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Story Of London

The People of London in 1731


Posted on Jan 26, 2007 – 08:16 AM by Bill McCann

“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 the inhabitants of London whom he divides into four classes. First, of course are the nobility and gentry whose ladies do not rise until noon. Rush hour is between four and five and the merchants are neither so much in haste as the French to grow rich, nor so niggardly as the Dutch to save. If you wanted to make an quick fortune then, you became a lawyer, and, if your are ill, a quack is better than a gold demanding physician. And whatever you do, don’t look for an honest servant, for they are not to be found!

The people of London greet the new Lord Mayor in 1747The four grand distinctions of the people are these:-The nobility and gentry;the merchants and first-rate tradesmen;the lawyers and physicians; andinferior tradesmen, attorneys, clerks, apprentices, coachmen, carmen, chairmen, watermen, porters, and servants.The first class may not only be divided into nobility and gentry, but into either such as have dependence on the Court, or such as have none. Those who have offices, places, or pensions from the Court, or any expectations from thence, constantly attend the levees of the prince and his ministers, which takes up the greatest part of the little morning they have. At noon most of the nobility, and such gentlemen as are members of the House of Commons, go down to Westminster, and when the Houses do not sit late, return home to dinner. Others that are not members of either House, and have no particular business to attend, are found in the chocolate-houses near the Court, or in the park, and many more do not stir from their houses till after dinner. As to the ladies, who seldom rise till about noon, the first part of their time is spent, after the duties of the closet, either at the tea-table or in dressing, unless they take a turn to Covent Garden or Ludgate Hill, and tumble over the mercers’ rich silks, or view some India or China trifle, some prohibited manufacture, or foreign lace.Thus, the business of the day being despatched before dinner, both by the ladies and gentlemen, the evening is devoted to pleasure; all the world get abroad in their gayest equipage between four and five in the evening, some bound to the play, others to the opera, the assembly, the masquerade, or music-meeting, to which they move in such crowds that their coaches can scarce pass the streets.The merchants and tradesmen of the first-rate make no mean figure in London; they have many of them houses equal to those of the nobility, with great gates and courtyards before them, and seats in the country, whither they retire the latter end of the week, returning to the city again on Mondays or Tuesdays; they keep their coaches, saddle-horses, and footmen; their houses are richly and beautifully furnished; and though their equipage be not altogether so shining and their servants so numerous as those of the nobility, they generally abound in wealth and plenty, and are generally masters of a larger cash than they have occasion to make use of in the way of trade, whereby they are always provided against accidents, and are enabled to make an advantageous purchase when it offers. And in this they differ from the merchants of other countries, that they know when they have enough, for they retire to their estates, and enjoy the fruits of their labours in the decline of life, reserving only business enough to divert their leisure hours. They become gentlemen and magistrates in the counties where their estates lie, and as they are frequently the younger brothers of good families, it is not uncommon to see them purchase those estates that the eldest branches of their respective families have been obliged to part with.Their character is that they are neither so much in haste as the French to grow rich, nor so niggardly as the Dutch to save; that their houses are richly furnished, and their tables well served. You are neither soothed nor soured by the merchants of London; they seldom ask too much, and foreigners buy of them as cheap as others. They are punctual in their payments, generous and charitable, very obliging, and not too ceremonious; easy of access, ready to communicate their knowledge of the respective countries they traffic with, and the condition of their trade.A merchant.As to their way of life, they usually rise some hours before the gentlemen at the other end of the town, and having paid their devotions to Heaven, seldom fail in a morning of surveying the condition of their accounts, and giving their orders to their bookkeepers and agents for the management of their respective trades; after which, being dressed in a modest garb, without any footmen or attendants, they go about their business to the Custom House, Bank, Exchange, etc., and after dinner sometimes apply themselves to business again; but the morning is much the busiest part of the day. In the evening of every other day the post comes in, when the perusing their letters may employ part of their time, as the answering them does on other days of the week; and they frequently meet at the tavern in the evening, either to transact their affairs, or to take a cheerful glass after the business of the day is over.As to the wives and daughters of the merchants and principal tradesmen, they endeavour to imitate the Court ladies in their dress, and follow much the same diversions; and it is not uncommon to see a nobleman match with a citizen’s daughter, by which she gains a title, and he discharges the incumbrances on his estate with her fortune. Merchants’ sons are sometimes initiated into the same business their fathers follow; but if they find an estate gotten to their hands, many of them choose rather to become country gentlemen.As to the lawyers or barristers, these also are frequently the younger sons of good families; and the elder brother too is sometimes entered of the Inns of Court, that he may know enough of the law to keep his estate.A lawyer of parts and