Samuel Leigh (1780 – 1831) was a bookseller based in the Strand during the early decades of the the 19th Century. He specialised in travel guides. In 1829 he published an extraordinary book: Panorama of the Thames from London to Richmond. It mainly comprised a 60 foot long sheet which folded out concertina style, although some editions were made up of a series of individual sheets. On this ribbon of paper was printed a hand coloured aquatint of both banks of the Thames, facing one another, so one bank is always upside-down, depending on which way you hold the book. Approximately 15 miles per bank, 30 miles in all. This was, of course, immediately before the railways and almost half a century prior to Bazalgette’s embankments. Bridges across the river were still relatively few. It is therefore a marvelous visual record of the Thames of the late Georgian era.
Fast forward to the early 21st Century and we find a man called John Inglis doing a very similar recording project, except, of course, using photography. His idea was virtually the same as Leigh’s, except – remarkably – at first he was blissfully unaware of the earlier work. Once Leigh was brought to his attention, it fundamentally transformed his own project in a most exciting way. Using rapidly improving web technology, the old and the new could exactly mirror each other in a tool that could prove both invaluable and entertaining to everybody from curious Londoners to serious historical researchers. This of course involved a massive increase in the workload and extension of the project timeline. With meagre funds, the project has relied on a dedicated band of volunteers.
One of the challenges was to obtain a best possible digitised version of Leigh. Using six surviving copies, the team took high resolution shots of the best bits of each, and then digitally repaired them for colour correction, staining, cracks, folds and so on.
This done, the team has now reached a key stage of the project: the book. Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London by John Inglis and Jill Sanders is now published by Thames and Hudson. Apart from some nonedescript countryside parts of the riverbank, this book contains all of Leigh, both banks. The authors have departed from Leigh by treating each bank separately. This is something of a sacrifice it can be argued, but I think the correct decision. It has freed up space for text entries describing all notable buildings and structures, many of which no longer exist. The panorama has been divided into sections, with short introductions. The overall result is image rich with text relatively light and for me, that balance is perfect.
The tome is large, quite weighty and simply wonderfully produced. Lavish. There is great pleasure between its covers. This is more than a book: it is a treasure. Treat yourself.
Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London (256pp) by John Inglis and Jill Sanders is published by Thames and Hudson with a cover price of £30. It’s available on Amazon and Waterstones.
This publication is the first book from the project. More are planned. The ongoing Panorama of the Thames project is here. Check it out; have a play.