M. J. Starling after T. Allom, The Lion Brewery, Lambeth, for ‘A Topographical History of Surrey’ (Dorking: Robert Best Ede; & London: Tilt & Bogue, 1841-8), etching and engraving  British Library 1572/279]

Lambeth’s topographical image

With important antiquarian sites like Lambeth Palace and places of popular entertainment like Vauxhall Gardens, the London parish of Lambeth was a rich resource for topographical artists and writers at the turn of the 19th century. It was also a landscape in flux: a traditional ‘rural retreat’ on the Surrey side of the Thames undergoing rapid urbanisation. With a particular focus on the work of Lambeth-born topographer Edward Wedlake Brayley (1773–1854), Amy Concannon explores how contemporary producers of topographical material – both visual and textual – negotiated the changing landscape of Lambeth.

The Thames-side landscape of Lambeth, the river’s so-called ‘Surrey shore’, underwent dramatic change in the first half of the 19th century such that its principle topographical icon, Lambeth Palace went from being ‘[t]he only building of any consideration’ to one amongst what one topographer would call ‘a multiplicity of objects’ ripe ‘for the full exercise of the intellectual powers of a topographical writer’. This writer was Lambeth-born Edward Wedlake Brayley. Through a focus on two of his texts on Lambeth, his 1806 account of Lambeth Palace, and the Lambeth sections of his History of Surrey from 1841, this essay will consider his identity as a topographer working within a cultural field – and an epoch – of great change alongside that of his geographical subject. 

Brayley’s early professional life was marked by a duality: before specialising in topography, he developed a multifarious literary identity while working as an apprentice enameller to Henry Bone. Brayley helped Bone increase the size and status of his enamels by building the special furnace to fire Bone’s larger plates, the likes of which secured Bone his long-awaited membership of the Royal Academy. In 1805, Brayley’s two worlds – the artistic and the literary – converged to yield his first solo credit as a topographical writer, which came in the form of notes to Edward Dayes’s tour of Derbyshire and Yorkshire in a volume published to raise funds for Dayes’s widow.[1]

In his topographical work prior to this, Brayley’s name had always appeared in print alongside that of John Britton’s. Having met as young men in a Clerkenwell bookshop and dabbled together in the world of popular theatre, the two launched their topographical careers with the jointly-authored first volume of The Beauties of England and Wales, in 1801.[2] Brayley’s literary range, which had included fiction, narrowed from 1828 once Britton secured him the salaried role of Librarian and Secretary to the Russell Institution, whose mission – to promote self-improvement, dedication to research and lifelong attainment – the upwardly-mobile Brayley himself embodied. Hard work was his means, as Britton noted in the obituary he wrote of his friend when he recalled Brayley’s stamina in the face of a deadline, writing ‘for fourteen…sixteen hours, without sleep or respite, and with a wet handkerchief tied round a throbbing head'.[3]

Brayley’s Lambeth Palace (1806)

It was perhaps only natural that Brayley’s initial focus on Lambeth would settle on Lambeth Palace. A map published the year before he was born visualises its status then as ‘the only building of consideration’.

A New Plan of London, Westminster, and Southwark

John Noorthouck, A New Plan of London, Westminster, and Southwark, (London: J. Noorthouck, 1772), copperplate engraving Maps Crace Port 4.139

This map was produced for John Noorthouck's A New History of London including Westminster and Southwark (1773)

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The Palace’s blacked out footprint stands in contrast to the white space of interlocking gardens cultivated for foodstuffs or, in the famous case of Vauxhall or Cuper’s Gardens, turned over to pleasure and escapism from the metropolis’ more straitened behavioural codes.

