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Story Of London

London’s Provisions and Transport in 1731


“London in 1731” is a wonderful guide book to the city which was penned sometime in the early 18th century and subsequently brought up to date. The author is supposed to be a Portuguese merchant named Don Manoel Gonzales but the internal evidence demonstrates that this is almost certainly a nom de plume. It is more likely that our author was an accomplished native of London. The guide was edited by Professor Henry Morley and published by Cassell as part of their wonderful little National Library series in 1888. The author now turns his attention to provisioning London, where we learn the prices of the various goods – bread and ale are cheap but French wine is very expensive. Getting about, he tells us, is pleasant and convenient and is made possible by both the river and the 16,000 dray horses that haul carts and coaches through the streets.

There were 16,000 dray horses like these in London in the early 18th centuryI proceed in the next place to show how well London is supplied with water, firing, bread-corn, flesh, fish, beer, wine, and other provisions.And as to water, no city was ever better furnished with it, for every man has a pipe or fountain of good fresh water brought into his house, for less than twenty shillings a year, unless brewhouses, and some other great houses and places that require more water than an ordinary family consumes, and these pay in proportion to the quantity they spend; many houses have several pipes laid in, and may have one in every room, if they think fit, which is a much greater convenience than two or three fountains in a street, for which some towns in other countries are so much admired.These pipes of water are chiefly supplied from the waterworks at London Bridge, Westminster, Chelsea, and the New River.Besides the water brought from the Thames and the New River, there are a great many good springs, pumps, and conduits about the town, which afford excellent water for drinking. There are also mineral waters on the side of Islington and Pancras.This capital also is well supplied with firing, particularly coals from Newcastle, and pit-coals from Scotland, and other parts; but wood is excessively dear, and used by nobody for firing, unless bakers, and some few persons of quality in their chambers and drawing-rooms.As for bread-corn, it is for the most part brought to London after it is converted into flour, and both bread and flour are extremely reasonable: we here buy as much good white bread for three- halfpence or twopence, as will serve an Englishman a whole day, and flour in proportion. Good strong beer also may be had of the brewer, for about twopence a quart, and of the alehouses that retail it for threepence a quart. Bear Quay, below bridge, is a great market for malt, wheat, and horse-corn; and Queenhithe, above the bridge, for malt, wheat, flour, and other grain.The butchers here compute that there are about one thousand oxen sold in Smithfield Market one week with another the year round; besides many thousand sheep, hogs, calves, pigs, and lambs, in this and other parts of the town; and a great variety of venison, game, and poultry. Fruit, roots, herbs, and other garden stuff are very cheap and good.Fish also are plentiful, such as fresh cod, plaice, flounders, soles, whitings, smelts, sturgeon, oysters, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, mackerel, and herrings in the season; but it must be confessed that salmon, turbot, and some other sea-fish are dear, as well as fresh-water fish.Wine is imported from foreign countries, and is dear. The port wine which is usually drunk, and is the cheapest, is two shillings a quart, retailed in taverns, and not much less than eighteen or twenty pounds the hogshead, when purchased at the best hand; and as to French wines, the duties are so high upon them that they are double the price of the other at least. White wine is about the same price as red port, and canary about a third dearer.It is computed that there are in London some part of the year, when the nobility and gentry are in town, 15,000 or 16,000 large horses for draught, used in coaches, carts, or drays, besides some thousands of saddle-horses; and yet is the town so well supplied with hay, straw, and corn, that there is seldom any want of them. Hay generally is not more than forty shillings the load, and from twenty pence to two shillings the bushel is the usual price of oats.The opportunity of passing from one part of the town to the other, by coach, chair, or boat, is a very great convenience, especially in the winter, or in very hot weather. A servant calls a coach or a chair in any of the principal streets, which attends at a minute’s warning, and carries one to any part of the town, within a mile and a half distance, for a shilling, but to a chair is paid one-third more; the coaches also will wait for eighteenpence the first hour, and a shilling every succeeding hour all day long; or you may hire a coach and a pair of horses all day, in or out of town, for ten shillings per day; there are coaches also that go to every village almost about town, within four or five miles, in which a passenger pays but one shilling, and in some but sixpence, for his passage with other company.The pleasant Thames.The pleasantest way of moving from one end of the town to the other in summer time is by water, on that spacious gentle stream the Thames, on which you travel two miles for sixpence, if you have two watermen, and for threepence if you have but one; and to any village up or down the river you go with company for a trifle. But the greatest advantage reaped from this noble river is that it brings whatever this or other countries afford. Down the river from Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Bucks, etc., come corn and all manner of provision of English growth, as has been observed already; and up the river, everything that the coasts and the maritime counties of England, Scotland, or Ireland afford; this way also are received the treasures and merchandise of the East and West Indies, and indeed of the four quarters of the world.Carts are hired as coaches, to remove goods and merchandise from one part of the town to the other, whose rates are also fixed, and are very reasonable; and for small burdens or parcels, and to send on messages, there are porters at every corner of the streets, those within the City of London and liberties thereof being licensed by authority, and wearing a badge or ticket; in whose hands goods of any value, and even bills of exchange or sums of money, may be safely trusted, they being obliged at their admission to give security. There is also a post that goes from one part of the town to the other several times a day; and once a day to the neighbouring villages, with letters and small parcels; for the carriage of which is given no more than a penny the letter or parcel. And I should have remembered that every coach, chair, and boat that plies for hire has its number upon it; and if the number be taken by any friend or servant, at the place you set out from, the proprietor of the vehicle will be obliged to make good any loss or damage that may happen to the person carried in it, through the default of the people that carry him, and to make him satisfaction for any abuse or ill-language he may receive from them.The high streets from one end of the town to the other are kept clean by scavengers in the winter, and in summer the dust in some wide streets is laid by water-carts: they are so wide and spacious, that several lines of coaches and carts may pass by each other without interruption. Foot-passengers in the high streets go about their business with abundance of ease and pleasure; they walk upon a fine smooth pavement; defended by posts from the coaches and wheel- carriages; and though they are jostled sometimes in the throng, yet as this seldom happens out of design, few are offended at it; the variety of beautiful objects, animate and inanimate, he meets with in the streets and shops, inspires the passenger with joy, and makes him slight the trifling inconvenience of being crowded now and then. The lights also in the shops till eight or nine in the evening, especially in those of toymen and pastry-cooks, in the winter, make the night appear even brighter and more agreeable than the day itself.