London: the world’s largest city in 1825 AD
Episode #9 of the course “Greatest Cities Throughout History”
European industrial production was growing quickly in the early and mid-1800s. It drew rural citizens to the city on the promise of manufacturing jobs. However, London was not prepared for the huge influx of people looking for work, and the city was practically a slum–a slum that was home to roughly 1.3 million people. The city itself was dirty, and diseases like cholera and tuberculosis were common. Nonetheless, it was the seat of the largest empire in the world at the time. Today, it is home to over 8 million people.
Crime was rampant, partly because the government did not have a full-time police force (which wasn’t formed until 1829). There were also huge divides between the rich and the poor. The rich literally never visited the poorer parts of town, and the poor only crossed to the rich parts of town when they had to serve the rich as laborers. Many families lived in one-room dwellings that they created themselves because housing was notoriously difficult to find. Running water was a luxury, and the sanitation was terrible. Even cooking in some of these homes was extremely difficult. Wealthier families did not have these troubles, naturally—their large Victorian homes had several rooms with bay windows, running water, and electricity (from 1880).
For London, 1825 also marked a significant financial crisis. Britain was expanding, and there was an export boom as well as an investment boom, likely because of the newly-developed countries in Latin America. The Bank of England had a large amount of gold reserves, so it was lending to all kinds of investors. The stock market continued to build until it finally burst in April 1825, although it is unclear what specifically caused the burst. Some argue that it had a lot to do with the lack of stock market regulation at the time—some of the stocks were fake, like bonds from the South American Republic of Poyais, a fake country. Commercial enterprises and banks began to fail as a result of the bust, and the Bank of England became the lender of last resort. A serious recession in 1826 followed.
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