London Life in the XVIIIth Century

By M. Dorothy George | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
HOUSING AND THE GROWTH OF LONDON

" London, the Metropolis of Great Britain, has been complained of for ages past as a kind of monster, with a head enormously large, and out of all proportion to its body. And yet, at the juncture when this complaint was first made (about 200 years ago) the buildings of London hardly advanced beyond the City bounds. . . . If therefore the increase of buildings, begun at such an early period, was looked upon to be no better than a wen or excrescence upon the body-politic, what must we think of those numberless streets and squares which have been added since!"

Tucker, Four Letters to the Earl of Shelburne, 2nd edition, 1783, p. 44.

IN the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the records of population and of the number of houses--such as they are-- show London expanding irregularly from its centre, the City within the Walls, in a succession of waves. The earliest and most central extensions first ceased to expand, having spent their force and filled up the space available, and then the districts which they cover tended to grow less rather than more thickly populated.* In the reign of Elizabeth the suburbs of London grew in a long line. On the west, noblemen's houses fringed the Thames along the Strand from Temple Bar to Charing Cross and the north side of the Strand was also built upon. On the east a growing seafaring and industrial population was strung out along the river from the Tower to Ratcliffe. Houses had begun to fill the space immediately north and east of the City and to spread along the roads of Shoreditch and Whitechapel. They extended from Smithfield to St. John's Clerkenwell and along Holborn towards St. Giles. There was also a great increase of population, largely of artisans, in Southwark. 1

Already in the sixteenth century the distinction had begun to show itself between the industrial districts east of the City and south of the Thames, and a district of wealth and leisure stretching towards Westminster and the Court. This rich district, however, had its poor, who were the poorer for having no industries to depend on. By Elizabeth's reign

____________________
*
See Appendix No. III. B.

-63-

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