From River Crossing to World City: A Potted History of London – Part 2 (1660 onwards)

Part 1 of this Potted History of London covered the period from pre-history up to 1660 when Charles II came to the throne. Part 2 continues the narrative, which is split into three periods:

  • 1660 – 1815 (from the Restoration of the Monarchy up to the battle of Waterloo)
  • 1815 – 1914 (from the battle of Waterloo up to the start of the First World War)
  • And finally, 1914 – late 1900s.

Abstract

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After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, London was hit by two major disasters: The Great Plague of 1665 which is estimated to have killed over 100,000 individuals; and the Great Fire in the following year, which is thought to have resulted in damage with a monetary loss of £1.7bn (in 2019 figures).

Despite these setbacks, London’s economy soon experienced significant growth. Arguably, it was overseas trade that was the primary driver with the beginnings of Atlantic trade and the success of the East India company. The slave trade was a notably contributory factor, part of which involved shipping large numbers of individuals from West Africa to the Caribbean and to the southern part of what would become the USA.

Wealth brought industries which in turn attracted migrants from other parts of Britain and from Europe, and London’s population had reached 1.4 million by the time of the battle of Waterloo in 1815. This growth naturally produced a large local market within the capital for goods and services.

Finance was an area that became established in the 18th century, featuring the establishment of the Bank of England and the beginnings of the Stock Market. Coffee Houses, which first appeared in the late 17th century, became important multi-purpose meeting places for business, politics, the arts and other leisurely pursuits.

The Industrial Revolution which ran from (say) 1760 to 1840 was to see Britain become the pre-eminent world economic power for much of the 19th century. While London was not directly involved in many of the core activities, it most certainly benefited from them. majoring in the production of finished goods.

Britain’s economic strength, allied with the growth of the Stock Market, led to London becoming the centre of world finance in the 19th century.

Improvements in health and an ever-increasing arrival of migrants saw London’s population grow to 7 million by 1911. Such a large population obviously meant that London needed to expand outwards to accommodate them, swallowing up neighbouring parishes as it did so. This geographical expansion relied on improved transport, and the 19th century was to see significant introductions, notably horse buses, trams, railway, the underground railway and finally motor buses.

Except for the City of London which continued on an independent basis, governing an expanding metropolis was a perennial topic, In general, there were two camps: spenders who wanted to meet needs; and savers who were intent on minimising the cost to ratepayers. The 19th century saw a number of major changes: the creation in 1855 of the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) which was broadly responsible for the infrastructure of Inner London; its replacement in 1889 by London County Council which came to have jurisdiction over Inner and Outer London; and the creation of 28 boroughs in 1899.

Depending on a person’s disposable income, London increasingly offered opportunities to indulge in leisure activities in the 19th century: at the top end of society, this became the golden age for Gentlemen’s Clubs; theatres and music halls became abundant; and there were increasing numbers of open spaces with the arrival of public parks and London’s commons.

Although London’s economy grew, working conditions could be very onerous, notably the use of sweated labour in the clothing industry and casual labour which was the lot of the dockers. One survey from the 1890s reported that 25% of London’s population were poor. Those who failed to eke out an existence in the 19th century were often forced into workhouses, which were run by Poor Law Unions. Around this time, there were circa. 100,000 individuals in the workhouse. They were particularly hard institutions for the old and the sick, eventually leading to the deployment of separate workhouse infirmaries, which became general places for the poor to seek medical assistance, whether or not they were in the workhouse. By the time that Poor Law Unions were abolished in 1929, they were generally known as municipal hospitals.

The first half of the 20th century was dominated by two world wars and their accompanying death and destruction, while the inter-war years saw economic depression although London managed to survive it better than most other parts of Britain. However, in the post-World War II period it was faced with a major rebuilding programme which lasted for twenty years. However, no sooner had the docks been rebuilt, when the advent of containerisation signalled their demise with the exception of Tilbury, out to the east. This coincided with the relative collapse of manufacturing in the capital. London now began to look more to service industries.

The question of governing London came to the fore once again in the second half of the 20th century, resulting in the creation of the Greater London Council (GLC) and 32 boroughs in 1965; the abolition of the GLC twenty years later; and the establishment of the Greater London Authority (GLA) in 2000.

Finally, elite sport had been largely driven by the gambling habits of the nobility and gentry who made use of professional athletes. This was followed in the Victorian period by the ascendancy of amateurism, which was promoted by public schools and universities. London’s economic success attracted alumni from these institutions, and they were responsible for setting up organised sports, which were intended to be played by gentlemen amateurs. However, the desire of working men and the middle-classes to play these sports inevitably led to reappearance of professionalism. Sports ruling elite, often London-based, fought long and hard against the incursion of professionalism, but they were eventually forced in the late 20th century to accept that amateurism was dead, and everybody should be known simply as players, whether they were paid or not.

Contents

1660 – 1815

The Great Plague of London

Background to Bubonic Plague
The Epidemic

The Great Fire of London in 1666

The Conflagration
Rebuilding the City
The Results of Rebuilding

Expansion

Housing Development
The Middle Classes

Business in the 18th Century

Docks
The Slave Trade
Industries
Retail Trade

Transport

Turnpikes
Rivers and Canals
Bridges

Finance

Banking
Early Stock Market
Insurance

Local Government

Law and Order

Policing
Radicals and Public Order

Health

Population Levels
Medical Training
Dispensaries
Hospitals

The Arts in the 18th Century

Artists
Writers
The Appearance of National Institutions

Publishing

Newspapers and Periodicals
Circulating Libraries

Meeting Places

Coffee Houses
Gentlemen’s Clubs
Inns, Taverns and Alehouses

Leisure

Theatre
Royal Parks and Common Land
Pleasure Gardens

Sport

Cricket
Athletics
Other Sports

1815-1914

People

Population Growth
General Health
Disease

Water and Sanitation

Water Supply
Sanitation
Public Baths and Wash-houses

Changes in Local Government

Industry

Manufacturing
River Lea
The Port
Shipbuilding

Labour

Sweated Labour
Casual Labour

Finance in the 19th Century

City Banks
The London Stock Exchange
London Metal Exchange
Growth of the Insurance Market

The Poor

Workhouses and Poor Law Unions
Workhouse Infirmaries
Developments in Nursing
Outdoor Relief
Rookeries
Food and Clothing
Slum Clearances
Social Housing

Transport in the 19th Century

Bridges in Central London
Roads
Coaches and Horse-drawn Omnibuses
Steamboats
The Railway
The Early Underground System
Initial Attempts at Linking up the Transport Network
Horse-drawn Trams
Electric Underground Railway
Electric Trams
Motor Buses
Passengers

Building Developments

The Plans of the Prince Regent
Housing Developments
The New West End
The New Suburbs

Advances in Technology

Town Gas
Electricity
First Tentative Steps in Computing
Telecommunications
Motor Car

Justice and Fire

Metropolitan Police
Changes in the Prison System
Fire Brigade

Education for All

Elementary Education
Secondary Education
The University of London
Technical Education

Culture in the 19th Century

The Great Exhibition
Museums
Art Galleries
Greater Range of Libraries
Newspapers in the 19th Century

Retail Stores

Leisure in the 19th Century

The London Season
The Golden Age of Gentlemen’s Clubs
Theatre after the Duopoly
Music Hall
Public Parks and Open Spaces

Victorian Sport

Amateurism
Muscular Christianity
The Emergence of Organised Sports
Participation of the Working Man
The Reappearance of Professional Sport

From 1914

World War I

Effects on the Economy
Other Effects
Bombing and Casualties

The Inter-War Years

Spanish Flu
The Decline of High Society
Local Government Power
Beginning of Aviation
Buses, Trams and Trolleybuses
Tube Changes
New Arterial Roads
Further Explosion of the Suburbs
The Effects of the Depression
The Rest of the Economy
Employment
Poverty and the End of Poor Law Unions
Council Housing
Secondary Education
New Leisure Activities

World War II

Defensive Measures and Bombing
Casualties and Damage

1945 – 1965

After 1965

The Growth of Organised Sport in the 20th Century

World Participation
National Stadia
Spectators
The Eventual Death of the Amateur

In Summary

Odds and Sods

Defining London
Brief Notes on Selected Places
Brief Notes on Selected Artists and Writers
Brief Notes on London’s Royal Societies and Academies
Brief Notes on Orchestras in London

Bibliography and Further Reading

Acknowledgements

Version History

1660 – 1815

The English economy grew significantly during this period, aided by the arrival of the Atlantic trade and by the first Industrial Revolution which began around 1760. Although London’s percentage share of overseas trade decreased slightly during the course of the 18th century, in monetary terms it rose threefold, albeit some of it was attributable to the slave trade. London was the centre for a wide range of industries.

Its population stagnated up to the middle of the 18th century, infant mortality being one particularly notable factor. However, improvements in health and hygiene in the second half of the century saw strong growth with 1.1 million being reached in 1801, the year of the first official census.

The period also saw improvements and expansion in many other areas of life, including finance, transport, culture and leisure. However, it got off to an extremely disastrous start with the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in the following year, and it is with these events that we will start.

The Great Plague of London

Background to Bubonic Plague

Scientists class the 1665 outbreak of bubonic plague as being part of the Second Pandemic which intermittently appeared from the mid-14th century through to the mid-18th century.  This particular epidemic, although it probably killed 100,000+ Londoners, was not as devastating as the Black Death had been in 1348.

The plague was caused by the Yersinia Pestis bacterium which was carried by fleas. Until recently, rats had been pinpointed as the carriers of these fleas. However, current thinking is that the disease spread far too quickly in 1665 for it to be solely attributable to rats. It is considered that the bacterium was present in human fleas and ticks, which were to be found in people’s clothes that were seldom changed, and are thought to have been more likely sources of transmission.

The Epidemic

The first case of plague occurred in the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields in April, 1665. As the following official death figures show, it spread rapidly during the hot summer months, peaking in mid-September. Although all parts of London were affected, those areas where the well-off lived, notably in the City, fared much better than the poorer areas. See the detailed statistics in The Guardian for further information:

  • Last week in June – 470
  • Last week in July – 2,013
  • Last week in August – 6,142
  • Week commencing 12th September – 7,195 (the peak)
  • Last week in September – 4,957
  • Last week in October – 1,037
  • Last week in November – 335
  • Week commencing 12th December – 282.

Those individuals who were tasked with establishing the cause of death were known as Searchers. However, it is thought that some of them were slipshod in their work, attributing some plague deaths to other causes, and that therefore the official death toll of 68,000+ is almost certainly too low and may well have been over 100,000.

Charles II left London for Salisbury in July. He was not the only one to leave; many well-to-do people, professionals (including doctors) and merchants also left, while Samuel Pepys sent his wife to Woolwich in August. One estimate puts the departure figure at 20,000. Individuals who wanted to leave needed certificates to establish that they were healthy before they would be let out of the City gates. However, this did not stop the plague from spreading outside London, most notably to parts of East Anglia.

Various measures were adopted to help combat the spread of the plague. A red cross was painted on the door to indicate its presence in the property within, and the house was put into quarantine for 40 days. The dead were only collected at night in a vain attempt to avoid panic, but eventually there were so many that daytime collections had to be resumed, and mass pits had to be dug to deposit the increasing number of bodies; one pit in Aldgate was 50 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep.

The number of deaths began to reduce rapidly from October, and eventually people returned from their places of refuge to the City from January, 1666 onward, with Charles II arriving back in February.

The Great Fire of London in 1666

No sooner had London managed to get on top of the plague in 1666, than it suffered another major disaster, the Great Fire which raged from Sunday September 2nd to Thursday September 6th, 1666.

The Conflagration

The fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane just after midnight. Failure to quickly create firebreaks by demolishing nearby properties – the standard fire-fighting approach at the time – led to it spreading out of control when the wind got up, initially moving northwards and westwards.

On Monday, it spread south, but it was stopped by the river and by a pre-existing firebreak on London Bridge. This day saw rumours that the fire had been started by foreigners, resulting in incidences of disorder. It also witnessed the start of organised action to combat the fire, with Charles II and his brother James getting involved.

Tuesday was the worst day when the fire managed to jump across the River Fleet, while St. Paul’s, which was covered in wooden scaffolding at the time, was destroyed. Meanwhile, the fire was now moving eastwards, helped by the fact that the wind dropped in the evening.

On Wednesday, an effective firebreak prevented flames from reaching the Tower of London, and Pepys recorded the sight of many homeless people camped on Moorfields to the north of the city. Finally, the fire was under control by Thursday, and rain on the following Sunday effectively extinguished it, although coal in cellars continued to burn and smolder for up to two months.

A brief summary of the overall destruction comprises: 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Exchange, the Custom House, 44 Livery Company Halls and the 3 western City gates. The monetary value of the loss has been very approximately put at around £1.7bn (in 2019 figures).

Some accounts say that many of the homeless spent the following winter in homemade shelters in Moorfields and in the fields out towards Islington and Highgate.

Rebuilding the City

Grandiose plans from the likes of Wren, Evelyn and Hooke to produce a city of wide boulevards and grand piazzas were quickly considered to be unworkable due to practical and financial difficulties. Practical issues included problems in negotiating compensation for existing owners, while on the financial side the City was in trouble at the time, with annual expenditure of c.£25,000 against £14,000 of income, along with debts of £279,000. It did not have the £100,000 necessary to rebuild public edifices.

A team of Commissioners for Rebuilding was set up, consisting of six men including Wren, Hooke and Mills (the City Surveyor). The First Rebuilding Act (1667) laid down standards for road widths and building standards for house designs, storey heights and wall thicknesses. It also specified the procedures for resolving disputes with a Fire Court which would be manned by eminent royal judges. It was laid down that rebuilding had to be completed within 3 years and 9 months.

The work of administering the Act (and a second one which was passed in 1670) fell to the mayor and aldermen. The 1667 Act provided for a tax of one shilling per ton on coal imported into London for a period of 10 years, a figure which was tripled in the 1670 act. Half the tax went to the City, while the other half was used to rebuild churches and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Rebuilding was a huge enterprise. Labour was recruited by offering the Freedom of the City for seven years (which could be extended to life) for those who worked on the rebuilding, while Crafts tried unsuccessfully to defend their ancient privileges. In terms of materials: Baltic timber was plentiful; brickmaking expanded with new works appearing in Moorfields, Islington and St. Giles-in-the-Fields; although stone was more difficult to obtain, leading to longer build-times for churches.

The Results of Rebuilding

51 out of the original 87 churches were rebuilt. Their designs were in the hands of Wren, who was also the architect for the new St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was eventually completed in 1710. The Monument, at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, built to commemorate the Great Fire of London and the rebuilding of the city, was completed in 1677.

8,000 houses were built in place of the 13,200 that had been lost, with nearly half of them completed by the end of 1669 and almost all by late 1672, while the various Livery Company Halls were also mostly finished by 1672.

However, attempts to improve access to, and the use of, the River Fleet were ultimately unsuccessful, and it had been covered over by 1766. Similarly, plans to make improvements to the north bank of the Thames did not materialise.

Only two new roads were created: King Street and Queen Street, and so the City remained cramped and prone to traffic congestion despite the slight increases in road widths (35-40 feet).

Expansion

Housing Development

One of the results of the Great Fire of London was a reduced population in the City. The less well-off could not afford brick houses, and they drifted out into the suburbs, while tradesmen found that business was better and the taxes / communal duties less onerous around Covent Garden and the Strand. Their appearance in those areas had the effect of pushing the well-off further west and north to the likes of Soho, St. James and Mayfair.

The London social season, which reached maturity in the 18th century, helped to attract house purchasers from other parts of the country. Charles II made grants of land to a number of his supporters who developed their plots during the late 1600s: the Earl of Southampton – Bloomsbury; the Earl of St. Albans – St. James’s Square plus the area bordered by Piccadilly, St. James’ Street, Haymarket and Pall Mall; the Earl of Clarendon – Burlington House and what became Bond Street and Albemarle Street; and the Earl of Leicester – Leicester Square and the Soho area up as far as the Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street).

Further developments took place during the 18th century, including:  Hanover Square, Savile Row, Brook Street and New Bond Street; the Duke of Devonshire’s Berkeley Square; the Grosvenor estate, the centrepiece being the square; the Cavendish estate, again with the square at its centre; and the Portman and Berners estates which were situated between the Cavendish estate and Tottenham Court Road.

Meanwhile, gradual expansion had also been taking place to the north of the City in the hundred years from 1660 to 1760, covering the likes of Finsbury Fields and Hoxton, and eventually approaching Sadler’s Wells.

In 1756-57, New Road was built to connect Paddington with Islington. This is part of today’s A501, the London Inner Ring Road, and it led to further residential developments in areas to the south of it in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Over to the east of the City, building work in the late 1600s had developed the areas from Cable Street-Back Lane to the Thames, and Goodman’s Fields from Mansell Street to Back Church Lane. The 18th century witnessed a series of spidery developments along and close to the main roads in Stepney, Mile End and Bethnal Green. Populations in 1801 included: Bethnal Green 22,000 and Stepney (including Spitalfields, Wapping and Shadwell) 113,000. Note – the City of London and Westminster had respective populations of 128,000 and 161,000 at the time.

Finally, the construction of Westminster Bridge (1750) and Blackfriars Bridge (1769) promoted growth south of the Thames with heavy settlements along Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth and Blackfriars Road. By 1801, the population of the southern suburbs, including Southwark, was 144,000, approximately 1/6th of London’s population.

The Middle-Classes

While the estates in the west were aimed at the elite, they needed individuals, such as professionals and tradesmen, who provided services to be close at hand. Estimates indicate that around 1800 20-25% of London’s population could be described as middle-class, viz.: businessmen, merchants, tradesmen, manufacturers, shopkeepers and individuals in the arts and other professions. Peter Earle estimates that in 1730 there had been 5,000 lawyers, 1,000 clergy, 2,500 teachers along with 1,000 surgeons and apothecaries.

