The City of London: A Decreasing Population Reveals the District’s Emergence as a Major Business Center

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.

East India House
The Bank, Bank Buildings, Royal Exchange & Cornhill