July 27, 2010
By Jessica Pritchard
London Lives, a new online project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and developed by the universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire, focuses on the perspectives of common Londoners in the 18th-century, shedding light on a turbulent era in England (We briefly noted London Lives earlier this month). This project offers access to hundreds of thousands of primary sources pulled from eight London archives, publicly surfacing over three million names of 18th-century plebeian Londoners. In doing so, the project hopes to encourage everyone from academic researchers to the general public to engage in a more personal form of research, especially since the participating archives make reference to many of the same Londoners across various sources.
You can browse through the primary sources based on document type: parish archives, from pauper examinations to a register of poor infancies; criminal records, from apprenticeship records to orders of the court; coroners’ records; and hospital and guild records. In each of these sources, you can see the original document, magnify the handwritten text, and refer to a typed translated version of the original text. You may also want to check out the site’s additional datasets, many of which “consist of parish and taxation records,” as well as “wills, apprenticed boys, fire insurance policies, clerk’s salaries, an urban directory, and the Old Bailey associated records.”
Because the project hopes to show what daily life was like for 18th-century plebeian Londoners, the site also features already compiled biographies: “London Lives contains enough documentary material to reconstruct the lives, or significant portions of the lives, of hundreds of thousands of Londoners who lived in the 18th century, including both plebeians and the officers who manned the institutions of government and social welfare.” You can search these biographies by individual names or by keyword, the latter of which includes some that are more colorful: Bigamy, Cope’s Madhouse, Pleading the Belly, Infanticide, and Reformation of Manners. Each bibliography also features a table of contents to give an initial overview of themes, as well as links to specific primary sources that help tell each story.
Also featured are links to historical background sites that “provide comprehensive introductions to the subjects, institutions, and documents included in London Lives,” including local government, criminal justice, the poor law and charity, and guilds and hospitals.
Furthermore, you may want to reference one of the site’s many research guides, from How to Interpret an Eighteenth-Century Manuscript, to Researching Apprentices, Researching Illness, and Researching Poverty. The site also suggests, “For more general introductions to London life in the 18th century, you may find the background pages of the Old Bailey Online helpful, particularly London and its Hinterlands and Community Histories.” Finally, the site offers a bibliography with all of the sources referenced on the site, which also serves as a solid starting point for anyone interested in conducting further research in 18th-century London.