Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period > Growth of London and its causes
  Puritanism and the Dramatists Increase of Litigation and its effects on the Legal Profession  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.

XIV. Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period.

§ 24. Growth of London and its causes.

Except in the fields, now narrowing rather than expanding, of purely academical scholarship and religious education, London had more than ever become the centre of the life of the community. Here, alone, politics, society and intellectual pursuits and diversions of all kinds were at the full height of activity; and here was the great market for the supply of the luxuries, as well as of the necessaries, of existence. The influx of population into London was very notable. The overgrowth of the population of the city was, indeed, arrested by drastic provisions, dating from 1580; but London beyond the walls increased with extraordinary rapidity, and, in the century after the accession of Elizabeth, the total of the London population probably at least quintupled—and this, notwithstanding the ravages of the plague, which, at times, decimated—and even decimated twice over—the number of inhabitants. But it was not numbers only which gave to London its supremacy. The pulse of life beat more rapidly here than elsewhere; character and talent—individuality, in short—here had the best chance of asserting itself. This was largely due, as has been seen, to the court and, in the same connection, to the great houses of the nobility built along the pleasant Strand, with the river, London’s great highway, running by the side of fields and gardens on the way to Westminster. It was due, in the second place, to the city as the centre and representative of the mercantile and industrial life of the nation, with Cheapside, and Goldsmiths’ row on its southern frontage, displaying the magnificence of that life to an admiring world. But it was also due to the various colleges of law and physic, as well as to cathedral and abbey, and the great schools. 97    32

Note 97. Nothing can be said here of other favourite centres of intellectual and social intercourse, among which the taverns—to be distinguished carefully from lesser and more evanescent places of entertainment—did duty for the clubs of later London life. T. Heywood gives a short list of them in one of the songs inserted in The Rape of Lucrece, in another of which the cries of London are reproduced. By 1633, the number of these taverns was reckoned at 211. Cf. Sandys, W., Festive Songs, etc., u.s. (introduction), and see Vatke, T., “Wirthshäuser und Wirthshausleben” in Culturbilder aus Alt-England. As to “ordinaries” (the fashionable tables d’hôte of the day), see the amusing tract The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinarie, or The Walkes in Powles, 1604 (Percy Soc. Publ., 1845, vol. V). To the main walk of the great gothic church of St. Paul’s, a club open to all—even to those who came only to dine with duke Humphrey—there are frequent allusions in our dramatists. (Bobadill was a “Paul’s man,” and Falstaff “bought Bardolph in Paul’s.” See, also, L. Barry’s Ram-Alley, act IV, sc. 1, and Mayne’s City-Match, act III, sc. 3.) These and other features of London life are described in numerous works of easy access; for a graphic picture of Elizabethan London, drawn with the author’s usual felicity of touch, the reader may be referred to the section “Le Pays Anglais” in vol. II of Jusserand’s Histoire Littéraire du Peuple Anglais. Creizenach, vol. IV, part 1, p. 486, goes so far as to assert that, with the exception of university and school plays, not a single dramatic work of consequence saw the light of day anywhere else than in London town. [ back ]

  Puritanism and the Dramatists Increase of Litigation and its effects on the Legal Profession  

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