John Roque was a cartographer in the early eighteenth century, publishing an extensive map of the City of London in 1747. He had immigrated to England from France with his parents in 1709 and his other works included a map of Dublin, Ireland, and a map of all the counties of England and Wales.
This close up of the map shows what would probably be called central London, and part of the Thames River can be seen at the bottom of the picture. Bridewell can be seen to the left, next to the Fleet Ditch, and in the top of the picture is Fleet Prison. This part of the map covers part of the parishes of St Bride, Fleet Street, and St Andrew, Holborn, and these two churches can also be seen in this picture.
Bridewell, which used to be a residence of King Henry VIII, was both a prison and a hospital in 1747. The role of the prison was to punish and correct, so prisoners were often whipped or put to hard labour. The prisoners were guilty of a variety of offences, ranging from petty theft to prostitution, however because this prison also housed a hospital, it was considered a much more healthy place to be than other prisons in London. The word bridewell came to describe any place of detention, police station or court for the dealing with criminals.
The Fleet Prison, towards the top of this picture, was a prison for people who were bankrupt or in debt. Here prisoners had to pay for their food and lodging, and were often forced to beg passersby for money through the grille in the wall onto Farringdon Street (not named in this picture, but situated on either side of Fleet Ditch). The more money a prisoner had to pay the keeper, the more freedom could be obtained, ranging from the removal of irons to even taking lodgings outside the prison.
The Fleet Ditch, which you can see running vertically down next to Bridewell, used to be a free-flowing river or stream before London was very populated. The City of London had continual problems with silt clogging the river and reducing its flow. It seemed to be doomed to be a natural sewer of London, and several poets have described the filth that floated down it. Pope, in his Dunciad mentions the “large tribute of dead dogs” that roll in the muddy swells down to the Thames. Swift writes about the “sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood, drown’d puppies, stinking sprats, all drench’d in mud, dead cats and turnip-tops, come tumbling down the flood”, as just some of the filth that the Fleet Ditch was filled with. Several people had even fallen in and drowned in the mud.
I was quite surprised to see that London, by this time in 1747, was larger than I expected, home to about 700,000 people.
Old maps are my cup of tea!
Sources and Relevant Links
John Roque’s Map of London – online