Roy Porter, in London A Social History, to which this paper is much indebted (all page references are to this work unless otherwise stated), points out that between the two Elizabeths, between say 1570 and 1986, across rebellion, social upheaval, passing revolutions of one kind and another, the invention of indoor plumbing, mass immunisation, the Internet, and the odd world war or two, London was to become, and then to decline from being, the worlds greatest city.
If one looks for defining moments one could, as Porter has done, choose these two. In 1570, [Elizabeth I] opened the Royal Exchange, [and] told the world that London was now a great commercial and financial mart.(Porter, p1) Then, in 1986 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council, leaving the metropolis the only Western world city without its own representative government.(p1), thus effectively abandoning the idea that London deserved a democratic government of its own, like Paris, Berlin, New York and every other major city in the civilised world.(p1). Porter says this marked the moment when the doctor decided that the case was incurable and abandoned the patient.(p1)
This London of the new Millennium has critical and intensifying problems, and is no longer routinely offering all its citizens the elementary benefits that Aristotle thought were the citys raisons dêtre (sic): shelter. safety, society, support... a downward spiral of infrastructural and human problems that will prove hard to halt.(p3)
Perhaps the major contributing trend over the last few centuries has been the rise and demise of the British Empire. After all London became a city of...10 million citizens not because the United Kingdom had...40 million inhabitants but because the Empire consisted of ten times as many 400 millions souls by 1900. As capital and port, finance and manufacturing centre all in one, London was the beneficiary-in-chief from the British Empire while it lasted.(p2)
London has been drawing visitors, merchants, diplomats, tourists and eager souls looking for work for at least two millennia. In the Middle Ages the city air made serfs free if they lived within the town limits for one year and a day. And although you could argue that it now makes free persons into serfs in search of an affordable bedsit in Islington, it continues to draw, in almost ritual fashion, the young of succeeding generations, who arrive, like myself, in search of adventure. Perhaps it was that air of excitement, of possibility, that drew Jane Austen there, to walk some of the same streets we can walk today. Londons long and turbulent history is still on display to anyone with the will and the shoeleather to go looking for it.
I invite you to walk through some images of London, then and now. Over the grave of an ageing ailing city suffering from hardening of the arteries(p2) though patched up here and there with replacement surgery we can nevertheless think about the trends that have influenced its development, and try to imagine from the physical traces that remain, from the buildings and streetscapes and hidden gardens, as well as the published sources that are available, the kind of London Jane knew.
It is tempting to think of Janes London as if it were placed in a museum, perfectly preserved. One of the things I have learnt from my research is that London has always been a city subject to constant change, rebuilding and restoration. Im wicked enough to believe that during Roman days there must have been buildings draped in scaffolding, and signs saying that The High Priests of the Temple regret the inconvenience to worshippers during our necessary renovations. Devotees are welcome to purchase souvenir statues of the goddess in the kiosk next to the Forum.
London became a wonder city. In 1500 its population equalled that of the six largest provincial towns put together, by 1680 it exceeded the sixty largest.(p131) It was a European marvel that kept on booming. Other European cities were stagnating or declining but London cashed in on the centralising of government administration and intercontinental trade, and was also a major manufacturing centre.
As a comparison Pariss population, 400,000 in 1600, was nearing half a million towards 1700, but thereafter it grew little for a century. London, by contrast, continued to swell, rising, in round figures, as follows:
|London Bridge is falling down and though the 12th century stone bridge was renovated in 1756, it did actually come down in 1830, and was rebuilt. The houses on the bridge helped pay for the 18th century renovations. Picard, Dr Johnsons London, p 266-7.||
Londons insatiable hunger brought agricultural produce over vast miles. It paid good prices for provincial producers, while its top wage rates attracted hands and supported top craftsmen. Migrants were attracted by good wages as much as 50% higher than provincial wages.(p132)
It proved an irresistible magnet for Britains populations, housing Scots, Welsh and Irish in large numbers, plus large communities of Jews and Huguenot migrants, also around 5,000 to 10,000 blacks in Georgian London.(p10) And we talk of immigration and multiculturalism as new phenomena!
