History : Sep-Oct 2016
74 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2016 changing fortunes of England itself. Following the 1707 Act of Union, the newly created Unit- ed Kingdom of Great Britain emerged as a global power. The river downstream from London Bridge opened up and ships traded products from all over the world. Here, at the heart of the emerging British Empire, new buildings spread westward, and the wealthy moved into the fashionable new districts around Oxford Street. London rapidly acquired three things closely associated with a modern city: light, information, and coffee. In 1736, a tax was levied to maintain 5,000 streetlamps, transforming the city after dark. By the end of the 18th century, around 278 newspapers were being published, mainly on, or near, Fleet Street. Lon- doners would meet to pore over them, and loudly debate the issues of the day in the city’s numerous coffeehouses. If the new West End was the center of leisure, the former site of the Great Fire became the center of commerce and housed—as it still does—the Bank of England (established in 1694); the new Royal Exchange, rebuilt after the fire; and insur- ance companies such as Lloyd’s, which took its name from the coffee shop opened by its founder, Edward Lloyd, in 1688. Shadowing the new wealth and the glitter, of course, was grinding poverty. A far cry from the optimistic urban planning of Wren, slums sprang up. Artist William Hogarth captured much of the folly and vice of this new London, including the problems caused by vanity and alcohol. London’s dynamism and its misery were taken up by writers such as Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and later, Charles Dickens—men who gave voice to the complex experience of the mod- ern city. From the time of the Great Fire onward, the rich drama of London fascinated observers. Few have summed it up better than James Boswell, who in 1763 regarded the city as “comprehending the whole of human life in all its variety, the con- templation of which is inexhaustible.” Shadowing the wealth and the glitter was poverty. Slums emerged—a far cry from the optimistic plans of Wren. VANITIES AND VICES 1 2 3 2 1 3 4 MARRIAGE À-LA-MODE: THE TOILETTE (1743), BY WILLIAM HOGARTH, NATIONAL GALLERY, LONDON A MIDNIGHT MODERN CONVERSATION (1732), BY WILLIAM HOGARTH, YALE CENTER FOR BRITISH ART JOURNALIST AND FORMER RADIO PERSONALITY VICTOR LLORET BLACKBURN IS THE DEPUTY EDITOR OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY.