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19th-century London

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Title: 19th-century London  
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Subject: History of London, 18th-century London, History of London (1900–39), Timeline of London, 2012 Summer Paralympics
Collection: 19Th Century in London
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

19th-century London

Part of a series on the
See also
London portal

This article covers the history of London in the 19th century.


  • Overview 1
  • Coming of the railway 2
  • Government 3
  • Famous buildings and landmarks 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
    • Published in the 1800s-1810s 7.1
    • Published in the 1820s-1830s 7.2
    • Published in the 1840s-1850s 7.3
    • Published in the 1860s-1870s 7.4
    • Published in the 1880s-1890s 7.5
    • Published in the 20th century 7.6
  • External links 8


Part of Charles Booth's poverty map showing the Old Nichol, a slum in the East End of London. Published 1889 in Life and Labour of the People in London. The red areas are "middle class, well-to-do", light blue areas are “poor, 18s to 21s a week for a moderate family”, dark blue areas are “very poor, casual, chronic want”, and black areas are the "lowest class...occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals".

During the 19th century, London was transformed into the world's largest city and capital of the British Empire. Its population expanded from 1 million in 1800 to 6.7 million a century later (1.9% average annual growth). During this period, London became a global political, financial, and trading capital. In this position, it was largely unrivaled until the latter part of the century, when Paris and New York City began to threaten its dominance.

While the city grew wealthy as Britain's holdings expanded, 19th century London was also a city of poverty, where millions lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slums. Life for the poor was immortalized by Charles Dickens in such novels as Oliver Twist.

One of the most famous events of 19th-century London was the Great Exhibition of 1851. Held at The Crystal Palace, the fair attracted visitors from across the world and displayed Britain at the height of its Imperial dominance.

As the capital of a massive empire, London became a magnet for immigrants from the colonies and poorer parts of Europe. A large Irish population settled in the city during the Victorian era, with many of the newcomers refugees from the Great Famine (1845-1849). At one point, Irish immigrants made up about 20% of London's population. London also became home to a sizable Jewish community, and small communities of Chinese and South Asians settled in the city

Railway Map of London, 1899, from The Pocket Atlas and Guide to London

Coming of the railway

19th century London was transformed by the coming of the railways. A new network of metropolitan railways allowed for the development of suburbs in other countries.


In 1829 the prime minister Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police as a police force covering the entire urban area. The force gained the nickname of "bobbies" or "peelers" named after Robert Peel.

London's urbanised area continued to grow rapidly, spreading into Islington, Paddington, Belgravia, Holborn, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Southwark and Lambeth. With London's rapid growth, towards the middle of the century, there became an urgent need to reform London's system of local government.

Outside of the City of London which resisted any attempts to expand its boundaries to encompass the wider urban area, London had a chaotic local government system consisting of ancient parishes and vestries, working alongside a vast array of single purpose boards and authorities, few of which co-operated with each other. In an attempt to solve this problem, in 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was created to provide London with adequate infrastructure to cope with its growth. The MBW was London's first metropolitan government body.

One of its first tasks was addressing London's sanitation problems. At the time, raw sewage was pumped straight into the River Thames. This culminated in The Great Stink of 1858. The polluted drinking water (sourced from the Thames) also brought disease and epidemics to London's populace.

Parliament finally gave consent for the MBW to construct a massive system of sewers. The engineer put in charge of building the new system was Joseph Bazalgette. In what was one of the largest civil engineering projects of the 19th century, he oversaw construction of over 2100 km of tunnels and pipes under London to take away sewage and provide clean drinking water. When the London sewerage system was completed, the death toll in London dropped dramatically, and epidemics of cholera and other diseases were curtailed. Bazalgette's system is still in use today.

The Metropolitan Board of Works was not a directly elected body, which made it unpopular with Londoners. In 1888 it was wound up, and replaced with the London County Council (LCC). This was the first elected London-wide administrative body. The LCC covered the same area as the MBW had done, but this area was designated as the County of London. In 1900, the county was sub-divided into 28 metropolitan boroughs, which formed a more local tier of administration than the county council.

