Extracts from Daniel Defoe’s Account of London

Selected by Pat Rogers
Introduction and Contents

The Monstrous City

To enter here, into a particular description of the City of London, its antiquities, monuments, &c. would be only to make an abridgment of Stow and his continuators, and would make a volume by itself; but while I write in manner of a letter, and in the person of an itinerant, and give a cursory view of its present state, and to the reader, who is supposed to be upon the spot, or near it, and who has the benefit of all the writers, who have already entered upon the description; it will, I believe, be allowed to be agreeable and sufficient to touch at those things principally, which no other authors have yet mentioned, concerning this great and monstrous thing, called London.

N.B. By this may be plainly understood, that I mean not the city only, for then I must discourse of it in several parts, and under several denominations and descriptions, as,

Of the city and liberties of London.
Of the city and liberties of Westminster.
Of the Tower and its hamlets.
Of the suburbs or buildings annex’d to these, and called Middlesex.
Of the borough of Southwark.
Of the Bishop of Winchester’s reserv’d privileged part in Southwark, called the Park and Marshalsea.
Of Lambeth.
Of Deptford, and the king’s and merchants yards for building.
Of the Bridge-house and its reserv’d limits, belonging to the city.
Of the buildings on Southwark side, not belonging to any of these.

But by London, as I shall discourse of it, I mean, all the buildings, places, hamlets, and villages contain’d in the line of circumvallation, if it be proper to call it so, by which I have computed the length of its circumference as above.

We ought, with respect to this great mass of buildings, to observe, in every proper place, what it is now, and what it was within the circumference of a few years past; and particularly, when other authors wrote, who have ventured upon the description of it.

It is, in the first place, to be observed, as a particular and remarkable crisis, singular to those who write in this age, and very much to our advantage in writing, that the great and more eminent increase of buildings, in, and about the city of London, and the vast extent of ground taken in, and now become streets and noble squares of houses, by which the mass, or body of the whole, is become so infinitely great, has been generally made in our time, not only within our memory, but even within a few years, and the description of these additions, cannot be improper to a description of the whole.