good elocution seldom fails of rising to preferment, and acquiring an estate even while he is a young man. I do not know any profession in London where a person makes his fortune so soon as in the law, if he be an eminent pleader. Several of them have of late years been advanced to the peerage; as Finch, Somers, Cowper, Harcourt, Trevor, Parker, Lechmere, King, Raymond, etc., scarce any of them much exceeding forty years of age when they arrived at that honour.The fees are so great, and their business so engrosses every minute of their time, that it is impossible their expenses should equal their income; but it must be confessed they labour very hard, are forced to be up early and late, and to try their constitutions to the utmost (I mean those in full business) in the service of their clients. They rise in winter long before it is light, to read over their briefs; dress, and prepare themselves for the business of the day; at eight or nine they go to Westminster, where they attend and plead either in the Courts of Equity or Common Law, ordinarily till one or two, and (upon a great trial) sometimes till the evening. By that time they have got home, and dined, they have other briefs to peruse, and they are to attend the hearings, either at the Lord Chancellor’s or the Rolls, till eight or nine in the evening; after which, when they return to their chambers, they are attended by their clients, and have their several cases and briefs to read over and consider that evening, or the next morning before daylight; insomuch that they have scarce time for their meals, or their natural rest, particularly at the latter end of a term. They are not always in this hurry; indeed, if they were, the best constitution must soon be worn out; nor would anyone submit to such hardships who had a subsistence, but with a prospect of acquiring a great estate suddenly; for the gold comes tumbling into the pockets of these great lawyers, which makes them refuse no cause, how intricate or doubtful soever. And this brings me to consider the high fees that are usually taken by an eminent counsel; as for a single opinion upon a case, two, three, four, and five guineas; upon a hearing, five or ten; and perhaps a great many more; and if the cause does not come on till the next day, they are all to be fee’d again, though there are not less than six or seven counsel of a side.The next considerable profession therefore I shall mention in London is that of the physicians, who are not so numerous as the former; but those who are eminent amongst them acquire estates equal to the lawyers, though they seldom arrive at the like honours. It is a useful observation, indeed, as to English physicians, that they seldom get their bread till they have no teeth to eat it: though, when they have acquired a reputation, they are as much followed as the great lawyers; they take care, however, not to be so much fatigued. You find them at Batson’s or Child’s Coffee House usually in the morning, and they visit their patients in the afternoon. Those that are men of figure amongst them will not rise out of their beds or break their rest on every call. The greatest fatigue they undergo is the going up forty or fifty pair of stairs every day; for the patient is generally laid pretty near the garret, that he may not be disturbed.These physicians are allowed to be men of skill in their profession, and well versed in other parts of learning. The great grievance here (as in the law) is that the inferior people are undone by the exorbitance of their fees; and what is still a greater hardship is, that if a physician has been employed, he must be continued, however unable the patient is to bear the expense, as no apothecary may administer anything to the sick man, if he has been prescribed to first by a physician: so that the patient is reduced to this dilemma, either to die of the disease, or starve his family, if his sickness happens to be of any duration. A physician here scorns to touch any other metal but gold, and the surgeons are still more unreasonable; and this may be one reason why the people of this city have so often recourse to quacks, for they are cheap and easily come at, and the mob are not judges of their ability; they pretend to great things; they have cured princes, and persons of the first quality, as they pretend; and it must be confessed their patients are as credulous as they can desire, taken with grand pretences, and the assurance of the impostor, and frequently like things the better that are offered them out of the common road.I come in the next place to treat of attorneys’ clerks, apprentices, inferior tradesmen, coachmen, porters, servants, and the lowest class of men in this town, which are far the most numerous: and first of the lawyers’ clerks and apprentices, I find it a general complaint that they are under no manner of government; before their times are half out, they set up for gentlemen; they dress, they drink, they game, frequent the playhouses, and intrigue with the women; and it is no uncommon thing with clerks to bully their masters, and desert their service for whole days and nights whenever they see fit.As to the ordinary tradesmen, they live by buying and selling; I cannot say they are so eminent for their probity as the merchants and tradesmen of the first rate; they seem to have a wrong bias given them in their education; many of them have no principles of honour, no other rule to go by than the fishmonger, namely, to get what they can, who consider only the weakness or ignorance of the customer, and make their demands accordingly, taking sometimes half the price they ask. And I must not forget the numbers of poor creatures who live and maintain their families by buying provisions in one part of the town, and retailing them in another, whose stock perhaps does not amount to more than forty or fifty shillings, and part of this they take up (many of them) on their clothes at a pawnbroker’s on a Monday morning, which they make shift to redeem on a Saturday night, that they may appear in a proper habit at their parish-churches