A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.
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Containing a Survey of the City of London; with Descriptions of the Public Buildings.
CHAP. I. Situation, and general view of the Metropolis; bills of mortality with other useful tables.
The city of London stands in 51° 32' North latitude, but no longitude is given to it in modern English maps, the first meridian being placed over it, and longitude east or west computed from it. It is situated 400 miles S. by E. from Edinburgh, 334 S. E. from Dublin, 190 W. S. W. from Amsterdam, 500 S. W. from Copenhagen, 900 S. W. from Stockholm, 225 N. W. from Paris, 690 N. by W. from Madrid, 750 N. W. from Rome, 660 N. W. from Vienna, and 1500 N. W. from Constantinople (fn. 1). It lies along the northern side of the Thames, where the river irregularly bending from it at each extremity, receives the opposite borough of Southwark on its inner shore. Being about sixty miles from the mouth of the river, the water is at all times of the tide constantly fresh, while the width and depth of the channel allow merchant vessels to bring their cargoes from every part of the world up to the eastern suburbs, and many of them even to land their goods on the custom house wharf. Rising on a gentle ascent from the river, the opposite low lands in Surrey give it an open exposure to the south; while the high hills of Hampstead and Highgate, with the elevated situation of Islington, behind, intercept and moderate the cold winds from the north.
In strict language, London is still confined to its walls, and the limits of the corporate jurisdiction of the city; but as a contiguity of buildings has connected it with Westminster and all the neighbouring villages and hamlets, the name in common usage has extended over them all, and rendered their respective proper names no more than subdivisions of one great metropolis. In this general view therefore, London may now be said to include two cities, one borough and forty six antient villages: viz. the city of London properly so called, the city of Westminster, borough of Southwark, the villages of Mora, Finsbury Wenlaxbarn, Clerkenwell, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Nortonfalgate, the Spital, White-chapel, Mile-End New-Town, Mile-End Old-Town, Bethnal-Green Stepney, Poplar, Limehouse, Blackwall, Ratcliff, Shadwell, Wapping, Stepney, East Smithfield, the Hermitage, St. Catharine's, the Minories, St. Clements-Danes, the Strand, Charing-cross, St. James's, Knights-Bridge, Soho, St. Martin's in the fields, St. Giles's in the fields, Bloomsbury, Marybone, Portpool, Saffron-Hill, Holborn, Vaux-Hall, Lambeth, Lambeth-Marsh, Kennington, Newington-Butts, Bermondsey, the Grange, Horsleydown and Rotherhithe. Beside which the villages of Chelsea, Paddington, Islington, Hackney, Bow, and Deptford, are so near being united, that they might without any great impropriety have been added to the list, and considered as appendages to this immense capital.
Within this extensive area there were computed to be 5,099 streets, lanes, squares, &c. composed of 95,968 houses. But so many of the old streets have been since altered, and so many new streets added, that if this computation was accepted as exact at that time, it is no longer so. With regard to the number of houses, it is a vain expectation to endeavour at any thing near the truth; the variations between different estimates are so great, and the alterations so continual, that little confidence can be reposed in them. Maitland appears by his own account to have taken great pains to deliver a more exact calculation of houses than any one before him: yet from circumstances it is natural to think the number of streets much easier to be obtained than the number of houses in them; and if his number of streets, &c. and of the houses are compared, there will not be found an average of 19 houses to each! an allotment which it is imagined few persons acquainted with the metropolis will accept, as sufficient.
Were there any reasonable hopes that the late useful scheme of numbering the doors in streets, &c. would become universal, a more correct actual estimate might be taken than could be formed from any vague resources now in our power; but though the practice is adopted in most of the principal streets of London, and Westminster, as well as in many genteel parts of the suburbs; yet there is little likelihood of seeing it extend through the many populous working neighbourhoods in the out parts, necessary to render the scheme compleat.
If the aggregate of the houses in this vast metropolis has hitherto not been attained with sufficient exactness to be depended on, all conclusions or calculations formed from any assumed number of them for other purposes, must be still more erroneous, and amount to little more than meer conjecture. The number of inhabitants ought therefore if possible to be derived from a more authentic source; and it were to be wished that the bills of mortality, the best materials we can have recourse to on this subject of inquiry, deserved that character. But these are liable to objections that render all deductions that can be drawn from them, inconclusive, excepting the very remark of their imperfection.
