The Longer View of London

In November 1890 The Graphic published as a supplement these two bird's eye view panoramas of London. The top panorama is a reproduction of Claes Jansz Visscher's engraving of London in 1616. The bottom panorama is by H.W. Brewer and was commissioned by Harpers Weekly in 1890, in order to illustrate how London had changed in 274 years.

This copy of the two panoramas was actually published in The Graphic in November 1890, four months after it had been originally published by Harpers Weekly, in July of the same year.

The two views of London, drawn from the same position 274 years apart, positioned in this way, one on top of the other, provide us with a fantastic comparison of London in the year that William Shakespeare died (1616) with the London of the Victorian age.

St Paules Church 1616

In the 1616 panorama the Old St Paul's dominates the London skyline. St Paul's is shown here without its spire (which had been struck by lightning and destoyed in 1561). 50 years after this panorama was drawn St Paul's would be destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666).

St Paul's Cathedral 1890

In 1890 St Paul's Cathedral still dominates the skyline of London. However what we now see is the newer cathedral, which was built to replace the Old St Paul's destroyed in 1666. This new cathedral, with its imposing dome, was built by Sir Christopher Wren, who was accorded responsibility for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire of London.

London Bridge 1616

In 1616 the only bridge depicted crossing the Thames is London Bridge. The bridge shown here was originally built in 1209 and lasted until 1831. As you can see this London Bridge has a number of buildings along its span. Over the years these buildings proved to be a huge fire risk and also a major burden on its arches (many of which had to be rebuilt over the centuries).

Buildings on the bridge were built up to seven stories high. Because of these buildings the roadway was actually just twelve feet wide and it is said that when the bridge was congested it could take up to one hour to cross from one side of the river to the other.

Southern Gatehouse

On the Southern Gatehouse of London Bridge you can see a number of severed heads on display. The severed heads of traitors were dipped in tar and boiled to help preserve them and then impaled on pikes atop the Southern Gatehouse. The head of William Wallace was the first to be displayed on the bridge in 1305. Eighteen years before this engraving, in 1598, a German visitor to London counted over 30 severed heads displayed on the Gatehouse tower.

London Bridge 1890

The medieval London Bridge was finally demolished and replaced in the early Nineteenth Century. The bridge we see in the 1890 panorama was built by John Rennie in 1831. Rennie's bridge wasn't to last as long as its predecessor. During the Twentieth Century the bridge couldn't cope with the amount and weight of modern traffic. Rennie's bridge was therefore sold to the American Robert McCulloch who had the bridge dismantled, shipped across the Atlantic, and rebuilt in Arizona.

Southwark 1616

South London in 1616 was outside the rule of the sherrifs and authorities of the city. Consequently stews (brothels), theatres and bear & bull baiting thrived in this area. The 1616 panorama shows the Bear Garden and The Globe. In the Bear Garden a bear would be set upon by a number of dogs for the pleasure of the spectators. The Globe theatre was built in 1599. The original Globe was destroyed by fire in 1613. What is depicted here is the second Globe which opened in 1614.

The Monument

One of the tallest buildings in Victorian London is the Monument to the Great Fire of London (the fire which burned the St Paul's Church seen in the 1616 panorama). The Monument was constructed between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire. The Monument stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill. It is 202 feet tall, which is the distance from the Monument to the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started on 2 September 1666. You can see the viewing platform near the top of the Monument, which is reached by a narrow winding staircase of 311 steps. In this panorama the platform is enclosed by a mesh cage, which was added a few years before this panorama was drawn, to stop people jumping from the tower in suicide attempts.

The Industrial Revolution

Some of the biggest changes in London since 1616 are a direct result of the industrial revolution. The growth of the railways in the 19th Century can be seen in the 1890 map in the railway lines, steam trains and in the two imposing stations (Charing Cross & Cannon Street). The legacy of the Industrial Revolution on 19th Century London can also be seen in the huge number of smoking chimneys which can be seen, particularly along the south bank of the river Thames.

Somerset House

One hidden legacy of the Industrial Revolution is hinted at by the road and trees in front of Somerset House. This is a different Somerset House than the Tudor mansion shown in the 1616 panoroma. This Somerset House was built by Sir William Chambers in 1776. It was built directly beside the river Thames. The reason why there is now a road in front of Somerset House is because of the Embankment, which was built in the 1860's. In the 1860's huge sewers were built along both sides of the river. On the north bank this involved narrowing the river and building the Embankment. Therefore since the 1860's Somerset House has had no direct access to the river.

This copy of the 'Supplement to "The Graphic" November 1, 1890' is owned by the David Rumsey Map Collection.

You can learn more about how this scrollytelling Long View of London was made by visiting Maps Mania.

In 2016 the artist Robin Reynolds created a 21st Century panorama of London showing the same view as in the 1616 and 1890 panoramas. The Guardian has created a nice interactive comparison of Reynold's 2016 and the 1616 Visscher original.