“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. We now come to end of ther book with a look at the bank of England, the role of brokers, the manufacturers established in London and the number of foreigners resident in the City. It seems that the French were the most numerous at that time, most of them refugees from the Fronde revolution in the 17th century and from the political changes instituted by Louis XIV.
Having considered the trading companies, and other branches of foreign trade, I shall now inquire into the establishment of the Bank of England.The governor and company of the Bank of England, &c., are enjoined not to trade, or suffer any person in trust for them to trade, with any of the stock, moneys or effects, in the buying or selling of any merchandise or goods whatsoever, on pain of forfeiting the treble value. Yet they may deal in bills of exchange, and in buying and selling of bullion, gold or silver, or in selling goods mortgaged to them, and not redeemed at the time agreed on, or within three months after, or such goods as should be the produce of lands purchased by the corporation. All bills obligatory and of credit under the seal of the corporation made to any person, may by endorsement be assigned, and such assignment shall transfer the property to the moneys due upon the same, and the assignee may sue in his own name.There is at present due to this Bank from the Government on the original fund at 6 pounds per cent. 1,600,000 (pounds) For cancelling of Exchequer bills, 3 George I 1,500,000 Purchased of the South Sea Company 4,000,000 Annuities at 4 pounds per cent. charged on the duty on coals since Lady Day, 1719. 1,750,000 Ditto, charged on the surplus of the funds for the lottery of 1714 1,250,000 Total due to the Bank of England 10,100,000 (pounds)Give me leave to observe here, that most of the foreign trade of this town is transacted by brokers, of which there are three sorts, viz., 1st, Exchange-brokers, 2ndly, brokers for goods and merchandise, and 3rdly, ship-brokers.The exchange-brokers, who are versed in the course of exchange, furnish the merchant with money or bills, as he has occasion for either.The broker of goods lets the merchant know where he may furnish himself with them, and the settled price; or if he wants to sell, where he may meet with a chapman for his effects.The ship-broker finds ships for the merchant, when he wants to send his goods abroad; or goods for captains and masters of vessels to freight their ships with.If it be demanded what share of foreign trade London hath with respect to the rest of the kingdom; it seems to have a fourth part of the whole, at least if we may judge by the produce of the customs, which are as three to twelve, or thereabouts.As to the manufactures carried on in the City of London; here mechanics have acquired a great deal of reputation in the world, and in many things not without reason; for they excel in clock and cabinet-work, in making saddles, and all sorts of tools, and other things. The door and gun locks, and fire-arms, are nowhere to be paralleled; the silk manufacture is equal to that of France, or any other country, and is prodigiously enlarged of late years. Dyers also are very numerous in and about London, and are not exceeded by any foreigners in the beauty or durableness of their colours: and those that print and stain cottons and linens have brought that art to great perfection. Printers of books, also, may equal those abroad; but the best paper is imported from other countries.The manufacture of glass here is equal to that of Venice, or any other country in Europe, whether we regard the coach or looking- glasses, perspective, drinking-glasses, or any other kind of glass, whatever. The making of pins and needles is another great manufacture in this town, as is that of wire-drawings of silver, gold, and other metals. The goldsmiths and silversmiths excel in their way. The pewterers and brasiers furnish all manner of vessels and implements for the kitchen, which are as neatly and substantially made and furnished here as in any country in Europe. The trades of hat-making and shoe-making employ multitudes of mechanics; and the tailors are equally numerous. The cabinet, screen, and chair-makers contribute also considerably to the adorning and furnishing the dwelling-house. The common smiths, bricklayers, and carpenters are no inconsiderable branch of mechanics; as may well be imagined in a town of this magnitude, where so many churches, palaces, and private buildings are continually repairing, and so many more daily erecting upon new foundations. And this brings me to mention the shipwrights, who are employed in the east part of the town, on both sides the river Thames, in building ships, lighters, boats, and other vessels; and the coopers, who make all the casks for domestic and foreign service. The anchorsmiths, ropemakers, and others employed in the rigging and fitting out ships, are very numerous; and brewing and distilling may be introduced among the manufactures of this town, where so many thousand quarters of malt are annually converted into beer and spirits: and as the various kinds of beer brewed here are not to be paralleled in the world, either for quantity or quality, so the distilling of spirits is brought to such perfection that the best of them are not easily to be distinguished from French brandy.Having already mentioned ship-building among the mechanic trades, give me leave to observe farther, that in this England excels all other nations; the men-of-war are the most beautiful as well as formidable machines that ever floated on the ocean.As to the number of foreigners in and about this great city, there cannot be given any certain account, only this you may depend upon, that there are more of the French nation than of any other: such numbers of them coming over about the time of the Revolution and since to avoid the persecution of Louis XIV., and so many more to get their bread, either in the way of trade, or in the service of persons of quality; and I find they have upwards of twenty churches in this town, to each of which, if we allow 1,000 souls, then their number must be at least 20,000. Next to the French nation I account most of the Dutch and Germans; for there are but few Spaniards or Portuguese, and the latter are generally Jews; and except the raree- show men, we see scarce any of the natives of Italy here; though the Venetian and some other Italian princes have their public chapels here for the exercise of the Romish religion.