Page images
PDF
EPUB

crous.

the population of London has gone up from nearly two millions to some four millions—a rate of increase not observed by any other town in the kingdom; so that at the present moment the metropolis has returned to the position it occupied before Charles II.'s time, relatively to the other towns of the empire. At this latter period the populacioa of London was r.ore than seventeen times the population of Bristol or of Norwich. “It may be doubted whether any other instance can be mentioned of a great kingdom in which the first city was more than seventeen times as large as the second. There is reason to believe that in 1685 London had been, during about half a century, the most populous capital in Europe. The inhabitants, who are now (1817) at least nineteen hundred thousand, were then probably little more than half a million. London had in the world only one commercial rival, now long ago outstripped, the mighty and opulent Amsterdam. English writers boasted of the forest of masts and yardarms which covered the river from the Bridge to the Tower, and of the stupendous sums which were collected at the Custom House in Thames Street. There is, indeed, no doubt that the trade of the metropolis then bore a far greater proportion than at present to the whole trade of the country; yet to our generation the honest vaunting of our ancestors must appear almost ludi

The shipping, which they thought incredibly great, appears not to have exceeded seventy thousand tons. This was, indeed, then more than a third of the whole tonnage of the kingdom, but is now less than a fourth of the tonnage of Newcastle, and is nearly equa'led by the tonnage of the steam vessels of the Thames. The customs of London amounted, in 1685, to about three hundred and thirty thousand pounds a year. In our time the net duty paid annually, at the same place, exceeds ten millions.” This refers to the year 1845; but since that time the customs of the port of London have enormously increased, though not in proportion to the increase of the manufactures and general produce of the country. With regard to the city itself, “whoever examines the maps of London which were published towards the close of the reign of Charles II., will see that only the nucleus of the present capital then existed. The town did not, as now, fade by imperceptible degrees into the country. No long avenues of villas, embowered in lilacs and laburnums, extended from the great centre of wealth and civilisation almost to the boundaries of Middlesex, and far into the heart of Kent and Surrey. In the east, no part of the immense line of warehouses aud artificial lakes which now stretches from the Tower to Blackwall had even been projected. On the west, scarcely one of those stately piles of building which are inhabited by the noble and wealthy was in existe ace; and Chelsea, which is now peopled by more than forty thousand human beings, was a quiet country village with about a thousand inhabitants. On the north, cattle fed, and sportsmen wandered with dogs and guns over the site of the borough of Marylebone, and wer far the greater part of the space now covered by the boroughs of biosbury and the Tower Hamlets. Islington was almost a solitude;

and poets loved to contrast its silence and repose with the din and turmoil of the monster London. On the south the capital is now connected with its suburb by several bridges, not inferior in magnificence and solidity to the noblest works of the Cæsars. In 1685, a single line of irregular arches, overhung by piles of mean and crazy houses, and garnished, after a fashion worthy of the naked barbarians of Dahomey, with scores of mouldering heads, impeded the navigation of the river.”

