ABSTRACT

By the end of the eighteenth century London had become a huge metropolis of over three-quarters of a million people; half as big again as Paris, it dwarfed in size and importance every other town and city in the British Isles. And it posed commensurate problems: if there was a problem of ‘public order’ in the growing towns and cities of the industrial revolution because of population growth and urbanisation, the capital shared them to the full. Most of the population growth of the capital was concentrated in the out-parishes of Middlesex and Surrey, beyond the jurisdiction of the traditional municipal administrations of the City of London and Westminster, thus the capital was faced with an acute version of the problem which harassed the manufacturing areas – the growth of virtually unregulated urban populations. As we have seen, the London mob had a tradition of intervention on a wide range of issues. The Wilkes agitation and the Gordon Riots seemed evidence of the ability of the populace to break free from traditional restraints almost at will and overwhelm, at least for a time, the normal peacekeeping forces of the capital. The events in Paris in 1789 served only to confirm the dangers of urban insurrection in a large capital city.