Surgeons prospered. As James Boswell tells us in his diaries, there was a good trade to be had in treating venereal disease with compounds of mercury. Hans Sloane, physician to George II and president of the Royal College, left his huge collection of artefacts which formed the nucleus of the initial collection of the British Museum. He also had a large estate in Chelsea which was subsequently developed in the 1770s as Hans Town, including Sloane Street, Hans Place, Cadogan Place and Sloane Square.   

Business in the 18th Century

London had handled 76% of English overseas trade in 1700, but by 1790 it was reduced to 63%. However, the pie was now significantly larger; London’s share in monetary terms, £10m in 1700, had grown to £23m in 1790. It had a monopoly of the East India trade and was conveniently positioned to re-export colonial goods to Europe. Merchants who dealt in overseas trade outnumbered all other professions among London’s wealthiest individuals.

Docks

Light and valuable cargoes, such as silk, offered greater profits but heavier, bulkier loads contributed more to the work of the river and port. As trade grew, the latter began to clog up the port, leading to delays as there were insufficient quays. There were therefore queues of vessels, waiting in the river. Lighters, flat-bottomed barges, could be used to transport goods between ships that were moored in the river and quays, or between quays and riverside factories. Of 3,500 barges and small craft in the 1790s, 1,700 were involved in the coal and timber trade. One estimate indicates that 25% of London’s workforce was involved in port or port-related activities.

The obvious requirement for more capacity in the port led to the building of docks. Early docks included: The West India Docks (1800-1802) on the Isle of Dogs – one for imports and one for exports initially, subsequently followed by a third; the London Docks in Wapping (1800-1805); and the East India Docks at Blackwall (1806). The East India Company and the West India Company also financed the privately built Commercial Road which linked docks with warehouses and sugar refineries in Whitechapel. Finally, the timber trade was accommodated in a sprawling system of docks on the south side of the Thames on the Rotherhithe bend, which generally went under the title of the Surrey Commercial Docks.

In addition, London managed to hold on to its position as the largest shipbuilder in England in the 18th century. In 1791-92, 116 ships were built, which represented 16% of English tonnage.

The Slave Trade

Slavery has always existed. The Romans had slaves, who were also ever-present in feudal England. Even today there are unfortunately some examples of slavery in Britain and elsewhere. However, it is the African slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries that is the most notorious, not least because of its sheer scale.

It had started slowly in England during the Elizabethan period when John Hawkins took a number of slaves to Haiti in 1562. The slave trade came to be driven by the demand for sugar, and later for cotton. It was triangular in nature: cheaply made goods were shipped to West Africa; slaves were transported from there to the Caribbean, and subsequently to the southern states of the USA; and cargoes of sugar, rum, cotton and tobacco were brought back to Britain.

London dominated the trade in the second half of the 17th century and in the early 18th century, the Royal Africa Company being the major player. In the period from 1660 to 1690, 15 mayors, 25 sheriffs and 38 aldermen were shareholders in this company. Bristol took over the leading role in the 1730s, but it was subsequently to be Liverpool which became the major player in the trade. However, the City was (and continued to be) the centre for financing slavery, insuring vessels and arranging cargoes for Africa.

Moves to abolish slavery started in Britain in 1783, resulting in the formation of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, William Wilberforce being its leading member. The Slavery Act of 1807 provided a first step, allowing existing slaves to be retained, but not sold. It was to be 1833 before slavery itself was thankfully abolished in British law. However, even this law still allowed existing slaves to be kept as “apprentices” for six years. After protests, these “apprenticeships” were abolished in 1838.

Industries

London hosted a number of major industries, including textiles and clothing, building, metalware and leather, but the bulk of the workforce were engaged in small crafts, which were often co-located in specific areas of London. For example, the silk industry was to be found in East London, notably Spitalfields; leather and furs in Southwark and Bermondsey; while hat-making was a south London speciality.

Watchmaking was to be found in Clerkenwell, St Luke and Shoreditch. The minute subdivision of work into 100+ specialised processes enabled them to become world leaders both in terms of output and quality. Clerkenwell also became a centre for jewellery, metal wares and precision instruments. Although places such as Birmingham and Sheffield could produce cheaper items such as gun components and knives, Clerkenwell excelled in the production of high-quality goods.

Furniture makers and coach builders were concentrated in an area around Covent Garden, Thomas Chippendale in St Martin’s Lane being the best-known name. However, the largest company was George Seddon and Son who had a two-acre site in Aldersgate Street, employing between 300 and 400 craftsmen and apprentices.

Retail Trade

The older western suburbs and the City formed the retailing centre. Shops were typically small with windows of bottled glass which obscured the view of the interior, making it necessary for people to venture into the interior to see what was on offer.

Londoners were conspicuous consumers, which naturally attracted businesses from other parts of the country. Josiah Wedgwood opened a showroom in Grosvenor Square in 1765, followed by another in Great Newport Street in Soho, while Samuel Oldknow, the Stockport cotton producer, produced whatever his London agent thought was in fashion and hence in demand.

Transport

The 18th century saw significant improvements in the areas of road and water transport.

Turnpikes

The poor state of roads in England in the 17th century, particularly the main roads out from London to other towns and cities, began to affect the transportation of goods in the country’s growing economy, not least because cargo-related traffic exacerbated the condition of those roads. This ultimately led to the creation of turnpikes, stretches of maintained road which you had to pay to use. The first turnpike was between Wadesmill and Stilton on the Great North Road in 1656.

Middlesex Turnpikes from turnpikes.org.uk

However, it was around the beginning of the 18th century before turnpikes really began to become established. The resultant road system was not centrally planned. It was based on local enterprise. Bodies of local trustees, regulated by Acts of Parliament, were given powers to levy tolls on users of a turnpike, a stretch of road which was usually 15 to 20 miles in length, the income being used to maintain and improve the road.  Although the original intention had been that these trusts would only be in existence for 21 years, in fact they remained responsible for the majority of England’s trunk roads right through to the 1870s. It was in 1888 that the newly formed County Councils were given responsibility for them.

Rivers and Canals

The growth of the economy also necessitated an economical and reliable way to transport goods in large quantities, leading to developments in water transport. From the beginning of the 18th century the pragmatic focus had been on making improvements to river navigability. The Thames underwent significant improvements in the 17th and 18th centuries, including the provision of many locks, west of London, while the River Lea saw improved navigability from the Thames up to Hertford.

By the start of the Industrial Revolution around 1760, such relatively modest river improvement projects had more or less been exhausted. This led to the more expensive construction of canals which were typically funded by joint-stock companies.  There were ultimately 4,000 miles of canal across the country, and the resultant network allowed access to London from many parts of the country, usually via the Thames, including:

  • the Oxford Canal (1770-1790) which ran from Bedworth (between Coventry and Nuneaton) and connected with the River Thames at Oxford
  • the Grand Junction Canal (1793-1805) which connected Brentford in West London to Braunston in Northamptonshire. It eventually became the Grand Union Canal which allowed Birmingham and London to be linked
  • the Kennet and Avon Canal section was 57 miles in length, joining the River Avon at Bath to the River Kennet at Newbury (1794-1810), providing a navigable route from London to the Bristol Channel.

Bridges

Fulham Bridge, a timber construction, was built in 1730. It was the first new bridge on the Lower Thames for hundreds of years, mainly because various vested interests had previously prevented them from being built. However, Fulham heralded a rash of bridge building over the following century, including: Westminster (1750), Blackfriars (1769), Battersea / Chelsea (1771-2), Kew (1758-9 in timber and 1782 in stone), Richmond (1777), Hampton Court (1753), Vauxhall (1816), Waterloo (1817) and Southwark (1819). Many were built by the use of private funding with tolls being charged to claw back the investment and pay for maintenance. Fulham Bridge itself was demolished in 1880 and replaced by Putney Bridge in 1886.

Finance

This period witnessed major advances in the world of finance, including the areas of banking, the stock market and insurance.

Banking

Goldsmiths, jewellers and scriveners had often acted as part-time bankers, helped by Elizabeth I’s abolition of the laws against usury in 1571.

The Bank of England was a joint-stock company, authorised by charter in 1694 to raise £1.2m for the Crown by public subscription, a target which was achieved in just 12 days. There were 1,268 initial subscribers, mostly merchants and financiers who lived in or near London. This was the start of the National Debt which grew to £785m by 1815, much of it held by the Bank of England, the East India Company and the South Sea Company.

The Bank of England moved into a building in Threadneedle Street in 1734. Note that the current building is a 20th century construction. It was primarily a bank of government and commerce. During the first century of its existence, it opened no branches in London or anywhere else. Its charter prevented the formation of any other joint-stock banks until 1826. However, partnership banks thrived, serving the commercial or west-end market. Thirty-one banks established a formal system for the daily clearing of cheques in the 1770s, and most of them opened accounts with the Bank of England which began to assume its role as the bankers’ bank.

The Industrial Revolution and increasing overseas trade saw the creation of merchant banks in the late 18th century, Rothschild and Baring being the most noteworthy in London.

The Early Stock Market

The Royal Exchange had been founded in 1571 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as the centre of commerce in the City of London. However, only a limited number of people were allowed access to the building, and much business was actually transacted in nearby coffee houses in Exchange Alley, notably Jonathan’s coffee house.

In 1773, the members at Jonathan’s moved to a building behind the Royal Exchange in Sweeting’s Alley which they decided to call the Stock Exchange. This was followed by a further move in 1801 when 550 dealers relocated to a private subscription club in Capel Street.

Insurance

Unsurprisingly, fire insurance became popular after the Great Fire. Two companies, the Sun Fire Office and Royal Exchange Assurance, came to dominate the market until they were joined by Phoenix Assurance in 1782. In lieu of any organised municipal fire service, these companies set up their own small outfits to fight fires in attempts to limit their liabilities, often employing watermen as part-time firemen.

Marine insurance was another major area of business, much of it being transacted in Edward Lloyd’s coffee house until 1769, hence, Lloyd’s of London. In 1771 the brokers and underwriters moved into the Royal Exchange where they remained until 1928, except for a short break.

Local Government

Outside the City of London, local government, such as it was, existed at parish level. These parish committees were known as vestries, as they met in the vestry of the church. They were originally informal and unregulated, the first signs of regulation coming when they were made responsible for roads in 1555 and for administering Poor Relief after the 1601 act.

They had greater control in the period from 1688 up to 1835. They were initially open, in the sense that all ratepayers could attend and participate, but they gradually moved to closed meetings, formally known as Select Vestries. There was no democratic control in these vestries, as members were not elected. They would typically be local “worthies” and businessmen.

Population growth led to some parishes being split. For example, Westminster gained six parishes: Covent Garden, Soho, St James’s, St. George’s Hanover Square, St. John’s and St George’s Bloomsbury. The Church Building Act of 1711 provided £350,000 to build churches in any new parishes. St Marylebone became a shining example of a well-run parish. Although all parish work had originally been voluntary, paid nightwatchmen and a paid vestry clerk gradually began to appear.

There was no coherent system of local government. Many Parliamentary acts were passed into law, but they reflected local initiatives rather than government policy, and almost inevitably they made metropolitan administration in the London area more complicated and fragmented. There were about 100 bodies of commissioners in London, mostly created after 1748, with the power to levy local rates to pay for a public service such as lighting, cleaning, draining, paving or watching the streets. Commissions could be made up of vestry members, or they might be separate statutory bodies, and their scope varied: Westminster Paving’s remit covered several parishes, while others, such as Lincoln’s Inn Fields, covered only a few streets.

Ever since the Middle Ages, City of London householders had been responsible for lighting, cleaning and repairing the street outside their properties. However, in the late 1600s there were moves by groups of householders to pay somebody to be responsible for these tasks, leading to an act of 1736 which allowed the City to raise a lighting rate. They followed this with a rate for paving in the 1750s. Westminster, which had been very substandard in comparison, particularly with respect to paving, improved dramatically when its Paving Commissioners raised a rate to cover paving, cleaning and lighting. Meanwhile, the other suburbs contained a mish-mash of approaches until the Metropolis Management Act of 1855 sanctioned the creation of a board of works to be responsible for London’s infrastructure.

Law and Order

Policing

Nightwatchmen, constables and justices of the peace formed the cornerstone of local law and order, while the Hue and Cry continued to provide occasional aid from bystanders until the various related statutes were repealed in 1827.

Originally, householders would take turns to fulfil the role of constable or nightwatchman. Gradually, some individuals started to pay others to do their turn until the 18th century when salaried staff began to appear.

In this somewhat makeshift system, thief-takers were often employed by victims to find and apprehend the culprit. Rewards which might be offered by the government or by individuals, often via newspapers, could make it a lucrative job. They would develop a knowledge of the criminal underworld to aid their investigations, and they could also act as negotiators between the victim and thief.

A system of rotation houses was set up in the 1730s, whereby there was always a magistrate who could be contacted. One of these houses was set up in Bow Street by Sir Thomas De Veil in 1739, and taken over by Henry and John Fielding in 1748 after his death. Henry Fielding is probably better known as a novelist and author of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. They initially hired thief-takers on a retainer, sending them out when a crime was reported. They were the first Bow Street Runners. The Fielding brothers were also responsible for: the deployment of part-time horse and foot patrols as a crime prevention measure; and for the collection and dissemination of information on crimes and criminals, with Bow Street becoming the centre of a criminal information network.

The Middlesex Justices Act of 1792 set up seven police offices in the metropolis, each with three magistrates and six constables. In 1800, concern over thefts at the docks led to the founding of the Thames Police Office in Wapping, which was eventually staffed with three stipendiary magistrates and one hundred constables to police the dockside parishes and the river.

Radicals and Public Order

Londoners were generally perceived as being anti-government, with an increasing number of radicals in their midst. John Wilkes was a radical journalist and politician who was jailed for writing an article which criticised George III. His supporters, demonstrating against his imprisonment, were fired on by government soldiers in 1768, killing six or seven of them in an incident known as the St. George’s Fields Massacre. This made use of the 1715 Riot Act when a crowd of twelve or more could be ordered to disperse, the phrase “reading the riot act” eventually passing into common usage to indicate a stern reprimand.  

The Gordon Riots of 1780 started out as an orderly protest (anti-Catholic sentiment) against the Papists Act of 1778 which aimed at reducing the official discrimination against British Catholics. Lord George Gordon, head of the Protestant Association, objected to this Act. Unfortunately, his protest got out of hand and degenerated into violence which lasted for seven days with places such as Newgate Prison and the Bank of England being attacked. Magistrates had been too afraid to implement the Riot Act, and the government eventually sent in armed troops. Between 300 and 700 people were killed during the course of the riots.

The British establishment became concerned that the French Revolution of 1789 would similarly inspire radicals in Britain. Thomas Paine, an English-born American political activist, was arguably public enemy number one. He had written The Rights of Man, in part a defence of the French Revolution, having previously helped American patriots in their war of independence against Britain when he authored Common Sense. This fear of revolution was to remain in the air until the middle of the 19th century.

Health

Population Levels

Population growth stagnated between 1670 and 1740 due to factors such as late marriage, low birth-rate and higher death rates, particularly among infants. In the 1730s there was an infant mortality rate of 40 per 100 among children under the age of two.

Higher death rates have often been blamed on the gin craze which ran from 1720 to 1751. Gin was cheaper than beer or French brandy which had both seen heavy increases in duty. It is claimed that in the East End and in Southwark there was a gin shop for every eight houses. The Sale of Spirits Act of 1751, coupled with a campaign to encourage people to drink less gin, which included Hogarth’s Gin Lane print, saw national consumption reduce from eight million gallons per year to two million. Typhus and Tuberculosis were other significant killers in the 18th century.

Incoming migrants helped to offset any decline in population. They tended to be young, looking for apprenticeships or casual labour, and included: Huguenots, Protestants driven out of France by Louis XIV, who settled in Spitalfields; the Irish who were to be found in St. Giles-in-the-Fields; and Jews from eastern Europe in Whitechapel. A significant number of single women also came to the capital from other parts of the country, often looking for jobs as domestic servants.

The period from 1760 to 1815 saw strong population growth: the figure of 740,000 in 1760 increased to 1.1 million in 1801, the year of the first reliable census, and 1.4 million in 1815. 54% of the population were women in 1801. This period saw younger marriages, higher fertility rates and lower infant mortality rates. The figures for the death rates among children in the 1840s were three times less than they had been in the 1730s, aided by a successful campaign to encourage breastfeeding. Health was generally improved by better hygiene and street cleaning, along with the arrival of the smallpox inoculation.

The late 18th century saw greater regional migration, particularly from the Home Counties, while the black population was estimated to be between five and ten thousand and the Jewish population around 15 thousand.

Medical Training

Medical training consisted of a seven-year apprenticeship to an apothecary or a surgeon. The trainee then presented himself to the Surgeon Company or Apothecary Society for examination. If he passed then he received a diploma and could practise. If he failed then he could still go out into the provinces and practise without a diploma.

Dispensaries

There is some debate on the precise scope of the services that were offered by dispensaries in the 17th and and 18 centuries. In general, they provided outpatient medical treatment and advice to the poor. Importantly, the service was provided free of charge. Initial attempts at setting up dispensaries were short-lived. In 1687, the College of Physicians agreed to give free medical advice to the Sick Poor in the City and within a seven-mile radius. However, no definite times or places were given and there was no mention of medication.

Dr Samuel Garth lobbied for a dispensary, and one was opened in the College building in Warwick Lane in 1697, followed by branches in St. Martin’s Lane and St. Peter’s Alley, Cornhill. However, there were opposing factions within the College and they had all been closed down by 1725.

In 1769 Dr Armstrong opened a dispensary for sick children in Red Lion Square, moving to Soho Square in 1772. It was a charity but supporters dwindled, and once again there were detractors, resulting in its closure in 1781.