London, at the period of the Restoration was built for the most part of wood and plaster, the few bricks that were used being very ill baked. The city was consequently a ready prey for the flames, and we may gather some idea of the terrible ravages of the Great Fire from contem. porary records. It broke out at one o'clock on Sunday morning, September 2, 1666, and raged for nearly four days and nights. It began at the house of Farriner, the king's baker, in Pudding Lane, near New Fish Street Hill. It spread with great rapidity, and, the Lord Mayor declining to follow the advice tendered him to pull down certain houses to prevent the flames extending, the fire soon reached London Bridge. Evelyn, describing this tremendous conflagration, states that “all the skie was of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, the light seen above forty miles round about. Above ten thousand houses all in one flame; the noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames, ye shrieking of women and children, ye hurry of people, ye fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like an hideous storme, and the air all about so hot and inflam'd that at last one was not able to approach it, so that they were forc'd to stand still, and let the flames burn on, wch they did for neere two miles in length and one in bredth. The clouds of smoke were dismall and reached upon computation neere fifty miles in length." Thousands of people fled to the fields of Islington for security. “I went,” says Evelyn, on another occasion, " towards Islington and Highgate, where one might have seen two hundred thousand people of all ranks and degrees, dispersed and lying along by their heapes of what they could save from the fire, deploring their losses, and though ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me appeared a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld.” Pepys, who, as Clerk of the Acts of the Navy, lived in Seething Lane, Crutched Friars, has also left a vivid account of the fire. With his usual love of the curious, he adds :---"It is observed, and it is true, in the late Fire of London, that the Fire burned just as many parish churches as there were hours from the beginning to the end of the Fire; and next, that there were just as many churches left standing as there were taverns left standing in the rest of the City that was not burned, being, I think, thirteen in all of each ; which is pretty to observe.” The London Gazette of Sept. 8, 1666, gives the limits of the Great Fire as follows:-“At the Temple Church, near Holborn Bridge, Pye Corner, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, near the lower end of Coleman Street, at the end of Basingall Street, hy the Postərn; at the upper end of Bishopsgate Street and Leadenhall Street, at the Standard in Cornhill, at the Church in Fenchurch Street, near Clothworkers' Hall, in Mincing Lane, at the middle of Mark Lane, and at the Tower Dock." Nearly five-sixths of the whole city were consumed; the ruins covered 436 acres; of six-and-twenty wards fifteen were utterly destroyed, and eight others shattered and half burnt; eighty-nine churches were destroyed, four of the City Gates, Guildhall, many public structures, hospitals, schools, libraries, a great number of stately edifices, 13,200 dwelling houses, and 460 streets. Various estimates have been formed of the pecuniary loss sustained, a pamphlet published in 1667 stating it to be 7,335,0001. ; but other accounts give a total of ten millions sterling. It is marvellous that not more than six persons lost their lives in the fire, one of these being a watchmaker of Shoe Lane, “who would not leave his house, which sunk him with the ruins into the cellar, where his bones, with his keys, were found.” The loss of life contrasts favourably with that of the fire of 1212, which until Charles II.'s reign was $nown as the Great Fire of London. The Waverley Chronicle reports that this conflagration broke out in Southwark, when a great part of London in the neighbourhood of the Bridge, with the Southwark Priory, was burnt down. Three thousand bodies, half burned, were found in the river Thames, besides those who perished altogether by the flames. Multitudes of people rushed to the rescue of the inhabitants of houses on the Bridge, and while thus engaged the fire broke out on the north side also, and hemmed them in, making a holocaust of those who were not killed by leaping into the Thames. The next great fire in the city after that of 1666 occurred in 1748, when 200 houses were burnt; but a fire broke out in 1794 at Ratcliffe Cross, by which 630 houses and an East India warehouse were destroyed, the loss being 1,000,0001. One of the greatest fires during the present century was the conflagration in Tooley Street in the year 1861, by which property was destroyed to the extent of half a million sterling

Notwithstanding the ravages of the Great Plague, which destroyed 68,596 people, and the terrible calamity of the Great Fire in the year ensuing, London speedily arose again like a phenix from its ashes. Though the style of building was vastly improved, unfortunately the old narrow and cramped streets were preserved. But many magnificent mansions were reared in the busy and contracted thoroughfares of the city; for the merchant prince lived where he garnered his wealth. “London was to the Londoner what Athens was to the Athenian of the age of Pericles, what Florence was to the Florentine of the fifteenth century. The citizen was proud of the grandeur of his city, punctilious about her claims to respect, ambitious of her offices, and zealous for her franchises.” But almost all the noble families of England had long migrated beyond the walls. " The district where most of their town. houses stood lies between the city and the regions which are considered as fashionable. A few great men still retained their hereditary hotels in the Strand. The stately dwellings on the south and west of Lincoln's Inn Fields, the Piazza of Covent Garden, Southampton Square (which is now called Bloomsbury Square), and King's Square in Soho Fields (which is now called Soho Square), were among the favourite spots. Foreign princes were carried to see Bloomsbury Square as one of the wonders of England.

