Tag Archives: London

The Delights of Bohemian London

Bohemian LondonAnd I do not use the word ‘delight’ very often in the same sentence as Bohemian, and this first quote shows why, describing a tiny Moorish cafe:

Dark hair, dark eyes, sallow-skinned faces everywhere, here and there a low caste Englishman, and sometimes, if you are lucky, a Bohemian in emerald corduroy, lolling broadly on his chair and puffing at a porcelain pipe. Sit down near him, and it is ten to one that you will be engaged in a wordy battle of acting, of poetry, or of pictures, before the sediment has time to settle in your coffee. (122)

It’s all there, the search to inhabit the quaint or the exotic, the dress that attempts both, but also the fascination and joy in all night discussions of things like words. It describes a life of relative poverty, but one you drop down into and you don’t drop all the way — you realise that when they still have a maid or at least someone to bring them their dinner. It’s a mixed bag, but this book has all the best of it. Besides, even C.L.R. James loved his first stay in Bloomsbury.

And then, the poignant, painful self-abandon when at last you are conquered, and a book leads you by the hand to the passionless little man inside the shop, and makes you pay him money, the symbol, mean, base, sordid in itself, but still the symbol that the book has won, and swayed the pendulum of your emotions past the paying point.

I remember the buying of my “Anatomy of Melancholy” (that I have never read, nor ever mean to–I dare not risk the sweetness of the title)… (137)

I have been conquered that way so many times.

On Fleet Street, that I love:

Indeed, Fleet Street, brave show as it is today, must have been splendid then, seen through old Temple Bar, a turning, narrow thorough-fare, with high-gabled houses a little overhanging the pavements, those pavements where crowds of gentlemen, frizzed and wigged, in coloured coats and knee-breeches, went to and fro about their business. There would come strutting little Goldsmith in the plum-coloured suit, and the sword so big that it seemed a pin and he a fly upon it. There would be Johnson, rolling in his gait, his vast stomach swinging before him, his huge laugh bellying out in the narrow street, with Boswell at his side, leaning round to see his face, and catch each word as it fell from his lips. There would be Doctor Kenrick, Goldsmith’s arch enemy, for whose fault he broke a stick over the back of Bookseller Evans, and got a pummelling for his pains. There would be the usual mob of young fellows
trying as gaily then as now to keep head above water by writing for the Press.

And then think of it in a later time, when Hazlitt walked those pavements, with straight, well-meant strides, as befits a man who has done his thirty miles a day along the Great North Road. Perhaps, as he walked, he would be composing his remarks on the oratory of the House of Commons, which he was engaged to report for Mr. Perry of the Morning Chronicle. Or perhaps, if it were Wednesday, he would turn in at Mitre Court, or meet a slim-legged, black-clothed figure with a beautiful head, Charles Lamb, coming out of the archway, or hurrying in there, with a folio under his arm, fresh from the stall of the second-hand bookseller. Perhaps Lamb might be playing the journalist himself, writing jokes for Dan Stuart of the Morning Post. You remember: “Somebody has said that to swallow six cross-buns daily, consecutively, for a fortnight would surfeit the stoutest digestion. But to have to furnish as many jokes daily, and that not for a fortnight, but for a long twelvemonth, as we were constrained to do, was a little harder exaction.” Or, perhaps, you might meet Coleridge coming that way from his uncomfortable lodging in the office of the Courier up the Strand. Coleridge knew the ills of journalistic life. De Quincey “called on him daily and pitied his forlorn condition,” and left us a description of his lodging. De Quincey had known worse himself, but this was evil enough. “There was no bell in the room, which for many months answered the double purpose of bedroom and sitting-room. Consequently I often saw him, picturesquely enveloped in nightcaps, surmounted by handkerchiefs indorsed upon handkerchiefs, shouting from the attics down three or four flights of stairs to a certain * Mrs. Brainbridge,’ his sole attendant, whose dwelling was in the subterranean regions of the house. There did I often see the philosopher, with the most lugubrious of faces, invoking with all his might this uncouth name of ‘Brainbridge’ each syllable of which he intonated with long-drawn emphasis, in order to overpower the hostile hub-bub coming downwards from the creaking press and the roar from the Strand which entered at all the front windows.

***

And now there are these different Fleet Streets, one on the top of the other, dovetailed together indistinguishably. A building here, an old doorway there, the name of a side street, brings back a memory of one age or another. This tavern, for example, was given its name as a jest by a gay-dressed fellow in long locks, with a sword swinging at his side. there is the street of the White Friars. That building was designed by a subject of Queen Anne. Lamb walked past while those offices were still cradled in their scaffolding.

On a sunny morning there is no jollier sight in all the world than to look down Fleet Street, from a little below the corner of Fetter Lane on that side of the road. The thorough-fare is thronged with buses–green for Whitechapel, blue going to Waterloo Bridge, white for Liverpool Street, gay old survivals of the coaching days… (154)

I love our red buses but this still fills me with a desire for colour-coding…

This is youth and joy and excitement in words, paintings, life lived to the fullest in long nights drinking and talking and drinking and talking some more. It is a different kind of devotion to literature or art, made possible by relatively cheap lodgings (oh London, you don’t know what you are destroying) and some limited freedom from the life of toil. It is life best in its full flush of youth, when a small sum earned from an article feels like gold and is spent on wine before age and children and the fight for survival has stripped all the joy away (Gissing makes this world hard to imagine in New Grub Street, but I believe that at times and for some it was really there).

It is an age long gone I think. But we still laugh and stay up all night talking over wine. Just not as picturesquely.

There is a description of the loveliest wedding party ever in Soho, gossip and chit chat galore. Plenty to smile at. But this is also an immensely erudite collection of who said what where in these little corners of the city Ransome loves.

