Skip to content

John Thomas Smith’s Antient Topography

February 12, 2023
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. Gregg permalink
    February 12, 2023

    Great collection of piccies. The striking thing is that chaos, dirt & squalor, which are usually how most people visualise ‘ancient’ streets, especially in London, are not depicted. Everything is neat & tidy. I wonder if this is a reality or artistic licence. JTS doesn’t seem to be an artist who would falsify a subject. Anyway a terrific collection of images.

  2. Christine Swan permalink
    February 12, 2023

    There are still chunks of London Wall in the environs of St Giles Cripplegate and a walk to see all of the remaining sections. This is a fascinating set of images showing buildings very similar in style to the “best bits” of Worcester where I now reside. York and Chester are also two excellent places to find historic, timber-framed buildings intact. We only have a couple of streets but they are always the ones I walk through on my way home from the railway station. I imagine the noise, the smells and sights of the City as it was. Timber-framed buildings move over time so nothing is straight. You can walk both uphill and downhill across the oak floor of my favourite pub. Looking out of a window in the National Trust’s Greyfriars merchant’s house, to the buildings opposite and the precarious angle of the upper floor, one wonders how they are still standing at all. In the morning, sparrows quarrel with their neighbours nesting in the crevices of these ancient structures which cheer me on my walk back to the station.
    Last summer I was fortunate enough to stand on a gallery of a house from which Queen Elizabeth I had addressed the people of Worcester. It is a great pity we have lost so many historic buildings but would urge those interested to seek out places where some remain.

  3. February 12, 2023

    Wonderful graphical documents of a disappearing age. They are indeed somewhat reminiscent of the German painter and draughtsman of the late Romantic and Biedermeier periods CARL SPITZWEG.

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  4. Marcia Howard permalink
    February 12, 2023

    Wonderful drawings, and I’ve just learned a new word ‘Antient’. Mind you, I had to look up what it meant haha!

  5. Marcia Howard permalink
    February 12, 2023

    The street names add colour and meaning to its history; Grub Street, Cripplegate etc…

  6. Julie Cruickshank permalink
    February 12, 2023

    These are so valuable – almost photographic images of London as it used to be.

  7. Jenny Moore permalink
    February 12, 2023

    Fascinating pictures. The one in Crutched Friars is the mansion of Sir Richard (Dick) Whittington.

  8. February 12, 2023

    One of the joys of subscribing to Spitalfields Life is forwarding some of the posts to various
    friends and colleagues. I chuckled as I sent today’s array of crusty/tilting historic buildings to a dear friend who is an architect. He has a “veddy, veddy” refined aesthetic, and I think he feels most of my preferences in art and design are wildly chaotic (well, actually…………..) but we like to
    compare notes. He will appreciate these amazing renderings — and ( who knows?) maybe we can convince him to come over to the cluttered side?

    Thank you, GA.

  9. Eleanor permalink
    February 13, 2023

    Thankyou so much Gentle Author for giving us the privilege of seeing these pictures.

    The facility of being able to zoom in, allows us to appreciate these phenomenal drawings in great detail.

    We are also now able to stand in the respective streets with a visual image of how they once looked and picture folk in Georgian dress.

  10. Guillaume permalink
    February 14, 2023

    Really, the clarity of this man’s lines seems to be contra mundum the linearity of his time. Somehow utterly different. Something about it that is… what, like our time? No? A linearity that supersedes time? Delineating what? Loss, horrible loss?

    Ah, the loss that pierces my heart like a thousand swords!

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS