London: from rural patchwork to urban sprawl

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  • west ham.jpg

    West Ham, 1750

    J Chatelain’s ink and wash drawing of West Ham church with citizens taking the air, c1750. 38.5 x 59.5cm.
    Alex Werner: ‘West Ham started to change with the docks and the railways. Before then it was wealthy with large houses often owned by merchants and bankers and while this area wouldn’t have been as fashionable as somewhere like Richmond, there would have been no stigma attached to living in the East End – it had no connection to the docks at this stage. The reason West Ham changed whereas somewhere like Dulwich didn’t, is to do with industry, which tended to be situated to the east near the river and railway lines. Places like East and West Ham experienced massive growth later than Islington, at around the turn of the century – 1880 and 1890. So this image was very much the genteel eighteenth-century view of the rural idyll on the fringe of London – where the wealthy would live in some comfort. What’s unusual about this is that we have a concept of what West Ham looks like but back then it was no different from any other area like Dulwich, Islington or Ealing. However, the houses around the church suggest the onset of development, as they appear to be newly built. ’

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