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The London Alphabet

March 3, 2021
by the gentle author

Although this Alphabet of London in the archive at the Bishopsgate Institute dates from more than one hundred and fifty years ago, it is remarkable how many of the landmarks illustrated are still with us. The original facade of newly-opened ‘Northern Station’ which is now uncovered again – at the terminus we know as ‘King’s Cross’ – reveals that this alphabet was produced in the eighteen fifties. The Houses of Parliament which were begun in 1840 and took thirty years to complete were still under construction then and, consequently, Big Ben is represented by an undersized artist’s impression of how it was expected to look. Naturally, I was especially intrigued by – “O’s the market for Oranges, eastward a long way. If you first ask for Houndsditch you won’t take the wrong way.” I wonder which East East market this could refer to?


Pictures courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 3, 2021

    Great stuff! And good to see the Customs House is included…

  2. Mick Fleming permalink
    March 3, 2021

    I absolutely love this alphabet, but it got me thinking about the London alphabet that my grandfather taught me as a child.

    He was from Haggerston originally, was the youngest of fifteen surviving siblings and would be over 130 if alive today (I am 72).

    Sadly I only remember a few bits of the alphabet: A for ‘orses, B for pork, C forth highlanders, F fer vescence, L for leather, T for two, and Z fer breezes.

    I would love to see it all again.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. March 3, 2021

    What a wonderful trip through London Town — in reality and typographically.

    Love & Peace

  4. John F. permalink
    March 3, 2021

    There’s something uncannily prophetic about the letter P…

  5. March 3, 2021

    As an illustrator/designer, I have always enjoyed seeing artful interpretations of the alphabet.
    Working in a series is a fantastic challenge — and how handy in this case that
    “Xanthian” and “Zoo” were part of the mix. Those letters always stretch the imagination and often have incredulous outcomes. (smile) This morning, I am dreaming of a modern-day London alphabet, rendered by some of my favorite British artists: Emily Sutton, Jonny Hannah, Mark Hearld, Ed Kluz, Clive Hicks Jenkins, Adam Dant, Alice Pattulo, etc. Perhaps an edition under the Spitalfields banner? Come to think…….it would make an amazing poster also! Ooops — I think I need to take off my art director’s beret now.

    Wait — who is the wonderful print maker who does the bold work? — He designed the bell logo for the Foundry project? We need him to be involved too. OK, now I’ll stop.

    Thank you for this stately alphabet, GA. Stay safe, all.

  6. John C. Miles permalink
    March 3, 2021

    I, too, was intrigued by the East End orange market. As is the case with so many 19th-century London queries, Henry Mayhew provides the answer. In my copy of ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ there is an entry entitled ‘Of the Orange and Nut Market’, which states ‘In Houndsditch there is a market supported principally by costermongers, who there purchase their oranges, lemons and nuts… This market is known by the name of Duke’s-Place, although its proper title is St. James’s-Place. The nearest road to it is through Duke’s-street, and the two titles have been so counfounded that at length the mistake has grown into a custom.’ My copy of Horwood’s map locates Duke’s/St James’s Place adjacent to Bevis Marks synagogue, next to Bury Street. But it is interesting that the engraving used for the entry in the alphabet appears to be Covent Garden – the main market building is unmistakable!

  7. Jane Manley permalink
    March 3, 2021

    Hungerford Bridge was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1845 and was a suspension footbridge that was named after Hungerford market that used to stand on the north bank of the Thames. When it opened in the May of 1845 86,254 people crossed it on the very first day between noon and midnight, each paying a toll of one halfpenny. The South Eastern Railway bought the bridge in 1859 and rebuilt it as a railway bridge that opened in 1864. The chains from Brunei’s bridge were reused in the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Today, all that remains of Brunel’s bridge are the brick pile buttresses which have doorways in them that once led to a steamer pier. The buttress on the north side appears to be a lot closer to the shore than the one on the south bank. This is because of the embankment of the north side by Joseph Bazalgette which was completed in 1970.

  8. March 3, 2021

    In answer to Mick Fleming – above, here’s the Cockney Alphabet
    There are several other versions of this!

    A for ‘orses – keeps ’em fed
    B for Mutton – just on Sundays
    C for yerself or C for thighlanders – Scottish regiment
    E for brick -fru a window
    F for vessence – Like Champagne bubbles
    G forPolice – he’s in charge of the bobbies
    H for it – when yer old enough
    I for Novello -or I fer lutin’
    J fer Oranges – where they comes from
    K for Restaurant – for a cuppa
    L for Leather – going fast
    M for Sis – that’s my sibling
    N for eggs – fresh laid
    O fer the wings of a dove
    P for a penny – in the public loo
    Q for a bus – no pushin’ in
    R fer mo’ – hang on a minute
    S fer Williams – the swimmer,
    T for two
    U for me or U fer mism
    V for La France – trez bon mon ami
    W for a quid – a good bet
    X for breakfast – an’ a bit of bacon
    Y for Mistress – may they never meet
    Z fer ‘is hat – where ‘is titfer fits

  9. March 3, 2021

    GA, what a generous community you have here. Anything Cockney is like Esperanto to
    me, a lowly New Yorker — but I was so touched to see the complete alphabet, and the
    “folk wisdom” therein. Sly, clever, streetwise, and tricky on the tongue.

    Wunnerful, wunnerful.

  10. patricia lewis permalink
    March 5, 2021

    i love this Alphabet. Thank you for posting

  11. Elaine Smith permalink
    March 20, 2021

    I immediately thought of Petticoat Lane market – close to the Houndsditch – referred to in “O”. All the girls in the office where I worked would go there during their lunchtime for a mooch, hoping to bag a bargain, and of course people would travel from far and wide to go there on Sunday mornings, including Dagenham where I used to live.

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