1902 Encyclopedia > London > Growth of London Commerce. Present Trade (1882).

(Part 16)


Growth of London Commerce. Present Trade (1882).

London, which was a port of some consequence in the time of the Romans, is spoken of by Bede as the "mart of many nations resorting to it by sea and land. The Hanse merchants, protected by a clause of Magna Charta, began in the 13th century to frequent London in large numbers, and, after obtaining liberty in 1236 to land and store the wool imported by them, are supposed to have settled in the Steelyard about 1250, but as early as the 8th century they had begun to frequent Billingsgate, and in 978 King Ethelred had conferred certain privileges on them and on other traders. Probably by the time of Fitzstephen London had become the most renowned mart of the world, with the exception perhaps of Antwerp and Bruges. The foreign merchants received a special charter from Edward I. in 1303, and, notwithstanding occasional interference with their privileges, the Hanse traders, who had erected extensive factories and storehouses near their "Gildhall," gradually absorbed the greater portion of the foreign trade of London, until the incorporation of the Merchant Adventurers of England, in 1505, for trading in wool to the Netherlands. The trade with the Levant, which had become of some importance in the 15th century, soon largely extended, and commercial intercourse was also opened up with Barbary, Guinea, and Brazil. After the abolition of the special privileges of the Steelyard merchants, the trade in wool was transferred almost entirely to the Merchant Adventurers, the annual export of English wool and drapery to Antwerp and Bruges in 1655 being estimated at over 2,000,000 pounds. The close of the 16th century was marked by the rapid extension of maritime discovery, and the spirit of enterprise was stimulated by the grant of monopolies to those companies which should first open up communication with undiscovered countries. One of the earliest and most successful of the great maritime companies was the Russian, incorporated in 1553, which, besides establishing an extensive commerce with the ports of Russia, had an overland trade with Persia. The foundation of the Royal Exchange by Gresham in 1566 marked an era in the commercial history of London; and the destruction of Antwerp by the duke of Parma in 1585 left it without a rival as the emporium of Europe. The settlement of many of the Flanders merchants in England gave a great impetus to the manufacture of silks, damasks, and other fine cloths, but from the time of the expulsion of the Steelyard merchants by Elizabeth in 1597 the development of the maritime trade of London was solely in the hands of English companies. The incorporation of the Turkey Company in 1579, of the East India Company in 1600, of the Virginia Company in 1606, and of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670 must be regarded, not only as the most important events connected with the growth of the port in the 17th and 18th centuries, but as of prime consequence in relation to the social and political history of England.

In the trade of London there is a large excess of imports over exports, arising from the fact that it is specially a mart, and is removed from proximity to any large manufacturing district. The value in 1880 of the total trade of Liverpool, 19,489,838 pounds, was nearly equal to that of London, which was 194,043,836 pounds, but the value of the imports of London exceeded those of Liverpool by nearly 34,000,000 pounds, while the exports of Liverpool exceeded those of London by about 31,000,000 pounds. London has almost a monopoly of the trade with the east Indies and China, and has thus become the chief emporium for tea, coffee, sugar, spices, and indigo, and for silks and Eastern manufactures. A great part of he overland trade of London with India has till quite recently been carried on via Southampton, which, and also Folkestone, Newhaven, and Dover, may be regarded as virtually ports of London. The value of the imports of Folkstone, Newhaven, and Dover in 1880 amounted together to 24,485,034 pounds, and their exports to only 4,432,244 pounds; the imports of Southampton were valued at 9,205,183, and its exports at 9,306,326 pounds. In the Mediterranean and Levant trade London has now a powerful rival in Liverpool. From European and Asiatic Turkey London imports corn, dried fruits, madder, and various other special products; from Greece currants and olive oil; from Italy olive oil, wine, sumach, oranges, and lemons; from Spain wine and dried fruits; from Portugal and the Azores oranges and wine. Nearly the whole of the French trade with England is concentrated in London, the imports including all the special French manufactures, and large quantities of butter, eggs, vegetables, and corn. It is, however, largely carried on through the southern ports, the value of the imports of silk to Folkestone in 1880 being 3,614,014, and those of London only 260,646 pounds, while the imports of eggs at Newhaven greatly exceed those of London, as do also the imports of butter and eggs at Southempton. London absorbs the greater part of the Baltic imports to England, especially timber, corn, cattle, wool, and provisions, the tonnage of the shipping that entered from Germany in 1881 being 634,741, from Belgium 249,161, from Sweden 416,997, from Norway 201,056, from the northern ports of Russia 401,076, and from Denmark 135,634. The tonnage that entered from the southern ports of Russia only amounted to 50,883, but much of this trade is carried on via Southampton. The chief imports from Russia are corn, tallow, timber, hemp, linseed, and wool. The fact that the staple manufacture of Lancashire is cotton had enabled Liverpool to gain a superiority over London in the United States trade, with the exception of imports of tobacco from Virginia; but the shipping that entered London from the Atlantic ports of the United Sates in 1881 had a burden of 670,079 tons, and from the Pacific ports of 3248 tons. From Central America Londn obtains its chief supply of the finer woods, and also jalap, saraparillam indigo, coffee, and Peruvian bark, and from South America sugar, hides, India-rubber, coffee, diamonds, and various drugs. From Canada the port receives timber, corn, cattle, and provisions, from the Australian islands wool, oil, gold, copper, tin, provisions, and cattle; and it possesses more than half the trade of England with the West Indies, the principal imports being sugar and molasses, fruit, rum, coffee, cocoa, fine woods, pimento, and ginger.

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