Imágenes de página

The trade of Pawn-broking, which appears to have been first practised in London in the early part of the preceding century, gave rise, in the year 1708, to a new Company, which obtained a charter under the appellation of The Charitable Corporation for lending money to the industrious but necessitous Poor, &c.

The Metropolis was greatly convulsed at the commencement of the year 1710, from the effects produced by two sermons preached by Dr. Sacheverell, which were voted in the House of Commons to be "malicious, scandalous, and seditious libels," &c. and for which the Doctor was impeached, and brought to trial before the Peers in Westminster Hall, on the twenty-seventh of February. The attention of the whole kingdom was excited to this extraordinary cause, and the public voice was almost entirely in favour of Sacheverell; it being generally believed, that the prosecution was the contrivance of the Presbyterians to undermine the authority of the Church. After much altercation, Sacheverell was at last declared guilty by a majority of seventeen voices; but his sentence merely enjoined, that he should not preach for three years,' and that his two sermons should be burnt by the common hangman before the Royal Exchange.' This violent doctor was minister of St. Andrew's, Holborn.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The year 1712 was remarkable for the enormities practised by a number of miscreants, denominated Mohawks, who paraded the streets at night, insulting and ill-treating all they met.

On the fifteenth of January, 1715, a dreadful Fire in Thames Street destroyed upwards of one hundred and twenty houses, with an immense quantity of rich merchandize; and more than fifty persons perished in the flames, and by other accidents.

The year 1720 will be ever famous in the annals of London, from the destructive system of speculation and fraud, which history has denominated the South Sea Bubble; and which so completely infatuated the people, that they became the dupes of the most bare-faced impositions. The origin of the South Sea Bubble may be traced to an exclusive trade which the Company possessed with the Spanish Colonies, and which trade had been rendered ex

tremely lucrative by the arts of smuggling. This caused a considerable increase in the price of South Sea Stock; and the Directors, encouraged by the prevalent spirit of avaricious enterprise, proposed to the Government to take into their fund all the debts of the nation incurred before the year 1716, under the plausible pretexts of lowering the interest, and rendering the capital redeemable by Parlia ment in a shorter time than could be anticipated. Before the Bill had received the Royal Assent, which was given on the seventh of April, so much had the public mind been impressed with the idea of rapid gain, that the Company's stock rose to 3191. per cent.; during the same month it. advanced to 400l. per cent.; and by the 25th of May, it had increased to 550l. per cent. By the second of June, the South Sea Stock had advanced to 8901. per cent.; and on the eighteenth the Directors opened fresh books for a subscription of 4,000,000l. at 1000l. per cent.; and such was the popular phrenzy, that before the expiration of the month the subscription was at 2001. per cent. premium, and the price of stock at nearly 11007.

During the month of July, the price fluctuated from 1000l. per cent. to 9001. Yet, by the contrivance of the Directors in opening a fourth money subscription at 1000%. per cent. in August, the stock for a short time bore a premium on that price of 40l. per cent. The alarm had, however, been given; it had been whispered, that the Directors and their particular friends had disposed of their own stock while the price was at the highest, and all confidence in the stability of their credit was now destroyed. The confusion became general: every one was willing to sell, but no purchasers could be found, except at a vast reduction. Distraction and dismay spread through the whole City. In the second week in September the South Sea Stock had fallen to 550l.; by the nineteenth it was reduced to 400%., and by the first of October to 370l. Within five days afterwards it was as low as 180l. and a short time after that it was reduced to 861. per cent.; a price, probably, which nearly approached to its true value. The destruction to public and private credit thus produced was excessive. All trade was at a stand; and many of the most respectable merchants, goldsmiths, and bankers, of

London, who had unwisely lent large sums to the Company, were obliged to shut up their shops and abscond. Whole families were beggared together, and bankruptcies spread through every quarter. Numbers quitted the kingdom, never to return; and many, unable to bear the stings of remorse and poverty, which their own inconsiderateness had produced, terminated their woes by suicide.

On the tenth of March, 1722, the Parliament, which passed the Septennial Act, was dissolved by proclamation. The close of the year 1729, was attended by a great mortality in London, arising, most probably, from the continual rains, and frequent stormy weather, through which colds and fevers became general: the number of persons that died within the Bills of Mortality, in the course of the year, amounted almost to 30,000.

On the evening of New Year's Day, 1730, many lives were lost in London, through a very dense fog, which rendered it so obscure, that several persons fell into Fleet Ditch, and others into the Canal, in St. James's Park, by mistaking their way: much damage was also done on the river Thames.

