Until 21 September, the LONDON 1840 model will be on display at Tower Hamlets Local History Library. More information

The LONDON 1840 model.

LONDON 1840 is building a 1:1500 scale wooden model of London as it was in the year 1840. The boundaries of the model will be urban London as built up by the end of the Georgian era - from Paddington and St. John's Wood in the west, then clockwise taking in Regent's Park, Camden Town, King's Cross, Islington, Hackney, Bromley-by-Bow, then along the River Lea to where it meets the Thames, across to the Greenwich Peninsula and down to Greenwich, Deptford, Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, Walworth, Kennington, Vauxhall, along the Thames to Battersea, Chelsea and across Kensington Gardens to Paddington.

London1840 patron Joanna Lumley

Our partron, Joanna Lumley. Photo © Rankin

A little history.

In 2013, we were commissioned by English Heritage to build a model of part of Bloomsbury as it was in 1840, to coincide with four exhibitions it hosted at the Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner, to celebrate the centenary of the first protection of historic buildings. This model was built by Billy Dickinson, a technician and tutor at Central Saint Martins in King's Cross, at a scale of 1:500 - three times larger than our main model. At this scale Billy was able to laser engrave the elevations of the buildings in great detail.

The Bloomsbury Model at 1:500, three times larger than the LONDON 1840 model.

Why 1840?

In the early to mid-19th century London was perhaps at its height. For long the World capital, by 1840 London was the most populous city in the western world with almost twice the population of Paris. It was also the richest city, with a globally dominant economy - Europe's first modern trading, financial and industrial centre.

By 1840 London had expanded hugely, reinforced its commercial might with the construction of vast new docks and canals, and, from 1835 had become the focus of the nascent railway age, which at that time had shifted from the provinces to the capital, so much so that in 1840 London had six railway termini.

1840 is also seen as the year that marks the end of the Georgian era and the start of the Victorian era.

Why an old fashioned model? Why not a modern digital model?

Architectural modelmakers have never been busier because, surprisingly perhaps, wood architectural models are still remarkably popular. Such models have a warmth and a character that is difficult to achieve with other materials such as perspex, and they age particularly well.


The LONDON 1840 model will indeed have a large digital presence. The research necessary to build the model will generate a huge amount of digital data which, with further research, will produce almost limitless applications such as population densities, building dates, a gazetteer of residents, poverty mapping, estate boundaries, demolition dates, the mapping of trades, etc., all of which can be overlaid and highlighted on the model.


The physical model and the digital aspects complement each other perfectly. Digital overlays are a brilliant way of highlighting specific information but the best way of getting a complete picture of London as it was in 1840 is by viewing the physical model. The elevated 3D bird's-eye view is simply impossible to achieve on a screen.


Why 1:1500 scale?

At 1:1500 the model will in its extremities measure some 10 metres east to west and 6 metres north to south. This will sit comfortably into a large room with space for circulation. At a larger scale the model would become increasingly difficult to accommodate and at a smaller scale increasingly difficult to comprehend. On a similar basis, modelling London at a later date would entail vastly more research to interpret the ever increasing size of the place and a larger space to accommodate it. Dan Cruickshank's suggestion of modelling 1840 at 1:1 was rejected on cost grounds.


The actual area covered by the model is 88 square kilometres or 88,000,000 square metres. By the power of mathematics this is dramatically shrunk to 39 square metres at the scale of 1:1500.


At 1:1500 the gardens of Russell Square, Bloomsbury will measure 11 centimetres by 11 centimetres.

Thanks.

Thanks to Maxine Webster at 1st Framework who has encouraged the project tirelessly since 2013, David Armitage who has spent so many days volunteering his time to build the model, Billy Dickinson of Central Saint Martins who built the Bloomsbury model in 2013, Will Palin and Brendan McCarthy at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, Alan Baxter, Polly Hudson, Dan Cruickshank, Sarah Milne of the Survey of London, Peter Avery at 1st Framework, Jane Monahan, Peter Murray at New London Architecture, Eric Reynolds, Antony Dennant, Professor Jerry White, Kathy Collins at North Kent Joinery and Robert Danton-Rees at Capital Models. Also, Simon Richards who took all the photos of the LONDON 1840 model.

