Northern Suburbs and Surrounding Areas

Lacking the stimulus of the royal court and law courts in Westminster and the docklands along the Thames, London's northern suburbs developed somewhat more slowly than those west and east of the City.  As Roque's map shows, even in the eighteenth century pockets of undeveloped land still existed within several hundred yards of London's medieval wall. As early as the seventeenth century, however, some development took place along the metropolis's northern fringe, while remaining patchas of open land served recreational and other purposes in the city's life.  Near Morefield, Bethlehem or Bedlam hospital for the insane was already a tourist attraction in the reign of James I.  By the late seventeenth century several music houses had been erected in the surrounding neighborhood, where a visitor could purchase a mug of beer or other drink for double the usual price, while listening to performances.  Islington boasted several houses selling mineral water that provided billiard tables and other games used for gambling (1).  Smithfield, traditionally the site of a horse market, gradually developed its status as a center for the marketing of meat.    In Clerkenwell, along the northwest border of the City, the magistrates of Middlesex County built a house of correction in 1615, to handle the overflow from Bridewell.  Further west, Grey's Inn Lane was already described by John Stowe, in the early seventeenth century, as a street furnished with "many fair buildings and tenements on both sides," while the high street that intersected it also boasted many "fair houses builded for and lodgings for gentlemen, inns for travelers and such like, up almost to St Giles in the Fields," several hundred yards north of Charing Cross. 

St Giles parish was sparsely populated and rural in the early seventeenth century but by the time of John Strype, a hundred years later, it was "so exceedingly spread with buildings that it is become contiguous with the City."  Its mixed population included both nobles and gentry and an "abundance of poor".  This juxtaposition of rich and poor existed elsewhere as well: the south side of Queen Street was lined with substantial houses but its less affluent northern side gave access to several poor alleys.  An area known as Pye Fields had recently been developed into a "handsome" new neighborhood, while Denmark Street, near St Giles Church, and Southampton Street, further west, were also fashionable.  But this suburb also contained busy commercial thoroughfares, like the upper part of Drury Lane, and many mean streets and alleys.  The great days of Bloomsbury as an elegant Georgian suburb still lay mostly in the future but already in the 1660s a few large aristocratic townhouses, including that of the powerful Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde Earl of Clarendon, already existed in this area.  Great Russell Street was described by Strype as "a very handsome and large well built street, graced with the best buildings... inhabited by peers and gentry, especially on the north side, as having gardens behind the houses." 

1.  F. Colsoni, Le Guide de Londres, ed. Walter Godfrey (Cambridge, 1951), pp. 5-6.

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