Thorold, Peter 1930-

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Thorold, Peter 1930-


Born 1930, in London, England; son of Guy and Mary Thorold; married; wife's name Anne (an art historian); children: four. Ethnicity: "British." Education: Attended New College, Oxford.


Home—London, England.


Lloyd's of London, London, England, insurance broker for thirty years. Military service: British Army, 7th Hussars, 1948-50; became second lieutenant.


Buck's Club.


The London Rich: The Creation of a Great City from 1666 to the Present, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

The Motoring Age: The Automobile and Britain, 1896-1939, Profile (London, England), 2003.


Peter Thorold's The London Rich: The Creation of a Great City from 1666 to the Present provides an account of where the rich of London lived and what it was once like to be wealthy in London. E.S. Turner wrote in the London Review of Books that "there was no point in being filthily rich unless one could put a distance between oneself and the poor. Even inferior tradesmen had to be kept at bay. The Great Fire of London—the point at which Peter Thorold's book begins—led to an outflow of the dingier homeless from the City westward." The wealthy who lived in palace-like homes along the river were fleeing London, where the Thames had essentially become a latrine and an evil smog enveloped the city. Expansion grew to the north and west. There were few bridges to the south, and the seamen wanted to keep it so. The book includes illustrations and maps that trace where the rich and their contractors bought up pastures, gardens, and country villages as they abandoned their mansions to be torn down or used as schools, slums, or asylums.

Turner called the Duke of Chandos "the wonder of this expanding age." Chandos made his fortune by stealing from the army and through investments in the South Sea Company. He built his palace, Canons, in Edgware and staffed it with over ninety employees. He hired Handel as his music director. The South Sea Bubble cleaned out the fortunes of Chandos and others, but tycoons from India and plantation owners from the West Indies poured money into London with the success of the Turkey Company, the East India Company, and the Royal Africa Company. The Bedfords were building Bloomsbury and their pride, Bedford Square. The walls of some of the homes of the rich were so high they resembled fortresses. With the agricultural depression, many of the great landowners were forced to abandon London and live in more modest dwellings.

Turner said The London Rich "has much useful information on the nature of leases, the complication of which often throttled the aspirations of the most powerful and headstrong. Urban demographers can trace in its pages the movements, migrations, and preferred areas of newcomers." Planters tended to move to Soho Square or Marylebone. Germans gravitated toward Denmark Hill and Jews to Islington, Hampstead, and Highgate. Turner wrote that "to Park Lane went the Randlords and flamboyants like the ill-fated Barney Barnato, giving that thoroughfare (formerly Tyburn Lane) an indelibly bad image in literature."

Nicholas Fearn noted in the Independent that with the current high sale price of a mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens, the London rich have "been priced out of their own city. But it was not always thus. It may be in the very nature of an aristocracy to be always in decline, but our lot certainly fell from a great height. They were once able to carve a nation's morality in their own image as easily as they set their dreams into its landscape. The progress of both feats is chronicled in architectural time in Peter Thorold's book."

Fearn pointed out that the king's court was once "effectively the whole city." The wealthy spent summers at their estates, and Fearn wrote: "One wonders why they bothered." At the time London was made up of villages separated by fields. As the old rich and nobility fled the city the poor moved into the cast-off buildings and stables, which Fearn noted have now become desirable properties. New money moved in, and houses built for royalty were now the homes of families of commerce. Thorold called the city of the new rich a "monster" city. During the nineteenth century, visitors found a London that reflected materialism and the extremes between its wealth and poverty.

By the 1920s the aristocracy was for the first time engaged in commercial pursuits. Fearn felt that this tendency, which has continued to present time, "must be the opposite of social climbing." Fearn wrote that the latest trend among the London rich is a "curious form of rotating class system." Fearn said people sell houses to each other and can be either the served or the servant. They "take turns to be their own working class, their own middle class and, at weddings staged in the countryside, their own royalty." Fearn said they "view their privilege as a safety net" and "could never imagine building a great city. Yet they will enjoy this book."



Independent, May 30, 1999, Nicholas Fearn, review of The London Rich: The Creation of a Great City from 1666 to the Present, p. 11.

London Review of Books, June 10, 1999, E.S. Turner, review of The London Rich.