The Grand Panorama of London

Much of the joy of working at the Winterthur Library lies within the potential for discovering “new” gems in the collection with every trip to the rare book stacks. Just such a thing happened in January of this year as I was preparing a display of books for the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture’s annual English Design History course. Attempting to intermingle English design sources with primary sources on the history of London, I retrieved what is, in a matter of speaking, the longest book in the Winterthur Library.

The Grand Panorama of London: From the Thames Extending New Houses of Parliament to Greenwich Hospital, is a 6-inch by 18-foot-long panoramic view of the Thames, which fits neatly into a modest 6 by 7 inch stamped cloth binding, offering the viewer no hint of the expansive illustration folded within the covers. Published in 1849, this rare gem was donated to the library by Dwight and Lori Lanmon in honor of Gregor and Grace Norman-Wilcox in 1995. To display the panorama in its entirety required some creative rearrangement of the library furniture and a small measure of muscular exertion. Three library tables pushed together lengthwise, supplemented with a book cart of equal height, was just barely enough of a flat expanse to accommodate the magnificent panorama. It was well worth the effort however, as when the panorama is fully unfurled, one can set sail down the aqua-colored Thames, taking in sights from Westminster Abbey to the East India Docks, crossing the river to the opposite shore, and finally docking at the Royal Victualling Office. Seen along the way are now-vanished landmarks, including Robert Adam’s ill-fated Adelphi Terrace. Several bridges lead the viewer’s gaze across the river: the Westminster Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, Blackfriar’s Bridge, Southwark Bridge, London Bridge, and the not-yet-completed Hungerford Suspension Bridge.

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The Grand Panorama of London is not a neat fit within the history of panoramas. As some readers may know, the earliest panoramas were painted on large canvasses and installed in custom-built rotundas, allowing the visitor to be transported to a magical environment as the scenes were viewed in the round. The definition of panorama evolved to include a variety of expansive and often narrative views in various formats. Scant attention has been paid to the origins of the folded and bound “pocket panorama,” though in The Painted Panorama, author Bernard Comment suggests that, “In the 1820s, small, portable ‘moving panoramas’ appeared in aquatint…These were usually river or sea voyages that allowed travelers to identify the outstanding features of the landscape unfolding before their eyes. Sometimes, they showed well-known urban axes…In general, these were no more than 5.5 metres long and housed in cases into and out of which it was easy to slide them.”

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Perhaps it was this trend toward a more widely accessible panorama that inspired the publication of The Grand Panorama of London. Perhaps these pocket-size panoramas appealed to a public eager to grasp the extent of their rapidly expanding industrial city. Or perhaps it was the heightened interest in and availability of pictorial communication, as evidenced by contemporary periodicals such as Punch and Illustrated London News. Although it is not made evident on the title page, a small hint as to the origins of The Grand Panorama of London is found on a sign held by a man standing upon Blackfriar’s Bridge. The sign reads “Pictorial Times.”

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The first edition of the panorama was only 12 feet long and was issued in 1844 by Henry Vizetelly (1820–94) as a free gift to subscribers to the Pictorial Times, for which Vizetelly served as an editor. Vizetelly was both an artist and a journalist who had helped to launch the Illustrated London News. While at the Illustrated London News, he spearheaded a promotional venture by which anyone who bought the periodical each week for six months would be presented with a Colosseum Print of London. The idea was well-received: sales of the paper escalated from 26,000 to 66,000 between the months of May and December of 1842. Encoded within this success was an opportunity for Vizetelly. He quickly left the News to establish a rival newspaper, the Pictorial Times, luring in potential subscribers with a promised gift of “the largest engraving in the world.” This engraving was the unbound, 12-foot-long, first edition of The Grand Panorama, issued in 1844. Divided into four sections on a sheet measuring 31 1/2 inches by 42 1/2 inches, the panoramic panels were joined to form a continuous strip. Rivalry between the News and the newly formed Times ensued. Fearing the success of the Times, the News retaliated in 1845 by offering subscribers The Illustrated London News Panorama of London and the River Thames, sold folded in gilt-stamped covers or as a colored single strip on a roller. The Times answered back by issuing their own bound version of The Grand Panorama in 1845 under the imprint of their publisher, Charles Evans. An uncolored version could be purchased by nonsubscribers for one shilling and six pence or colored for two shillings.

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In 1847, the panorama reached new lengths. It was in that year that the Duke of Wellington traveled up the Thames to Deptford for Divine Service at St. Nicholas’s Church. To commemorate this event, the Pictorial Times extended the length to 18 feet, the view now rotating east toward the Isle of Dogs, crossing over-river towards Greenwich and returning upriver as far as the Royal Victualling Office at Deptford.

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A questionable editorial decision was made prior to printing the 1849 edition. Whereas earlier editions of the panorama showed the span of the Hungerford Suspension Bridge as incomplete, the bridge was opened in 1845. Surely, the publishers of the panorama wanted to provide the most up-to-date views at the cheapest cost, and so the decision was made to insert a timber wharf in the foreground of that panel, thereby obscuring the old view of the unfinished end of the bridge—a cheap solution with less than seamless results. Architectural details were also added to the bridge towers.

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There is potential for additional research within the Winterthur Library’s copy of The Grand Panorama. Two unique features shed some light on past ownership. First, a small, pale blue, printed label on the inside front cover lets us know that the book once resided in “Horne’s Library” at 19 Leicester Square—very close to the site of Robert Barker’s rotunda for the 1791 View of London from the Roof of the Albion Mills painted panorama and near the site of the 19th-century spectacle, Wyld’s Great Globe. And tipped into the front of the book is a handwritten index to the panorama, in French, presumably prepared by a previous owner.

A video of the copy of The Grand Panorama of London from the Winterthur Library is posted on YouTube.

Post by Emily Guthrie, NEH Librarian, Collection of Printed Books and Periodicals

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