London’s Changing Riverscape is a book that charts the visual history of The Thames, building on two photographic panoramas from 1937 and 1997 originally compared by Elmers and Werner in London’s LostRiverscape (1988).
The pair joined London’s Found Riverscape Partnership (M. Seaborne, G. Diprose and C. Craig) for London’s Riverscape (2000) and the team composed this book adding a further panorama, covering the same ten-mile sequence of shots, taken in 2008.
The first full-page picture reminds the reader that the Thames was even an iconic piece of landscape in 1930. The photograph portrays a crowd lined along London Bridge, looking out upon the bustle of the Pool of London. It is here that the book begins, documenting the physical changes along the river’s banks through the three panoramas. From the Upper Pool (North Bank), the optical journey travels as far as the Isle of Dogs before swinging back up to the South Bank.
The visual contrasts are striking; often accompanied by insightful commentary and delightful anecdotes. One image from the 1937 collection depicts a group of ‘mudlarks’ in the Wapping and Shadwell area, enjoying a spot of naked cricket.
Perusing all areas into which the river breathes life, the collaboration observe with Dickensian nostalgia that “what is now some of London’s most sought-after accommodation is only a hundred yards away from what had once been one of the city’s most notorious nineteenth-century slums”(pg 189). This, describing Bermondsey’s waterfront, acutely notes the river’s turn towards visual commodity. Yet while some may lament the corporate face which has replaced a working river of character, the authors remind us that this is only the river’s current trend – its prominent place in London’s psyche ensuring its adaptability to any cultural, economic or social shift.