‘Urban Mobility and the networked city in four illustrations of London by William Hyde’
Focusing on four illustrations depicting the densely developed inner suburbs of London at the end of the nineteenth century, seen from the elevated position of a railway viaduct, this paper will consider the extent to which Hyde’s re-imagining of this urban space endorsed and elaborate both the conception of the city as a networked space, while simultaneously drawing the viewer’s attention to the problematic place identity of London’s inner suburban zone. Published in 1898 as part of a folio of washing drawing and etchings called London Impressions, these illustrations – reflecting the tone and subject of accompanying essays written by Alice Meynell – adopt the visual rhetoric of impressionism. This is combined with a re-imaging of the city that highlights the urban sublime through an emphasis on pollution and fog, echoing the earlier Nocturnes of London produced by James McNeill Whistler. This paper argues that by focusing on the panoptic possibilities presented by rail travel, Hyde offered a corrective to the city conceptualized as a networked space, efficiently operationalized through mass transport systems and most forcefully stated visually by the grid of its new railway lines. Through his illustrations of the inner suburb, in which established and problematic place identity was confirmed visually by architectural monotony, indicating social conformity and anonymity, Hyde under-cut the more positive model of a city efficiently mapped and experienced through mobility by drawing attention to urban illegibility.