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Picturing a World

Old London

Blog alert: Every morning, I check the blog Spitalfields Life. Today’s post, A Walk in Long Forgotten London is one of several devoted to Walter Thornbury’s Old & New London, an 1873 compilation of engravings of the London that was already disappearing when it was published.

For Where the Light Falls, I relied on photographs by Marville for similar scenes of “lost” Paris and by Atget for somewhat later ones, and on all the marvellous cityscapes by painters of the last quarter of the 19th C. What can specially stimulate the imagination is an image like the one shown here of Bleeding Heart Yard in Hatton Garden. You don’t look at it and say immediately, “Ah, London.” Instead you ask yourself, “Wait a minute, where is this? What sort of life was led here? How does this place relate to the Georgian London or Dickens or Sherlock Holmes familiar from fiction?”

Whether fine art or more journalistic record, such images can draw your attention to useful concrete details. This one, for instance, contains a wheelbarrow, a handcart, and a horse-drawn cart, all neatly recorded in a single picture. On a rainy morning, I recommend spending time in Spitalfields to see what you can see—and if you haven’t discovered the Gentle Author’s blog before, roam through its archives!
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