1902 Encyclopedia > London > Stuart Period (1603-1714)

(Part 38)


London History (cont.) - Stuart Period (1603-1714)

The Stuart period, from the accession of James I. to the death of Queen Anne, extends over little more than a century, and yet grater changes occurred during those years than at any previous period. The early years of Stuart London may be said to be closely linked with the last years if Elizabethan London, for the greatest men such as Raleigh, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson lived on into James’s reign. Much of the life of the time was then in the City, but the last years of Stuart London take us to the 18th century, when social life had permanently shifted to the west end. In the middle of the period occurred the civil wars and then the fire which changed the whole aspect of London. When James came to the throne the term suburbs had a bad name, as all those disreputable persons who could find no shelters in the city itself settled in these outlying districts. Then the line of the strand was almost the only respectable outskirt. Stubnbs denounced suburban gardens and garden houses in his Anatomy of Abuses, and another writer observed "how happy were cities if they had no suburbs."

The preparations for the coronation of King James were interrupted by a severe visitation of the plague, which killed off as many as 30,578 persons, and it was not till March 15, 1604, that the king, the queen, and Prince Henry passed triumphantly from the Tower to Westminster. The lord mayor’s shows, which had been discontinued for some years, were revived by order of the king in 1609. The dissolved monastery of the Charterhouse, which had been bought and sold by the courtiers several times, was obtained from Thomas, earl of Suffolk, by Thomas Sutton for 13,000 pounds. The new hospital chapel and schoolhouse were commenced in 1611, and in the same year Sutton died. Somerset House was occupied by Anne of Denmark, and in 1616 James I. commanded it to be called Denmark House. In 1619 Inigo Jones commenced the Banqueting House at Whitehall, which was only part of a proposed vast palace, but which has remained to our time to be one of the chief ornaments of the town. The fatal vespers at Blackfriars threw a gloom over the year 1623. A large and mixed congregation of Protestants and Roman Catholics had gathered together one Sunday evening at the house of Count de Tillier, the French ambassador, to hear Father Drury (a converted Protestant) preach. As many as were able crowded into the room on the upper floor for that purpose but those who could not get in were fain to remain on the floor below and listen to a preacher on the sacrament of penance. The floors both gave way, and a large number of persons were precipitated to a great depth and killed, preachers being among the dead. With the death of James I. in 1625 the older history of London may be said to have closed. During the reign of his successor the great change in the relative position of London within and without the walls had commenced. Before going on to consider the chief incidents of this change it will be well to refer to some features of the social life of James’s reign. Ben Jonson places one of the scenes of Every Man in his Humor in Moorfields, which at the time he wrote the play had lately been drained and laid out in walks. Beggars frequented the place, and travelers from the village of Hoxton, who crossed it in order to get into London, did so with as much expedition as possible. Adjoining Moorfields were Finsbury Fields, a favorite practicing ground for the archers. Mile End, a common on the Great eastern Road, was long famous as a rendezvous for he troops. These places are frequently referred to by the old dramatics; Justice Shallow boasts of his doing at Mile End Green when he was Dagonet in Arthur’s Show. Fleet Street was the show-place of London, in which were exhibited a constant succession of puppets, naked Indians, and strange fishes. The great meeting-place of Londoners in the day-time was the nave of old St Paul’s. Crowds of merchants with their hats on transacted business in the aisles, and used the font as counter upon which to make their payments; lawyers received clients at their several pillars; and masterless serving-men waited to be engaged upon their own particular bench. Besides those who came on business there were gallants dressed in fashionable finery, so that it was worth the tailor’s while to stand behind a pillar and fill his table-books with notes. The middle or Mediterranean aisle was the Paul’s Walk, also called the Duke’s gallery from the erroneous supposition that the tomb of Sir Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwich, was that of the "good" Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. After the Restoration a fence was erected on the inside of the great north door to hinder a concourse of rude people, and when the cathedral was being rebuilt Sir Christopher Wren made a strict order against any profanation of the sacred building. Another of the favorite haunts of the people was the garden of Gray’s Inn, where the choicest society was to be met. There, under the shadow of the elm trees which Bacon had planted, Pepys and his wife constantly walked. Mrs Pepys went on one occasion specially to observe the fashions of the ladies because she was then "making some clothes."

