MODERN LONDON is the chief city of an empire, the extent of which is so unlimited that the sun never sets upon its territories, and the power of which is so ascendant as to influence every government in the world, must be an object of peculiar interest: we will, therefore, impart as much information respecting this great metropolis as are necessarily limited space will admit.

To sketch with fidelity a picture of London, as it appears in 1840, is nearly as difficult a task as for an artist to delineate the evolutions of the Aurora Borealis: the changes of the one are nearly as rapid and as fanciful as the other - everything around is the victim of mutation. The genius of improvement but waves his wand, when meanness crumbles into its primitive dust, and magnificence in a moment rises up in its place; impure courts and lanes and alleys widen into handsome streets, and pestilential swamps are transformed into splendid circuses and squares. All this is well; but the illimitable metropolis seems inflicting on the circumjacent country the effects of the eighth plague of the Egyptians, for, like the locusts, it 'appears to cover the face of the whole earth, darkening the land, and eating every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees, so that there remaineth no green thing in the field'; and at no distant day the greater portion of the dwellers in this modern Babylon will listen to the tales of pure air and green fields with as much incredulity as they now do to the descriptions of forests and mountains in the moon, and indeed the former will shortly be to them almost as distant and unattainable as the latter.

London is divided by the Thames into two unequal parts, the most considerable stretching along the northern bank, and penetrating deeply into the interior; but the inhabitants find it convenient to make a further subdivision of it into five parts, distinguished by the appellations of the City, Westminster, the West End of the Town, the East End of the Town, and Southwark. Of these the west end is distinguished for its magnificent streets and squares, being the residence of the nobility and fashionable classes. The city is the seat of commerce, and comprises the ancient part of the town. The east end contains the docks, and is devoted to shipping concerns. Southwark is pre-eminent for manufactories of iron, glass, soap, hats, &c., and is the residence of numbers connected with the navigation of the Thames. In Westminster are many government offices, the courts of justice, and the two houses of parliament. Besides these, the outer border of London touches Paddington, Somerstown, Pentonville, Islington, and Hoxton to the north - Bethnal Green and Mile End to the east - Rotherhithe, Newington, Lambeth and Vauxhall to the south - and Knightsbridge and Chelsea to the west: so that, if the extent of metropolis be determined by the unbroken continuity of its houses, the following may be taken as its statistical description:- From Bethnal Green to Turnham Green, east to west, ten miles; from Kentish Town to Brixton, north to south, seven miles. The houses are said to number upwards of two hundred thousand, and to occupy twenty square miles; it has a population of little less than two millions; and its leviathan body is composed of nearly ten thousand streets, lanes, alleys, squares, places, terraces, &c. The transit from one part of this huge capital to another is facilitated by perpetual streams of omnibusses, and an incalculable multitude of hackney carriages; and by water, iron steam-boats depart from the numerous piers on the Thames every quarter of an hour, passing from the eastern to the western extremities - charge, fourpence. Along the capacious excavations called sewers, all the filth and impurities of the metropolis pass to the river, unscented and unseen. Water is conducted, through infinite ramification of tubes, into the very chambers of its consumers; and when an alarm of fire is heard, torrents of this fluid, by extracting the plugs, gush into the streets, affording a copious supply for the engines. In like manner the subtile gas flies through its hidden conduits, and, escaping through myriads of blazing apertures, causes the city to resemble what we read of as the illuminated regions of enchantment.

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London in 1831

Source: 1831 Census Report (Parliamentary Paper)

