Introduction to Fores’s New Guide for Foreigners

Samuel William Fores was one of London’s leading stationers and print sellers.  He opened his shop at ‘the City Arms, No. 3 Piccadilly near the Hay Market’ in 1783 and conducted his business from premises on Piccadilly until his death in 1838, moving to number 50 in 1795.1  His shop was opposite the Paris Diligence Office, and it may have been this which gave him the idea of publishing a dual-language guide to London in English and French.  The precise dates for editions of Fores’s New Guide for Foreigners are difficult exactly to determine – none are given on the title page – but internal evidence makes 1789, the year of the outbreak of the French Revolution, a likely date for the early versions.


Paris Diligence cropped

Image courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.


The full title of Fores’s publication gives a good idea of its scope: Fores’s New Guide for Foreigners, Containing the most complete and accurate description of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER, and their Environs, That has yet been offered to the Public. INCLUDING An Account of all the Palaces, Seats, Villas, Parks, Gardens, Collections of Pictures, Towns, and Villages, within a Distance of Twenty-five Miles round the Metropolis. To which is added The Rates of Hackney Coaches in a series of Tables, the Fares of Watermen, and a variety of other useful Information. IN FRENCH AND ENGLISH.  The guide, a relatively cheap publication, was sold ‘with or without a map of London’; the map, which Fores claimed to be ‘[t]he only Pocket Map ever published with the Names of the Streets’, cost two shillings ‘separate done up for the Pocket’.2

The guide’s preface claimed that its competitors ‘have had their respective merits and deficiencies’ but states that ‘[t]his volume is, we hope, arranged in such a manner, as to contain all the former and to avoid all the latter.  We have briefly stated such things as are not objects of general curiosity, and reserved particular description for those matters which are of more universal interest.’3  A closer examination of the guide reveals that despite its compiler’s ‘exertions of anxious diligence’, a number of defects have crept in, including typographical errors, the use of unhelpful lists to bulk up the word count, plagiarisms from earlier sources and an irritating tendency to overuse the word ‘magnificent’.4  However, while it has numerous flaws, the guide is very helpful for swiftly getting a sense of the major landmarks and entertainments in late eighteenth-century London and its environs.

Quite a large part of the guide is concerned with areas around London which lie beyond the bounds of Horwood’s Plan, but the first chapter – which describes the principal public buildings – and the lists of important sites of entertainment placed before the contents page give a good sense of the attractions and distractions available in the capital in the early 1790s.  The annotated plan on this site includes the guide’s descriptions of the major landmarks in full (indicated by the paler green icons) as well as the shorter descriptions given in the list of entertainments (darker green icons); these entries can be accessed by clicking on the icons and are given in full below the map in the same order as in the original guide.  Directions to the three locations located beyond the edges of Horwood’s Plan are marked at the edges with arrow icons.

While some of the guide entries are pedantic, obvious or brief, others give intriguing insights into the assumed interests of tourists (and also into the sorts of information made available to French expatriates fleeing Revolutionary terror).  In aggregate, its entries present an interesting picture of London’s major sights and of the ways in which the metropolis was characterised by those seeking to promote and delimit it.

Annotations are not suitable for displaying certain interesting elements of the guide; these include details about travel arrangements and communications and a series of detailed tables of Hackney coach rates.  If you’re interested in these things, a flawed scan of the guide is available on Google Books and copies survive in a number of research libraries, including the British Library and Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library (where I transcribed the text used to annotate Horwood’s Plan for this project).

The guide’s introduction contains some broader general information about London and its regulation and includes a useful abstract of the populations of different parts of the city:

To mark the residence of the different classes of inhabitants of this metropolis, we must divide the whole into four parts.  The first is the city, which is principally inhabited by wealthy merchants, tradesmen, and artisans.  The second, is the city or liberty of Westminster, and the adjacent parts, where the court, the nobility, people of distinction, with a certain mixture of tradesmen and artists reside.  The third, is the part beyond the Tower, which is principally inhabited by maritime people, and such as follow professions connected with maritime concerns.  The fourth, is the borough of Southwark, which is generally occupied by artists, tradesmen, seamen, and persons employed in the Thames navigation.5

The precise basis for these assertions is unclear, but they serve to characterise London as being occupied by four main classes: the social elite, the polite and commercial, artists, and those concerned with ships and the port.  In this description, London is the social and cultural centre of Britain, but this preeminence is underpinned by commerce and by the goods which wended their ways up the Thames to the piers below the City and around the Tower and to the developing wharves in the Docklands.  We no longer really think of London as being a maritime city, but in the late eighteenth century, the throngs of merchant ships on the river served as a potent reminder of the means by which Britain had won and extended its influence.  The guide paints an eminently respectable picture here, in keeping with its mission of showing off the city’s best aspects.  For the seamier side of the city, we must look elsewhere.