So back to Fleet Street, he gives a list of pubs and clubs and the people who met there and the poems and epigraphs that they wrote, the discussions they had and, well, it is inspiration to go drinking I must say. But you cannot do them all at once, as he writes:

To sup with ale at the Cheshire Cheese, to drink at the Punch Bowl, at the Green Dragon, at the Mitre, at the Cock, at the Grecian, at the George, at the Edinburgh — in short, to beat the bounds of every tavern in Fleet Street, from Ludgate Circus to the Strand, that is a festival too peripatetic to be comfortable, an undertaking too serious to be lighthearted.

But one at a time? Oh yes. The Cheshire Cheese is already much beloved by me, so I shall just end with the description of that one:

 ar down on the Fetter Lane side of the street there is the Cheshire Cheese, still the dirty-fronted, low-browed tavern, with stone flasks in the window, that it was even before Johnson’s time. Here, so people say, Johnson and Goldsmith used to sup and be merry with their friends. Perhaps it vv^as the haunt of one of the talking clubs of which neither of them was ever tired. Although it is nowhere written that Johnson crossed the threshold, it is very unlikely that the man who asserted that “a tavern chair was the throne of human felicity” could have neglected such an opportunity as was his. For he lived for some time in Wine Office Court, in whose narrow passage is the entrance to the tavern, and I doubt if he could have passed it every day without finding some reason for encouraging it. Indeed, with Macaulayic logic, they show you Johnson’s corner seat, the wall behind it rubbed smooth by the broadcloth of innumerable visitors, “to witness if they lie.” It is a pleasant brown room, this, in the tavern, with Johnson’s portrait hanging on the wall, old wooden benches beside good solid tables, and a homely smell of ale and toasted cheese.Here many of the best-known journalists make a practice of dining, and doubtless get some sauce of amusement with their meat from the young men and girls, literary and pictorial, destined to work for the cheap magazines and fashion papers, who always begin their professional career by visiting the Cheshire Cheese for inspiration. Up a winding, crooked, dark staircase there are other rooms, with long tables in them stained with wine and ale, and in one of them the Rhymers’ Club used to meet, to drink from tankards, smoke clay pipes, and recite their own poetry. (161-162)

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Morrison’s Child of the Jago

I am not sure why I loved Child of the Jago so much more than Tales of Mean Streets. That had artistry and skill and eschewed the spectacular and violent — I was worried that this novel focusing on the violence of the true slums (actually a rarity in East London contrary to popular legend) would edge us more into sensationalist territory which rarely fails to piss me off (especially after reading Burke). But it didn’t. A Child of the Jago

The novel itself works well, almost proto-noir of the kind with a heart like Crumley or Chandler. It is based on intensive research — while Morrison came from the working-class East End, it was very different from the streets and courts of the Old Nichol described here under a different name. He turned to Father Jay Sturt, who had established a parish there and figures large in the narrative (and some of his paternalism got a little annoying to be honest). Sturt himself had written about the place in Life in Darkest London (1881), The Social Problem and Its Solution (1893), and A Story of Shoreditch (1896). Hard to find, sadly. He helped Morrison meet the residents, and he visited homes, drank in pubs, listened to stories, learned to make match matchboxes, Morrison invited people to his home in Loughton and made recordings of how they spoke (at least I think I read that right — it is just possible given the date, so are those lying around somewhere? Can you imagine the treasure that would be?). Morrison himself notes that he set ‘traps’ of particularly bad incidents that he thought reviewers would call out as impossible — and made sure all of them were things that he could document actually happened.

jagoA square of two hundred and fifty yards or less–that was all there was of the Jago. But in that square the human population swarmed in thousands. Old Jago Street, New Jago Street, Half Jago street lay parallel, east and west: Jago Row at one end and Edge Lane at the other lay parallel also, stretching north and south, foul ways all. What was too vile for Kate Street, Seven Dials and Ratcliff Highway in its worst day, what was too useless, incapable and corrupt–all that teemed in the Old Jago. (45)

And he gives us a map! Along with descriptions of this place, you can only be glad it was torn down to become the London County Council’s Boundary Street Scheme:

Front doors were merely used as firewood in the Old Jago, and most had been burnt there many years ago. If perchance one could have been found still on its hinges, it stood ever open and probably would not shut. Thus at night the Jago doorways were a row of black holes, foul and forbidding.

Dicky Perrott entered his hole with caution, for anywhere in the passage and on the stairs, somebody might be lying drunk against whom it would be unsafe to stumble. (48)

It’s treads are missing, the rails gone from the sides, the interior cold and damp, grim and soul destroying. Morrison describes a world run by two families, the Ranns and the Learys, where no one is in work, where women pick up wealthy drunks and bring them home to the ‘cosh’ from their husband. Everyone else lives on various levels of hustle. At the top — the high mobsmen. There is much left unsaid, but a surprising amount actually said. You navigate this place alongside a tiny little boy named Dicky Perrot who questions none of it, dreams only of a piece of cake and knows well that to get it he must steal it. I was snared by this longing because of my own immense love of cake. I remember a time when I too wanted nothing more in the world than a piece of cake though I know it can’t compare. I have eaten today, and well. I ate yesterday and the day before. I can buy cake whenever I want. I am blessed.

As if the cake weren’t enough, when in trouble Dicky pours his troubles into the ears of Jerry Gullen’s donkey, his beloved Canary. He can’t trust anyone else with pain and tears and weakness. That too is something I know, though I know it can’t compare. I was never beaten by my father. I had places to be alone and cry.

So you cheer him on through his life of crime, celebrate his exploits, mourn his shreds of innocence and exploitation by the horrible Mr Weech, who later destroys any chance of honest work. You feel superior when the good Father has no idea at all what is going on and is confirmed in his prejudices. I like that this book takes him down a bit.  Too quickly you jump ahead in time and it ceases to be quite as good a story, but still an important one. It has memorable fight scenes of all descriptions and more evil and poverty and death and despair and occasional kindnesses than you could ever ask for.

