By Jerry White
London within the eighteenth century used to be a brand new urban, risen from the ashes of the nice fireplace of 1666 that had destroyed part its houses and nice public structures. The century that used to be an period of full of life growth and large-scale initiatives, of swiftly altering tradition and trade, as large numbers of individuals arrived within the shining urban, drawn through its large wealth and tool and its many diversions. Borrowing a word from Daniel Defoe, Jerry White calls London “this nice and tremendous thing,” the grandeur of its new constructions and the glitter of its excessive existence shadowed by way of poverty and squalor.
A nice and gigantic Thing deals a street-level view of town: its public gardens and prisons, its banks and brothels, its workshops and warehouses—and its bustling, jostling crowds. White introduces us to shopkeepers and prostitutes, women and men of style and genius, street-robbers and thief-takers, as they play out the superb drama of existence in eighteenth-century London. What emerges is an image of a society fractured through geography, politics, faith, history—and specifically by way of category, for the divide among wealthy and terrible in London was once by no means larger or extra harmful within the sleek period than in those years.
regardless of this gulf, Jerry White indicates us Londoners going approximately their enterprise as bankers or beggars, reveling in an enlarging international of public pleasures, indulging in crimes either nice and small—amidst the tightening sinews of strength and legislation, and the hesitant beginnings of London democracy.
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Extra resources for A Great and Monstrous Thing: London in the Eighteenth Century
Windows had to be recessed from the front wall, London fashion from about 1709 dictating that these were sash windows rather than casements. Similarly, high site values traditionally required the London terraced house to be tall and narrow, close to the pavement in front and with little more than a paved yard behind. These conventions were reinforced from around 1718 by the dictates of Palladianism, with ground floors subservient to a first or drawingroom floor, its grand fenestration contrasting with smaller windows above and below.
There is much speculation that for some time in this first half-century the population may even have declined, a demographic disaster for what was then the greatest city in western Europe, given its enormous growth in the century before. In fact, a relatively high estimate for 1700 of 575,000 and a very modest one for 1750 of 700,000 still suggest population growth of some 22 per cent. That may not be spectacular in the context of what had gone before and what was to come after, but it hardly ranks as stagnation.
Other smart developments in Mount Street became the homes of fashionable tradesmen, ‘upholders’ or interior designers and the like, all living and working conveniently close to their clients. But behind these frontages, Palladian and palatial, lay mews and blind-end courts for ostlers and coachmen and laundresses. Dung heaps peppered the stable yards in sniffing distance of drawing-room windows. And to the north of Grosvenor Square was a much more plebeian district, at George Street, Hart Street, Chandlers Street and so on, built at the same time as the square but home to building tradesmen, blacksmiths, butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers with businesses in St George’s and Grosvenor Markets in the north-east corner of the estate.
A Great and Monstrous Thing: London in the Eighteenth Century by Jerry White