Staying with the suburban theme for the moment, a jaunt up to sweet and hilly Hampstead yesterday – another of the lost villages of Middlesex not entirely devoid of echoes of its past. Fond memories of the old Everyman Cinema – glad to see it still there – only cinema I can ever recall seeing an audience stand, cheer, stomp and whistle in mid film (yes, it was Lauren Bacall – “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” – sultriest line in all cinema – link under Video Links). Stroll along elegant Church Row, gleaming in the warm spring sunshine.
My old friend Ralph Hyde, former Keeper of Prints & Maps at the Guildhall Library and ultimate authority on all things London and all things panoramic, had asked me to go with him to have a look at something special. The Balloon View of London – London spread out as though seen looking southwards from a balloon high above Primrose Hill (first published by John Henry Banks in 1851) is one of the most iconic and most reproduced views of nineteenth-century London we have – but rumours have been circulating for some time of a lost “pair” to it – the opposite view looking northwards from south of the Thames. Could this be it?
One of the few places where such a treasure might realistically come to light would be in the superlative collection of London material put together over the years by the ABA’s very own Jonathan Gestetner (Marlborough Rare Books and Pickering & Chatto). And indeed it was to Jonathan’s Hampstead home we were now heading. Jonathan fresh and crisp from an hour’s tennis, a cup of coffee and a piece of cake, and then we assemble to look at something special – a balloon view of London from the south. Looks at first glance for all the world like a lost companion to Banks – but then we start to examine it more closely. Not quite. Not quite. Jonathan produces a copy of Banks (three editions actually) for comparison. This new balloon view – apparently previously wholly unknown and unrecorded – is plainly rather smaller than Banks. A quick discussion of when various features of the London landscape appeared and disappeared leads us to a tentative and as yet unproven conclusion from internal evidence that it is also a few short years earlier.
For comparison, we have look at Jonathan’s copy of Banks’ earlier and less well-known Panoramic View of London (1845) – also a view from the south – and we begin to see some plausible connections. The Banks 1845 view suffers (to my eye at least) from a loss of control over the perspective – the vantage point and elevation appear to shift from place to place. This has been to a large extent corrected in both the balloon views by the expedient of exaggerating the street widths and narrowing the buildings to create room for the optical sleight of hand to work. They are very alike in technique. We seem – again tentatively – to see a steady line of progress and refinement between the three images. And one new thing that Jonathan notices about the 1851 Banks balloon view, is that while the two earlier images are executed in aquatint, the shaded areas in this last in the sequence (although looking like aquatint) are in fact, when viewed under magnification, engraved with a palette of diamond meshes of fine lines. The peripatetic and often bankrupt Banks took out patents for “improvements in the production of printing surfaces, and of engraved metal surfaces” in the 1870s – but from the evidence here he was experimenting – and successfully – very much earlier.
The previously unknown balloon view has no title, date or publication information – almost certainly confirming our guess that it was never published (or else we would have heard of it). But it does have the etched information that it was drawn and engraved by one J. T. Clark. And here we pause – because it clearly doesn’t say Banks – and this is a name that rings no bells at all for any of us. A later survey of the reference shelves confirms that this is a name indeed lost to researchers – and even Professor Google throws up only a view of Shakespeare’s birthplace as a single trace of his working life (assuming this is indeed the same man).
Some rather deeper research this morning leads me initially to identify him as John Thomas Clark, recorded as both artist and engraver on London Census Returns from 1841 to 1861. But whether he worked with Banks or was his potential rival is entirely unknown. Much more work to be done. Notes to be compiled. But Ralph and I shall put a case to the council of the London Topographical Society (on which we both sit) to produce as soon as possible a reproduction of this fine and lovely record of the mid nineteenth-century metropolis. Both it and its maker deserve wider recognition. And, in passing, why not join the London Topographical Society? – cheap as chips and a wonderful free publication for members every year – link in the blogroll to the right.
I manage (just about) to pass Jonathan’s test of trying to identify some of the sketches and so on hanging on his walls – mouth-watering stuff – and make my farewells. Thank you Jonathan (and Ralph too) – good to see you as always – and thank you for a genuinely exciting morning. Good stuff.