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Thomas Onwhyn’s London

November 24, 2023
by the gentle author



Born in Clerkenwell in 1813 as the eldest son of a bookseller, Thomas Onwhyn created a series of cheap mass-produced satirical prints illustrating the comedy of everyday life for publishers Rock Brothers & Payne in the eighteen forties and fifties.

In his time, Onwhyn was overshadowed by the talent of George Cruickshank and won notoriety for supplying pictures to pirated editions of Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby, which drew the ire of Charles Dickens who wrote of “the singular Vileness of the Illustrations.”

Nevertheless, these fascinating ‘Pictures of London’ that I came upon in the Bishopsgate Institute demonstrate a critical intelligence, a sly humour and an unexpected political sensibility which speaks powerfully to our own times.

In this social panorama, originally published as one concertina-fold strip, Onwhyn contrasts the culture and lives of rich and the poor in London with subtle comedy, tracing their interdependence yet making it quite clear where his sympathy lay.

The Court – Dress Wearers.


The Opera Box.

The Gallery.

The West End Dinner Party.

A Charity Dinner.


Rag Fair.

Music of the Drawing Room.

Street Music.

The Physician.

The Medical Student.

The Parks – Day.

The Parks – Night.

The Club – The Wine Bibber.

The Gin Shop – The Dram Drinker.

The Shopkeeper.

The Shirtmaker.

The Bouquet Maker.

The Basket Woman.  (Initialled – T.O. Thomas Onwhyn)

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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One Response leave one →
  1. November 24, 2023

    These images do hit home, especially the night time park and charity dinner images. Have we really progressed from the divisions in society seen in Victorian times?

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