished 1908, photographed by Walter L Spiers

Archway leading into Great Scotland Yard and 1 Whitehall, September 1903, photographed by Walter L Spiers

New Inn, Strand,  June 1889, photographed by Ernest G Spiers

Nevill’s Court’s, Fetter Lane, March 1910, demolished 1911, photographed by Walter L Spiers

14 & 15 Nevill’s Court, Fetter Lane, demolished 1911

The Old Dick Whittington, Cloth Fair, April 1898, photographed by Walter L Spiers

Bartholomew Close, August 1904, photographed by Walter L Spiers

Williamson’s Hotel, New Court, City of London

Raquet Court, Fleet St

Collingwood St, Blackfriars Rd

Old Houses, North side of the Strand

Courtyard of 32 Botolph Lane, April 1905, demolished 1906, photographed by Walter L Spiers

32 Botolph Lane, April 1905, demolished 1906, photographed by Walter L Spiers

Bird in Hand, Long Acre

Houses in Millbank St, September 1903, photographed by Walter L Spiers

Door to Cardinal Wolsey’s Wine Cellar, Board of Trade Offices, 7 Whitehall Gardens

Old Smithy, Bell St, Edgware Rd, demolished by Baker St & Edgware Railway

Architectural Museum, Cannon Row, Westminster

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Insitute

You may also like to look at

London’s Ancient Topography

Long Forgotten London

The Ghosts of Old London

A Room To Let in Old Aldgate

22 Responses leave one →
  1. Alex Knisely permalink
    May 16, 2016

    Can this be accurate?

    “Houses in Millbank St, September 1903, photographed by Walter L Spiers” — extraordinary in September to have snow on the ground.

    Interesting that none of the chimneys shown in this scene, which I should think is a wintry one, is VISIBLY smoking. The old pea-soupers: What made them so dark?

  2. May 16, 2016

    Wonderful collection of photos, sad that it has all disappeared. Valerie

  3. May 16, 2016

    Ooh lovely!

  4. May 16, 2016

    Although many of these buildings are dilapidated, it seems that London has never had much interest in conserving and repairing. Keener to knock down and rebuild. How much of this had to do with improvement and how much to do with keeping the building trade and property development industries healthy is the question.

    Whatever the answer, it seems to be the very nature of London to keep changing for better and/or for worse.

  5. May 16, 2016

    A minor correction to the caption of one of these splendid pictures. Williamson’s Hotel is not in Bow, but in Groveland Court, just off Bow Lane in the City. It was rebuilt in 1934 and is still functioning as Williamsons Tavern. The wrought iron gates seen in the photo remain; they were presented by William III in the eighteenth century and are monogrammed with his and Mary’s initials.

  6. Jude permalink
    May 16, 2016

    Sad start to my day but it was ever thus. If only the owners had kept the buildings in good repair… Or i guess they just got in the way of progress, railways and the like. How glad i am that someone saw fit to photograph ordinary streets, back streets so we can imagine how life was for our ancestors. I too am trying to do my bit, yes i like to photograph beautiful buildings and admire their architecture but i also like to mooch and discover hidden places etc and photograph them for prosperity. Fortunately street photography is popular too. Really enjoyed looking at these today. Thks as ever.

  7. David Elliott permalink
    May 16, 2016

    What to my mind was one of the worst removals of history was the construction of Kingsway that took place around the change of 19th & 20th century. Whole streets vanished – an amazing amount of history lost forever.

  8. Malcolm permalink
    May 16, 2016

    The history of London is one of constant change, not always in good ways.
    One wonders what London would have become had it not been so badly damaged by the Luftwaffe. It has always been a city of change and re-invention but the latest incarnation of steel and glass is surely the ugliest and least people-orientated it has ever been.
    I remember streets of neat terraced houses before they were torn down. These house were designated as slums to get the resistant tenants out by idiot planners, who had visions of housing people in faceless blocks of flats and grim estates of maisonettes, and the streets of East and South London changed forever.
    It seems that the last consideration of town planners is the people.
    Interesting to see the old Millbank suspension bridge, which was replaced by Lambeth bridge. The bridge was designed to replace the old Horseferry which crossed from Lambeth Palace to Westminster. There was a lot of opposition to a bridge from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who owned the Horseferry – and the Watermen, who operated it, to a bridge and consequently no bridge was built until 1862. The old steel suspension bridge lasted less than 50 years due to rust and poor design. It closed in 1910 and was eventually replaced with the current bridge, which opened in 1932.
    London is so much more than just a Metropolis. It is part of me.

  9. Patricia Celeveland-Peck permalink
    May 16, 2016

    All the sadness of the word ‘demolished’ is summed up here. Thank goodness we have the images – but why is it I always feel like trying to find these ghost places…

  10. May 16, 2016


  11. Michael Kutapan permalink
    May 16, 2016

    London has always been a city of change. The buildings in these pictures were themselves new at one stage, many built to replace even older buildings in forms and styles now long forgotten.
    The problem I find these days is that the new 21st Century builds are so ghastly to the eye that they must be the worst and most badly designed constructions ever to be imposed on the city.
    This makes one wishful that some of the buildings shown here were still in place instead, and the monoliths of glass and concrete, Bodged Boris Buildings, could all be pulled down. That would provide plenty of work for the construction/demolition industry.

