The Growth of London.

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The Growth of London.

Part and parcel with the economic developments and policies we have described was the phenomenal growth of London in size and influence. In 1500, though by far the largest city, it probably had little more than 50,000 inhabitants; a century later it probably had five times as many, and it still was growing. Conditions of public health in cities had improved little, if at all, so that this enormous growth must have been by immigration from the provinces; and in the country at large population was increasing but slowly.

The growth in size was matched by a growing predominance in economic affairs.

By 1600 London was doing 80 per cent.

of the country's foreign trade.

We have seen how the Merchant Adventurers grew strong at the expense of the provincials, and entered into the legacy of the Hansards.

When foreign merchants were ousted, Londoners took their places; when the Venetian galleys ceased to call at Southampton, the trade passed to London.

The attack on the new S, Chartered Companies was directed at London.

London financiers dominated the wool and cloth trades, even so far away as Shrewsbury and around Bristol; they alone were rich enough to lend money to the Crown, or to extort concessions from it.

After the sack of Antwerp in 1576, London became an important centre of financial operations.

Contemporaries viewed its growth with dismay; James I declared in a speech that "with time England will be only London ", and Elizabeth had tried to stop its growth by forbidding building in the suburbs.

On balance, however, the Government's activities were bound to encourage development, not only because of the Crown's financial dependence on the City, but because its own policies were policies of centralization.

The Stuarts tried to rule even Scotland from London.

London's needs governed such things as the corn regulation; its example was the basis of Poor Law policy.

Moreover, the presence of Parliament and the Court meant that in London was the centre of luxury spending. Here it was that needy courtiers pawned their lands to the merchants for ready money; but it was here, too, that the Elizabethan drama, poetry and music flourished.

The growth of London furnishes the solution to what might seem at first a paradox; that the glories of the Elizabethan age should be accompanied by an increase in unemployment and pauperism; and that the Government should be continually occupied with the relief of social distress. A parallel is furnished in our own day by the "drift of industry to the South"; Elizabethan England, too, had its distressed areas. Yet if much of London's prosperity was due to a shifting of the economic balance, rather than a gain to the nation as a whole, it is none the less true that the concentration of wealth in the metropolis, by breaking down local exclusiveness, made in the end for an economic unity in England which pre-Revolution France, for instance, never possessed. And this economic unity was to be the basis of England's strength in the future.




More - The Factory Acts.

Local Policies

It took well over half a century to elaborate a method of dealing with this problem on a national scale. We have space here for few details. The initiative in dealing with all kinds of poor - the impotent, those willing to work, and the idlers - was taken by the towns, particularly London and Norwich. At first action took the form of stimulating and regulating voluntary charity to the impotent, by licensing beggars and exhorting private persons to charity, while the able-bodied unemployed were treated as" rogues and vagabonds ", who were to be whipped and sent back to their homes to work. For a short... see: Local Policies


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