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Geography and Travel. 1026: Anon., The Curiosities of London and Westminster, Vols.1-2

Author: Anon.
Title: The curiosities of London and Westminster described in four volumes embellished with elegant copper plates. Vol.1 containing a description of the Tower of London, the Monument, London Bridge, the Custom House, the Royal Exchange, Bethlem Hospital, St. Luke's Hospital, the Magdalen House, Gresham College, Sion College and the South Sea House and Vol.2 containing a description of Guildhall, Guildhall Chapel, the Bank of England, St. Thomas's Hospital, the Mansion House, Foundling Hospital, the East India House, St. Stephen's Walbrook, St. Mary le Bow, Bridewell Hospital, Christ's Hospital and the London Stone
Cat. Number: 1026
Date: 1786 for vol.1; 1783 for vol.2
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: E. Newbery
Price: 6d per volume
Pages: 2 vols., 126 and 127pp.
Size: 10 x 6.5 cm
Note: Inscriptions by 'C. Hurt', whose name appears in various places along with the dates 1791 and 1793, and 'Richard Hurt' who added his name in 1795. There is some crude water-colouring of some cuts. For other related titles see 1027-1029

Images of all pages of this book Note: these have NOT been verified or catalogued. Use with care.

Page 003 of item 1026

The descriptions of notable buildings which these two volumes contain had long been a standard feature of geography text-books, but had usually appeared under the heading 'rarities' as each nation was described. Here, these descriptions, always the most entertaining parts of the text-books, are presented separately and at greater length. The aim, presumably, was to provide entertainment whilst retaining a semblance of pedagogical good practice.

Both volumes cover institutions in the City of London, apparently leaving Westminster to volume three (see 1028). The description of the Tower of London concentrates on its menagerie (or zoo), costing sixpence per person to visit. This is followed by an account of the treasures captured from the Spanish Armada and various other curiosities which have been collected over time at the Tower, from a staff of Henry VIII to a silk-throwing machine. All of these may be seen for four-pence, or two-pence if one is in a party of two or more. Some of the artifacts prompt stories - that Henry VIII went disguised around London checking on his constables, for instance, and that he was once arrested by one of them. Another room - three-pence each - contains various relics of Jacobite campaigns, Monmouth's rebellion, the Popish Plot, and so on. For another sixpence (or less if there was more than one visitor), one could be shown the suits of armour of the kings of England. The author uses this as a means to introduce a history lesson. One is shown the armour of Henry VI, for instance 'who, though crowned king of France at Paris, lost all that kingdom: in his reign the art of printing was introduced into England.' (1:50) For 1s 6d one may visit the crown jewels.

Each of the other institutions mentioned in the title receives similar treatment. Occasionally the author presents a personal opinion - that the Old London Bridge was unattractive and looks much better now that the buildings are down, for instance, or that the Monument is the finest of all modern columns - but the book is dominated by straight-forward description. The reader learns, for instance, precisely how much the inmates of Bedlam pay, how they are admitted, how many beds and cells there are, and so on. Historical and scriptural lessons are sometimes included, if prompted by one of the sights. The section on the Bank of England contains some quite arcane mathematics, as the Bank's loans and interest arrangements are discussed (2:48-52).

At first sight, The Curiosities of London and Westminster seems a guidebook for children, a sort of Baedeker, listing the sights of London and advising visitors on how they might be visited. The book might be characterised as an advertising brochure for these attractions, the Tower of London in particular: 'everyone who has a taste for the admirable combinations of art,' it opines, 'should gratify that darling passion with the sight of a curiosity the noblest in its kind the world affords.' (p.38) On the other hand, perhaps is primary purpose was to offer a glimpse of what was to be seen in London to children from the provinces, who were unlikely to visit London, or children who could not afford the admission prices mentioned. Moreover, the constant emphasis on admission prices was surely also designed to suggest to the reader how much he or she had saved by having purchased a book describing what was on show, rather than visiting in person.