Until his retirement, Bernard Nurse was the Librarian of the Society of Antiquaries, previously he had been a librarian at Southwark Local Studies Library and today is the chairman of the Dulwich Society’s Local History Group. He was the natural choice of the London Topographical Society and the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, to compile this substantial work of maps and illustrations of London of largely the eighteenth century.
Until the invention of photography, indeed for many years after, engraved prints were the popular and inexpensive choice of those fascinated by the medium and keen to display them on their walls or in their collections. Engraved illustrations also became a feature of published books. With greater leisure time, the newly arrived middle-class increasingly became tourists and as such enjoyed collecting prints of ‘views’ of places they had been to or aspired to go.
Most of the illustrations are from the collection of the avid accumulator and member of the Society of Antiquaries, Richard Gough (1735-1809), The Society itself was at the forefront in the promotion of topographical illustrations of prominent buildings, monuments and objects and helped to create the market for their sale by publishing a continuous series of detailed prints depicting remains of the past and Gough was the most influential member of the small group responsible for this work between 1771-1797. In his Will of 1806 he made clear his wish for his library to be kept in a building called ‘The Antiquaries Closet’ with related collections to ‘form one uniform body of British antiquities.’ Along with others, Gough had a distrust of the British Museum as a depository for his collection and he bequeathed it instead to a grateful Oxford University.
Bernard Nurse’s glorious book is divided into convenient sections, illustrating maps and scenes of the City, Westminster, the Thames, and London’s fashionable environs (no, it does not include Dulwich!). Miscellaneous prints which do not easily fit into this scheme instead form an interesting short section on topics such as law and order and London’s enthusiasm for firework displays. Each illustration is furnished with a useful commentary.
Lavishly illustrated with full page reproduction, the book is a snip at £30 and will appeal to anybody with an interest in London or the engraved print.
London Prints and Drawings before 1800 by Bernard Nurse published by The London Topographical Society and the Bodleian Library, 226 pages £30