The civil government of the metropolis is diversified; that of the city of London belongs, by charter, to the lord mayor, aldermen, common council and livery. The city is divided into twenty-six wards, each of which annually elects common councilmen. The aldermen are chosen for life, one from each ward, by the free householders, excepting in the ward of Bridge Without; the election for this ward is in the court of aldermen, who choose from among those who have passed the chair. The lord mayor is chosen annually, on the 29th September, in the following manner: the livery assembled in Guildhall, choose two aldermen, one of whom (generally the senior) is selected by the court of aldermen, and he is declared the lord mayor elect. The livery, however, sometimes exercise their right of re-electing the same lord mayor two years in succession. The lord mayor, aldermen who have passed the chair, the recorder and the common serjeant, are judges oyer and terminer for the city of London and county of Middlesex. The lord mayor is conservator of the rivers Thames and Medway, and perpetual commissioner in affairs relating to river Lea; and his authority is requisite in all corporation business. The lord mayor elect enters on his office on the 9th of November, on which day there is a grand procession of the lord mayor, lord mayor elect, alderman, recorder and sheriffs, from Guildhall to the Thames; they then proceed, in great state by barges, to Westminster, where the prescribed oaths are taken; a magnificent entertainment at Guildhall generally terminates the business of the day. Formerly the sheriffs were selected in various modes, but now they are annually elected by the livery; they are sheriffs of the city of London, and form, jointly, one sheriff for the county of Middlesex. The recorder is appointed for life by the lord mayor and aldermen - salary 2,500. On the requisition of the livery to the lord mayor common halls are to be convened, at which he presides. In its military government the city, from a remote period, possessed peculiar privileges; but in 1794 they were materially altered by an act of parliament. The quarter sessions for Middlesex are held in the county hall, Clerkenwell Green. The city of London sends four members to the house of commons. By the reform bill four new boroughs were constituted in the metropolis - Marylebone on the west, Finsbury on the north, the Tower Hamlets to the east, and Lambeth on the south - each returning to members of parliament: so that the capital (including Westminster and Southwark), now returns sixteen representatives.

The city of Westminster is comprised in the united parishes of St. John and St. Margaret and their liberties, yet contain seven parishes. Prior to the reformation this city was under the government of the abbot and monks; but at present the high steward, who is chosen by the dean and chapter, is the chief magistrate: the high bailiff purchases his place, and holds it for life. Though the municipal government of Westminster is less popular than that of the city of London, yet, as each inhabitant householder has the right of voting for two members of parliament, it has often been the arena of several political struggles. It is a fact worthy of notice, that part of St. Martin' s-le-Grand, a street in the heart of the city of London, is part and parcel of Westminster, and that the residents vote for the representatives for the latter. Southwark is governed by a steward and bailiff, under the lord mayor of London.

The other parts of the metropolis have twenty-seven stipendiary magistrates, appointed to superintend the police and take cognizance of offences in their district: offences for these magistrates are established in Bow Street; Great Marlborough Street; High Street, Marylebone; Hatton Garden; Worship Street; Shoreditch Street; Lambeth Street; Whitechapel High Street; Shadwell; Queen Square; and Union Street, Southwark. There is a Thames police-office, also, in Wapping. The city constables are now organized like this force without its limits, so as to be on duty by day as well as by night. The constables wear an uniform, and are governed by a superintendent, inspectors and serjeants; in the city there likewise is a superior officer, styled chief commissioner.

Tower of London

Tower of London
Source: The Werner Company (Chicago)

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London can at last be the boast of an University; it consists of two colleges, named University College and King's College. University College stands in Upper Gower Street, and will, when completed, be a grand architectural ornament to the metropolis; the central part only has yet been erected. King's College was founded shortly after the preceding; its plan is to afford, to the younger members of society, learned, scientific and religious courses of instruction upon economical terms - the religious branch to be in accordance with the articles of the Church of England.

The Literary and Scientific Institutions are too numerous to be described or even named in our space; the principal only can be mentioned:- the Royal Institution, Albemarle Street; the London, Finsbury Circus; the Russell, Coram Street; Linmaean, Soho Square; Entomological, Old Bond Street; Royal Geographical, Regent Street; Western, Princess Street, Soho; Law, Chancery Lane; Dissenters' Library, Redcross Street; Royal Society of Musicians, Lisle Street; Geological, Somerset House; Society of Civil Engineers, Great George Street; Institute of Architects, Lower Grosvenor Street; Royal Asiatic, Grafton Street; Mineralogical, Old Bond Street; Philharmonic, Exeter Hall; Ancient Concerts, Hanover Square; Mechanics' Institute, Southampton Buildings; Sion College, London Wall, &c. &c.

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DOCKS. - Before the construction of the prodigious docks on both banks of the Themes,

'Commerce brought into the public walk
The busy merchant, the big warehouse built,
Raised the strong crane, choked up the public street
Commerce brought into the public walk
With foreign plenty; and thy stream, O Thames,
Chose for his grand resort'.

But by these enormous excavations both the 'choked street' and the 'king of floods' have, in a great degree, been freed from these incumbrances.

