In 1829, Samuel Leigh published one of the most curious books in London’s history. It only had two pages. One was 18 metres long — a single watercolour image showing the banks of the Thames from Twickenham to Southwark, concertinaed between the covers. The second was a detailed panorama of central London, painted from the Adelphi (next to the Savoy).
The book can still be found in major libraries, but most copies are in a dilapidated state. These remarkable paintings have now been digitally restored and reproduced in a new book from Thames & Hudson. Here it is:
It is a beauty to behold. The anonymous artist depicts the Georgian shores with an all-seeing eye. Graceful mansions jostle with filthy smoke stacks and cluttered wharves. It’s as though Google Streetview had taken to the water and travelled back two centuries.
The panoramas — alas, there’s no longer an 18-metre-long page — are combined with modern annotations by Jill Sanders, setting out the history of the more prominent features. The Adelphi panorama is reproduced as a fold-out. In a neat touch, the editors have also included some of the reviews that Leigh’s volume received first time around.
Considerable grassroots work went into this book. Many local history groups were consulted. The original maps were carefully scanned, digitally prepared and then stitched together by author John R Inglis (a special effects supervisor on the Christopher Reeve Superman films, no less). The finished product is a riparian rhapsody that every historically minded Londoner should own.
In an extension to the project, the authors are compiling high-resolution photographs of the shores, to make a record of London as it is today. These can be compared with the Leigh panoramas in the book, making clear how much the Thames has changed. What will it look like in another 200 years?
Panorama of the Thames by John R Inglis and Jill Sanders is out now from Thames & Hudson.
Also out now
We received two further London books that might be of interest this month.
Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms by Paul Willetts picks apart London’s spy networks and underground fascist movements during the Second World War. The depth and detail is such, it’s as though Willetts has somehow been rifling through his subjects’ rubbish bins for shopping lists and scribbled notes. It’s a slow burner, but the (sometimes very) short chapters help to keep the pages turning, drawing you into a dangerous, clandestine world. Read a more detailed Guardian review here.
Paved With Gold, Discovering the Secrets of the West End of London is the latest book from serial London author David Long. Broken up into geographic sections (Bloomsbury, Mayfair, Soho, etc.), this is a fact-filled tour of London’s biggest cultural centre. Such guides have been written many times before, of course, but Long’s snappy, opinionated style is always a joy, especially when reclaiming areas of town we would normally leave to the tourists.
See our large archive of London book reviews.
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