31 July 2018

Book Review: Everyday Life in Tudor London, by Stephen Porter


Available from Amazon UK, Amazon US 
and direct from Amberley Publishing

Although the subtitle of this book is 'Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare and Anne Boleyn', Stephen Porter evokes the colourful Tudor London experienced by all the people who lived in this ever-changing capital city.

Tudor Londoners had to contend with what Porter describes as the 'swinging pendulum' of religious reform, risking their lives if they worshipped in the 'wrong' way. At the same time, they had to contend with the dreaded 'sweating sickness' and plagues that could kill a fifth of the population, taking young and old, rich and poor.

Criminals lurked at every street corner and Thomas Moore noted that the causes of crime included, 'bawds, queans, whores, harlots, strumpets, brothel-houses, stews, wine-taverns, ale-houses and tippling houses...' (I had to look up 'queans' and found it refers to impudent or badly behaved girls or women.)

On the plus side, the shops of prosperous foreign merchants created employment and theatres and gambling made London life more fun. The wealthy began to make provision for the poorest and infirm Londoners, and hospitals became more common than prisons.

The new wealth and the opportunities created familiar problems of sustainable growth and overcrowding, and the primitive sewage systems couldn't cope. The narrow streets stank of human and animal waste and the gutters carried disease, yet were still vibrant on market days, when you could buy anything from a bolt of silk to a live chicken.

Tudor London was a dangerous, noisy, dirty but ultimately successful capital, a place I would love to visit but not to live.

I am happy to recommend Stephen Porter's book to anyone with an interest in the Tudor period or in how the city of London developed into the capital it is today.  

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Stephen Porter is an acknowledged expert on London's history. After holding research posts in history at Oxford University and King’s College, London, he worked for seventeen years with the Survey of London, a project begun in the late nineteenth century devoted to the history of London’s built environment. After his retirement he served as Honorary Archivist of Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse. He has written widely on London’s history: his books include The Great Fire of LondonThe Great Plague of LondonLondon’s Plague YearsShakespeare’s LondonPepys’s LondonThe Tower of London and London: A History in Paintings and Illustrations. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society and now lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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