Lost London

2 Apr

I recently bought a brilliant book, Lost London 1870-1945 by Philip Davies. If you are interested in London, it’s a must. It’s primarily photographic, but also includes interesting text. The major changes to the structure of the city were, of course, during the Second World War: on 29 December 1940, the City of London lost a third of its floor space, the flames leapt the Thames and set light to a line of warehouses between Tower and London bridges, and could be seen for 30 miles; on 10-11 May 1941, 100,000 incendiary bombs were dropped throughout the city, 1,430 people were killed and 12,000 made homeless. By the end of the war 50,000 houses had been destroyed or irreparably damaged, 290,000 were seriously damaged and two million more slightly damaged. It’s amazing that so much of Georgian London – in places such as Islington – and some mediaeval London still survives, particularly as Davies writes, “Idealistic post-war planning destroyed more of London’s historic neighbourhoods than the Luftwaffe”.

What I hadn’t realised, is that a great many 16th-century, and earlier, buildings survived until the late 1800s/early 1900s when they were razed to make way for large institutional buildings as London became the financial capital of the world and, with more than eight million inhabitants, at that time the largest city in the world. The difference between rich and poor was even more marked then than it is now: in 1900, thousands of destitute children slept on the street at night, 55% of children in the East End died by the age of five and, as a result, the average life expectancy in the East End was 30 (in the West End it was 55). Since my mother was born in the heart of the East End, I guess I’m lucky to be here!

Today’s picture

One of the 18th-century survivors, in what is now Chinatown.Image



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