The London Docks were commenced in 1802, and contain twenty acres. On the North-quay are extensive warehouses and cellars, which, with a large tobacco warehouse, covers fourteen acres; the east cellar extends over three acres, and will contain twenty two thousand pipes of wine. The present capital of the company is 2,200,000.

The West India Docks are formed in the narrowest part of the Isle of Dogs - one dock for loading, and the other for unloading; the two docks contain fifty-four acres, and are sufficiently capacious for the accommodation of all the shipping in the West India trade. The canal to the south is designed to avoid the circuit round the Isle of Dogs.

The East India Docks, at Blackwall, include the Brunswick dock, and receive all the East India ships. The prodigious traffic to these depots lead to the formation of the fine Commercial Road, which is seventy feet wide, with a pave of twenty feet in the centre; it extends from the church of Whitechapel to Blackwall, a distance of nearly thirty miles.

The formation of Saint Katherine's Docks, near the Tower, has occasioned the annihilation of nearly the whole of St Katherine's parish, together with its venerable church. These were opened on the 25th October, 1828, seventeen months only after the first stone was laid; they cover twenty four acres, nearly twelve of which are devoted to wet docks - the remainder to warehouses and quays. The canal leading to the river is one hundred and ninety feet long and forty five broad, and, by a steam engine of one hundred horse power, can be filled or emptied, so that vessels of seven hundred tons can enter at any time of the tide; the docks and basin will accommodate, annually, fourteen hundred vessels. The cost, including that of twelve hundred houses demolished, was little short of 2,000,000, which was raised by shares. From the quay of these docks passengers can enter or quit the various steam vessels without intervention of boats, by which the public avoid both danger and extortion.

Before quitting the subject of docks, it is proper to notice those inland depositories called basins, which occur on the line of the Regent's canal: the largest of these is in the City-road, and is surrounded with large stacks of warehouses, in which goods from the north of England are housed, till distributed agreeably to their consignment. The Regent's canal connects the Grand Junction canal, at Paddington, with the river Thames, at Limehouse - uniting the internal navigation of the country north of the capital with the port.

It was computed that the total amount of exports and imports in the year ending January, 1829, was 107,772,805. In 1837 17,603 vessels entered the port, bearing more than three millions of tons; and 14,654 vessels, containing two millions five hundred thousand tons, cleared outwards - exclusive of Irish and coasting vessels, amounting to 9,800 inwards, and 14,700 outwards. On an average there are 2,000 ships in the river and docks, together with 3,000 barges and other small craft employed in lading and unlading them; there are also about 2,300 barges engaged in the inland trade, and 3,000 wherries and small boats for passengers; in navigating the wherries and craft 8,000 water men gain a livelihood by it, and 4,000 labourers are employed in assisting in the lading and unlading the ships, besides the crews of the several vessels; and 1,200 revenue officers are constantly doing duty in the port of London. The countless multitude of steam vessels, that arrive and depart almost hourly, cannot fail to impress the stranger with astonishment.

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THE PRESS. - Between seventy and eighty newspapers are published in London - six of which issue every morning, and four every evening, excepting Sunday; the Sunday papers number more than thirty; the remainder appear either once, twice or trice a week. There are more than forty reviews and magazines which issue monthly, besides many others that are published weekly.

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MARKETS AND SUPPLIES. - Smithfield, capacious as it is, is inadequate to its purpose; for so prodigious is the influx of live cattle on Mondays and Fridays, but chiefly on the former day, that the adjacent streets are commonly incumbered with a large portion of the cattle; from three to four thousand oxen, and twenty thousand sheep, besides calves and swine, are not unusually congregated in this disproportionate space: hence arises confusion and cruelty, and this market has become the most intolerable nuisance of the city. Smithfield is also a market for hay and straw on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and for horses on Friday.

Billingsgate is a market for fish, but a confined and inconvenient one. When the population of London and its environs is contrasted with the dimensions of this little nook, what a wretched disproportion the latter display! To witness the confusion of this Babel at its height, it should be visited very early in the morning; but in one respect it differs from Babel - for here, though the tongues are innumerable, the language is one.

The Corn and Seed Markets are in Mark Lane. These articles are sold by sample; and as the stands are limited, and new ones prohibited, the factors who own them are secured from a competition, which would be more injurious to their interests than those of the public. The market days are Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Monday being the principle.

Leadenhall and Newgate are the principle markets for meat, poultry, eggs and butter, and the former also for leather.

