E. Belfort Bax

Old London Again

(20 August 1898)

Old London Again, Justice, 20th August 1898, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The development of human life from mediaeval conditions to those of modern capitalism is in no town better illustrated than in the successive epochs of the history of London. To the city of the Middle Ages, with its active guild-life and its monastic foundations, with its naive beliefs, its primitive customs and amusements, In which the old-world sense of common fellowship came out so strongly, when to be a citizen had a real meaning, succeeded the “London town” of the great bureaucratic era of modern history. The monastic foundations had now been abolished. All that savoured of Popery was abhorred. Religion, without being less dogmatic, had ugliness and matter-of-factness as its aims. The bulk of the old church holidays were abolished, and with them the merry-makings were cut down, and those that remained shorn of their old joyous life. The guilds had become crystallised into close corporations of wealthy citizens. Officialism reigned supreme. Bumbledom had set in. This period, roughly speaking, dates from the end of the sixteenth century to the end of the last century. The bureaucratic period was succeeded by the squalor and confusion of the great capitalism of the nineteenth century. To trace these successive Londons, in the history of a single ward or parish is at once interesting and instructive.

In a little back we have received, entitled St. Botolph’s, Aldgate: The History of a London Parish (London – Grant Richard), the author, the Rev. A.G.B. Atkinson, M.A., has dug up materials from the church of the aforesaid parish which will go far toward enabling his readers to accomplish the above. For this they should be duly grateful to him, though they might at times wish for the guiding hand of a little more systematic treatment on his part. However, of facts and documents there is no lack. The ward of Pottsoken, or the parish of St. Botolph (for the two are geographically identical), is traced back to the thirteen knights of King Edgar’s retinue who are alleged to have been the early holders of its site. For the vicissitudes it subsequently went through, the reader must be referred to the book itself. He will there read of the twelfth century monks, who spent all their substance in providing church ornaments and vestments, so that they, having no bread to eat, were provided for by the female parishioners each bringing them a loaf every Sunday; of the royal plunder at the Reformation; of the charity schools of the last century; of Jeremy Bentham, who was one of the “worthies” of the parish; and of many other things concerning this corner of the city, which if, like the editor of Justice, the reader in question loves his London, he will doubtless be interested in knowing. The present reviewer, unlike the editor of Justice, does not love his London (certainly as it is to-day), but nevertheless he has found both amusement and instruction in a perusal of the present work, and is strongly of opinion that so long as we have parsons with us – and this, some Socialists think, will be just as long as, and no longer than, we have “the poor” with us – it would be well if they all followed the example of Mr. Atkinson, in their industry in archaeological research.




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