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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.