According to author Philip Davies, 1860 to 1920 saw the biggest transformation in London's history "since the Great Fire."

The dizzying march of progress turned the city that Charles Dickens wrote about into the fledgling modern metropolis that we know today.

Sailing barges, horse drawn buses, cobbled streets and timber framed buildings gave way to new boulevards, railway stations, embankments, suburbs, and hotels - displacing thousands.

A boom in photography documented the changing city. In 1875, the splendidly-titled Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London mourned the city's vanishing past and captured condemned coaching inns, hospitals, and gateways as records of the "national character."

"It was an explosion of population unprecedented in human history," says Davies. "By the end of the century London was the largest city in the world, 17 miles from end to end with seven million people."Islington Gazette: The Pool of London 1895The Pool of London 1895 (Image: From The Great Transformation (Atlantic))

A former English Heritage planning and development director for London and the south, he scored a previous hit with bestseller Lost London, which charted the city's vanished buildings.

The Hampstead Garden Suburb resident has followed it up with London: The Great Transformation 1860 to 1920 (Atlantic Publishing) as he explains: "The images in Lost London came from my office at English Heritage, but I was conscious that there was a huge amount of material in other archives."er a decade he has trawled 25 archives in the UK and overseas to gather 830 images of the city - the most comprehensive ever printed. Goldmines such as the glass plate negatives in the Bishopgate Institute's library have been painstakingly cleaned up and woven into a narrative about the changing city.

"The plates are very fragile, many were in a shocking state, but these 19th Century cameras captured astonishing sharp images of places and people long since vanished. They are a remarkable resource that gives a clear understanding of the social history of London - particularly poor areas which in many ways suffered the most change. Looking at images in these districts are incredibly poignant, you wonder 'what happened to those people?'

Islington Gazette: London Bridge 1890London Bridge 1890 (Image: From The Great Transformation (Atlantic))"In Little Italy, Leather Lane, you see an ice cream seller and his son with amputated arms; in Artillery Lane Spitalfields a placard announces the sinking of the Titanic, it's a moment frozen in time. Researchers can trawl over documents but it's not the same as photographs which give a remarkable insight."

London is famously a collection of urban villages and the book - with chapters on Islington, Clerkenwell, Hackney and 'the Northern Heights' of Hampstead and Highgate shows how timbered and weatherboard buildings were once common.Islington Gazette: Cottages in Nightingale Lane, Hornsey 1894 which was about to give way to major housing developmentCottages in Nightingale Lane, Hornsey 1894 which was about to give way to major housing development (Image: From The Great Transformation (Atlantic))

"An eye opener was how rich and interesting London's landscapes were, and despite the deprivation, the streets look remarkably clean - cleaner than today."  

Davies set up the English Heritage buildings at risk register for the South East and recalls how his own childhood in the "well-ordered" model suburb was in stark contrast to his wanderings around post-war London's bombed out areas - where the layers of history were pitifully exposed. The Blitz led to yet more redevelopment for London, and Davies is concerned with the "constant churn," and how we decide what survives and what goes.Islington Gazette: Highgate High Street 1900Highgate High Street 1900 (Image: From The Great Transformation (Atlantic))

"We are much better at creating places from scratch, successful suburbs like Muswell Hill, Crouch End and Hampstead Garden Suburb, than we are at managing change in a city," he says.

"We have lost that visionary idealism to create a place from scratch, like Henrietta Barnett and her husband who were reacting to the very conditions depicted in this book and were deterimned to create somewhere all classes could come together.Islington Gazette: The Midland Grand St Pancras 1890The Midland Grand St Pancras 1890 (Image: From The Great Transformation (Atlantic))

"Seeing places being transformed in misguided and horrible ways in the late 19th Century will resonate today, with HS2 and the massive works at Euston - it's the same ideas, the city is constantly being torn apart and adapted - and while no-one suggests it should be pickled in aspic, as we build great infrastructure we should think about the dislocation of people pushed out, or whether we can get a better balance between renewal and continuity."

London's 'Great Transformation' provoked public concern about the loss of historic buildings, and sparked legislation and a conservation movement with organisations like the National Trust, English Heritage and The Georgian Society working to protect them.Islington Gazette: Great Wild StreetGreat Wild Street (Image: From The Great Transformation (Atlantic))

Controls have helped areas like Hampstead and Highgate to conserve "their old village cores and vernacular buildings from the suburban spread."

"We now have a better understanding of the significance of what was there before and how it's possible to adapt interesting buildings to new uses," says Davies.

He points out that London is undergoing yet another great transformation, coming "full circle" with unsubtle plans to partially demolish Liverpool Street Station and create a 16 storey building.Islington Gazette: Sandys Row and Artillery Lane 1912Sandys Row and Artillery Lane 1912 (Image: From The Great Transformation (Atlantic))

"This endless pressure for high rise buildings, justified on the basis of economic growth, yet actually a speculative free-for-all, is all about developers and architects' egos, and fragments any coherent approach to managing change in a great old city," he says.

"This isn't just an interesting collection of photos of old London, but trying to learn the lessons learned from that period. London remains remarkable but let's look at the basis for the transformation of London now, and create a better balance between change and heritage."

Islington Gazette: London The Great Transformation is published by AtlanticLondon The Great Transformation is published by Atlantic (Image: From The Great Transformation (Atlantic))