London - an Overview

I do not at all like the city. All sorts of men crowd together there from every country under the heavens. Each race brings its own vices and its own customs to the city. No-one lives in it without falling into some sort of crime. Every quarter of it abounds in grave obscenities. Whatever evil or malicious thing can be found in any part of the world, you will find it there in that one city. Do not associate with the crowds of pimps; do not mingle with the throngs in the eating-houses; avoid dice and gambling; the theater and the tavern. You will meet with more braggarts than in all France; the number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, Moors, flatters, pretty boys, effeminates, pederasts, singing and dancing girls, quacks, belly-dancers, sorceresses, extortioners, night-wanders, magicians, mimes, beggars, buffoons; all this tribe will fill your houses. Therefore if you do not want to dwell with evil-doers, do not live in London

- Richard of Devizes, late 12th century

From its earliest beginnings, London has been a city of merchants and traders. Everything of value has to be imported from outside; London's only natural resources are mud and swamp water, and even its ingenious citizenry have never found a way to turn a profit selling either.

They do turn a profit, however, and in some cases quite a prodigious one. London is the administrative capital of the realm, and the largest and most important city anywhere in the British Isles, with a population hovering somewhere between twenty-five and thirty thousand souls. As such, it's a magnet for the ruling classes. Apart from the Royal Court, which is peripatetic but a frequent visitor, both the Kingdom's Archbishops maintain residences there, as do eighteen Bishops, twenty-two Abbots, six Priors, and most nobles of any consequence. The primary business of the city is to separate this large and eminent group from as much of their wealth as possible; its economy is essentially based on serving the needs of the rich and powerful.

London is surrounded by a stone wall, a legacy of the ancient Romans, and guarded on its easternmost flank by William the Conqueror's great fortress, the Tower of London. Severn gates pierce the walls - the postern gate of the Tower of London, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, Newgate, Ludgate, and the Bridgegate. Aldgate is a free gate, open without a toll, built by the Canons of the Priory of the Holy Trinity. No-one (at least, no-one mortal), can remember for certain which Bishop the Bishopsgate is named after, but it may have been the Saxon Bishop Erkenwald; it was repaired in the reign of William the Bastard (aka the Conqueror), by the Norman Bishop, William. Most of the mortal population believes that the "Cripplegate" is named for a group of cripples who were standing their begging for alms when the body of King Edmund the Martyr was carried through the gate, and found themselves miraculously healed. The few remaining ancient Roman Cainites are variously scornful and amused by that story; they remember the gate as the "crepel" gate - meaning, roughly, "covered way" - into the Roman fortress. Aldersgate is of a more recent vintage, built around the time of the Conquest. As the name implies, Newgate is newer still, only a century or so old, in fact. It was opened during the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral after a fire in 1086. The streets surrounding the Cathedral became so blocked with building materials that pedestrians couldn't easily reach Ludgate, so the wall was breached at Newgate to allow an alternative way out of the western part of the city. Newgate also houses a debtors prison, and represents a valuable resource for vampires looking for easy feeding opportunities, or perhaps to recruit henchmen with few scruples, but Mithras restricts access to it quite carefully.

Inside the city wall, London is split almost exactly in half by the river Walbrook. In general, the eastern half is given over to the merchants and commercial activites, while the western half houses St. Paul's Cathedral and most of the residences of the nobility. Aside from St. Pauls, more than a hundred and twenty churches exist within the city walls, as well as several large and powerful monastic foundations.

Along the banks of the Thames are the warehouses and docks that form the city's lifeblood. Thames Street, which runs along the banks of the Thames next to London Bridge, is one of the city's prime Cainite feeding spots, a maze of drinking establishments frequented by sailors and merchants from all over the known world.

The real power in London is shared between five merchant guilds; the Drapers and the Mercers, who deal in cloth, with the Mercers specializing in silks, the Vintners, who deal in wine and turn a rich profit supplying the royal household, the Pepperers, who import all manner of spices, and the Goldsmiths. The guilds (and the prominent families who control them), elect the Mayor, who holds all judicial and financial authority within the city. Law and order is maintained by two sheriffs, who serve as the Mayor's officers.