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London in the Mid Eighteenth Century

Ignatius Sancho appears to have been taken to Greenwich, then a village a few miles to the east of London, at some point late in the 1730s. He died some forty years later in central London, at his home in Charles Street, Westminster. This page takes a look at the city which Sancho made his home with maps and images of the views which he would have known.

A detail of John Rocque's 1746 map of London, showing Westminster  

To the left is a detail of a map of London produced by John Rocque in 1746. This detail is centred on Whitehall and shows Charles Street running between Duke Street and Parliament Street. Charles Street is now named King Charles Street. It has been extensively redeveloped and the site is now occupied by a number of government buildings.

The area has changed dramatically in the last 250 years. Most of the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 1834 while the Thames was embanked in 1864-1870. The sites of London's main institutions have not changed, however, and it can be seen that Sancho's shop was sandwiched directly in between two centres of power: the Prime Minister's house in Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament, both just a few minutes walk away. Today, even more centres of power sandwich King Charles Street which has the Treasury on one side and the Foreign Office on the other.

Many other famous landmarks are close by. To the north lies Charing Cross, now the site of Trafalgar Square but then the location of the pillory, while to the immediate west is St James's Park and the palace: the focus of fashionable life in the mid century. Westminster Abbey is close by and, in Sancho's time, the new Westminster Bridge, completed in 1750, connected the north and south banks of the Thames.

You can compare the old map by looking at this Modern Map of Westminster. It is interesting to note that while many buildings have changed, the underlying street plan is much as it was in Sanchoís time. Indeed, the main thoroughfares remain now much as they have been since the Middle Ages.

William Jamesís 'View of the Thames Showing Westminster', painted c. 1765  

This is William Jamesís View of the Thames Showing Westminster which was painted around 1765. Sancho would have been very familiar with this view. Jamesís vantage point appears to be a boat in mid-river, a little to the north of the present day Hungerford Bridge. From left to right you can see Westminster Bridge, The House of Commons (two white towers) and Westminster Hall. Very prominent is Westminster Abbey with its (then) two new towers. The white Portland stone and neo-classical design of the Banqueting House make this the most prominent building on Whitehall, in the centre of this painting. The curious spire-like building is an early steam engine, used for pumping water at the York Buildings Water Works. The York Buildings Watergate is in the foreground, although since the Embankment was completed in 1870 this has been stranded some fifty metres from the river.

 

Here is William Jamesís View of the Thames Showing the Savoy, again painted around 1765. Jamesís vantage point appears to be the Stone Wharf on the south bank (we can see blocks of stone being loaded) now the site of the Royal Festival Hall. The bank of the Thames was changed dramatically in the nineteenth century. The ancient Savoy Palace at the left of this picture was demolished in 1816 to make room for Waterloo Bridge while construction of the Embankment in 1870 narrowed the river and set Somerset House, here partially obscured by a row of trees, even further back from the river. The church tower on the left is that of St Mary Le Strand while that on the right is St Clement Danes. Both are still standing. [James's paintings are housed at Parham House in Sussex. You can get more information on Parham at http://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk/]

William Jamesís 'View of the Thames Showing The Savoy', painted c. 1765


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* This page last updated 20 June 2010*