1902 Encyclopedia > London > London History (cont.) - Eighteenth Century

(Part 39)


London History (cont.) - Eighteenth Century

With the accession of George I. a considerable change in the habits of all classes was introduced. At no previous time probably was public taste so low or manners more depraved. These two evils naturally were felt over the whole kingdom, but nowhere was their baneful influence more apparent than in the capital. Public buildings of the most tasteless character were raised, and streets of private houses were built that were positively painful in their ugliness. London thus grew to be the ugliest of cities, a character which it is only now beginning to throw off. London had gradually grown up by the side of the Thames and extended itself along the river’s banks, which were skirted by a succession of handsome palaces. The inhabitants moved from place to place in boats, and the river the chief highway. In the 18th century this state of things had ceased, And other parts of the town were more largely built upon. The inhabitants used coaches and chairs more than boats, and the banks of the river were neglected. London could no longer be seen as a whole, and it grew into a mere collection of houses. In spite of all this the 18th century produced some of the most devoted of Londoners,-men who considered a day lived out of London as one lost out of the lives. Of this class Dr Johnson and Hogarth are striking examples. The exhibitions of vice and cruelty that were constantly to be seen in the capital have been reproduced by Hogarth and had they not been set down by so truthful an observer it would have been almost impossible to believe that such enormities could have been committed in the streets of a great city. A few days after his accession George I. addressed the representatives of the city in these words – "I have lately been made sensible of what consequence the city of London is, and therefore shall be sure to take all their privileges and interests into my particular protection." On the following lord mayor’s day the king witnessed the show in Cheapside and attended the banquet at Guildhall. Queen Anne and the first three Georges were all accommodated, on the occasions of their visits to the City see the show, at the same house opposite Bow church. In the time of Queen Anne and George I. David Barclay (the son of the famous apologist for the Quakers) was an apprentice in the house, but he subsequently became master, and had the honor of receiving George II. and George III. as his guests. There was a large balcony extending along the front of the house which was fitted with a canopy and hangings of crimson damask silk. The building, then numbered 108 Cheapside, was pulled don in 1861. In September 1720 the bursting of the South Sea Bubble created the most fearful panic that London has ever seen. Trade was at a standstill, and many of the chief merchants, goldsmiths, and bankers stopped payment, thus causing ruin to numberless families.

Early in the 18th century there was a considerable extension of building operations in the West End. About the year 1716 the earl of Burlington commenced building on the Ten Acres Field at the back of the gardens of Burlington House, and shortly afterwards the City authorities, who were proprietors of the Conduit Mead (containing 27 acres), followed his example. on June 1,1717, the Weekly Journal announced that "the new buildings between Bond Street and Mary-le-Bone go on with all possible diligence, and the houses even let and sell before they are built." The parish of St George’s, Hanover Square, was constituted in 1725. In 1715 Cavendish Square and the neighboring streets had been planned out, but it was several years before the plan was completed. The foundation stone of Harcourt House (duke of Portland’s) on the west side of the square, which is now about to be destroyed, was laid in 1722; and the north side, which was originally intended to be occupied by the mansion of the duke of Chandos, was still unfinished in 1761. St Peter’s chapel in Vere Street, originally Oxford chapel, was built by Gibbs about 1724.

Still, however, the north of London remained unbuilt upon, and the open character of this part is well shown in the map given above. In 1756 and for some years subsequently the land behind Montague House (now the British Museum) was occupied as a farm, and when in that year a proposal was made to plan out a new road the tenant and the duke of Bedford strongly opposed it. In 1772 all beyond Portland Chapel in Great Portland Street was country. Portman Square was laid out about 1764, but it was nearly twenty years before the whole was finished. It was built on high ground with an open prospect to the north, which gave it a name as a peculiarly healthy part of London. Mrs Montagu called it the Montpellier of England, and said she "never" enjoyed such health as since she came to live in it." In a map of London dated 1773 the villages of Hackney, Stepney, Islington, Hoxton, Pancras, marylebone, Peddington, Knightsbridge, and Chelsea are all shown as country outskirts of the town. Bedford House in Bloomsbury Square had its full view of Hampstead and Highgate from the back, and Queen’s Square was built open to the north inorder that the inhabitants might obtain the same prospect. Dr Heberden recommended south Lambeth as a health resort on account of its situation on the banks of a tidal river with the south-west wind blowing blowing fresh from the country and the north-east softened by blowing over the town.

In 1737 the Fleet ditch between Holborn Bridge and Fleet Bridge was covered over, and Stock market removed from the site of the Mansion House to the present Farrington Street, and called Fleet market. On October 25, 1739, the first stone of the Mansion House was laid. Previously the first magistrates lived in several different houses. In 1750 Westminster Bridge was opened for passengers, and London Bridge ceased to be the only means of crossing the Thames at London. Blackfriars Bridge followed in 1769. a frost almost as severe as the memorable one of 1683- occurred in the winter of 1739-40, and the Thames was again the scene of busy fair. In 1758 the houses on London Bridge were cleared away, and in 1760-62 several of the city gates were taken down and sold. Moorgate is said to have fetched 166 pounds, Aldersgate 91 pounds, Aldgate 177, pounds Cripplegate 90 pounds, and Ludgate 148 pounds. The statue of queen Elizabeth which stood on the west side of the Ludgate was purchased by alderman Gosling and set up against he east end of St Dunstan’s church in Fleet Street, where it still remains.

The need of improving and opening out may of the streets of London was felt in the 18th century, but little or nothing was done, and the work was left to be accomplished in the present century. John Gwyn, a friend of Dr Jonhson, paid considerable attention to this subject, and published in 1766 a work entitled London and Westminster Improved, Illustrated by Plans. Many of the author’s suggestions have not been carried out, although they would often have been improvements upon what has been since attempted. Of such alterations as have subsequently been executed we may note here the widening of Swallow Street, a much-needed improvement, which was not carried out until the beginning of the present century, a square where Trafalgar Square now stands and some straight streets on the site of Dunham House now the Adelphi, and a brige where Waterloo Bridge was afterwards built.

Robert Adam and his brothers, Scotsmen who came to London under the protection of the earl of Bute, made a considerable improvement in the appearance of certain parts of London during the second half of the 18th century by the adoption of a combined system of architecture, in which several separate houses were grouped together to give the appearance of a continuous building. The Adelphi and Portland Place still remain good examples of their system. The brothers Adam were leaders in the revival of taste, and the interiors of their buildings are executed with much elegant detail. We have now come to a period when London outside the City may be considered as more important in many points than London within the liberties. "Why sir," said Dr Johnson to Boswell, "Fleet Street has a very animated appearance, but I thin the tide of human existence is at Charing Cross." This speech was made in 1775, and in spite of the vast increase of London in every direction Charing Cross still retains this pre-eminent position.

The latter years of the 18th century were somewhat troublous ones of London, but it is only necessary here to barely mention the divisions between the court and the City relating to the election Wilkes, and the Gordon riots of 1780, when the gates of Newgate were thrown open, and much property was destroyed by the mob.

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