By the beginning of the 18th century, London was a sprawling metropolis of around 600,000, extending far beyond its original walled boundaries. The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed around 60 per cent of the pre-existing, mainly wooden, housing stock. In the rebuilding, a city ordinance specified the use of stone or brick, and the centre of gravity made a decisive shift westward with the designation of St James’s Palace as the principal royal residence and administrative centre in 1698. The aristocracy moved west to congregate round the royal establishments and the Strand became a meeting venue of coffeehouses and taverns. Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1711. Gresham College became the meeting place of the new Royal Society. Hyde Park and St James’s Park were opened to the public in the 17th century, but there was only one bridge crossing the River Thames until 1750.
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