Regency and early Victorian London

A lot smaller than it shortly became: essentially the City and Westminster. Smoky, smelly, dirty, noisy, badly lit, and somewhat haphazardly policed. A lot of civil administration was still in theory undertaken at the parish level, which in a city of this size and population density was not very workable. This continued well on into the century.

But this was (still is) a city in constant change.

There is a really excellent website here, Romantic London, which includes maps and contemporary images and descriptions.

See also the marvellous The Proceedings of the Old Bailey. This has very useful background material on the changing London in which the cases tried at the Old Bailey occurred: particularly relevant London,1760-1815, London, 1800-1913: The Urban Contexts of Crimes Tried at the Old Bailey, Policing in London.

The first well-recorded public street lighting with gas was demonstrated in Pall Mall, London, on January 28, 1807; in 1812, Parliament granted a charter to the London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company (some of the original Westminster gas lamps are still in use).

Pierce Egan’s Real Life In London, Volumes I. and II. Or, The Rambles And Adventures Of Bob Tallyho, Esq., And His Cousin, The Hon. Tom Dashall, Through The Metropolis; Exhibiting A Living Picture Of Fashionable Characters, Manners, And Amusements In High And Low Life (1821), with its colour plates, is now available by way of Project Gutenberg online and in various downloadable formats.

A very fine set of William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders of London in their Ordinary Costume with Notices of Remarkable Places given in the Background from 1804 has recently come to light and illuminates not only these characters who would have been common sights in the streets but several parts of the metropolis.

A major change in the cityscape was the development of what is now Trafalgar Square between 1826 and 1844, and the construction of the National Gallery on its north side.

City Scenes, or a Peep into London, 1828

A significant change in matters of law and order was The Establishment of the Metropolitan Police, (‘bobbies’, ‘peelers’) 1829.

Horse-drawn omnibuses for public transport were introduced to London in 1829.

Four-wheeled hackney carriages drawn by two horses plying for hire had been regulated since the seventeenth century, with a new Hackney Carriage Act passed in 1831. Shortly afterwards the hansom ‘safety’ cab was introduced, which was lighter, cheaper (drawn by a single horse), and more manoeuvrable in the crowded London streets.

There were relatively few bridges crossing the Thames, though gradually increasing in number: London Bridge, Southwark Bridge (1819), Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo Bridge (1817), Westminster Bridge, Vauxhall Bridge (1816), Battersea Bridge, Hammersmith Bridge (1827), Barnes Railway and Footbridge (1849), Kew Bridge, Richmond Railway Bridge (1848), Richmond Bridge, Kingston Bridge, Hampton Court Bridge. The river itself was still a significant mode of transport: as well as the traditional water taxis, ‘wherries’, passenger steamboats had been introduced in 1815, but were gradually superseded by the railways. The fact that the Thames was taking on the character of an open sewer even before the notorious Great Stink may also have had something to with this decline.

Burial grounds within London were becoming hideously overcrowded and dangerously insanitary, especially with the vast increase of population and the mortality caused by epidemic cholera. From 1833-1841 the Magnificent Seven private cemeteries were set up outside central London, but it was not until the Burial Act of 1852 that the closure of existing parish burial grounds was enabled.

In 1834 there was a massive fire at the Houses of Parliament causing major destruction. It was rebuilt in perpendicular Gothic style, taking 30 years to be completed although both Houses were sitting in their new chambers well before then.

The advent of the railways caused massive change. The first station to be built was London Bridge, 1836, then Euston, 1837, Paddington, 1838, BIshopsgate, 1840 (later replaced by Liverpool Street), Fenchurch Street, 1841, Waterloo, 1848. The construction of railway lines devastated large areas.

The famous ‘London particular’ fog was caused by the combination of air pollution from domestic use of coal and industrial processes with the formation of low-level atmospheric temperature inversions in the Thames Valley, leading to the trapping of the fog under the inversion layer so that it did not disperse.

Mogg’s new picture of London; or, Strangers’ guide to the British metropolis, 11th edition, 1848

Cross’s New Plan Of London 1850 and Map Of London 1851 - Cross’s London Guide.

The pioneering social survey by Henry Mayhew (and collaborators), London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work. The London street-folk, comprising street sellers · street buyers · street finders street performers · street artizans · street labourers. With numerous illustrations from photographs.:

Volume one

Volume two

Volume three

Volume four: Those That Will Not Work Comprising Prostitutes · Thieves · Swindlers · Beggars. By Several Contributors

Monday 12th September 2022

L.A. Hall, FRHistS