A Great and Monstrous Thing: London in the Eighteenth by Jerry White

By Jerry White

London within the eighteenth century was once a brand new urban, risen from the ashes of the good hearth of 1666 that had destroyed part its houses and nice public structures. The century that was once an period of energetic growth and large-scale tasks, of speedily altering tradition and trade, as large numbers of individuals arrived within the shining urban, drawn via its giant wealth and gear and its many diversions. Borrowing a word from Daniel Defoe, Jerry White calls London “this nice and significant thing,” the grandeur of its new constructions and the glitter of its excessive existence shadowed by way of poverty and squalor.

A nice and mammoth Thing deals a street-level view of the town: its public gardens and prisons, its banks and brothels, its workshops and warehouses—and its bustling, jostling crowds. White introduces us to shopkeepers and prostitutes, women and men of style and genius, street-robbers and thief-takers, as they play out the magnificent drama of existence in eighteenth-century London. What emerges is an image of a society fractured via geography, politics, faith, history—and particularly by way of type, for the divide among wealthy and bad in London was once by no means better or extra damaging within the glossy period than in those years.

regardless of this gulf, Jerry White indicates us Londoners going approximately their enterprise as bankers or beggars, reveling in an enlarging global of public pleasures, indulging in crimes either nice and small—amidst the tightening sinews of energy and legislation, and the hesitant beginnings of London democracy.

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Three empty Drays have been stopped at Little Chelsea, and Ten Horses put at Length to draw them out, one by one: That Three Weeks ago he travelled the way with a Chaise, and a Pair of Horses, between Piccadilly, and Hyde Park Corner; and by the badness of the Way, one of the Horses had like to have been smothered in the Dirt . 31 Beginning with the Stanmore (Middlesex) roads that January, the solution was to take the roads out of parish control – some parishes more vigorous than others and none, it was thought, vigorous enough – and consign them to turnpike trusts.

The poor were served by common pumps in the courts and alleys and by-streets. The supply to everyone was intermittent, householders storing their water in lead cisterns, usually in the basement. And it was made worse by frequent breakages in the six-inch wooden mains beneath the streets and at the join with the leaden pipes supplying each house. 20 There is one further amenity worth dwelling on at this point. No Londoner, even one entombed in the dankest, darkest City alley, was more than a mile or two from something like open countryside.

There were three in the East End: Christ Church, Spitalfields (1714–29), St George in the East in Ratcliff Highway (also 1714–29) and St Anne’s, Limehouse (1714–30), all by Nicholas Hawksmoor and all properly suburban. Three were south of the river: St Alfege’s, Greenwich (1712–18, Hawksmoor), St Paul’s, Deptford (1713–30, Thomas Archer) and St John Horsleydown, Bermondsey (1727–33, John James). Two were in the City: a new church 20 A GREAT AND MONSTROUS THING on the northern edge, St Luke’s, Old Street (1727–33, Hawksmoor and James), and the rebuilt St Mary Woolnoth (1716–24, Hawksmoor).

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