I chose to examine the St Pancras Vestry district, to the north of the city. The district, which represents a long thin slither running north to south, only has five institutions in it between 1801 and 1810: a women’s refuge, two orphanages (one for children aged 8-11, and one “adult orphan institution”), and two workhouses. This seems reasonable for the period, considering it is one of the most lightly populated districts of the central London area with a population of 31779. Most of the institutions seem concentrated in the southern portion of the district, which seems to hold true for the entirety of the nineteenth century.
The 1820s sees the establishment of University College, built with a grand Corinthian portico and large dome that becomes a landmark for the southern portion of the St Pancras Vestry district. “Nearly all subjects are taught here,” explains The Queen’s London (a “pictorial and descriptive record” of the city’s architecture), with the college founded “in order to provide an educational centre free of all religious tests.” Across the road, University College Hospital is built in the 1830s – a building which, tellingly, needed to be expanded in the 1840s and then later refurbished in 1897 to meet the exploding population of the St Pancras Vestry district which we’ll explore in the second blog post. A lunatic asylum, Western House, also appears in the 1830s, but closes down by the 1860s.
The 1870s and 80s see an explosion of institutions in the district. Three of the eight Homes for Working Girls in London are clustered around Fitzroy Square, in addition to three hospitals – the London Skin Hospital, Oxygen Home, and the Home Hospitals Association. A couple of other medical institutions are dotted along Euston Road, including the Central London Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, the British Hospital for Skin Diseases, and the New Hospital for Women. Other institutions in the district also have links to medicine, too; after being discharged, women might go to the Female Preventive and Reformatory Institutions Home for Friendless Young Women of Good Character, or the Reformatory for the Fallen. In addition, we see a couple of institutions – an orphanage, another hospital, and lodging for pensioners – crop up in the north of the district, demonstrating the slow but steady movement of people out of the busy city centre and northwards towards places like Camden and Highgate.
In addition to becoming a hub for knowledge through its universities and hospitals, St Pancras Vestry also became a transport hub by the end of the century, playing host to three of London’s mainline terminals. While waiting for a train at St Pancras station – the grandest of the three stations in the district – one could not help but be amazed by the “splendid Gothic pile” of the station’s exterior façade, or the vast interior train shed which is described by The Queen’s London to be the largest roof held up by a single pillar anywhere in the world.
Although one of the more densely populated areas in London, Whitechapel began the nineteenth century with few social institutions. At this time, its most notable landmarks were the Royal Mint and the notorious Tower of London, which was, by now, more of a landmark than a functioning prison. London Hospital, charged with healing the poor, the Magdalen Hospital For Penitent Prostitutes, and two organizations that served food (Spitalfields Soup-Ladling Society and the Eastern Dispensary) were dispersed throughout the district. The institutions and their images reveal a stark division. This southernmost area of the district home to industry and government building resembles a different world the the London Hospital, located in the northernmost area of the district. Where the Tower of London is depicted as an almost fairytale romanticized image, the London Hospital lacks ornament or festivity. One representative of the power of the state and its city, the other an expression of its weakness and vulnerability.
Between 1801 and 1830, development seemed to be more acutely focused on industry. The only two such institutions that would emerge during the period were both for sailors (the Asylum For Destitute Sailors and the Sailors Home. Furthermore, a grove of lower income housing or as the Victorian London Map describes “slums” occupy the area just East of the Government building. Only 26 years later would construction begin on the three enclosed docks bordering the Thames. Thousands would be displaced, forced out without refuge or compensation. The image of the smaller of the three docks remain, St. Katharine Dock. Only a lone manless boat stands in the place of a once bustling community.
