Liza Picard


The practical realities of everyday life are rarely described in history books. To remedy this, and to satisfy her own curiosity about the lives of our 18th-century ancestors, Liza Picard immersed herself in contemporary sources - diaries and journals, almanacs and newspapers, government papers and reports, advice books and memoirs (including, not least, those of foreign visitors such as Casanova) - to examine the substance of life in mid 18th-century London: houses, gardens, transport and traffic; occupations and work, pleasure and amusements; health, medicine and hospitals; sex and food, cloths and fashion; education, manners and etiquette; crime and punishment.

By 1750 London was the biggest city in Europe. The ‘west end’ was expanding fast onto green-field sites, while the city still represented wealth and power. The opulence of the rich and the comfort of the ‘middling sort’ contrasted sharply with the back-breaking labour and pitiful wages of washerwomen and coal-heavers, silk-weavers and the climbing boys employed by chimney sweeps. With philanthropic help, new teaching hospitals were established, but the advance of medical theory hardly affected the treatment of patients, which was often bizarre.

Executions were rated one of the best amusements, but there was bullock-hunting and cock-fighting too. There was also the lottery, the craze for which among the poor was as disastrous as gin. Crime, from pickpockets to highwaymen, was rife, prisons were poisonous and law-enforcement rudimentary, although it began to improve with the appointment in 1749 of Henry Fielding and later his blind brother John as magistrates in Westminster.

This book spans the period 174o to 1770 - very much the city of Dr Johnson, who published his great Dictionary in 1755. It starts when the gin craze was gaining ground and ends when the east coast of America was still British. While brilliantly recording the strangeness and individuality of the past, Dr Johnson’s London continually reminds us of parallels with the present day.

ISBN 0-297-84218-8


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