All that, and in addition he makes fun of liberals and ‘missionaries’ who come slumming down to the East End:

Other young men, more fortunately circumstanced, with the educational varnish fresh and raw upon them, came from afar, equipped with a foreign mode of thought and a foreign ignorance of the world and the proportions of things, as Missionaries. Not without some anxiety to their parents, they plunged into the perilous depths of the East End , to struggle–for a fortnight–with its suffering and its brutishness. So they went among the tradesmen’s sons and the shopmen, who endured them as they endured the nominal subscription; and they came away with a certain relief, and with some misgiving as to what impression they had made, and what they had done to make it. But is was with knowledge and authority that they went back among tose who had doubted their personal safety in the dark region. The East End, they reported, was nothing like what it was said to be. you could see much worse places up West. The people were quite a decent sort, in their way: shocking Bounders, of course, but quite clean and quiet, and very comfortably dressed, with ties and collars and watches. (54)

A fortnight. Ha. I am only sad this shit still happens all the time, but people call it something else and go to Guatemala or Burkina Faso instead. There is none of that attitude here, which is why it is so good, and why it rings true the way many another story does not. I can’t really understand why Morrison has not won wider acclaim, perhaps I’ll read some London and refresh my memory as to whether this really is so much better. Because I think it probably is.

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Olympic Park Apocalypse

Stratford station spits you out, once you find how you get out, into the mall. You strive to get out of that too. To find grass.
You are ordered to be in charge. You do not look like any of the people inhabiting these artistic depictions of their ideal person.

Olympic Park, Stratford

You find a theme park after the plague has destroyed humanity.

Olympic Park, Stratford

The architecture of overpriced (at any price) ‘luxury’ feels as apocalyptic, though this one is vaguely authochthonous.

Olympic Park, Stratford

You feel unreal. A two-dimensional drawing in architectural renderings. It is not pleasant.

Olympic Park, Stratford

Architectural renderings, however, would hold more life than the real Olympic Park on a warm and sunny bank holiday in Spring.

Olympic Park, Stratford

Olympic Park, Stratford

You cannot slide down this monumental absurdity charging extortionately for access to its top. Ah, public art.

I came here seeking public space. So what did work?

The cafe far away down the other side of the stadium. Made of containers (which I do quite love and have written about before), containing potential art and potential performance space — yet another of those pianos you can just walk up to and play, but these facilitate performance rather than opportunities for learning and practice which I might prefer seeing given how few kids have access to a piano at home.

No one was playing the piano, no one was in these ‘art’ spaces.

Olympic Park, Stratford

The bike shop seemed to be doing well however.

Olympic Park, Stratford

It was decently busy, but not what I expected for this kind of day. You have to search it out, if I hadn’t known it was there and wanted to visit, I don’t think we ever would have made it this far. The food and coffee were good, the cake quite nice, the feel of it comfortable if small. What I loved most was the space round the back, raised beds full of plants, the feeling of being in a garden and a little piece of breathing green in the middle of the city:

Olympic Park, Stratford

Olympic Park, Stratford

I loved these places for sitting and eating — the railroad ties were quite comfortable, the concrete somewhere to rest cups and plates and bags and books, also extra seating. I love good design.

Olympic Park, Stratford

After lunch we walked back, tried to get to the train station taking a direct route and avoiding the mall — it was not signed and it was not easy, at one point we realised we were on the wrong sidewalk curving down beneath the road we wished to travel and they didn’t bother creating a place where pedestrians could cross from one to the other. We followed two builders as they dodged round the car barriers and nimbly leaped the narrow depressing ditch full of rubbish between the two. Pedestrians enjoying a sunny day are not really the user group this park planned for somehow. Or else they decided all paths must go through the mall.

In no scenario there is the planner a winner.

This road was clearly not really meant for much pedestrian traffic, yet provided the best view of the owl-like aquatics centre and this look out into the wastelands of Stratford.

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Olympic Park, Stratford

Olympic Park, Stratford

I rather liked the empty and open nature of it, but they could do so much more with this green space. Instead I imagine they will build more terrible buildings.

I thought I liked this bridge once, but from this view it felt uncomfortably like watching ants…

Olympic Park, Stratford

All in all this entire space makes you feel small, two-dimensional, shallow. I am not surprised it sat almost empty for the most part. Where they have done well is along the canal banks, which were beautiful and where possible it did invite people to sit and enjoy…though mostly on the grass. There were also some fabulous large wooden seats big enough to stretch out your legs and sit two to a seat. But not enough. Some of these small details were delightful, but not enough to make this space work as somewhere you would much like to just be.

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Limehouse Through Five Centuries

This is quite a wonderful and curious little history of Limehouse written by J.G. Birch, rector of St Anne’s Limehouse (one of my favourite Hawksmoor churches), in 1935. It is written part for the love of curious fact and part to takes issue with how Limehouse has been described by others — Burke’s titillating and orientalist descriptions in Limehouse Nights, or Walter Besant’s ‘sweeping assertion concerning the whole riverside population of East London: “thieves all–to a man.”‘ I just finished Besant’s East End, and it is indeed infuriating.

The Thames from Limehouse Bridge

This on the other hand, while no modern or definitive history by any stretch, is still full of details (perhaps too many details of great men and their exploits) and tantalising glimpses to be followed up perhaps. Like this one, about a brief uprising:

In 1697 there were some stormy times on the Limehouse quaysides, and news was brought to the Admiralty that “the mob in Limehouse intended to rise to demand the seamen’s pay.” History does not record how far Lord Lucas was successful in dealing with the situation and so we can only wonder what Mr John Coltman of Three Colt Street, who imported currants from France in the Zante frigate, thought about it all and what strenuous work Mr. Robert Hamlington, the constable, was called upon to do (25).

I rather fancy having a look for this dagger, and l rather hope it is one of the objects that have just come on display at the National Maritime Museum as a special exhibit of Trinity House:

In 1632 William Geere left the Dagger House, to pay £5 among the poorest merchant seamen’s widows annually on Michaelmas Day, and those who are curious about the tragic story which gave the house in Three Colt Street (since rebuilt) the name and sign it still bears, the Dagger House, must be content to know that there is a tradition that one brother killed another (presumably ancestors of the Geeres) in the house which formerly stood there, and to know that the dagger which used to hang outside it is still preserved at Trinity House on Tower Hill (29-30).