In 1859, the Whitechapel workhouse would be built on the ruins of the Spitefield Parish Workhouse. The establishment of a workhouse would suggest a large influx of a lower income population as well as a greater immigrant presence. This conjecture aligns with population data during the time. Between 1840 and 1860 the population increased by over 15,000 persons. However, just when the workhouse was established the Magdalen Hospital For Penitent Prostitutes was shut down. The reason for this anomaly may be due to the Contagious Disease Act of 1864, which called for the investigation and imprisonment of any women confirmed or even suspected of prostitution. This suggests charitable work for this particular group may have become less desirable or harder to fund leading up to the passing of the act. The King Ragged School And Girls Refuge would sprout up in its place.
In fact, the next two decades, between 1861 and 1880, would see an increase in the number of refuges for both young men and women as well as almshouses. While the population actually decreased during this period by 3,186 persons, the founding of these institutions may have been in reaction to or because of an increased awareness of the growth during the decades prior. In the following two decades, the number of these accommodations would continue to grow. A new kind of institution emerged during this period that was interested in offering free education and enrichment, not for the purpose of schooling young children in a particular skill, but cultural institutions. Whitechapel Art Gallery and Whitechapel Library both served this purpose. While Whitechapel’s identity as a place of industry and government was solidified, so did its awareness of its new and less prosperous population grow.
And a brightly waxed orange clasped in the fist of a young man catches your eye and disrupts the early morning gray that hangs low in the
air, only cleared by the rush of arms and legs and faces. Spotting your intrigue, he vies for your attention, shouting “Oranges! Fine Oranges!” in futile hope for a profit. But you aren’t there of your own accord. You have a list, well at least one in your mind’s eye -they stopped writing down the errands when they realized you couldn’t read much more than your own name. A hint of jasmine and bergamot and rose still cling to your employer’s basket, but it’s far too soon replaced by the ash of the soot-covered chimney sweep, and the scent of the butcher’s blood-soaked apron. A chicken, a duck, a rabbit, hang by a thin piece of twine in the window. You can barely recognize their shapes, excoriated, wearing only coats of pink flesh, but you know too well those feet, those ears, that beak.
Or perhaps you nearly stumble out of your carriage and onto the uneven street, paved in centuries old cobblestones. You’re in need of a frock for two weekends next. But before you can swing the door open to the seamstress’s shop, and be welcomed by a small symphony of bells, an unfamiliar to
ngue diverts you elsewhere. Two young boys wear tattered jackets and shapeless hats, nursing a bottle filled with an amber liquid. They laugh and stumble along in the chill of the early evening, before slipping around the corner and out of your sight. Polish, you wager -it must have been. Would you spring for silk? Or would you be content with a brightly dyed cotton?
But maybe you’ve just walked out of the East India House with its towering ionic columns and relief fit for the Parthenon. Ink stains the cuff of your sleeve, and afternoon tea your teeth. It’s quieter outside a place like this, where more often carriages trod than feet. A horse sighs and another laps at a small trough of water. A breeze roars in from the Thames, carrying with it the gentle stench of sewage, sour in your mouth. But you don’t linger long. You let the crowd carry you up Bishopsgate and onto Shoreditch Street, and flick a farthing at the boy sweeping your path clean.
An area near to the city center, home to the Tower of London and important industrial sites such as the entrance to the London docks pictured below, the population of Whitechapel District grew at a consistent rate of approximately 5-7,000 persons per decade for the first half of the nineteenth century. Remaining one of the most densely populated areas throughout the entirety of the century, unlike nearby districts such as Shoreditch St. Leonard’s Vestry, Bethnal Green Vestry, and Mile End Ole Town Vestry, which saw dramatic increases in population in the first half of the century, Whitechapel saw only steady increases. One slightly larger uptick in population between 1840 and 1860, which saw an additional 15,616 individuals settle in the area, may have been due to increased intercontinental travel caused by events such as the Irish Potato Famine. Whitechapel District was already a long established city center and densely populated, unaccommodating to drastic increases in population. Much of its northern territory, which bordered the Thames, held important industrial, legal, and financial institutions, which would not be ideal areas for additional housing and new growth.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the population stagnated with only slight decreases. From 1850-1890, the population fell by only 8,396. In the same period, the neighboring City of London saw a 61,890 person decrease over the same 50-year period. In comparison to the City of London, which underwent the transformation of being one of the most to least densely populated areas over the course of the century, Whitechapel definitely had room for growth. The variety of institutions, some of which could only survive in lower-income densely populated areas like the Whitechapel Workhouse, accommodated a larger population. Additionally, by the mid-point of the century, growth may have occurred primarily in the north of the district, as several refuge’s and other charitable organizations were established in the area. However, as population declined, so did these institutions, most notably the workhouse, which indicates that work may have been sought elsewhere.
