As we’re currently at the start of the Christmas shopping season and I live in London, I’d like to write something about London and its commercial and aesthetic development, particularly in the 18th Century, as well as mention a few sites where you can view incredible maps of the city.
The real development of London kicked off in the 18th Century, when the population grew from about 630,000 in 1715 to 740,000 in 1760. The rich-poor divide was immense with areas in the west, like Mayfair, transforming into fashionable residential, shopping and entertainment districts. South and East London were also developing rapidly with expanding trade causing the docklands to flourish. Particularly for workers, the expanding population worsened living conditions and increased poverty and crime, but for the rich, it was a period of extravagance.
A great deal of money was invested into building beautiful town houses, pleasure gardens, squares, museums and shops. The British Museum opened in 1759, becoming a place of pleasure for the rich and Buckingham House (the future Buckingham Palace) was also built in 1703. The architecture was usually in a classical style, which has now become the mark of Georgian buildings, as with St. Paul’s Cathedral completed in 1708 and the designs for Burlington House in Piccadilly in 1715.
Shopping became less of a necessity and more of an enjoyable pass-time, with the growing popularity of window shopping and luxury goods. Shopping areas like Cheapside and Oxford Street flourished. Sophie de la Roche, a German visitor to London in 1786 wrote:
We strolled up and down lovely Oxford Street this evening, for some goods look more attractive by artificial light…First one passes a watchmaker’s, then a silk or fan store, now a silversmiths, a china or glass shop. Just as alluring are the confectioners and fruiterers, where, behind the handsome glass windows, pyramids of pineapples, figs, grapes, oranges and all manner of fruits are on show.
The grand developments to make the city more beautiful, more ordered and more like classical European cities, often acted to bring visitors attention away from the terrible poverty that also existed alongside the grandeur. In this map on the British Library Website, PLAN OF THE Proposed Improvements at CHARING CROSS, ST. ST MARTIN’S LANE AND Entrance to the Strand, you can see the plans to build a National Gallery of Painting of Sculpture opposite the Royal Academy as a cultural facade hiding barracks and St. Martin’s Workhouse. There are loads of other maps available on the website, especially in the London: a Life in Google Maps section here.
You can find other great maps at oldlondonmaps.com