London: The Great Transformation 1860–1920 by Philip Davies - review by Jerry White

Jerry White

A Tale of Two Cities

London: The Great Transformation 1860–1920


Atlantic Publishing 480pp £50

Philip Davies’s splendid new collection of historical photographs follows on from his bestselling Lost London 1870–1945 (2009), which was later transformed into a coffee-table spectacular, Panoramas of Lost London: Work, Wealth, Poverty and Change 1870–1945 (2011). The first question to ask, then, is whether there’s anything new here. The fortunate answer is a great deal. Lost London relied almost exclusively on the London County Council’s photographic records of changing London (now in the hands of Historic England). For London: The Great Transformation, Davies has widened his net. He lists thirty-two archives and private collections, some outside the UK, that he has scoured for images. Most helpful, it seems, have been the wonderful archive and library of the Bishopsgate Institute, but he also has trawled a handful of the well-endowed local history libraries run by the London boroughs, and he has revisited the unrivalled Historic England collections, often finding new material.

Perhaps inevitably, there is some overlap. More than a few photographs appear in both collections, along with different photographs of the same buildings taken at the same time. Some others will be familiar to London-lovers because they have appeared in similar publications over the years, not least John Thomson’s Street Life in London (1877). But, in all, Davies has unearthed a vast treasure-trove that will offer much that is new to everyone, so that those of us with Lost London on our shelves need have no qualms about splashing out on this new (and very reasonably priced) volume.

Davies offers us two introductions (as well as a foreword by Dan Cruickshank), one summarising the story of London photography in the 19th century and another, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, focusing on the capital’s enduring inequalities during his chosen period. The contrast between wealth and poverty is

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