An engraver by trade, John Thomas Smith trod this earth two centuries ago (1766-1833), and was also known as “Antiquity Smith.” He etched buildings in London that had survived the Great Fire of 1666, many of which were being demolished in his own time. Some of these etchings were collected five years ago in a post by “the gentle author,” whose real name I could not find on his blog, called “Spitalfields Life,” after the famous district in London’s East End (the nobs lived in the West End). These drawings are from his post “John Thomas Smith’s Ancient Topography.”
This is a second part of my series on architectural drafting, which began with a post on drawings by Phiz that illustrated Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop. I think it more likely that this post on Smith features images performed with drafting tools. Those of Phiz – surely not. These of Smith – maybe not. The rapid disappearance of drafting tools from commercial availability was the idea that sparked this series. But let us carry on anyhow.
In the following passage, Smith’s work is introduced to readers by the gentle author – whose blog’s motto is “In the midst of life I woke to find myself living in an old house beside Brick Lane in the East End of London.” Here is that passage:
Two centuries ago, John Thomas Smith set out to record the last vestiges of ancient London that survived from before the Great Fire of 1666 but which were vanishing in his lifetime. You can click on any of these images to enlarge them and study the tender human detail that Smith recorded in these splendid etchings he made from his own drawings. My passion for John Thomas Smith’s work was first ignited by his portraits of raffish street sellers published as Vagabondiana and I was delighted to spot several of those familiar characters included here in these vivid streets scenes of London long ago.
And here are some of those street scenes: