The Corporation of London, Its Rights and Privileges

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The Corporation of London: its rights and privileges.

by William Ferneley Allen,

sheriff of London and Middlesex, and alderman of the ward of Cheap.


Some apology is necessary on the part of one whose acquaintance with civic affairs is of such recent date, for presuming to stand forth as the champion of the fights and privileges of the City of London. No man of common spirit, however, could tamely submit to the insulting charges and coarse insinuations with which the Corporation has long been assailed by malevolent or ignorant individuals. That the civic system is free from spot or blemish, no one in his senses would pretend to assert. But it may honestly and truly be asserted that the Court of Aldermen have both the power and the inclination to amend whatever is defective, and to introduce whatever reforms are desirable, without the irritating and officious interference of the imperial legislature. The system may not be perfect, for it is of human origin; but its administrators are men of upright character, practically conversant with the requirements of trade, and animated by am earnest desire to promote the interests of their fellow-citizens. Why, then, are they not intrusted with the honourable task of gradually improving the machinery of the civic government, and of completing the good work they have long since spontaneously inaugurated? It might, perhaps, have been better had this pamphlet never taken form and substance. A feeble advocate endangers, and oftentimes loses, the best possible cause; but still, out of the fulness of the heart the mouth will speak, and pour forth sentiments and feelings that no longer brook control. This, at least, is the only excuse that can be offered for troubling the public with the opinions of a comparative novice.

7, LEADENHALL STREET, July 26th, 1858.



London under the Romans Gilds Burghs Charter of William the Conqueror Reflections Subsequent Charters City divided into Wards Civic Hospitality The Quo Warranto Case Restoration of the Charter



The Municipal Constitution The Lord Mayor The Aldermen The Court of Common Council The Citizens The Livery Companies The Sheriffs

The Law Courts Public Charities Conservancy of the Thames The Metage Dues



The Commission of Inquiry The New Wards Aldermen and Common-Councilmen City Expenditure City Receipts Removal of Restrictions




London under the Romans--Gilds--Burghs--Charter of William the Conqueror--Reflections--Subsequent Charters--City divided into Wards--Civic Hospitality--The Quo Warranto Case--Restoration of the Charter.

The first historical notice of the City of London occurs in that portion of the Annals of Tacitus which treats of the insurrection of Boadicea. At that time it was a place much frequented by merchants, attracted partly by the natural advantages of the site, and partly by the vicinity of the Roman camp at Islington. It is stated that 70,000 persons, of both sexes and of all ages, were massacred by that fierce heroine in London and at St. Albans; but it must not be supposed that the ordinary population of those two towns could have formed so large an aggregate. It is far more probable that numbers of old men, women, and children flocked thither from the neighbourhood, in the hope of escaping from the violence and rapine of the patriot army. Their expectations, however, were disappointed, as the Roman general deemed it more prudent to evacuate an untenable post, than to risk the dominion of the entire island on the event of a battle fought under adverse circumstances. At the same time the slaughter of the inhabitants justifies the inference that they were foreigners rather than natives, some being traders from Gaul, but the majority either Roman colonists or the followers and hangers-on of the stationary camp. Indeed, it may be gathered from the description of Tacitus, that these traders were chiefly commissariat contractors and brokers or money-changers. The Romans do not appear to have evinced a high order of commercial instinct, nor to have looked upon the development of trade as one of the chief objects of government. Their mission was to overrun other nations, and to prevent them from indulging in internecine warfare. To them mankind are therefore indebted for the preservation of whatever civilization was then extant, and for stopping the retrogressive course of the human race. This was particularly observable in their conquest of Greece and the kingdoms of Asia Minor, where incessant quarrels between rival cities and principalities had checked the progress of the arts, sciences, and literature. Content to conquer in battle, and, as the just reward of their superior prowess, to impose tribute and a governor, they seldom interfered with local customs and usages. Perhaps one great secret of their marvellous success was this systematic abstinence from intermeddling with the local administrations. The principle of self-government was never more fully appreciated than by this remarkable people, who, sending forth consuls, vice-consuls, and prefects, yet left to the conquered the management of their own affairs and the guardianship of their own interests. Not even in the most corrupt days of the empire was it attempted to absorb the patronage of every department and province for the benefit of a few, under the pretext of imparting greater vigour to the administration of public affairs by centralization. It was not deemed wise or necessary to constitute central boards for the direction of matters with which not a single member might, possibly, be acquainted. They did not aim at an ideal perfection, but were satisfied with doing what was practicable, and with a large average of general prosperity. To each civitas--corresponding to our phrase of "city and county"--was assigned the regulation of its own domestic policy, by means of annual magistrates, a chosen senate, and the general assembly of the free inhabitants. Through this wise policy of non-interference, the City of London rapidly acquired wealth and importance, and before the evacuation of the island by the Romans, had attained a position of considerable grandeur. The civic institutions of the Saxons were, indeed, admirably suited for the adaptation of the municipal customs bequeathed to them by their predecessors, and which became developed to their full proportions through the greater amount of individual liberty that prevailed among the Germanic races.

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