“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…” Samuel Johnson, 1777
London! The capital of the UK has a current population of over 8.6 million people and is arguably the best city in the world. It’s earned its standing in the world through its incredible political, historical, cultural and literary output. But what was it like living in London as a regular person throughout the evolution of this great city? The following books take you from early London up to the present day, and describe the good and bad of everyday life in this bustling metropolis.
Londinium was founded by the Romans in the 1st century, but our coverage begins after London has been around for a few hundred years. The Medieval era lasted 1000 years, from the end of the 5th century through the 15th century. Everyday Life in Medieval London: from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors by Toni Mount is divided into three chronological sections: Anglo-Saxon and Norman London, London under the Plantagenet Kings, and The City under Lancastrian, Yorkist and Tudor Rule. Mount provides details on the lives of regular men and women in regard to religion, housing, sanitation, business, and various other aspects of day-to-day life that aren’t found in a typical history book.
The Elizabethan era is marked by Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 to 1603. London: a social and cultural history, 1550 – 1750 by Robert O. Bucholz and Joseph P. Ward covers this era and beyond, from popular culture and arts to the darker and dirtier side of London life. This book also covers the devastating return of the bubonic plague and the Geat Fire of London, two calamities with major and long-lasting effects on the city.
Next up, the Georgian era covers the period from 1714 to 1830 (it sometimes includes the reign of William IV until 1837). Georgian London: into the streets by Lucy Inglis describes the “minutiae of daily life” in London. Still recovering from revolution, destruction, and death, the city began to revive and ultimately transform itself into a powerhouse of the world. The book is organized by geographical locations in London and is based on a blog that Inglis wrote on various topics covering the time period, including crime, relationships, jobs, hygiene, and sex.
The Victorian era covers Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 until her death in 1901. This time period has captured the imagination moreso than others, because of the significant cultural productivity that occurred and that still plays a role in the public consciousness. Dickens, Hardy, and the Bronte sisters are just some of the great writers of this time. There are numerous books on this fascinating time period. Here are just a few suggestions:
London in the Eighteenth Century: a great and monstrous thing by Jerry White
The Victorian Life: everyday life in Dickens’ London by Judith Flanders
Victorian London: the life of a city 1840 -1870 by Liza Picard
London’s Shadows: the dark side of the Victorian city by Drew D. Gray
Skipping ahead to the current century, if you want a taste of what London life is like now, check out Londoners: the days and nights of london now – as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it, and long for it by Craig Taylor. The book interviews a cross section of Londoners on their experiences with the city and their feelings toward it.