Over the course of two centuries, London changed from the capital of England, secure within its medieval walls, to a metropolitan seat of empire. Its population grew tenfold. Some urban developments were spurred by the dissolution of the monasteries, a royal decree that was both politically and religiously motivated. Also reshaping the city were natural tragedies, like repeated bouts of the plague or the Great Fire of 1666 that destroyed more than 13,000 homes, 86 churches, and over 400 acres in the heart of the city. Such events had a significant impact on the built environment, opening up spaces for repurposing.

Open City explores activities and pressures that altered Londoners’ sense of community, focusing especially on three types of institutions that touched everyday lives: church, theater, and market. Drawing on materials as disparate as deeds, diaries, engravings, and maps, Open City illustrates the impact of new ideas, new products, and new people in this rapidly growing capital city.