A History of London, Vol. II

Loftie, W. J.






THE rapid growth of the suburbs of , combined with the fact that since they have been under what may be called a central government in certain particulars, has rendered necessary the adoption of a name. The largest city in the world was anonymous. Its constituent parts had names, but as a whole it had none. The interference of parliament was invoked, and unfortunately for accuracy a phrase was suggested which in the wisdom of our rulers at that day sufficiently described the great city. It was labelled the "Metropolitan Area."

The use of the word "metropolis" as applied to is of some antiquity. Howell coined a better name as the title of his 'Londinopolis,' published in . In De Laune's 'Present State of ,' published after the Great Fire, though the author himself does not use the term, an admirer who sends him an does not hesitate to turn a rhyme with it; but the character of his authority may be judged by the opening triplet of the poem:-

This is the City which the Papal Crew

Have by their Damn'd Devices overthrew,

Erected on her old Foundations, New.

The poet goes on to praise the book:-

The Grandeur of this fam'd Metropolis,

Arts, Laws, and Customs thou hast shewn in this.


When the Board of Works was formed in , under Sir Benjamin Hall's Act, the name was boldly assumed; and the Board is appointed "for the purpose of diverting the sewage of the metropolis." Thenceforth this, so to speak, diverting use of the word has been usual; and the Board now deals with the whole Hundred of Ossulston, the Hundred of Isleworth, certain districts on the southern side of the Thames in the counties of Kent and Surrey, and part of Essex. This constitutes the "Metropolitan Area"; but , which probably the framers of the Act contemplated under the name of the metropolis, is itself manifestly excepted.

The "Metropolitan Area" has been thus defined.[1]  It is the " Metropolis " within the new tables of mortality, as constituted for all registration, census and poor law matters, and the term is further used for the district over which the Metropolitan Board of Works has jurisdiction. This district does not quite coincide with that concerning which the Registrar-General is busied: since the hamlet of Penge[2]  is excluded, and the hamlet of Mottingham is included. There is again a third district called the "Metropolitan Area" of the Police: it is much more extensive than the "Metropolitan Area" of the Registrar-General or the "Metropolitan Area" of the Board of Works, and extends over the whole of Middlesex[3]  and

the surrounding parishes in the counties of Surrey, Kent, Essex, and Hertford of which

any part is within twelve miles from Charing Cross, and those also of which any part is not more than fifteen miles in a straight line from the same point. The police circle round

Charing Cross

contains all that can be reckoned as properly within the limits of


, and is too extensive for a natural boundary. For many of the parishes within the police district are entirely rural, and are quite sequestered from the great city, while at several points are large towns, of which Croydon is an example, chiefly bound to


by the daily intercourse of their population.

Yet again, there is the Metropolitan Postal District, and it includes city and suburbs alike, consisting of the following divisions:-the E.C. lying close around the General Post Office in St. Martin's-le-Grand; the E. extending to Walthamstow, Leytonstone and North Woolwich; the N. division reaching north from Pentonville nearly to Enfield and Barnet; the N.W. division taking in Hendon and Willesden; the S.E. division reaching from Vauxhall Bridge to Erith, and including Norwood, Penge, and Lewisham; the S.W. division extending westward along the Fulham Road, from Charing Cross to Fulham, and southward as far as Merton and Wimbledon; the W. division stretching out to Acton, Ealing, and Hanwell; and the W.C. division, lying between the City and Charing Cross.

This Postal District, therefore covers an area as large as that of the Metropolitan Board of Works, but is not nearly so extensive as that controlled by the police.

The immense size of this area is denoted by some of the figures mentioned in the annual report of the board. The money spent during a year is two and a half millions. Besides the nine parliamentary boroughs, each sending two members to the house of commons, no


fewer than sixty distinct

villages have in course of time become constituent parts of



The area is occupied by several thousand streets,

which, if laid end to end, would form a line 1,600 miles long.

There are more than half a million different buildings and eleven hundred churches. Within the police district the population is fully four millions.

There are in


more Scotchmen than in Edinburgh, more Irish than in Dublin, more Jews than in Palestine, and more Roman Catholics than in Rome.

Compared with the Metropolitan Area, even New York and Paris, the two cities of the world which come nearest to it, are so far behind that both put together would only equal it. The six cities of Great Britain which come nearest to it are Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester with Salford, Birmingham, Leeds, and Sheffield; but the population of all put together does not equal that of the Metropolitan Area, even if the city of be taken out. The rateable value is reckoned to amount to upwards of twenty-five million sterling. The whole valuation of the six English cities which come nearest to the "Metropolitan Area" in population is, in the aggregate, about ten millions and a half, so that the value of the "Metropolis" is more than double. Great sums expressed in numbers often convey a clearer idea than any other form of statement, and certainly the statistics offered by and its suburbs are almost appalling. Since it came into being the board has made 65 miles of main sewers, besides making or renewing 195 miles of smaller drains. The immense cost of works in the Area, the gigantic scale on which everything has to be done, may be gathered from some of the figures given in the annual reports. The Embankments cost three millions of money. The Fire Brigade numbers more than five hundred men; and there were


more than one thousand eight hundred fires in 1880. In the same time about a quarter of a million has been paid for freeing bridges; and nearly 40,000£. for property through which new streets are to pass. No fewer than one hundred Acts of Parliament referring to the work of the board have been passed in the twenty-six years of its existence. The main drainage system cost four and a half millions, and a few of the statistics have been thus summed-up:-

