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General Appearance

D. General Appearance.-The walls around the ancient city, though they did not prevent the erection of suburbs or curb their extension or control their form, had a strong, stringent, permanent effect on the city itself. They exactly defined its limits; they restricted its proper growth entirely to its own area ; they compelled its increase of house accommodation to press inward and upward; they occasioned it, when it became very populous, to have narrow streets and lofty houses; they made it, like all other old, great, growing walled towns, a densely-packed mass of human abodes. They were restored, rebuilt, and somewhat extended at different periods, particularly in the times of Alfred and Henry III., but they never enclosed a larger space than 373 acres. The present reckoning of the city, however, assigns to it an area of 671 acres. Gates pierced the walls on the lines of the principal thoroughfares, and in some instances were surmounted or overhung by public buildings. Posterngate stood on Tower Hill, and communicated with the Tower. Aldgate was originally Roman, was rebuilt so late as 1601, and was taken down in 1761. Bishopsgate was restored or rebuilt before 685 ; was rebuilt so late as 1731; was taken down in 1760, and occupied a site near Wormwood Street. Cripplegate also was taken down in 1760. Moorgate led into Moorfields, was built in 1415, and rebuilt in 1472, and was taken down in 1672. Aldersgate was originally Roman, was rebuilt in 1617 and in 1670, and was taken down in 1761. Newgate stood near the present Newgate Prison ; was itself surmounted by a prison for felons; was restored in 1422, in 1631, and in 1672, and was taken down in 1760-61. Ludgate was originally Roman; was rebuilt in 1215 and in 1586 ; was surmounted by a prison for debtors, built by Richard II., and enlarged in 1454 by Dame Forster; was eventually adorned with a statue of Elizabeth, and was taken down in 1761-62, when the statue of Elizabeth was removed to a niche in St Dunstan's. Dowgate stood originally at the mouth of the Walbrook rivulet; was rebuilt on an adjoining site, and communicated with a ferry over the Thames. A band of the suburbs immediately outside of the walls came under the city's jurisdiction, and was subject to its tolls ; and the bounds of this, on the lines of the great thoroughfares, were marked by bars, such as Whitechapel, Smithfield, and Temple bars. The last of these was originally a timber gate ; was reconstructed of stone by Wren in 1670-72 ; had statues of Elizabeth, James I., Charles I., and Charles II.; was the place of the hideous exposure of the heads of the chief persons executed on account of the rebellion in 1745, and was ceremonially shut and opened on occasion of a state progress of the sovereign to the city. It was demolished in 1878 to permit of the widening of the road, and was subsequently rebuilt in 1888 at Theobald's Park, Waltham Cross, Herts.

The greater part of the city proper, of the sections to the E of it, of the sections to the N, of the sections on the S side of the river, and even of some sections to the W, until a comparatively recent period, had a mean, dingy, brick-built appearance. The houses were usually three or four storeys high; they presented fronts of the plainest kind, often mere weather-worn brick, sometimes inelegant daubings of plaster and stucco; numerously cut into mere slips of buildings, disposed in dwellings of only two small rooms on the floor. During the past thirty years, however, enormous alterations have been made in the city, and large sections have been entirely rebuilt. The old brick-built houses have for the most part disappeared, and their place has been taken by huge edifices of stone of stately and imposing exterior, and which within are lighted, drained, and ventilated in accordance with all the demands of modern sanitary science. In most of the new blocks used as offices or warehouses lifts worked by hydraulic power are provided, and electric lighting has been largely introduced. So great is the demand for buildings of this character that they are to be found not only in the leading thoroughfares but also in narrow courts and lanes, and in places accessible only to foot passengers. Everywhere, as the leases of the old houses fall in, the old buildings are rapidly removed and fine new structures, representing a vast outlay of capital, take their place. As time is money in the city, building operations are often carried on by night as well as by day, electric arc lamps, liuge gas flares, or " lucigen lights," being used to furnish light to the workers, and the rapidity with which a street or a block of houses is transformed in this way is startling even to the native-born Londoner.

Strangers used to admire London as compared with the great cities of the continent, but they did so chiefly under the dazzling effect of its magnitude, its business activity, and its stores of wealth. Von Raumer, for example, says-" The city is really immense; and though there may be no point of view so rich and varied as the Font des Arts in Paris or the Linden in Berlin, we are continually presented with new rows and masses of houses, palaces, shops, &c. Extent and quantity alone, indeed, are certainly no standard of value and excellence either in state, arts, or science, yet here quantity, which surpasses all the capitals of Europe, nay, of the world itself, is extremely remarkable and imposing. To this must be added that in London quantity is obviously associated with quality, for wealth is evidently flowing from the most varied activity, which claims the utmost exertions both of body and mind to survey and to comprehend. In Paris things appear, at first sight, more splendid, elegant, ingenious, and attractive than in London, but that impression is to the one made here as a shadow to the substance, as the shining plated ware to the genuine metal, which, in consciousness of its intrinsic value, needs no washing and polishing. Here, behind the dark walls, there is far more wealth-perhaps, too, indifference to all the petty arts by which the less wealthy endeavours to diffuse around him the appearance of elegance, opulence, and taste."

