The united cities of London and Westminster are situated upon a gentle declivity on the northern bank of the Thames, the bending course of which river they follow for the space of some miles. On the opposite bank, upon more level and naturally marshy ground, lies in another county the borough of Southwark, bordering the river still farther than London does. The broad stream of the Thames flowing between, continually agitated by a brisk current, or a rapid tide, brings constant supplies of fresh air, which no buildings can intercept. The country round, especially on the London side, is nearly open to some distance ; whence, by the action of the sun and wind on a gravelly soil, it is kept tolerably dry in all seasons, and affords no lodgment for stagnant air or water. The cleanliness of London, as well as its supply of water, are greatly aided by its situation on the banks of the Thames; and the New River, together with many good springs within the city itself, further contribute to the abundance of that necessary element. All these are advantages with respect to health in which this metropolis is exceeded by few.
Its situation with regard to the circumstances of navigation is equally well chosen. Had it been placed lower on the Thames, besides being annoyed by the marshes, it would have been more liable to insults from foreign foes: had it been higher, it would not have been accessible, as at present. to ships of large burthen, it now possesses every advantage belonging to a sea-port, without its dangers; and at the same time, by virtue of its noble river, enjoys a very extensive communicat with the internal parts of the country, which supply it with all sorts of necessaries, and in return receive from it such commodities as they require. With the great article of fuel London is plentifully (but not cheaply) supplied by sea from the northern collieries ; and to this circumstance the nation is indebted for a nursery of seamen, not depending upon foreign commerce ; which is a principal source of its naval superiority. Corn and various other articles are with equal ease conveyed to it from all the maritime parts of the kingdom, and great numbers of coasting vessels are continually employed for this purpose.
London therefore unites in itself all the benefits arising from navigation and commerce, with those of a metropolis at which all the public business of a great nation is transacted; and is at the same time the mercantile and political head of these kingdoms. It is also the seat of many considerable manufactures; some almost peculiar to itself, as ministering to the demands of studied splendor and refined luxury; others in which it participates with the manufacturing towns in general, with this difference, that only the finer and more costly of their works are performed here. The most important of its particular trades is the silk weaving, established in Spital-fields by refugees from France. A variety of works in gold, silver, and jewellery ; the engraving of prints; the making of optical and mathematical instruments; are likewise principally or solely executed here, and some of them in greater perfection than in any other country. The porterbrewery, a business of very great extent, is also chiefly carried on in London. To its port are likewise confined some branches of foreign commerce; as the chief part of the vast trade of the East India Company, and those to Turkey and Hudson’s Bay.
Thus London has risen to its present rank of the most opulent and populous city in Europe. Its style of building, both public and private, is rather formed upon a plan of neatness and convenience, than of splendor and magnificence. No capital contains proportionally fewer palaces, and none so many good houses. Of the public edifices, a stranger would probably be directed to St. Paul’s church, the Bank, Somerset house, the East India house, the new Mint, and three of the Bridges. Westminster Abbey, Westminster hall, and the Tower, are the most striking remains of ancient grandeur. There are, however, many other edifices worthy of inspection; among which are several of the churches, the halls of the companies, the British Museum, and, the repositories, public and private, of works of art. The streets and squares at the west end of the town are planned and built with great regularity and elegance. The paving and lighting of the whole are admirable. Of the great improvements lately finished, the most important are those of its port; consisting of a vast plan of docks and warehouses for the West India trade in the Isle of Dogs, another for general purposes, and an East India dock at Blackwall.
Text: England Described etc (1818) by John Atkin M.D.
Map: A Picture of London (1805)
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