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- London in 1731 - 20/22 -
given them in their education; many of them have no principles of honour, no other rule to go by than the fishmonger, namely, to get what they can, who consider only the weakness or ignorance of the customer, and make their demands accordingly, taking sometimes half the price they ask. And I must not forget the numbers of poor creatures who live and maintain their families by buying provisions in one part of the town, and retailing them in another, whose stock perhaps does not amount to more than forty or fifty shillings, and part of this they take up (many of them) on their clothes at a pawnbroker's on a Monday morning, which they make shift to redeem on a Saturday night, that they may appear in a proper habit at their parish-churches on a Sunday. These are the people that cry fish, fruit, herbs, roots, news, &c, about town.
As to hackney-coachmen, carmen, porters, chairmen, and watermen, though they work hard, they generally eat and drink well, and are decently clothed on holidays; for the wife, if she be industrious, either by her needle, washing, or other business proper to her sex, makes no small addition to their gains; and by their united labours they maintain their families handsomely if they have their healths.
As to the common menial servants, they have great wages, are well kept and clothed, but are, notwithstanding the plague, of almost every house in town. They form themselves into societies, or rather confederacies, contributing to the maintenance of each other when out of place; and if any of them cannot manage the family where they are entertained as they please, immediately they give notice they will be gone. There is no speaking to them; they are above correction; and if a master should attempt it, he may expect to be handsomely drubbed by the creature he feeds and harbours, or perhaps an action brought against him for it. It is become a common saying, "If my servant ben't a thief, if he be but honest, I can bear with other things;" and indeed it is very rare in London to meet with an honest servant.
When I was treating of tradesmen, I had forgot to mention those nuisances of the town, the itinerant pedlars who deal in toys and hardware, and those who pretend to sell foreign silks, linen, India handkerchiefs, and other prohibited and unaccustomed goods. These we meet at every coffee-house and corner of the streets, and they visit also every private house; the women have such a gust for everything that is foreign or prohibited, that these vermin meet with a good reception everywhere. The ladies will rather buy home manufactures of these people than of a neighbouring shopkeeper, under the pretence of buying cheaper, though they frequently buy damaged goods, and pay a great deal dearer for them than they would do in a tradesman's shop, which is a great discouragement to the fair dealer that maintains a family, and is forced to give a large credit, while these people run away with the ready money. And I am informed that some needy tradesmen employ fellows to run hawking about the streets with their goods, and sell pennyworths, in order to furnish themselves with a little money.
As to the recreations of the citizens, many of them are entertained in the same manner as the quality are, resorting to the play, park, music-meetings, &c.; and in the summer they visit Richmond, Hampstead, Epsom, and other neighbouring towns, where horse-racing, and all manner of rural sports, as well as other diversions, are followed in the summer season.
Towards autumn, when the town is thin, many of the citizens who deal in a wholesale way visit the distant parts of the kingdom to get in their debts, or procure orders for fresh parcels of goods; and much about the same time the lawyers are either employed in the several circuits, or retired to their country seats; so that the Court, the nobility and gentry, the lawyers, and many of the citizens being gone into the country, the town resumes another face. The west end of it appears perfectly deserted; in other parts their trade falls off; but still in the streets about the Royal Exchange we seldom fail to meet with crowds of people, and an air of business in the hottest season.
I have heard it affirmed, however, that many citizens live beyond their income, which puts them upon tricking and prevaricating in their dealings, and is the principal occasion of those frequent bankruptcies seen in the papers; ordinary tradesmen drink as much wine, and eat as well, as gentlemen of estates; their cloth, their lace, their linen, are as fine, and they change it as often; and they frequently imitate the quality in their expensive pleasures.
As to the diversions of the inferior tradesmen and common people on Sundays and other holidays, they frequently get out of town; the neighbouring villas are full of them, and the public-houses there usually provide a dinner in expectation of their city guests; but if they do not visit them in a morning, they seldom fail of walking out in the fields in the afternoon; every walk, every public garden and path near the town are crowded with the common people, and no place more than the park; for which reason I presume the quality are seldom seen there on a Sunday, though the meanest of them are so well dressed at these times that nobody need be ashamed of their company on that account; for you will see every apprentice, every porter, and cobbler, in as good cloth and linen as their betters; and it must be a very poor woman that has not a suit of Mantua silk, or something equal to it, to appear abroad in on holidays.
And now, if we survey these several inhabitants in one body, it will be found that there are about a million of souls in the whole town, of whom there may be 150,000 men and upwards capable of bearing arms, that is, between eighteen and sixty.