By 1841, however, when Brayley’s History of Surrey began to emerge, the landscape of his childhood and the situation of the Palace was much changed. In Laurie's new plan of London and its environs, the enclosed white space of the Palace’s walled garden marks the building out in a patchwork of new urban development. Brayley himself observed how ‘everything is changed’. The ‘swampy marsh…rural spots…small tea-gardens’, had become ‘[c]rowded streets, wharfs, manufactories’ such that ‘scarcely any part of the metropolis [was] fraught with a more abundant population’.[4]

Laurie’s new plan of London and its environs

Richard Holmes Laurie, Laurie’s new plan of London and its environs, (London: R. H. Laurie, 1834-5), copperplate engraving British Library Maps Crace Port. 7.239

Laurie's New Plan of London shows the sprawling city and its suburbs in 1834-5

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In addition to change, this pair of maps reveal Lambeth’s geography as one defined by a bend in the Thames which demarcated the spatial extent of Lambeth’s north-western reach. Various artists had exploited the compositional potential of this bend when viewed from the tower at Lambeth Palace: the viewpoint first appears in work by Wenceslaus Hollar and it was later adopted by Canaletto.

The prospect of London and Westminster, taken from Lambeth

Wenceslaus Hollar, The Prospect of London and Westminster, taken from Lambeth, c. 1647, etching British Museum 1926,0617.10.1-4

Hollar's prospect of London shows the City and Westminster before the Great Fire (1666) radically transformed its topography 

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The bend resurfaces in the 1790s in a print after Joseph Farington for Josiah Boydell’s publication on the Thames,[5] exemplifying what has been described by Bernard Adams as the period’s Thames ‘river cult’, which devoured tours, histories and views of the capital’s river.[6]

View of London from Lambeth

J.C. Stadler, after Joseph Farington, View of London from Lambeth, for ‘An History of the River Thames’, (London: John & Josiah Boydell, 1795), hand-coloured etching British Museum 1875,0710.4407

This view of London after an original design by Farington was published in John and Josiah Boydell's An History of the River Thames

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Lambeth’s situation on the bend is used here to make clear the dialogue between the Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Reverberating ecclesiastical power and national spiritual guidance, this triangulation also foregrounds the Palace’s garden – a private oasis in marked contrast to the gardens of spectacle and sensation close by.

The inaccessibility of this viewpoint no doubt furthered its interest and popularity, but reflects more generally the fact that, while the Archbishop of Canterbury’s mission was public, his Palace was private. Thus Brayley’s first publication on Lambeth, his 1806 Lambeth Palace illustrated by a series of views, etc. (A concise account ... of Lambeth Palace.), sought to address the ‘little that is known as to [the Palace’s] internal structure and decoration’.[7] Its title page vignette functions as an experiential threshold to the book’s – and the Palace’s – contents, which divulged the building’s secrets, such as the design, function and contents of its rooms, not ordinarily accessible to the many.

Lambeth Palace Illustrated

W. & G. Cooke, Title page to William Herbert and Edward Wedlake Brayley, ‘Lambeth Palace Illustrated…’ (London: W. Herbert & E. W. Brayley, 1806), etching and engraving = British Library 578.i.36

Herbert and Brayley's Lambeth Palace Illustrated showcased interiors and collections from the Archbishop of Canterbury's official London residence

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Brayley’s account of the interior begins with the one room to which laypersons were admitted by appointment: the quadrangular Library. This housed the country’s most extensive collection of ecclesiastical manuscripts and included, amongst its 25,000 volumes, what Brayley called an ‘extensive’ and ‘highly valuable’ collection of ‘English…topography’, a resource which magnified this historic site as a locus for antiquarian attention. 

In general, Brayley’s text and the images which accompany it serve an antiquarian taste for the enigmatic fragment and the decoding of detail, but the volume as a whole goes beyond this in several ways, not least in the topicality of his engagement with the present day fabric of the palace. 

This is exemplified by his reflection of a Gilpinian picturesque sensibility in the attention he pays to its landscape setting, writing of how:

An opening has…been made towards the river by cutting down … trees, which admits a most beautiful view of the water, part of [Westminster] bridge, of the venerable abbey, and of the cathedral of St Paul.[8] 

It is possible that Brayley was drawing on one of the most recent images of Lambeth Palace to be circulated, that by Joseph Farington, but it also reflects a point of concern within antiquarian circles prompted by James Wyatt’s interventions at sites like Salisbury Cathedral, where he opened up the grounds to allow unencumbered vistas onto what was one of the country’s most celebrated examples of Gothic architecture. Wyatt sparked major factionalism within the Society of Antiquaries in the 1790s, and debate regarding best practice in the rationalisation of such landscapes rumbled on at the time Brayley was writing; his mention of such changes – rather than simply the resultant view – reflects his awareness of this context.