I love this look at transport, almost more for the knowledge that Commercial Road was so busy in 1935 — the level of traffic it bears today feels entirely modern and is truly terrible, I don’t know if it is comforting to think of it just the same almost one hundred years ago.

We find that the hamlet was linked to the city of London, not as now by Commercial Road (which was only completed in 1810). but by the famous Ratcliff Highway, and where now roars the ceaseless traffic from Dockland to the City along Commercial Road (and perhaps no thoroughfare in the world bears a heavier stream) then ran Rose Lane! (51-52)

Sad to think it once was full of roses.

This is a splendid quote from Christopher Wren, damning the practices of churches in which they rented seating — there have been some improvements, there is no doubt:

A church should not be so filled with pews but that the poor may have room to stand and sit in the alleys, for to them equally is the Gospel preached. It were to be wished that there were to be no pews but benches, but there is no stemming the tide of profit and the advantage of pewkeepers, especially since by pews in the chapel of ease the minister is chiefly supported. (58-59)

And I quite love this author, who condemns these old practices and wrestles with his church and its design — though I am not sure I agree with this entirely.

…and yet not from the very first has Limehouse Church really been felt to be, as it should be, the church of the poorest of its parishioners as truly as of the more wealthy residents. Possibly the great flight of seventeen stone steps to the church door has contributed towards disappointing the hopes of Christopher Wren and proved something of a stumbling-block to less prosperous parishioners. The indifferently clad like a less conspicuous approach. (59)

He rounds this off with nice note at the end on changes in Limehouse — namely his relief at the end of the old tradition that the Rector drive to to the church in a carriage and pair, even though the rectory stood only a couple hundred yards away

‘We think this strange Victorian custom certainly did not survive the 1880s. “Rectors,” said an old pew-opener, bewailing the degenerate days of 1887– “Rectors are more of a working class nowadays.” What an unintentional compliment! (152)

There is, as you would imagine, a good history of the church, yet sadly none of the fascinating speculation on Hawksmoor and all of his occult leanings. The foundation stone for St Anne’s was laid in 1712 and completed in 1724. Apparently there is a legend that because Hawksmoor was building St Anne’s Limehouse at the same time as St George’s-in-the-east and Spitalfields, and St George’s Bloomsbury that the drawings for the latter and for Limehouse were mixed up.

St Anne's Limehouse

There is sadly, nothing at all about the pyramid. I had forgotten that there was a fire — sad, but these old prints are quite wonderful.

Burning of St Anne's, Limehouse

There is a mention of Dickens of course, writing Our Mutual Friend, setting Rogue Riderhood near Limehouse Hole (just a memory even then), drinking at the Grapes which still stands and was the model for the ‘The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters’, though the Harbour Master’s house was pulled down in 1923.

Harbor Master's House, Limehouse

But my favourite things of all, the best things I’ve read in a very long time, are these excerpts from the master of the workhouse’s diaries:

October 7th, 1833Two of our boys, the younger Brown and Mafflin, refused to work this morning, because I did not let them out yesterday, and now they are on the top of the dead house, and will not come down. Mafflin could not have got there without assistance as he had got the log on.

October 22nd, 1833The boy Mafflin having done no work yesterday had no supper, and directly after, about half a dozen of the boys mounted upon the slates, and began singing as loud as they could, as if in bravado. Being dark I could not tell who they were, except that Stiles and Mafflin were the leaders.

October 28th, 1833 — Stiles and Mafflin were keeping up a fine game, on the roofs, all yesterday morning. In the afternoon not being able to bear it any longer I caught Mafflin, gave him a rope’s end, and locked him up; the other was afterwards more quiet.

November 7th.– Mafflin and Blackburn went away over the wall again yesterday; theyw ere on the roof of the Laundry in the evening during prayer time, but I have not seen them since. (106)

Mafflin has all of my respect and admiration, and I shall raise a toast to him the next time I am able.

Near the end is this extraordinary picture of the area from this time, when the church was the tallest thing for miles. Now it is dwarfed by buildings that have been developed all around it, you catch glimpses of it here and there. How different this whole place must have felt… (this wouldn’t scan properly for some reason, so a picture with my shadow was the best I could do)

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A Beginning Infrastructure of Death

930118In thinking about cities and how they work I never considered death in its proper light, and what burial and its infrastructure requires in a crowded metropolis. Having  just finished Necropolis: London and its Dead,  that has certainly changed. Neighbourhoods founded on putrescence, typhoid, bones emerging from the ground along with noxious gases and flying beetles, all of these things were unknown to me and dwelt upon at greater length here.

Daniel Defoe's Monument
Daniel Defoe’s Monument, Bunhill Fields

I enjoyed this book, though it is more an historical presentation of quirks and facts around death and burial that does not much interrogate that history. It relates portions of A Journal of the Plague Year, for example, as essentially the straight transcribing of Henry Foe’s diaries without discussion of claims that it is one of the earliest novels, and just how much of it is fiction flowing from the pen of nephew Daniel Defoe, the actual author, who was five during the events described. There is no exploration of what drove George Walker and Edwin Chadwick to exhaustively catalog burial grounds and campaign against them, or Isabella Holmes to dedicate her life to cataloging them so that they might be converted into public parks. Views on death are presented as essentially monolithic, though changing over time. Nothing is ever monolithic.

So with that caveat, here are a collection of just some of the more interesting facts. There was something about a writer’s skull, I can no longer remember now, in fact numerous stories about skulls, bodies left to science, bodies stolen, bodies mummified on public display. I never knew that during the French Revolution people took an entire month destroying the tombs of the Bourbons and the bodies within them, then continued back through the dynasties. I appreciate that kind of revolutionary commitment to such unpleasant work, clearly all of those kings inspired an immensity of fury among their people. Fascinating on a different level was the business of death, though this is hardly a robust political economy of burials and cemeteries:

In addition to existing burial grounds, new ones were founded as speculative ventures by entrepreneurs, These were either attached to existing churches and chapels, or created on plots purchased by developers. There were fourteen of these by 1835, including Spa Fields, Clerkenwell, which had started life as a tea-rooms but was then converted to the rather more profitable purpose of human burial: New Bunhill Fields, Islington; Victoria Park Cemetery, Bethnal Green at Cambridge Fields (five acres); and Sheen’s New Ground in Whitechapel (two acres) (97).