There are several obvious defects in the bills of mortality published by the company of parish clerks. The account of births is taken only from baptisms celebrated according to the church of England; consequently the births of Jews, Roman catholics, with the various sects of dissenters, who have been supposed to amount to a sixth part of the inhabitants, are totally overlooked (fn. 2), while numbers of them being buried in parochial burial grounds their deaths are received in the bills: consequently the reports of births are much too low, to admit of a comparison with the deaths. There is however a draw-back here; since the registers being parochial, no account is taken of burials in the cemeteries belonging to St. Paul's cathedral, Westminster Abbey, St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower, Temple church, the Rolls and Lincoln's-inn chapels, the Charter-house, and some of the hospitals. Hence those who reason from the bills to the number of inhabitants comprehended within their limits, draw conclusions from very uncertain data; and hence also London has been reproached with being a much more unwholesome place than it really is. The yearly flux of young persons who come from the country to settle in London, and who contribute to the increase of the town, is another occasion of the deaths bearing too great a proportion to the births; since numbers die in London, who were born elsewhere. It is indeed urged that many retire from London in the decline of life; and that others who die in London are carried to be buried in the country: but these are only persons of substance; and but few who die in London are carried beyond the limits of the bills. On the other hand some who die in the country are brought to be buried in town. What allowance is to be made for all these and other circumstances, as the carelessness of the respective parish clerks or their deputies, with the mistakes that may happen in collecting them by the clerk of the company; can only be imagined without the possibility of ascertaining.
The regular series of them commenced December 29th 1603, from which time an account of christenings and burials were kept at the hall of the company of Parish clerks; and this account originally comprehended 96 parishes within the walls, St. James in Duke's Place being exempted; and 13 parishes within the liberties, the three precincts of St. Bartholomew the Great, Bridewell, and Trinity in the Minories, being also omitted.
In 1604, were added to the 13, the above three excluded parishes, together with St. Clements Danes, St. Martin in the fields, St. Giles in the fields, St. James Clerkenwell, St. Leonard Shoreditch, St. Mary in Whitechapel, St. Katharine in the Tower, and St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey.
In 1625, the bills of mortality being esteemed of some consequence, the company obtained a decree under the seal of the High commission court, for keeping a printing press in their hall to print the bills of mortality: for which purpose a printer was assigned by the archbishop of Canterbury. Accordingly on July 18th a press was erected, and an order made that the weekly reports of the burials should be printed, with the number of the burials against every parish; which had not been done until that time.
In 1626, the precinct or parish of St. James in Duke's place, was added to the then 96 parishes within the walls: all which parishes, from the times of their several additions, as well as the others from the first, brought in not only the number of christenings and burials, but also an account of diseases and casualties, though no such account was then printed. The city of Westminster was likewise included this year; which only brought in the christenings, burials, and the plague, without specifying any other disorders or casualties.
In 1636, the parishes of Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Newington, Rotherhithe, and Stepney, were added; and brought in reports of their christenings, burials, and plague, as Westminster had done before.
In 1660, the bills were new modelled, and the account of all the diseases and casualties in all the parishes was brought in; and the then 12 parishes in Middlesex and Surrey, were made a division of themselves, whereas before they were all intermixed with each other.
In 1729, St. George Hanover-square, Christ-church Spital-fields, St. George Radcliffe highway, and St. George the martyr Queen's-square (fn. 3).
Such is briefly the history of the Bills of Mortality as given by Dr. Birch; and for the reader's farther satisfaction on this subject, the following tables are formed of the totals of every tenth year, carefully taken from Maitland, collated with the indefatigable Dr. Birch's collection of them published in 1759; and continued for the twelve following years in succession, from the Parish Clerks Registers at their hall in Woodstreet (fn. 4).
The totals of the early years are very inaccurately given from the particulars, but it was judged proper to copy them as they are, without assuming the liberty of altering them. It may be observed on inspection that the numbers under the year 1650 are remarkably low; which may be accounted for by considering that between the breaking out of the civil war and the restoration, the established church was greatly reduced by the prevalence of sectaries; and that the active part the city of London took against the king, must have proved a great drawback for some time on the increase of the metropolis. The christenings and burials of the parishes within the walls for the year 1670, shew that the city had not totally recovered the shocks received by the great plague and fire. From 1710 to 1740 we see a visible increase, beyond what appears since; the year 1750 was undoubtedly affected by the long war just then closed, as well as 1760 from that then carrying on: emigrations to our new colonies may have depressed the numbers since.
A General Bill of all the Christenings and Burials from December 11th, 1770, to December 10th, 1771. According to the report made to the King's most excellent majesty, by the company of parish clerks of London, &c.