This year was famous for the attempt made by the minister, Sir Robert Walpole, to extend the Excise, a measure which strongly militated against the popular feeling, and was at length relinquished through the strenuous op◄ position made by the city. In the debates in the House of Commons, where the scheme was pressed forward by repeated majorities, the London representatives were particularly animated, and their language bold and constitutional. The closing debate was brought on by a petition against the bill from the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council, which was presented by the sheriffs, who went to the House, attended by the chief citizens, in two hundred coaches.

The winter of 1739-40, became memorable from its uncommon severity, and the occurrence of one of the most intense Frosts that had ever been known in this country, and which, from its piercing cold and long continuance, has been recorded in our annals by the appellation of the Great Frost. It commenced on Christmas day, and lasted till the seventeenth of the following February. Above

bridge, the Thames was completely frozen over, and tents and numerous booths were erected on it for selling liquors, &c. to the multitudes that daily flocked thither for curiosity or diversion. The scene here displayed was very singular, and had more the appearance of a fair on land, than of a frail exhibition, the only basis of which was congealed water.

On the first of November, 1740, great devastation was made in and near London by a dreadful Hurricane, which commenced between five and six in the evening, and raged about five hours, during which time a considerable part of Hyde Park wall was blown down, as well as one of the pinnacles of Westminster Abbey, and many stacks of chimnies in different parts. Several persons were killed by the falling ruins, and the roofs of many houses were stripped of their tiling, &c.

On the morning of the twenty-fifth of March, 1748, a most destructive Fire commenced at a Peruke-maker's, named Eldridge, in Exchange Alley, Cornhill; and within twelve hours totally destroyed between ninety and a hundred houses, besides damaging many others. The flames spread in three directions at once, and extending into Cornhill, consumed above twenty houses there, including the London Assurance Office, the Fleece, and the Three Tuns Taverns, and Tom's and the Rainbow Coffee-houses. In Exchange Alley, the Swan Tavern, with Garraway's, Jonathan's, and the Jerusalem Coffee-houses, were burnt down; and in the contiguous avenues and Birchin Lane, the George and Vulture Tavern, with several other Coffeehouses, met a like fate.

On the twenty-seventh of April, 1749, a most splendid exhibition of Fireworks, Transparencies, &c. was made, at the expence of Government, in the Green Park, on account of the Treaty of Peace which had been concluded with France and Spain a few months before, and proclaimed in London on the second of March.

In the beginning of 1751, great alarm was excited throughout the metropolis, and its neighbourhood, by two shocks of Earthquakes; the one occurring on the eighth of February, and the other on the eighth of March. The first shock was most sensibly felt along the banks of the

Thames from Greenwich to near Richmond; at Limehouse' and Poplar, several chimnies were thrown down by it, and in several parts of London the furniture was shaken, and the pewter fell to the ground.

Westminster Bridge was finished, and opened for public use in the year 1750; the houses upon London Bridge were pulled down in 1756; and in a year or two afterwards the Bridge itself was put into a course of repair. In 1760, Blackfriars Bridge was commenced building: the City Gates were taken down; and an act of parliament was obtained for making alterations in the avenues of various parts of the city and its liberties; some of which have been carried into effect at different periods, yet many others still remain to be executed.

The year 1762 was productive of a species of imposture, which for a time strongly operated upon the feelings of the public: this was the deception practised by the Cock Lane Ghost, which originated in malignity, and ended in the exposure and punishment of the projectors of the imposition.

The beginning of the year 1768 was the commencement of an era of discontent and political virulence. At the election for representatives of the city of London, in March, Mr. Wilkes suddenly arrived from France, appeared on the hustings at Guildhall, and declared himself a candidate. Popular indignation having now a shrewd and bold chieftain, assumed an alarming extent of opposition to Government, and though Mr. Wilkes was the last on the poll for London, he was the first on that for the county of Middlesex. About the end of April, Mr. Wilkes, who had been sentenced to imprisonment for two years, to pay a fine of 20001. &c. was committed to the King's Bench Prison.

The year 1769 was as distinguished for political virulence as the preceding one had been. Petitions were sent from all parts of the kingdom, complaining of the illegality, of Mr. Wilkes's imprisonment, and of the violence offered to the freedom of election; not only in his person, but also in that of Serjeant Glynn, the other Member for Middlesex, during the poll for whom a mob had torn away the pollbooks, and a young man, named Clarke, had lost his life by violence.

Previously to this, Mr. Wilkes had been elected Alder

« AnteriorContinuar »