Farringdon or Fleet Market was removed from the spacious street now named Farringdon Street, to its present situation, in Shoe Lane, November 20th 1829; it is a very commodious market, in the form of a quadrangle, two hundred and thirty-two feet by one hundred and fifty, and covers an acre and a half. The purchase of the ground, and houses taken down, amounted to 200,000; and the building cost 30,000. Three sides of the quadrangle are occupied by a double row of shops, under cover, and the centre is appropriated to a vegetable market. The market is daily for meat and poultry; and Monday, Wednesday and Friday for vegetables.

Covent Garden Market, for fruit, flowers and vegetables, is now worthy of the metropolis; within these few years it has been much improved, both in its plan and aspect, that it may be designated a new market; it is the property of the noble family of Bedford - the late Duke of Bedford was the projector, and Mr Fowler the designer of the alterations. The numerous rows of shops and ranges of stands are encompassed by colonnades of granite pillars twelve feet high, forming covered walks; over these is a terrace, to which there are two ascents at the eastern end by stone staircases, leading to spacious conservatories for the display and sale of greenhouse plants - in front of which are fountains spouting up refreshing streams.

Hungerford Market, between the river Thames and the western end of the Strand, having fallen into decay, a company was some years ago formed to effect its revival; and on Saturday 18th June 1831 (the anniversary day of the battle of Waterloo), the first stone of the new market was laid, with the usual ceremonies, by Lord Dover, and the market was opened in 1833. This market is now both elegant and commodious, and the supply of fish, meat, poultry and vegetables is abundant.

Spitalfields Market is for flowers, fruit and vegetables; and a considerable wholesale business is done in apples and potatoes, of which large quantities are the produce of Devonshire.

Newport, Clare, Cumberland, Clarence and Portman Markets, all west of Temple-bar, are open daily, for meat, poultry and vegetables, &c.

Whitechapel is a daily market for meat, and three days in the week for hay and straw.

The Borough Market, Southwark, is daily, for fruit, flowers, vegetables, eggs, poultry and meat. This market is attended by French salesmen.

There are markets for hay and straw, four days a week, at Cumberland market, Regent's Park, and Newington causeway, Southwark.

Coal Exchange, Thames Street, is a large building for the purchase and sale of coals by the ship: here the price of this essential article is regulated; the agents between the buyer and seller are called factors. When it is known that five thousand vessels are employed in the coal trade to the port of London alone, some idea will be formed of the enormous consumption, which is computed to amount to two millions of tons annually.

At every door, twice a day Milk is regularly supplied from the dairy carts; the cows are driven farther from the town, every successive season, by the 'brick and mortar king'. Grains, a nutritive food for milch cattle, are obtained from the breweries distilleries in abundance.

The inhabitants of the metropolis consume, weekly, the flesh of 3,000 oxen and cows; 28,500 sheep and lambs; 400 calves and 1,200 pigs, which are washed down by 1,400,000 barrels of porter annually, exclusive of other liquids. The value of the cattle, sheep and pigs, yearly sold in Smithfield, is computed to be more than 9,000,000; nearly seventy millions of quartern loaves are baked annually; the yearly consumption of butter is 11,000 tons, and cheese 13,000; it is calculated that 656,000, in the same period is expended in milk. During a portion of every year one salesman, in Ledenhall market alone, sells from 14,000 to 15,000 rabbits weekly. The following was the supply of Fish brought to Billingsgate in one year:- salmon, 45,446; plaice, maids, &c. 50,764 bushels; turbot, 87,958; cod 447,130; herrings, 3,366,400; haddocks, 482,693; mackerel, 3,076,700; lobsters, 1,904,000; soles, 8,600 bushels; sprats, 60,700 bushels.

Of the copious supply of Water with which the inhabitants of the capital are blessed we have spoken elsewhere; it is proper, however, to add, that besides the New River Company there are the West Middlesex, the South London and the Kent Water Works. On Promise Hill there is a large reservoir, which enables the inhabitants in that vicinity to obtain water in their highest apartments.

