George Walter Thornbury

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George Walter Thornbury (13 November 1828, London – 11 June 1876, London) was an English author. He was the son of a London solicitor, reared by his aunt and educated by her husband, Reverend Barton Bouchier.[1] A journalist by profession, he also wrote verse, novels, art criticism and popular historical and topographical sketches. He began his career in 1845 with contributions to Bristol Journal and wrote later mainly for the Athenaeum. He is said to have died in a lunatic asylum.


His first major work was Lays and legends of the New World (1851). It followed a history of the Buccaneers, Monarchs of the Main, (1855), Shakspeare's England during the reign of Elizabeth (1856, 2 Vols.) and Art and nature at home and abroad (1856, 2 Vols.). His Old and New London: a Narrative of its History, its People, and its Places was first published in 2 volumes in 1872, and in an undated edition of 1878 in 6 volumes, the last four being by Edward Walford. Many of these works are available online in full text from the Internet Archive Digital Library.

His poetry includes:

  • Songs of Cavaliers and Roundheads (1857)
  • Two centuries of song (1867)
  • Historical and legendary ballads and songs (1875)

Among his novels are:

  • Every man his own trumpeter (1858)
  • Icebound (1861)
  • True as steel (1863, 3 Vols.)
  • Wildfire (1864)
  • Tales for the marines (1865)
  • Haunted London (1865) Full text from the Internet Archive Digital Library.[2][3][4]
  • Greatheart (1866)
  • The vicar's courtship (1869)
  • Old stories retold (1869)

As an art writer, he wrote:

  • British artists from Hogarth to Turner (1861, 2 Vols.)
  • Life of J. M. W. Turner (1861) Full text from the Internet Archive Digital Library.[5]

Among his travel journeys:

  • Life in Spain (1859)
  • Turkish life and character (1860)
  • Tour round England (1870, 2 Vols.)
  • Criss crossjourneys (1873, 2 Vols.)
  • Old and new London (1873–74, 2 Vols.).

Old and New London[edit]

Abstract from Introduction to the written work by George Walter Thornbury

Thornbury, Walter. Old and new London, London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, vol. I, 1873. Full text available from the Internet Archive Digital Library [6][7]

The Old Wooden Temple Bar. Typical of the illustrations in Old & New London


London how it was and how it is.

"Writing the history of a vast city like London is like writing a history of the ocean – the area is so vast, its inhabitants are so multifarious, the treasures that lie in its depths so countless. What aspect of the great chameleon city should one select? For, as Boswell, with more than his usual sense, once remarked, "London is to the politician merely a seat of government, to the grazier a cattle market, to the merchant a huge exchange, to the dramatic enthusiast a congeries of theatres, to the man of pleasure an assemblage of taverns." If we follow one path alone, we must neglect other roads equally important; let us then consider the metropolis as a whole, for as Johnson's friend well says "the intellectual man is struck with London as comprehending the whole of human life in all its variety, the contemplation of which is inexhaustible...The houses of old London are encrusted as thick with anecdotes, legends and traditions as an old ship is with barnacles. Strange stories of strange men grow like moss in every crevice of the bricks. Let us then roll together like a great snowball the mass of information that time and our predecessors have accumulated, and reduce it to some shape and form... Old London is passing away even as we dip our pen in the ink...Few great men indeed that England has produced but have some associations that connect them with London. To be able to recall these associations in a London walk is a pleasure perpetually renewing, and to all intents inexhaustible".--page 1.

These are volumes for the true Antiquarian, not the scientific historian of today, who often no longer remembers why he plys his craft. A true sense of passion for the old times saturates these pages, and conjures up vivid images of the old times in the mind of the reader, almost in a Dickensian manner. His style of writing is as antique as the monuments and events he describes. It is replete with dozens of evocative engravings of ancient monuments, or recreations of notable events. It is not without great academic merit, although it was clearly not written as an academic work. The facts themselves are reliable, thoroughly researched, yet are presented with a flavour of sentimentality which makes them a pleasure for the imaginative reader to absorb and ponder over. The primary urge engendered on finishing any chapter is to go and visit the site, and see it for one's self.


External links[edit]


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.