Panoramas of Lost London, this week’s Random Book of the Week, is a collection of photographs originally commissioned by London Country Council to capture buildings, streets and neighbourhoods before they were lost forever through redevelopment. The images range from the earliest days of photography up until the end of the Second World War.
Philip Davies has collated and grouped these photographs into four sections – Work, Wealth, Poverty and Change – and sets a context for these images in each chapter. The Work and Poverty chapters are the most interesting and, in the case of the latter, extremely emotive.
The sheer size of the book allows the images to be reproduced in phenomenal detail. I made good use of my Nanny Turner’s old magnifying glass to pore over the detail of each image to an almost obsessive degree, looking closely at each building, reading each street sign or advertising poster, and, most importantly, gazing in to the faces of the (mostly) unknown individuals captured for perpetuity. I enjoyed imagining the lives of these people captured in that fleeting moment – who were they? Where did they come from? Where did they end up? Did they have a good day, that day? What was on their worry list (other than grinding poverty, which does tend to dominate one’s thoughts)? What made them special?
This book isn’t cheap – I picked it up a few years ago for half price when it was retailing at £40, after deliberating long and hard over whether I could justify such shameless self-indulgence, only to find it retailing for upwards of £300 a few years later when my brother wanted a copy and I thought it might be an easy Xmas win. Sorry bruv. But, there are many wonderful books of old London images out there, and my advice is to treat each as a grown up, historical Where’s Wally, as I did with this glorious tome. It’s a feast for the imagination, as well as a stark reminder of the often harsh reality of times past.