London in the noughties

A snapshot of London in the 2000’s obscures the fact that its social and spatial fabric was in the midst of a major process of transition which had begun during the 18th century and continued at least until the mid-20th century. London’s internal organization was changing from a situation in which the workplace and the home were closely integrated, to one in which workplaces were concentrated together and substantially separated from residences.

 

This process had its gradual beginnings when the craft guilds began to crumble as they became subservient to merchants and bankers, and as mastercraftsmen became capitalist employers themselves. It was part of a larger transformation whereby cities assumed increasing dominance over their rural hinterlands. But we are here concerned with the internal transformation of the city–from feudal to capitalist London.   In the days when the craft guilds were powerful, the City of London was controlled by the guilds. They regulated who could work, trade and live within the walls. Production was not too obnoxious and mastercraftsmen usually lived with their journeymen and apprentices above their workshops. The West End was the domain of the idle Royalty and aristocracy and as such was more uniformly residential and socially homogeneous. The areas surrounding the northern, eastern and southern boundaries of the City, the suburbs of the 18th century, were inhabited by all classes, with the poor, the unemployed and the tradesmen predominating, as they had been excluded from the City, either because they represented unwanted competition or (31 because their trades were obnoxious. The early housing legislation, which controlled the quality and quantity of housing built in the suburbs, was part of general legislation enacted by the guilds in an attempt to maintain their dominant economic position.

 

Broadly speaking, London’s social and physical structure was shaped by the guilds’ activities. But as merchants, and subsequently, capitalist employers, became more prominent so the guilds’ protective practices were eroded and replaced by competitive market relations. Merchants encouraged production in the suburbs to escape guild restrictions in the City which increased costs. They bought goods from craftsmen whose prices were low, whether or not they   were located within the City walls. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the capitalist labour market was antithetical to the guilds’ practice of assuming responsibility for the essential needs of their journeymen and apprentices. In fact, the new labour market was predicated upon the separation of work and living–the essential commodity, housing, was the workers’ responsibility and had to be paid for out of their wages. In any case, employers had enough headaches worrying about production: if others would provide housing for their workers, then well and good. Thus the development of the labour market was paralleled by the development of markets for housing and for land on which to build it. Work and living increasingly became separated in space. Productive and commercial facilities grew and gravitated towards the central area which became less attractive as a place in which to live. The surrounding countryside was more enticing, so those who could moved to the suburbs. But this was a slow, uneven process.

 

Those with wealth and power were first to move, others followed, yet even today many poorer people are trapped in undesirable parts of the central area, though they do live away from their workplaces. 15] Thus, in the words of H. J. Dyos: “London suburbs have at different times performed different functions. At one period they were reception areas for the urban poor, almost literally the outskirts of urban society, and at another they were the exclusive residential areas of the middle classes. During the course of the period [1580-1836]…there was, in general, a characteristic change from the first of these residential functions to the second.” Py the 1830’s, due to the lack of suburban transport and other facilities, this suburban migration was confined to prosperous merchants and government employees, though the beginnings of this movement had already been recorded in the mid-18th century. There had been no working-class migration from the centre. London’s workers lived within the confines of the central area within walking distance from their work. There were few socially homogeneous neighbourhoods; except in the north-west and West End, [61 rich and poor lived cheek by jowl. The population of the metropolis was approaching two million and was mainly concentrated in the City, 171 Westminster, Marylebone, Finsbury, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth and Southwark. The Location of Classes and Economic Activity The City was the commercial and financial heart of London. Merchants and employers still lived there, but the more prosperous ones had migrated   to the north and west and to suburban villages. The working class also resided in the City, often confined to decaying slums. Most of the structures had been built shortly after the Great Fire of 1666.

 

Old homes were gradually being converted into businesses, or were being demolished to make way for more up-to-date commercial structureAbutting the City, the East End was a motley area of industry and predominantly working-class housing. Silk manufacture dominated Spitalfields, sugar-refining was located in Whitechapel, and shipbuilding and 1[9 warehousing proliferated in Dockland along the Thames river. The sweated clothing, shoe-making and furniture trades were diffused throughout the whole area.

 


June 9, 2018

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