Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

The Oldest Known Footage of London (1890-1920) Features the City’s Great Landmarks

The City of London has exploded like Blade Runner in the last couple of decades with glass and concrete and shrines to global capitalism like St. Mary Axe (aka the Gherkin) and the Shard (aka the Shard). But has the view from the ground stayed the same? According to this charming then vs. now video assembled by a company called YesterVid, yes.

Trawling through the oldest surviving public domain footage from the early days of film (1890 – 1920), the videographers have placed old and modern-day shots side by side, matching as close as they can camera placement and lens.

Missing from today: the soot, the filth in the gutter, and the free-for-all in the streets as horse-drawn carriages and early busses battled it out with pedestrians. Streets are safer now, with railings to protect citizens, though the signs of increased security are also apparent, and CCTV cameras are most probably filming the director…somewhere!

St. Paul’s still needs room to breathe, and while the Empire Theatre may not show any more Lumiere Cinematographies, it’s still a cinema showing IMAX films. It didn’t suffer the fate of many cinemas outside of London after the ‘60s: being turned into bingo halls or just torn down.

Also: the sea of red poppies seen at 4:28 during the shot of the Tower of London’s moat is an installation work by artist Paul Cummins. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was installed between July and November of 2014 and, according to Wikipedia, it consisted of 888,246 ceramic red poppies, each intended to represent one British or Colonial serviceman killed in the Great War.

Final point: the oldest pub in London, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, still stands, and during the sweltering summers provides a cool respite, as most of its drinking rooms are underground. Cheers!

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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Related Content:

Animations Visualize the Evolution of London and New York: From Their Creation to the Present Day

The Growth of London, from the Romans to the 21st Century, Visualized in a Time-Lapse Animated Map

Fly Through 17th-Century London’s Gritty Streets with Prize-Winning Animations

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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