What was London like – not just the city, but the wider metropolis – on the eve of the Great Fire of 1666? What medieval and Tudor streets, buildings, features were there, about to be swept away? How had London changed over the preceding century as its population increased from 50-60,000 to over 400,000, spreading widely until Westminster and Wapping were linked in ‘one continuous building’? And what was the form of the new metropolis just beginning to appear, stimulated by the restoration of court life and the returning flood of nobility, gentry, professionals, and a growing middling class, eager to take advantage of the capital’s many amenities?
Following on from the Trust’s publication of two folding maps of Medieval London c. 1300 and Tudor London c. 1520, a new project aims to map London in c. 1666, to help to answer these questions.
A map of London just before the Fire will be interesting and useful in several ways. Though the burnt city was rebuilt largely on the same lines, there were many significant or subtle differences: streets were widened and straightened, some new streets were laid out, the markets were moved off the streets into enclosed spaces, and many of the medieval churches were not rebuilt. Beyond the city, the size and shape of the greater metropolis had obviously been transformed between 1520 and the Fire, but also changed noticeably in the two decades after the Restoration, by the time of the first surveyed map of the whole metropolis was published by William Morgan in 1682. Squares and markets were being laid out, and new developments extended the built-up area to west and east, but this was only just getting under way by the time of the Fire.
Capturing London at this moment in time will be challenging but rewarding, requiring much new research to identify and plot streets, buildings, and features. The task is aided by the documentation of rebuilding after the Fire, and the street-by-street returns to the Hearth Taxes of 1662-6. I hope to bring together a team of advisers and researchers, and to take advantage of the wealth of information and expertise on early modern London, to ensure the map is as detailed and accurate as possible.
For logistical reasons, it makes sense to present this map in the form of a bound atlas, since no single map-sheet could cover the whole of the 1660s metropolis at our standard scale of 1:2500. An atlas volume also allows for more supporting materials: a proper introduction outlining the changes since c. 1520, subsidiary maps illustrating periods or themes, and a fuller street directory keyed to the map. The cartography will be undertaken by the Trust’s Cartographic Editor Giles Darkes, or cartographers working under his direction, and the atlas will be produced and published by the Trust in our new format.
We are delighted and grateful that the London Topographical Society has offered a very generous grant towards the costs of producing the atlas, on the understanding that the Trust raises the balance of funding before the project starts. With colleagues, I am actively fundraising to meet the remaining costs, so that work can, we hope, begin in early 2024, with a target of completion in 2026. We are looking for supporters, sponsors, donors, partners, contributors in kind, suggestions for add-on and outreach projects. If you would like to help, or to hear more, please do get in touch with me.
Sunday 26 November is Museum Shop Sunday: the shop at Guildhall Art gallery will be featuring the Trust's maps of Medieval and Tudor London, and I will be talking about our plans to create an atlas of London on the eve of the Great Fire. More news and book tickets here: : https://guildhall-art-gallery.myshopify.com/products/an-introduction-to-historic-towns-trust.
Chair, Historic Towns Trust
chair @ historictownstrust.uk