Architects and planners were quick to take note of Loudon’s suggestion. Joint stock companies devoted to the foundation of new cemeteries sprang into being…Cemeteries had become a form of property development (125)

It is interesting to think of this in relation to the new business of cremation, how hard the possibility of it had to be fought for (aided by Shelley’s untimely death, interestingly enough), how that impacted land use in the city and suburbs. In addition to Walker, Chadwick and Holmes there is another figure to investigate further — Stephen Geary (1797-1854), who over the course of his career designed one of London’s first public houses — The Bell in Pentonville Rd, moved on to design London’s first ‘gin palace’, opened near Aldgate in 1830, and then moved on into cemetery design and formed the London Cemetery Company. He became a teetotaler and I presume slightly less fun all around in his third phase of work, but I love how this can be seen as a progression through alcoholism but also on more metaphysical levels.

To find and read, there is Charles Dickens the ‘City of the Absent’ and the ‘Soul of London’ by Ford Maddox Ford.

Unexpected was the discovery that Victorian mourning dress was actually poisoning people — the veil was ‘Originally made from crape, this oppressive garment frequently afflicted wearers with asthma, catarrh and even cataracts as a result of exposure to the black dyes.’ (208) That seems worth more study as well.

At the end there comes a description of Charlie Brown’s lavish funeral within recent East End memory, owner of the pub the Railway Tavern found at the corner of Garford St in Limehouse. It’s like she doesn’t quite know what to do with this rowdy outpouring of emotion that doesn’t fit into her schematic, like that over the funeral of the Krays (or of Princess Diana). There is story in Morrison’s Tales of Mean Streets that exemplifies the spirit of what funerals meant to the poor of the East End, if not the widespread actions of those who are grieving. But I also couldn’t help remembering Maud Pember Reeves describing the pennies laid by in societies for the burials of family members, her incomprehension of it until investigation proved the decision as sound as any other. These kinds of nuances and outside sources not directly related to the business of dying and Dickens as old standby aren’t much in evidence in here and would have added a good deal I think.

I wanted to note also that I never found Bunhill Fields a gloomy place as she does — somehow that made me question every judgment in here. I find Bunhill Fields quite a wonderful place, unlike say Norwood which I do find overwhelming and creepy. That was the last cemetery I visited and I almost decided once and for all I am no longer fascinated by such places as I once was. But I do love these smaller burial grounds, and all these other cesspools of human remains now made such beautiful and welcome pockets of green filled with flowers, and so I will spend more time tracking down Isabella Holmes, who made that possible.

Bunhill Fields Cemetery

Bunhill Fields Cemetery

William Blake's Monument

John Bunyan's Monument

Bunhill Fields Cemetery

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The Deathly Surprise on Portugal Street

Portugal Street and Clare Market are now partially (or entirely) surrounded by the London School of Economics, inoffensive if not particularly picturesque streets. As noted in my post on The Pickwick Papers, this area is described by Dickens with Pickwick and Sam wandering more or less happily through it when attending upon the business of their court case. As below:

With this direction, and having been furthermore informed that the hostelry in question was situated in a court, happy in the double advantage of being in the vicinity of Clare Market, and closely approximating to the back of New Inn, Mr. Pickwick and Sam descended the rickety staircase in safety, and issued forth in quest of the Magpie and Stump.

Or:

In a lofty room, ill-lighted and worse ventilated, situated in Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there sit nearly the whole year round, one, two, three, or four gentlemen in wigs…These gentlemen are the Commissioners of the Insolvent Court, and the place in which they sit, is the Insolvent Court itself.

I knew, of course, that this area had also been a terrible slum, but for the most part cleared and rebuilt by the late 1800s. Emmeline Pankhurst resided for a while in St Clement’s Inn, which she described as ‘a big rambling building’ where she could take refuge in a rooftop garden. Until 1903 the building had been attached to the Inner Temple as accommodations and offices for solicitors. A few years later it had been sold and the first London Women’s Social and Political Union offices were to be found there, within the apartments of socialists and WSPU members Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and her husband. Their offices later moved to 40 Kingsway, near where Portugal street joins it. I have read a great deal about all of this. Reading Catherin Arnold’s Necropolis, however, pointed me in a completely different direction, as though I were reading about another place entirely rather than this same tiny network of streets:

Clement’s Lane.—This is a narrow thoroughfare on the eastern side of Clare Market ; it extends from Clare Market to the Strand [note: this is before the redevelopment of Aldwych and Kingsway — Aldwych is here shown at the bottom of the map, the Strand is just beyond it] and is surrounded by places, from which are continually given off emanations from animal putrescence.

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The back windows of the houses on the east side of the lane look into a burying ground called the ” Green Ground,” in Portugal Street, presently to be described ; on the west side the windows (if open) permit the odour of another burying place —a private one, called Enon Chapel —to perflate the houses ; at the bottom—the south end —of this Lane, is another burying place, belonging to the Alms Houses*, within a few feet of the Strand, and in the centre of the Strand are the burying ground and vaults of St. Clement Danes; in addition to which, there are several slaughter houses in the immediate neighbourhood: so that in a distance of about two hundred yards, in a direct line there are four burying grounds; and the living here breathe on all sides an atmosphere impregnated with the odour of the dead. The inhabitants of this narrow thoroughfare are very unhealthy; nearly every room in every house is occupied by a separate family. Typhus fever in its aggravated form has attacked by far the majority of the residents, and death has made among them the most destructive ravages.