Brayley’s text brought an increased ambition and greater comprehension to what was originally conceived by Lambeth-based print publisher and author William Herbert as a portfolio of images without text. Like that of Britton, the trajectory of Herbert’s multi-faceted career ran in parallel to Brayley’s; each had links to the theatre, and Herbert, too, would secure a job as a librarian in 1828. Herbert’s triplicate status as actor, printer and author exemplified the activities of Lambeth’s creative community that formed around its popular entertainment venues and the cheaper lodgings to be found close by. 

Although Herbert is credited with having ‘superintended’ the images in Lambeth Palace, the volume as a whole indexes a burgeoning trait in Brayley’s approach to topography – his sensitivity to the visual presentation of his subject, its outward appearance and its subsequent translation in print. There is as a striking level of observational detail within the main text of Lambeth Palace, while the preface places a strong emphasis on the fidelity of its images, created through ‘actual and repeated inspection’. The time taken to ensure their quality was to blame, according to this preface, for the volume’s late delivery.[9] Given that both Herbert and Brayley were seeking to make their names as producers of topographical material, this emphasis on integrity was important; and the volume’s images were indeed praised. 

Lambeth as seen in Brayley’s History of Surrey (1841–48)

Title page to A Topographical History of Surrey

Title page to Edward Wedlake Brayley, ‘A Topographical History of Surrey’ (Dorking: Robert Best Ede; & London: Tilt & Bogue, 1841-8), hand-coloured etching and engraving British Library 1572/279

E.W. Brayley's Topographical History of Surrey included a topographical history of Lambeth, which, at the time, was included in the county of Surrey

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Peppered with reflections on the very discipline of topographical research, Brayley’s History of Surrey reflects the status of ‘veteran’ accorded to him by that cauldron of topographical debate, the Gentlemen’s Magazine.[10] Statements defending the integrity of his original research and ‘upon the spot’ observation[11] now coincide with confident appraisals of his methodologies, and the utility of his lifelong endeavour. He opened his History of Surrey with the declaration that:

[t]opographical researches are interesting and important, both from their connection with national…history….from contributing to the advance of archaeology, geology, agriculture, botany, and other useful sciences; - and also from extending our knowledge of the various seats of trade and industry, and thus facilitating the progress of manufactures, and the spread of commerce.[12]

Vocalising Brayley’s view of topography as an expansive, and all-pervading tool, the volume also presents a widened topographical angle on Lambeth Palace, setting it within its much wider county context. Brayley embraced the variety that such a broad focus could encompass, celebrating that which he termed, the ‘multiplicity of objects for the full exercise of the intellectual powers of a topographical writer’.[13]

A correspondingly kaleidoscopic array of illustrations punctuate Brayley’s History of Surrey but that sense of the ‘multiplicity of objects’ is well encapsulated in the illustration depicting Lambeth Palace to accompany its description in volume three.

Gateway of Lambeth Palace and Lambeth Church, Westminster Bridge in the distance

Shury & Son, after D. McKewen, Gateway of Lambeth Palace and Lambeth Church, Westminster Bridge in the Distance, for ‘A Topographical History of Surrey’ (Dorking: Robert Best Ede; & London: Tilt & Bogue, 1841-8), etching and engraving British Library 10350.ee.19.

This view of Lambeth Palace and Church was published in E.W. Brayley's A Topographical History of Surrey

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The illustration’s widened focus is best revealed by comparison to an earlier image, from 1834, for the pan-European publication, Tombleson’s Thames.

