5 ‘Lost London’ Books
Pictured above: The King’s Cross Aerodrome, an eight-runway nightmare developed by British Airways to balance on the tops of central London buildings and deliver plane passengers by lifts to the stations. There are a great many books about the London buildings that no longer physically exist, or never came to be. What we become aware of when reading them is the short-sightedness of architects and borough councillors. The best (and most lavish) volume of them all is London’s Lost Panoramas from English Heritage Books, a vast photographic record of streets and buildings that have gone, but here are a further five excellent volumes that will show you a city you’ve never seen.
1. Lost London by Richard Guard
Here’s the story of London simply told through buildings, parks and palaces that no longer exist, like the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the leading venue for public entertainment in the city for over 200 years, or the Palace of Whitehall, whose 1500 rooms made it the largest royal residence in Europe until it was destroyed by fire. There are bull rings, ice fairs, plague pits and molly houses, although it’s a fairly cursory jaunt with only a page on each – but a good introduction to the subject.
2. London As It Might Have Been by Felix Barker & Ralph Hyde
These are the buildings and schemes planned for London that didn’t make it off the page. There’s a lot of detail here taken from public archives and collections, and much of it is fascinating. There was going to be a sixty foot pineapple on top of St Paul’s and a railway down the middle of the Thames. I like the plans for the ornate French chateau that would have been the Foreign Office, and the fabulous 230 foot high statue of Britannia that nearly got built in Greenwich – instead we got stuck with boring General Wolfe.
3. The London We Have Lost by Richard Tames
This is about buildings that were constructed, only to be torn down, and they’re listed alphabetically from the staggeringly vulgar Egyptian Hall (not unlike Harrods) in Piccadilly to Collins’ Music Hall in Islington, which now houses a bookshop. There were things that deserved to be destroyed, like pillories, prisons and pest houses, and buildings foolishly abandoned, like the glamorous Holborn Restaurant and the Ring boxing arena in Blackfriars.
4. The Lost Rivers of London by Nicholas Barton
This is the third edition of a fairly definitive book, although it doesn’t show you how to find the remnants of the rivers. The author locates the ones which were once above ground in London, though now mostly or completely buried and only occasionally apparent. He surveys what we know of them and their courses, their uses and their effect on London’s development. It’s a bit of a dry work compared to other books on the rivers, but thorough. Check out also, London’s Lost Rivers, with a foreword by Admin.
5. Lost Victorian Britain by Gavin Stamp
This is about how the twentieth century destroyed the architectural masterpieces of the nineteenth, an erudite and passionately angry book about the astonishing buildings that were thrown away by morons, many of them on the take from developers. From the Metropolitan Theatre to the Holborn Viaduct Hotel, Stamp has dug out astonishing photographs of exteriors and interiors that are lost and can never be replaced. The stories of some buildings are not just of mismanagement; some failed to flourish because they were constructed in the wrong areas, and fell foul of the taste for modernism.