19th-century London

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Part of a series on the
History of London
See also
Clock Tower - Palace of Westminster, London - May 2007 icon.png London portal

This article covers the 19th century history of London, during which it grew enormously to become a global city of immense importance, and the capital of the British Empire, fed by immigrants from the colonies and refugees from various conflicts and famines. Railways connecting London to the rest of Britain, as well as the London Underground were built, as were roads, a modern sewer system and many famous landmarks.


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 1801 to 6.2 million a century later (1.8% average annual growth). [1] [2][better source needed] During this period, London became a global political, financial, and trading capital. In this position, it was largely unrivalled 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 railways[edit]

19th century London was transformed by the coming of the railways. A new network of metropolitan railways allowed for the development of suburbs in neighboring counties from which middle-class and wealthy people could commute to the centre. While this spurred the massive outward growth of the city, the growth of greater London also exacerbated the class divide, as the wealthier classes emigrated to the suburbs, leaving the poor to inhabit the inner city areas.

The first railway to be built in London was the London and Greenwich Railway a short line from London Bridge to Greenwich, which opened in 1836. This was soon followed by the opening of great rail termini which linked London to every corner of Britain. These included Euston station (1837), Paddington station (1838), Fenchurch Street station (1841), Waterloo station (1848), King's Cross station (1850), and St Pancras station (1863). From 1863, the first lines of the London Underground were constructed.


Many new roads were built after the formation of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. They included the Embankment from 1864,[3] Clerkenwell and Theobalds Roads from 1874[4] and Charing Cross from 1884.[5]

1890 London had 5,728 street accidents, resulting in 144 deaths.[6]


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

London's urban area grew rapidly, spreading into Islington, Paddington, Belgravia, Holborn, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Southwark and Lambeth. With London's rapid growth, towards the middle of the century, an urgent need arose 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 an array of single-purpose boards and authorities, few of which co-operated with each other. To address 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.

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 subdivided into 28 metropolitan boroughs, which formed a more local tier of administration than the county council.


One of its first tasks was addressing London's sanitation problems. At the time, raw sewage was pumped straight into the River Thames. This led to repeated outbreaks of cholera in 1832, 1849, 1854, and 1866[7] (since polluted drinking water was sourced from the Thames) and culminated in The Great Stink of 1858. The 1866 cholera epidemic was the fourth in the city's history but also the last and the least deadly, [8] [9] with further epidemics forestalled by Bazalgette's improved sanitation system.

Following the Great Stink of 1858 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 one of the largest civil engineering projects of the 19th century, he oversaw construction of over 1300 miles or 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 were curtailed. Bazalgette's system is still in use today.[10]

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

Famous buildings and landmarks[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "London through time: Population Statistics: Total Population". A vision of Britain through time. Great Britain Historical GIS. Retrieved 19 November 2009.
  2. ^ "Demography of London". Wikipedia. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  3. ^ "The Victoria Embankment | British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  4. ^ "Clerkenwell Road | British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  5. ^ "Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road | British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  6. ^ "Waikato Times, 1891-11-28". paperspast.natlib.govt.nz National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  7. ^ City of Westminster Archives. "Cholera and the Thames". City of Westminster Archives. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  8. ^ Letheby, H. (1867). Report on the Sanitary Condition of the City of London for the year 1866-1867. London. p. 18.
  9. ^ William Luckin, "The final catastrophe—cholera in London, 1866." Medical history 21#1 (1977): 32-42.
  10. ^ Bill Luckin, Pollution and control: a social history of the Thames in the nineteenth century (1986).

Further reading[edit]

Published in the 1800s-1810s[edit]

Published in the 1820s-1830s[edit]

Published in the 1840s-1850s[edit]

Published in the 1860s-1870s[edit]

Published in the 1880s-1890s[edit]

Published in the 20th century[edit]

External links[edit]