- 19th century London
This article covers the history of
Londonin the 19th century.
During the 19th century, London was transformed into the world's largest city and capital of the British Empire. Its population expanded from 1 million in 1800 to 6.7 million a century later. During this period, London became a global political, financial, and trading capital. In this position, it was largely unrivaled until the latter part of the century, when Paris and New York began to threaten its dominance.While the city grew wealthy as Britain's holdings expanded, 19th century London was also a city of poverty, where millions lived in overcrowded and unsanitary
slums. Life for the poor was immortalized by Charles Dickensin such novels as Oliver Twist.
One of the most famous events of 19th-century London was the
Great Exhibition of 1851. Held at The Crystal Palace, the fair attracted visitors from across the world and displayed Britain at the height of its Imperial dominance.
As the capital of a massive empire, London became a magnet for immigrants from the colonies and poorer parts of Europe. A large Irish population settled in the city during the Victorian period, with many of the newcomers refugees from the Great Famine (1845-1849). At one point, Irish immigrants made up about 20% of London's population. London also became home to a sizable
Jewish community, and small communities of Chinese and South Asians settled in the city.
Coming of the railway
19th century London was transformed by the coming of the
railways. A new network of metropolitan railways allowed for the development of suburbs in neighboring counties from which middle-class and wealthy people could commute to the centre. While this spurred the massive outward growth of the city, the growth of greater London also exacerbated the class divide, as the wealthier classes emigrated to the suburbs, leaving the poor to inhabit the inner city areas.
The first railway to be built in London was the
London and Greenwich Railwaya short line from London Bridge to Greenwich, which opened in 1836. This was soon followed by the opening of great rail termini which linked London to every corner of Britain. These included Euston station (1837), Paddington station(1838), Fenchurch Street station(1841), Waterloo station(1848), King's Cross station (1850), and St Pancras station(1863). From 1863, the first lines of the London Undergroundwere constructed.
In 1829 the prime minister
Robert Peelestablished the Metropolitan Police as a police force covering the entire urban area. The force gained the nickname of "bobbies" or "peelers" named after Robert Peel.
London's urbanised area continued to grow rapidly, spreading into
Islington, Paddington, Belgravia, Holborn, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Southwarkand Lambeth. With London's rapid growth, towards the middle of the century, there became an urgent need to reform London's system of local government.
Outside of the
City of Londonwhich resisted any attempts to expand its boundaries to encompass the wider urban area, London had a chaotic local government system consisting of ancient parishes and vestries, working alongside a vast array of single purpose boards and authorities, few of which co-operated with each other. In an attempt to solve this problem, in 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works(MBW) was created to provide London with adequate infrastructure to cope with its growth. The MBW was London's first metropolitan government body.
One of its first tasks was addressing London's sanitation problems. At the time, raw
sewagewas pumped straight into the River Thames. This culminated in The Great Stinkof 1858. The polluted drinking water (sourced from the Thames) also brought disease and epidemics to London's populace.
Parliament finally gave consent for the MBW to construct a massive system of
sewers. The engineer put in charge of building the new system was Joseph Bazalgette. In what was one of the largest civil engineeringprojects of the 19th century, he oversaw construction of over 2100 km of tunnels and pipes under London to take away sewage and provide clean drinking water. When the London sewerage systemwas completed, the death toll in London dropped dramatically, and epidemics of choleraand other diseases were curtailed. Bazalgette's system is still in use today.
The Metropolitan Board of Works was not a directly elected body, which made it unpopular with Londoners. In 1888 it was wound up, and replaced with the
London County Council(LCC). This was the first elected London-wide administrative body. The LCC covered the same area as the MBW had done, but this area was designated as the County of London. In 1900, the county was sub-divided into 28 metropolitan boroughs, which formed a more local tier of administration than the county council.
Famous buildings and landmarks
Many famous buildings and landmarks of London were constructed during the 19th century including:
*Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Royal Albert Hall
Victoria and Albert Museum
*Inwood, Stephen. "A History of London" (1998) ISBN 0333671538
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