The General Dispensary in Aldersgate St. in 1770 was the first well-staffed, well-run dispensary. Others followed, including: the Westminster General Dispensary which opened in Soho in 1774; the London Dispensary in Artillery Street in 1777; the Surrey Dispensary in Union Street, Southwark in the same year; and the Metropolitan Dispensary in Fore Street, Cripplegate in 1779. By 1802, 50,000 patients a year were being seen across an area of fifty square miles around the City.

Hospitals

New hospitals in the 18th century were typically founded by philanthropists, often via bequests in their wills. They were called Voluntary Hospitals and included: Westminster (1720), Guy’s (1727), the London Hospital in Moorfields (1740) and the Middlesex (1754).

Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital (1739) cared for abandoned infants, witnessing the start of attempts to support single mothers rather than to prosecute them for infanticide or to shame them.

Maternity hospitals, called lying-in hospitals, also began to appear around the middle of the 18th century, although they were often limited to married women. They included: the British Lying-in in Long Acre (1749); the City of London Lying-in in Aldersgate Street (1750); and the General Lying-in on Westminster Bridge Road (1767).

The Arts in the 18th century

Artists

European artists, notably Canaletto, were drawn to London along with British artists such as Allan Ramsay from Edinburgh. They, and home-grown artists such as Joshua Reynolds and George Stubbs, were all attracted by royal and aristocratic patrons.

William Hogarth’s approach was different. He hit on the idea of producing prints of lively London scenes, which became popular among the middle-classes, depicting the moral and physical chaos of London with works such as A Harlot’s Progress and A Rake’s Progress.

Writers

Aristocratic and courtly patronage of writers was generally on the wane, although Pope, Swift, Johnson and Goldsmith were among those who still managed to enjoy it to some degree, while London theatres helped to provide playwrights such as Dryden, Fielding and Sheridan with a living.

The rapid rise of publishing in the form of books, newspapers and periodicals produced opportunities for professional writers. Daniel Defoe was arguably the most successful, writing for all forms including novels such as Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.

Meanwhile, Alexander Pope hit on the very lucrative idea of putting the names of those individuals who made advance payments for his translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in the finished book.

However, many writers were “forced” into journalism to make ends meet, including Doctor Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith. Johnson’s quote “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money” is perhaps apposite.

The Appearance of National Institutions

At a national level, the British Museum was established in 1753 by Royal Assent, initially to house the collections of Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish physician and naturalist, along with the Cotton, Harley and Royal libraries.

Several attempts had been made at setting up academies to teach art, including Hogarth’s establishment in St Martin’s Lane which lasted for 30 years. Eventually, there was a clamour to establish a national academy, and in 1768 George III granted a charter to the Royal Academy of Arts. It initially had rooms in Somerset House, and then in the National Gallery, which was established in 1824, before settling into its current home in Burlington House in 1868.

Publishing

Newspapers and Periodicals

The government had been very wary about newspapers, and censorship was the order of the day for much of the 17th century, latterly through the Licensing Act of 1662. In fact, the most often mentioned publication, the London Gazette, was the official record of the Crown. The Act lapsed in the 1690s, which had the effect of encouraging new publications. However, it was a precarious existence, and many struggled to survive, in part due to the various taxes, stamp duty and paper duty among others, that were imposed by the government, quite probably with the aim of limiting criticism of it by the media.

Early survivors included The Daily Courant (1702) which was London’s first daily newspaper and The Public Advertiser (around the 1740s).

Of current titles, The Times appeared in 1785 while The Observer became the first Sunday newspaper in 1791. Another Sunday paper of the period was Bell’s Weekly Messenger (1796), which was reprinted on Monday for national distribution. Newspapers also appeared in the provinces, although the printing was often done in London.

A significant number of periodicals also appeared in the 18th century, including: The Spectator (1711), The Gentlemen’s Magazine (1731) and Lloyd’s List (1734).

Circulating Libraries

In the 1660s, the bookseller Francis Kirkman had advertised that he rented books, but it was to be the 1700s before circulating libraries, as they became known, proved to be popular. It is estimated that there were 1,000 in England by the end of the century, the largest being William Lane’s Minerva Press Circulating Library in Leadenhall Street which boasted 20,000 titles in its catalogue.

It is estimated that in 1740 approximately 40% of printed books were held by circulating libraries. It is therefore not surprising to know that some libraries went into the publishing business, and that some publishers went into the library business.

Meeting Places

Coffee Houses

Coffee houses were very popular in the 18th century with around 550 of them in London by 1740. They served tea, hot chocolate and light meals, as well as coffee. Importantly, they became places where people with similar interests could meet, talk and do business. Examples included: financial people in the area around the Royal Exchange; a scientific club which ultimately became the Royal Society; the Kit-Kat club for Whigs with political and literary interests; and the Scriblerus Club which was an informal association of authors which included Pope and Swift.

Gentlemen’s Clubs

Private clubs where men (and only men) from the upper classes could socialise began to appear in the 18th century. They typically contained a dining room, bar, billiards room and various parlours. One of the main attractions was arguably the opportunity to gamble, which was illegal outside members-only establishments.

The early clubs were to be found in the area of St. James, and they were definitely aimed at the aristocracy. They included: White’s (1697), Boodle’s (1762), the Jockey Club (1750) and Brook’s (1764).

Towards the end of the century, gentlemen’s clubs began to grow in popularity, rivalling coffee houses as a place for the upper classes to meet.

Inns, Taverns and Alehouses

There was an overlap between them in terms of the services that they offered. Inns were at the top of the tree. There were around 200 in the 1730s, some of them, the Talbot on Borough High Street for example, acting as transport centres in the days before the railway. They offered board and lodging for the well-off, warehousing and marketing facilities for merchants, along with stabling and repairs for stagecoaches and wagons.

An estimated 500 taverns in the 1730s offered many of the social functions that could be found at inns. They included private rooms where friends, business acquaintances and clubs could meet. Doctor Johnson and his friend James Boswell met and dined at the Mitre Tavern (subsequently called the Lyre) in Fleet Street, a popular area for taverns.

At the bottom of the tree were alehouses, possibly 6,000 of them in the 1730s. They varied, just as pubs do today. At the top end were well-run places that offered cheap food, while at the bottom end were rough establishments that attracted criminal elements.

Leisure

Theatre

Only two companies were licensed to perform serious drama (called the Patent Theatre companies). They were the Duke’s Men and the King’s Men. The main venues for their performances were the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane (founded 1663), Theatre Royal Haymarket (1720) and the Royal Opera House (1732).

Venues outside the West End could host music, comedy, circus et cetera, known collectively as popular culture. Sadler’s Wells (1683) was one such venue, followed by other purpose-built buildings in Shoreditch and Whitechapel. In addition, theatre booths were to be found in short summer fairs, including: May Fair near Piccadilly; Southwark Fair; and Bartholomew Fair in Smithfield.

Royal Parks and Common Land

The Royal Parks were enclosed hunting areas. Much of the land had originally been owned by the Church: Hyde Park by Westminster Abbey; and Regent’s Park by Barking Abbey. Henry VIII had acquired significant areas of Church land both before and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, while the royal connections with Richmond Park go back to Edward I in the late 13th century, when it was known as the Manor of Sheen.

During the 17th century, various monarchs made improvements, converting them into parkland, and they gradually opened them up, albeit they were mainly limited to gentlefolk. It was to be the 19th century before they became generally open to ordinary members of the public.

Common land in England had historically been an area where individuals had traditional rights to graze livestock, collect wood and dig turves for fuel. There were over one hundred of them in Greater London. They were also gradually converted into parkland. Hampstead Heath had originally been owned by Westminster Abbey. Clapham Common was slowly converted during the 18th century when cricket was played there and a number of residential properties were built around its periphery.

Pleasure Gardens

The growth of the middle-class and rising incomes encouraged the advent of paid-for entertainments in the form of pleasure gardens. Vauxhall Gardens in Lambeth (1729) and Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea (1742) were the premier venues, offering music, dancing, eating and drinking, regular firework displays, operas, masquerades and illuminations.

Smaller pleasure gardens were to be found at Sadler’s Wells, Marylebone and Hampstead.

Sport

We have hinted at the appetite of the upper classes for gambling, and sport provided an ideal opportunity for them to indulge this passion during the course of the 18th century. While ordinary folk might partake in sporting activities, it was the exploits of the nobility which tended to be covered in the newspapers. Let us take a look at cricket and athletics.

Cricket

Keen members of the nobility and gentry would employ good players with the primary intention of incorporating them into their teams. Matches between such teams involved a wager. It is important to note that we are talking about professional sport here. The concept of amateurism was to be a Victorian invention, as we shall see later.

White Conduit House

These “important games”, as the press called them, were typically played at Lamb’s Conduit Field in the days before Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital was built, and subsequently at the Artillery Field in Finsbury, before moving in 1782 to White Conduit Fields in Islington.

During its short existence, members of the White Conduit Club included the 9th Earl of Winchilsea, the 4th Duke of Richmond and the 3rd Duke of Dorset. Winchilsea led a team which played gentlemen from Kent in 1785 for the eye-watering sum of 1,000 guineas (worth circa. 150,000 guineas in 2018).

However, the members became unhappy that the ground was an open area where members of the public, often the rowdier sort, could stand, watch and voice their opinions. Thomas Lord, a professional bowler at the club, saw a business opportunity. Winchilsea and Richmond asked him to find a new ground, offering him a guarantee against any losses he may suffer in the venture. So, Lord took a lease from the Portman Estate on some land at Dorset Fields, where Dorset Square is now situated. It was named Lord’s cricket ground and, since it was in Marylebone, the White Conduit Club members who relocated there decided to call themselves the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). The current ground in St. John’s Wood is actually the third playing area that Lord’s has occupied.

Athletics

Another common wager among the upper classes might be a foot race between my footman and your footman. The poor state of roads and tracks at the time necessitated a servant who walked / jogged alongside your carriage to ensure that there were no stones or tree roots which might impede the coach. He would also run ahead to prepare for the arrival at your destination. Such footmen would obviously have to be physically fit to perform their duties.

Nobles and gentry will bet on anything!

These competitions between footmen were arguably the precursors to pedestrianism, that is professional race walking and running. As well as races, wagers were placed on individual feats, such as distances covered within a prescribed period of time. One of the most celebrated feats was achieved by Robert Barclay Allardice of Ury (known as Captain Barclay) who won 1,000 guineas for walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours in 1809.

Other Sports

Prize-fighting was illegal, but it was popular on account of the gambling opportunities that it provided to the nobility and gentry.

Continuing with the gambling theme, bull-baiting and cock-fighting continued until they were banned in 1835, which is not to say that they then disappeared.

Watermen, those individuals who provided a river taxi service, competed against each other for prize money in rowing races, Doggett’s Coat and Badge from London Bridge to Chelsea which was first run in 1715 being the oldest surviving example.

1815-1914

By 1815, London had become the largest city in the world, with a population of just over 1 million, and one of the most economically successful.

The next century, up to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, saw the fastest industrial and economic advances in British history, coupled with rapid population growth.

Although London could not be said to have been a core contributor to the first Industrial Revolution, which ran from (say) 1760 to 1840, it certainly benefited from it. Some of the factors in its favour were: its large, and ever expanding, population which produced a huge local market; a comprehensive range of finishing trades; the busiest port in Britain with relatively good transport links to other parts of England and to Europe; a world-leading financial system; and of course, the simple fact that it was the capital city.

People

Population Growth

The graph below illustrates the significant growth in London’s population, particularly in the second half of the 19th century. In 1801 it had been approximately one tenth of the total population of England and Wales, but by 1901 it was closer to one fifth. The geographic area occupied by Greater London also grew: in the 1720s it had covered a distance of four miles from east to west; by 1901 it was eighteen miles.

London’s Population (Demographia.com)

Migrants made up 38% of the population in 1851 and 34% in 1891, roughly threequarters of whom came from other parts of mainland Britain. They were generally welcomed by employers who tended to think that Londoners were bolshie. The remainder was dominated by the Irish, particularly around the middle of the 19th century due to the effects of the potato famine, and the Jews from Eastern Europe who began to arrive in large numbers towards the end of the century. There were 109,000 Irish people in London in 1851 and 140,000 Jews in 1905.

Hostility towards foreigners was invariably aimed at the largest camp: so, the Irish around the mid-century and the Jews at the turn of the century. As an example, one of the groundless rumours was that Jack the Ripper was Jewish. The Aliens Act of 1905 was intended to reduce the number of immigrants, which it did: 12,000 Jews arrived in 1906 but only 4,000 in 1910.

General Health

General health improved significantly over this period. Mortality rates per 1,000 head of population were 50 in 1770, 32 in the 1820s, and down to 17 in 1901. However, infant mortality remained an issue right up to the end of the 19th century, more so in poorer districts: 1 in 5 died before their first birthday in Limehouse, Shoreditch and Southwark, compared to 1 in 10 in Hampstead. The situation eventually improved from the early twentieth century due to the growth of health visiting, the creation of mothercraft centres and day nurseries, along with higher standards that were imposed on milk suppliers.

Disease

There was a decline in various infectious diseases such as whooping cough and scarlet fever, tuberculosis, typhoid and smallpox. Typhus thrived in slums such as St. Giles and Whitechapel, and the demolition of such places to facilitate railway and road-building may have helped to reduce outbreaks of it,  and indeed of other diseases.

Asiatic Cholera, caused by bacteria in faeces which had found its way into the water supply, arrived from India in the early 19th century, killing around 5,000 Londoners during the first outbreak in 1831-1832.

Water Supply and Sanitation

Water Supply

London’s piped water supply was generally dirty, with six out of eight water companies extracting water from the Thames where 140 sewers were emptying their waste in 1828. The Chelsea Waterworks Company was the first to employ a sand filter to clean water in 1829. The River Lea was no better than the Thames, carrying large quantities of industrial and household waste.

The situation was not helped by an intermittent supply, none on Sundays, that led to people storing water, which was only likely to exacerbate the problem.

John Snow, a physician, established a link between cholera and a contaminated water supply when he discovered that 500 people who died from cholera in Soho in 1854 drew water that had become infected from a pump in Broad Street, while users of other local wells were not affected.

Sanitation

The Government’s response to cholera, which included flushing sewers, emptying cesspools and cleansing slaughterhouses, only made matters worse, as it all ultimately went into the Thames.

In 1844-45, there were eight Commissions of Sewers which each acted individually, and hence incoherently. Matters were not helped by the fact that they did not consider that improving the situation was part of their remit. They were abolished in 1847 (except for the City) and replaced by a single Crown-appointed Metropolitan Commission.

The Public Health Act of 1848 gave a General Board of Health limited powers with respect to sanitation. Cities such as Liverpool began to use these powers, which included the ability to appoint a Medical Officer of Health. However, London was somewhat bizarrely excluded from this Act. The Metropolitan Commission was immediately faced with another cholera outbreak which killed 14,000, and it put pressure on the vestries to make improvements, but to no effect.

A proposal to centralise the water supply (from Farnham) was defeated by vestry interests, although the Metropolitan Water Act of 1852 did produce a compromise solution. It dictated that: water had to be extracted from the Thames upstream from Teddington Lock where the river was non-tidal; and that the water must be filtered. The supply continued to be intermittent until the water companies were taken under public control in 1902 when the newly formed Metropolitan Water Board bought them out for £40m.

Meanwhile, the City began to show the way, implementing various improvements between 1851 and 1855 which had been recommended by Sir John Simon, its Medical Officer of Health: the City was adequately drained; cesspools became a rarity; every house had a water supply, albeit an intermittent one; half of the slaughterhouses were closed; a good scavenging and rubbish removal system was implemented;  and foul and overflowing graveyards were solved by the opening of the Corporation of London Cemetery in Manor Park. Smithfield slaughterhouse was closed in 1855 when it relocated to Islington, later re-opening as a meat market in 1868. In 1855, in recognition of his work, Simon was made Chief Medical Officer of the Government, a post equivalent to the Chief Medical Officer of Health today.

The building of new sewers was dogged by fruitless argument until the Great Stink of 1858, which affected work in Parliament, and forced the hands of politicians who gave the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) powers to raise £3m and spend it how they saw fit. Joseph Bazalgette’s new sewer system was completed by 1868. It included six main interceptor sewers,  one of which ran under the new Thames Embankment. These sewers took the effluent eastwards to Beckton, north of the Thames, and to Crossness, south of the river. The last major outbreak of cholera occurred in 1866 when 4,000 died in East London.

Baths and Wash-houses

In Liverpool, Kitty Wilkinson had been encouraging women to use hot water when washing clothes, as boiling killed the cholera bacteria. This led to the opening of the first combined public baths and wash-house in that city in 1842. London followed when its first, albeit small, public baths and wash-house appeared at Glasshouse Yard, near the entrance to the London Docks in 1844, along with a similar establishment in George Street, Euston Square in 1846.

Meanwhile, the Committee for Promoting the Establishment of Baths and Wash-Houses for the Labouring Classes had been formed in 1844, lobbying for regulation in this area. Subsequently, the Public Baths and Wash-houses Act of 1846 was passed into law, allowing local authorities to fund these buildings. The first public baths and wash-house to open after it had been enacted was in Goulston Square, Whitechapel in 1847.

Changes in Local Government

The. Metropolis had come to be administered by 300 discrete bodies, 10,000 commissioners and 250 Acts of Parliament. The Strand provided a classic example of how silly things could get; it was in the hands of nine different paving boards. Individuals who saw the need for a single body to control London were ranged against those who sought to keep local control and to minimise the spending of ratepayers’ money.

The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), which was formed in 1855, was a compromise. It became responsible for infrastructure in Inner London. Activities included sewage, as we have just seen, streets and bridges, parks and open spaces and the fire brigade, all of which we will cover later.

