By Jerry White
London within the eighteenth century was once a brand new urban, risen from the ashes of the nice fireplace of 1666 that had destroyed part its houses and nice public constructions. The century that was once an period of lively growth and large-scale tasks, of quickly altering tradition and trade, as large numbers of individuals arrived within the shining urban, drawn through its big wealth and gear and its many diversions. Borrowing a word from Daniel Defoe, Jerry White calls London “this nice and enormous thing,” the grandeur of its new constructions and the glitter of its excessive lifestyles shadowed via poverty and squalor.
A nice and immense Thing deals a street-level view of 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 favor and genius, street-robbers and thief-takers, as they play out the surprising drama of lifestyles in eighteenth-century London. What emerges is an image of a society fractured by way of geography, politics, faith, history—and particularly via classification, for the divide among wealthy and negative in London was once by no means higher or extra damaging within the smooth period than in those years.
regardless of this gulf, Jerry White exhibits us Londoners going approximately their company as bankers or beggars, reveling in an enlarging international of public pleasures, indulging in crimes either nice and small—amidst the tightening sinews of strength and legislation, and the hesitant beginnings of London democracy.
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Additional resources for A Great and Monstrous Thing: London in the Eighteenth Century
But even by 1700 Londoners had begun to take a myriad liberties with this rural innocence. At every point on the London compass the wealthy citizen, his wife or his widow had staked their claim, fattening up the villages here, imposing with a country mansion there. Just a few instances will have to stand for an uncountable many: in the west, Gumley House, Isleworth, for a prominent London mirror- and cabinetmaker (c. 1700), and Gordon House, Isleworth (c. 1718), for Moses Hart, a wealthy London Jewish merchant; in the east, Leyton Great House (1712) for Sir Nathaniel Tench, one of the first directors of the Bank of England, and Wanstead House (begun 1715) for Sir Richard Child, a banker of prodigious wealth.
Here the streets were generally surfaced with large pebbles and with a central kennel or gutter, at very best uneven and rough. Main streets had footways on either side paved in flat stone, Purbeck stone the preferred material, and were not raised much – if at all – above the roadway. To stop carriages taking advantage of the smooth stones they were protected by stumpy wooden posts at the pavement’s edge. But in narrow streets there was no footway and no protection at all for the pedestrian. In any event, the upkeep of pavement and carriageway was the responsibility of the separate occupiers – not even the owners – of houses on each side up to the central kennel or midpoint.
Where undertaken, it was performed as cheaply as possible. No obligation existed to use the same materials, or even repair to the same level, as one’s neighbour. The pits and troughs that wheeled traffic had to negotiate were boneshaking and axle-shattering; the holes and hazards endured by foot passengers were not just prejudicial to bones but to life itself. . . Black and Blew’. 12 There were other hazards too. The drainage of London in 1700 was 8 A GREAT AND MONSTROUS THING established on a simple system.
A Great and Monstrous Thing: London in the Eighteenth Century by Jerry White