The other really interesting parts of the introduction are two lists of (unsourced, but plausible) statistics about the metropolis, a common feature in accounts of the city in this period.  The first list details what the population consumed each year; the quantity of seafood is another salient reminder of London’s status as a major port:

5,092,075 Bushels of meal
100,000 Oxen
714,000 Sheep and lambs
194,000 Calves
190,000 Hogs
52,000 Suckling pigs
106,500 Bushels of oysters
14,740,000 Mackrel
14,438 Boats of cod and other sea fish
16,541,056 Pounds of butter
21,066,000 Pounds of cheese
6,717,200 Gallons of milk
1,113,500 Barrels of strong beer
789,700 Ditto of small beer
32,500 Tons of wine
11,146,700 Gallons of rum, brandy, Geneva, &c.
594,800 Chaldron of coals

With game, poultry, &c. &c. beyond the reach of calculation.6

The introduction’s final list seems designed to overwhelm its readers, collating material previously mentioned with further statistics to produce a sweeping litany of London’s contents:

1 Cathedral
1 Abbey church
114 Parish churches
236 Chapels of different denominations
36 Different courts of justice
7 Courts of requests for the recovery of small debts
22 Hospitals for the sick, the lame, &c.
10 Dispensaries for the administration of medicine to the poor
93 Alms-houses
1 Asylum for orphan girls
1 Magdalen house for repentant prostitutes
1 Hospital for invalid sailors
1 Ditto for invalid soldiers
40 Free schools
131 Parochial charity schools
350 Private schools for the education of youth in the languages, sciences, &c.
8 Public libraries
16 Charitable institutions, &c.
5 Colleges
18 Incorporated trading companies
62 Livery companies
33 Public markets for flesh, fish, fowl, herbs, hay, &c. &c.
28 Squares
13 Inns of court
4 Theatres royal
9 Public gardens, and places of amusement
20 Principal tea gardens
480 Taverns
307 Inns
561 Coffee-houses
5989 Ale-houses
17 Prisons
1 General post, and upwards of 300 receiving houses
5 Principal offices for the penny post, and 348 receiving houses
1000 Hackney coaches
400 Sedan chairs
10,000 Boats and upwards
7,000 Streets, alleys, passages and courts
3 Stone bridges
150 Parishes, and 3 extra parishes
129,559 Houses
1,200,000 Inhabitants7

The figure of 1,200,000 inhabitants is earlier glossed as an estimate of the number of people in London during the sittings of Parliament; another table in the introduction states that the capital contains 129,559 houses and takes an estimate of eight people per house to give a population of 1,036,456 at the quieter times of year.  However, both these figures and most of the others included in the two lists serve to emphasise that when Horwood was producing his plan, London was a completely different prospect in terms of scale than any other urbanised area in Britain.  To provide some context: in the late 1780s the population of Manchester was around 40,000; in 1791 the population of Edinburgh and Leith was 81,865; and in 1800, the population of Birmingham was around 74,000.  London, twelve times bigger than any of these settlements, was also qualitatively different due to its scale and centrality, encompassing cultural and social amenities, systems and complexities which had not yet developed, or which were deemed unnecessary, in less extensive urban environments.  At the end of the eighteenth century, London, while far smaller than the city of today, was already of a size difficult fully to comprehend or encompass.  While Fores’s Guide has many flaws, it does succeed in limiting London to something describable in a small span of pages.  Some of its descriptions may seem banal to modern readers, but equally material which may have seemed banal in the 1790s can serve to provide crucial indicators of the extent to which London has changed and remained the same.


High Wind cropped

A print published by S.W. Fores, showing his Piccadilly shop front in the background (despite the subtitle of this scene locating it near St Paul’s…).  Image courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.



  1. Simon Turner, ‘Fores, Samuel William (bap. 1761, d. 1838)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008), <>.
  2. Fores’s New Guide for Foreigners (London: S.W. Fores, [1789?]), title page.
  3. Fores’s Guide, ‘Preface’, p. ii.
  4. Fores’s Guide, ‘Preface’, p. iii.
  5. Fores’s Guide, ‘Introduction’, p. iv.
  6. Fores’s Guide, ‘Introduction’, p. vi.
  7. Fores’s Guide, ‘Introduction’, pp. vi-vii.