The cities of London and Edinburgh saw immense change in the 18th century. The cities were changing from old to modern and picking up a lot of the same concepts we use today. Trade became huge in this time, shaping what is known today as the middle class. Before this, the social class was clearly defined as the “poor” and the “wealthy”. There was no in-between but with the rise in trade, merchants began to fill that gap becoming what we know as the middle class. One can see this happening through Defoe’s writing, “On Trade”. Defoe is an English writer from the 18th century. Defoe talks about how tradesman should be considered on the same level as noblemen. Defoe states, “Nay, many of our trading gentlemen at this time refuse to be ennobled, scorn being knighted, and content themselves with being known to be rated among the richest commoners in the nation”. He is saying how tradesmen are filling this gap and are rated among the “richest” of the common people, otherwise known as the lower class. Tradesmen were not the only people to start filling this gap between the rich and the poor. People of certain traits, such as doctors, architects, or etc.
An example of this rise of the middle class can be seen through Soane’s House, which we visited while in London. Sir John
Soane was an architect in the 18th century and designed many things, one in which was the Bank of London. Soane was a collector in sorts, and his house was full of different items from around the world and different centuries. His house ranged from paintings, sculptures from Greece, a Egyptian tomb and even a framed letter from the Royal Observatory to Soane for his achievements. You can see Soane’s wealth through his collection of ancient artifacts. Soane’s house acted as a modern day museum would. He would open up his house to young men looking to embark of the Grand Tour. Through Soane’s various collections, these young men would be able to get an idea of what they would be seeing on their Grand Tour.
I would recommend visiting this museum next time you find yourself in London. What I loved about this museum is how it is left exactly as Soane had left it when he passed. Before he passed he stated how he wanted the house to be left as it was when he passed. Walking though the museum there is like traveling through different eras in history. The museum is free, except to those who want a private tour. The basement, the main floor and the second floor is free to the public.
Edinburgh also shows a rise of the middle class. Edinburgh use to be smaller in size; this was called old town. In the 1800’s Edinburgh decided to rebuild itself, calling this new part new town. When we were in Edinburgh we visited this place called Gladstone’s Land. Gladstone’s Land was refurbished to what it would have looked like back in the 18th century. On the second floor they designed it to look like a richer middle class persons home. Compared to the size of Soane’s house, this house was much smaller, and cramped in size. The houses design is fit for the little bit of room people had in old town. Gladstone’s Land was the one of the last middle class homes in old town until they built new town. When new town was built many of the wealthier middle class moved to new town leaving old town to turn into what one would call a slum. This house is a great example of the middle class rose above and created a name for themselves other than poor.
The difference between the middle class in London and the middle class in Edinburgh, is the middle class in Edinburgh is in close courters with the lower class. In the reading “Humphrey Clinker” Bramble talks about his encounters when in Edinburgh. He says, “All the people of business at Edinburgh, and even the genteel company, may be seen standing in crowds every day, from one to two in the afternoon, in the open street, at a place where formerly stood a market-cross […]”. Bramble noticed how the old town in Edinburgh was cramped in space and how the middle class was intermingling with the lower class. In London each class has their own courters while in Edinburgh the poor are living on top of middle class. Bramble also notice how the city of Edinburgh isn’t as sanitary as London as they threw their waste out the window.
The main difference I noticed in both houses, Soane’s house and Gladstone’s Land, is the ceilings. I feel like back then people projected their wealth not only by what they owned but by the grandness of their ceilings. The ceilings in London were, to me, much grander. They were painted and carved with such intricate detail. You could tell the importance of the owner of the house you were in by how many and to what degree of intricacy the ceilings were painted. In Kensington Palace each ceiling looked to be done with such detail and it was truly amazing. The ceilings in Edinburgh were either white or just painted. The ceilings in Edinburgh resembled those found in France.
Putting my experience into words is hard to do. It was such an amazing experience that not only taught us about 18th century English and Scottish literature, but also how to travel and deal with travel mishaps. Our trip started off rough but once we stepped of the plane all our worries went to waste. If anyone has ever though of doing a study abroad I would highly recommend it. I say just sign your name to the list and be prepared to have one unforgettable experience.