If it be demanded what proportion that part of the town properly called the City of London bears to the rest, I answer that, according to the last calculations, there are in the city 12,000 houses; in the parishes without the walls, 36,320; in the parishes of Middlesex and Surrey, which make part of the town, 46,300; and in the city and liberties of Westminster, 28,330; in which are included the precincts of the Tower, Norton Folgate, the Rolls, Whitefriars, the Inns of Court and Chancery, the King's palaces, and all other extra-parochial places.
As to the number of inhabitants in each of these four grand divisions, if we multiply the number of houses in the City of London by eight and a half, there must be 102,000 people there, according to this estimate. By the same rule, there must be 308,720 people in the seventeen parishes without the walls; 393,550 in the twenty-one out-parishes of Middlesex and Surrey; and 240,805 in the city and liberties of Westminster, all which compose the sum-total of 1,045,075 people.
Let me now proceed to inquire into the state of the several great trading companies in London. The first, in point of time, I find to be the Hamburg Company, originally styled "Merchants of the Staple" (that is, of the staple of wool), and afterwards Merchant Adventurers. They were first incorporated in the reign of King Edward I., anno 1296, and obtained leave of John, Duke of Brabant, to make Antwerp their staple or mart for the Low Countries, where the woollen manufactures then flourished more than in any country in Europe. The business of this company at first seems to be chiefly, if not altogether, the vending of English wool unwrought.
Queen Elizabeth enlarged the trade of the Company of Adventurers, and empowered them to treat with the princes and states of Germany for a place which might be the staple or mart for the woollen manufactures they exported, which was at length fixed at Hamburg, from whence they obtained the name of the Hamburg Company. They had another mart or staple also assigned them for the sale of their woollen cloths in the Low Countries, viz., Dort, in Holland.
This company consists of a governor, deputy-governor, and fellowship, or court of assistants, elected annually in June, who have a power of making bye-laws for the regulation of their trade; but this trade in a manner lies open, every merchant trading thither on his own bottom, on paying an inconsiderable sum to the company; so that though the trade to Germany may be of consequence, yet the Hamburg Company, as a company, have very little advantage by their being incorporated.
The Hamburg or German Merchants export from England broad-cloth, druggets, long-ells, serges, and several sorts of stuffs, tobacco, sugar, ginger, East India goods, tin, lead, and several other commodities, the consumption of which is in Lower Germany.
England takes from them prodigious quantities of linen, linen-yarn, kid-skins, tin-plates, and a great many other commodities.
The next company established was that of the Russia Merchants, incorporated 1st and 2nd of Philip and Mary, who were empowered to trade to all lands, ports, and places in the dominions of the Emperor of Russia, and to all other lands not then discovered or frequented, lying on the north, north-east, or north-west.
The Russia Company, as a company, are not a very considerable body at present; the trade thither being carried on by private merchants, who are admitted into this trade on payment of five pounds for that privilege.
It consists of a governor, four consuls, and twenty-four assistants, annually chosen on the 1st of March.
The Russia Merchants export from England some coarse cloth, long- ells, worsted stuffs, tin, lead, tobacco, and a few other commodities.
England takes from Russia hemp, flax, linen cloth, linen yarn, Russia leather, tallow, furs, iron, potashes, &c., to an immense value.
The next company is the Eastland Company, formerly called Merchants of Elbing, a town in Polish Prussia, to the eastward of Dantzic, being the port they principally resorted to in the infancy of their trade. They were incorporated 21 Elizabeth, and empowered to trade to all countries within the Sound, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Liefland, Prussia, and Pomerania, from the river Oder eastward, viz., with Riga, Revel, Konigsberg, Elbing, Dantzic, Copenhagen, Elsinore, Finland, Gothland, Eastland, and Bornholm (except Narva, which was then the only Russian port in the Baltic). And by the said patent the Eastland Company and Hamburg Company were each of them authorised to trade separately to Mecklenburg, Gothland, Silesia, Moravia, Lubeck, Wismar, Restock, and the whole river Oder.
This company consists of a governor, deputy-governor, and twenty- four assistants, elected annually in October; but either they have no power to exclude others from trading within their limits, or the fine for permission is so inconsiderable, that it can never hinder any merchants trading thither who is inclined to it; and, in fact, this trade, like the former, is carried on by private merchants, and the trade to Norway and Sweden is laid open by Act of Parliament.
To Norway and Denmark merchants send guineas, crown-pieces, bullion, a little tobacco, and a few coarse woollens.
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