Golden Square, which was in the next generation inhabited by lords and ministers of state, had not yet been began. Indeed, the only dwellings to be seen on the north of Piccadilly were three or four isolated and almost rural mansions, of which the most celebrated was the costly pile-erected by Clarendon, and nicknamed Dunkirk House. It had been purchased, after its owner's downfall, by the Duke of Albemarle. The Clarendon Hotel and Albemarlo Street still preserve the memory of the site.” What is now the gayest and most crowded part of Regent street was in the time of Charles II. a complete solitude, where a rambler might sometimes have a shot at a woodcock. General Oglethorpe, who died at a great age in 1785, boasted that he had shot birds here in Queen Anne's reign. The Oxford road on the north ran between hedges, and the occasional residences to be met with were regarded as being quite out of town. The centre of Lincoln's Inn Fields was a open space, where a disorderly rabble congregated every evening, while St. James's Square was a receptacle for all kinds of offal and filth. The houses in London were not numbered, and the walk from Charing Cross to Whitechapel lay through an endless succession of Saracens' Heads, Royal Oaks, Blue Boars, and Golden Lambs, which disappeared when they were no longer required for the direction of the people. In the evening it was not safe to walk abroad in the city. Besides the emptying of pails and the shooting of rubbish from the upper windows upon the passengers beneath, thieves and robbers plied their trade with impunity, and bands of “gentlemen” ruffians paraded the streets, annoying, insulting, and injuring the peaceablydisposed citizens. Until the last year of the reign of Charles II., the streets of London were not lighted. At this time one Edward Heming obtained letters patent, conveying to him, for a term of years, the exclusive right of lighting up London, “He undertook, for a moderate consideration, to place a light before every tenth door, on moonless nights, from Michaelmas to Lady Day, and from six to twelve of the clock.”

The friends of improvement extolled Heming as one of the greatest benefactors of his species, regarding the inventions of Archimedes as very trifling matters “compared with the achievement of the man who had turned the nocturnal shades into noon-day.” There were others, however, who strenuously opposed this innovation, just as in later days (as we are reminded) there were people who opposed vaccination and railways.

It should not be forgotten-though it is a point which has frequently escaped attention, and is not mentioned by Macaulay and others—that to no single cause can the growth of London be more legitimately assigned than to improved methods of locomotion. London would as yet have occupied a position very inferior to that it now enjoys had its " The great

increase in population depended chiefly upon the increase of families resident within its borders. When the journey from distant parts of the country to the metropolis was rendered comparatively easy and inexpensive, people flocked thither, but the influx bore no proportion whatever to the numbers of persons who have migrated to London from the provinces since the introduction of railways. If we glance at the means of locomotion in 1685, we shall appreciate the vast strides that have been made. Hardly .a single navigable canal had been projected, and the Marquis of Worcester was suspected of being a madman for having constructed a rude steam-engine, called a fire-work, “which he pronounced to be an admirable and most forcible instrument of propulsion. The highways were in a terrible condition. Pepys and his wife, travelling in their own coach, lost their way between Newbury and Reading. Subsequently they lost their way near Salisbury, and were in danger of having to pass the night on the Plain. Passengers had to swim for their lives when the floods were out between Ware and London. route through Wales to Holyhead was in such a state that, in 1685, a Viceroy, going to Ireland, was five hours in travelling fourteen miles, from Saint Asaph to Conway. Between Conway and Beaumaris he was forced to walk great part of his way; and his lady was carried in a litter. His coach was, with much difficulty, and with the help of many hands, brought after him entire. In general, carriages were taken to pieces at Conway, and borne, on the shoulders of stout Welsh peasants, to the Menai Straits. In some parts of Kent and Sussex none but the strongest horses could, in winter, get through the “bog,' in which at every step they sank deep: The markets were often inaccessible during several months.” The chief cause of the badness of the roads was found in the defective operation of the law. The inhabitants of every parish were bound to repair the highways which passed through it; and, as Lord Macaulay observes, this was especially hard upon the poor parishes. In many instances, in fact, it was a sheer impossibility. The Great North Road traversed very poor and thinly-inhabited districts; but upon these districts chiefly fell the burden of the maintenance of the road, and not upon the wealthy and populous districts at its extremities, viz., London and the West Riding of Yorkshire. Changes were slowly inaugurated, till now Great Britain is intersected in every direction by upwards of thirty thousand miles of good turnpike road. Besides the stage waggons in use in Charles II.'s time, there were horses and coaches for the wealthier classes. The cost of conveying goods was

“From London to Birmingham the charge was 71. a ton; and from London to Exeter 121. a ton. The cost of conveyance amounted to a prohibitory tax on many articles.” It was twenty times as great as the charge for conveyance made at the present day. Journeys to London from the country were a very expensive as well as a tedious "affair. In 1669 the University of Oxford established a Flying Coach,” whose first journey to London was regarded with great anxiety by the University authorities. At six in the morning on

enormous.

« PreviousContinue »