Period 2: London in the Enlightenment (1660–1780)
This Introduction, dealing inevitably with the Restoration, the Great Plague and the Great Fire (and the subsequent rebuilding of the City), considers this period as the beginning of the transformation of London into the great commercial, financial and imperial capital it became in the nineteenth century, with the development of great public buildings like new St Paul’s Cathedral and the rebuilt Royal Exchange, the establishment of broad thoroughfares, public parks and fashionable districts such as Mayfair, and the foundation of the Royal Society and (later) the British Museum. It was the new Royal Exchange and the unprecedented founding of the Bank of England that marked the emergence of London as the hub of global capitalism that it still is, generating a flood of money into the economy that seemed to some contemporaries to be a channel of moral corruption, as exemplified by the South Sea Bubble, an early manifestation of what has recently been termed “irrational exuberance” in the stock market. It is no coincidence that this period saw a rapid growth in legislative concern with crimes of property, and the introduction ends with a consideration of crime and punishment in Georgian London, and its somewhat ambivalent treatment in the literature of the time.
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