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Bewick’s Birds Of Spitalfields

June 5, 2023
by the gentle author


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Coming across an early copy of Thomas Bewick’s ‘History of British Birds’ from 1832 in the Spitalfields Market inspired me to publish this ornithological survey with illustrations courtesy of the great engraver.

I have always known these pictures – especially the cuts of the robin and the blackbird – yet they never cease to startle me with their vivid life, each time I return to marvel at the genius of Bewick in capturing the essence of these familiar creatures so superlatively.

The book reminded me of all the birds that once inhabited these fields and now are gone, yet it is remarkable how many varieties have persisted in spite of urbanisation. I have seen all of these birds in Spitalfields, even the woodpecker that I once spied from my desk, coming eye to eye with it while looking into a tree from a first floor window to discern the source of an unexpected tapping outside.

The Sparrow

The Starling

The Blue Tit

The Great Tit

The Pigeon

The Collared Dove

The Blackbird

The Crow

The Magpie

The Robin

The Thrush

The Wren

The Chaffinch

The Goldfinch

The House Swallow

The Jay

The Woodpecker

Pied Wagtail – spotted by Ash on the Holland Estate, Petticoat Lane

Rose-ringed Parrakeet – an occasional visitor to Allen GardensHeron – occasionally spotted flying overhead

Buzzard – spotted over Holland Estate, Petticoat Lane

Swift – spotted by Ian Harper around Christ Church

Raven – spotted by Ian Harper & Jim Howett around Christ Church

Kite – spotted by Ian Harper & Jim Howett around Christ Church

Long-tailed Tit – spotted in Wapping

Willow Warbler – spotted by Tony Valsamidis in Whitechapel

If any readers can add to my list with sightings of other birds in Spitalfields, please drop me a line

You may also like to take a look at

Luke Clennell’s London Melodies

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg T permalink
    June 5, 2023

    The “Collared Dove” is a Wood Pigeon
    Collard Doves did not appear in Britain until the mid or late 1950’s

  2. Stephen Watts permalink
    June 5, 2023

    Cormorants & swans often on the river & sometimes flying overhead. There used to be kestrels in Whitechapel : I’d see them quite often, though not recently at all. Not sure if you’d want to include the (quite wide) range of ducks & geese. Thank god for the birds, may they live on !

  3. Joan permalink
    June 5, 2023

    The most recent episode of BBC2’s Hidden Treasures of the National Trust (Episode 4) featured an exploration of Bewick’s work and his home Cherryburn in Northumberland. Well worth a watch.

  4. June 5, 2023

    Beautiful Absolutely beautiful.

  5. June 5, 2023

    These images are incredible. The sharply defined detail of their plumage makes it easy to image the contrasting colours of the Birds, and the fact that they are shown in black & white is just fine. As a lasting living memorial to him, Bewick Swans are named in honour of Thomas Bewick.

  6. Mark permalink
    June 5, 2023

    Lovely illustrations.
    The first nine are regular visitors to my Suffolk front lawn when I bung out a few titbits and the bally cat isn’t having a butchers.
    The others sadly are rarely seen in the manor.
    Good work.

  7. June 5, 2023

    I guess that on a phone the engravings are about original size, but for once a computer monitor is a hindrance, obscuring his shere skill as an engraver

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