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A Walk Through Walter Thornbury’s London

December 2, 2020
by the gentle author

At this moment of the year, when the temperature drops and the dusk closes in, I get a longing to go walking through Walter Thornbury’s London

Golden Buildings off the Strand

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

Boar’s Head Yard, Borough High St

Jacob’s Island, Southwark

Floating Dock, Deptford

Painted Hall, Greenwich

Waterloo Bridge Rd

Balloon Ascent at Vauxhall Gardens, 1840

House in Westminster, believed to have been inhabited by Oliver Cromwell

Old shops in Holborn

Mammalia at the British Museum

Rookery, St Giles 1850

Manor House of Toten Hall, Tottenham Court Rd 1813

Marylebone Gardens, 1780

Turkish Baths, Jermyn St

Old house in Wych St

Butcher’s Row, Strand 1810

The Fox Under The Hill, Strand

Ivy Bridge Lane, Strand

Turner’s House,  Maiden Lane

Covent Garden

Whistling Oyster, Covent Garden

Tothill St, Westminster

Old house on Tothill St

The Manor House at Dalston

Old Rectory, Stoke Newington 1856

Sights of Stoke Newington – 1. Rogers House 1877 2. Fleetwood House, 1750 3. St Mary’s Rectory 4. St Mary’s New Church 5, New River at Stoke Newington 6. Queen Elizabeth’s Walk, 1800 7. Old gateway

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

A Room to Let in Old Aldgate

The Ghosts of Old London

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Ian Silverton permalink
    December 2, 2020

    Love these old prints, keeps history alive, shows how much we have progressed through the ages,Turkish Baths in Jermyn Street where still going when lived in St Christopher’s Place Mayfair, surly not still there now? That was so many years ago it seems LOL. Stay safe London, don’t think will be visiting anytime soon looks and sounds so grim for all residents with all those new rules. Thanks GA for keeping such worthwhile Blog going your true credit to your craft.

  2. Graeme Cook permalink
    December 2, 2020

    Look at the signs in Field Lane 1840. Scrooge and Fagan………..I wonder if ?????????

  3. Annie S permalink
    December 2, 2020

    Field Lane – is that where Dickens got the names of his characters Scrooge and Fagin?!
    Wonderful drawings.

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    December 2, 2020

    Can I join you on the walk? Looks fascinating…

    I think we could also bump into Charles Dickens doing one of his nighttime London perambulations.

  5. Julian permalink
    December 2, 2020

    Loved the prints, I felt that I was there and each of the buildings had their own character unlike today where most of the buildings are boxes.

  6. December 2, 2020

    These engravings are incredible. I love the mammals at the British Museum. What a shame so much has been lost over the years. And the destruction continues!

  7. December 2, 2020

    Wonderful. Fleet Ditch… Now I know about the River Fleet. Sir Paul Pindar’s lodge, a marvel… The beams holding the buildings… Everything. Some of these buildings should have neer been torned down. They were jewels. Thank you.

  8. paul loften permalink
    December 2, 2020

    Where lies the desire to have destroyed wholesale, all this intricate beauty, and replace it with empty shells and concrete boxes?

  9. Bernie permalink
    December 2, 2020

    I recognise some of these as being of places of my childhood and youth in Stoke Newington. Rectory Road was just a few turnings away from our home, and was also the name of the railway station (on the Liverpool St to Chingford line) by which I journeyed to school (alighting at Cambridge Heath station, Bethnal Green) almost daily, 1944-1949. And from which I remember starting my 1939 Evacuation journey. Not only was that a needless panic-measure but it took me to the Ipswich area, closer to Germany!

    I wonder where the Dalston Manor house was. Nothing manorial about Dalston in my day! But I also remember the trams turning there from Stoke Newington Road into Balls Pond Road and how the conductor had to lower the connection-pole to allow the corner to be turned.

  10. Lizebeth permalink
    December 2, 2020

    What amazing pictures. And so much destroyed that would be of immeasurable interest today. (But some of the buildings must have been quite grim?) I do tend to romanticise the past, as today is so joyless, and modern architecture so soulless. I wish I could have seen some of these places in person. How can we get our civic leaders to respect the past? It seems an insoluble problem.

  11. marianne isaacs permalink
    December 3, 2020

    I noticed in one of these that Fagan and Scrooge got a mention on signs. I wonder if that was a little tribute to Dickens or whether there really were people of those names trading . Seems unlikely to me

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