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Early London
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Early London

St Paul's is the cathedral church of the City of London and, in various incarnations, has overlooked the City since 604 A.D. After being destroyed by the Great Fire in September 1666, Christopher Wren was asked to design the new structure. He started work in 1675 and, after numerous architectural changes, completed it in 1710. The baroque dome, decorated by James Thornhill, is the main feature; rising 218 feet above the floor. Wren is buried near the tomb of Admiral Horatio Nelson. His epitaph (translated from the Latin) is: 'Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.' St Paul's remains an iconic image of London's cityscape.

'Sti Pauli Londini ab Occidente Descriptio Orthographica' (1702), facsimile engraving from Samuel Pepys's London: A Selection from his Scrapbooks of London and Westminster. London: D.S. Brewer, 1980. Stk ++ N 8219 L7 S 559.

London's face has changed many times: from a walled settlement to the spreading, bustling commercial centre that is the envy of foreigners and the pride of Londoners. During John Stow's lifetime, Elizabethan London expanded at an extraordinary, apparently ungovernable pace. In about 1500 the City's population was estimated at 50,000; by 1565 there was some 85,000 Londoners; in 1603, 140,000 lived within and without the ancient walls, with some 40,000 in its spreading suburbs. Confronting this surge, James I quipped: 'Soon London will be all England.' A royal proclamation in the last years' of Elizabeth I's reign was the Prohibiting Further Building or Subdividing of Houses in London (1602), one of many official attempts to stem the city's growth, none of which had any appreciable effect. This 1720 edition of Stow's classic work shows the spread of the city.

John Stow, A survey of the cities of London and Westminster: containing the original, antiquity, increase, modern estate and government of those cities. …Now lastly, corrected, improved, and very much enlarged: ... by John Strype. 2 vols. London: Printed for A. Churchill, J. Knapton, R. Knaplock, J. Walthoe, E. Horne, [and 5 others], 1720. DeB Ed 1720 S.

The Thames occasionally froze over. One of the earliest accounts was in A.D. 250 when the River was frozen hard for nine weeks. In 923 the Thames was open to wheeled traffic for trade and the transport of goods for thirteen weeks; again in 1410, for fourteen. It iced over again in 1564 and 1570. This facsimile engraving from Pepys's Collection at Cambridge evokes a carnival atmosphere on the River during the 'Memorable Frost' of 1683. On the ice there is a Coffee House (A), a Lottery booth (L), a Printing booth (H), and even a designated space for bull baiting.

[Robert Fabyan], The Great Chronicle of London. London: Printed by George W. Jones, 1938. Stk + DA 677 GS48. 'An Exact and Lively Mapp or Representation of Booths and all the Varieties of Showes and Humours upon the Ice on the River of Thames by London' (1683), facsimile engraving from Samuel Pepys's London: A Selection from his Scrapbooks of London and Westminster. London: D.S. Brewer, 1980. Stk ++ N 8219 L7 S 559.

Westminster, as the politico-ecclesiastical centre, was often a rival with London, the commercial city. However, the eight square mile area does contain Buckingham Palace, Harrods, the National Portrait Gallery, and Trafalgar Square; each attracting tourists to the capital. (Westminster was given city status in 1900 and designated a borough of London in 1965). Another haunt of many visitors is Poet's Corner, at the south transept of Westminster Abbey. Here prominent writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Ben Jonson, and Samuel Johnson are buried; others like Shakespeare have commemorative tablets. Others also favoured include Elizabeth Russel, who supposedly bled to death after being pricked by a needle. This depicts her marble monument.

Jodocus Crull, The Antiquities of St Peter's, or the Abbey Church of Westminster. London: Printed by J. N. and sold by John Morphew, near Stationer's-Hall, 1711. DeB Eb 1711 C.

In 1605, a group of Roman Catholics devised a plan to kill King James VI (and I), along with his advisors, by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The authorities were alerted. They searched the Palace of Westminster and found Guy Fawkes (the group's explosive expert going under the assumed name of John Johnson), in a cellar stacked with 20-30 barrels of gunpowder. Under torture at the Tower of London, Fawkes revealed the names of his co-conspirators. All of them - described as 'unchristian offenders' in this emotive Weekley Newes report - were found guilty and executed. The anniversary of this event is still celebrated on the 5 November, with the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes on bonfires.

The Weekley Newes, No.19, 31 January 1606 (facsimile). DeB Ec 1588 F.