A Very Different London

Last Monday afternoon, I had to take a relative to Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital at London Bridge (fortunately nothing to do with the Coronavirus). The hospital had advised not to take public transport, so the only other option was to drive.

Although this was before the formal lock down and the direction to stay at home, I had already stopped walking around London and was missing the experience of walking the city, particularly as the weather was so good.

To take advantage of a drive up to London Bridge, I mounted a GoPro camera on the dash of the car and left it filming the journey there and back.

It was a London I had not seen before on a Monday afternoon, more like an early Sunday morning. Very few people on the streets and not much traffic. I cannot remember driving in central London on a weekday without any queues. The only time I needed to stop was at traffic lights.

A frightening reminder of the impact of the virus.

The weather was sunny and bright and perhaps due to the lack of traffic on the roads and therefore reduced pollution, the air seemed clearer and the views of distant objects more sharp than usual.

The following are a sample of views from my journey. The GoPro was set in Wide mode, hence the format of the photos, clicking on any photo will show the view full screen.

Starting on the Cromwell Road, passing the Natural History Museum. Normally the pavement would be full, with queues up to the main door of the museum. On a Monday afternoon, the pavements were clear and the museum closed.

A very different London

Further along the Victoria and Albert Museum, again closed and facing onto empty streets.

A very different London

Driving along a quiet Brompton Road alongside Harrods. Hardly anyone to be seen, and a single optimistic taxi waiting outside the closed store.

A very different London

Knightsbridge and one of the entrances to Knightsbridge underground station on the left. The Mandarin Oriental hotel is on the left after the station entrance. Normally the street outside the hotel is full of chauffeur driven cars, but now the street was empty.

A very different London

Up to Hyde Park Corner with the Wellington Arch in the centre and Apsley House on the left after the entrance to Hyde Park. Normally continuous traffic on this busy junction and lots of people crossing the road, but today very quiet.

A very different London

Along Broad Sanctuary with the entrance to Westminster Abbey on the right and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on the left. Normally a tourist hotspot for the abbey.

A very different London

Parliament Square at the junction with Parliament Street.

A very different London

Crossing Westminster Bridge with only a couple of walkers across the length of the bridge.

A very different London

End of the bridge with the Park Plaza hotel.

A very different London

York Road with the new entrance to Waterloo Underground Station on the left. Waterloo Station is behind the office block on the right. Normally busy streets with lots of people crossing the road from station to the South Bank and Hungerford Bridge.

A very different London

Stamford Street empty of people and traffic. The South Bank Tower (formerly Kings Reach Tower) is the tower on the left and the One Blackfriars tower on the right.

A very different London

At the junction of Marshalsea Road and Borough High Street, with the stunning church of St George the Martyr opposite.

A very different London

The journey to London Bridge took me along the south side of the river from Westminster Bridge. On the return journey, I crossed Tower Bridge and headed north of the river.

Crossing Tower Bridge and there was very little traffic and even fewer people.

A very different London

Along Tower Hill and there was no one to be seen. As we passed, i had a look down the space where the Tower ticket offices and entrance are located and the place was empty.

A very different London

A very quiet Embankment.

A very different London

At the junction of Northumberland Avenue and Trafalgar Square.

A very different London

Piccadilly Circus. Just a couple of people sitting on the steps of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain.

A very different London

Piccadilly, approaching the Ritz, again, empty.

A very different London

This was a very different London, a London that I never thought I would see, and never wanted to see, but it was good to see that so many people had heeded advice and were staying away from the streets. The only places where we saw work ongoing was at a number of the building sites across the city.

The NHS staff at Guy’s and St Thomas were as usual so considerate and caring, and doing a superb job under pressure.

I will certainly never take the freedom to walk the streets for granted again.


32 thoughts on “A Very Different London

  1. veronica piekosz

    Looks like a Sunday during the 70’s. We used to drive in from Hertford and park behind the British Museum!

  2. Anne Tallon

    Exactly like Sunday mornings of old…..peaceful. But in todays world emptiness in the city seems to equate to danger.
    Wonderful post as usual. I love my inbox on a Sunday morning.

  3. Trevor Haynes

    An interesting travelogue of your journey. It’s a long time since the streets were as empty as this. As you say, St. George the Martyr church is stunning. I should have been there last week for an event that inevitably was cancelled owing to the current virus situation.

    Looking forward to your future rambles, assuming you’re able to put something together. Keep up the good work!

  4. Peter Holford

    I’m not sure it was ever that quiet on Sunday mornings in the 1950s when I used to go with my dad from our home in Putney to visit my Nan in Hackney. Just a thought – have they suspended the congestion charge? If not that really is taking the p…. er, money under false pretenses.

