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Churchmans issued a set 'The Story of London' in 1934 as a 50 card series. Simplicity itself it details some of the major events to have beset London up to that date. The final card of this set states the date 1934. However I have seen a date of 1930 given for this card. Indeed 1930 was attributed to the set by one authority who also listed it as one of his best sets. Presumably the 50th card was not one of those cards he liked.

London was once the largest city in the world, the centre of the largest Empire of the world. Now, well now it isn't. No matter it is now a centre for international 'cool' a 'happening' city just like it was in the 1960's. And just like the 1960's if you think of London like that you haven't been there

The Great Fire destroyed some 13,000 properties and left 100,000 people homeless.

I might be a little rough on my Capital city. Just a little. To stick with those oh-so interesting population statistics, the City of London has a residential population of 4,037 (that really is four thousand and thirty-seven.) As opposed to 129,000 in 1851. Now to why you are here, the cigarette cards.

The first few cards deal with the Roman occupation of Britain and the development of London during this period. At the time of course there was no real concept of London being a Capital. Colchester was the more likely Capital of Britain during this period.

By card 11 we have got to the Norman invasion and things begin to happen for London. This focuses on the building of the Tower of London which was completed by William the Conqueror in 1078. A historian writing about 100 years later explains the mortar was tempered by beasts blood. Built to overawe the population of London who rather felt they were beyond the rule of the Normans. The Keep was still outside the administrative centre of the City when the cards were produced. Whatever that means.

In 1900 London had the largest population of all cities, 6.4 million. It now stands at 6.9 having reached a peak of 8.615 in 1939.
In 1997 Tokyo has the largest population, 11.61 million..

Card 13 describes 'The Marching Watch.' which was a pageant of some style. Occurring on the night of St Johns Day, it was about like an army marching about with morris-dancers and the Mayor muddled amongst it. Henry VIII found this all to costly and stopped the practice.

Card 15 shows London Bridge on St George's Day 1390. On this day it was witness to a Joust. For some reason the bridge was chosen to settle an argument which had erupted at a banquet in Scotland. I presume a large quantity of beer had been consumed and an argument broke out as to which nation was the bravest, England or Scotland. Obviously this was not going to be an argument settled by arm-wrestling so a joust was proposed. Richard II was present to see the first mighty crash of knight and stead. Lances broken but riders unseated the knights rounded on one another again. I am unhappy to report the Brit ate the dirt first and the Scot was victorious. The card shows the Scottish knight blasting the Brit of his horse with the royal family watching.

Card 16 shows Dick Whittington and Henry V, 1421. Dick became Mayor of London and many a legend grew up about the man. The card recounts a time when Richard was entertaining Henry V when he reached into a coffer and pulled out royal bonds to the value of £60,000 a threw them into the fire thereby annulling the royal debt. The King was naturally pleased. The card does not specify if the King owed the money to Richard personally or to London generally.

Card 19 marks the first book to be printed in England. Caxton was the printer when in 1477 he printed, 'The Dictes and Sayings of Philosophers.' The date November 18th.

Card 22, opening of the first Royal Exchange, 1571. A real piece of flag waving if you like. It charts the manner by which London arrested the position of financial capital from Antwerp. Sir Thomas Gresham (you know the chap, 'Bad money drives out good.' If my failing memory serves me. Might be fashionable again with the introduction of the Euro.) established this building which survived till the Great Fire of London. When the set was produced a recession was raging around the planet so quite why the card was so upbeat I cannot imagine.

Churchmans, The Story of London (this is Temple Bar)

The very next card also brings back an interesting piece of history. Nonesuch House 1577. This was the most prominent building on Old London Bridge. At school I was surprised and intrigued to discover buildings were placed on the bridges. I even got to create a drawing of it. The card shows this building which remained there until all buildings were removed in 1757. It also mentions the fact the bridge caused such a tidal flow about it that people often got off their boats to avoid accidents and then get back on the boats after the bridge had been navigated.

This had the happy (?) coincidence the restricted flow meant the Thames could freeze over, and it did regularly. In 1608 an impromptu fair broke out on the frozen ice. In 1684 the Thames froze again but this time the fair was organised like a small village. A printing press was dragged out onto the ice and bear-baiting as well as horse and coach racing was conducted on the frozen waters.

