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London Life

In 1756-7 construction of the New Road (present Marylebone, Euston and Pentonville Roads) chalked out areas for development. Blackfriars Bridge was opened in 1769; Tyburn Road (Oxford Street) shot north. In 1791, Horace Walpole, writing from Berkeley Square, observed that this dispersion was killing the sedan-chair trade, 'for Hercules and Atlas could not carry anybody from one end of this enormous capital to the other.' Earlier, from Strawberry Hill, his neo-gothic castle near Twickenham, Walpole comments on a recent visit to the opera in London, and on the 'seasons', those fashionable times when everyone who was everyone moved out of London. Of course, he also gives us the gossipy morsels, each delivered in his own unique style.

The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford. v.5. London: Printed for G.G. and J. Robinson, Paternoster-Row, and J. Edwards, Pall-Mall, 1798. DeB Ec 1798 W.

Almost everything came to London via the docks and quays of the Thames: tea, china, drugs, muslins, cotton yarn, pepper and spices, silks, sugar, rum, coffee, ginger, gums, elephants' teeth, palm oil, wine, skins, hemp, iron, shipping masts, and of course people. In the 18th century, conjestion on the waterways led to major dock building such as West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs (1802), and Surrey docks at Rotherhithe (1807). Some years earlier, in 1737, John Rocque embarked upon a survey of London. The map was eventually published in 24 sheets in 1746, using the scale of 26 inches to the mile. When fully assembled it is approximately 7 feet high by 13 feet long. Here is the sheet detailing the dock-scape of that time.

'The Thames' from Rocque's Map of London, 1746 (facsimile). London: London Topographical Society, 1913-19. Stack Map.

As an early architectural critic, John Gwynn sought to improve London after the Great Fire and vehemently fought for coherent town planning. In a stand against the 'Wrenaissance', he described London as 'inconvenient, inelegant and without the least pretension to magnificence or grandeur.' He wanted a scenic London, with boulevards pointing to noble buildings. Looking at conjested bottlenecks like Charing Cross and Temple Bar, the refuse piling up at street corners, and open sewers like the Fleet, Gwynn asked: 'Where is the taste and elegance?' One of his achievements came in with the Building Act of 1774, which graded houses both in measurements and materials. The first triumph was Bedford Square, with 'first-rate' materials being used. It thus became desirable quarters for lawyers and other professionals. This is the first edition of Gwynn's major work.

John Gwynn, London and Westminster Improved. London: Printed for the Author, Sold by Mr Dodsley, and at Mr Dalton's Print-Warehouse in Pall-Mall, Mr Bathoe in the Strand, Mr Davies in Russell Street, Covent Garden, and by Mr Longman in Pater-noster Row, 1766. DeB Ec 1766 G.

Andrew White Tuer (1838-1900) was a printer-publisher who first began producing books with Abraham Field under the name 'Field & Tuer', and then later created his own Leadenhall Press. He became known for publishing the History of the Horn-Book (1896), early Children's literature books, and the classic Cries of London. As an antiquarian, Tuer was conscious of documenting those aspects of London life that were fast disappearing. With woodcut prints (some coloured) and amusing anecdotes, he captured some of those timeless London cries: 'Stinking shrimps!' - 'Buy my dish of great Eeles' - and 'New laid eggs…'.

Andrew W. Tuer, Old London Street Cries. London: Field & Tuer, 1885. Stk DA 688 TW64.

Often the City came alive with the Corporation, the guilds, and the parishioners celebrating civic events and holidays. Shrove Tuesday was one such celebration which John Taylor (1580-1654), the self-proclaimed 'King's Water Poet and Queen's Waterman' described. To this keen observer of London life, the day was a feast of 'boiling and broiling…roasting and toasting…stewing and brewing…' Taylor was a member of the guild of watermen; in his youth he had also been press-ganged into the Navy. He was not a sophisticated poet, although he could string rhymes together on occasion. One distinction of a trivial nature is his: he was the author of the palindrome: 'Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel.' Perhaps while ferrying passengers about, he related one of these snippets from his amusing Wit and Mirth.

All the Workes of John Taylor the Water Poet. London: Printed by J.B. for James Boler; at the signe of the Marigold in Pauls Churchyard, 1630. DeB Ec 1630 T.

1808 was the year in which Richard Trevithick's 10 ton locomotive called 'Catch-me-who-can' ran briefly at a speed of 15 mph on a circular track at Torrington Square off Gower Street in London (near present day Euston Station); the development of the Port of London began; Spain was occupied by the French; and Part One of Goethe's Faust appeared. It was also two years before George III was classified as insane, tragically suffering from porphyria (an enzyme deficiency disease). Here is a colourful ensemble that was worn by some belle on the occasion of His Majesty's 48th birthday.

La Belle Assemblée, or, Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine, 1808. London: Printed by and for J. Bell, 1808. Stk AP 4. B42.