Almost Lost

The London Evolution Animation

               To see the original filmwith subtitles on YouTube please click here

             The animation received over 240,000 hits in its first 3 weeks.

             For iteration 2 which contains minor adjustments please click here

The London Evolution Animation (LEA) shows the historical development of London from Roman times to today, using georeferenced road network data brought together for the first time.  

The animation also visualises (as enlarged yellow points) the position and number of statutorily protected buildings and structures built during each period.

The LEA was developed as a partnership project between English Heritage, The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (UCL), The Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (University of Cambridge)/Dr Kiril Stanilov and Museum of London Archaeology (with the Mapping London and Locating London’s Past projects), and was initiated and directed by PHD. Further information on its production can be found below.

The original purpose of the LEA was to create an exhibit for ‘Almost Lost’ which began to explore the relationship between what was built in London during different historical periods, what has since been lost, what has been saved, and, of this, what proportion has been protected. The animation was also designed to be of value post-exhibition, to help inform discussion regarding plans for the future of London and its historic fabric.

Historical overview

Greater London covers 600 square miles, however up until the 17th century the capital was largely crammed into a single square mile, marked by the skyscrapers of the financial City today.

First founded as Londinium by the Romans in 43AD, London was abandoned in 410 AD after over 350 years of Roman rule. Under the Saxons, isolated farmsteads were built in the surrounding countryside, later to form the heart of many London villages. The city’s trading centre now shifted to an area west of the Roman walls, stretching across Covent Garden from Trafalgar Square to Kingsway/Aldwych.

From the 9th century onwards London grew again within its original Roman boundary. During the Norman period it was connected by the Strand to a new political centre at Westminster, and ongoing development along this route, and within the city centre, continued during the later Medieval period. By this time most of Roman London had been lost, with its many timber buildings decayed and its stone buildings reused. Today, virtually nothing from the Roman period exists above ground, other than fragments of wall and sections of the original road network, though beneath street level many important archaeological remains survive.

During the Medieval period plagues and famines significantly restricted population growth, however under the Tudors, London’s population increased reaching around 200,000 by 1600. Following Henry V111’s demolition of London’s religious houses, significant new development occurred, with royal retreats also built a distance from the centre, of which a number, including Hampton Court and Eltham Palace, survive. Under Elizabeth expansion was tightly controlled and the city now strained against its ancient walls. 

In 1666 four fifths of the city was destroyed by the Great Fire and over 13,000 Medieval, Tudor and early 17th century buildings lost. However a significant proportion of the survivors lasted up until around 1900 when, despite a growth of interest in buildings from these periods, virtually all were demolished as a result of urban improvements and commercial development, as seen in the Kingsway animation. As a result only a tiny proportion of pre-1700 London buildings and structures exist today; all those that survive largely intact are protected.

During the Georgian period numerous fire resistant buildings (including many terraces) were built, with brick now increasing the longevity of London’s building stock. Between 1714 and 1840 its population swelled from around 630,000 to nearly 2 million, making it the largest and most powerful city in the world. Though many Georgian examples were lost in the first half of the 20th, largely due to commercial development pressure (see Carlton House Terrace), a significant proportion did survive, most of which are listed. More of London’s listed buildings come from the Georgian period than from any other.

During the Victorian period London’s population grew from around 2 to 6.5 million and vast numbers of houses and new building types were built. Despite a culling of Victorian buildings between the 1940s and 70s, the sheer scale of development has led a much higher survival rate. There are however proportionately fewer listings, with the majority of Victorian buildings which are protected, lying within conservation areas.

During the 20th century London’s population stabilised, peaking in 1940 at around 8.5 million, then declining, and then rising, recently, to just over 8 million today. Despite the decline, and the devastation caused by the war, the century saw the largest urban expansion in London’s history as people left the crowded city centre for spacious suburban developments.  Only the very best examples of 20th century development are protected today, making up a minute proportion of London’s building stock. Interest in early 20th century and post-war architecture however continues to grow. The Lloyds Building is London’s most recently listed building, able to be added to the list as it is now over 30 years old.

Animation Production and Partners

The LEA was created by Flora Roumpani at The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, CASA, UCL, working with Polly Hudson, over a period of nine months.

Dr Peter Rauxloh at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) kindly provided datasets for the Roman and Medieval periods, which had been developed for the Archaeology of Greater London publication. MOLA also supplied 17th and early 18th datasets developed under two collaborative projects: Locating London’s Past (University of Sheffield and Hertfordshire), and Mapping London (Centre for Metropolitan Studies).

Dr Kiril Stanilov, Research Associate at the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, University of Cambridge, Engineering Department, generously contributed road network datasets spanning from the late 18th century to today.

Once these had been received by Flora, they were collated and animated along with an additional Tudor network layer based on the 2013 publication Tudor London in 1520 London’ produced by the Historic Towns Trust (obtainable here).  However gaps do exist, and though street network information was able to be sourced for Central London for all periods, we were unable to identify outer London data for the Medieval and Tudor periods and the 17th century. 

Datasets covering 19,000 Listed Buildings and 156 Scheduled Monuments, were also provided by English Heritage Designation Department’s Data Management Team. These were categorised and integrated into the animation. This information can also be accessed through English Heritage’s National Heritage List for England.

The animation was originally designed to show street network data animated onto CASA’s 3D Virtual London model.  Though a single still was produced for Almost Lost using the 3D base, the animation was eventually created in 2D. This was partly due to the difficulty animating this amount of data and partly to the time frame available. Methods of developing a 3D version, and using this data to inform current debate, are currently being explored by CASA and PHD, in collaboration with English Heritage, MOLA, CSIC and NLA. Further information on second stage development will be posted here.

Still created by Flora Roumpani at CASA as part of the LEA project, showing Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) Roman street network data and scheduled monuments floated onto a 3D digital model of central London.

For an interesting collection of animated London maps visit:

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