The City of London from the River Thames with St Paul's Cathedral, a painting by Canaletto (1748)In 1700, London’s population reached 500,000. By the end of the century, its population would double. London was now the largest city in Europe. As the number of inhabitants grew rapidly, the city expanded in all directions: the wealthy in new estates of fine houses to the west, tradespeople and workers close to the industries sprouting out to the east and along the Thames, especially the docks. The new Westminster Bridge, completed in 1750—only the second river crossing to be completed since London Bridge was rebuilt in medieval times—triggered urban development south of the Thames. Villages that once lay beyond the edge of London, such as Paddington and St Marylebone, gradually became absorbed into the city.
The City of London and its waterfront, from a panoramic illustration first published in 1806.
An 18th century London coffee house. London’s first newspapers printed in Fleet Street. People met in the city’s new coffee...Read More >>An 18th century London coffee house. London’s first newspapers printed in Fleet Street. People met in the city’s new coffee houses to read them and to discuss ideas.
During the 18th century, more and more people—among them, city merchants, shipowners and bankers—became prosperous. Most chose to move away from the City of London, now a deeply unpleasant place to live. A pall of smoke, caused by a change of household fuel from wood to coal, frequently hung over it. Londoners lived constantly under the threat of epidemics of dysentery, smallpox, cholera and other diseases. The streets had become a hotbed of crime, violence and alcoholism. The well-to-do bought large houses built around elegant squares in new estates such as Mayfair the West End. The middle classes also left the City and East End for new communities south of the river, such as Blackheath, Brixton, Dulwich and Putney.
In 1700 an observer on top of St Paul's Cathedral would have been able to view London in its entirety—and the open countryside beyond—in all directions. From the same viewpoint 100 years later, it would have been impossible to see the outer limit of the built-up area, even on a day when fog and smoke did not provide a blanket haze.
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