Abandoned London: New Book Shines Light On The Rarely Glimpsed City

By M@ Last edited 33 months ago

Last Updated 14 September 2021

Abandoned London: New Book Shines Light On The Rarely Glimpsed City
Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey - Alamy/Richard Arthur.

Blue Badge guide Katie Wignall is well known for her Look Up London walking tours, and for sharing her London discoveries across just about every social platform out there. Her latest project is a good old-fashioned photo book, with the most alluring of subjects: Abandoned London.

The title holds a slight irony, given that the book was written during lockdown, when much of central London was all-but-abandoned. The focus here, though, is on buildings and places that were locked up and isolated before that became the enforced norm.

The shell of Millennium Mills in the Royal Docks, at sunset
Millennium Mills, Silvertown – Shutterstock/Joe Dunckley.

The book contains over 200 images of the decaying and forgotten quarters of the city. That includes derelict buildings, abandoned stations and disused tunnels... even the rusting hulk of a boat that once rocked to a live performance by The Beatles.

The deliberately shabby pink front of a house on Princelet Street
Princelet Street, Spitalfields - Alamy/Kathy deWitt
Stompie the Soviet tank, a yellow and black painted tank in long grass
‘Stompie’ (former Soviet T-34/85 Medium Tank) near Old Kent Road - Alamy/A C Manley

Not all of these buildings are truly abandoned. The fairytale ruin of St Dunstan-in-the-East is one of the Square Mile's most instagrammed hotspots. Abbey Mills Pumping Station remains a functioning (and elegant) sewage pump. The once derelict Enderby House on the cusp of Greenwich Peninsula is now reborn as a bright and buzzy Young's pub.

The abandoned tube platform of Aldwych station
Aldwych Station - Alamy/Dan Highton

Other entries await counter-abandonment, like the deserted section of Smithfield Market destined to become the new home to the Museum of London. A few less fortunate buildings, like Camden's National Temperance Hospital, have already kissed the wrecking ball. Still others, like the famous pink facade on Princelet Street Spitalfields, are kept in a deliberate state of disrepair, for the benefit of shabby-chic fashion shoots.

Thames Ironworks near Trinity Buoy Wharf, fountainhead of West Ham United
The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company, Leamouth Wharf - Shutterstock/Roberto La Rosa

Abandoned London, then, is an ever-changing place. Buildings that lie derelict today will be gone tomorrow, or else converted into something new (usually luxury apartments). This isn't the type of book that discusses the forces behind such trends. Rather, it's an evocative snapshot in time that will grow only more stirring is the years and decades go on, and much that is now Abandoned London will have transitioned into Vanished London.

Abandoned London by Katie Wignall is available now from Amber Books. Buy direct from the publisher, bookshop.org, or your nearest independent bookshop.

Abandoned London book by Katie Wignall