Lambeth Palace, Surry

Henry Winkles, after William Tombleson, Lambeth Palace, Surry [sic], for ‘Tombleson’s Thames’, (London: W. Tombleson, 1834) British Library 564.f.12

This view of Lambeth Palace was published in William Tombleson's topographical series, Tombleson's Thames

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Both offer an accessible, close and detailed view of the palace’s architecture and its situation, as if viewed from a pleasure craft on a tour of the Thames. In McKewen’s image for Brayley’s Surrey, we are guided by the vertical rhythm of landing posts, flag poles and trees until our eye settles on the infrastructure of Lambeth’s developing industrial shoreline, a new feature in the Palace’s topographical dialogue. This, by comparison, is revealed to be missing or obscured by trees, perhaps, in Winkles’s view. The text for Tombleson’s Thames explains the foreground bias of its image:

The miserable and unpicturesque appearance which the Surry shore presents is fully compensated by the prospect … more in advance, comprising the venerable form of Lambeth Palace on the right, with the grey and weather-beaten tower of the church.[14]

This reference to the ‘unpicturesque appearance’ of the industrial Lambeth shore may have had its roots in criticism aired against Thomas Allen’s History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth, which had been published in 1827.[15] Set within Allen’s text is a woodcut of the first shot tower to be erected, William Watt’s Patent Shot Manufactory, built in 1813, and a lithograph of the second, built by Thomas Maltby in 1826.

Acknowledging the towers’ conspicuousness, Allen gives an account of their function, which was to allow molten lead to form hardened spheres of ammunition when dropped at height into a shallow basin of cool water. Allen’s claim that such structures ‘are much admired for their solidarity, plan, and architecture’[16] was pounced upon in the Gentlemen’s Magazine, whose critic wrote that:

of the various nuisances to the eye which annoy us in the entrance of cities, these wretched concerns of manufactories are among the greatest…what with their sheds and barns…and yards full of puddles and mud…and lumber and litter; they form the most complete specimen of the anti-picturesque.[17]

Problematic as they might be for some, these sites of modern industry and developing infrastructure were commonly enveloped within a patriotic strain of topography in which they were seen to fuel London's premiership on the world stage, technologically and economically; this is typified by the publication Metropolitan Improvements, of 1825, for example.

The new shot mill, near Waterloo Bridge

J. J. Hinchcliffe after Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, The New Shot Mill, near Waterloo Bridge, for ‘Metropolitan Improvements’, (Jones &Co.,1825), engraving British Museum 1880,1113.1381

After a design by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, this view shows the shot manufactory which once existed on what is today London's Southbank 

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Speaking of topography’s role in ‘facilitating…manufactures, and the spread of commerce’, Brayley’s preface to his History of Surrey positioned his own work within this culture. Thus, the elements in the background behind Lambeth Palace assume centre stage in another image from Brayley’s History of Surrey, provided by Thomas Allom, of Goding’s Lion Brewery.

The Lion Brewery, Lambeth

M. J. Starling after T. Allom, The Lion Brewery, Lambeth, for ‘A Topographical History of Surrey’ (Dorking: Robert Best Ede; & London: Tilt & Bogue, 1841-8), etching and engraving  British Library 1572/279]

The Lion Brewery, which once stood next to London's Hungerford Bridge, is depicted here by M.J. Starling for Brayley's Topographical History of Surrey

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This stood where the Royal Festival Hall now stands on the Southbank; the first incarnation of Waterloo Bridge is just within the frame. The lion atop the building was produced at the Lambeth-based Coade stone manufactory, and today sits at the Lambeth end of Westminster Bridge. Brayley described this industrialised shoreline as impressing ‘the philosophic observer with a deep sense of mercantile activity and metropolitan affluence’.[18]

The historic Thames sits happily here with the contemporary Thames. A packed steamer chugs its way past an array of slower, traditional vessels, some of them working and others ceremonial; two such barges are perhaps conveying the clergy, dressed in white, between St Paul’s, in the background, and Lambeth Palace, just up river. This is a harmonious scene, illustrative of Brayley’s kaleidoscopic topography, in which that ‘multiplicity of objects’ – or at least elements indexical of the multiple identities of the place – might be considered within one view. In this it also chimes with Brayley’s evangelic advocacy of topography’s reach: no longer was topographical culture dominated by the landed classes who might own the land under scrutiny, but was rather now a field in which access to information through places like the Russell Institution, Brayley’s employer, served to make topographical research ‘of proportionate interest’ to all, ‘however exalted by birth or fortune, or of whatever rank, or station’.[19]

