18th Century London Watchman

The streets in London were dark and had the shortage and poor quality of artificial light. It had been recognized for centuries that the coming of darkness to the unlit streets of a town brought a heightened threat of danger, and that the night provided cover to the disorderly and immoral, and to those bent on robbery or burglary or who in other ways threatened physical harm to people in the streets and in their houses.

The anxieties that darkness gave rise to had been met by the formation of a night watch in the 13th century, and by the rules about who could use the streets after dark. These rules had for long been underpinned in London and other towns by the curfew, the time (announced by the ringing of a bell) at which the gates closed and the streets were cleared. Only people with good reason to be abroad could then travel through the City. Anyone outside at night without reason or permission was suspicious and potentially criminal.

Allowances were usually made for people who had some social status on their side. Lord Fielding clearly expected to pass through London’s streets untroubled at 1 am one night in 1641, and he quickly became piqued when his coach was stopped by the watch, shouting huffily that it was a ‘disgrace’ to stop someone of such high standing as he, and telling the constable in charge of the watch that he would box him on the ears if he did not let his coach carry on back to his house. ‘It is impossible’ to ‘distinguish a lord from another man by the outside of a coach’, the constable said later in his defence, ‘especially at unreasonable times’.

Illustration of Sadler’s Wells Theatre

The image shown here depicts the theatre in the early 19th century, at a time when the theatrical business was booming. In the 1780s German tourist Sophie Van La Roche described a visit to Sadler’s Wells in colourful detail. Over an astonishing three-hour performance she witnessed nine different acts , including ballet, comedy, a pantomime, rope-walking and even a strong man, while the audience around her partook of drinks, pasties and sandwiches while noisily enjoying the performance.

1865 – A Thaw in the Streets of London

The frequent and sudden changes of temperature in the last few weeks have made an extraordinary difference in the aspects of London street-traffic from day to day. We lately gave an illustration of the effects of a hard frost; our present subject is a companion picture to that Engraving; it shows the state of things occasioned by a thaw. The discomfort of walking in such mud as melted snow leaves upon our much-trodden thoroughfares is far worse than the danger of sliding when the pavement is glazed with ice. London mud is always disagreeable; and we believe there is no city in Europe where so little care is taken to abate this nuisance, or where the convenience of foot-passengers is so entirely disregarded by the legal custodians of the public highways. To go no further than the large provincial towns of England—it would not be endured; for instance, in Manchester that any of the streets should be left for twelve hours in so foul a condition as that of the Strand during many days of the last fortnight; when it might have been cleansed without difficulty, either by sweepers employed at night, or by the use of Whitworth’s machine—a mud-cart furnished with a revolving brush and scraper behind, which travels along the road, causing no interruption to the daily traffic. In this department, it must be confessed, the municipal administration of London is greatly at fault; and it would be instructive to reckon the enormous cost of its neglect in the matter of street mud. Such a calculation would include—first, the cost of boots and shoes, of stockings, trousers, and crinolines, sacrificed by the unhappy pedestrians who venture abroad at this season; secondly, the loss of health, and sometimes of life, from the catarrhs, coughs, and rheumatisms which wet feet are apt to engender; thirdly, the damage to horses and carriages; and, lastly, the waste of an immense quantity of material which should be almost as valuable as the sewage itself for the purpose of agricultural manure. In addition to these ills, we have reason to believe that the mischief done by neglected street mud to the sanitary condition of London extends also to those who never walk out in bad weather, for it keeps up a general dampness of the atmosphere, attracts and retains the fogs, and, after the dry winds of March or the heat of sunny days shall have caused the last vestige of mud to disappear, it will then be converted into dust, which, as it contains minute particles of stone from the roads, mixed with the noxious atoms of decomposed animal matter, is a most unwholesome compound to be inhaled by the throats of men and women. Thus much we have felt it our duty to say of the remoter and more general injuries occasioned by the utter lock of provision for the removal of the metropolitan mud. The miseries depicted on our next page are indeed the immediate consequence of a visitation of nature which is a common incident; of this season in a climate so uncertain as ours; but these miseries would very soon be abated if we bad a proper system of cleansing the streets. The poor mendicant sweeper at the crossing should be relieved of an office which ought to be more efficiently performed by an apparatus under the direction of the Metropolitan Board of Works.

Dudley Street, Seven Dials, London

Jerrold and Doré were both transfixed by the deprivation, squalor and wretchedness of the lives of the poor, even though they realised that London was changing and some of the worst social evils were beginning to be addressed.