The seemingly endless stream of bodies pictured on a Sunday morning on Wentworth street, which straddles the border of the City of London and Whitechapel District, illustrates just how densely populated the area could become. The image includes a caption, attributing some of the thoroughfare to weekend shoppers buying errands, even depicting a presumptively Jewish immigrant fruit vendor, in the lower right corner of the image. The noise is described as “deafening,” in which a slew of different foreign languages can be heard. The moment captured offers insight not only to the sheer quantity of people in the area, but also the variety of their backgrounds and employment.
You have to keep your wits about you, strolling up Tottenham Court Road on a Tuesday. The horses and carriages that pummel the cobblestones of this long arterial street are the most deafening of all the noises you hear; everyone seems to be in a rush to catch their train from Euston back up to Birmingham, wanting to make the five-hour trip in the hazy sunlight of this warm May morning, and arrive home before it gets too dark. The street peddlers give the carts a run for their money, though, flogging their vegetables outside Mortimer Market in high-pitched screeches, before running to evade the bobbies charged with disbanding such unruly conduct.
Strolling up from Oxford Street, the first thing you smell is the whiff of porter from Meux’s Brewery (the smell is delicious, but you’re hoping the walls of the brewery don’t explode like they did in 1814 with the London Beer Flood). The intellectual types pour out from Great Russell Street, seeking their midday repast after a morning among the books at the British Library and the wondrous sculptures of the Parthenon at the British Museum. They dive into Lansdall’s, the baker’s, (and no doubt will try their luck at the brewery afterwards), but you carry on up past Danks’s carpet warehouse and stroll northwards. A gorgeous piece of china catches your eye in Moore and Co, so you end up spending a good twenty minutes perusing the furniture from across the world before negotiating a good deal on the teacup you saw in the window as you passed by.
By this point you’re quite tired, so you jump into Leopard Coffee House on the corner of Francis Street for a quick drink but end up whiling a couple of hours away in a good game of whist. There are all kinds of curiosities along Tottenham Court Road – baskets, boots, silk, pans, iron kettles and more are for sale, as you continue on your walk up the street. It’s not quite as flashy as Regent Street, but it has all manner of products for the discerning consumer. Indeed, every now and then, you’ll hear a baker or a confectioner offering a sample of their wares. Up near the top end of the street, you catch a glimpse of University College’s vast dome and its domineering portico, and can’t help but be inspired by these architectural feats on offer in this temple for learning.
The metropolitan works district of St Pancras Vestry experienced rapid population growth throughout the 1800s, with its population increasing by almost nine times throughout the century.
In 1801-10, the population of the district stood at 31,779, making it the tenth most populated district in the city. It’s worth noting that, according to Cary’s 1802 map, only a tiny fraction of the district had been built upon, with most development in the district’s southern tip closest to central London. Indeed, this 1802 map only covers about a third of the district, suggesting that St Pancras Vestry does indeed represent the northern frontier of the city’s area.
The population of the district continues to rise steadily, hitting 100,000 by 1831-40, as we see more institutions crop up towards the north of the district. This seems to suggest that the size of the city is expanding, as migrants to London seek accommodation on what were once the city’s outer fringes. This is confirmed by Cross’s 1859 New Plan of London, which shows healthy development in Camden, Kentish Town, and Haverstock Hill (though not nearly as dense as more established areas like around Westminster and the City).
