Fourteen years ago, I arrived in London to work for an antiques dealer. The city fascinated me, its history hanging in the air like a salty tang. My days were spent amongst eighteenth-century objects, from milk jugs to gold boxes. Who had made them? Where did they live? What were their lives like? In looking for answers, I found tales of men, women, children, wealth, crime, poverty, the erotic, the exotic and the quiet desperation of the mundane.
Monarchs, politicians and aristocrats grab the historical limelight but the ordinary people were my quarry: the Londoners who rode the dawn coach to work, opened shops bleary-eyed and hung-over, fell in love, had risky sex, realised the children had head-lice again, paid parking fines, cashed in winning lottery tickets, fought for good causes and committed terrible crimes. Behind their stories, I saw modern London emerge between the Restoration of Charles II and the arrival of Queen Victoria on the throne. One Sunday, in the summer of 2009, I stood on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral and listened as the bells called to worshippers and tourists alike. People loitered chatting, or climbed the steps and went inside. I imagined this clamour was almost exactly the same as it had been three centuries ago. I recorded it on my telephone and walked home.
For years, I dragged my husband to churchyards, houses, demolition sites, public monuments and hidden memorials, telling him the stories of people long dead: cabinetmakers, slaves, domestic servants, weavers, chimney sweeps and prostitutes. Back at home, I played him the recording of my precious moment of shared experience with the Londoners of the past. His dry recommendation was to start blogging about the tales I had accumulated and what I believed about Georgian London (perhaps hoping to deflect my endless enthusiasm on to the miasma of the World Wide Web). The blog gained instant traction as it explored relationships, crime, literature, disability, personal hygiene, jobs, sexuality, charity, sport and shopping. This book has sprung from its loins, a tribute to the people of the eighteenth-century city and testimony to the eternal feeling that if I could just run fast enough through London’s endless archives, I will catch them, grasp them by their coat-tails and make them tell me everything about being a Georgian Londoner.
The preface of ‘Georgian London: Into the Streets’ by Lucy Inglis.