The soil of this ground is saturated, absolutely saturated, with human putrescense. On Saturday the 27th April, 1839, at 5, p.m. I went, accompanied by a friend, to Nos. 30 and 31, Clement’s Lane, and, upon looking through the windows of the back attics, we saw two graves open, close to the south-eastern extremity of this burying ground. Several bones were lying on the surface of the grave nearest to us—a large heap of coffin wood was placed in readiness for removal, and, at a small distance, a heap covered with coarse sacking, was observed, which, when the covering was taken off, proved also to be long pieces of coffin wood, evidently not in a decayed state. The nails were very conspicuous. Several basketfuls of this wood were taken to a building at the south-west extremity of the ground. We were informed that this sight was by no means a novel one ; it was commonly—almost daily, observed.

(*) This place is, I believe, filled with dead; many of the coffins being near the surface.

This is from Gatherings from grave yards; particularly those of London: with a concise history of the modes of interment among different nations, from the earliest periods. And a detail of dangerous and fatal results produced by the unwise and revolting custom of inhuming the dead in the midst of the living. By G.A. Walker, surgeon. 1839.

He quotes a correspondent to The Times (25 June 1839):

Dear Sir,

Passing along Portugal Street on Saturday evening, about ten minutes before seven, I was much shocked at seeing two men employed in carrying baskets of human bones from the corner of the ground next the old watch house (where there was a tarpaulin hung over the rails to prevent their being seen, and where they appeared to be heaped up in a mound), to the back of the ground through a small gate.

There is more on this little area from this interview, found in Report on the sanitary condition of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty’s principal secretary of state for the Home department by Edwin Chadwick, published 1843:

The man had lived in Bear-yard, near Clare-market, which was exposed to the combined effluvia from a slaughter-house and a tripe factory. He was a bird- fancier, but he found that he could not rear his birds in this place. He had known a bird fresh caught in summer-time die there in a week. He particularly noted as having a fatal influence on the birds, the stench raised by boiling down the fat from the tripe offal. He said, “You may hang the cage out of the garret window in any house round Bear-yard, and if it be a fresh bird, it will be dead in a week.” He had previously lived for a time in the same neighbourhood in a room over a crowded burial-ground in Portugal-street ; at times in the morning he had seen a mist rise from the ground, and the smell was offensive. That place was equally fatal to his birds. He had removed to another dwelling in Vere-street, Clare-market, which is beyond the smells from those particular places, and he was now enabled to keep his birds. In town, however, the ordinary singing birds did not, usually, live more than about 18 months ; in cages in the country, such birds were known to live as long as nine years or more on the same food.
–footnote quoting Vide General Sanitary Report p 103 and note p 106

The ‘Green Ground’ they describe sat at Carey St and Portugal St, alongside a workhouse (handy) until it was occupied and expanded by King’s College Hospital beginning in 1840  (it moved to Camberwell in 1913).  It is now occupied by the LSE library quadrangle — some details are on the London burials site, and a brief history from the LSE point of view (and shorn of most of its earthy disgustingness) can be found here, which states that the bodies were actually moved after 1852 to be reburied in the suburbs. But to return to Clement’s Lane — and the infamous Enon Chapel that once stood here — I return to Walker, who was quite a bit more lurid than his partner Chadwick:

Enon Chapel. —This building is situated about midway on the western side of Clement’s Lane; it is surrounded on all sides by houses, crowded by inhabitants, principally of the poorer class. The upper part of this building was opened for the purposes of public worship about 1823; it is separated from the lower part by a boarded floor: this is used as a burying place, and is crowded at one end, even to the top of the ceiling, with dead. It is entered from the inside of the chapel by a trap door; the rafters supporting the floor are not even covered with the usual defence —lath and plaster. Vast numbers of bodies have been placed here in pits, dug for the purpose, the uppermost of which were covered only by a few inches of earth…Soon after interments were made, a peculiarly long narrow black fly was observed to crawl out of many of the coffins; this insect, a product of the putrefaction of the bodies, was observed on the following season to be succeeded by another, which had the appearance of a common bug with wings. The children attend ing the Sunday School, held in this chapel, in which these insects were to be seen crawling and flying, in vast numbers, during the summer months, called them “body bugs”… (154-155)

There is much more, but do you need much more? For the ending of the story I give you a summary from the most excellent blog from The Order of the Good Death by Carla Valentine, Technical Curator for Barts Pathology Museum:

The new tenants who took over the lease in 1844 knew of the chapel’s history and capitalized on it by appealing to Londoners’ obvious tolerance for the macabre. They placed a layer of brick over the original wooden floor, lay down new wooden floorboards, and opened the space as a ‘low dancing saloon’ for teetotallers, cheerfully advertising “dances on the dead” as well as gambling. An old leaflet stated: “Enon Chapel – Dancing on the Dead – Admission Threepence. No lady or gentleman admitted unless wearing shoes and stockings” The Poor Man’s Guardian, in 1847, described this new venture as a ‘Temperance Hall’ which held plain and fancy dress balls accompanied by an efficient band: “Quadrilles, waltzes, country-dances, gallopades, reels are danced over the masses of mortality in the cellar beneath” [8] The venue was particularly popular for its annual boxing day bash.

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These dances continued until around 1848 when philanthropist, sanitary reformer and surgeon, Mr George Alfred Walker of Drury Lane, bought the chapel which was in the immediate neighborhood of his surgery. In 1839 he’d written, “My reflections upon leaving the masses of corruption here exposed, were painful in the extreme; I want language to express the intense feelings of pity, contempt and abhorrence I experienced. Can it be, thought I, that in the Nineteenth Century, in the very centre of the most magnificent city in the universe, such sad mementoes of ignorance, cupidity, and degraded morality still exist?” [8] At his own expense (£100 – quite a substantial sum for the day) he began having the bodies exhumed and buried properly in a single pit in Norwood Cemetery. (Mr Walker, who had studied at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, was passionate about the abolition of intramural interment and wrote many books on the dangers of disposing the dead among the living.)

The process of exhumation at Enon became a spectacle when the remains were piled up and a “pyramid of human bones was exposed to view” near the premises, visited by 6000 people.

It was at this time, with the human remains finally being removed, that it was calculated over 12,000 bodies had been given eternal ‘rest’ by Mr Howse.

