London in the 18th century
From the 1788-97 Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica
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"When considered with all its advantages, it is now what ancient Rome once was; the seat of liberty, the encourager of arts, and the administration of the whole world." So wrote the author of the unsigned article "London" in the 3rd edition (1788-97) of Encyclop´┐Żdia Britannica. It is divided into 170 sections of varying length, among which are "Its different names," "Account of the great fire in 1666," "London bridge," "Horse guards," and "Places of diversion, &c." The article's final sections (157-170) attempt to quantify the magnitude of the metropolis, going so far as to project the amount and cost of weekly provisions for its inhabitants. The following text is presented in modern typography for ease in reading but otherwise retains the original spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and italics-including typographical errors.
157 London anciently inconvenient and unhealthy.
Before the conflagration in 1666, LONDON (which, like most other great cities, had arisen from small beginnings) was totally inelegant, inconvenient, and unhealthy, of which latter misfortune many melancholy proofs are authenticated in history, and which, without doubt, proceeded from the narrowness of the streets, and the unaccountable projections of the buildings, that confined the putrid air, and joined with other circumstances, such as the want of water, rendered the city seldom free from pestilential devastation. The fire which consumed the greatest part of the city, dreadful as it was to the inhabitants at that time, was productive of consequences which made ample amends for the losses sustained by individuals; a new city arose on the ruins of the old; but, though more regular, open, convenient, and healthful, than the former, yet it by no means answered to the characters of magnificence or elegance, in many particulars; and it is ever to be lamented (such was the infatuation of those times), that the magnificent, elegant, and useful plan of the great Sir Christopher Wren, was totally disregarded, and sacrificed to the mean and selfish views of private property; views which did irreparable injury to the citizens themselves and to the nation in general: for had that great architect"s plan been followed, what has often been asserted must have been the result; the metropolis of this kingdom would incontestably have been the most magnificent and elegant city in the universe; and of consequence must, from the prodigious resort of foreigners of distinction and taste who would have visited it, have become an inexhaustible fund of riches to this nation. But as the deplorable blindness of that age has deprived us of so valuable an acquisition, it is become absolutely necessary that some efforts should be made to render the present plan in a greater degree answerable to the character of the richest and most powerful people in the world.
158 Its plan still defective.
The plan of London, its present state, will in many instances appear to very moderate judges to be as injudicious a disposition as can easily be conceived for a city of trade and commerce, on the borders of so noble a river as the Thames. The wharfs and quays on its banks are extremely mean and inconvenient; and the want of regularity and uniformity in the streets of the city of London, and the mean avenues to many parts of it, are also circumstances that greatly lessen the grandeur of its appearance. Many of the churches and other public buildings are likewise thrust up in corners, in such a manner as might tempt foreigners to believe that they were designed to be concealed. The improvements of the city of London for some years past have, however, been very great; and the new streets, which are numerous, are in general more spacious, and built with greater regularity and elegance.
159 Great improvements.
The very elegant and necessary method of paving and enlightening the streets is also felt in the most sensible manner by all ranks and degrees of people. The roads are continued for several miles around upon the same model; and, exclusive of lamps regularly placed on each side, and short distances, are rendered more secure by watchmen stationed within call of each other. Nothing can appear more brilliant than those lights when viewed at a distance, especially where the roads run across; and even the principal streets, such as Pall Mall, New Bond-street, Oxford-street, &c. convey an idea of elegance and grandeur
160 Wealth and grandeur of this vast metropolis.
London, then, in its large sense, including Westminster, Southwark, and part of Middlesex, forms one great metropolis, of vast extent and of prodigious wealth. When considered with all its advantages, it is now what ancient Rome once was; the seat of liberty, the encourager of arts, and the admiration of the whole world. It is the centre of trade; has an intimate connection with all the counties in the kingdom; and is the grand mart of the nation, to which all parts send their commodities, from whence they are again sent back into every town in the nation and to every part of the world. From hence innumerable carriages by land and water are constantly employed: and from hence arises that circulation in the national body which renders every part healthful, vigorous, and in a prosperous condition; a circulation that is equally beneficial to the head and the most distant members. Merchants are here as rich as noblemen; witness their incredible loans to government; and there is no place in the world where the shops of tradesmen make such a noble and elegant appearance, or are better stocked.
