Big City Lights

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Many young people leaving a small town struggle when moving to the big city.

These individuals would be able to easily relate to the trials and tribulations of Englishman Ben Browne who experienced the same when he moved to London in 1719.

His life, struggles and achievements are detailed in dozens of letters that the 27-year-old sent to his father during the early 18th century, the Smithsonian Magazine reported.

“These letters are so relatable, and they show nothing has really changed,” said Emma Wright, collections manager at Townend, the historic Browne family home in Cumbria, England, where the letters are on display.

In his handwritten correspondence, the young lad described his new job training as a law clerk, lamenting the long working hours and low pay.

Browne would frequently ask for money for rent, but also to buy stockings, wigs and other items that were considered necessary for life in the big city at the time. Despite his complaints, he had a rich social life that included quite a lot of partying.

Some letters also highlight how Browne married his employer’s maid, Mary Branch, and the young man’s efforts to get his father’s approval for the marriage. Initially disparaging of his son’s choice, the older Browne eventually accepted the marriage.

Still, everyone has secrets: Scholars have found that Browne liked to collect books, which was a considerable expenditure at the time – prompting questions about how he could afford them.

While the correspondences offer a very vivid view of the 18th-century city life of a young person, they also detail historical events that took place in London at the time.

Soon after his arrival, Browne wrote about a big demonstration by London’s weavers who were “starved for want of trade.”

Historians explained that he was referring to the Spitalfields silk weavers’ protests against imports of calico from India, which they said reduced demand for their products.

Not already a subscriber?

If you would like to receive DailyChatter directly to your inbox each morning, subscribe below with a free two-week trial.

Subscribe today

Support journalism that’s independent, non-partisan, and fair.

If you are a student or faculty with a valid school email, you can sign up for a FREE student subscription or faculty subscription.

Questions? Write to us at

Copy link