I wish I felt the bravado in dancing over dead was simply that, and not a smelly insect-filled attraction for privileged slummers, all those who preyed on them, and the people who wished to stare at both in macabre surroundings. Or that it were not emblematic of a most desperate poverty and complete failure of local government.

There is more horror (though not the same degree of horror) about the vaults in St Clement Dane Church in the Strand. There is more reporting of testimony on the burial grounds here and stretching west to Drury Lane (the same grounds where Lady Deadlock expired at the gate in Bleak House–at least here the burial grounds were not forgotten and Tom’s All Alone evokes some of the misery of this area’s poverty, but clearly not enough) to be found in this article from The True Tablet, 5th November 1842, like this occurrence — again from Enon Chapel:

There were some men repairing Clement’s-lane ; they asked me to give them a few baskets of rubbish, which I did, and they picked up a human hand, and were looking at it, and there were crowds collected ; it did not appear to have been buried probably a month; it was as perfect as my hand. The sexton, when he found there was likely to be a piece of work, ran out and snatched it away, and blew me up for letting them have it.

I am sure there is a great deal more in multiple places in fact, but not sure I can read any more.

I don’t even know where to begin in processing this. Not least because this stench and smell and presence of bodies and slaughter houses and typhus appears neither in Dickens, who I trust for detail and published The Pickwick Papers in 1836, nor in descriptions of the area from the Booth notebooks — though perhaps I shall look again, make sure of their date (which of course was earliest 1848). The bodies under the Enon Chapel where exhumed and reburied by George Walker himself, who marked their new location in Norwood Cemetery. What about these other burial grounds? Was the smell taken for granted? Was this so much a part of life? Was it too offensive to describe? I can see that Dickens’ light-hearted if critical tones stretching to rank sentimentality would certainly have been dragged down a bit at the first sight of a dismembered corpse or description of death by typhus surrounded by body bugs. Still, Arnold mentions a short story by Dickens that I want to track down, ‘The City of the Absent’. For later.

My cynical self may mock, but my romantic side insists both there should be some feeling about such a terrible place beyond the general soullessness of it today, and that there should be some sign, some memorial — that we should work harder at remembering ‘the good old days’ that weren’t very good after all.

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The Best Description of London I Have Ever Read

At least, as long as I don’t think too hard about how this is marketing London to the world. But it is totally plagued with landmarks.

This is the place where the contemporary and the nostalgic come together side by side and sometimes blending in with each other. The same can be said about London’s excellent boutique hotels. Grown from Centuries of leadership, London has collected and amalgamated the best of all worlds – people and things. A great metropolis yet each borough has a homely and distinct feeling. Because of that and its great influence over western culture, London is a city plagued with landmarks that are worldwide recognizable. Walk along the Abbey Road zebra crossing that was featured in one of the Beatles albums; be wondered by the magnificent Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s permanent residence in London, or visit the House of Parliament the place where the British laws are made, and where one of the most important landmarks of the capitol of England is located: The Big Ben. Stroll along Covent Garden the first luxury neighborhoods of the city; drop by Trafalgar Square, one of London’s greatest architectural set pieces, or visit the London Greenwich Royal Observatory, where the time of all over the world is measured. Some of the marvelous boutique hotels you can find in London are the 54 Boutique Hotel, the Bingham, Hotel 55 London, the San Domenico House Hotel and the Beaufort Hotel Knightsbridge.

Epoque Hotels Website

For lots more on London…

The Beautiful Pickwickians

The Pickwick PapersI quite loved The Pickwick Papers. I’ve been making my way through Dickens in chronological order (beginning with Sketches by Boz), but while I blithely cut and pasted my favourite passages into a draft thanks to Project Gutenberg, I did not blog it properly before moving on to blogging Oliver Twist (though I’m not quite done with him yet). It matched better with Flora Tristan’s London Journals (though I’m not quite done with her either).

The 31st of March marked the anniversary of the publication of The Pickwick Papers in 1836, however, making me feel bad about my pasted quotations languishing in draft-form obscurity. While this post is now two days past due, it is something. I cannot imagine a way to summarise this novel, think of something deep to say about it, explain just why I enjoyed it so much.

So instead I present a few of my favourite bits.

On old inns, the ways that every generation looks fondly backwards, and indirectly the entrance of everyone’s favourite character, Samuel Weller:

There are in London several old inns, once the headquarters of
celebrated coaches in the days when coaches performed their journeys in a graver and more solemn manner than they do in these times; but which have now degenerated into little more than the abiding and booking-places of country wagons. The reader would look in vain for any of these ancient hostelries, among the Golden Crosses and Bull and Mouths, which rear their stately fronts in the improved streets of London. If he would light upon any of these old places, he must direct his steps to the obscurer quarters of the town, and there in some secluded nooks he will find several, still standing with a kind of gloomy sturdiness, amidst the modern innovations which surround them.

In the Borough especially, there still remain some half-dozen old inns, which have preserved their external features unchanged, and which have escaped alike the rage for public improvement and the encroachments of private speculation. Great, rambling queer old places they are, with galleries, and passages, and staircases, wide enough and antiquated enough to furnish materials for a hundred ghost stories, supposing we should ever be reduced to the lamentable necessity of inventing any, and that the world should exist long enough to exhaust the innumerable veracious legends connected with old London Bridge, and its adjacent neighbourhood on the Surrey side.

George-InnThere is, of course, still an inn like this in Borough — The George. I recommend it, though best in summer when the annoying throngs that visit can sit outside and you can enjoy the rambling queer inside. It only smells funny because it is old.

I like the glimpse of Pickwick’s home, before it is shattered by Mrs. Bardell’s legal team:

Mr. Pickwick’s apartments in Goswell Street, although on a limited scale, were not only of a very neat and comfortable description, but peculiarly adapted for the residence of a man of his genius and observation. His sitting-room was the first-floor front, his bedroom the second-floor front; and thus, whether he were sitting at his desk in his parlour, or standing before the dressing-glass in his dormitory, he had an equal opportunity of contemplating human nature in all the numerous phases it exhibits, in that not more populous than popular thoroughfare.