Much crime arose out of capitalism itself, involving mishandling of property. Many were executed, and thousands more whipped or transported, for workplace crime(p152): for making off with oddments of cloth, nails or plank-ends, pocketfuls of tea or sugar. Custom had traditionally allowed journeymen their rags, spillage and left-overs: such perks topped up meagre wages. But these customary entitlements were becoming criminalized through statutes like the Bugging Act of 1749.(p152)
One rich source of loot was the ships and quaysides around London Bridge. In 1800 the magistrate, Patrick Colquhoun estimated that river pirates plundered the West Indian merchants of an estimated £250,000 annually, watermen working in collusion with watchmen stealing hogsheads of sugar, coffee and tallow.(p152) Half the hackney coachmen in London were said to be flashmen in their league of thieves.(p153)
Policing London long remained the task of beadles, constables and the parish watch a total force of a little over 3,000 unarmed men.(p153) By 1800 Londons 18 gaols were proving to be utterly ineffective. They encouraged crime rather than punishing it. The gaolers were corrupt, using extortion and every fiddle possible to make the prison system more criminal than the crimes they were designed to punish. The prisoners were unsupervised and often drunk; male and female prisoners mixed freely. The old parish system was responsible for law and order, and also for care of the aged, sick, disabled and unemployed. From 1722 parishes started to build workhouses to deal with rising poverty. In theory designed to put the able-bodied to work, in reality workhouses became doss-houses for the old, the sick and single-parent families. They were often a disgrace. Workhouse mortality was a scandal.(p149)
From Berkeley Square in 1791, Horace Walpole wrote The town cannot hold all its inhabitants, so prodigiously the population is augmented. I have twice been going to stop my coach in Piccadilly, thinking there was a mob; but it was only nymphs and swains sauntering or trudging. Tother morning, i.e. at two oclock, I went to see Mrs Garrick and Miss Hannah More at the Adelphi (off the Strand), and was stopped five times before I reached Northumberland House; for the tides of coaches, chariots, curricles, phaetons &c, are endless.(p99) Londoners expressed their loyalties on the streets with processions and demonstrations. History shows Londoners willingness to protest and riot, despite the orders of King or Parliament as for example the Peasants Revolt, or the more recent Poll Tax riots. I saw the crowd myself in Regent Street in March 1990. The tradition for Londoners to speak loudly and publicly is still alive and kicking.
London would not be London without the Thames (explored by Dennis Nutt later). Until the introduction of aeroplanes it was from the Thames that most people set foot on England, to get rich, live high, pursue a criminal career, or if they thought it best, leave England forever.
Commerce was Londons precious lifeblood. Overseas trade and empire built Englands economic muscle, and the heart of the exchange network was the port. Around 1700, Londons quays were herding a staggering 80% of the countrys imports, 69% of its exports and 86% of its re-exports, notably tobacco, sugar, silks and spices. Everything came to London.(p136) Trade tripling between 1720 and 1800 resulted in dire congestion, especially in the Upper Pool, where up to 1800 vessels packed into mooring space for 500.(p138) By the 1790s, overcrowding, delays and alarming theft levels threatened the Port itself. This led to the establishment of the Marine Police in 1798.
Coaching became big business, with specialist coaching inns such as the Spread Eagle in Gracechurch Street. How very convenient for the Bennet girls!
The City of London is a geographically tiny area, barely a mile across, almost entirely devoted to banking, insurance, the law, and investment wheeling and dealing in general. And even today in business circles across the globe the name "the City" means Londons financial sector.
Banking developed. Many private banks began by discounting commercial bills for London merchants, but they later extended their business to the provinces, acting among other things as agents for country banks, of which there were 150 by 1776. Concentrated on Lombard Street, Londons banks grew from around forty in the 1760s to nearly twice as many by 1800.(p146)
John Russell claims that the City is still the centre of London. The Old Bailey is what it always was the Central Criminal Court and it stands on the site once occupied by Newgate Prison. Abbeys and cathedrals notwithstanding, St. Bartholomew-the-Great is still what it was in the 12th century the grandest and plainest of Londons churches. (Russell p152) Parliaments increasing importance made politicians famous, or even glamorous figures. In the rambling Whitehall Palace complex, the court and administration grew. Tax revenues mounted, the army and bureaucracy expanded, and government dispensed ever more lucrative patronage: court lobbying.(Porter p134)
The City changed character as the metropolis grew and merged with the once separate City of Westminster. This was a gradual process, and was by no means over during Jane Austens time in London. It started because some rich men found new ways of getting richer by investing in real estate.
The years from the Restoration to Regency shaped the capitals future. Most important was the birth of a residential quarter, the West End. Previously people had lived where they earned their livelihood, as shown in the street names Bread Street, Pudding Lane or Chancery Lane. After the Restoration thousands moved to the West End because it was the finest place to live a place to spend money, to entertain or just to bask in being. With the rise of finance in the City, bankers trickled out of Cornhill and the Cheap into the splendid squares shooting up further west, and fine folks flooded from the shires.
Covent Garden Jane Austen knew very well. Her brother Henry had a house, also used as banking premises, at No. 11 Henrietta Street, just one street off Covent Garden. She shopped at Laycock & Shears at No. 10. Time has changed its purpose: its now used by a Travel Agency, Walkabout Tours. Jane might easily have visited Australia by popping next door for a package holiday!