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MANUFACTURES. - In the metropolis, there are establishments for the manufacture of such articles of elegance and luxury as are required to be of superior workmanship, and which are not only supplied to the whole country, but exported to all parts of the world. In the manufacture of silk goods, in all its branches, London stands unrivalled; for the drawing of wire from all the metals, and the making of pins and needles, its fame has long been established; fancy articles, in worsted, silk, and gold and silver, (as laces, fringes, &c.), with beautiful and rich productions from the frame of the embroiderer, are branches in which the London artizan fearlessly challenge competition. The cutlery and hats of London sustain a high character, and the manufacture of watches and jewellery is of unrivalled extent. The trade arising from the consumption of food, in the metropolis, is also immense, and influences the traffic not only of its own county, but others more distantly situated. The breweries of the capital are upon a scale of unequalled magnitude, and the porter is celebrated in every quarter of the globe; the distilleries, likewise, are extraordinary establishments, and their produce is distributed throughout the entire kingdom. Sugar refining is a business in which a great number of firms have great capitals and numerous hands employed - their establishments are chiefly located in the eastern division of the metropolis.

As an additional illustration of the prodigeous traffic of London, we subjoin the numbers of a few of the professions and trades, according to Messers Pigot & Co',s Directory for 1840:- In that year there were four thousand Taverns and Public Houses; more than four hundred Hotels, Inns and superior Coffee Houses; two thousand five hundred Attorneys; twelve hundred and fifty Barristers; fourteen hundred and seventy Surgeons; upwards of three hundred Physicians; about two thousand eight hundred Tailors; two thousand two hundred Bakers; two thousand one hundred and fifty Boot and Shoe Makers: eighteen hundred Carpenters; the like number of Grocers; nearly sixteen hundred Butchers; fourteen hundred Merchants; twelve hundred Gold and Silversmiths, Jewellers and Watch Makers; one thousand Coal Merchants and Dealers; nearly nine hundred Booksellers; eight hundred Tobacconists; eight hundred and fifty Academies, exclusive of colleges and endowed public schools, which number at least four hundred; five hundred and fifty Chymists and Druggists; three hundred Pawnbrokers; nearly the same number of Coach Builders; two hundred and fifty Saddlers, &c.

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ENVIRONS OF LONDON - The villages in the vicinity of London, which form a cordon around it, extending to a distance of from five to ten miles, have increased in size with the metropolis itself; and many of them are now, in reality, populous towns, inhabited by great numbers who almost daily visit the capital in their carriages. The country, likewise, abounds in fine buildings, with surrounding embellishments, where the native beauty of the scenery is heightened by art, under the direction of that superior taste which England is acknowledged to possess in gardening and pleasure grounds; indeed, in whatever direction the capital is approached, numerous elegant villas and tasteful erections, with appropriate decorations, announce to the traveller that he is in the vicinity of the 'Great Metropolis'. The valley of the Thames is renowned for soft scenic beauty; every bend of the river opens to view redundant charms. The beauties of Richmond and its hill, Kew and its gardens, and other delightful spots in Surrey, will be found described under that county. After the river passes London though its banks do not present fascinations equal to those already described, yet Greenwich, Blackheath, and Shooter's Hill offer fine and expanded views; the majestic Thames now flows in a vastly increased volume, and beyond it the county of Essex displays its wide-spread level.

With all its attractions, London is in a considerable degree forsaken in the autumn of the year, when the noble and the opulent seek the retirement of the country, or the more fashionably attended watering places on the sea-coast: at such periods the town is said to be ' empty', although a stranger would be surprised at hearing it so characterized when he witnesses its continuously thronged streets and crowded public places. But with the winter returns all its fashion and gaiety; and at the meeting of parliament, which generally takes place in the beginning of February, it is said to be 'full'. London is then in its most brilliant state; those who furnish decorations, whether for the person or the mansion, are all in requisition; innumerable balls, routs, assemblies, &c. put in motion the whole fashionable world; splendid equipages dash along the streets, and crowd to the scene of attraction for the night. The theatres are filled, and, at the termination of the performance within doors, at the outside another takes place that almost baffles description: the streets blocked up with numerous carriages, all wanted at the same moment - the struggles of the drivers to disentangle themselves - the bawling for the coaches of the titled and untitled, and the eager running of the servants with their shewy liveries - combined with the brilliant attire of ladies and gentlemen (all anxious, amidst the general confusion, for the drawing up of their carriages) - the chaotic mixture of the liveried lacquey and the starred noble, the splendid jewels, the waving plumes, and the glittering bayonets, - the discordant noise of voices shouting, whips cracking, and coachmen swearing, while the sentinels at the theatre doors look on the whole with silent apathy - all together form a scene that must be witnessed to be adequately conceived.

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