Then and now: photos show how London changed during Queen Elizabeth's reign

Monarch's 70-year reign spanned profound societal change, much of which was reflected in the shifting landscape of the UK capital

Several notable additions to Westminster were made in the years between the queen's crowning and her death. Getty / PA
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In the days since Queen Elizabeth II died, mourners have descended upon London to lay flowers, be present as her coffin was first taken to Buckingham Palace then to Westminster Abbey, and even to queue for hours on end to see the late monarch lying in state before her funeral on Monday.

This is a critical role of all capital cities — they are places citizens congregate to mark events of national significance, whether mournful of joyous. Only three months ago, London manifested a very different mood during celebrations for the queen's platinum jubilee, marking 70 years since the monarch ascended to the throne.

It is not only collective moods that are reflected by capital cities, but societal changes.

As the queen looked across London from her balcony at Buckingham Palace on the final day of the jubilee weekend, she may well have contemplated how the physical changes the seven decades had wrought upon her paled into insignificance when compared to the changes they had wrought upon the landscape of her country's capital.

Here, The National compares pictures of London landmarks taken when the queen was crowned or in the years shortly after, with those taken from the same vantage points in the year of her death.

Buckingham Palace

On the left, the queen leaves the palace in her coronation coach on June 2, 1953, en route to Westminster Abbey.

On the right, crowds gather outside the palace on September 9, 2022 after hearing the news of the her death. The clothes are as different as the reasons for congregating, but Buckingham Palace is reassuringly unchanged.

Aerial view of Westminster

On the left, a shot taken in August 1957 shows the Palace of Westminster on the north bank of the Thames and County Hall to the south.

On the right, a shot taken this year shows several additions to the vista including The Shard, the London Eye and the cluster of high-rises that sprung up in the City of London. There are fewer boats than on the river in 1957, however, perhaps a reflection of the post-war boom in pleasure cruising which has tapered in recent years.

Big Ben

On the left, cars take part in the London to Brighton veteran car race in November 1953 on Westminster Bridge in the venerable clock's shadow. On the right, Big Ben is shown swaddled in scaffolding in 2022, part of an £80 million ($92.1m) refurbishment designed to restore it to its Victorian glory.

Westminster Bridge also shows some noticeable changes. One is the presence of a cycle lane, a sign of London's commitment to climate-friendly transport. The presence of a row of bollards is a measure implemented after the deadly 2017 terrorist attack in which an Islamist extremist drove his car into people on the pavement on the south side of the bridge.

Tower Bridge

The shot on the left shows a floodlit structure in July 1953. Fast forward to September 9, 2022, the date of the queen's passing, and the bridge is illuminated in purple by way of tribute. In the background, the shadowy skyscrapers tell the story of the changing shape of the city in the intervening 69 years.

Piccadilly Circus

On the left, on February 6, 1952, a bus stops next to the Eros statue as mourners pay respect to the king and father of Queen Elizabeth, George VI. On the right, on September 9, 2022, people continue to go about their daily lives but a proclamation of the queen's passing hangs above them on the world-famous digital sign, the Piccadilly Lights.

No 10 Downing Street

On the left, British prime minister Winston Churchill — the queen's first PM — walks out the of the much-photographed door in 1953. On the right, new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss — the queen's fifteenth PM — is framed by the same door as she waves to the press pack next to her husband, Hugh O'Leary, on September 6, 2022.

Wembley Stadium

On the left, England play Hungary on November 25, 1953, with the player standing on the goal-line observing the flying save of none other than future 1966 World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey.

On the right, Chloe Kelly of the England Lionesses scores her side's second and winning goal against Germany during the Women's Euro 2022 final on July 31, 2022. The recent photograph demonstrates how far women’s football has developed, while the contrast between the two portrays how the stadium – torn down in 2002 and completely rebuilt over the next five years – is alike in name only.

Tate Modern

On the left, a view over the Thames of Bankside Power Station in August 1956. The power station closed in 1981 and years later, to mark the new millennium, was transformed into the Tate Modern, a sprawling modernist art gallery opened by the queen herself on 11 May, 2000.

Updated: September 19, 2022, 10:42 AM
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