Metropolitan History and British History in the Long 18th Century
16 March 2011
Jerry White (Birkbeck)
City Rivalries and the making of modern London, 1720-1770

In March 2011 the IHR attempted its first two live streamed seminars.  The idea for the live stream is to show a selection of events each year live over the web with the additional facility for the online audience to ask questions through a ‘chat’ feed.  We plan to constantly improve upon this service.  Indeed since the initial ‘programme’ we have switched services from ustream to livestream for better sound and vision (and to minimise the adverts).  We have also added twitter feeds and a ‘widget’ from Slideshare that allows us to show the slide show independently of the video.  With the launch of History SPOT new ‘pop-out’ widgets are available so that you can choose which items to show and move items around your screen. 

With the second 2012 live stream event later today (and one where the speaker will be streaming live from the US rather than with us in the room) I thought it was time to revisit our very first attempt almost one year ago.

I will admit that I was pretty nervous about that first session.  I had visions that the internet connection would fail or the third party app would be down for maintenance or some such catastrophe.  I was also concerned that we would have an online audience of one – the one being the head of IHR Digital, Jane Winters who kindly agreed to act as our representative on the other side so that we could be certain that the technology was working properly.  In the end though, everything worked well.  We were delayed by about 5 minutes not due to any technical difficulties but because of the appearance of an unexpected guest – a tiny mouse!  Re-reading my History SPOT blog entry written soon after the first seminar I am pleased to say that most of the technical problems that were noted have since been solved.  By switching to livestream the volume of the microphone is much better at picking up questions from the audience.  We have also attempted several alternative chat facilities and have currently settled for livestream’s own chat which seems to work much smoother.  But what about the seminar itself?  What was that about? 

Well, on that occasion it was a joint session of the Metropolitan History seminar and British history in the Long 18th Century.  The speaker was Professor Jerry White (Birkbeck) who – despite the presence of an uninvited guest who decided to inconveniently run under his feet half way through the talk – talked about the making of London as a place of rivalries, in this case the rivalries between the City of London and the City of Westminster in the eighteenth-century.  The rivalry was bitter and intense with the citizens of London often concerned that its most wealthy citizens were moving to the higher status Westminster.  White moved between representations of this rivalry in theatres to politics, finance and city planning to show that the rivalry acted as an impetus for continual improvements to life in the Metropolis as one city attempted to outdo the other.  Of particular interest in White’s paper is the focus on bridge building.  In December 1721 a petition was made by Westminster for a new bridge over the Themes (eventually built as Westminster Bridge over a decade later).  The citizens of London held up the bridges construction because they were concerned that it would take away their wealth as more of their population abandoned London for Westminster.  Soon, however, London fought back with a petition of their own for an enlargement of London Bridge and another new bridge at Blackfriars.  Planned was a new housing project, street improvements and other enticements to bring back wealthy financiers from Westminster to London.  However, the Blackfriars Bridge took over eight years to build and cost much more than originally planned (it was eventually constructed in the 1760s).   In short Jerry White discussed a fractured metropolis filled with intense and bitter rivalries but also one that (whether on purpose or not) helped Britain’s capital city to grow and improve into the national and international centre that it has since become. 

To watch this video/podcast click here.