The architecture of very much of London is either convenient, curious, pleasing, or ornamental. The causeways and the pavements are excellent. The lines of houses in all the business streets stand close upon the pavements, so that the thoroughfares there are not impeded by sunk areas or railings. The quondam mansions of the great old merchants within the city, though now converted into counting-houses and warehouses, and though sometimes situated in retired and gloomy courts, still display features of almost palatial grandeur. There are many houses also, both in the city and in the old suburbs, which exhibit the styles that prevailed between 1666 and 1750. Well-built houses, in well-arranged streets and squares, erected between 1790 and 1810, characterize the Bloomsbury region and some other parts. Palatial-looking houses, in spacious streets and noble squares, erected from 1826 till the present time, fill Belgravia, Tyburnia, and some other parts of the West. But picturesqueness or beauty, except for public buildings and for some recent reconstructions, is utterly wanting in the old parts, and variety or striking feature is nearly as much wanting in the new. Regularity and largeness rather than any artistic excellence characterize even the best portions of the West End, and so extreme is the regularity that the eye becomes tired and bewildered with the endless repetitions of "compo" decorations. The great breaks made by the squares and parks, however, afford a very grand relief. A remark made by Von Raumer, true in his time, is much truer now. "A great and peculiar beauty of London," he said, " are its many squares. They are not, as in Berlin, abandoned to pedlars and soldiers, horse-breakers and post-boys; but the large open space is left free for passengers, and the inner part is enclosed with light iron-railings, and the bright green sward laid out with walks and planted with shrubs. The squares are exceeded only by the parks. Regent's Park alone, with its terraces and palaces, is of the utmost extent and magnificence, and the nil admirari can be practised here only by the most senseless stockfish."

The course of the Thames through the capital also discloses very interesting views. It indeed has drawbacks, is of mixed character, presents spots and reaches far from agreeable, but it nevertheless abounds with the picturesque. A sail on the river from Chelsea down to the Tower was striking in the times of William and Mary, and is much more striking now. A series of bridges, so different from one another, yet all so interesting, the facade of Somerset House, the Embankment and the Temple Gardens, the grove of spires and the dome of St Paul's soaring above the houses, the stir of all sorts of small craft on the river's bosom all above London Bridge, the crowd of ships with the square and massive structures of the Tower below, the massive and stately appearance of the Tower Bridge, and the countless diversity of objects and groupings over the entire distance, have long been interesting features; while the Houses of Parliament, standing in strong contrast to the opposite palace of Lambeth, form a very grand addition. The principal embankment, called the Victoria Embankment, is on the N side, commences in a junction with a previously formed embankment for the Houses of Parliament, extends in a slightly curved line to the northern brick pier of the quondam Hungerford Bridge, goes thence to the first pier of Waterloo Bridge, ceases to have a solid form at the eastern side of Temple Gardens, proceeds upon columns to the level of Chatham Place, at Blackfriar's Bridge, consists throughout its solid portions of a front wall of masonry strengthened by counterforts, a backing of brickwork, and a bedding or packing of ballast; has at regulated intervals substantial and ornate landing piers for steamboats; is traversed from end to end by a road 100 feet wide, disposed in a carriage way 70 feet wide, and two path-ways each 15 feet wide; includes inward from the road over most of the distance a further width of from 100 to 330 feet, which may probably be all occupied with ornamental edifices; communicates with the old thoroughfares through new streets and new approaches; has a total length of about 1^ mile, and cost with the approaches about £2,000,000. A feature of the embankment is a " subway " along its entire length for the gas and water pipes; another is the planting of it with trees; and another is the underground railway, forming part of the Metropolitan District line, distant about 250 feet from its frontage wall at Richmond Terrace, 120 at Charing Cross Railway Bridge, about 50 at Waterloo Bridge, about 270 at the Temple, and leaving the embankment at Bridewell Wharf. A second embankment of similar character is on the S side along Lambeth, extends from Westminster Bridge to Vauxhall-a distance of about three-quarters of a mile, was completed in 1869 at a cost of nearly £1,000,000, has a roadway 60 feet wide for the greater portion of its length, and a granite wall on the river side. A third embankment-the Chelsea Embankment-is on the N side of the river, extends from the Old Battersea Bridge to Grosvenor Road, Pimlico, and was opened in 1873.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5


Last Updated: 18th November 2010