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By Jerry White

London within the eighteenth century used to be a brand new urban, risen from the ashes of the good hearth of 1666 that had destroyed part its houses and nice public constructions. The century that used to be an period of energetic enlargement and large-scale tasks, of swiftly altering tradition and trade, as large numbers of individuals arrived within the shining urban, drawn by way of its mammoth wealth and gear and its many diversions. Borrowing a word from Daniel Defoe, Jerry White calls London “this nice and large thing,” the grandeur of its new structures and the glitter of its excessive lifestyles shadowed by means of poverty and squalor.

A nice and big Thing deals a street-level view of the town: its public gardens and prisons, its banks and brothels, its workshops and warehouses—and its bustling, jostling crowds. White introduces us to shopkeepers and prostitutes, women and men of style and genius, street-robbers and thief-takers, as they play out the dazzling drama of lifestyles in eighteenth-century London. What emerges is an image of a society fractured by means of geography, politics, faith, history—and specifically via type, for the divide among wealthy and negative in London was once by no means larger or extra harmful within the glossy period than in those years.

regardless of this gulf, Jerry White indicates us Londoners going approximately their company as bankers or beggars, reveling in an enlarging global of public pleasures, indulging in crimes either nice and small—amidst the tightening sinews of strength and law, and the hesitant beginnings of London democracy.

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Extra info for A Great and Monstrous Thing: London in the Eighteenth Century

Sample text

And his fame spread more widely. He designed a beautiful octagonal addition to Orleans House at Twickenham for James Johnson, a prominent Whig, in the early 1720s; he built a library for the bibliophile Dr Richard Mead, a dissenter, at Great Ormond Street in the early 1730s; he designed a new house at 25 Leicester Fields for Sir Philip Parker Long around the same time; and he was even chosen by that hammer of the Jacobites Sir Robert Walpole to soften the Palladianism of his new Norfolk mansion, Houghton Hall.

Not all these new developments were for housing – industrial buildings and warehousing were also new-built, especially near the riverside – and some housing would have been swept away for these more profitable uses.

For St Martin-in-the-Fields was the parish church of the King and his family, and Gibbs was known by many to be a closet Catholic and Jacobite, as well as a Tory. On the other hand, his talents and achievements as an architect were plain for all to see, and George I had no compunction in laying the foundation stone, ‘with full religious and masonic rites’, on 19 March 1721. The project did not always run smoothly. Trouble arose from a stream that flowed beneath St Martin’s Lane and the portico’s foundations had to be built on ‘several hundred tombstones’ taken from the churchyard and reburied in mortar.

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