There are annually consumed about 2,000,000 quarters of wheat, 400,000 oxen, 1,500,000 sheep, 130,000 calves, 250,000 swine, 8 million head of poultry and game, 400 million pounds of fish, 500 million oysters, 1,200,000 lobsters, and 3,000,000 salmon. The butcher's meat alone is valued at 50,000,000£. The Londoners wash down this vast annual repast by 180 million quarts of porter and ale, 8 million quarts of spirits, and 31 million quarts of wine, not to speak of the 180 million gallons of water supplied every day by the nine water companies. About 1000 collier-vessels yearly bring 3,500,000 tons of coal into


by the river, while the railways supply about 3,000,000 tons more.


The most extraordinary thing about this vast Area is the looseness of its governing system. That it is well governed no one can deny. Light and water are provided. Crime is punished. Life is tolerably secure as well from assassins as from pestilence. If dwellers in the Area are robbed of their property it is at least under legalised forms. Yet perhaps one of the most puzzling questions a foreigner could put to an if I may invent a name, would be involved in any inquiry as to how these satisfactory results are attained. We have no prefects, no mayors, no governors, no syndics. There are divisional


police magistrates, but few of us have ever seen one, and many of us live for years in a district without learning the way to the nearest police court. There are vestries, too, and we see their initials on watercarts, and occasionally receive voting papers, from which we infer that they are elected by the people. But, as a matter of fact, nine-tenths of the dwellers in the know very little more, and cannot distinguish between the Metropolitan Board of Works, and the Board of Works, which is a department of the government of the country and used to be known as a title too picturesque for the present age.

The is annually elected and consists of forty-six members, whose business it is to see to the imposition and laying out of certain taxes, or rates, or, as they would have been called in the 13th century, tallages. The board has no magisterial jurisdiction. It is not a governing body. It does not concern itself with parochial matters. It waters no streets and supplies no gas; but it sees that certain conditions are fulfilled which make watering and lighting possible. Its members project new streets, and obtain parliamentary authority from time to time to contract heavy loans on the security of their rates. They have thus been enabled to make roads more direct in many places, to relieve local traffic, to free bridges. Their greatest and in some senses their best work is the Embankment along the shores of the Thames from Blackfriars to , with shorter pieces at and Lambeth, which cost two millions sterling, and covers all the foreshore where twice a day there used to be an unsightly mud flat. They also carried out a drainage scheme, which according to some authorities


will have to be done over again. The sewage question is, even more than the cemetery question, of deep importance, and cannot be considered as in any sense solved.

This is not the place to go into full particulars of the works projected or completed by the Metropolitan Board. Nor need I describe the Underground Railway, or the great stations, or electric lighting, or asphalte pavement, or, in short, any of the wonders which a single generation has seen springing into existence in our Area. My object has rather been to trace those causes in the past which are acting on us now, and, by piecing together into a continuous narrative, so far as it was possible, the many scattered circumstances which have contributed to make what it is, to enable the student of history to understand and explain things that may often seem to be anomalous in our civic condition.

In conclusion I would wish to point out one example of the effect of ancient circumstances on our modern life. It is common to talk as if the city had refused to take in and that the orderly confusion, if I may so term it, of our present parochial system arises from a jealousy or indisposition on the part of the central and ancient nucleus of , to trouble itself about suburbs. I hope I have shown that this is a mistaken view. The city was never in demesne: the suburbs were on land which belonged to various lords and was parcelled out into various manors, each of which had its courts and its manorial officers, as we have them to this day in . The citizens could not make way against these forces. I have shown how the Fleet valley was annexed, and with what difficulty. Had other great merchants followed the example of Nicholas Farringdon and bought manors close to the walls, a few more


exceptions might have arisen: but, as we have seen, the greater part of the land was held by the dead hand of the church against which even the wealthiest alderman was powerless. The upstart nobles of the Tudor period were not at all anxious to part with their newly acquired dignity as lords of manors. To them, therefore, and before them to the church, but not to the city, we must ascribe the present condition of the


[1] By Mr. Lewis in his 'Digest of the Census of 1871,' p. 29.

[2] Penge is, parochially or manorially, in Battersea.

[3] Mr. Lewis adds in a bracket, exclusive of the city of London : but London is not and never was in Middlesex. It would be almost as sensible to talk of the whole of Norfolk, exclusive of the city of London. It is this misuse of names on the part of officials that has given us the bewildering term "Metropolitan area," which really means, if it means anything, Canterbury.

[4] Baedeker's 'Handbook." p. 60. These statistics are five years old, and all the figures have been increased since they were compiled.