Some Like It Old: The Earliest Surviving Video of London in Existence

Right-o! Let's jump in our "wayback machine" to London, England in the late 19th century to witness some of the oldest known video footage, not only just of the city, but in all of human history. I'm a sucker for finding the earliest cinema and photography have to offer, and if you are too, then click on.

Youtube's Yestervid has gone to great lengths with the help of newsreel pioneers and archivists, British Pathé, to assemble a sort of montage showing off some of the very oldest moving pictures ever captured of London. They've also painstakingly reconstructed the vantage points from which these original films were shot and for many of them, have placed the vintage video side-by-side with their modern counterpart so you can compare the vistas with the London of today. Where they don't have the matching current view, they have included maps that have been carefully researched to show the exact location, as well as the indicated direction in which the moving pictures were recorded. In addition to the well-produced soundtrack, there are some clever and welcome additions, like the oldest sound recording of Big Ben from July, 1890.

The videos included in this approximately 11-minute cinematic collage take place all over the greater London area anywhere from the end of the nineteenth century to the early 1920s. This would have been the time of Jack The Ripper, Titanic, and World War I, or some of the timeframe in which Downton Abbey takes place (if that's your sort of thing). The oldest of these 45 clips comes in at 1890, putting it in the running for one of the oldest films in existence, period.

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9 Comments

If you and Alex are having some sort of competition, I approve.

Sean Molin's picture

Haha! Total coincidence. We both submitted articles about two different videos from the same YouTube channel at the same time. The editors decided to just schedule them a couple days apart.

Tim Foster's picture

I'm not sure you understand what video is.

Peter Nord's picture

I wonder how old one has to be to know the difference between film and video. Do you suppose these films were digitized without the use of a video tube? Is video a word whose meaning is smearing out to mean any moving picture? Will we soon stop going to the movies/cinemas/films and start going to the videos, or maybe it will be digies.

Sean Molin's picture

Technically correct is the best kind of correct, isn't it?

Yes, I was using a colloquial definition for 'video.'

Peter Nord's picture

Try this from 1848, nine years after its invention, a daguerreotype of two miles of Cincinnati riverfront. From the NYTimes, “The Cincinnati Panorama” has been considered one of the finest examples of North American cityscapes from photography’s earliest decades. It is also thought to be the oldest surviving example of such a work. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/22/us/22panorama.html?_r=0
See the original on line at http://1848.cincinnatilibrary.org
They had the eight plates conserved and photographed through a special microscope at the George Eastman House a few years ago. You can zoom through the microscope images. Very cool and about as old as you can get for a photograph.
"Wired" writes how it was done: http://www.wired.com/2010/07/ff_daguerrotype_panorama/

Vacuum Tube video that's been recorded on magnetic medium? Or did you mean an ANALOG MOVIE IN FILM preserved in a YouTube video? Accurate descriptive detail is important.

Pip Neville's picture

My Dearest Sir Anthony:
Movie? Gah, these modern contractions are rather grating to ones cochlea. One assumes that you are referring to Moving Pictures SIr? I don't know, the youth of today and their almost indecipherable lingo... ;o)

Sean Molin's picture

Yes, I was using a colloquial definition for 'video.'