In those days of public conviviality, and for many years afterwards, the taverns of London held a very important place. The Boar’s Head in Great Eastcheap was an inn of Shakespeare’s own day, and the characters he introduces into his plays are really his own contemporaries. The "Mermaid" is sometimes described as in Bread Street, and at other times in Friday Street and also in Cheapside. We are the thus able to fix its exact position; for a little to the west of Bow church is Bread Street, then came a block of houses, then Friday Street. It was in this block that the "Mermiad" was situated, and appear to have been entrances from each street. What makes this fact still more certain is the circumstance that a haberdasher in Cheapside living "twixt Wood Street and Milk Street," two streets on the north side opposite Bread and Friday Streets, himself as "over against the Mermaid tavern in Cheapside." The Windmill tavern occupies a prominent position in the action of Every Man in his Humor. The Windmill stood at the corner of the old Jewry towards Lothbury, and the Mitre close by the Mermiad in Bread Street. The Mitre in Fleet Street, so intimately associated with Dr Johnson, also existed at this time. it is mentioned in a comedy entitled Ram Alley (1611), and Lilly the astrologer frequented it in 1640. At the Mermniad Ben Jonson may be supposed to have had such rivals as Shakespeare, Raleigh, Beaumont, Flectehr, Carew, Donne, Cotton, and Selden, but at the Devil in Fleet Street, where he started the Apollo Club, he was omnipotent. Herrick, in his well-known Ode to Ben, mentions several of the inus of the day.

Under James I. the theater, which established itself so firmly in the latter years of Elizabeth, had still further increased its influence, and to the entertainments given at the many playhouses may be added the masques so expensively produced at court and at the inns of law. In 1613 "The Masque of Flowers" was presented by the members of Gray’s Inn in the Old Banqueting House in honor of the marriage of the infamous carr, earl of Somerset, an the equally infamous Lady Frances, daughter of the earl of Suffolk. The entertainment was prepared by Sir Francis Bacon at a cost of about 2000 pounds.

Charles I. and his councilors were filled with the same fear of the increasing growth of London which showed itself in the proclamation of his two predecessors. In 1630 a proclamation was issued in which "the erection of any building upon a new foundation, within the limits of 3 miles from any of the gates of the City of London, or palace of Westminster," was forbidden. The privy council in the following year out this question to the lord mayor-"What number of mouths are esteemed to be in the City of London and the liberty?’- the answer to which was 130,268. These prohibitions were not allowed to remain a dead letter, and in 1632 Mr Palmer, a large landholder in Sussex, was fined by the Star Chamber in the sum 1000 pounds for living in London beyond the period [prescribed in the proclamation of June 20th of that year. In April 1635 information was filed against Sir John Sucking the poet and others in the Court of Star Chamber for continuing to reside in London and Westminster. It was during this reign that the first great exodus of the wealthy and fashionable was made to the West End. The great square or piazza of Covent Garden was formed from the design of Inigo Jones about 1632. The neighboring streets were shortly afterwards built, and the names of Henrietta, Charles, James, King, and York Streets were given after members of the royal family. Great Queen Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was built about 1629, and named in honor of Henrietta Maria. Lincoln’s Inn Fields had been planned some years before.

When the civil war broke out London took the side of the parliament, and an extensive system of fortification was at once projected to protect the town against the threatened attack of the royal army. A strong earthen rampart, flanked with bastions and redoubts, surrounded the City, its liberties, Westminster and southwark, making an immense enclosure. Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, marks the spot on one of the these fortifications called Oliver’s Mount. In 1650 Cromwell allowed the Jews to return to England after a banishment of centuries, and those who settled in London mostly chose the neighborhood of Aldgate as a place of residence. With the Restoration the separation of fashionable from city life became complete, and the West End grew into a formidable rival of the older London. In 1635 the game of pall mall was played in St James’s Fields, on the site of St James’s Square and Pall Mall, but during the Commonwealth this was discontinued, and some houses were built round about. The square was planned out in 1663, and it soon became the most fashionable place in London. A mall was then prepared in St James’s Park which still retains its name. About the same time the great houses in Piccadilly were built. Claredon, Berkeley, and Burlington Houses all appeared on the north side of that street about 1665.