Although the MBW was a logical step forward, basic infighting between spenders and savers continued. MBW was itself replaced in 1889 by London County Council (LCC) which was created as a result of the nationwide County Council Act (1888). The Housing of the Working-Class Act of 1890 allowed LCC to compulsorily purchase slum land and build new properties on the site. Its remit also included: all publicly-funded education after the London School Board (LSB) was abolished; and responsibility for the tram system.

A further change occurred when the London Government Act of 1899 created 28 boroughs in a system that was to remain unchanged for 65 years.

Industry

Manufacturing

London’s manufacturing strength lay in the finishing trades, in high-value goods. It naturally benefited from a huge local market, excellent national and international transport links and having the busiest port in Britain.

Around the middle of the 19th century, it could be said that London had no staple industry, although clothing came closest, employing 28,000 men and 84,000 women. In addition, there were 38,000 working in shoemaking and 17,000 in textiles, principally silk. Work was mainly carried out in the home or in the workshop. There were only 12 factories with 300+ employees.

Industries which relied on raw materials that needed to be transported by water were more likely to be found at a location on or close to the river. In the Inner London area, a diverse range of industries could be found from Battersea to Bermondsey, including pottery, glass, soap, candles and leather (the latter notably in Bermondsey). Breweries such as Young’s (Wandsworth), Courage (Bermondsey) and Anchor (Southwark) were widespread, while food processors included Cross and Blackwell in Southwark and Peek Frean (the biscuits and jam people) in Bermondsey.

Outside central London, a range of industries were similarly to be found, including: engineering, along with lead and oil mills in Hammersmith; soap works, a saw mill and a brewery in Brentford; and paper mills and calico printing in Wandsworth.

River Lea

The river Lea saw a period of rapid industrial growth, particularly in the second half of the 19th century. Stratford and West Ham already had a range of factories, but between the 1850s and the 1880s the marshy pastures between the Lea and Barking Creek, known as the Plaistow and East Ham Levels, were transformed into the industrial districts of Canning Town, Silvertown and Beckton. Local populations grew correspondingly: West Ham’s was 267,000 in 1901, fourteen times greater than it had been in 1851; and East Ham’s was 96,000, having only been just over 4,000 as recently as 1871.

The Port

Imports rose twenty-fold and exports thirty-fold during this period. Specialist wharves began to appear from London Bridge to Plumstead; 166 in 1860 growing to 320 in 1900. This early example of the use of just in time techniques (JIT) helped to reduce the need for warehouses to store goods for long periods, an unfortunate change for the dock companies who had come to rely on them for much of their income.

New docks were required to handle the larger vessels that were now appearing, resulting in the 100-acre Royal Victoria Dock estate, built in the 1850s eight miles downstream from London Bridge, which was handling 40%+ of trade on the north side of the Thames by 1860. The area was extended eastwards when the London and St. Katherine Dock Company developed the Royal Albert Dock in 1880. To compete with this new dock, the East and West India Company built its own deep-water facility at Tilbury in 1886, some 25 miles downstream from London Bridge.

With the need to build their own docks, companies struggled to compete against each other, and they were forced to accept that it was sensible to create a port authority to be responsible for the overall infrastructure, as other towns and cities had already done. The Port of London Authority was formed in 1909, whose remit covered the river from Teddington Lock to the Thames Estuary.

Shipbuilding

Until the 1860s, London, with shipyards in Blackwall, Poplar, Woolwich and Deptford, had been the leading shipbuilder in the country with its captive audience of overseas merchants, shipowners, the East India Company and the Admiralty.

It built some of the first iron ships, including Brunel’s First Great Eastern and the Royal Navy’s The Warrior. However, financial crashes in the 1860s, notably that of the discounting house, Overend and Gurney, saw the whole shipbuilding business collapse.

When it recovered in the 1870s, it was the Clyde, Tyne, Wear and Tees which came to dominate the business, with London losing out because it was expensive and could not command cheap coal or iron plate. 27,000 lost their jobs along with a further 3,000 in the Admiralty dockyards.

Labour

The availability of work could be precarious, and the conditions under which people had to labour were often tough. Sweated labour and casual labour provide two significant examples.

Sweated Labour

Sweated labour was about dividing processes into smaller tasks which could be learnt by semi-skilled people, often women and children, who either worked at home or under supervision in a cellar or garret.

Sweated tailors typically worked 80 hours per week, paying back much of their wages in return for bread, butter, weak tea and the right to sleep two or three to a bed in the workroom. It is claimed that a high proportion of female sweated workers were forced to supplement their earnings by begging, prostitution and frequent use of the pawnshop.

There was a-huge demand for cheap clothes, and in the late 19th century Jews from Eastern Europe moved into this sweated trade in East London. By 1901, 35% of them were working in clothing and 10% in footwear.

Cabinet-making was another trade that made use of sweated labour.

Casual Labour

Dockers were casual labourers, attending the call stand twice per day to hopefully get work for a half-day. Some historians make out that the strongest were more likely to be successful. In truth, who you knew was arguably a more useful asset.

Work was partly seasonal, although the arrival of steamships in the 1870s reduced seasonal variations.  In 1891-1892, Booth estimated that workforce requirements on the London Docks varied between 21,000 and 10,000 over the course of a year, although there were many more dockers who sought this work.

Finance in the 19th Century

City Banks

London became the world’s largest money market due to its ability to draw private wealth into the banking system. Until the 1870s, the Bank of England (BoE) was alone across the world in being on the gold standard, except for the period between 1797 and 1815 during the Napoleonic Wars.

By 1832, there were 60 private banks, each owned by a maximum of six partners. About half were general clearing banks, including Barclays and Glyns, while others were merchant banks which offered short-term finance, and handled overseas investments and government loans.

BoE had been the only joint-stock bank that was allowed in London, a situation which eventually changed in 1833, but only on condition that the new banks gave up issuing their own notes. They included London and Westminster and National Provincial. These banks were allowed into the existing clearing system in 1854, and they overtook private banks in wealth and importance in the 1850s and 1860s. Well-known names from Europe and the USA now began to appear, including Hambros, Kleinwort and Morgan Grenfell.

The London Stock Exchange

The Stock Exchange opened a foreign-securities dealing room in 1823 to cope with an explosion of interest in overseas loans. In 1840, securities of the nominal value of £1.3bn were known to the Stock Exchange, 40% of which were foreign securities and 50% government securities.

Railways needed huge investments, and they were making up 32% of stock market securities in 1875, rising to almost 50% by 1893. Meanwhile, foreign securities which had been worth £101m in 1851 grew to £5bn by 1913, almost half the entire world’s overseas investments.

The invention of the electric telegraph was a boon to trading, allowing deals to be done in minutes, rather than in days or weeks. London became connected to Paris (1851), New York (1866) and Melbourne (1872).

Openness and a lack of regulation meant that 1/3rd of all securities worldwide were quoted on the London Stock Exchange. Deposits in 1873 provide some indication of the relative size of various markets: London £120m, New York £40m and Paris £13m (although in fairness to Paris, its business had been badly affected by the Prussian siege of 1870-71).

It was not all plain-sailing. There were crises in 1825 and 1837, while the major discounting house, Overend and Gurney, who acted as a money-lender specialising in short-term loans, went out of business in the 1860s.

London Metal Exchange

The origins of the market for metals dates back to 1571. Similar to other financial instruments, trading was in part carried out in the Royal Exchange, and in part in neighbouring coffee houses.

The London Metal Market and Exchange Company was founded in 1877. Copper was traded initially, quickly followed by lead and zinc.

Growth of the Insurance Market

London retained the lion’s share of the UK insurance market until the 1860s when Liverpool and Manchester began to gain a foothold, eventually laying claim to around 40% of the overall business.

Fire insurance continued to grow despite (or because of) two major incidents. The 1834 fire at the Houses of Parliament occurred while they were burning cart-loads of redundant Exchequer tally sticks in the House of Lords. It spread to the Commons, and firemen were ultimately only able to save Westminster Hall. The second major fire occurred in 1861, when five wharves and twelve riverside warehouses were destroyed along Tooley Street.

Life insurance became a major business area, growing from £11m in 1800 to £290m by 1870, while accident and other forms of insurance also started to come on stream.

The Prudential extended the insurance habit to the working class, offering low-value burial policies for premiums of 2d per week, which were paid on the doorstep to “the Man from the Pru”.

The Poor

In his study which was carried out in the early 1890s, Charles Booth, a social reformer, classified 3.4% of Londoners as very poor and 22.4% as poor. East London has had the reputation of being the poorest part of the capital, possibly due to declines in silk-weaving and shipbuilding, along with the growth in the use of sweated and casual labour. In fact, poverty was to be found in all parts of London, with Booth considering that Bermondsey and Southwark were the poorest areas at that time.

Workhouses and Poor Law Unions

While various Acts of Parliament relating to aid for the poor go back to medieval and early Tudor times, it was the Poor Law Relief Act of 1601 that consolidated previous measures and made it compulsory for individual parishes to levy a poor rate to provide financial support for those individuals in the parish who were unable to work.

This Act led to some of the earliest workhouses in England. However, it was the Workhouse Test Act of 1723 that signalled the start of their wider existence. The heavy cost of maintaining a workhouse in each parish eventually led to the idea of consolidation by having a smaller number of larger workhouses. This resulted in the Poor Law Union Act of 1834, where each union was to be run by a board of governors.

Thirteen unions were created in London, sitting alongside thirteen parishes which were large enough to qualify as unions in their own right, plus a further eleven parishes that claimed exemption, based on existing local acts.

Pauper schools became part of their remit. Norwood had 1,000 pupils who lived and worked there until a cholera outbreak in 1849 closed it down. By the late 1880s, there were an estimated 11,000 children in pauper schools, but by the 1890s, overcrowding, cruelty and disease were some of the factors that led a number of unions to move children into cottage homes and ordinary local schools.

Workhouse infirmaries

Facilities in the workhouse for looking after the old and the sick were totally inadequate, even to the extent of patients sharing beds. This led to a separation of workhouse and infirmary from around 1867, requiring unions to locate their hospital facilities in separate buildings. This resulted in a network of hospitals for “fevers” and insanity, while for other diseases unions were grouped into asylum districts which allowed hospitals to be situated away from the main workhouse. The earliest infirmaries built as separate buildings from their workhouses were at St. Pancras, St. George-in-the-East and Wandsworth. Workhouse infirmaries treated all the Sick Poor, not just those who resided in the workhouse.

The Metropolitan Poor Act of 1867 sought to make improvements by creating the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB) which had overall responsibility for all the Poor law Unions and parishes in London.

Despite these changes, infirmaries remained overcrowded and understaffed. At Bethnal Green in the 1890s, one nurse was said to be looking after 335 patients. When the Local Government Act of 1929 abolished Poor Law Unions, transferring their powers to local authorities, London County Council took over a network which comprised 74 hospitals with 41,000 beds and 20,000 staff. By this time, workhouse infirmaries had become known as municipal hospitals.

Developments in Nursing

This is arguably a suitable point to bring up this subject, not least because by the end of the century there were a large number of paid nurses in workhouses.

It is considered that the modern medical profession began in the 1850s. The first objective of the Medical Act of 1858 was to create a register of qualified practitioners, thereby abolishing “quackery”. The Act brought into existence the General Council of Medical Education and Registration of the United Kingdom, nowadays known as the General Medical Council, which was also responsible for setting the standards for medical schools.

This event triggered moves to seek similar improvements in the field of nursing, and Florence Nightingale was responsible for setting up the first training school for nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1860. By the 1880s it was also accepted that there should be a register of nurses, just as there was a register of practitioners, and in 1887 a group led by Ethel Gordon Fenwick formed the British Nurses Association, an organisation that was eventually superseded by the Royal College of Nursing in 1916.

Another objective of nursing was to treat the Sick Poor in their own homes, what we would know now as district nursing. In Liverpool, William Rathbone, who had employed a private nurse to care for his dyiing wife, subsequently came up with the idea of providing similar nursing car for those who could not afford it. After consulting Florence Nightingale on the subject, their lobbying led to the creation of the Liverpool Training School and Home for Nurses in 1862, from which the system of district nursing subsequently evolved. 

In the capital, the East London Nursing Society was formed in 1868 with the aim of having a trained nurse in each parish, starting life with private nurses in Bromley, Poplar and St. Philips, Stepney Way. It was followed by the Metropolitan and National Nursing Association in 1874, also known as Bloomsbury Nurses. The general principle was adopted that these nurses should live together in homes under trained district superintendents, and by 1887 there were 9 such homes in London. It was in this same year that the Queen’s Institute for Nursing was set up as a charity to co-ordinate district nursing across the country.

Outdoor Relief

There had been an ongoing debate as to whether the poor should be granted relief or forced into the workhouse. The poor usually did all they could to keep out of them. However, the workhouse population continued to rise: 10 per thousand head of population in 1875, 14 in the 1890s and 17 in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I.

In the 1860s, £7m was raised in charitable donations, which was approximately three times the Poor Law budget. However, the Charity Organisation Society (COS) was strongly against hand-outs to the poor. In February 1886, after a rally in Trafalgar Square, 20,000 unemployed builders and dockers poured into Mayfair and St. James, robbing, terrorising and looting. The subsequent panic led to £78,000 being donated to the Lord Mayor’s relief fund by the end of the month. COS protests against relief payments were unsurprisingly brushed aside.

New ideas gradually began to emerge, especially with regard to the elderly, including: easier conditions in the workhouse; sleeping in separate rooms; a tendency to give outdoor relief to “the respectable poor” – which became an order in 1900; and the payment of Old Age Pensions which arrived in 1908. Also, there were attempts to aid the temporarily unemployed, urging non-punitive work to be found if possible.

Meanwhile, the question of what to do with the urban residuum – that class of society that was unemployed and without privileges or opportunities – was being discussed. This was the perceived hopeless, the very poor who corrupted others. One Idea circulated about removing them from London entirely. It may possibly have become government policy, but World War I intervened.

Rookeries

Rookery is a colloquial English term for a city slum that was occupied by the poor, often including criminals and prostitutes. Charles Dickens was given a guided tour of St. Giles and several other dangerous rookeries by the police, providing him with material for his writing. Oliver Twist features the rookery at Jacob’s Island in Bermondsey.

Food and Clothing of the Poor

Their diet was arguably reasonable, but quantities of food tended to be insufficient and the quality poor. Working people usually wore second-hand clothes and shoes, either passed down from an older sibling or bought in one of London’s many clothes markets; Petticoat Lane became the centre of that trade.

Slum Clearances

Proposals for new roads placed as much value on improvements to health and morals as on the need for transport. The building of the railway system involved the demolition of 800 acres of slums in central London, typically concentrated in the working-class districts of Somers Town, Agar Town, Bermondsey, Lambeth, Shoreditch, Westminster and the City.

Kellett estimated that 120,000 people lost their homes between 1840 and 1900. By 1856, most of the older Inner London rookeries had been demolished.

The City was transformed, notably in the second half of the 19th century, from a densely populated district into a world of banks, insurance offices and warehouses, with its population of 129,000 in 1801 falling to less than 20,000 by 1911. It is estimated that 80% of the buildings were demolished and rebuilt between 1855 and 1905, while twenty-three churches disappeared.

Finsbury, Holborn, Westminster and St. Marylebone experienced losses between 1861 and 1911, amounting to approximately 1/3rd of their populations, while six thousand people were evicted to make way for the new Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. Evicted people did not go very far, leading to overcrowding in neighbouring districts. For example, an extreme one possibly, 463 people were found living in 12 houses in Church Lane, St. Giles.

Social Housing

Housing societies began to appear from around the middle of the 19th century. They provided housing for the deserving poor, obtaining funds for this purpose by offering a five percent return on investments in their schemes. The Guinness Trust (1889) was one notable organisation, as was the Peabody Trust (1862) although in the latter case the funds came from George Peabody, an American financier and philanthropist. Housing was usually in the form of tenements, and around 189,000 people were living in philanthropic housing blocks by 1891.

The Housing of Working Classes Act of 1890 enabled LCC to purchase and demolish insanitary housing, and build new properties on the site. Between 1890 and 1914, LCC completed six schemes which it had inherited from MBW. It also began its own programme, demolishing 58 acres of slums in central London, and building over 12,000 mostly two and three-bedroom flats. In addition, it purchased land, and by 1914 had built large estates in Tooting, Hammersmith, Croydon and Tottenham, along with smaller ones in Brixton, Islington and Deptford.

In the 1900s, some of the new more radical boroughs also became house-builders, viz. Bermondsey, St. Pancras, Shoreditch, Stepney and the City, who were soon followed by Chelsea, Camberwell, Westminster and Battersea. By 1914 there were also new local council cottage estates such as Totterdown Fields in Tooting and Norbury.

Cheap train fares allowed members of the working class to live further away from their places of work. For example, a 2d return into central London could be purchased from places such as Clapham Junction, Herne Hill, South Bermondsey and Surrey Docks.

Transport in the 19th Century

Bridges in Central London

Vauxhall, Waterloo and Southwark bridges were built between 1809 and 1819 with private funding, tolls being levied to recoup the costs and pay for maintenance. However, only Vauxhall was to prove a commercially sound venture. Vauxhall and Waterloo bridges were subsequently sold to MBW in 1878/79, and Southwark to the City Corporation in 1864, all becoming toll-free in the process.

Meanwhile, the buildings on London Bridge had been removed between 1757 and 1762, and the bridge itself was demolished and replaced in 1832.

The requirement to handle traffic congestion downstream from London Bridge, led to the building of Tower Bridge, now one of London’s iconic landmarks. Wrangling over the design started in 1877, and it was to be 1894 before the bridge was opened, the eventual design being part drawbridge (between the towers) and part suspension bridge (outside the towers). Finally, Westminster (1862) and Blackfriars (1869) were other bridges in central London that were rebuilt.

