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Looking Down On Old London

October 18, 2021
by the gentle author

In my dream, I am flying over old London and the clouds part like curtains to reveal a vision of the dirty monochrome city lying far beneath, swathed eternally in mist and deep shadow.

Although most Londoners are familiar with this view today, as the first glimpse of home on the descent to Heathrow upon their return flight from overseas, it never ceases to induce wonder. So I can only imagine the awe of those who were first shown these glass slides of aerial views from the collection of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Institute a century ago.

Even before Aerofilms was established in 1919 to document the country from above systematically, people were photographing London from hot air balloons, zeppelins and early aeroplanes. Upon first impression, the intricate detail and order of the city is breathtaking and I think we may assume that a certain patriotic pride was encouraged by these views of national landmarks which symbolised the political power of the nation.

But there is also a certain ambivalence to some images, such as those of Horseguards’ Parade and Covent Garden Market, since – as much as they record the vast numbers of people that participated in these elaborate human endeavours, they also reduce the hordes to mere ants and remove the authoritative scale of the architecture. Seen from above, the works of man are of far less consequence than they appear from below. Yet this does not lessen my fascination with these pictures, as evocations of the teeming life of this London that is so familiar and mysterious in equal measure.

Tower of London & Tower Bridge

Trafalgar Sq, St Martin-in-the-Fields and Charing Cross Station

Trafalgar Sq & Whitehall

House of Parliament & Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge & County Hall

Tower of London & St Katharine Docks

Bank of England & Royal Exchange

Spires of City churches dominate the City of London

Crossroads at the heart of the City of London

Guildhall to the right, General Post Office to the left and Cheapside running across the picture

Blackfriars Bridge & St Paul’s

Hyde Park Corner

Buckingham Palace & the Mall

The British Museum

St James’ Palace & the Mall

Ludgate Hill & St Paul’s

Pool of London & Tower Bridge with Docks beyond

Albert Hall & Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum & Victoria & Albert Museum

Limehouse with St Anne’s in the centre & Narrow St to the right

Reversed image of Hungerford  Bridge & Waterloo Bridge

Covent Garden Market & the Floral Hall

Admiralty Arch

Trooping the Colour at Horseguards Parade

St Clement Dane’s, Strand

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Lantern Slides of Old London

The Nights of Old London

The Markets of Old London

The Pubs of Old London

The Doors of Old London

The Staircases of Old London

The High Days & Holidays of Old London

The Streets of Old London

The Fogs & Smogs of Old London

The Tombs of Old London

The Bridges of Old London

The Forgotten Corners of Old London

The Statues & Effigies of Old London

The City Churches of Old London

The Docks of Old London

11 Responses leave one →
  1. October 18, 2021

    Indeed, the photos clearly show the magnificence of the lovely metropolis of London. I was also very impressed at the time of my first visit in 1978.

    Love & Peace

  2. October 18, 2021

    Wonderful images! What a magnificent city, even with its many changes over the years, that so many of us can call home, or at the minimum ‘home of my birth’. Before retirement, I used to travel a lot through work, and it never failed to thrill me when the plane flew over London on its way to Heathrow.

  3. Milo permalink
    October 18, 2021

    Absolutely fascinating. Thank you. Look how low level the city was. What a shame it had to shoot upwards.

  4. Gilbert O’Brien permalink
    October 18, 2021

    Wonderful. And quite heartbreaking to see quantity of destruction wrought in the past century. Hyde Park Corner was stunning, as was St Katherine’s Docks. Thank you for these.

  5. October 18, 2021

    As you said, absolutely fascinating. Thank you, dear G.A.

  6. John Furlong permalink
    October 18, 2021

    Do you by any chance have dates for the two images which show the” Albert Hall & Natural History Museum” and the “Natural History Museum and the Victoria &Albert Museum”?

    There’s quite a discrepancy between each of the two buildings in these images – the latter image is pretty much identical to the appearance of those buildings today.

  7. October 18, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the great bygone aerial views of the city. Missing London today, as always…

  8. paul loften permalink
    October 18, 2021

    Thank you for these fantastic photos. Yes certainly there is an ambivalence and I think it comes from where you are looking at the scenes . For me rather than evoking sense of patriotism, it evokes a sense of continuity and pride in being a working class Londoner whose friends and family have helped over the last century in the functioning of the city. I can see the places that my father and grandfathers worked and laboured . I can see the streets that echoed to the sound of their footsteps

  9. October 18, 2021

    Another brilliant article & photos. Thanks

  10. Ann V permalink
    October 18, 2021

    Yes, wonderful images of a magnificent city. I am proud to say that I was born in London, although I only spent the first few days of my life there. Some of my ancestors were born, lived and worked in London. It is 3 or 4 years since I visited the city, hopefully I will visit next year. Thank you so much for the images.

  11. Bernie permalink
    October 19, 2021

    It would be helpful to know when these pictures were taken.

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