By 1890, the population of the district stands at just over 235,000, making it one of the most populous districts in the city. We see a couple of institutions opening around the Kentish Town area, suggesting that these northern locales have been firmly cemented as towns in their own right. It is worth noting, however, that the density of the district still remains relatively low during the entire period, hovering well below the London average throughout the 19th century. The district itself is quite a large, thin strip that radiates from the centre of London northwards, so it is unsurprising that density remains low throughout the period.
I would also suggest that most of this increase in population happens towards the north and centre of the district, as the southern tips of St Pancras Vestry become more orientated towards business, education and healthcare. As mentioned in my last blog post, many of these institutions crop up along Euston Road and around Fitzroy Square, and a number of train stations (and a huge loading yard) was built in the south of the district in the mid to late 1800s. With so much non-residential development in the area south of Euston Road, one might suggest that the southern tip of the district experienced much slower rates of population growth (or even suffered depopulation) as these new businesses, non-profits and transport hubs staked their claim for a slice of the city’s footprint.
It’s the dawn of the 19th-century and we’re in London’s Greenwich District.
The population stands at 32,621. Our district has only one hospital, Royal Seamens, which cares for our disabled sailors. A decade into the century, the population grows to 36,780—an increase of 12.75 percent. No new institutions appear in this period. Another decade passes and the population is now 41,530. This is an increase of yet another 12.91 percent. The population growth in the two decades has remained the same—we’ve had a total of 27.21 percent increase in population since the turn of the century. The numbers are rising yes, but this is not substantial enough to lead to subsequent growth in the institutions in the district. We need another factor for a more significant change to occur. This comes in 1834, when the new Poor Law, which requires children to be housed in exchange for work, is passed in London. But our district has to wait a bit longer—six years, to be exact. In 1840, the Greenwich Poor Law Workhouse appeared.
Between 1841-1850, the population rose to 55,212. This entails an increase of 32.94 percent from the previous decade and an increase of 69.25 percent since the beginning of the century. The appearance of the workhouse has impacted the growth of our district in this short period—in fact, we can speculate that the workhouse might be responsible for a 20.11 percent rise in the population. But we’ve to speed later into the century for a full glimpse of the true impact of the workhouse.
Boom! We’re now at the tail end of the century. The population in Greenwich District is 131,233 people. This is an increase of 302.3 percent since the turn of the century. But we want to know what caused the population growth. In just the last half of the century, the population has risen 137.69 percent. In the first half, as you may remember, we’d a growth of only 69.25 percent. The difference is more than double. This means the workhouse has significantly increased the population of Greenwich District.
The suggestion of our data is clear. The workhouse has recruited a lot of children, many of whom had traveled from outside our district. In 1875, another workhouse had to be built to accommodate more inmates. Perhaps due to the poor conditions at the workhouses, St. John’s Hospital was built in the district. Where we’d had a hospital for seamen previously, we now have two missions — our district now caters to the spirituality of the seamen, which signifies the growth of the church in the late 19th-century.
From the experience of our district, we glean a trend, which may extend to the rest of the city. The introduction of the new Poor Law in 1834 led to the emergence of the workhouses, which were a magnet for inmates. This subsequently led to the growth of the population in the areas where the workhouses were located.
Up until now, we’ve gotten the impression that the upsurge in Greenwich’s population was entirely due to the workhouses, but this may not be true. Other sites in our district have also played a role in attracting residents from around the city and perhaps even the world. Greenwich was home to the Royal Observatory, which, as the image below indicates, was a popular attraction. It was located in a park, which turned into a site for social gatherings. The district was also home to astronomers from around the world. As the population grew and industry flourished, scientific discoveries began to be made. Time was measured; new maps were made and the stars and planets explored—this was Greenwich, after all. All these factors contributed to the expansion of the district and the rise of the population.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
You may be asking how these factors were interconnected. Well, let’s consider trade, which perhaps provided the most important impetus for Greenwitch’s growth. Our district housed the West India Docks, which facilitated the import and export of goods. This brought free raw materials and labor. The docks were surrounded by warehouses, which made it easier to load and reload goods, shortening the amount of time it took. This design was efficient and it was replicated all across the city, leading to the growth of the shipping industry. There was also the East India Company in our district, which was established in 1803 and even preceded the West India Docks, and it brought goods and labor all the way from India. We can imagine some of the workers must have settled in Greenwich. We can also speculate that traders moved from other parts of the city to be closer to the docks. This created an interconnected web, which linked our district to other parts of the city and the outside world all at equal measure— it was the net of capital, it was the pace of the 19th-century.
