In 1275 the first Custom House was built at the Old Wool Quay in east London. Almost 400 years later Sir Christopher Wren was employed to design a new Custom House (built 1669-71) in Thames Street, Greenwich. Wren's building was severely damaged when a store of gunpowder blew up nearby in 1714. It was replaced with yet another Custom House (built 1717-25), designed by Thomas Ripley. An innovation in Ripley's design was the introduction of the first Long Room, where customs men would receive official documents. Ripley's building was destroyed by fire in 1814 and replaced by a larger Custom House (completed 1817), which was designed by architect David Laing and located to the west of Ripley's structure. However, the foundations proved inadequate when, in 1825, subsidence caused the Long Room to collapse. Sir Robert Smirke was employed to reconstruct the central portion and work was completed by 1827.
The view on display here shows this most recent building designed by Smirke. It was published as part of ‘Metropolitan Improvements: London in the Nineteenth Century’ (published 1827-29), a series of late Georgian illustrations by Shepherd, with texts by the architectural writer James Elmes (1782-1862).
Thomas Hosmer Shepherd was born in London; the son of a watchcase maker. His elder brother was watercolourist George Sidney Shepherd, with whom he collaborated in 1813 on street views for Ackermann’s ‘Repository of the Arts’. He went on to build his reputation on depictions of fashionable cities. He made numerous sketching tours and, in 1818, visited France. He worked for Jones & Co. (1826-31), producing some 450 plates for the firm in total. He also worked as a drawing master. After 1842 he received regular commissions from the ‘Illustrated London News’ but still struggled financially. Collector Frederick Crace commissioned numerous watercolours of London sites from the artist (now in the British Museum). He died in Islington, aged c. 71.
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