Home London By Londoners Blog 2010 Then and Now

London Photos - Then and Now

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London has been developing at a stately pace for the last 2,000 years, and so has a large number of listed or protected buildings. This makes the business of updating and improving, all the more difficult. Often, protected buildings are gutted and new interiors are built, as the 'skin' of the building is held precariously in place - like a 'wild-west' movie set.

This had me wondering how much, or little, has London changed over the last 100 years. So I picked five old photos and went into town to shoot as close to the original photo as possible. Obviously there are differences in perspective, as some of these cameras were ancient (and I was positioning myself by memory) - but the results were interesting. Here is a walkthrough of the five photos and what's in them.

(Click to open the thumbnails in a lightbox. To cycle through all the photos, use the left and right arrow keys. To close the lightbox, click the 'X' at the bottom of the photo).



Charing Cross Station - 1920s and 2010

The original building remains (The Charing Cross Hotel), but it has been modified several times. Charing Cross and Charing Cross Station, The Strand in London - in the 1920s and present dayFirstly in the 1950s, after extensive bomb damage during the 2nd World War (transport termini were prime targets), when the Mansard roof was replaced by the current white brick. The second time was during the 1990s, when 'Embankment Place' was built - the large office space over the main station concourse at the rear.

The Charing Cross (tall spire at the front) is currently being renovated and shrouded in scaffolding, and is a nod towards the former 'Eleanor Cross', built in the 13th century. It is often incorrectly cited as the 'centre' of London, where all distances are measured to and from, but that's actually the nearby plaque below the statue of Charles I, in Trafalgar Square.

Otherwise little has changed on the Strand (main road) since the nearby Thames was embanked in the Victorian era. Prior to that, this area was subject to flooding at high tide (Strand means riverbank). The ornate street light is still the same, though it's been moved to the centre of the road.

Thames Embankment, from Hungerford Bridge - early 1900s

'Cleopatra's Needle' is the stone obelisk in the centre of the picture, the oldest monument The Thames Embankment in London - photo from the early 1900s and todayin London, at around 3,500 years and was erected in 1878 (there is a similar one in both New York and Paris). To its left is the Savoy Hotel, which is currently undergoing extensive renovation, but was 'the' place to be, and be seen when the photo was taken.

The Thames Clipper service operates from the pier below, which has been extended with a floating pontoon. The PS Tattershall Castle is a steamship permanently moored nearby, operating as a bar, which was built 30 years after this photo, but does give you an idea of what the original steamships were like.

Waterloo Bridge in the background was replaced after the 2nd World War, as it was severely bomb-damaged. All the street furniture and the boulevard atmosphere remain unchanged along the embankment - however the traffic these days is snarling.



Trafalgar Square from the north-west - 1903

South Africa House, to the left of the curved building next to Nelson's Column, remains Trafalgar Square in London, showing Nelson's Column in 1903 and the present dayunchanged, though was the scene of stormy apartheid protest during the 1980s.

If you look carefully you can see that one of the statues has gone - but the other two visible from this angle, remain unchanged. Lutyens' fountains replaced the originals in 1939, but the function of the square remains the same today.It's the place where visitors hang around, taking photos - expect to get asked to take someone's picture if you pause in the vicinity

However to Londoners, it's where you go to express your grievances - don't like transport being cut? Get a placard, bull-horn and a mob - then pitch up here. It's also the place to see in the New Year, but strictly speaking, most people there on New Year's Eve are from out of town. Somewhere to avoid for most.


Statue of Boudica from Westminster Bridge - 1960s

The statue of Boudica was cast in 1902 and has been standing in front of Statue of Boudica from Westminster Bridge in London, taken in 1961 and the present dayWestminster Palace, with her arm in the air ever since.

I especially like this photo, as the tree to the left of the statue has not changed in 50 years. The London Eye is a recent addition, as are the 'keep left' signs.

The 'Shell Centre' is being built in the background, which happened between 1957 and 1962 - so this was probably about 1961. It was the first building in London to exceed the height of the Victoria Tower, at the Palace of Westminster. 

County Hall is to the right of the statue, home of the London County Council at the time, but now a hotel complex. What's most striking is how few tourists there are, compared to now. This little corner of London (with your back to The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben) is seething with tourists - but back in the '60s, it's all very British and sedate.


Victoria Tower, Palace of Westminster - 1870s

The Victoria Tower was completed in about 1860, so was 'new' Victoria Tower, The Palace of Westminster around the 1870s and the present daywhen this print was taken (as were photographs).

Of the five photos of London, this area has changed the most. The street has been substantially widened, resulting in the buildings being demolished on the right, but you can still see the same window in the background, near the 'Sovereign's Entrance' to the tower.

The Victoria Tower was designed to store records securely and there are 5 and-a-half miles of shelving inside its fourteen stories. The earliest records date from 1497 and survived the fire which destroyed the original palace as they were stored in the 'Jewel Tower'. The Jewel Tower is opposite and open to visitors.

I'm guessing the photo was taken early in the morning, as the streets are seldom deserted, even back in the late Victorian Era.

The Victoria Tower Gardens which are clearly visible in the modern photo, were built by Jospeh Bazalgette in the 1870s as part of his sewage works project, so probably existed already, behind the row of houses on the right. The gardens were extended in the early 1900s, which is when the row of houses was likely demolished.



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