William Hogarth, ‘Gin Lane’ 1751
William Hogarth
Gin Lane 1751

London’s unique mixture of districts, communities and activities generated an exceptionally vibrant and diverse urban culture – one that Hogarth depicted and drew upon constantly in his art.

Born in Bartholomew Close, just off Smithfield meat market in the City of London, Hogarth was a true Londoner. The city was continually growing and, by the time of Hogarth’s death in 1764, it was the largest in Europe, with a population of three-quarters of a million. The City of London in the east maintained its strongly mercantile and financial character, while also becoming increasingly associated with the poverty and crime that characterised a number of its worst districts.

On the other side of the capital London’s ‘West End’ – a part of the old City of Westminster – was gaining a fashionable and genteel status as a residential quarter for the aristocracy and the super-rich. The central area of London, meanwhile, became busy with the enterprises that serviced the cultural needs of the West End elite as well as an increasingly influential community of professionals and affluent tradesmen.

Areas such as Covent Garden, St Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross and the Strand, were full of printshops, clothes shops, jewellers, theatres, bookshops, artist’s showrooms, auction houses, coffee houses and music rooms. Even within these commercially dynamic locations, however, there were pockets of great deprivation and squalor, including the slums of St Giles pictured in Hogarth’s celebrated Gin Lane.