Roads

In the first part of the 19th century, a number of new main roads were constructed, heading north from New Road (today’s Inner London Ring Road). They included: New North Road (1812); Archway Road (1815), Caledonian Road (1826) and Finchley Road (1826-35). South of the Thames, Waterloo Bridge Road and Southwark Bridge Road were built around the same period.

After 1826, turnpike trusts on the northern side of the Thames were united into a single Metropolitan Turnpike Commission, most of whose roads were cambered, drained and surfaced using the principles which had been developed by John McAdam, the celebrated Scottish civil engineer who is regarded as the father of road-building. Note – the term “tarmacadam” refers to the subsequent addition of tar to a “macadamised” road surface. Tolls and toll-gates were removed from many of their roads in 1864.

The second half of the 19th century saw a further series of works to build new roads or to widen existing carriageways, including: Southwark Street (1864) along with the widening of Tooley Street and Jamaica Road; Shaftesbury Avenue (1886); Clerkenwell Road (1878) and the widening of Theobald’s Road; the construction of the Holborn Viaduct (1865-1869); improvement to Park Lane (1871); the creation of Charing Cross Road (1887); and the clearance of 25 acres of slums to make way for Aldwych around the turn of the century..

Coaches and Horse-drawn Omnibuses

In 1825, approximately 600 short-stage coaches were making 1,800 journeys a day into central London, sharing the roads with 1,200+ hackney coaches, and from 1829 with omnibuses.

The omnibus had first appeared in Paris in 1828, arriving in London the following year. The original design carried 20 people on a single deck, pulled by three horses. It became very popular, and indeed profitable, for the rest of the century.

Steamboats

Steamboats came into general use in the early 19th century, with the first transatlantic voyage by an iron-hulled steamship taking place in 1822.

Between 1830 and 1860, many paddle-wheeled steamers were operating on the Thames, going from pier to pier on either side of the river, carrying commuters and pleasure-seekers. It was estimated that there were two hundred vessels in 1844.

The Railway

The first line to operate was between Deptford and London Bridge in 1836. Each railway line needed its own Act of Parliament to allow compulsory land purchase, et cetera. Many proposals failed due to NIMBYism (Not in My Backyard). Parishes such as Westminster and Kensington were particularly averse to them. Nevertheless, a rash of developments resulted in the following mainline stations over the next five years: Euston (1837) for traffic to North West England with the first stop at Harrow; Paddington (1838) for trains to South Wales and the West Country with the first stop at Ealing; and Fenchurch Street (1841).

Commuter lines also began to appear, including: Twickenham to Waterloo (1848) and the North London Line which was built between 1850 and 1853.

Further mainline stations followed: Kings Cross (1852), Victoria (1860), Charing Cross (1864), Cannon Street (1866) where the Hanseatic League’s Steelyard once stood, St. Pancras (1868), Liverpool Street (1874) and Marylebone (1899).

The railways exacerbated congestion on London’s roads due to the fact that goods arriving by train had to be transported onwards by road.

The Early Underground System

The Metropolitan Railway, the first-ever underground system, opened in 1863 with a line which connected Paddington and the City, running via Euston and Kings Cross mainline railway stations. It was a sub-surface line, principally constructed using the “cut and cover” method. The carriages, wooden and gas-lit, were hauled by steam locomotives.

It was an instant success, resulting in a clamour for further lines, with a particular call for an inner circle. The District Railway was formed, and it began by building a line from Mansion House to West Brompton which opened in 1871. The idea was mooted that it would work with the Metropolitan to produce the desired inner circle (the Circle Line); in essence, the Metropolitan contributing the northern side and the District the southern side. Unfortunately, conflicts between the two companies delayed the completion of the Inner Circle until 1884.

It is appropriate to mention the construction of the Victoria Embankment at this point. It was built between 1864 and 1870 on reclaimed land to provide a road that would relieve traffic on the Strand / Fleet Street. The development also included provision for a new main sewer and a track for the District line. The Albert and Chelsea embankments, further upstream, were also completed around the same time.

Meanwhile, both companies had been extending their own lines: The Metropolitan heading north from Baker Street, reaching as far as Harrow by 1880; while the District went westwards to Richmond and Ealing, and eastwards to Whitechapel (1884), and ultimately to Upminster by 1902.

Initial Attempts at Linking up the Transport Network

Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith were linked to the Metropolitan Line in 1864, and in the following year the North London Line was extended to Broad Street on the edge of the City.

However, passengers had difficulty getting across London. Traversing between north and south was possible via the junctions at Willesden and Clapham. However, only the London, Chatham and Dover company managed to get through Blackfriars and Ludgate Hill to the Metropolitan Line at Farringdon Street.

Horse-drawn Trams

Three experimental lines were introduced in 1869, two in South London and one along the Mile End Road. Two horses could pull 50 passengers. The trams proved popular, prompting further lines to be built, although in 1872 Parliament agreed to exclude them from central London.

Lines went out to Highgate, Wood Green, Ponders End, Leytonstone, Woolwich, Plumstead, Wandsworth, Brixton, Tulse Hill and Peckham. However, there were gaps. Only one southern line was allowed to cross the Thames (to Victoria), while Westminster and Kensington blocked routes from Richmond and Acton.

In the 1890s, LCC bought 100 miles of existing track, which constituted the majority of the London system.

Electric Underground Railways

The first underground electric railway was City and South London’s three mile track from King William Street, via Elephant and Castle, to Stockwell which opened in 1890. This was followed by the Waterloo and City, popularly known as the Drain, which was built between 1894 and 1898.

The Central Line was opened in 1900, and by the following year it was carrying 40 million passengers. In 1905, electric power replaced steam over the entire District and Metropolitan network, including the Inner Circle.

By 1906-7, further lines had begun to emerge: the Bakerloo; the Northern between Charing Cross and Hampstead and Golders Green with a fork to Highgate; and the Piccadilly from Hammersmith to Finsbury Park.

Electric Trams

The electric tram had begun to appear in some English cities during the 1890s. In London, 1901 saw the introduction of 69-seater vehicles between the outer western suburbs and Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush, along with smaller systems in East Ham and Croydon.

The LCC’s system began in South London in 1903, and spread north of the Thames in 1906/7. It managed to persuade Parliament to allow trams to run on Westminster Bridge, along Victoria Embankment (1906), and subsequently on Blackfriars Bridge (1909). However, the boroughs of Westminster and Kensington still resisted the tram.

The electric tram allowed workmen to commute. The LCC’s first cottage estate, Totterdown Fields in Tooting, owed much of its success to the fact that it was possible to get into central London in 45 minutes on an electric tram for 2d return.

Motor Buses

An initial service ran from Kennington to Victoria from October 1899 to December 1900, although the first profitable operation was from Peckham to Oxford Circus in 1904. Rapid expansion followed with over 1,200 buses in operation by 1907, leading to an inevitable decline in horse-drawn omnibuses. There were only 376 horse buses left by 1912, as opposed to 3,000 motor buses, and the last horse bus ran from Peckham to Honor Oak in 1914.

Passengers

In 1854, 10,000 commuters were travelling by train, 15,000 by steamboat and 20,000 by omnibus, while 200,000 walked.

London’s roads became extremely congested. One solution was to encourage people to move out into the suburbs. However, affordable travel was a prerequisite, more especially for the ordinary working man. The Government initially agreed to waive passenger duty on third-class travel by train, and eventually on stopping commuter trains.

However, it was the Cheap Trains Act of 1883, subsequently extended to trams and buses, that proved to be a game-changer. It provided for cheap travel on early journeys, at a time of day when ordinary working men needed them. Parliament was able to force companies to run cheap and early services, as a condition for obtaining planning permission.  

By 1896 there were 300 million omnibus journeys per year, 280 million by tram and 400 million by underground and surface train.

Building Developments

The Plans of the Prince Regent

The Prince Regent, later George IV, sought to beautify the capital, and the architect John Nash was to be his agent.

When the lease of Marylebone Park reverted to the Crown in 1811, Nash proposed a grand development that would attract nobles and gentry. The completed project, although it failed to fulfil the original ideas, did include Park Crescent and Regent’s Park (1825).

Further south, Regent Street, named after the Prince, was laid out by 1825. However, the layout of the street that we are familiar with was the result of redevelopment between 1895 and 1927.

The core of today’s Buckingham Palace, originally built as a townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, had become somewhat dilapidated, and was converted into a palace, although it was not ready for occupation until 1837 when Queen Victoria’s moved in after her accession to the throne.

Finally, Nash landscaped St. James’ Park, widening the canal into an ornamental lake, while Pall Mall was extended down to Charing Cross, where Trafalgar Square was created.

Housing Developments

Transport improvements led to a significant move out to the suburbs in the second half of the 19th century. The Ordinance Survey of 1901-3 shows a built-up area all the way from Acton and Brentford in the west, to East Ham and Barking Creek in the east; and from Tottenham and Wood Green in the north to Penge, Streatham and Croydon in the south.

The New West End

St. John’s Wood (1820s) and Paddington (1830s) became popular places for the well-to-do to live. In addition, the infrastructure for Pimlico, the former Neat Gardens, was being put into place by raising the soil level and building the sewers. When the housing market improved in the 1840s, a network of streets was built, taking London to the borders of Chelsea.

South Kensington was established in the early 1850s as a residential area for the affluent, followed by Notting Hill for the middle-class in the 1870s, by which time developments were also snaking out to Fulham, Putney, Hammersmith and Chiswick.

The New Suburbs

The area between Regent’s Park and Hampstead started to grow from the 1840s and 1850s, with: Eton College’s Chalcots Estate to the north of Primrose Hill; Belsize Park in the 1860s/70s; and South Hampstead in the 1870s/80s. In 1889, MBW purchased Parliament Hill and the eastern side of the heath to preserve them as green spaces. Heading further north, Finchley grew from 1867 when the railway arrived, and Golders Green from 1907 when the Tube arrived.

In North London, Somers Town and Agar Town met Camden Town in the 1830s/40s, while Islington’s population rose from 10,000 to 37,000 between 1801 and 1831. The North London railway line encouraged further growth from the middle of the 19th century, including Hackney, whose population doubled between 1841 and 1861, and doubled yet again by 1881 when it stood at 163,000.

South of the Thames, the industrial belt grew inexorably, putting pressure on riverside villages, with Battersea’s population providing a stark example: 3,000 in 1801, 6,600 in 1841, 20,000 in 1861 and 107,000 by 1881. Clapham, with its Common, became a pleasant and popular place to live with a population of 30,000 in 1850s. Further south, Norwood had a population of 19,000 in 1881 and Croydon 134,000 in 1901.

Advances in Technology

Town Gas

It had been established during the 17th and 18th centuries that heating coal strongly in the absence of air gave off a gas which burned with a bright light. William Murdoch, a Scottish engineer, put it to practical use when he lit his house with it in 1792.

The period from 1806 to 1814 saw the building of small gas works to light individual factories, and this was followed by the appearance of public gas works in many towns and cities to provide street lighting by 1830. Gas works were to be found in Vauxhall, Bankside and Rotherhithe, their main customers being commercial and municipal until the 1890s when pre-paid meters appeared.

Small gas holders, aka gasometers, which were used to store the gas, were first developed in the early 1800s. A working example of the telescopic gas holder, with which we are probably familiar, was built in Leeds in the 1820s. However, the most celebrated versions are arguably the gas holders next to the Oval Cricket Ground which were constructed in 1853 (and are now Grade II listed).

Electricity

The groundwork for establishing the ability to harness electric power had been laid by Michael Faraday. However, it was the invention of the incandescent light bulb in the late 1870s by Joseph Swan in the UK and Thomas Edison in the USA that was one of the primary drivers behind the push to implement electric power.

The first large-scale central distribution plant was opened in Holborn Viaduct in 1882. Electric trams and the Underground Railway were projects which further encouraged the construction of large power stations.

The ballroom was the first part of the building at Buckingham Palace to have electricity installed in 1883.

First Tentative Steps in Computing

Charles Babbage, a Londoner, is sometimes referred to as the father of computing. He had invented the Difference Engine in 1825, which would automate the process of producing tables which would help with navigational calculations. Unfortunately, it was ultimately considered too expensive to manufacture. A version can be seen in the Science Museum.

He followed this up with the design of a more general-purpose machine which he christened the Analytical Engine. This comprised a number of basic concepts which are used in modern computers. It included the use of punched cards to enter the program and data, punched cards having been recently used to program Jacquard’s mechanical loom which had been invented in 1804. Ada Lovelace produced notes on the projected use of the Analytical Engine, which are commonly referred to as the first description of computer programming. Her name was given to the Ada programming language which was developed in the 1970s. Once again, the precision engineering that was required to develop the machine meant that Babbage was unable to see a completed build of his design.

In the second half of the 19th century, analogue computers began to appear to solve specific problems by using continually changing input values to arrive at a solution. For example, the first mechanical machine which made tidal predictions was conceived by Sir William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, in 1872.

Telecommunications

The first commercial telegraph system dates back to 1837, running the relatively short distance from Euston Station to Camden Town. The first underwater cable was laid between France and England by the Brett brothers in 1850, and the first transatlantic cable followed in 1866.

The telephone was patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, initially being used in business. And finally, Marconi began work towards the end of the century on radio transmission. He is seen as the father of radio technology.

The Motor Car

Karl Benz, the German inventor, patented the first automobile in 1886. It had a four stroke engine and evaporative cooling rather than a radiator.

The private car first appeared on the streets of London in the 1890s, and worries about reckless driving soon followed. The “motor car” is first mentioned in the Old Bailey’s Court Proceedings of 1899, and the first case of manslaughter, caused by driving, was tried there in 1906.

Justice and Fire

The Metropolitan Police

The idea of a full-time professional police force had been discussed and rejected by five different Parliamentary Select Committees between 1812 and 1827. The main objections tended to centre around fears of tyranny (Big Brother) with the wholesale use of government spies.  Instead, modest increases were allowed to the Bow Street horse and foot patrols. Apart from these patrols, there were approximately four thousand parish constables / nightwatchmen of variable quality, although some parishes, such as Fulham and Kensington, had no night watch at all.

Apart from crime, there were instances of radical disorder in the early 19th century, starting with the riots against the Corn Laws in 1815, and notable for the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820 which intended to murder Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, and all his cabinet ministers.

Sir Robert Peel skilfully ensured that the 1828 Select Committee concentrated solely on crime figures and on the effectiveness of the Bow Street patrols and parish constables. Having found corruption in the Bow Street and City systems, the committee proposed that an entirely new force be created.

The Metropolitan Police Bill of 1829 went through Parliament quite easily, and Peel appointed two commissioners and a barrister to establish the new force with its headquarters in Great Scotland Yard. By 1830, they had recruited three thousand men, arranged in 17 divisions, spread over an area of 100 square miles, which excluded the City. The constables wore top hats and blue swallow-tail coats, and were armed only with a truncheon, although a cutlass was occasionally allowed in perceived instances of danger. The emphasis was on open policing rather than detecting.

The Horse Patrol and the Thames Police were absorbed into the force in 1836 and 1839 respectively, while a small detective unit was reluctantly set up in 1842. Outer parish forces were also absorbed by 1839, and the Met now covered an area of 700 square miles, roughly within a 14-mile radius from Charing Cross.  

The Treasury’s decision to fund only 25% of the costs led to low wages and a high turnover of staff. Within the first two years, two thousand men had been dismissed for drunkenness, and a further one thousand resigned. Ordinary constables did not command much respect among the general population in the early decades, as demonstrated by the figures of two to three thousand individuals who were arrested each year in the 1840s for assaulting a police officer.

Meanwhile, the City of London had managed to avoid being included in the Metropolitan force. Historically, it had a Day Force and a Night Watch which had been the joint responsibility of the two sheriffs. In 1832, using the Met as a model, the London City Force was formed, becoming the City of London Police with the Act of that name in 1839.

In an attempt to “live and let live”, the police established minimum standards of public order and decency in order not to provoke social conflict by strictly adhering to the letter of the law, even when pressed to do so by members of the local clergy.

Finally, a quick look at some of the crime statistics from this period: in the 1830s and 1840s there were typically 10 murders and 130 offences of burglary / robbery (and the like) each year; while in 1899 there were 21 murders. The most notorious crimes concerned the six impoverished street prostitutes who were murdered within 500 yards of Whitechapel High Street between August and November 1888, known as the Jack the Ripper murders. Accusations of lawlessness were inevitably hyped up by the newspapers. However, it is interesting to note that the arrest rate in the 1880s was only about 25% of what it had been in early 1850s.

Changes in the Prison System

Population growth, along with the move towards a more urban society, inevitably resulted in increases in the crime rate. Nationwide figures showed 5,000 offences in 1800, growing to 20,000 by 1840. Prisons were generally small, and were not meant to cater for long-term incarceration.

One method of dealing with criminals was to transport them to other lands, initially to America before it became independent, and subsequently to Australia. Prison hulks, old ships moored in places such as the Thames, off Woolwich, were another option. However, they were frequently unhealthy places – taking water from the Thames was only likely to (and did) result in disease, including cholera outbreaks, and many deaths.

As Australia became loath to take England’s criminals, further solutions became necessary. A National Penitentiary had been built at Millbank in Westminster which could house 850+ prisoners. It began to take prisoners in 1816, and was offered as an alternative to transportation for those criminals serving sentences of between five and ten years who were thought likely to reform.

This was only a partial solution to the problem, and by the 1840s a project was in place to build the necessary number of large prisons across the country. In London, Pentonville was completed in 1842, Wandsworth in 1851 and Wormwood Scrubs in 1891.

Fire Brigade

Organised firefighting was arguably attributable in the 18th century to those companies who provided fire insurance, in natural attempts to limit their liabilities. Their ten brigades were combined into a single London Fire Engine Establishment in 1833, consisting of 19 fire stations and 80 men, although it relied on help from various other organisations, such as the police and volunteers.

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act of 1865 transferred responsibility for all insurance, parish and voluntary brigades to MBW. It consisted of 55 stations and 674 men, growing to 57 stations and 800 men by the time that LCC took over from MBW in 1889.

