The Story of LONDON
by Henry B. Wheatley
Illustrated by W. H. Godfrey
K. Kimball, H. Railton etc.
London: J. M. Dent & Co.
Aldine House, 29 and 30 Bedford Street
Covent Garden W.C. 1909
|First Edition, May 1904.
Second Editon, August 1905.
Third Edition, October 1909.
|All rights reserved
To the Memory
OF A LIFE-LONG FRIEND
DANBY PALMER FRY
(late Legal Adviser to the Local Government Board)
I dedicate this little book as a slight expression of the debt of gratitude I owe to him, and of the great loss I, in common with all his friends, have suffered by his death.
I especially wish to associate his honoured name with this book because he took the greatest interest in its evolution, and I have had the benefit of his acumen and wide knowledge in the consideration of most of the subjects discussed in its pages.
H. B. W.
‘History! What is history but the science which teaches us to see the throbbing life of the present in the throbbing life of the past.’—Jessopp’s Coming of the Friars, p. 178.
THERE can be no doubt that our interest in the dim past is increased the more we are able to read into the dry documents before us the human character of the actors. As long as these actors are only names to us we seem to be walking in a world of shadows, but when we can realise them as beings like ourselves with the same feelings and aspirations, although governed by other conditions of life, all is changed, and we take the keenest interest in attempting to understand circumstances so different from those under which we live.
The history of London is so varied and the materials so vast that it is impossible to compress into a single volume an account of its many aspects.
This book therefore is not intended as a history but as, to some extent, a guide to the manners of the people and to the appearance of the city during the mediæval period.
An attempt is here made to put together some of the ample materials for the domestic history of the city which have been preserved for us.
The City of London possesses an unrivalled collection of contemporary documents respecting its past history, some of which have been made available to us by the late Mr. H. T. Riley, and others are being edited with valuable notes by Dr. Reginald Sharpe.
The Middle Ages may be considered as a somewhat indefinite period, and their chronology cannot be very exactly defined, but for the purposes of this book the portion of the mediæval period dealt with is that which commences with the Norman Conquest and ends with the Battle of Bosworth.
It is impossible to exaggerate the enormous influence of the Norman Conquest. The Saxon period was as thoroughly mediæval as the Norman period, but our full knowledge of history begins with the Conquest because so few historical documents exist before that event. Moreover, the mode of life in Saxon and Norman London was so different that it would only lead to confusion to unite the two in one picture.
In order, however, to show the position of the whole mediæval period in the full history an introductory chapter is given which contains a short notice of some of the events during the Saxon rule, and a chapter at the end is intended to show what remains of the mediæval times were left when Shakespeare lived and Johnson expressed his opinion of the pre-eminent position of London.
It is necessary for the reader to bear in mind that London means the city and its liberties up to the end of the eighteenth century. The enlarged idea of a London in the north and the south, the east and the west, is a creation of the nineteenth century.
The City of London is still the centre and heart of London, and the only portion of the town which has an ancient municipal history.
Other cities have shifted their centres, but London remains as it always was. The Bank, the Royal Exchange and the Mansion House occupy ground which has been the ‘Eye of London’ since Roman times.
There is no greater mistake than to suppose that things were quiescent during the Middle Ages, for these pages at least will show that that was a time of constant change, when great questions were fought out.
The first seven chapters of this book refer to life in the Old Town. Here we see what it was to live in a walled town, what the manners of the citizens were and what was done to protect their health and morals. The following five chapters deal with the government of the city. Some notice is taken of the governors and the officials of the Corporation, the tradesmen and the churchmen.
The subject of each chapter is of enough importance to form a book by itself, and it is therefore hoped that the reader will not look for an exhaustive treatment of these subjects. There is more to be said in each place, but I have been forced to choose out of the materials that which seemed most suitable for my purpose.
During the editing of this volume a vivid picture of the mediæval life has ever been before my mind, and I can only regret that it has been so difficult to transfer that picture to paper. I can only hope that my readers may not see the difference between the conception and the performance so vividly as I do myself.
In the preparation of these pages I have received the kind assistance of more friends than I can mention here, but I wish especially to thank Mr. Hubert Hall, Mr W. H. St. John Hope, Mr. J. E. Matthew, General Milman, C.B., Mr D’Arcy Power, Sir Walter Prideaux, Sir Owen Roberts, Mr. J. Horace Round, Dr Reginald Sharpe and Sir William Soulsby, C.B.