Beer Street and Gin Lane

Set in the parish of St Giles, a notorious slum district, Gin Lane depicts the squalor and despair of a community raised on gin. Desperation, death and decay pervade the scene. The only businesses that flourish are those which serve the gin industry: gin sellers; distillers; the pawnbroker and the undertaker, for whom Hogarth implies at least a handful of new customers from this scene alone.

In comparison to the hopeless denizens of Gin Lane, the happy people of Beer Street sparkle with robust health. The only business that is in trouble is the pawnbroker: Mr Pinch lives in the one poorly-maintained, crumbling building in the picture. In contrast to his Gin Lane counterpart, the prosperous Gripe, who displays expensive-looking cups in his upper window (a sign of his flourishing business), Pinch displays only a wooden contraption, perhaps a mousetrap, in his upper window, while he is forced to take his beer through a window in the door, which suggests his business is so unprofitable as to put the man in fear of being seized for debt.

William Hogarth (1697–1764) was a major English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist. His work ranged from excellent realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called “modern moral subjects”. Much of his work, though at times vicious, poked fun at contemporary politics and customs.

Custom House

Until 1814 the Custom House stood in the parish of All Hallows Barking, immediately to the east of the present site.

The site was long known as “Wool Quay”, and, from the medieval period, a custom house was necessary there to levy the duty payable on exported wool. Such a building is recorded as early as 1377. The quay and the buildings on it were privately owned. Around 1380, one John Churchman built a custom house there to collect dues for the City of London, and in 1382 the crown came to an agreement to use its facilities.

Churchman’s custom house remained in use until 1559, the freehold passing through various hands. Its replacement was erected under the direction of William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester, the Lord High Treasurer. A print from 1663 shows it as a three-storey building, with octagonal staircase towers. This structure was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Published August 21st 1817 by T Cadell and W Davies, Strand London.

View of Smith-Field

View of Smith-Field. Publish’d July 21, 1794 by I Stockdale, Piccadilly.

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In the Middle Ages Smithfield was a broad grassy space known as Smooth Field, just outside the London Wall, on the eastern bank of the River Fleet. Due to its access to grazing and water, it was used as the City’s main livestock market for nearly 1000 years.

Arundel House

Arundel House was a town-house or palace located between the Strand and the Thames, near St Clement Danes.

It was originally the town house of the Bishops of Bath and Wells, during the Middle Ages. In 1539 it was given to William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton. The Roman Baths, Strand Lane were situated within the grounds, and remain in the ownership of the National Trust.

Old Houses in Wych Street

Wych Street was a street in London, roughly where Australia House now stands on Aldwych. It ran west from the church of St Clement Danes on the Strand to a point towards the southern end of Drury Lane. The street was demolished by the London County Council in around 1901, as part of the redevelopment that created the Kingsway and Aldwych.

Old Cockspur Street

Old Cockspur Street. Illustration from Old and New London by Edward Walford (Cassell, c 1880).

On the right is the Fire Station of the Phoenix company – at this time, fire services are provided by independent companies who race one another to the scene of the fire.