Lambeth’s political topography

During this time, there was an inherent fluidity about Lambeth’s identity; it was sometimes metropolitan and at others sub-metropolitan, or, to use a contemporary phrase that was applied most often in relation to the bawdier theatrical productions there: ‘transpontine’. This defined Lambeth as ‘other’, an alternative, with ‘pontine’ having a special relevance to its marshy riverbanks by parity with the ‘pontine’ marshland south of Rome.[20] When Brayley celebrated this view of ‘mercantile activity and metropolitan affluence’[21], it is safe to assume that he was not enveloping Lambeth into the scope of ‘metropolitan affluence’ but rather celebrating Lambeth’s fuelling of this via its ‘mercantile activity’.

So while bridges, buildings and governance, such as Lambeth’s inclusion in the Metropolitan Police ward from 1829, might narrow the physical and conceptual distance between it and the metropolis, this gap was prone to expansion through long-held prejudice and its economic distinction as a landscape in service to the metropolis, be that through gardens, theatres, or factories. In a response to the closure of the unstable Westminster Bridge in 1846, Punch magazine referenced Lambeth’s ‘transpontine people’ as ‘aliens in geography’, teetering on the verge of un-metropolitan backwardness:

already [Lambeth] is a week behind us in the polite arts’, it reported, ‘and every day that [the bridge remains closed] will send them backward four-and-twenty hours towards the barbarism…it has taken centuries to get out of.[22]

The veil of humour here was thin: rapid urbanisation and industrialisation in Lambeth had delivered there a population whose place and rights in society were, in the 1840s, still very much the subject of polarising debate. Even after the passing of the 1832 Reform Act, which apportioned Lambeth 2 MPs in the re-drawing of electoral boundaries, access to the electoral system and abuse of privilege by the intimately linked church and state remained under fire. It was in Lambeth, at Kennington Common, that the Chartists would meet in 1848, with intent to march to Parliament; home to ‘some of the loudest complainers’ was how one 19th-century commentator described the area.

Through geographic proximity to Westminster and the values of its inhabitants, Lambeth was closely implicated in the emergence of, quite literally, a new political landscape. After the Great Reform Act of 1832 came, portentously, the fire of 1834 – which many, including artist JMW Turner, witnessed from the Lambeth shore. The fire gutted old Parliament and prompted the erection of the New Houses of Parliament that we see today. Although the print Westminster from Bishop’s Walk, Lambeth is likely to have been aimed at consumers keen for projections of the neo-gothic complex that replaced a motley collection of buildings, it points to a reinvigoration, within a new, more tense socio-political context of governing authority as a dominating aspect of Lambeth’s image once more, as was seen in the print after Farington.

Westminster, from Bishops Walk, Lambeth

Thomas Abiel Prior, after Thomas Allom, Westminster from Bishop’s Walk, Lambeth, (London: John Robins, 1846), etching and engraving British Museum 1880,1113.1305

The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben can be seen from Lambeth's Bishop's Walk in this view by Thomas Abiel Prior

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The primary effect of the perspective in this 1846 view is an occlusion of the flat expanse of river and an exaggeration of the physical proximity of Lambeth Palace and the Palace of Westminster, rendering in print the ideal relationship between church and state upheld by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley. After having been a consistent and vocal opponent of Catholic emancipation, the Reform Bill and having voted against the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, Howley had only reluctantly – and in response to immense pressure – ushered in measures to reform the Church of England.

The popular image of Howley as a relic of ancient privilege, out of touch with his times, was fuelled by knowledge of his habitual and extravagant dining in state at Lambeth Palace.[23] More so than even the images of Lambeth Palace and its industrial neighbours, this architectural juxtaposition invites comparison between symbols of a modernising Britain – the new (but neo-Gothic) architecture at Westminster, the steamer at the pier – and the church, with its antiquated leader and ancient architecture. The tension between the two may also be hinted at through the detail of the boy tugging a stubborn donkey in the foreground, a seemingly innocuous but potentially loaded inclusion.

