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John Thomas Smith’s Antient Topography

April 15, 2021
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.

Click on any of these images to enlarge

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

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Bill permalink
    April 15, 2021

    Wow! These are eye-popping.

    Imagine a dimension where all that exists yet!

    And wouldn’t it have been wonderful if those decorative embellishments had been preserved.

    Eye-popping, I say.

  2. David Gooding permalink
    April 15, 2021

    Maybe it is the actions of the local folk populating these images that provide such a seemingly natural quality to these superb artworks. Some of the dwellings almost have a fairytale quality about them.

  3. April 15, 2021

    What remarkable images – thank you , dear Gentle Author, for continually giving us so much to be amazed about. Charlie

  4. Philip Marriage permalink
    April 15, 2021

    The detail here is superb though it is sobering to note that in the 1789 etching of the corner of Chancery Lane and Fleet Street there are fourteen adults shown one of which, a lady, seems to need the support of a bollard to stand upright whilst her husband regales the world with their woes, three are using sticks, one amputee is on crutches and what looks like a double amputee shuffling around on a trolly. Life couldn’t have been much fun for many ordinary folk in those times.

  5. the gentle author permalink*
    April 15, 2021

    The average age of mortality in eighteenth century London was seventeen.

  6. Wendy permalink
    April 15, 2021

    The decorative details on the buildings are phenomenal – all that work and, as GA says, average life expectancy was only 17! The details in the pictures are amazing – so much to look at. I particularly enjoy the Leadenhall Street picture as I worked in that street in 1976 for six years. The building I worked in, P&O Building was taken down several years ago as was it’s neighbour the IRA bombed C&U Building. They now have the “Cheesegrater” building on their site. Thank you for all your work GA!!

  7. Pauline Taylor permalink
    April 15, 2021

    These are wonderful etchings and we are so lucky to have a record of all of the buildings depicted, but oh how sanitised they are !! I bet the reality was somewhat different.

    The average age of mortality was, of course, a reflection of how many infants did not survive, many died at birth and many more never reached adulthood but those who did were tough and often lived to great ages.

  8. Annie S permalink
    April 15, 2021

    The engravings are so beautiful.
    Amazing to think of London once looking like that – it would be great to be able to teleport back for a day to walk around!

  9. Richard Smith permalink
    April 15, 2021

    These illustrations are simply amazing. The amount of detail contained in each drawing is staggering. Each one contains a wealth of detail that repays careful observation. Thank you very much GA.

  10. Paola Moore permalink
    April 15, 2021

    The detail is magical and almost photographic. Poignant though that so many superb Elizabethan buildings are lost to us, but we have these tiny windows back into time. Thank you so much for bringing them to our attention.

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