London: A Tale of Two Cities with Dan Cruickshank.

Review – London: A Tale of Two Cities with Dan Cruickshank. Available to watch on BBC iplayer till Thu, 21 Jun 2012.

The BBC has broadcast yet another excellent piece as part of its London Collection, meant to coincide with the London Olympics this summer. This series of two (the second being ‘The Bridges That Built London’), narrated by the historian and expert on all things Georgian: Dan Cruickshank, has at its heart the role of the Thames in London’s growth. This episode focuses on the 17th century, on the period spanned by two famous surveys: John Stow’s Survey of London 1598 and the revision – after London’s massive and “dazzling” expansion – by John Strype (1720).

The slow emergence of what we know today as the East End had its first vestiges on the edge of Aldgate, on the eastern edge of the City. The population growth demanded more plentiful food and Dutch migration provided the farming know-how to allow for higher yields and a more diverse diet. The trade of market gardening was born. New gardens were developed in London’s new suburb: Southwark – a location that previously was mainly known as a relatively free place of gambling, prostitution and other such nefarious activities such as the theatre. (Today’s reconstituted Globe Theatre is one remnant of this.)

The impact of the East India Company’s trade growth in this period is not only in importation of vital commodities, but also in the creation of new local enterprises, with ship-building technologies centred at Blackwall. The growth of the East End of the city along the river came at Wapping, Shadwell, Limehouse, Poplar and Ratcliffe where lodgings for workers were developed alongside the wharves. The parallel growth of West London north of the Strand and the development of Covent Garden by the Earl of Bedford by a Classical square by Inigo Jones was to be influential for centuries onwards. Its importance as a centre for food wholesale and retail started then too.

The episode demonstrates the “unique development” of Spitalfields east of the City of London and the importance of migration to the area. This started with the arrival of Huguenot French Protestant refugees from persecution in France: gold and silversmiths, silk weaving and instrument makers. Entrepreneurship and new skills were to become the story of migration to this area in subsequent generations. The museum at 19 Princelet Street exemplifies this, it being the location initially of prosperous weavers, who subsequently converted their attics to allow their workers to move to their then diminished business and then to be the home of late 19th century Jewish refugees, who built one of the dozens of small and temporary synagogues in the back yard of the building.

Figure 2: Princelet Street synagogue on Goad Fire Insurance Plan: Catalogue of London. Sheet 315, c. 1890. Courtesy

The episode ends with the push for development of suburban housing around Grays Inn – mass terraced housing subsequent leading to the development of fire insurance as a business (see image above from a fire insurance plan drawn in the late 19th century).

· Links: produce excellent CDs with reproductions of the surveys. See for Find your way round early Georgian London

· The London Topographical Society for the study and appreciation of London: See especially The A to Z of Georgian London. John Rocque’s Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, 1747, in book form on a scale of 14 inches per mile, with key and index. Publication no 126 (1982). £23.

· John Strype’s A survey of the cities of London and Westminster – maps and illustrations:

· Hanson, J. (1989) ‘Order and structure in urban design: the plans for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666’. Ekistics , 56 (334-335) pp. 22-42. Download from

Figure 3: Covent Garden in Strype’s survey. From


Author: (sub)urbanite

Professor of Urban Form and Society and Director of the Space Syntax Lab, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Online in a personal capacity.

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