Card 25 & Card 26 deals with the two events everyone knows befell London. The Great Plague of 1665. This was the last of the Great Plagues to smash through the Capital. Card 26 shows the Great Fire of London 1666. Beginning as it did in Pudding Lane at a Bakers on 2 Sept 1666 (the card notes it as a Sunday).

Strong winds fanned the flames and the fire tore through the closely massed wooden structures which was London at that time. The winds reduced after four days and this was the beginning of the end for the fire as the citizens were able to start fighting the fire. I spent weeks on that in history lessons. My drawings of rats bursting into flames was a masterpiece (for an eight year old, or Turner prize short-list.) Card 29, rightly deals with the great Christopher Wren who was architect to much of post-fire London.

The Great Fire destroyed some 13,000 properties and left 100,000 people homeless which meant Wren had his work cut out. It seems they took the opportunity to organise London a little more. So just imagine what it was like before the fire.

Card 30 has Defoe at the Pillory (Defoe is one of those characters who managed to squeeze at least four lifetimes into one and is well worth reading all about.) Anyway in 1703 Defoe was speaking out loud against for tolerance in religious matters. Such was his demands the authorities fined him, gave him a prison sentence and stuck him in the pillory for good measure. When in the Pillory the card explains that a guard made up from the populace ensured Defoe was not damaged in any manner. It is the sort of thing which could only happen to the likes of Richard Branson nowadays. A modern day Defoe.

We have seen bull-baiting, albeit with the added attraction of it being on ice, now card 36 deals with another barbaric sport, cock-fighting. Standing near Birdcage Walk it remained until 1816. Cock fighting was banned in 1849.

Twenty years before the abolition of cock-fighting by law card 39 shows, Shillbeers, First Omnibus (1829) The first run was July 4th 1829 (a Saturday apparently). The idea of the omnibus had been imported to the UK via France who had been enjoying such things since 1819.

Remaining with transport it was not many years (1831) when the first motorized buses were introduced to London. Walter Hancock introduced the idea running a steam driven bus along the Paddington New Road. April 22 1833 brought competition in the form of a steam-carriage called, 'Enterprise.' Now where have we heard that name before. This time Churchmans have let us down and failed to supply the day. Oh well.

Unlike its namesake the missions were not quite in the same league. In fact 1865 saw a remarkable bit of legislation where a man with a red-flag had to walk in front of any mechanically propelled vehicle. Nobody can level a charge of Brits being less than eager to embrace new technology after that display.

Churchmans, The Story of London (King Alfred is building the walls)

Card 43 details a second burning of the Royal Exchange. The original one (card 2) burnt in the Great Fire along with just about everything else. The second time was 1838. The card notes that on both occasions the statue of its founder, Sir Thomas Gresham survived (remember Gresham's Law.) The fire started Jan 10 1838 and the fire-fighting facilities were inadequate for putting out the conflagration.

Card 45 has one of those wonderful moments in it. 1861 saw the first Trams brought to London. Apparently Tram is an ancient word for 'beam of wood'. The Tram was a US import having first been used in New York in 1832. An American by the name of G.F Train (couldn't be better eh?) built trams on the Bayswater Road. The scheme met with opposition, which must come as a surprise to all you reading this. However an Act of Parliament meant Local Authorities could construct Tramways. In 1896 they passed an act which allowed the same authorities to operate them. What a way to run a country.

So there we go we borrowed our public transport system from France and America and they are still doing it better than us today. Going through the Channel Tunnel is about like going through a 'worm hole' to a different universe rather than travelling across a rather small stretch of sea.

Card 50 shows a very fledgling London Airport. This card beyond all others tells you just how far we have come in such a short space of time.

Some things that could have been mentioned, but were not:

July 1212, London Bridge caught alight at both ends simultaneously (?) and killed an estimated 3000 people.

6 April 1580 was the date the worst earthquake hit the Capital when 2 people were killed.

Riots tore through the Capital from 2 to 13 Jun 1780 called the Gordon-riots it was all to do with religion (isn't it always?) and at least 560 people were killed.