The hospital was located just across from the docks, which perhaps was meant to control the outbreak of diseases.
As we can see in the image below, the Empire was beginning to take shape. From the docks, the goods were sent to the warehouses and the people to the hospital. And the first part of the cycle was complete.
The second part of the cycle of capital involves selling. To understand this better, we need to draw closer, right into a street in Victorian London.
It’s past noon. You’ve reached High Street, which houses your business. The carriage creaks to a halt.
Just as you’re stepping out, the driver leans in and whispers, “Sir, your hair.”
You don’t catch the rest of what he says, but you decide you must get a haircut today and go straight into the barber.
Just like yesterday, there’s another man in the line and you’re asked to stand by. Stepping out of the shop and into the chair outside, you fish out a book from your coat and begin reading.
Crank, crank! The noise is too distracting. Craning your neck for a look, you notice a glass cutter has taken up the shop on the second floor of the building. The landlord was looking for someone to rent it.
You begin to wonder why the carriages still haven’t arrived today. When you draw out your watch from your coat pocket, you notice it’s broken. You decide to take it to the watchmaker, who says you’ll be waiting for three days for it to be fixed. This is too long.
Annoyed, you step into the street.
In distance, the carriages you were waiting for are approaching. They’re carrying garments you had ordered weeks ago. You now head to your shop to open the store.
“Sir, sir,” you hear from behind you, “it’s your turn.”
This is the barber’s voice. You pretend you haven’t heard him and fasten your pace. You run into men unloading china and a whole package of plates falls down and crushes. The china dealer is dismayed, but once he notices you’re the owner of the cloth mart, he calms down, comforted by the fact that you’ll be able to pay for the broken plates. The hosier and fringe manufacturer across from your building has also received the hosiery she had ordered and you’re worried about the competition. As you open your store, a waft of tobacco fills the air. It must be from the tobacco dealer’s direction. From your window, you catch a young boy stealthily walking out of the gold seller’s and breaking into a run. The men on the street take after him.
“I must return to 2021,” you think. But for now, you must remain a cloth dealer in 19th-century London.
On Cheapside, a street running through the City of London, tall, ornate, brick and brownstone buildings from after the Great Fire line either side of the road. There are signs outside of them for their businesses: a library, a stay and shirt manufacturer, a jeweller. There are lots of side streets with homes and businesses of their own, and the tall, brick buildings run in every direction. There are so many storefronts, and the buildings are full of windows out of which business owners fly advertisements for their goods. They remind the street of their vegetarian meals, teas for sale, and more. There are people, so many people, from all over, walking in and out of the different businesses, jumping into carriages, speeding in a rush toward their offices. The men wear bowler hats, the women dresses, and their modern daughters, shirtwaists and skirts.
This is a modern street. Lamp posts stand at each corner, and the intersections teem with carts and cabs and other carriages. They crowd together at the roundabouts and make Cheapside the notoriously busy street that it is. The sidewalk is wide enough for four people to walk in a row, though the area is too busy for that. The streets are also wide, and people walk there, too, deftly avoiding traffic. But the air is heavy, almost stifling, and not very clear. Smoke pours out from the chimneys and in cold weather or heavy rain, make for an oppressive atmosphere. There are so many horses, and dogs running freely through the street; the smell of their waste is inescapable. It is, after all, the busiest thoroughfare in London.