In 1869, French artist Gustave Doré began an extraordinary collaboration with the British journalist Blanchard Jerrold. Together, over four years, they produced a landmark account of the deprivation and squalor of mid-Victorian London.

Warehousing in the City

‘The warehouse-men pause aloft on their landing-stages, book in hand, to contemplate us … The man bending beneath an immense sack turns up his eyes from under his burden, and appears pleased that he has disturbed us’.

In 1869, French artist Gustave Doré began an extraordinary collaboration with the British journalist Blanchard Jerrold. Together, over four years, they produced a landmark account of the deprivation and squalor of mid-Victorian London.

Essex Water gate, Essex Street, London 1890s, 1930s and 2010s

London’s water gates date from the time before the building of the embankment and the road on the north side of the river, when the tidal wash reached a lot closer to the buildings (and former palaces) that follow The Strand and Fleet Street. The gate in Essex Street dates back to t0 1676, and was used for a time as an emblem by Methuen publishers when they had their premises here.

Essex Water Gate was badly damaged during the Second World War. It was later repaired and incorporated into the 1953 building across the end of the street. The so-called ‘gate’ is therefore an office block today. It should be pointed out that the edge of the Thames, before the Victoria Embankment was constructed, did not reach as far north as the Essex Water Gate but was about 100 yards to the south – level with the southern extremity of the Temple Gardens. Of course, when the Victoria embankment was constructed, it was no longer possible for the water-side wharves at the south side of Essex Water Gate to continue to operate.

While it would be true to say that the Essex Water Gate stands on the site of a water gate that stood there in medieval times, it should not be concluded that today’s structure is in any way derived from the early water gate. When newly built in the 17th century, it was used as a device by the developer to hide the wharves from the view of the newly erected terraces of houses in Essex Street.


The Tower of London, engraved by W Miller, 1831

This print conveys a sense of the bustle of commercial and passenger traffic on the Thames in Turner’s time. A noteworthy detail is the presence of two steam packets, identifiable as the Talbot and the Lord Melville, both cross-channel ferries.

The image was probably created for a proposed series of prints showing Picturesque Views of London and its Environs. The stately presence of the Tower of London in the upper half of the engraving serves to establish the presence of history amongst the bustle of modern life.

1872 – Lemonade Vendor

Illustration of a lemonade vendor from ‘London: a pilgrimage’ by Blanchard Jerrold and Gustave Doré, 1872. Henry Mayhew in ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ (1861) records that lemonade was made from a mixture of carbonate of soda, tartaric acid, sugar and essence of lemon. The best sellers mixed the powder with spring water kept cool in stoneware jars. However, this seller appears to have ready-mixed lemonade in a barrel. On a good day a vendor to take 3s 6d, of which 2s to 2s 6d was profit.

The Underground map of London, 1911

The Waterloo and City railway company did not participate in the unified map agreement, although on this map the line is nevertheless shown. This was presumably in the hope that it would encourage more passengers to travel on the lines participating in the agreement by using the interconnections with the Waterloo and City Line.

The map was produced by the cartographers at Johnson Riddle & Co, and was the first map to include the Richmond terminus of the District and Metropolitan Railways as well as showing three separate stations at Hammersmith.

There is geographical distortion in the North West of the map, similar to that on the 1908 map, which flattens out and moves South the Metropolitan Line, to accommodate the title box.

The map produced the next year, in 1912, has no such distortion and makes an interesting comparison as it is the same size but truly geographical.

St Peter’s Alley, London (off Cornhill)

The principal street in this ward having been originally the corn market for the city, obtained the name of Cornhill, and communicated the same name to the ward. It is bounded on the east by Bishopsgate-ward; on the north by Broad-street ward; on the west by Cheap-ward, and on the south by Langbourn: and is divided into four precincts. This is a ward of small extent, though rendered of importance by its situation and the condition of the inhabitants. It begins on the north east, at the south-east corner of St. Martin Outwich’s church in Bishopsgate-street, and runs by several windings south-west as far as the west end of Cornhill. Then beginning again on the north, about fifty feet from the south-west corner of Bishopsgate-street, it runs south to St. Peter’s alley in Gracechurch-street, and from thence, by divers windings, it proceeds to the south-west corner of Cornhill. So that it contains Cornhill entirely on both sides. On the north side of this street are several courts, &c. as Star court, Weigh-house yard, Newman’s yard, Finch lane, Freeman’s court, Swithin’s alley, Castle alley, and the opening to the Bank. On the south side there are Peter’s alley, Michael’s alley, Birchin lane, Change alley, and Pope’s head alley.