A HISTORY OF 16th CENTURY LONDON
By Tim Lambert
London grew enormously in the 16th century. At the end of the 15th century it may have had a population of 60,000 or 70,000 but by 1600 London had a population of perhaps 250,000. In the Middle Ages, the church owned about 1/4 of the land in London. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries it released a great deal of land for new buildings.
Along the walls of Tudor London were several gates, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Moorgate, Cripplegate, Aldersgate, Newgate and Ludgate. Two of the gates were used as prisons, Ludgate and Newgate. Furthermore, the body parts of traitors who had been hung drawn and quartered were displayed over the gates as a warning.
Over the River Thames was London Bridge, which had buildings along its length. (Many of them had shops on the ground floor). South of the Thames was the large suburb of Southwark. The River Thames was a major transport 'artery' as Tudor London was the largest port in England. Sailing ships sailed to quays just before London Bridge and there were also smaller boats owned by watermen for transporting people along the Thames. Monarchs and other rich people had their own barges. There were also many fishermen in Tudor London and The Thames teemed with fish like salmon, trout, perch, flounder and beam. However, The Thames sometimes froze over and fairs were held on it.
In Tudor London there were a few public lavatories on or over water and there must have been a lot of sewage in The Thames. People also threw rubbish in The Thames but fortunately, it was organic material like offal.
The streets of Tudor London were narrow and only the main ones were paved. They must have been very dirty. Rich people rode horses and other horses pulled carts so there must have been plenty of dung. There was also other rubbish but since it was organic it was eaten by pigs and wild birds.
At night the streets of Tudor London were dark and dangerous. At 9 pm in summer and at dusk in winter church bells rang the curfew and the city gates were locked.
The Tower of London
Most of the houses in early Tudor London had wooden frames filled in with wattle (wooden lathes woven together) and daub (a form of plaster). Later in the 16th century stone or brick houses became common. Rich people were fond of their gardens, which were often quite large.
In their leisure time Londoners liked to watch bull or bear baiting. (A bull or a bear was chained to a post and dogs were trained to attack it). They also went to the theater. However many London councillors were Puritans who disapproved of theaters so they were built outside the city limits.
In Tudor London plague was a constant hazard. There were severe outbreaks in 1563, 1593, 1597 and 1603, which killed many people. Smallpox and tuberculosis were also common.
London in the Middle Ages
17th Century London