on a Sunday. These are the people that cry fish, fruit, herbs, roots, news, etc., about town.As to hackney-coachmen, carmen, porters, chairmen, and watermen, though they work hard, they generally eat and drink well, and are decently clothed on holidays; for the wife, if she be industrious, either by her needle, washing, or other business proper to her sex, makes no small addition to their gains; and by their united labours they maintain their families handsomely if they have their healths.As to the common menial servants, they have great wages, are well kept and clothed, but are, notwithstanding the plague, of almost every house in town. They form themselves into societies, or rather confederacies, contributing to the maintenance of each other when out of place; and if any of them cannot manage the family where they are entertained as they please, immediately they give notice they will be gone. There is no speaking to them; they are above correction; and if a master should attempt it, he may expect to be handsomely drubbed by the creature he feeds and harbours, or perhaps an action brought against him for it. It is become a common saying, “If my servant ben’t a thief, if he be but honest, I can bear with other things;” and indeed it is very rare in London to meet with an honest servant.Gentlemen.When I was treating of tradesmen, I had forgot to mention those nuisances of the town, the itinerant pedlars who deal in toys and hardware, and those who pretend to sell foreign silks, linen, India handkerchiefs, and other prohibited and unaccustomed goods. These we meet at every coffee-house and corner of the streets, and they visit also every private house; the women have such a gust for everything that is foreign or prohibited, that these vermin meet with a good reception everywhere. The ladies will rather buy home manufactures of these people than of a neighbouring shopkeeper, under the pretence of buying cheaper, though they frequently buy damaged goods, and pay a great deal dearer for them than they would do in a tradesman’s shop, which is a great discouragement to the fair dealer that maintains a family, and is forced to give a large credit, while these people run away with the ready money. And I am informed that some needy tradesmen employ fellows to run hawking about the streets with their goods, and sell pennyworths, in order to furnish themselves with a little money.As to the recreations of the citizens, many of them are entertained in the same manner as the quality are, resorting to the play, park, music-meetings, etc.; and in the summer they visit Richmond, Hampstead, Epsom, and other neighbouring towns, where horse-racing, and all manner of rural sports, as well as other diversions, are followed in the summer season.Towards autumn, when the town is thin, many of the citizens who deal in a wholesale way visit the distant parts of the kingdom to get in their debts, or procure orders for fresh parcels of goods; and much about the same time the lawyers are either employed in the several circuits, or retired to their country seats; so that the Court, the nobility and gentry, the lawyers, and many of the citizens being gone into the country, the town resumes another face. The west end of it appears perfectly deserted; in other parts their trade falls off; but still in the streets about the Royal Exchange we seldom fail to meet with crowds of people, and an air of business in the hottest season.I have heard it affirmed, however, that many citizens live beyond their income, which puts them upon tricking and prevaricating in their dealings, and is the principal occasion of those frequent bankruptcies seen in the papers; ordinary tradesmen drink as much wine, and eat as well, as gentlemen of estates; their cloth, their lace, their linen, are as fine, and they change it as often; and they frequently imitate the quality in their expensive pleasures.As to the diversions of the inferior tradesmen and common people on Sundays and other holidays, they frequently get out of town; the neighbouring villas are full of them, and the public-houses there usually provide a dinner in expectation of their city guests; but if they do not visit them in a morning, they seldom fail of walking out in the fields in the afternoon; every walk, every public garden and path near the town are crowded with the common people, and no place more than the park; for which reason I presume the quality are seldom seen there on a Sunday, though the meanest of them are so well dressed at these times that nobody need be ashamed of their company on that account; for you will see every apprentice, every porter, and cobbler, in as good cloth and linen as their betters; and it must be a very poor woman that has not a suit of Mantua silk, or something equal to it, to appear abroad in on holidays.And now, if we survey these several inhabitants in one body, it will be found that there are about a million of souls in the whole town, of whom there may be 150,000 men and upwards capable of bearing arms, that is, between eighteen and sixty.If it be demanded what proportion that part of the town properly called the City of London bears to the rest, I answer that, according to the last calculations, there are in the city 12,000 houses; in the parishes without the walls, 36,320; in the parishes of Middlesex and Surrey, which make part of the town, 46,300; and in the city and liberties of Westminster, 28,330; in which are included the precincts of the Tower, Norton Folgate, the Rolls, Whitefriars, the Inns of Court and Chancery, the King’s palaces, and all other extra-parochial places.As to the number of inhabitants in each of these four grand divisions, if we multiply the number of houses in the City of London by eight and a half, there must be 102,000 people there, according to this estimate. By the same rule, there must be 308,720 people in the seventeen parishes without the walls; 393,550 in the twenty-one out-parishes of Middlesex and Surrey; and 240,805 in the city and liberties of Westminster, all which compose the sum-total of 1,045,075 people.