Part of the four part London Then and Now Series

The Fruits of Industry

February 4, 2015

Workers building a metro line in front of Somserset House. This was the first underground line ever built anywhere in the world. Initially poor ventilation meant the stations and cars filled with noxious smoke from the engines, though the novelty and convenience of the tube meant this did not greatly impact ridership.

London Industrializes

Industrialization has reshaped every city on earth, and few moreso than London. Britain spearheaded the development of factory mass production, railways, telegraphs, steamships, and every other conceivable industrial innovation of that transformative era. With her industrial strength, massive empire, and control of the seas, British companies were able to accumulate vast wealth and influence. London became the world's centre of finance and trade, in addition to a manufacturing hub.

Another photo of underground construction by Paddington Station. Constructed through the back-breaking cut-and-cover method, the work looks exhausting.

Another photo of underground construction by Paddington Station. Constructed through the back-breaking cut-and-cover method, the work looks exhausting.

Here we see welders at work on the SS Great Eastern on the Isle of Dogs. Working at night, the scene is lit by gaslight. The Great Eastern was meant to be a symbol of Britain's naval power, engineering prowess and industrial strength. Designed by the legendary Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the ship was six times bigger than any other afloat at the time of its launch in 1858. It wouldn't be surpassed for another 40 years.

Workers gather to listen to a preacher speak at the Gatehouse of the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Woolwich had been the centre of British armaments manufacturing since the 17th Century, one of the world's largest manufacturing centres. By the First World War, a few years after this photo was taken, over 80,000 people were employed in the sprawling complex. Today the Royal Arsenal is a historic site and hosts the excellent Royal Artillery Museum.

Regent's Circus, or Oxford Circus as it is now known. Most of the buildings have been knocked down or at least redeveloped in the last 130 years. In the foreground you can see a man pulling an organ grinder, a form of entertainment very popular with the urban poor at the time.

Harley Street, an upscale area where many doctors had their practices.

The swanky Palace Theatre.

A nanny poses with a baby for a photograph. The photographer has brought along his mobile dark room.

The Prince of Wales theatre. Home of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the focus of English entertainment throughout the world, London has always had a vibrant and trend-setting theatre scene.

The Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition in 1851. It was the first large building constructed of walls of plate glass supported by iron struts. This novel building that didn't require any interior lighting astonished visitors and was named the Crystal Palace because it reminded viewers of crystal.

The Palace was a triumph of British engineering and drew visitors from all over the world. In 1936 however it was destroyed in a massive fire.

A sumptuous banquet held in the halls of the Crystal Palace.

A crowded street in front of Liverpool Station. Only the building on the left survives, the pub owners proudly reminding us that it's still "open as usual." In 1801 Greater London had a population of just over a million. By 1901 this had increased to well over 6 million, the largest surge in population seen anywhere up to that point and making London far and away the largest city in the world. Second was New York (4 million), followed by Paris (3.3 million), Berlin (2.7 million) and Chicago (1.7 million). These people were overwhelmingly concentrated in Inner London and most of them lived in cramped and fetid conditions. This is opposed to today where the majority of London's inhabitants inhabit outer London.

A crowd watches a Punch and Judy Show in Waterloo Place. On the left can be seen the Crimean War Memorial. Punch and Judy shows are mobile booths where puppet shows can be put on. They were wildly popular with the lower classes.

Traffic on the Strand.

St. John's Gate. Originally built in the 1500s, it served as the entrance to the inner sanctuary of the Knights Hospitallers Priory. In the 19th Century it was restored and for a time served as the publishing house of the famous Gentleman's Magazine.

Slums on lower Fore Street near Moorgate. These slums, like many slums throughout London, were cleared out early in the 20th Century.

Women selling flowers in Covent Garden in front of Saint Paul's Church.

The Clare Market which was once on the edge of Lincoln's Inn Fields. Once a densely populated slum, now the London School of Economics stands on the spot.

One of Claude Monet's paintings of the Houses of Parliament. He painted these as he sat in his hospital bed in Saint Thomas looking out the window across the Thames. The buildings are shrouded in smog the dense smogs typical of the time that were the origin of the term "London pea souper". The smog was caused by the burning of coal for home heating and cooking, a practice detrimental to the health of all the city's inhabitants.

London Then and Now Series



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