  • Looking north-west from the River Thames with the London and Blackwall Railway diagonally across the centre. The grounds of the London Hospital top right

  • Looking north from St. Georges in the East with the London and Blackwall Railway in the foreground. Cannon Street Road centre left, runs north across Commercial Road

  • Looking south-west to the London Docks. Commercial Road runs diagonally across the centre with the four sides of Arbour Square bottom to centre left

  • Looking north-east to Stepney with the magnificent warehouses of the London Docks in the foreground. Note one of the great Georgian Sugar Houses in Wellclose Square, centre left, even taller than the five North Quay Stacks of the London Docks

  • Looking south-west to the London Docks. Beaumont Square bottom right and St. Dunstan's Churchyard bottom left

  • We are trying to research every street and every building so that their heights and roof profiles can be clearly seen. The houses are run up as a series of mouldings in maple wood.

    The laser engraved plywood baseboard was researched using the first edition Ordnance Survey maps of London (late 1860s/early1870s) which were then 'edited back' to 1840 using earlier maps such as Horwood (various editions from 1799 to 1819), historic photographs, engravings, drawings and watercolours from various London and National archives, aerial photographs, online material, etc. The individual houses are affixed using a reversible natural glue and intriguing reverse-action tweezers.

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    Attention to detail

    We are trying to research every street and every building so that their heights and roof profiles can be clearly seen. The houses are run up as a series of mouldings in maple wood. From left to right.

    The laser engraved plywood baseboard was researched using the first edition Ordnance Survey maps of London (late 1860s/early1870s) which were then 'edited back' to 1840 using earlier maps such as Horwood (various editions from 1799 to 1819), historic photographs, engravings, drawings and watercolours from various London and National archives, aerial photographs, online material, etc. The individual houses are affixed using a reversible natural glue and intriguing reverse-action tweezers.

  • From left to right: Two storey single pitch houses, three storey M roof houses, three storey plus dormer window top floor mansard houses, three storey butterfly roof houses, three storey ridge roof houses.

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    Attention to detail

    From left to right: Two storey single pitch houses, three storey M roof houses, three storey plus dormer window top floor mansard houses, three storey butterfly roof houses, three storey ridge roof houses.

LONDON 1840 has been set up as a Community Interest Company - a not-for-profit organisation to benefit all those who take an interest in the history of London.

Our Patron is Joanna Lumley.

Chairman - Professor Jerry White teaches London history at Birkbeck, University of London. Amongst other works, he is the author of an acclaimed trilogy of London from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Director - Andrew Byrne. Architectural Historian and Founder of LONDON 1840. In the absence of a time machine to take him back to the remarkable year of 1840, Andrew decided to time travel using old maps, photographs, engravings, drawings and the like to explore the capital in that yearin order to build the model.

Director - David Armitage. For many years he taught historic woodwind instrument making at London Metropolitan University before taking early retirement in 2013. He has volunteered his time since the end of 2015 carrying out the modelling for the project.

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Here for the curious

LONDON 1840 has been set up as a Community Interest Company - a not-for-profit organisation to benefit all those who take an interest in the history of London

Our Patron is Joanna Lumley.

Chairman - Professor Jerry White teaches London history at Birkbeck, University of London. Amongst other works, he is the author of an acclaimed trilogy of London from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Director - Andrew Byrne. Architectural Historian and Founder of LONDON 1840. In the absence of a time machine to take him back to the remarkable year of 1840, Andrew decided to time travel using old maps, photographs, engravings, drawings and the like to explore the capital in that year in order to build the model.

Director - David Armitage. For many years David taught historic woodwind instrument making at London Metropolitan University before taking early retirement in 2013. David has volunteered his time since the end of 2015 carrying out the modelling for the project.

LONDON 1840 is a registered Community Interest Company. Our registration number is 10720233