Atlas Obscura examines The Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London. This group was founded in the late nineteenth century to make a record of the coaching inns and other old buildings that were fast being demolished. I write about the inns here. Cara Giaimo offers the following history:
In 1875, Alfred Marks learned he was about to lose an old friend. The Oxford Arms, north of St. Paul’s Cathedral, had spent centuries as a coaching inn, a place for travelers to stay while heading into or out of London. Then it had become a tenement house. It was, as Marks later wrote, “an excellent example of the galleried Inns”—rooming houses with interior balconies, so that visitors could take in stage shows and other entertainment—“now becoming every year more scarce.” Now, it was to be knocked down in order to make room for the expanding grounds of the Old Bailey courts next door.
It’s a feeling familiar to contemporary city-dwellers: a beloved building bites the dust. Who hasn’t walked past a nearby edifice, learned that it’s doomed by construction, and mourned their changing environs? The next step is often to snap a photo, for whenever that shiny new condo takes its place…
Over the next 11 years, as the founder and secretary of the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London, Marks orchestrated the photographic preservation of dozens of buildings, including churches, inns, schools, hospitals, and houses. The choices he made help tell the story of preservation in London, and throw our own practices into relief.