  12. Patricia Taylor permalink
    May 16, 2016


  13. May 16, 2016

    It isn’t often that I come across old photos of London that I haven’t seen before – I have been avidly seeking them out for over forty years. But! Lots of these were a revelation. I am booking myself into Williamson’s Hotel and ordering a plate of hot buttered crumpets forthwith. Imagine the comfy beds. Sterling work, GA.

  14. pauline taylor permalink
    May 16, 2016

    These are all of great interest to me as various branches of my family lived and worked in most of the areas shown including Lambeth High Street. The Lambeth family was the Tearoes who worked for the Archbishop of Canterbury for generations starting as watermen on his barge way back in the 16th century. They, Malcolm, were some of those who so opposed the building of Westminster Bridge, and who can blame them, rowing was their living. The Archbishop, of course, did very well out of the compensation eventually paid to him!

    Change is inevitable in a city, but it is sad to see how much character has been lost for one reason or another, and the wholesale destruction now is just heartbreaking. What a terrible legacy Boris is going to leave.

  15. gkbowood permalink
    May 16, 2016

    I wonder how long before brick and mortar buildings are completely gone and replaced with steel/glass which, in their turn, will be replaced with the latest and greatest building materials?
    Ever Upward London Grows and where She Will Stop Nobody Knows.

  16. John Linquist permalink
    May 17, 2016

    Mr Price’s comments could have been given at a meeting thhis century rather than the last.

  17. Shawdian permalink
    May 17, 2016

    What a Fantastic set of photographs of ‘Another Word’ totally wiped out. What a shame that we have very few almost none of these beautiful scenes left. Yes London is a continul changing City, but now a modern one which does not hold much to the eye anymore other than an ‘Eyesore!” Most of the modern buildings look out of place and a mess. Thank you for sharing so I can imagine all those ghosts who walked before us, with their little streets and little shops in Top Hats, Bustles and Pinafores and Flat Caps. Wish I could go back in time for a day.

  18. May 18, 2016

    to Alex Knisely-
    I think the white on the ground is sunlight rather than snow- the sun is actually high in the sky over the buildings on the right and it is their shadow on most of the pavement. I suspect the dark areas of the road surface have perhaps been hosed down- or just “horsed” down. 1903 still saw crossing sweepers on duty.

  19. May 19, 2016

    Shawdian I totally agree .

  20. October 4, 2020

    Thank you very much for the Spiers pictures. There is a caption on one that I am not sure is quite correct:

    “Nevill’s [Court], Fetter Lane, March 1910, demolished 1911, photographed by Walter L Spiers”

    I believe that at least parts of Nevill’s Court must have still been standing in 1914, as Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Labour Party and the namesake of the current Labour leader, appears to have had rooms at number 10 Nevill’s Court off Fetter Lane.

    In fact, on the eve of the Great War, Hardie wrote a letter to the editor of the Manchester Daily Citizen, pressing for peace, which was published on Monday, August 3rd, 1914. The address he gave in this letter was

    10, Nevill’s Court, London

    For this reason I believe the date of demolition of Nevill’s Court may be later than 1911. That, or he sent his note in using old letterhead!

  21. Paul Leopold permalink
    June 21, 2021

    According to E.V. Lucas, Nevill’s Court was still standing well after 1914. The following description of it is from his “Adventures and Enthusiasms, ‘In and about London’ ”(1920)-

    My third little street, which also is an alley untrodden by the foot of horse, is not a new discovery but an old resort: Nevill’s Court, running eastwards off Fetter Lane, the Nevill (if Wheatley and Cunningham tell the truth) being Ralph Nevill, Bishop of Chichester, in the thirteenth century: much of the property about here, it seems, being still in the possession of that see. The great charm of Nevill’s Court is that it has, right in the midst of the printing world, gardens; within sound of countless printing presses, the Nevill Courtiers can grow their own vegetables. Each house has its garden, while the centre house, a stately double-fronted Jacobean mansion, has quite a big one. The Court has also a fruiterer’s shop, presided over by one of the most genial and corpulent fruiterers—I almost wrote the fruitiest fruiterers—in the world (what a wonderful word “fruiterer” is!), and a Moravian chapel. But these things are as nothing. The most precious treasures of Nevill’s Court that I observed as I walked through it one day in late February were its buds. On each shrub in each garden were authentic green buds: trustworthy promises that some day or other another spring was really coming. And they were the first buds I had seen. It is an exciting experience, worthy of London, that one’s first earnest of the renaissance should be given by a court off Fetter Lane.

  22. May 28, 2022

    The houses in Millbank Street are not shown after snow!That is called sunlight and shade!So sorry to be commenting years later but I am sure that’s sunlight and shadow we are looking at not a dusting of snow..

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