Samuel Johnson said: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” London has been a major settlement since its founding by the Romans who named it Londinium, it now sits comfortably as the largest city in the European Union. Over the years it has naturally changed in shape, size and most notable function, whereas the city less than 100 years ago was considered a global trading hub it has now been completely converted to financial capital. However one change that is not so welcome is the current mass change in architecture taking place across the capital.
Much of the Tudor and Stuart era architecture was lost during the 1666 Great Fire of London where 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Pauls Cathedral and most of the buildings of the City authorities were consumed in flames. It is estimated that the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants were destroyed.
Following these events, radical rebuilding schemes for the gutted city poured in. If it had been rebuilt under some of these plans London would have rivalled Paris in Baroque magnificence. With various complexities arising of ownership of the land being left unresolved, none of the Baroque schemes for the City of piazzas and avenues could be realised; there was nobody to negotiate with and no means of calculating how much compensation should be paid. Instead much of the old street plan was recreated in the new City, with improvements in hygiene and fire safety: wider streets, open and accessible wharves along the length of the Thames, with no houses obstructing access to the river, and, most importantly buildings constructed of brick and stone, not wood. New public buildings were created on their predecessors sites; perhaps the most famous is St Pauls Cathedral and its smaller cousins, Christopher Wren’s 50 new churches.
On King Charles’ initiative, a Monument to the Great Fire of London, designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke was erected near Pudding Lane. Standing 61 metre (200 ft) tall and known simply as ‘The Monument’, it is a familiar London landmark even today. Another monument, the Golden Boy of Pye Corner in Smithfield, marks the spot where the fire stopped. Following the fire, the thoroughfares of Queen Street and King Street were newly laid out, cutting across more ancient thoroughfares in the City, creating a new route up from the Thames to the Guildhall, they were the only notable new streets following the fires destruction of much of the City.
Now the London that was built following the Great Fire is under threat from modern developments and this isn’t the first time. In the late 1800’s various buildings were taken down redesigned and then rebuilt however these were done in a similar Georgian/Victorian/Edwardian style. Following the Blitz of the Second World War many more buildings across the City were lost – these were the original structures from the likes of Wren. These were not rebuilt, but instead replaced with cheaper alternatives. In the 1960’s however many more were demolished and built over with the ugly post-war period architecture, some of which still stands today.
Today this architecture is now being overshadowed and in some cases again replaced by modern alternatives, big glass buildings now rise up through London’s skyline. A once ancient and glorious in design City is now slowly disappearing. Below i have put a gallery of the London of old, Roman inspired, imperial and glorious.