Running through the reign of the Hanoverian kings from George I to William IV, the Georgian period began in 1714 and went to 1837. The culture of the time was largely defined by writers such as Jane Austen, musicians including John Handel, and architects such as John Nash. At the center of it all, as was the case throughout British history, was the City of London. London experienced an increased amount of political and cultural change during this period, which produced many stories to relate. From religious violence to drinking problems, we’ve laid out ten interesting facts below that took place in Georgian London.
A large anti-Catholic bias had existed in the United Kingdom since King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, and occasionally it would flare into periods of violence. One such incident took place in London after the passing of the Papists’ Act 1778, which required Catholics to swear an oath of allegiance to the sovereign and deny certain parts of Catholic doctrine perceived as a threat to the sovereign’s authority (as well as denying any claim of Charles Eduard Stuart to the throne). Those who took it could purchase land, join the army, and other liberties denied to Catholics at the time. The act’s passage led to a period of violence from rioters from the Protestant Association that lasted one week from June 2 to June 9, 1780. Mobs marched on Parliament and tried to break in as well as looting the embassy chapels of several Catholic nations. Eventually, the army was called in to put down any unlawful assemblies.
The Beginnings of the Met
If the Gordon Riots had one positive aspect, it’s that the utter lawlessness taking place in the city increased the calls for a police force, which eventually came about in 1829 as the Metropolitan Police, formed by Sir Robert Peel.
A Tale of Two Bridges
For centuries, the only way in and out of London was over London Bridge. However, come the Georgian Period, Westminster Bridge was built in 1750. You may know it as the bridge that leads to the Houses of Parliament.
And speaking of bridges, in 1722, left-hand drive got its start in the City of London when the government required traffic on London Bridge to keep to the left side of the road.
That Devil Gin
While gin might be seen as an ingredient for some fancy cocktails today, at one point is the equivalent of drinking malt liquor in the UK. Beginning in the 17th Century, King William III had imposed heavy taxes on French wine and Cognac while simultaneously passing laws that offered tax breaks on the production of spirits within the country. With elderberries being as plentiful as they were, gin became the drink of choice, and by the 18th Century, it was so prevalent that a glass of gin was often cheaper than a pint of beer. This led to the “Gin Craze” that lasted from 1700 to 1760, in which the drink produced a huge societal problem for England and London especially, leading to an increase of crime, poverty, and other associated societal ills. The government fought against it both through a propaganda campaign against gin as well as raising taxes on it and instituting license fees for distillers.
The Time of Squares
Many of London’s well-known squares were laid out during this period in the city’s history. These included Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Square.
Careful What You Perform on Stage
A wealth of satirical plays in 18th Century London’s theaters brought about a harsh response from the government. The Licensing Act of 1737 gave the Lord Chamberlain the ability to censor all plays performed within Britain, and copies of any new plays had to be sent to him before they could be performed. While the absolute regulation against any plays satirizing the government was eventually relaxed, the law remained in place in one form or another until 1968.
This well-loved pastry got its start in London in the early 18th Century at the Bun House in Chelsea. They quickly became so popular that Jonathan Swift wrote of them, and Kings George II and George III would often visit the Bun House with their families. It got to the point where crowds of 50,000 people would gather at the bakery on Good Friday for their bun fix. The Bun House itself lasted until 1839, when it was torn down.
A Strange Collection
Now one of the premier museums dedicated to human history and culture, the British Museum got its start in 1753 when Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his collection of oddities and curiosities to the British people. King George II subsequently gave his assent to Parliament to have the British Museum created to house them all.
London’s Lost Colosseum
Located on the eastern side of Regent’s Park, the London Colosseum was constructed in 1825 by Decimus Burton. For a time, it had a dome larger than that of even St. Paul’s Cathedral, and on the inside of it was the world’s largest painting, a panorama of the city done by Thomas Hornor. The attraction lost the interest of the London public by the 1830s, and it was auctioned off in the 1850s for 1/10 of what it cost to build. While opera singer John Barham tried to turn it into an opera house, he was unsuccessful, and it was ultimately demolished in1875.