  5. Peter Hilliard

    Thankyou for having the foresight to record your journey across London in these extraordinary times, I was working on the Elizabeth Tower as a Stonemason up until Tuesday lunchtime when the site was closed, and regret not recording a very surreal deserted London

  6. Gillian Barnes

    I loved your photos, they remind me of the early 1960s when I used to walk to work early on sunny Sunday mornings – a strange, wonderful, empty city for my eyes only, as it seemed at the time. I never thought to see such a sight again. But, why are there still coaches parked along the Embankment?

  7. Nicola

    A beautiful city but a sad sight to see it so empty at the present time. Thank you for the foresight to set up a camera to capture it.

  8. Jane Williamson

    Thank you for a lovely post. I am missing my regular trips to London so much , seeing these familiar places was very comforting

  9. Susan Byrne

    Txs for posting these photos it’s useful to see what the rest of London is doing.
    I live near the boundary between Camden and Islington and went out yesterday during the day for the first time since Monday, as I have been exercising at 6.00am. I was astounded to see so many people and cars out and minimal effort to keep the 2m distance on the pavements.
    I cannot see that the message is getting through to everyone here in London.

    1. diana

      Same where I live . People just ignoring the distances , fighting to get into the supermarket despite the new rules. Just dont understand what is wrong with them …its all over the news 24/7.

  10. Anne Amosford

    My first thoughts were like others a Sunday morning some time ago! Happy memories. Parents going to buy a new car/exchange on the embankment one Sunday morning probably late 60’s!

  11. Anna

    Thank you, My office is in one of the photos. I was wondering what the street outside looked like this week, now I know. Such a great opportunity to capture these views, well done.

  12. Mark Garscadden

    My wife and I look forward to your posts. We visit London regularly and they have opened new insights into the history of your wonderful and vibrant city. Thank you.

    Here in Toronto, governments have closed parks and closed all but essential services. A travel ban also resulted in our having to cancel a month-long trip to England in May. (We were going to stay for a week at 43 Cloth Fair.)

    A thought for future posts: We no longer can walk so freely about town – something that we took for granted. I wonder if you could do a post on some of the more famous promenades around London – or public spaces where people congregated e.g. Speaker’s Corner.

    Thanks again for your posts. And we will return to England as soon as we can. As they say, “Keep yer pecker up.”

  13. diana

    You are a star mate ! Its how I remember it as a child …with a few more people of course. They are best pictures Ive seen of an empty London . Personally I love it …like I have my city back even if the reason for it is so heartbreaking. I’m just going to pop over to Borough Market today to pick up some essentials and I’m hoping it will also be empty and that tourists have kept away. Its good news for air quality and nature in general

  14. David Mason

    Fantastic photos, as everyone has already said. I remember the city at the weekend just like this. I used to ride my bike all over the empty streets.
    I noticed that there were still a few coaches along the embankment.
    I have to thank you for all of your previous photos, including your father’s they would make an very interesting book.

  15. John Viljoen

    So good to see the London without traffic. More than that, fascinating to me to see London from street-level — from the driver’s perspective.

  16. Janice

    Here in Canada and won`t get back as planned, bringing back memories as someone already mentioned of empty streets early Sunday mornings in the 1960`s and very early 70`s.
    Thank you for the post.

  17. Tim Chamberlain

    London was always very quiet on Sundays when I was a kid, but these photos are really remarkable. An important record of our times for future social historians.

    Wishing you and your relative well.

  18. Jacqueline McPherson

    Hello, I enjoy all of your posts so much – but these Pictures I Will treasure for ever with reverence, respect and more than a touch of sadness because of the circumstances under which it made it possible for you to take these ‘photos – but, I would say – I am looking on them as a memorial to those who have died from this dreadful Virus.

  19. Jo W

    Thoroughly enjoyable blog! Those photographs of our great sleeping town were reminders to me of how Sundays used to be. That was the day to walk the city with my Dad or my brother. Little traffic,free to wander, to stop and stare and to learn about our London.
    All that was a long,long time ago now. Thank you for the memories of that time.

  20. George

    Excellent photographic portrait of London during these troublesome times.
    I hope many of us posting can look back in 12 months time and say “unbelievable”
    Now in Perth WA, I was born in London and walked these same streets in the early sixties.

    Thank you.
    George Box

  21. Garry Trim

    Thank you, quite a haunting experience, I did a very similar journey the day before and as you say it was like 7 am on a sunny Sunday morning, but I really do not want to experience it again….

  22. Raymond J Stone

    Great article. My great-grandparents lived at 19 Baldwin Gardens in late 1860s early 1870s before migrating to Australia in early 1873. He was a barber. They married at St.Andrews in Holborn.


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