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Bradshaw’s Guide


Houses of Parliament from the river, London, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

Is the capital of Great Britain, and indeed, if its commercial and political influence be considered, of the civilised world. The British metropolis, if we include its suburban districts, contains the largest mass of human life, arts, science, wealth, power, and architectural splendour that exists, or, in almost all these particulars, that ever has existed in the known annals of mankind. In making this assertion, it should be borne in mind that the power of some ancient cities – even of Rome herself – was relatively, but not positively greater; and that the only well authenticated superiority is that which may be traced to the architecture of a few early cities. The site of our gigantic metropolis is the very best that could have been selected for commercial purposes, as it is enabled, by means of the Thames, to carry on a water communication with every part of the globe; and not even the development of the railway system in England has lessened this advantage. The position of other great cities may indeed exhibit more striking features, but the situation of our metropolis happily combines all which may contribute to its wealth and convenience. Seated on a gentle slope, descending to the margin of a noble river, its plain is bounded on the north and south by two beautiful ranges of hills.

The growth of London to its present size is most remarkable. In 1560, Finsbury and Holborn, St. Giles’ and St. Martin’s, were scattered villages. Westminster was not only a distinct but a distant city. A long dreary road led from Ludgate to the village of Charing – and beyond this all was open field and garden.

We should far exceed our limits were we even briefly to trace the progress by which the City of London extended itself in all directions, and rapidly increased in importance and magnitude to its present position, which is solely attributable to the commercial enterprise of its inhabitants. The annual value of the exports and imports, from and into the port of London, is computed to amount to between, sixty and seventy millions sterling; and articles of domestic or foreign merchandise, including cattle and provisions – sent for the consumption of the inhabitants – amount to the value of £50,000,000 making, with the imports and exports, the sum of £120,000,000 worth of property annually moving to and from London.

The portion of this immense metropolis which is distinguished by the name of “The City” stands on the north bank of the Thames, from the Tower to the Temple, occupying only that space formerly encompassed by the wall, which in circumference measures about three miles.

When the great fire of 1666 destroyed almost the whole city within the walls, London possessed an architect worthy of raising the fallen capital from her ashes. But the citizens rejected the beautiful plan of Sir Christopher Wren, who proposed to make St. Paul’s the centre of the metropolis, and to carry spacious streets radiating in direct lines to the principle parts of the suburbs. A terrace was to adorn the banks of the river. The citizens opposed and frustrated this design, and hence the metropolis retains so many of the defects which subject London to the just criticisms of a stranger, on count of all its public buildings being huddled together in nooks and corners.

The last ten years, however, have effected many and great changes, so that much of the stock criticism used against our metropolis is no longer applicable, and since the alterations now in progress are being made under the eyes of a travelled people, familiar with the best features in continental cities, the new erections are such as will, separately and collectively, improve London until it commands the visitor’s admiration equally with his wonder.

When we regard the extension of the communications between the metropolis and the most distant parts of the country, and the immense number of strangers who visit London in the course of a year, we believe a short description of what is to be seen, and how to see it, will not be the least interesting feature of this work.

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