With a view to exhibit the comparative difference between the state and duration of human life in great cities and in the country, Dr. Price, in the Supplement to his Observations on Reversionary Payments, has given five tables, shewing the probabilities of life in the district of Vaud in Switzerland, in a country parish in Brandenburgh, in the parish of Holy Cross near Shrewsbury, at Vienna, Berlin, and at London: these tables are copied here on the credit of that ingenious calculator, for the assistance of those who may be curious in investigations of this nature. The citizens of London will derive very little comfort from the examination, unless they can receive it from reflecting on the defects of the London bills of mortality, from which the probabilities of life in London are formed.
The Dr. observes that it will appear from this comparison, with how much truth great cities have been called the graves of mankind. The major part of that black catalogue of diseases which ravage human life, is the offspring of the tenderness, the luxury, and the corruptions, introduced by the vices and false refinements of civil society. That delicacy which is injured by every breath of air, and that rottenness of constitution, which is the effect of intemperance and debauchery, were never intended by the author of nature: and it is impossible, that they should not lay the foundation of numberless sufferings, and terminate in premature and miserable deaths. Another disadvantage attending great cities, is the foulness of the air occasioned by uncleanliness, smoke, the perspiration and breath of the inhabitants, and the putrid steams from drains, kennels, and common shores. It is in particular well known, that air spoiled by breathing is rendered so noxious, as to kill instantaneously any animal that is put into it. There must be causes in nature, continually operating, which restore the air after being thus spoiled; but in towns it is probably consumed faster than it can be adequately restored: and the larger the town is, or the more the inhabitants are crouded together, the more this inconvenience must take place.
Thus far Dr. Price, whose observations on the fatal tendency of intemperance are clearly just; and the inhabitants of this great metropolis in their convivial hours are but too open to the accusation; but perhaps, reasoning from the bills of mortality, he lays too great stress on the foulness of the air in London. The interior parts of the town are now thrown so open, and the dwellings made so airy, that the winds from the surrounding country, find a free passage through them: while the continual expansion of the air by so many fires, naturally tends to cause an incessant circulation, by the more cool and dense country air rushing in to preserve the equipoise of the atmosphere.
To the foregoing tables another may be added, shewing the annual sale of black cattle and sheep in the great beast market for the supply of London and its neighbourhood: this table was lately published during a controversy concerning the dearness of provisions, and was furnished originally by a gentleman of distinction, whose opportunities of knowing the facts, whose abilities, and whose laudable industry in collecting and digesting materials interesting to the community, will warrant a dependence on it.
From this table it appears, that the consumption of mutton increases while that of beef decreases (fn. 5); and this being nearly in the proportion which they bear to each other in point of weight, it follows so far as this argument extends, that the metropolis has not actually increased within the above period of time so much as has been apprehended. But this is not altogether a safe conclusion: the luxury of the times causes people to be more delicate in their food: beef and mutton are the articles chiefly consumed by the middle classes of life and all those below them; yet within these 40 years, the consumption of beef is lessened, and that of mutton increased. A corresponding state of the nicer articles of food, as veal, lamb, pork, poultry, and fish, is hardly possible to be procured; but it is probable the call for these is greatly augmented: if it should be found that the decrease in the annual consumption of oxen arises partly from the increased demand for calves, which perhaps may be the real case; it will so far account for the dearness of both; as a large demand for lamb will for the extravagant prices of both that and mutton. But so many circumstances enter into the variations observable in all tables and estimates of this nature, that little certainty can be derived from them.
Though the above table is not to be accepted as the total consumption of those articles in this great metropolis, yet the sale of Smithfield-market cannot be deemed so far short of the whole as is supposed by Maitland; who assumes one third more to make a total. It is to be considered that by charter no market is to be kept within seven miles of London (fn. 6); cattle are indeed brought as near to town as the markets at Hounslow, Barnet, Croydon, Rumford, and Bromley, for the supply of those neighbourhoods; and some of these may indirectly be bought by butchers in the outskirts of the town, but in no great proportion. The gentleman who formed the foregoing table found that about 100 oxen were brought weekly to Hounslow, about 70 were sold there, and the remainder were bought by London butchers: if the same quantity is supposed to be sent to London from all the five markets, the annual amount will not make 1 1/1; of the last year's sale at Smithfield in the table. Here the subject must be left; as it is scarcely within the compass of possibility to arrive at minute exactness in such extensive computations. It is true there has been much clamour lately made about forestalling and monopolizing, and the increased price of provisions has given credit to the allegations; but much more natural causes may be assigned for this grievance (fn. 7): there are confessedly but few dealers whose purses will enable them to attempt such extensive schemes; and the competition of the rest, with the due execution of the laws against such practices, will always render them ineffectual in a general view.