In his critically acclaimed book Lost London, which contains 500 photographs from 1870 to the end of the second world war, author Philip Davies shone a light on a city that was transforming rapidly. The book’s success led to an exhibition by English Heritage, which owns the images, and a follow-up coffee table book, Panoramas of Lost London, which was published in November last year.
Here, we’ve visited seven of the sites and taken modern-day equivalent photographs.
This super-sized version of the project brings a whole new level of detail to life in the city. Over four chapters – work, wealth, poverty and change – ordinary lives and livelihoods jump off the page. There is much to recognise. The landmarks we all know – here represented by Tower Bridge, St Paul’s and St James’s, Piccadilly – are still there. A continuity of spirit remains in the levels of bustling trade and wall-to-wall advertising (News of the World, Bovril, Lyons) as shown in Victorian and Edwardian images.
But what is most overwhelming is the detailing of a world completely different from our own. In many pictures there is an organic sense of street life that simply doesn’t exist today. The urban poor mill about outside whatever the weather (as shown in Lamb’s Conduit Passage in Holborn, image seven above): lounging, gawping, smiling or weary. Severe poverty exists alongside late-Imperial grandeur but rarely in the same image.
The most striking change though is that much of the functional architecture of the city is unrecognisable from what stands today, from buildings cleared for town planning to the damage of the Blitz. Mostly, as shown by Lambeth and Chelsea bridges, the modern views are far more prosaic. Life today may be a good sight more comfortable, but with all the roads, cars, buses and street paraphernalia getting in the way, it looks far less romantic.
All old photos used with permission of Atlantic Publishing/English Heritage. Modern photos taken by the author.