A Suruay of London

Chrzanowski 1598sIn Elizabethan times London was the largest city in Europe and the most beautiful. With a population of nearly 300,000, no other town in the kingdom was anywhere near its size or importance. London was a bustling port with ample frontage for shipping along the Thames. Costly shops and expensive houses lined the London Bridge. The Tower of London loomed beside the river, and St. Paul’s dominated the city even without its tall spire, which was destroyed by lightning in 1561. Gated walls guarded the city proper, separating London from Whitehall, Parliament House, and Westminster Abbey. The vibrant city—growing and with much construction in progress—was made up of twenty-six wards, including Southwark on the Thames’s opposite bank with its bear garden, theaters, and other disreputable establishments. Posterity can thank John Stow for providing a lively description of Elizabethan London and its environs, full of local color and personal observations, such as his ruing of the destruction of monuments in churches.

A resident of the city for about seventy-five years when he wrote the book, Stow was the right man for the task. He had worked as a tailor by trade and was an antiquary by choice. Stow was interested in everything around him, he amassed a valuable collection of books and manuscripts (to his near financial ruin), and he gained access to documents of the City of London that greatly aided his research. As Stow wrote about another major work of his, Summary of the Chronicles, “It hath cost me many a weary mile’s travel, many a hard earned penny and pound, and many a cold winter night’s study.”

Stow begins with a discussion of the antiquity of the city, then describes its major features: the walls, the rivers and fresh-water conduits, the bridges and gates, the towers and castles, and the schools and other houses of learning. He describes the orders and customs of the citizens, sports and pastimes, notable citizens, and then portrays the city in detail, ward by ward. Stow closes with a list of ecclesiastical and temporal governors, descriptions of parish churches, hospitals, and leper houses.

The present copy is the 1598 first edition of Survey of London, which includes William Fitzstephen’s unpublished 12th-century description of London (in Latin) as an appendage. Stow enlarged and republished the book in 1603; he died in 1605. The book was further enlarged in the 17th century by playwright Arthur Munday and colleagues.

Chrzanowski 1598s *

STC 23341

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675