Wren 300, a city full of people

London was home to many lucrative professions. From trading and manufacturing through to speculation - investing in the stock market – the City was the centre of commerce, and a place that offered new opportunities for some to make their fortunes.

'The Bublers Mirrour, or England's Folley', 1720, 101206001 © The Trustees of the British Museum. Satire on the South Sea Bubble.


Different trades and manufacturing were often clustered in particular areas of the City. St Vedast’s was at the centre of the goldsmiths’ quarter. Businesses ranged along the south side of Cheapside in Goldsmiths’ Row and to the east in Gutter Lane.

Goldsmiths Henry Rouse and Isaac Davenport lived and worked in Gutter Lane, baptising their children at St Vedast’s. After Henry’s death in 1676, his widow Jane continued the business, employing several of her own apprentices. At Goldsmiths’ Hall, Isaac registered three hallmarks – unique stamps which are impressed into silver or gold to indicate its quality and the identity of the maker. The registers reveal that Isaac made both large and small items in gold and silver.


Frontispiece of 'A touch-stone for gold and silver wares. Or, a manual for goldsmiths, and all other persons, whether buyers, sellers, or wearers of any manner of goldsmiths work...' by William Badcock, 1677, The Goldsmiths’ Company Library & Archive.

Goldsmiths and banking

During the seventeenth century, some goldsmiths branched out into an early form of banking. Before the emergence of banks as we know them today, finding a secure and safe place to store your wealth was not easy. Goldsmith Bankers turned this need into a profitable business, using their own strong rooms and vaults to store clients’ money, gold and silver bullion. They would keep an account of each depositors’ holdings for which they would issue a certificate or chit (receipt). This along with the other services they offered, such as lending out depositors’ gold, silver and coins, transferring money, making bills of exchange (which later became cheques), paying interest on deposits, trading in foreign currency and bullion, became the forerunner of our modern financial systems today. For successful traders, it promised a strong possibility of wealth and upward mobility in society.

Stock market traders

Alongside selling physical objects to earn money, a new type of mercantile profession was emerging in the 1690s during England’s Financial Revolution. Stockbrokers or stockjobbers started to buy and sell shares in businesses on behalf of others for a fee. They hoped that when companies did well, they would make a profit from the difference between buying and selling the shares.

'The villainy of stock-jobbers detected, and the causes of the late run upon the bank and bankers discovered and considered' pamphlet by Daniel Defoe, 1701.

Stock-jobbing became a lucrative profession. However, jobbers drew scathing criticism for their financial schemes and had many vocal detractors, including famous journalist and novelist Daniel Defoe who accused them of ‘Bare fac’d villany’. They were accused of manipulating the stock market, profiteering, conspiracy, fraud and even immorality.

There were many attempts to ban the ‘pernicious Art of Stock-jobbing’ as described by the Commissioners of Trade. However, eventually the profession was regulated and institutionalised. Trading on the stock market and ‘jobbers’ were here to stay.


Risky ventures

James Puckle, © The Trustees of the British Museum

The new stock market led to many speculative schemes, such as one devised by James Puckle. Although he trained as a lawyer, James invented a new type of breech-loading gun. In 1718, he floated a joint stock company to market it but it was not successful. Shares doubled their initial value before investors realised the gun was unlikely to make a profit. The example of ‘Puckle’s machine’ was used to warn of the folly of investing in such schemes, seen as ‘bubbles’ which were likely to burst.


Only two years later, the South Sea Bubble led to the biggest stock market crash in London, ruining not just shareholders in the South Sea Company, which was formed to traffic 4800 enslaved people each year for 30 years to the Spanish plantations in Central and Southern America, but also affecting the wider financial market in London.

Learn more about the South Sea Bubble.


'The Bubblers bubbl'd, or the Devil take the hindmost', 1720; showing the interior of the Stock Exchange, with many figures showing pleasure or dismay and holding leaflets which describe their profit or loss. In the centre a stand bearing a scroll inscribed with a list of bubbles including the South Sea Bubble. © The Trustees of the British Museum


Local churches were the focal point of sixteenth-century City life. Weekly worship and all the milestones of parishioners’ lives took place here: christenings, marriages and funerals. Many churches were lost in the Great Fire.

Read the stories of four that either survived or succumbed to the flames, and how they reemerged from the ruins.

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