The most important sound on Cheapside is the bells. St Mary-le-Bow Church was built on one end of the street; all proper Cockneys are born within hearing range of her bells. At the other end of the street are the Mansion House and the Bank of England and its buildings. There is not much respite to be found here, no greenery and no quiet, but no one comes to Cheapside looking for either of those things.
The City of London stands out as one of the most interesting districts when it comes to population precisely because it experiences almost the opposite effect as all other districts of the metropolitan area. While a district like Poplar saw a 1890% increase in its population between 1801 and 1890 (from 8,278 persons to 156,510 persons), the City of London saw its population fall over the course of the 19th century to a little more than a third of its original number of persons. While the district started out with 99,663 residents in the 1801-1810 period, it ended with only 37,218 in 1881-1890. The dramatic decrease, given its pointed divergence in the population activities of the city’s other districts, deserves a closer look.
Between 1801 and 1860, the City of London saw only nominal changes in its population; the number of persons stood consistently above 90,000, with a near-return to its original numbers during the 1851-1860 period. Each decade following this period, however, experienced severe decreases to the population. First, between 1861 and 1870, the population dropped by about 14%, and the population density underwent a similar drop. Then, that percent more than doubled in 1871-1880, with a 34% decrease in the City of London population. This was followed by another 34% decrease in the population in 1881-1890.
What might have caused such dramatic decreases in the City of London’s population, decade after decade? It seems these changes can most quickly be understood when placed in the context of the increasing populations in the expanding city’s outer districts; the population moved out of central London and into its suburbs. A large reason for this was possibly the burgeoning opportunities for work at the docks being built further along the Thames (i.e. in Poplar), but another important consideration was the fact that the City of London was becoming a major financial center. Important landmarks within the district already included the Royal Exchange, the Bank of England, and the East India House. The area was thus becoming less residential and more conducive to business, and less hospitable especially to the lower classes who could now travel outside the city’s center to find work.
Since there were no “Tallis Street Views” pertaining to the Kensington Vestry, I decided to select the following view of Oxford Street near Hyde Park near the intersection with Park Lane as a source of examination:
There are many terrace buildings in this section of Oxford Street, suggesting it is a hustling and bustling locale. However, in this part of the street there doesn’t seem to be quite as many businesses as further down, suggesting that perhaps this was the bridge between a more residential and commercial area. The proximity to Hyde Park suggests that this was a sort of “in-between” space, connecting the busy hubbub of one of the major streets of the city to the natural, less crowded park space. The side of the street pictured above is filled with tall buildings of an even height, while the opposite side of the street shows buildings that were more uneven. On this side of the street a boot-makers shop can be seen – the first building in a string of stores that continue well down Oxford Street.
I imagine that the smell of greenery would waft from the park over to this part of the street and would provide a sort of floral scent for people passing up and down. I would hear carriages as they traverse the street and exit in and out of the park. Wheels would turn over gravel-paved roads and I would hear the sound of horses trotting and snorting as they carried passengers to and fro. The sound of voices would fill the air as citizens converse as they walked up and down the street and wandered in and out of stores.
Not far from this location lay the Bethlehem Hospital. This hospital existed in various forms as early as 1247 but opened at its St. George Fields location in 1807, after its former premises were deemed unsafe. It was originally built for a capacity for 200, although some extensions were made during the century to accommodate up to 400 patients. Criminal patients were moved to Broadmoor in 1864. In 1930 it moved to its current site in Kent. It is the oldest psychiatric institution in the world. The nineteenth-century premises are now the Imperial War Museum.
The premises of Bethlehem Hospital are grand and imperial. The gates cast an ominous ambience over the establishment, while the extensive fencing and hedging reinforces the hospital’s desire to keep patients in and the general public out. The building itself is imposing, its image of grandeur projected mainly through its Ionic columns and large dome. A passer-by may have a sense of wariness as they walked past this hospital, marvelling at the architectural magnificence of the building whilst simultaneously becoming unnerved by the knowledge of its purpose as an asylum for the insane.
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