The history of London, from its foundation by the Romans, to the present time. Containing a faithful relation of the publick transactions of the citizens; accounts of the several parishes; parallels between London and other great cities; its governments, civil, ecclesiastical and military; commerce, state of learning, charitable foundations, &c. With the several accounts of Westminster, Middlesex, Southwark, and other parts within the Bill of Mortality. In nine books. The whole illustrated with a variety of fine cuts. With a compleat index.
This is a stately folio volume covering the history of London “from its foundation by the Romans, to the present time” illustrated with twenty five splendid plates. To this volume Peter Collinson (1694-1768), botanist and London purchasing agent for the Library Company, added manuscript notes and engravings from other sources over a period of time ranging (judging from those notes that are dated) from the mid-1750s almost up to his death. The most extensive annotations are on blank leaves inserted at the front of the book. At the head of one of these leaves he wrote: “Peter Collinson, F.R.S., S.A.S., [etc.] observes more remarkable publick edifices, buildings & inlargements has happened in his memory from the year 1702 (I was then eight years old) to the year 1759 then in any era of that number of years before.” At the head of another leaf he wrote, “Stow the indefatigable antiquary [whose 1598 Survey of London is the precursor to Maitland’s History] remarks how much the ground has been raised in Leaden Hall Street. I have taken notice of the same in laying the foundation of St. Katharine Coleman [when it was rebuilt in 1741] in Fenchurch Street was 17 feet before they came to the virgin soil.” These were the two most common themes of Collinson’s notes: the inconceivable antiquity of London and its transformation in his lifetime.
Other notes are more personal, such as his account of the horrifying experiences of his grandmother Hall during the great plague of 1665 and the great fire of 1666. This is supplemented by his insertion of a large folding plate from the mid-18th century showing a plan of London in Queen Elizabeth’s day contrasted with a view of the ruins of the city after the fire of 1666.