Covent Garden enters our history as the abbey (or convent) of St Peter at Westminster. With the dissolution of the monasteries the Crown bestowed it upon John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, and one of his successors obtained a licence to build residences. He brought in architect Inigo Jones to build a piazza, consisting of St Pauls church (rebuilt) and three blocks of noble terraced houses (demolished). These gained quality tenants, and the piazza became a classy address. In time, however, the fruit and vegetable market also operating in the square sapped its smartness and the aristocracy migrated to Mayfair.
The square was taken over by taverns, coffee-houses, gambling-dens and brothels one would imagine that all the prostitutes in the kingdom had picked upon the rendezvous, observed the magistrate Sir John Fielding. John Clelands heroine Fanny Hill naturally took lodging there, and it became a haunt of artists and writers like Henry Fielding (Sir Johns brother) and Oliver Goldsmith. By the time of the Regency even the market had declined, infiltrated by knick-knack dealers. In 1813 the 6th Duke of Bedford deplored the total want of...arrangement, neatness and accommodation.(p6)
Covent Garden has been everything from a pasture to a piazza to a den of vice, and then to a hive of trade. Some of these changes were planned, some were accidental. Its history has been shaped by the Crown, by grandees, by commerce, by local government and by the will of the people.
|Covent Garden, c. 1750. Inigo Jones designed this elegant square in 1631 for the rich and fashionable. By 1750 they had moved west, and Covent Garden became a noisy produce market by day and a notorious red-light district by night. Picard, Dr Johnsons London, 2000.||
The property developers grasped the money-making ideas with both hands, and the race was on to build, build, build. Daniel Defoe saw new squares and new streets rising up every day to such a prodigy of buildings that nothing in the world does, or ever did equal it, except old Rome in Trajans time.(p94)
As the countrys only centre of fashion, London attracted provincials to come and spend on clothes and finery, pictures, objets dart, books and the theatre.(p34) The Season developed bringing everyone to Town for pleasure or business. It was a fiercely litigious age, no gentleman was without a satchel of lawsuits that occupies him in town, often for weeks at a time.(p134)
The late 18th century saw the rise of Georgian yuppies who found the City a chore. Over the next two centuries the City changed from a bustling residential area to a forest of offices, that becomes a nocturnal ghost town.
London was becoming different, unique. In 1785 a German traveller, J W von Archenholz, found that in the West End, the houses are mostly new and elegant; the squares are superb, the streets straight and open. It amounted to an innovation in urban living. Accustomed to cities in which wealth and squalor were all mixed together like bubble and squeak, people were intrigued to find a new social segregation, in which the hierarchy of rank was stamped upon the topography of the town. The Spectator magazine said, "The inhabitants of St Jamess, notwithstanding they live under the same laws and speak the same language, are a distinct people from those of Cheapside." London was becoming an aggregate of various nations distinguished from each other by their respective customs, manners and interests.(p95)
This new West End did not exude imperiousness. Its look isnt the master plan of a Pope, an Emperor or a Tsar, like baroque St Petersburg or Dresden or Rome. It is the result of noblemen building for profit and prestige. They built to attract a better kind of tenant who wanted something exclusive. Berlin and Washington radiate pomp. They have grand boulevards, piazzas and obelisks; their baroque or neoclassical style speak of absolutism and power unopposed. Nothing remotely like that appeared in London, at least not until the Prince Regent. (Georgian London owed nothing to the first three Georges, who preferred rural Richmond, Windsor and Kew.) The West End was not imposed from on high as an ensemble; but grew through piecemeal development of self-contained aristocratic estates, forming individual building blocks.
Its inward-looking squares formed self-sufficient classy quarters almost pastoral idylls. Bloomsbury, Bedford and Russell Squares in west-central London, and, above all, Hanover, Berkeley and Grosvenor Squares in Mayfair and Cavendish, Portman and Manchester Squares in Marylebone, made the emergent West End an accumulation of units, detached from each other, lacking stately connecting boulevards and panoramas.(p96)
Over the centuries addresses rose and fell in eligibility. West Cheap, Chancery Lane, the Strand, Covent Garden each had its day, and they slid downmarket or were redeveloped. But the great Georgian estates have remained (with their clones, such as Belgravia and Kensington) the chic places to live, shop, saunter and dine. Town remained tops.(p96)
Bloomsbury Square, the first London plot called a square launched a new town house style destined to dominate London: the narrow-fronted terrace. ...Great ingenuity was devoted to packing accommodation into dwellings built on deep narrow sites. Houses were erected on a service basement (area), used for the kitchen and servants hall. Above, there would be three floors for the family and an attic for the servants. The front door was imposing, with a semi-circular arch. The sash windows were tallest on the first floor, smallest on the top.(p104)
The Prince of Wales imposed some form. The Regent had designs for the capital, not primarily out of public spirit but in pursuit of taste and to enhance his own prospects and properties, including the royal estates beyond Oxford Street. He envisaged an elegant connection between these estates and his residence, Carlton House in Pall Mall, which he was having improved at enormous expense to the taxpayer.(p126)
The true hero, however, was John Nash. A man of flair, Nash was a shrewd businessman, willing to take a risk but careless of strict accounting. Nash envisaged one long, majestic south-north street, leading up from Carlton House through Lower Regent Street to a Quadrant (just north of the present Piccadilly Circus), and then along Regent Street and into Portland Place.(p126) He created a frontier between crowded, confused Soho on the east and elegant Hanover Square and Cavendish Square on the west. Londons grandest thoroughfare thereby became its social barrier, with Portland Place and Regent Street screening the fashionable West End from the déclassé quarters.(p127)
Nash created a royal park out of farm land: Regents Park was to be picturesque and surrounded by palatial terraces and a host of villas almost creating the first garden city. To these Georgian terraces, Nash added stucco and decoration, reminiscent of an Italian palazzo. They were hated by the Victorians; stucco was like bad make-up.
