The purpose of this website is to examine London in the Romantic period using Richard Horwood’s PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE (1792-1799) both as a source of information in itself and as a means of better understanding other contemporary texts and images through mapping out their spatial logics. The site hosts a digital version of Horwood’s Plan which can be annotated with words and images, manipulated and laid over modern digital maps. Over the course of this project, I have produced a series of annotated versions of Horwood’s Plan which use it to examine different representations and realities of life in the metropolis.
The site exists for a number of purposes. It serves a research tool for me as I study and write about Romantic-period London (see below for a bibliography of my recent publications on this subject), but it is also a means of making archival materials that were previously very difficult to access openly available in a well-contextualised form to help others explore the fascinating histories of the city and how it has been viewed.
The original idea was to explore the ways that literary writers figured the city, looking, for example, at Lord Byron’s ‘mighty mass of brick, and smoke, and shipping,/ Dirty and dusky, but wide as the eye’ (Don Juan, Canto X, Stanza 82), William Blake’s ‘charter’d streets/Near where the charter’d Thames does flow’ (‘London’, ll. 1-2) and William Wordsworth’s city which ‘doth, like a garment, wear/ the beauty of the morning; silent, bare’ (‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’, ll. 4-5). I was interested in how poets and novelists interacted with the city in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries both in literature and in life, in mapping their works but also locating the places in London where they stayed, or visited friends, where they worked, or caroused, or laughed.
However, as I worked further on researching Romantic-period London, I became increasingly aware of the stories that get left out in the most famous literary versions of London: the profusion of industries, workhouses, prisons and commercial spaces that Horwood’s Plan reveals, but which are often passed over in literary authors’ representations of the city. While literary accounts of the city are often allusive and negative, the topographical works I studied seemed far more inclined to celebrate the burgeoning metropolis, capturing its buildings and inhabitants in vivid descriptions and illustrations. I therefore expanded on my original plan to include such materials, so the site now presents Wordsworth’s Prelude alongside works like Pierce Egan’s roistering Life in London, Rudolph Ackermann’s glorious Microcosm and John Thomas Smith’s Antiquities of London. While I hope to add further curations to the site in future, including Frances Burney’s Evelina (possibly in the form of the 1822 edition illustrated by William Heath and subtitled Female Life in London) and Charles Lamb’s London essays, the site as it stands offers a wide range of contextualised perspectives on the city that can be examined individually, put into conversation with one another and used for further research and in teaching.
I teach English Literature at the University of Glasgow – my staff profile, which details my other research projects and interests, can be viewed here. I also update this site’s blog periodically with news relating to my work on London. I’d be very happy to correspond about this site and can be reached by email on firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter.
Sangster, Matthew, ‘Accumulating London’, Picturing Places, British Library (2017), <https://www.bl.uk/picturing-places/articles/accumulating-london>.
Sangster, Matthew, ‘Coherence and Inclusion in the Life-Writing of Romantic-Period London’, Life Writing, 14.2 (2017), 141-153, <https://doi.org/10.1080/14484528.2017.1291246>.
Sangster, Matthew, ‘Southey versus London: Proto-Romantic Disaffection and Dehumanisation in the British Metropolis’, Romanticism on the Net, 68-69 (2017), <https://doi.org/10.7202/1070626ar>.
Sangster, Matthew, ‘Transformation and Specialization in London and its Topography’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 22.3 (2017), 317-328, <https://doi.org/10.1080/13555502.2017.1329971>.
Sangester, Matthew, ‘John Keats and Urban Time’, Keats Letters Project, 1 November 2016, <http://keatslettersproject.com/correspondence/john-keats-and-urban-time/>.