London had been ravaged by plague on many former occasions, but the pestilence that commenced in December 1664 will ever live in history as "the Plague of London." On the 7th of June 1665 Samuel Pepys for the firs time saw two or three houses marked with the red cross and the words "Lord,. Have mercy upon us," on the doors. The deaths daily increased, and business was stopped. Grass grew in the area of the Royal Exchange at Whitehall, and in the principal streets of the city. On the 4th of September, 1665, Pepys writes an interesting letter to Lady Carteret from Woolwich: - "I have stayed in the city till above 7400 died in one week, and of them about 6000 of the plague, and little noise heard day or night but tolling of bells."… The plague was scarcely stayed before the whole city was in flames, a calamity of the first magnitude, but one which in the end caused much good, as the seeds of disease were destroyed, and London has never since been visited by such an epidemic. On the 2d of September 1666 the fire broke out at once o’clock in the morning at a house in Pudding Lane. A violent east wind fomented the flames, which raged with fury during the whole of Monday and great part of Tuesday. On Tuesday night the wind fell somewhat, and on Wednesday the fire slackened. On Thursday it was extinguished, but in the evening of that day the flames again burst forth at the Temple. Some houses were at once blown up by gunpowder, and thus the fire was finally mastered. Many interesting details of the fire are given in Pepys’s Diary. The distress of those who were made houseless by this calamity was great. The rivers swarmed with vessels filed with persons carrying away such of their goods as they were able to save. Some fled to the hills of Hampstead and Highgate, but Moorfields was the chief resort of the houseless Londoner. Soon paved streets and two-story houses were seen in that swampy place. The people bore their troubles heroically, and Henry Oldenburg, writing to the Hon. Robert Boyle on September 10, says’ "the citizens instead of complaining, discoursed almost of nothing but of a survey for rebuilding the city with bricks and large streets." Within a few days of the fire three several plans were presented to the king for the rebuilding of the city, by Christopher Wren, John Evelyn, and Robert Hooke. Wren proposed to build main thorough fares north and south, and east and west, to insulate all the churches in conspicuous positions, to form the most public places into large piazzas, to unite the halls of the twelve chief companies into one regular square annexed to Guildhall, and to make a fine quay on the bank of the river from Blackfrairs to the Tower. His streets were to be of three magnitudes- 90 feet, 60 feet, and 30 feet wide respectively. Evelyn’s plan differed from Wren’s chiefly in proposing a street from the church of St Dunstan’s in the East to the cathedral, and in having no quay or terrace along he river. In spite of the best advice, however, the jealousies of the citizens prevented any systematic design from being carried out, and in consequence the old lines were in almost every case retained. But, though the plans of Wren and Hooke were not adopted, it was to these two fellows of the Royal Society that the labor of rebuilding London was committed. Wren’s great work, which has covered his name with renown, was the erection of the cathedral of St Paul’s, and the many churches ranged round it as satellites. Hooke’s task was the humbler one of ranging as city surveyor for the building of the houses. He laid out the ground of the several proprietors in the rebuilding of the city, and had no rest early or late from persons soliciting him to set out their ground for them at once. The first great impetus of change in the configuration of London was given by the great fire, and Evelyn records and regrets that the town in his time had grown almost as large again as it was within his own memory. Although for several centuries attempts had been made in favor of building houses with brick stone, yet the carpenters continued to be the chief house-builders. As ate as the year 1650 the Carpenters’ Company drew up a memorial in which they "gave their reasons that tymber buildings were more commodious for this citie than brick buildings were." The Act of Parliament "for rebuilding the city of London" passed after the great fire, gave the coup de grace to the carpenters as house-builders. After setting forth that "building with brick was not only more comely and durable, but also more safe against future perils of fire," it was enacted "that all the outsides of all buildings in and about the city should be made of brick or stone, except doorcases and window frames, and other parts of the first story to the front between the piers," for which substantial oaken timber might be used "for conveniently of shops." A third severe blow in addition to the plague and the fire overtook London in the reign of Charles II. The king and his brother had long entertained designs against the liberties of the city, and for the purpose of crushing them two pretexts were set up – (1) that a new rate of market tolls had been levied by virtue of an act of common council, and (2) that a petition to the king, in which it was alleged that by the prorogation of parliament public justice had been interrupted, had been printed by order of the Court of Common Council. Charles directed a writ quo warranto against the corporation of London in 1683, and the Court of King’s Bench declared its charter forfeited. Soon afterwards all the obnoxious aldermen were displaced and others appointed in their room by royal commission. A new lord mayor and recorder and new sheriffs were appointed in the same manner. This decision of the Court of King’s Bench was reversed in 1690. In the winter of 1683-84 a fair was held for some time upon the Thames. The frost, which commenced about seven weeks before Christmas and continued for six weeks after, was the greatest on record; the icewas 11 inches thick.

The revocation of the edict of Nantes in October 1685, and the consequent migration of a large number of industrious French Protestants, caused a considerable growth in the east end of London The silk manufactories at Spitafields were then established.

During the short reign of James II. the fortunes of the city were at their lowest and nowhere was the arrival of the prince of Orange more welcomed. One of the first acts of James was to cause an indictment for high treason to be prepared against Alderman Cornish, who had been a zealous supporter of the Exclusion Bill. Sir John Eyles, who had never been sheriff nor was even a freeman of the city, was appointed lord mayor by the king in 1688 in succession to Sir John Shorter. When James found the danger of his position, and learned that William had landed, he sent for the mayor and aldermen and informed them of his determination to restore the city charter and privileges.

William III cared little for London, the smoke of which gave him asthma, and when a great part of Whitehall was burnt in 1691 he purchased Nottingham House and made it into Kensington Palace. For convenience of communication with London he had a broad made through Hyde Park, which was lighted by lanterns at night. Kensington was then as insignificant village, but the arrival of the court soon caused it to grow in importance.

Although the spiritual wants of the city were amply provided for by the churches built by Sir Christopher Wren, the large districts outside the City and its liberties had been greatly neglected. The Act passed in the reign of Queen Anne for building fifty new churches (1710) not only helped to supply this want, but also gave a special architectural character to the suburbs.

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