Education for All

Education, which had been available to very few individuals, and had been extremely limited in its syllabus, made significant strides forward in the late 18th century and right through the 19th century.

Elementary Education

Sunday School was an early attempt to educate working-class children. It is estimated that around 250,000 children across the country were attending them in the 1780s.  Another system, Ragged Schools, provided free education to impoverished children, often in makeshift locations such as lofts, stables and under railway arches. Thomas Cranfield established such a school near London Bridge in 1798. It is estimated that 300,000 children went through these schools in the period between 1844 and 1881.  

They were followed by two approaches which come under the general title of monitorial systems. Joseph Lancaster’s free school in Borough Road, Southwark was established in 1798. His system was based on making up for a shortage of teachers by using older children to act as helpers to teach the younger ones to read and write. The Society for Promoting the Lancasterian System for the Education of the Poor was formed in 1808 to continue Lancaster’s work, being renamed the British and Foreign School Society for the Education of the Labouring and Manufacturing Classes of Society of Every Religious Persuasion. It established schools in all parts of the country and abroad.

Around the same time, Doctor Andrew Bell developed a similar system, called the Madras system, which was used in National Schools that began to appear from 1811. In this case, education was delivered in accordance with the teachings of the Church of England. The two systems were rivals, the National Schools being much the larger of the two. The Government began to award grants to both organisations, starting in 1833.

The 1870 Education Act witnessed the first active involvement of the State in education. It allowed the two voluntary-aided systems to continue, but it introduced a system of boards to build and manage schools where they were needed. An elementary education, based on the National Schools model, was provided for children of 5-12 years of age for 2d-3d per week, with free schooling being introduced in the later 1891 Education Act. The London School Board, administered by MBW, covered an area of 117 square miles. As usual, these boards contained: individuals who put performance before economy; and individuals who fought extravagance and sought to protect the ratepayer. Churchmen and Tories were usually to be found in the latter camp.

Ragged Schools continued after 1870, with Dr Thomas Barnado’s school in Tower Hamlets being opened in 1877. However, they gradually went into decline, and were formally abolished in 1902.

The 1902 Education Act moved the responsibility for education from School Boards to local authorities, paid for by putting 2 pence on the rates. In 1904, after LCC had taken over from the London School Board, there were 550,000 board school places, while a further 217,000 pupils were in the voluntary-aided schools. LSB had 469 schools by this time, and attendance on an average day in 1900 was around 80%.

Secondary Education

Grammar schools had historically limited their syllabus to the classics and religion. However, the Grammar School Act of 1840 allowed other subjects to be taught, although any changes required the consent of the schoolmaster. This led to an increase in the number of grammar schools, with girls’ colleges such as the North London Collegiate School appearing from the 1850s, along with schools of other faiths, notably Roman Catholic.

From the 1870s, improvements were being made to secondary schools (there were 100+ in London), resulting in efficient schools for children of the middle-classes who could afford £8 per annum, as opposed to the £25-£30 per annum required in grander public schools such as St. Paul’s and Westminster.

The University of London

What was to become known as University College was established on Gower Street in 1826 by groups of what might be called non-establishment figures. Oxford and Cambridge had only accepted members of the Church of England, whereas this college was secular. It was unable to award degrees, and was somewhat predictably derided in the Tory / Anglican press, who called it the “Cockney College”. However, it did have the effect of encouraging Tories and the Church of England to found their own institution, King’s College (1829), which was sited next to Somerset House on the Strand.

In 1836, the Government chartered an examining body, the University of London, with the power to award degrees to candidates from both colleges or other affiliated institutions. The Senate, consisting of 38 distinguished men, was appointed to conduct examinations and determine the syllabus. By the 1850s, it was conducting examinations for 100 schools and colleges all over Britain.

Other colleges gradually became part of the University of London, including: Bedford College (1849), the first all-women’s college; the London School of Economics which was founded in 1895 and joined the University in 1900; the Goldsmiths company which founded a college at New Cross, primarily for teacher training, became part of the University in 1904; and Imperial College (1907) which concentrated on the sciences.

Technical Education

Mechanics’ Institutes began to appear around Britain in the 1820s, providing a means of educating adult members of the working-class, principally in technical subjects. The London Mechanics Institute was formed in 1823, accepting its first female students in 1830. It gradually morphed into an organisation which provided part-time education, covering a wide range of subjects. It was renamed Birkbeck College in 1903 and became part of the University of London in 1920.

The Working Men’s College was established in 1854 by a group of Christian socialists to provide a liberal education for artisans. Initially housed in Red Lion Square, it moved to Great Ormond Street in 1857.

In 1880, Quentin Hogg, a philanthropic sugar merchant, took over a failed institute in Regent Street, called “the Polytechnic”, and re-opened it for evening study. It had 7,000 students in its first year, a figure which had doubled by the end of the century.

In the early 1880s, the City of London Guilds were persuaded to spend some of their wealth on technical training, founding the City and Guilds Institute of London and Finsbury Technical College. And in 1888, the Drapers’ company took over the funding and control of the People’s Palace, turning it into the East London Technical College on the Mile End Road.

Despite the arrival of these various colleges, it was becoming apparent during the second Industrial Revolution, also called the Technology Revolution, which started around 1870, that Britain was lagging behind in the field of technical education. This led to legislation in 1889 and 1891 which allowed income from a penny on the rates, and from spirit duties, to be used to fund further technical colleges.

In 1891, LCC and the City Corporation agreed to use their joint resources to support 8 polytechnics. By 1906, the LCC and the City were jointly funding 11 polytechnics / similar institutes with 40,000 students. The LCC also controlled and maintained seventeen technical institutes and schools of art, plus 10 teacher-training colleges

Culture in the 19th Century

The Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was principally organised by Prince Albert, Henry Cole and the Royal Society of the Arts. Fourteen thousand exhibitors and a hundred thousand exhibits were housed within 19 acres of glass and iron for an event which attracted six million visitors, and made a profit of £186,000.

Museums

Some of the profit from the Great Exhibition was used to acquire an 87-acre estate in South Kensington, London’s future Museum Quarter. The initial multi-purpose building was the South Kensington Museum (1862). Eventually, other buildings appeared: the Natural History Museum (1881) and the Science Museum (known informally as such from 1885, but formally by that name from 1909), while the South Kensington Museum was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1899.

Meanwhile, across town in Bloomsbury, the British Museum, which had been residing in Montagu House, moved to a new building which gradually took shape from the 1820s. Although it was partially available to selected visitors, it did not officially open until 1857.

Art Galleries

In 1824, Parliament agreed to purchase the paintings in the collection of John Julius Angerstein, a banker, which would then form the basis for a national collection. They were initially sited in a relatively small building in Pall Mall, that was derided by the Press on the grounds that it did not compare with the Louvre in Paris.

It was agreed in 1831 that a more appropriate building would be constructed in Trafalgar Square, where the National Gallery was eventually opened in 1838.

Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate, funded the building of the National Gallery of British Art which was founded in 1897. It was built on the site of the Millbank prison which had been closed in 1890. The gallery is now known as Tate Britain.

Greater Range of Libraries

The British Museum, which came to house one of the largest and most important library collections, constructed a new reading room between 1854 and 1857, although access was quite strictly limited to modest numbers of registered researchers.

Several gentlemen’s clubs housed well-stocked libraries, as did many scholarly and professional associations such as the Inns of Court, the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society.

For individuals who were not members of these clubs or societies, subscription libraries became popular in the 19th century. The London Library, with several thousand members, had 167,000 books by 1893, paid for by subscription fees of £2 per annum. Circulating libraries were also still in existence, notably Mudie’s which had approaching one million volumes by the end of the century.

Around the middle of the 19th century, various groups, including the Free Library Movement, were working for the improvement of the general public through education. This led to the Public Libraries Act of 1850 which allowed boroughs with a population of at least 10,000 to open libraries under the following conditions: a local referendum should indicate that at least two thirds of the ratepayers were in favour; no more than a halfpenny could be added to the rates to pay for the service, and this money could not be used to purchase books.

The lack of appetite among ratepayers for free libraries was apparent in London where only one parish, St. Margaret and St John’s in Westminster, had a public library in the 1850s. Several more did appear in the 1880s, but it was the new London boroughs, formed in 1899 and relieved of the need to consult ratepayers on the subject, that began to open them. By 1910, only Marylebone and Bethnal Green had no free public library.

Newspapers in the 19th Century

The tax on newspapers was increased to 3d in 1802, and then to 4d in 1815, which naturally had a dampening effect on sales and on growth in the industry. The proprietor of The Times paid £68,000 in taxes in 1828.

The situation led to the appearance of many newspapers and periodicals in the early 1830s that simply refused to pay the tax, despite prosecutions. Effective lobbying led to the tax being reduced to 1d in 1836, after which newspaper sales tripled.

The tax was removed in 1855, and along with the introduction of the printing press and a cheap postal system, it helped the industry to grow. New publications included the Daily Telegraph (1855) and the Daily Mail (1896), while the Illustrated London News became the world’s first weekly illustrated weekly newspaper in 1842.

Retail Stores

Shops tended to be small before the 19th century. The first changes saw the introduction of: bazaars in places such as Soho Square (1816-1880s) and the Pantheon (1834), the site of the Marks & Spencer’s store today on Oxford Street, east of Oxford Circus; and arcades such as Burlington (1819) and Royal Opera (1821).

Eventually, larger department stores began to appear, including: Harrods in Knightsbridge (1853); along with Dickens and Jones, Harvey Nichol’s and Liberty’s, all in the 1880s. Furniture outlets also emerged: John Maple and Co. on Tottenham Court Road (1889) and Waring and Gillow on Oxford Street (1901-6).

Finally, Harry Gordon Selfridge opened his store on Oxford Street in 1909, bringing new American methods of marketing to London. His primary aim was to make shopping a leisure activity rather than a chore.

Leisure in the 19th Century

The London Season

The London Season, principally for members of the upper classes, was well established in the Victorian calendar. It ran roughly from the end of the fox-hunting season in early April through to July. Sporting events included: horse racing at Epsom for the meeting when the Derby and The Oaks were run in early June, and also at Ascot later in the month for the Royal meeting; the Eton versus Harrow cricket match at Lord’s; and the Henley Rowing Regatta.

The Golden Age of Gentlemen’s Clubs

The 19th century proved to be the golden age of the Gentlemen’s Club. Tax cuts on coffee in the 1820s / 30s had helped to make the drink appealing to the middle and lower classes. The appearance of these individuals in coffee houses led to gentlemen, who had used them as meeting places, to vacate them, providing opportunities to found more gentlemen’s clubs. As the name implies, women were still not allowed in these establishments.

Around one hundred clubs had been formed by the end of the century. They included: The Athenaeum (1824) for artists, writers, scientists and ecclesiastics; the United Services Club (1816-17) for Army and Navy officers (1816-17); the Reform Club (1838) for Liberals and Parliamentary reformers; the  Carlton Club (1832) for Tories (1832); and the Garrick Club (1831).

Theatre after the Duopoly

The Theatre Act of 1843 ended the duopoly where only two companies had been allowed to put on serious drama. One of them, Covent Garden, became an opera house in 1847. Perversely, despite this freeing up of the marketplace, serious drama promptly went out of fashion until the 1880s when the works of Oscar Wilde and Henrik Ibsen arrived, followed by JM Barrie, George Bernard Shaw and other playrights from the 1890s onwards.

The 1870s saw the start of the expansion of the West End theatre district in London, including the Vaudeville (1870), the Criterion (1874), the Savoy (1881) and the Comedy Theatre (1881). 

Music Halls

Popular entertainment, which had previously been found in outdoor venues such as Vauxhall Gardens, began to appear in a modest number of indoor establishments, becoming much more commonplace from the 1830s, particularly in larger taverns.

Purpose-built music halls began to appear in the 1850s, starting with the Canterbury in Lambeth in 1852, followed by Evan’s in Covent Garden (1855), Weston’s in Holborn (1857), and Wilton’s in Stepney (1858). Meanwhile, the Alhambra in Leicester Square (on the site of the current Odeon cinema), which had briefly been a circus, was converted into a music hall in the 1860s. Out in the suburbs, the Hackney Empire (1901) became a celebrated music hall.

Public Parks and Open Spaces

Victorian towns and cities were dirty, unhealthy places with few green spaces, although London did have its royal parks. This resulted in a general nationwide clamour for publicly-funded parks, leading to the opening of Victoria Park in the East End (1845) and Battersea Park (1858).

In addition, various areas of common land were converted into parkland. Between 1866 and 1868, the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) gained control of Blackheath, Hackney Downs, Tooting Bec Common, Clapham Common and Hampstead Heath, while the 1871 Wandsworth Common Act secured its future as a green space.

Victorian Sport

It is reasonable to say that elite sport in the 18th century had been dominated by gambling, notably among the nobility and gentry. Their use of paid athletes was the norm in efforts to win those bets. However, the 19th century saw something of a sea-change when the concepts of amateurism and Muscular Christianity were promoted, largely in public schools.

The limited ability to travel meant that sports had tended to have local rules, making it difficult to play against another individual or team who hailed from other parts of the land, as he (or they) invariably used different rules. Cricket was one exception. However, the arrival of the railway helped to hasten the creation of governing bodies for individual sports whose first task was to agree on a common set of rules. These organisations invariably started life in London.

Amateurism

The word “amateur” appeared in the late 18th century. It has French and Italian origins, meaning “lover of”. The amateur ethos in sport arose in public schools, and subsequently spread to universities and beyond. Games were to be played purely for the love of it, and “fair play” was expected from participants who should not get over-excited in victory or downhearted in defeat. In addition, these amateurs tended to frown on training, and even on watching games (when you should be playing).

Rowing, athletics and football (both rugby and association) were to become bastions of the amateur ethos in the second half of the 19th century, while cricket was something of a hybrid, with teams consisting of both gentlemen amateurs and lowly professionals.

Corinthians (pictured below) was a football club for gentlemen amateurs which was formed in 1882, with the original intention of producing a team that could defeat the all-conquering Scots of the period. It immediately came to represent the epitome of amateurism. Indeed, within a year or two, the phrase “Corinthian Spirit” had come into regular use in the English language. It was a special club which played on Wednesdays, allowing individuals to turn out for their own clubs on Saturdays. It can be considered to be similar in basic concept to the Barbarians side in Rugby Union.

Corinthian FC (1896-97)

Muscular Christianity

Tied in with amateurism was the idea of Muscular Christianity, which is described in Wikipedia as “a philosophical movement that originated in England in the mid-19th century, characterized by a belief in patriotic duty, discipline, self-sacrifice, manliness, and the moral and physical beauty of athleticism”. It was adopted in public schools to encourage character-building.

The Emergence of Organised Sports

Many university graduates and ex-public school students, having gravitated to London, invariably wanted to continue to play their respective sports. They got together to form governing bodies and to agree on a common of set of rules which would allow them to do so. Notable examples were: The Football Association (1863), the Rugby Football Union (1871), the Metropolitan Rowing Association (1879) and the Amateur Athletics Association (1880).

Participation of the Working Man

It is important to note that these organised sports were set up by gentlemen for gentlemen amateurs. The early winners of the FA Cup were gentlemen’s teams which were based in and around London, Wanderers being the first in 1872,

A range of factors made it difficult for a working man to participate at an elite level, apart from class snobbery: the lack of time available to play (Saturday afternoons off work were only slowly beginning to appear); and the cost of club subscriptions and travel. Members of the middle-class did gradually begin to participate, but it was to be the early 1900s before grassroots football became established among the working-classes, although it could be found in schools from the 1880s, South London being the first area in the country to found a Schools Football Association (SFA).

The Reappearance of Professional Sport

In the early decades of organised sport, elite athletes in England were gentlemen who were all amateurs. The only way for a working man to play was if he was paid to do so. Football matches began to attract good crowds, notably in the North and the Midlands in the 1880s. Coupled with the availability of high-class Scottish players, this led to an agreement that professional football was a viable business opportunity, and so the English Football League was formed in 1888.

This decision was distinctly frowned on by the gentlemen in the London FA. Despite their disapproval, some professional teams did begin to appear in the capital, with Arsenal becoming the first team from the South of England to join the Football League in 1893. They were gradually followed by Chelsea (1905) and Tottenham Hotspur (1908).

The North of England also saw the advent of professionalism in rugby. However, in this case the Rugby Football Union outlawed it, leading to the creation of a breakaway movement in 1895 which eventually became known as Rugby League.

Cricket catered for the presence of both professionals and amateurs in a single side, although the gentlemen would usually have their own dressing room, and possibly even their own gate out onto the pitch. Athletics and rowing remained solidly amateur sports.  

From 1914 Onwards

In 1914, London remained the largest city in the world with one of the most successful economies, although New York’s population eventually outstripped it in the 1920s.

However, two world wars had a devastating effect on people and on the economy, while the inter-war years were a time of economic depression, although London, which placed less reliance on industries such as coal, shipbuilding and iron / steel, managed to survive better than other parts of Britain.

The twenty year period after World War II was also fraught with the need to rebuild the capital at a time when the country’s economy was in decline. It was followed by several challenging changes, including the collapse of manufacturing and the end of London’s docks.

Meanwhile, the question as to how London should be governed continued to be a perennial topic. This period saw the creation and subsequent abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) and the rise of its replacement, the Greater London Authority (GLA).

World War I

Effects on the Economy

There was an initial downturn, in part caused by the loss of some European markets. However, by the spring of 1915 London’s economy had recovered, helped by the need to supply the military.

The size of the workforce was naturally affected, with 20% being lost to military recruitment by July 1915. The main London transport firms provided a good example, releasing over 17,000 men during the course of the war. However, they were replaced by women, as happened in other industries such as the Woolwich Arsenal where munitions were produced. It grew from 11,000 to 65,000 employees, 28,000 of whom were women. Educated women also began to enter clerical and commercial work in greater numbers.