161 Its excellent situation for commerce.
The Thames, on the banks of which London is situated, is a river which, though not the largest, is the richest and most commodious for commerce of any in the world. It is continually filled with fleets, sailing to or from the most distant climates; and it banks, from London-bridge to Blackwall, form almost one continued great magazine of naval stores; containing three large wet-docks, 32 dry-docks, and 33 yards for the building of ships, for the use of the merchants; besides the places allotted for the building of boats and lighters, and the king"s yards lower down the river for the building of men of war. As the city is about 60 miles distant from the sea, it enjoys, by means of this beautiful river, all the benefits of navigation, without the danger of being surprised by foreign fleets, or of being annoyed by the moist vapours of the sea. It rises regularly from the water-side, and, extending itself on both sides along its banks, reaches a prodigious length from east to west in a kind of amphitheatre towards the north, and is continued for near 20 miles on all sides, in a succession of magnificent villas and populous villages, the country-seats of gentlemen and trademen; whither the latter retire for the benefit of fresh air, and to relax their minds from the hurry of business. The regard paid by the legislature to the property of the subject, has hitherto prevented any bounds being fixed for its extension.
162 Its great extent.
The irregular form of London makes it difficult to ascertain its extent. However, its length from east to west is generally allowed to be above seven miles from Hyde-park corner to Poplar; and its breadth in some places three, in others two, and in others again not much above half a mile. Hence the circumference of the whole is almost 18 miles; or, according to a later measurement, the extent of continued buildings is 35 miles two furlongs and 39 roods. But it is much easier to form an idea of the large extent of a city so irregularly built by the number of the people, who are computed to be near a million; and from the number of edifices devoted to the service of religion.
163 General enumeration of churches, chapels, &c.
Of these, beside St Paul"s cathedral and the collegiate church at Westminster, here are 102 parish-churches and 69 chapels, of the established religion: 21 French protestant chapels; 11 chapels belonging to the Germans, Dutch, Danes, &c.; 26 independent meetings; 34 presbyterian meetings; 20 baptist meetings; 19 popish chapels, and meeting-houses for the use of foreign ambassadors and people of various sects; and three Jews synagogues. So that there are 305 places devoted to religious worship in the compass of this vast pile of buildings, without reckoning the 21 out-parishes usually included in the bills of mortality and a great number of methodist tabernacles
164 Hospitals, schools, houses, &c.
There are also in and near this city 100 alms-houses, about 20 hospitals and infirmaries, 3 colleges, 10 public prisons, 15 flesh-markets; one market for live cattle; two other markets more particularly for herbs; and 23 other markets for corn, coals, hay, &c.; 15 inns of court, 27 public squares, besides those within single buildings, as the Temple, &c.; 3 bridges, 55 halls for companies, 8 public schools, called free schools; and 131 charity-schools, which provide education for 5034 poor children; 207 inns, 447 taverns, 551 coffeehouses, 5975 alehouses; 1000 hackney-coaches; 400 ditto chairs; 7000 streets, lanes, courts, and alleys, and 150,000 dwelling-houses,
165 Number of inhabitants.
containing, as has been already observed, about 1,000,000 inhabitants; who, according to a moderate estimate, are supposed to consume the following provisions weeekly:
168 Supply of water.
This great and populous city is happily supplied with abundance of fresh water from the Thames and the New River; which is not only of inconceivable service to every family, but by means of fire-plugs every where dispersed, the keys of which are deposited with the parish-officers, the city is in a great measure secured from the speading of fire; for these plugs are no sooner opened, than there are vast quantities of water to supply the engines.
169 Insurance companies.
This plenty of water has been attended with another advantage, it has given rise to several companies, who insure houses and goods from fire; an advantage that is not to be met with in any other nation on earth; the premium is small; and the recovery in case of loss is easy and certain. Every one of these offices keep a set of men in pay, who are ready at all hours to give their assistance in case of fire; and who are on all occasions extremely bold, dexterous, and diligent: but though all their labours should prove unsuccessful, the person who suffers by this devouring element has the comfort that must arise from a certainty of being paid the value (upon oath) of what he has insured.
170 Places of diversion, &c.
The places for diversions are, Vauxhall, Ranelagh-gardens, the two play-houses, one of them rebuilding, the Pantheon lately burnt down; and the little threatre in the Hay-market, with Sadlers-wells, Hughes"s Circus, and Astley"s Royal-Grove, &c. The finest repositories of rarities and natural history, are Sir Hans Sloane"s, in the British Museum, already described; and another collected by the late Sir Ashton Lever, now the private property of Mr Parkinson, and deposited in proper apartments for public inspection, near the south end of Blackfriars bridge.
The ennumerated subheadings (157, 158, etc.) are included in the margin of the printed article, but some rearrangement was necessary for their electronic reproduction. Subheading "165 Number of inhabitants" is now placed in the midst of a sentence, while subheading "166 Weekly consumpt of provisions," which was originally located near the middle of the provisions list, is now at its beginning.