The Houses of Parliament from old Westminster Bridge in the early 1890s

Famous buildings and landmarks

Many famous buildings and landmarks of London were constructed during the 19th century including:

See also


  • Inwood, Stephen. A History of London (1998) ISBN 0-333-67153-8

Further reading

Published in the 1800s-1810s

  • View of London, or, the Stranger's Guide through the British Metropolis. London: B. Crosby & Co. 1804. 
  • David Hughson (1805). London; Being an Accurate History and Description of the British Metropolis and Its Neighbourhood. W. Stratford. 
  • Post-Office Annual Directory ... London. 1807. 
  • Picture of London, for 1807 (8th ed.). London: Richard Phillips. 
  • London and Middlesex,  
  • John Lockie (1810), Lockie's Topography of London, London: Sold by G. and W. Nicol,  
  • Critchett & Woods. Post-Office Annual Directory for 1814 ... Merchants, Traders, &c. of London. London. 
  • John Wallis (1814), London: being a complete guide to the British capital (4th ed.), London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones,   + index
  •   + bibliography
  • David Hughson (1817). Walks Through London. 
  • Abraham Rees (1819), "London",  

Published in the 1820s-1830s

  • Critchett & Woods (1820). Post-Office London Directory. London. 
  • Kent's Original London Directory: 1823. London: Henry Kent Causton. 
  •   + v.4
    • 1839 ed.
  • Leigh's New Picture of London.. , London:  
  • Cruchley's Picture of London, London: G. F. Cruchley, 1831 
  • Kidd's New Guide to the 'Lions' of London; or, the Stranger's Directory. London: William Kidd. 1832. 
  • Abraham Booth (1839), Stranger's Intellectual Guide to London for 1839-40, London: H. Hooper 
  • "London".  

Published in the 1840s-1850s

  •   + v.2, v.4, v.5, v.6
  • Robson's London Directory ... for 1842 (23rd ed.), London: Robson, 1842 
  • Post Office London Directory, 1843. London: W. Kelly & Co. 
  • Mogg's New Picture of London (11th ed.), London:  
  • A Christmas Carol, London: Charles Dickens, 1843
  • Hogben's Strangers' Guide to London, London: John Hogben, 1850 
  • The British Metropolis in 1851: A Classified Guide to London. Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co. 1851. 
  • William Gaspey (1851), Tallis's Illustrated London, London and New York: J. Tallis and Company,  
  • Post Office London Directory. 1852 – via University of Leicester, Library. 
  • Pictorial Handbook of London, London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854 
  • Post Office (1856). Principal Streets and Places in London and its Environs. London. 

Published in the 1860s-1870s

  • London and its Environs, Edinburgh: A. & C. Black, 1862,   + index
  • Bradshaw's Monthly Alphabetical Hand-book through London and its Environs, London: W.J. Adams, 1862 
    • 1879 ed.
  •   + Index
  • Collins' Illustrated Guide to London & Neighbourhood.. , William Collins, Sons, & Co., 1873,  
  • James Thorne (1876), Handbook to the Environs of London, London: John Murray 

Published in the 1880s-1890s

  • Herbert Fry (1880), London in 1880, London: David Bogue 
  • John Parker Anderson (1881), "London", Book of British Topography: a Classified Catalogue of the Topographical Works in the Library of the British Museum Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, London: W. Satchell, pp. 178–213 
    • 1879 ed.
  • Charles A. Gillig's New Guide to London. 1885. 
  • London and Its Environs (6th ed.), Leipsic: Karl Baedeker, 1887 
  • Walter Thornbury (1887), Old and New London (2nd ed.), London: Cassell  + (1878 ed.)
  • London Congregational Union (1883). The bitter cry of outcast London. London: James Clarke & Co. 

Published in the 20th century

  • Aldon D. Bell (1967), London in the Age of Dickens, Centers of Civilization Series, USA: University of Oklahoma Press,  

External links

  • Victorian London
  • Circa 1896 Late 19th Century London then and now
  • The Twilight City An exploration of vagrancy and streetwalkers in late Victorian London
  • Dictionary of Victorian London A resource for anyone interested in life in Victorian London.
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