The cost of the war saw the National Debt rise from £700m to £7bn, a sum which was raised by the City, which concentrated on this task rather than international trade.

Other Effects

There was a shortage of some imported foods, due to German submarine warfare. Leisure and sport were hit: the British Museum and the Tate Gallery closed for the duration of the conflict; as did elite sport, notably football, cricket and rugby, although football did not stop until the end of the 1914-15 season, a fact which upset public schools who thought that it should have stopped immediately. After the war, this led to many football-playing public schools switching to rugby.

Bombing and Casualties

There were 10 Zeppelin airship raids in 1915 and 1916, with a final one in October 1917, by which time the Germans had started to use aeroplanes.  670 Londoners were killed and 1,960 were injured in these raids.

As regards the conflict itself, 124,000 Londoners were killed in combat, a figure which represented 10% of young London men in their 20s and 30s.

The Inter-war Years

Spanish Flu

It is unclear precisely where Spanish Flu started, although some speculated that it was in the trenches. The movement of troops certainly helped to spread it. The flu arrived in Britain in the autumn and early winter of 1918/19, killing 228,000 people, many of them in the 25-34 age range. One figure that has been quoted for London is 18,000 deaths. Note – this seems low to my untutored eye.

The Decline of High Society

The landed aristocracy were in the final stages of economic decline, undermined by cheap imports, falling grain prices and by Lloyd George’s introduction of death duties in 1909.  Shortening their London visits or selling their London homes was the inevitable result: the Duke of Bedford sold Covent Garden which had been in his family since the Reformation; and the Duke of Devonshire sold his property in Berkeley Square.

Local Government Power

The LCC was initially controlled by the Progressives, a group that was aligned with the Liberals. It held power until 1907 when it was defeated by the Conservative-aligned Moderates, who became known as the Municipal Reform Party.

The Moderates retained power until Labour, led by Herbert Morrison, won the 1934 election. Labour then remained in power until the LCC was abolished in 1965.

Each GLC election was won by the national political party that was in opposition at the time.

Beginning of Aviation

There were a number of small airfields dotted around London in the immediate post-World War I period. Beddington Aerodrome and Waddon Aerodrome combined to form Croydon Aerodrome in 1920, promptly becoming the major UK and international airport during the inter-war year period.

Meanwhile, over to the west of London, there had been an airfield at Northolt from 1915, while Heathrow dated back to 1930, initially being known the Great West Aerodrome. It was not used for commercial traffic until 1946 after the Military, who had requisitioned it during World War II, had handed it back over to Civil Aviation. It was at this point that it became known as London Airport and saw its first international flights.

Buses, Trams and Trolleybuses

All the bus companies, the London General Omnibus Company being the main one, had been chasing customers; buses could be hailed like taxis. However, changes gradually appeared: the 1924 London Traffic Act regulated routes and the number of buses that were allowed to use them; and bus stops began to appear in the 1930s. Also in the 1930s, a 56-seater vehicle running on diesel became the accepted standard of bus.

Statistics from 1938 showed that of 4,000 million journeys, 25% were made by train, 25% by tram / trolleybus and 50% by bus. The electric trolleybus, using overhead wires but no tracks, was gradually replacing the tram, notably in north London. The last tram eventually ran from Woolwich to New Cross in July, 1952.

Tube Changes

Various Tube lines were extended in the inter-war years: the Bakerloo to Watford (1917); the Central line to Ealing (1920); the Northern to Edgware and Morden (1922-24); and the Piccadilly to Cockfosters, Uxbridge and Hounslow (1932-33).

The Underground Group (UERL) owned the Underground with the exception of the Metropolitan, along with two-thirds of the buses and many trams. It was replaced by the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) in 1933, which became responsible for the entire Underground, including the Metropolitan, four surface railway companies, Green Line Coaches and various smaller bus and tram companies.

New Arterial Roads

The 1920s witnessed the building of new arterial roads to relieve pressure on the old high roads out of London. They included: the Great West Road, Eastern Avenue and the Great Cambridge Road. Work also began at this time on Western Avenue and the North Circular.

However, the efficiency of these new roads was somewhat undermined by the lack of building land in areas adjacent to them on which to site business parks. The Great West Road was a prime example, with businesses such as Firestone Tyres, Lincoln (cars), Smith’s Crisps, Gillette and Curry’s situated on the main road. These companies probably regarded their positions as a free form of advertising.

These roads were widened in the 1930s, in part due to the increase in the number of cars. There were 170,000 in London and Middlesex in 1933, a six-fold increase over the figure in 1920.

Further Explosion of the Suburbs

The Metropolitan Railway made the astute decision to get into house-building, creating 10 estates or garden villages along its lines. Populations quickly doubled and sometimes even quadrupled.

Expansion was generally seen across the Home Counties with populations trebling in those parts of Essex, Herts, Kent and Surrey that were closest to London, while Middlesex became an almost entirely suburban and industrial county.

Cheap materials and labour plus a steady supply of customers made the 1930s a golden decade for housebuilders such as Costain, Laing, Taylor Woodrow and Wimpey. Semi-detached houses in styles such as Tudor, Queen Anne and Cottage were their standard products.

Places closer to central London grew at even faster rates. For example, Wembley saw a five-fold increase, while Harrow, with a population of 184,000 in 1938, was larger than Southampton.

Local authorities continued to build, albeit less than private construction companies, although they gave up on cottage estates. By the late 1930s, there were eight large LCC estates and several smaller ones in the London suburbs, the largest being Becontree between Ilford and Dagenham with 166,000 tenants in 1939, although it lacked amenities and jobs were in short supply until Ford opened its Dagenham plant.

The loss of countryside, the size of the London conurbation was now six times larger than it had been in 1880, started a debate on the idea of establishing a Green Belt. Although a policy was proposed in 1935, it was not fully implemented until 1955.

The Effects of the Depression

Only 1% of Londoners worked in Britain’s rapidly declining industries of coal, shipbuilding, cotton, wool and iron/steel, and so it was not affected by the depression of the 1920s and 1930s to the same extent as the rest of the country.

Its industries and services were mainly aimed at the domestic market, the building trade being a case in point in the 1930s. It had the largest and richest middle-class in Europe. Its other attractions included unrivalled transport links plus the ability to use light industrial buildings that could be acquired anywhere across the metropolis, particularly in Outer London. In addition, foreign companies who were setting up in Britain were drawn to London and its huge market, 75% of them choosing to set up in London between 1931 and 1935. London also remained the main centre for all forms of publishing, employing 45% of the total UK workforce.

Industrial companies tended to move from Inner to Outer London, attracted by cheaper land, good transport links and the availability of labour on new estates. Popular areas were the riverside belt out to Tilbury and Gravesend, the Lea Valley and North West London (Park Royal and along the North Circular).

The Rest of the Economy

The City remained prosperous during this period, with its workforce increasing by 40% between 1911 and 1938. However, its international influence was reducing due to various factors: the strength of the US economy; the falling British economy; a 50% reduction in foreign securities; and the need to concentrate on the National Debt. It was unable to act as the lender of last resort during world crises, as it had done in the past. Finally, in 1931, the Bank of England came off the gold standard, which had long been a source of comfort to companies and investors across the globe.

Central London had become the home for many offices. By 1939, approximately 50% of major UK organisations had their headquarters in London. In addition to public and private companies, there were public corporations such as the BBC with Broadcasting House in Portland Place; LPTB in Victoria, and LCC’s County Hall on the riverside near Waterloo Station; while Government offices were overflowing from Whitehall into Millbank.

Smaller commercial companies either huddled together in the likes of Soho where advertising agencies and film-related businesses were to be found, or they converted large houses from residential to business use, often without the need for rebuilding, Fitzroy Square being a notable example.

Film was a new industry which became established in the early 1920s, with large studios in Twickenham and Walthamstow, plus smaller ones in places such as Islington and Elstree. Gainsborough Pictures in Islington had Ivor Novello and a young Alfred Hitchcock on its books.  A quota system which was adopted in 1927 gave British firms some protection against American imports. Associated Talking Pictures (ABC) set up in Ealing in 1932, making popular films such as musicals with Gracie Fields and comedies with George Formby and others, while quality films were being produced by Alexander Korda at Elstree.

Shopping centres saw the rise of chains: Woolworth’s opened 60 new stores in the County between 1912 and 1930; while Marks and Spencer added 32 new stores to its existing 14 in the same period. And finally, High Street, Kensington, grew into a popular shopping area, particularly among the affluent.

Employment

Women’s jobs as munitions workers and bus conductors disappeared after the Great War, although the numbers employed in clerical and commercial work were maintained.

A nationwide dockers’ registration scheme was introduced in the 1920s, cutting the numbers in London from 60,000 to 36,000. Increased mechanisation and the shrinking requirement for warehousing meant that the reduced workforce could only expect three days’ work per week.

Unemployment figures in London averaged 200,000 with peaks of 320,000, the worst-hit areas being Bermondsey, Poplar, Stepney and West Ham. If those who were only temporarily out of work are included then the figure could rise to 500,000.

Poverty and the End of Poor Law Unions

Unemployment insurance had been introduced in the UK in the 1910s. However, greater levels of unemployment, coupled with social unrest, ensured that the original idea, that it would be a self-funding scheme rather than a Treasury-assisted form of Poor Law outdoor relief, had been abandoned in the 1920s..

With respect to outdoor relief, that is financial assistance without being forced into the workhouse, poor boroughs that were controlled by the Labour Party struggled to meet the demand. In 1921, this had resulted in Poplar refusing to levy rates to pay its contributions to the LCC, the Metropolitan Police and the Metropolitan Asylum Board (MAB). 30 councillors were taken to court and imprisoned, although they were released after six weeks as the Government feared public anger, and it was forced to bail out Poplar and similar boroughs.

The 1926 Board of Guardians Act allowed the Minister of Health to replace bankrupt boards with commissioners of his own choice, as he did in West Ham which was £2m in debt. This was followed by the 1928 Emergency Provision Act which undid the concessions which had been made to Poplar and other East End boroughs by giving MAB control over the Common Poor Fund and subsidies to poorer boroughs.

It is estimated that 21% of households were living in poverty in 1929, while 41,000 adults (35% of them over the age of 65) were in Poor Law institutions. In this same year, the Local Government Act of 1929 transferred control over poor relief from Boards of Guardians and MAB to local authorities, viz. LCC in this case, signalling the end of Poor Law Unions.

Council Housing

Overcrowding was common, particularly in Shoreditch, Stepney and Finsbury with many dwellings being shared by multiple families. Labour did manage to re-house more families than previous regimes: 4,000 flats per year in the years from 1936 to 1939, which was four times more than had been achieved in the period from 1930 to 1933. There was also a general move to encourage people to move out to areas such as South East London.

LCC and Secondary Education

The LCC had a target to provide ten secondary school places per 1,000 pupils. It failed, with figures as low as three places in the poorer boroughs. Children without places were forced to stay in elementary schools until they were 14 years of age, when they could leave to find employment.

New Leisure Activities

Cinemas replaced music halls as the most popular form of entertainment, with 266 in the County by 1921. Small independent cinemas gradually gave way to chains such as Associated British Cinemas (ABC) and Gaumont-British.

Music Halls did manage to persist, with the Victoria Palace and London Palladium offering modified forms of music hall variety in central London. However, they actually survived longest in the suburbs, at places such as the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the Hackney Empire.

Dance Halls became popular in the 1920s, offering the opportunity to try out the latest, frequently short-lived, dance crazes from the USA. The Hammersmith Palais de Danse was the first hall, followed by 23 others during this decade.

Ice skating was yet another pastime that became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, resulting in the building of permanent rinks at places such as Richmond, Queens (Queensway) and Streatham, along with several temporary installations, including the roof of Selfridges.

Swimming was also continuing to grow in popularity, with 7 million visits to pools in the early 1930s, compared to 4 million 20 years earlier.

World War II

Defensive Measures and Bombing

In the expectation of German bombing raids, 40,000 schoolchildren and 100,000 mothers with very small children were evacuated from London in September 1939, although quite a number, notably the mothers, returned in November, as the threatened bombing had not started.

The Blitz, as it was called, actually took place from September 7th 1940 to May 10th/11th 1941, consisting of 71 bombing raids over London, as Hitler attempted to affect the economy and demoralise the populace. However, he eventually decided to concentrate his forces on the eastern front, as he moved against Russia.

Arrangements for people to take shelter during the bombing raids varied with private shelters such as the Anderson, public shelters and Tube stations. In theory, the use of Tube stations for this purpose was not allowed, but the authorities were forced to back down when the heavy bombing started in the East End. A rough census for Inner London showed that: 4% used Tube stations; 9% public or communal shelters; 27% private shelters; while 60% stayed in their own beds.

Towards the end of the conflict, 13th June 1944 to 27 March 1945, Hitler used the V1 and V2 rockets. 2,340 hit London, killing 5,475 and injuring approximately 16,000.

Casualties and Damage

The total wartime casualties in London amounted to 30,000 deaths and 50,000 injured, and it is estimated that stress saw a death rate from illness and disease that was 17% above the long-term average by 1944.

Dockland, and by association the East End, took the brunt of the bombing, although all parts of London were to suffer, albeit to a lesser degree.

Greater London lost 116,000 houses, while 288,000 needed major repairs and a further 1 million necessitated some minor repairs. One in six Londoners was made homeless at some stage of the conflict.

Many landmarks were lost or damaged. In the City, 164 out of 460 acres of buildings were devastated, including 18 churches and 17 company halls. Places of work and department stores were also hit, John Lewis on Oxford Street being destroyed. Such damage accelerated business moves from Inner London to Outer London.

1945 – 1965

Forshaw and Abercrombie Exhibition of their London Plan

Rebuilding the bombed city was naturally a priority, and The County of London Plan was commissioned by the London County Council. Written by JH Forshaw (Chief Architect to the LCC) and Patrick Abercrombie (Professor of Town Planning at University College, London), it was published in 1943 while the war was still in progress. It addressed the five main issues of the day: population growth, housing, employment and industry, recreation and transport. Unfortunately, their vision was inevitably watered down by the austerity and necessary pragmatism of the post-war years.

Part of the eventual rehousing solution was the creation of new towns outside London. The New Towns Act of 1946 saw the advent of Basildon, Bracknell, Crawley, Hatfield, Harlow, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City.

Another approach was to build high-rise blocks in Inner London, with the first 10-storey edifice opening in Holborn in 1949. By the 1960s, 500,000 new flats had been built, mainly in tower blocks, while new estates such as Lansbury in Poplar and Loughborough in Brixton had begun to appear.

In attempts to encourage optimism, several events were held in the early post-war years: the Summer Olympics in 1948, sometimes referred to as the Austerity Olympics, which was based at Wembley Stadium; and of more general interest, the Festival of Britain in 1951. The latter saw the construction of the Royal Festival Hall, and with it the idea of turning the Southbank into a cultural area.

Swinging London, which dates from the early 1960s, brought further joy, particularly among the young. Fashion and music were among its key elements, which included: John Stephen and others for men’s wear in Carnaby Street; Mary Quant for women’s wear on the King’s Road in Chelsea; Vidal Sassoon for hairstyling; and Terence Conran with his Habitat stores. On the music front, the Beatles moved to London, using the Abbey Road studios for recording, while jazz, blues and rock were performed at Eel Pie Island on the Thames at Twickenham by artists including the Rolling Stones, Acker Bilk, the Kinks and Pink Floyd..

It was realised that the LCC was too small, and a Royal Commission was set up in 1957 to look into the government of London. It produced its report in 1960, and a Bill was passed in Parliament in 1963, despite significant opposition, to create the Greater London Council (GLC), along with 32 boroughs; with government functions being divided between the two. It was implemented in 1965 although, once again, the City of London was exempted.

After 1965

The GLC, especially its Labour leader Ken Livingstone, became a thorn in the side of Thatcher’s Tory Government in the early 1980s. It was eventually abolished in 1986, with the majority of its powers being devolved to the boroughs, although services such as the fire brigade were made the responsibility of joint boards which were manned by borough councillors. The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), which had been set up in 1965 at the same time as the GLC, was also abolished in 1990.

Blair’s Labour Government was subsequently responsible for creating the Greater London Authority (GLA) in 2000. It was a scaled down version of the GLC with an elected mayor. It has jurisdiction over the City of London and the ceremonial county of Greater London, while its responsibilities include transport and policing.

This is probably the point to summarise the changes which London Transport underwent after World War II. It took various guises, in part driven by changes in the political landscape. From 1948 to 1963 the London Transport Executive, along with British Rail, was overseen by the British Transport Commission. This period saw the end of both the tram (1952) and the trolleybus (1962) and the introduction of the Routemaster bus (1956).

The London Transport Board reported directly to the Minister of Transport from 1963 to 1970, ending its relationship with British Rail which was in the process of undergoing Beeching’s review. The Victoria Tube Line was opened during this period.

In 1970, control of the London Transport Executive passed to the GLC until the latter was abolished in 1986, at which point it reverted back to the Secretary of State for Transport. It was now known as London Regional Transport. Finally, the creation of the GLA in 2000 resulted in yet another change of name, Transport for London.

London’s economy saw major changes from the 1960s onward. Manufacturing collapsed due to various factors such as cheaper imports and the fact that London had become an expensive place to do business. A workforce of 1.6 million in 1961 had fallen to 328,000 by 1981.

Meanwhile, the docks, which had been rebuilt in the 1950s after the wholesale wartime damage, found it impossible to adapt to the age of containerisation, as deep-water berths were required, along with spacious quayside areas. With the exception of Tilbury, which could be converted for use by container ships, the docks were gradually closed in the 1960s and 1970s. Apart from Tilbury, traffic was now being handled by Folkestone and Dover.

