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1700: Scenes from London Life

de Maureen Waller

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More than a capital city, Londoners had witnessed the unthinkable - the public execution of a king at Whitehall. Thousands had died in the Plague of 1665, then the Great Fire of 1666. But from the ashes rose a modern city, rebuilt with the shining dome of Christopher Wren's St Paul's Cathedral, symbolising a new strength and confidence. London, with a population of over half a million, was now Europe's largest, richest and most cosmopolitian city. Maureen Waller describes a familiar yet alien world. Using anecdotes, detail and amusing contrasts, she draws on court records newspapers, and recorded eyewitness accounts to create a vividly colourful vision. of a city at a unique moment in its history.… (més)
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Es mostren totes 4
This book is so dense with (fascinating) detail I couldn't read it from cover to cover. A couple of chapters here and there between novels meant I was able to absorb so much information and marvel at the authors mind-boggling research.
And it's great fun to boot. What an odd expression, I wonder where it came from? Maureen would know!
  Teresa1966 | Dec 22, 2020 |
For chronicles of London life, I may switch my allegiance from Liza Picard to Maureen Walker. 1700: Scenes from London Life fits neatly in between Picard’s Restoration London and Dr. Johnson’s London, although obviously some of the same ground gets covered. Walker follows the life history of a typical Londoner – marriage, childhood, disease, death, fashion, amusements, etc. The book is full of pleasant little anecdotes:


* On the eternal working of the law of unintended consequences – because there was a tax on marriage, many (Walker estimates a third) of weddings were black market. (There was also a tax on bachelors and spinsters older then 25, so many of the couples involved in black-market weddings never saw each other again.) Because there was a tax on windows, most people bricked theirs up, not helping indoor air quality any.


* On some of the more gruesome results of difficult childbirth: Doctors had a variety of instruments designed to dismember a dead child in the womb so it could be extracted, and midwives were admonished to bury stillborn children (although not in a churchyard; they were not baptized) rather than just throwing them out a convenient window (hopefully, not one that had been bricked up).


* The “Bills of Mortality” provide insight into the number of ways you could shuffle of the mortal coil. “Ague and fever” (presumably malaria) was the second greatest cause of death (3676 in 1700) after “convulsions” (4613). Twenty-nine people were executed; 11 were murdered. Eighty-three died of “evil”, 5 of “grief”, 6 of “head-mould-shot” (?); 69 of “French pox”; 11 were “livergrown”; 189 of “spotted fever and purples”; 70 of “surfeit”, and 53 of “worms”. It was especially hard on children – 546 “abortive and stillborn”; 78 where the cause of death was “children or infants” (apparently no further explanation was necessary) and 69 “overlaid” (perhaps some of these were “postnatal abortions).


* The lack of sanitary plumbing made for interesting situations. Samuel Pepys went into his cellar one day to find that his neighbor’s cess-pit had collapsed into it. Pepys also recounts a conversation with Lady Sandwich that was carried on while the Lady used her chamber pot. In the dining room. During diner.


* The lack of street addresses made for some interesting business advertisements:


At Mr. Barnes and Mr. Appleby’s Booth, between the Crown Tavern and Hospital Gate, over against The Crossed Daggers, next to Miler’s Droll Booth, in West Smithfield, where the English and Dutch flags, with Barnes and the Two German Maidens pictures will hang out, during the time of Bartholomew Fair, will be seen the most excellent and incomparable performances in Dancing on the Slack Rope…


* General illiteracy made it necessary to use standard descriptive signs for businesses; some of these were obvious (Lock of Hair for wigmakers); others were not (Indian Queen for linen drapers).


* Coffee shops were ubiquitous; there were over 2000, and not a Starbucks to be had. They were exclusively male domains; women complained that coffee made men impotent, men countered that it decreased flatulence. Many became impromptu business offices; Mr. Lloyd’s coffee shop was used by ship owners and Mr. Lloyd began recording ship sailings on a chalkboard as a courtesy.


* The most notorious brothel was owned by Elizabeth Wisebourn, a clergyman’s daughter. She made sure that all her young ladies attended church every Sunday, and that they always lifted their skirts above their ankles when descending the stairs from the balcony. They got a lot of new customers that way.


* Hanging was a widely attended public spectacle. The condemned would stop at several taverns along the way from Newgate to Tyburn (one commented he would pay for his drink on the way back). The executioner got into the spirit of things as well; one got so drunk that he accidentally hanged one of the clergymen ministering to the condemned.



Well-illustrated with contemporary engravings; a nice bibliography (although there could be a better map). If there’s a flaw, the book ends a little too abruptly at the end of the chapter on crime and punishment; a little summing up would have been nice. ( )
2 vota setnahkt | Dec 1, 2017 |
One of those books that makes you wish you majored in history. Interesting, easy to read, full of fascinating trivia. Contains the sort of information that you later find yourself quoting to your friends with the preface "did you know that...?" Its only fault: too many details. ( )
2 vota girlunderglass | Oct 9, 2009 |
A very interesting book. Some chapters are better than others, I particularly liked the chapters on food, coffee shops and working life. I read it from start to finish which was slow going - I'd recommend reading it a chapter or two at a time. ( )
  nakmeister | Nov 10, 2008 |
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For my parents,
Margaret Mary and John Gamble Waller,
with love and gratitude
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More than a capital city, Londoners had witnessed the unthinkable - the public execution of a king at Whitehall. Thousands had died in the Plague of 1665, then the Great Fire of 1666. But from the ashes rose a modern city, rebuilt with the shining dome of Christopher Wren's St Paul's Cathedral, symbolising a new strength and confidence. London, with a population of over half a million, was now Europe's largest, richest and most cosmopolitian city. Maureen Waller describes a familiar yet alien world. Using anecdotes, detail and amusing contrasts, she draws on court records newspapers, and recorded eyewitness accounts to create a vividly colourful vision. of a city at a unique moment in its history.

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