Mayfair developed chic shops, particularly around Bond Street, and Burlington Arcade opened in the Regency. London seemed designed to cater for the born-to-shop mentality.
Despite all its shortcomings London had a thrill that made it like a Disneyworld. Places like the Strand, Covent Garden, Leicester Square sucked in sightseers. It was smart to stroll and lounge, enjoying the delights of anonymity in the city of strangers: Here you have the Advantage of solitude without its Disadvantage, reflected Henry Fielding, since you may be alone and in Company at the same time; and while you sit or walk unobserved, Noise, Hurry, and a constant Succession of Objects entertain the Mind.(p168/9)
Street-life was lubricated by places of refreshment. The fashionable socialised in coffee-houses.
Leisure entrepreneurs also created more elaborate pleasure gardens. New Spring Gardens, later known as Vauxhall Gardens, opened in 1660.
One of [Ranelaghs] most fêted events was the Thames regatta in June 1775, followed by a supper and fancy-dress ball. Twelve boats raced from Westminster to London Bridge and back. But confusion set in as barges clogged the competitors path, and women and children, caught by a low tide, had to wade in the mud. Besides, it rained. It was all very English. The regatta fiasco epitomised the strange mix that was Georgian London: it aspired to elegance, but in reality it was a bit chaotic, all manner and conditions of people managing to show their face and create their own fun.(p175)
Circulating libraries (for a picture of a circulating library see the JASA Library page) opened: by 1800, the capital had 122. Picture galleries were also set up, showing scenes from Shakespeare, the Bible and English history. The Royal Academy, founded in 1768, staged art exhibitions. In 1711 Mrs Salmon opened a waxworks in Fleet Street, long before Madame Tussaud arrived from Paris. The capital possessed an effervescent musical life, orchestrated by composers and impresarios such as Handel, Heidegger and Mozart. Subscription concerts were pioneered. Carlisle House in Soho Square was a leading musical venue. Fanny Burney judges the magnificence of the rooms, splendour of the illuminations and embellishments, and the brilliant appearance of the company exceeded anything I ever before saw.(p177)
Theatre thrived (as Helen Cooks paper describes). During the 18th century the playhouse developed the deep fore-stage, bringing the actor into close contact with the audience and aiding the rise of stars like David Garrick, James Quin, Peg Woffington and, later, Sarah Siddons, Philip Kemble and Edmund Kean.
The club (explored later by Jill Rogers), was probably a child of the coffee-house, and defined an all-male enclave. Whites, established in St Jamess Street in 1736, became the acme of fashion, though later rivalled by Almacks in Pall Mall, founded in 1726. In 1764 that club split into two, Boodles and Brooks. Brooks in Jamess Street became the greatest gambling den of them all.(p178) Regency bucks forged an aesthetic of the urban, a worship of town as a temple of pleasure that culminated in the image of the dandy.(p180)
Crown and parliament did little to mould Londons public culture. Take painting. Commercial galleries opened in Georgian London, but there was no national collection to compare with those in Florence and France, and London had to wait till the 19th century for the National Gallery. Museums provide a similar story. London had various privately owned museums, open to the public for a fee.(p183/4)
Georgian Londoners became city-watchers, self-reverential. They relished art and novels, journalism and theatre about themselves and their world. If they were still fascinated by Rome, Jerusalem and Byzantium, they were preoccupied with the challenge of superimposing those mythic cities on the London they knew, of which they were proud and by which they were puzzled.(p184)
By 1800 London was the grandest city in the West and probably in the world, with almost a million inhabitants far too many people for Mr Woodhouse to feel comfortable with too many people spreading infections and making one feel uncomfortable! It cannot be healthy!
I feel that weve let our imaginations peek around corners, but weve covered enough ground now - too much for Mr Woodhouses comfort...
29 January 2004