The London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was set up in 1981 to regenerate eight square miles of derelict land. Over the following 20 years, a significant area was converted into a mixture of commercial, light industry and residential properties, the most publicised project being Canary Wharf.

Transport improvements were essential in an area that had long suffered in this respect. Projects included: the construction of the Dockland Light Railway (DLR) which made use of existing railway infrastructure; the development of the City Airport on the spine of the Royal Docks; and the eastward extensions of the Jubilee Underground line.

While on the subject of transport, 1994 saw the opening of Eurostar, linking London to Continental Europe via the Channel Tunnel. The initial terminal was at Waterloo, from where a relatively slow journey proceeded down to the Tunnel. It was replaced in 2007 by London St Pancras International which provided a much faster, direct route to the Tunnel.

Canvey Island, out in the estuary, had been badly hit by the North Sea flood of 1953 when 59 people died and 13,000 were evacuated from their homes. This disaster, coupled with the 1928 flooding in Central London when part of the Chelsea Embankment gave way resulting in damage to Tate Britain, led to the construction of the Thames Barrier, which was started in 1974 and opened in 1984. It stops exceptionally high tide water from coming up the Thames and endangering life and property, having been raised more than 150 times since its opening.

The Growth of Organised Sport in the 20th century

World-wide Participation

Organised sports grew in popularity around the world, leading to the formation of world-governing bodies in the early decades of the 20th century, although Britain was often loath to join them, its London-based ruling elite of various sports displaying a certain amount of arrogance by taking the view that “this is our game and our rules”. Using football as an example, FIFA was formed in 1904, deciding that the English FA’s rules should be used wherever the game was played. Despite this apparent accolade, England refused to join, but were reluctantly persuaded 12 months later. I say reluctantly because they subsequently withdrew on two occasions during the first half of the 20th century when it disagreed with FIFA, resulting in England not taking part in the first three Football World Cup competitions. It was to be 1950 before England competed in that tournament.

National Stadia

Many individual sports decided on fixed venues for holding major events. As the majority of the governing bodies were London-based, it was inevitable that these arenas would be built in and around the capital, including: Wembley for football and subsequently for various indoor sports such as swimming, badminton, snooker and boxing; Twickenham for rugby; the White City for athletics; and Wimbledon for tennis.

Spectators

Many individuals were keen to watch elite sport. Football, now the working man’s game, proved to be the biggest attraction with 100,000 attending the FA Cup Final each year, while top-class professional club games could see crowds of 30,000 or more at Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Test cricket was another sport which saw large crowds at Lord’s and the Oval.

The general appetite for entertainment after the dark days of World War II saw record crowds attending all sports in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Even the FA Amateur Cup Final, usually a less popular event by this time, witnessed crowds of 95,000 in these years.

New spectator sports such as speedway and greyhound racing also appeared between the wars, both proving to be popular.

The Eventual Death of the Amateur

As mentioned, football had become the working man’s game in London by World War I, and the capital could have as many as six teams in the top division of the English professional football league.

Elite amateur teams still existed in England, although they were mainly congregated in London and the Home Counties, along with several sides in the North East, most notably Bishop Auckland. Teams from these areas naturally dominated the FA Amateur Cup, while their players were most likely to be found in the England Amateur team.

However, after World War II, amateurism began to be seen more and more as an anachronism. What elite amateur athlete could afford the time and money necessary to compete at the highest level? Answer – very few. Shamateurism became “the elephant in the room”, that is the use of illegal under the table payments or rewards in kind, such as the provision of a cushy job, became widespread

Eventually, and seemingly very reluctantly, amateurs disappeared with everybody, paid or unpaid, just being called players. Cricket (1962) and football (1974) made clean breaks with the past, although local teams did manage to hang on to some of their amateur ideals for a while longer, such as not taking part in competitive matches. However, in many other sports the change happened slowly and almost imperceptibly in the late 20th century, being implemented gradually, often managing to avoid actually uttering the dreaded words that the amateur was dead.

In Summary

London had started life as a river crossing, built by the Romans both as part of their eventual road network, and as a port which was convenient for access to Europe, and via the Thames to the hinterland. It grew rapidly, and eventually became their administrative capital.

This initial period of success lasted for a couple of centuries, declining in line with the gradual fall of the Roman empire. The limited information which is available indicates that London continued to be the premier trading settlement in England through the Dark Ages and the Anglo-Saxon period despite the turmoil and conflict which was experienced due to invasions and migration.

Trade was improved by the establishment of the City’s craft guilds, which had their beginnings in the late Anglo-Saxon period, becoming formally established by royal charter from the 13th century onwards. Also, the presence of royal residences, starting with Edward the Confessor’s decision to build a palace in Westminster, was good for local business.

London’s solid economic growth relied on a steady supply of migrant workers who required somewhere to live, resulting in the appearance of the first suburbs, the initial stepping stones in the move towards the creation of a metropolis.

The usual modus operandi whereby the monarch continually processed around the country, not having a permanent home, gradually disappeared, resulting in the arrival in the capital of the king and his ever-growing administration, which all in turn produced further need for various services, such as legal.

However, it was not all plain-sailing for London. There were some major bumps along the road, including: the Black Death, the Great Plague and the Great Fire.

The period from the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 through to the battle of Waterloo in 1815 witnessed further growth in London’s economy, major factors being the establishment of the Atlantic trade and of the East India company, along with the benefits which began to flow from the first Industrial Revolution

However, the most significant changes in London’s history were to be found in the 19th century: even greater growth in a period when Britain became the leading economic power; and life-changing improvements in transport, most notably the arrival of the railway. The population grew dramatically, from 1 million in 1800 to over 7 million by 1911, making London the largest city in the world in this period. resulting in the inevitable geographic expansion of the metropolis. Economic success and population growth led to record rates of change in the fields of health, finance, education, culture and leisure,

The first half of the 20th century brought a slowdown, as Britain fought two world wars and encountered an economic depression between them, although London managed to suffer less economic problems than other parts of the country. Overall, Britain was losing its place as the premier economic power to the USA, while Germany also began to pass it. In the second half of this century, London’s traditional industries began to decline, and the docks disappeared, although service industries began to take their place. Meanwhile, governing the growing metropolis was becoming increasingly difficult, resulting in various attempts to improve matters, from London County Council (LCC) to the Greater London Council (GLC) and on to the Greater London Authority (GLA).

Odds and Sods

Defining London

Defining the area covered by London is not straightforward. There have been multiple definitions depending on the perspective. For example, education authorities may have different boundaries. What follows is an attempt to provide a simplistic view for the general reader.

The City of London has largely remained a separate entity throughout history.

Inner London was first mentioned in the 1840s, and it was used in the 1851 Census. It included: Camden, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Wandsworth. It excluded the City of London.

The Metropolitan Board of Works, founded in 1855, provided basic infrastructure services to Inner London. It became the effective form of local government until the Local Government Act of 1888 created county councils, and London was made a county council (LCC) in 1889. The London Government Act of 1899 divided the County of London into 28 boroughs, covering both Inner and Outer London, but excluding the City.

A Royal Commission was set up in 1957 to look at the government of London. Its report in 1960 talked about “Greater London”, the area inside the newly created Metropolitan Green Belt, consisting of 52 boroughs. The subsequent London Government Act of 1963 reduced the number of boroughs to 32, and once again the City of London was excluded. The Greater London Council (GLC) was formed shortly afterwards in 1965, but it only lasted until 1986 when it was dissolved by Thatcher’s Tory Government. It was eventually replaced by the Greater London Authority (GLA) which was established in 2000 with a mayor and jurisdiction over Greater London and the City.

Brief Notes on Selected Places

The Manor and Ancient Parish of Stepney dates back to 604CE when the land was granted to the first Bishop of London. St. Dunstan’s Church was built (or possibly rebuilt) in 952CE when Dunstan was Bishop of London.

The Domesday Book Survey calls it Stibanhede. The manor covered 32 hides (3840 acres), being roughly equivalent to the size of the modern day borough of Tower Hamlets and the district of Hackney, stretching from Bromley-by-Bow in the east to the Tower of London in the west, and from Hackney and Shoreditch in the north to the Thames. It formed the Tower division of the Ossulstone Hundred of Middlesex, making up around one quarter of the area covered by that Hundred. Hackney became a daughter parish in the 12th century. The parish of Stepney was subsequently split into the following hamlets for local government purposes: Mile End Old Town, Mile End New Town, Ratcliff, Whitechapel, Wapping, Bow, Shadwell, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green, Limehouse and Poplar. By 1870, Stepney had become approximately 20% of its original size.

It was sparsely populated until the late 18th century, with the main concentrations of habitation being along the Thames plus ribbon developments along main roads, notably Mile End Road. Seamen were attracted to Stepney, given its proximity to the Thames, and it became responsible for registering British Maritime births, marriages and deaths until the 19th century. It also became a popular place for immigrants to settle, such as French Huguenots in the 18th century, Jews in the19th century, and more recently Bangladeshis.

Chelsea, originally known as Chelcehithe, is one of the smaller Inner London parishes, lying in the Kensington Division of the Ossulstone Hundred, and bounded by the detached part of St Margaret Westminster on the north, St George Hanover Square on the east, with the Thames to the south,

It became a popular riverside home for the wealthy from the 15th century, notably for Thomas More who built a house by the river in 1520.

Its alluvial soil and position on the river made it ideal for market gardens from around 1600 to 1800, after which the trade gradually started to decline when development pressures grew as London began to encroach.

The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries to grow medicinal plants, and in the following decade the Royal Hospital Chelsea began life as an almshouse in 1682, before being converted to a retirement home and nursing home for veterans of the British Army.

Chelsea’s appeal extended to the comfortably-off in the 18th century, and to artists such as Turner in the 19th century. It became part of Swinging London in the 1960s.

Brief notes can be found on places further upstream on the Thames that eventually became part of Greater London in 1965, viz. Kingston, Richmond, Twickenham, Isleworth, Brentford and Kew.

Brief Notes on Selected Artists and Writers

William Hogarth (1697-1764), painter and engraver, was born in Bartholomew Close in the City of London to lower middle-class parents. Unlike other painters who relied on patrons to make a living, Hogarth hit on the idea of producing comic, moralising series of paintings which were then turned into published engravings. They included: Harlot’s Progress, Rake’s Progress and Marriage A-la-Mode, which all became very popular among the middle-classes who bought the subsequently mass-produced prints. He was the most significant English artist of his generation. He lived in Leicester Fields and had a country retreat in Chiswick (Hogarth House).

While Hogarth had ideas for a national school of art, it was to be Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), part of the next generation, who oversaw the creation of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, becoming president (for life) in the process. Born in Devon, Reynolds settled permanently in London in 1752. He principally concentrated on portraiture, adopting the “Grand Style” (making the imperfect look perfect). He was very sociable, mixing with members of London’s intelligentsia such as Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke and David Garrick.

JMW Turner (1775-1851) was in the generation after Reynolds. He was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. His father was a barber and a wigmaker, and Turner’s paintings during his early teenage years were displayed in the shop window and sold for modest sums. He grew to be a very private and eccentric individual, the exact opposite of Reynolds. His innovative landscape art, which might be crudely described as atmospheric, brought praise and criticism in equal measures during his lifetime. He was to influence the later Impressionists, Claude Monet in particular making a close study of his technique. Turner latterly lived in Chelsea with Sophia Booth, posing as Mr Booth, where he died from cholera in 1851, leaving his finished works to the British nation.

William Blake (1757-1827), born in Soho, lived most of his life in London. He studied at the Royal Academy, before becoming a poet, painter and printmaker who was generally not understood during his own lifetime. It is only subsequent generations who have grasped his true genius. He is arguably best known for his relief etching, although his commercial work largely consisted of engravings. Jerusalem, written and illustrated by Blake, was his most ambitious work. At the time of his death in Fountain Court off the Strand, he was working on a series of engravings for Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), often known as Dr Johnson, was born in Lichfield. He attended Pembroke College, Oxford but left after one year as he was unable to afford it. He moved to London, first becoming a writer for The Gentlemen’s Magazine. He is best known for producing his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, the result of nine years work. It was the pre-eminent dictionary until the Oxford English Dictionary appeared in the late 19th century. His writings also took the form of poetry, literary criticism, essays and biography, while he also acted as an editor.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was born in Portsmouth, but spent some of his formative years in London. His father ended up in the Marshalsea, the debtors’ prison, and he was forced to curtail his schooling and work in a blacking warehouse (where shoe polish was produced) to help pay for his father’s board. These events, and his exposure to the conditions under which the working-class laboured, were to prove a significant influence on his writing. Work as a journalist led to novels which were written and published in instalments, a model which proved to be popular with his ever-expanding audience. By the 1840s he had become an international celebrity, making reading tours to the United States of America.

Brief Notes on London’s Royal Societies and Academies

There has been an ever-growing number of London-based organisations that have received a royal charter over the centuries, some of which do not flaunt their “R”. Here are some examples.

The Royal Society, full name the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, had been founded in 1660, its members sharing a curiosity about nature. Founding members included Christopher Wren and Robert Boyle.

The Royal Institution of Great Britain was founded in 1799 by Joseph Banks, the botanist, and Count Rumford with the aim of teaching the application of science to everyday life. They were soon joined by Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday, the latter starting its celebrated Christmas Lectures.     

The Royal Society of Arts was originally founded as the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1754, receiving its royal charter in 1847. Members included Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens and Karl Marx.

The Royal Academy of Arts has previously been mentioned. It was set up in 1768 to teach and exhibit art, and also to provide a space for its members to exhibit their own  art.

Neither the Geological Society, formed in 1807, or the Zoological Society, formed in 1826, have adopted the “Royal” prefix. It was the Zoological Society that set up London Zoo in Regent’s Park in 1828, with the original intention of promoting scientific study. Members of the general public were eventually allowed access in 1847. 

Brief Notes on Orchestras in London

London was a place which allowed composers such as Purcell in the 17th century and Handel in the 18th century to flourish. Although there were many talented musicians, there was no concept of a permanent symphony orchestra. Musicians came together on an ad-hoc basis for individual concerts, or possibly for a season. The first step on the road to improving matters came in 1813 when the Royal Philharmonic Society, a collective of musicians and music-lovers, was formed to nurture and improve this art form.

With regard to musical education, the Royal Academy of Music, the first college for the study of classical music in the UK, was founded in 1822, receiving its royal charter in 1830.

By the start of the 20th century when the Queen’s Hall (1893) and the London Symphony Orchestra (1904) were founded, there were still no permanent salaried orchestras in London. It was to be 1930 before the newly-created the BBC Symphony Orchestra became the first, closely followed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra which was formed by Sir Thomas Beecham and Malcolm Sargent in 1932.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Inwood, S., A History of London, 1998, Macmillan

Ackroyd, P., London The Autobiography, 2000, Chatto & Windus

Sargent, A., The Story of the Thames, 2009 and 2013, Amberley Publishing, Stroud

Internet Links

General

Peter Stone’s History of London
A New History of London – British History Online
Museum of London
Hidden London
History of London – Wikipedia
London – History – Britannica
Lost London
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913
the-river-thames.co.uk 
Lambert’s short history of London
Layers of London
Potted History of the Thames (on this site)
Sport – history of various sports (on this site)

1660 – 1815

Slave Trade

Royal Africa Company
London and the Slave Trade

Finance

History of Banking in the UK
History of Insurance
London Stock Exchange

Transport

Turnpikes
History of UK Canals
London Bridges

Law and Order

Bow Street Runners
John Wilkes
Gordon Riots

Old Bailey – Population history

Health

Medical Dispensaries in 18th Century London (pdf)
London Lives – Hospitals

Newspapers and Periodicals

Circulating Libraries
Newspapers and Periodicals

Inns

Leisure

An Introduction to 18th Century Theatre
Brief history of London Parks
Royal Parks
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Sport

See sport histories on this site

19th Century London

Local Government

Inner London – Wikipedia
Metropolitan Board of Works – Wikipedia
County of London – Wikipedia

Health and Sanitation

Baths and Wash-houses
Baths and Wash-houses for the Industrious Classes

Thames Shipbuilding in the 19th Century


Stock Exchange

London Stock Exchange – Wikipedia
History of the London Stock Exchange

Poverty and Poor Law Unions

Sweated Labour in the East End
Workhouses
London’s Lost Hospitals

Transport

London’s First Railways
History of the London Underground
History of London Transport – Old Bailey Proceedings

Policing

Victorian Detectives
Policing in London

Education

William Tooke and the royal charters of the University of London
The “Polytechnic” Regent Street

Museums

Museum displays at South Kensington Museum
First Years of the South Kensington Museum

Subscription Library

Leisure

History of London’s Gentlemen’s Clubs
London’s West End Theatres
History of the Music Hall
Brief History of London’s Parks

20th Century London

London County Council
Greater London Council
Greater London Authority

London in World War I
London in World War II
Reconstruction after World War II – The County of London’s Plan
London 1944: The Greater London Plan

Swinging Sixties
End of London’s Docks
The History and Future of the Thames Barrier
History of Public Transport Authorities in London

Odds and Sods

History of London Boroughs
History of Stepney
History of Chelsea
History of the Royal Philharmonic Society
History of London’s Royal Societies

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank Peter Jackson, Janet King and Helena Molyneux for taking the time and trouble to read the early drafts of this document, and for their invaluable comments. All errors are mine.

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Version History

Version 0.1 – Feb 20th, 2021 – initial draft of the period from 1660 to 1815
Version 0.2 – March 31st, 2021 – added initial draft of the period from 1815 to 1914
Version 0.3 – April 12th, 2021 – added initial draft of the period from 1914 onwards
Version 0.4 – April 20th, 2021 – added selected places, artists and writers to odds & sods section
Version 0.5 – April 29th, 2021 – incorporated comments from JK
Version 0.6 – May 23rd, 2021 – incorporated comments from HM and PJ
Version 1.0 – June 4th, 2021 – work in progress sign removed.