Some of the oldest surviving photographs of Victorian London show how today’s capital took shape
As attention turns to Britain’s capital, it seems the world – for the next two weeks at least – revolves around London.
But there was a time when it was the planet’s most important city every day of the year, as the hub of the empire and home of industrial innovation.
The dizzying rate at which our country changed during the latter half of the 19th century clearly inspired Danny Boyle’s Olympic spectacular – and now these photographs, dug out from the archives of the Museum of London, provide an invaluable document of the real thing.
Historian Alex Werner is the man behind their rediscovery, having compiled them in his latest book. He calls it Dickens’s Victorian London, the title making these historical scenes instantly recognisable as the settings conjured up by the UK’s best-loved novelist.
Last night’s opening ceremony, with its enormous cas and life-size factory smokestacks, told the story of the birth of modern Britain through the means of an incredibly extravagant stage production.
Charles Dickens, on the other hand, used only his fiction to bring to life the villains, the victims and the ordinary people of industrial London, portraying the city as a chaotic hive of bustle and smog.
His creations come to mind as here we see Cheapside and London Bridge congested not with hackney cabs and Routemaster buses but with horses and carts.
Notting Hill Gate station stands freshly completed and ready, long before the city’s underground network became the (usually) well-oiled machine it is today.
And the Thames, now lined with tourist attractions, is seen in its prime – a working river and a key trade route, the starting point from which Britain’s influence spread.
Read more: Museum of London
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