If Brayley’s envisaged readership for his History of Surrey is anything to go by, evangelically addressed to ‘all’, ‘however exalted by birth or fortune, or of whatever rank, or station’, the changes that came about with reform – which enshrined new definitions of status and societal structure – can be said to find a parallel, ideologically, at least, in a more outwardly democratic, accessible and iconographically inclusive brand of topography. Westminster from Bishop’s Walk, Lambeth, widely disseminated as a headpiece of the wall-mounted Stationer’s Almanack, encapsulates that broadening of topographical scope. It stands for an increased compositional complexity – a kaleidoscopic quality in images and texts – that allowed for the presentation of a ‘multiplicity of objects’ and the demonstration of topographical intelligence and verisimilitude. In demonstrating the re-emergence of emphasis on this as a geography of centralised power, it suggests the many different agendas a landscape of continual flux like Lambeth could address through deft manipulation of its topographical image.

This essay is an edited version of a text first presented at the British Library’s Transforming Topography conference, 6 May 2016, kindly supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Films of the conference talks are also available on this site.

[1] Edward Wedlake Brayley, The works of the late Edward Dayes containing an excursion through the principle parts of Derbyshire and Yorkshire…(London: Mrs. Dayes, 1805).

[2] John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley (eds.), The Beauties of England and Wales; or, Delineations, topographical, and descriptive, or each county (London: Vernor, Hood & Sharpe, 1801).

[3] John Britton, A Brief Memoir of Edward Wedlake Brayley, F.S.A….From the Gentleman’s Magazine (London: Nichols & Sons, 1855), p. 15.

[4] Edward Wedlake Brayley, A Topographical History of Surrey (London: G. Willis, 1850), p. 387.

[5] History of the River Thames (London: J.Boydell, 1796).

[6] Bernard Adams, London Illustrated 1604-1851: A Survey and Index of Topographical Books and Their Plates, (The Library Association: London, 1983) p. xix.

[7] Edward Wedlake Brayley, A Concise Account of Lambeth Palace (London: E.W.Brayley and W.Herbert, 1806), p. ii.

[8] Brayley, Lambeth Palace, p. 19.

[9] Brayley, Lambeth Palace, p. iii.

[10] He was described as an ‘approved veteran of historical and topographical antiquities’ in Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 27 (June 1829), p. 515.

[11] Brayley, Surrey, vol.1, p. ii.

[12] Brayley, Surrey, vol.1, p. i.

[13] Brayley, Surrey, vol.1, p. ii.

[14] William Gray Fearnside (ed.), Tombleson’s Thames (London: 1834), p. 72.

[15] Thomas Allen, History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (London: 1827). Like Brayley, Allen was Lambeth-born, his father having been a printer of maps.

[16] Allen, Lambeth, p.307.

[17] Gentleman’s Magazine, vol.97, part 1 (June 1827), p.528.

[18] Brayley, Surrey, vol.5, p. 393.

[19] Brayley, Surrey, vol.1, p.ii.

[20] The term ‘transpontine’ is first documented by the OED as having been used in 1844 to describe the bawdy, alternative character of Lambeth’s theatres. ‘transpontine, adj’: 'that is across or over a bridge; spec. on the other side of the bridges in London, i.e. south of the Thames; transf. (from the style of drama in vogue in the 19th century at the ‘Surrey-side’ theatres), melodramatic, sensational', OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016 (accessed 21 February 2017.

[21] Brayley, Surrey, vol. 5, p. 393.

[22] Punch, reprinted in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (6 September 1846).

[23] J. R. Garrard, ‘Howley, William (1766–1848)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, January 2008, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/14005 (accessed 10 August, 2016).

  • Amy Concannon
  • Amy Concannon is a curator at Tate Britain with expertise on drawings, watercolours and landscape art of the period 1790–1850, particularly the work of Turner, Constable and their contemporaries. She is developing research on urban landscape imagery in this period