His landlady, Mrs. Bardell–the relict and sole executrix of a deceased custom-house officer–was a comely woman of bustling manners and agreeable appearance, with a natural genius for cooking, improved by study and long practice, into an exquisite talent. There were no children, no servants, no fowls. The only other inmates of the house were a large man and a small boy; the first a lodger, the second a production of Mrs. Bardell’s. The large man was always home precisely at ten o’clock at night, at which hour he regularly condensed himself into the limits of a dwarfish French bedstead in the back parlour; and the infantine sports and gymnastic exercises of Master Bardell were exclusively confined to the neighbouring pavements and gutters. Cleanliness and quiet reigned throughout the house; and in it Mr. Pickwick’s will was law.

While I might not agree with the sentiments, I feel sure Dickens copied this dialogue word for word in a pub somewhere:

‘Rum creeters is women,’ said the dirty-faced man, after a pause.

‘Ah! no mistake about that,’ said a very red-faced man, behind a cigar.

After this little bit of philosophy there was another pause.

‘There’s rummer things than women in this world though, mind you,’ said the man with the black eye, slowly filling a large Dutch pipe, with a most capacious bowl.

‘Are you married?’ inquired the dirty-faced man.

‘Can’t say I am.’

‘I thought not.’ Here the dirty-faced man fell into ecstasies of mirth at his own retort, in which he was joined by a man of bland voice and placid countenance, who always made it a point to agree with everybody.

What is probably the best poem ever, by Mrs Leo Hunter. It beats out — though barely — the phenomenal poem about Dick Turpin that I present closer to the end of this post:

Can I view thee panting, lying
On thy stomach, without sighing;
Can I unmoved see thee dying
On a log
Expiring frog!

Being at LSE I came to know Holborn well, and each and every one of its surrounding pubs. This one once sat in the epicentre of these pub ramblings — or pumblings:

With this direction, and having been furthermore informed that the hostelry in question was situated in a court, happy in the double advantage of being in the vicinity of Clare Market, and closely approximating to the back of New Inn, Mr. Pickwick and Sam descended the rickety staircase in safety, and issued forth in quest of the Magpie and Stump.

This favoured tavern, sacred to the evening orgies of Mr. Lowten and his companions, was what ordinary people would designate a public-house. That the landlord was a man of money-making turn was sufficiently testified by the fact of a small bulkhead beneath the tap-room window, in size and shape not unlike a sedan-chair, being underlet to a mender of shoes: and that he was a being of a philanthropic mind was evident from the protection he afforded to a pieman, who vended his delicacies without fear of interruption, on the very door-step. In the lower windows, which were decorated with curtains of a saffron hue, dangled two or three printed cards, bearing reference to Devonshire cider and Dantzic spruce, while a large blackboard, announcing in white letters to an enlightened public, that there were 500,000 barrels of double stout in the cellars of the establishment, left the mind in a state of not unpleasing doubt and uncertainty as to the precise direction in the bowels of the earth, in which this mighty cavern might be supposed to extend. When we add that the weather-beaten signboard bore the half-obliterated semblance of a magpie intently eyeing a crooked streak of brown paint, which the neighbours had been taught from infancy to consider as the ‘stump,’ we have said all that need be said of the exterior of the edifice.

There was actually (and is) a Magpie and Stump opposite the Old Bailey — a bit far and so hitherto unvisited, but apparently the good old George IV most likely stands on the site of the one Dickens described here. But really I need to get over to the George and Vulture – mentioned many a time in this book though without the same delicious description, and ‘the headquarters of the City Pickwick Club since its foundation.’  I found a Dickens pub crawl with no real effort of course, and while the digital Dickens website makes me realise I have nothing new to add on the subject of Dickens, at least I am among the good company of those who try.

On Portugal St, now at the heart of LSE and its absence felt as a loss by me but clearly replaced by reality television for those who once filled its halls:

In a lofty room, ill-lighted and worse ventilated, situated in Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there sit nearly the whole year round, one, two, three, or four gentlemen in wigs, as the case may be, with little writing-desks before them, constructed after the fashion of those used by the judges of the land, barring the French polish. There is a box of barristers on their right hand; there is an enclosure of insolvent debtors on their left; and there is an inclined plane of most especially dirty faces in their front. These gentlemen are the Commissioners of the Insolvent Court, and the place in which they sit, is the Insolvent Court itself.

It is, and has been, time out of mind, the remarkable fate of this court to be, somehow or other, held and understood, by the general consent of all the destitute shabby-genteel people in London, as their common resort, and place of daily refuge. It is always full. The steams of beer and spirits perpetually ascend to the ceiling, and, being condensed by the heat, roll down the walls like rain; there are more old suits of clothes in it at one time, than will be offered for sale in all Houndsditch in a twelvemonth; more unwashed skins and grizzly beards than all the pumps and shaving-shops between Tyburn and Whitechapel could render decent, between sunrise and sunset.

The Pickwick Papers
Not the court here described but Pickwick’s own trial. Still, isn’t it nice?

It must not be supposed that any of these people have the least shadow of business in, or the remotest connection with, the place they so indefatigably attend. If they had, it would be no matter of surprise, and the singularity of the thing would cease. Some of them sleep during the greater part of the sitting; others carry small portable dinners wrapped in pocket-handkerchiefs or sticking out of their worn-out pockets, and munch and listen with equal relish; but no one among them was ever known to have the slightest personal interest in any case that was ever brought forward. Whatever they do, there they sit from the first moment to the last. When it is heavy, rainy weather, they all come in, wet through; and at such times the vapours of the court are like those of a fungus-pit.

A casual visitor might suppose this place to be a temple dedicated to the Genius of Seediness. There is not a messenger or process-server attached to it, who wears a coat that was made for him; not a tolerably fresh, or wholesome-looking man in the whole establishment, except a little white-headed apple-faced tipstaff, and even he, like an ill-conditioned cherry preserved in brandy, seems to have artificially dried and withered up into a state of preservation to which he can lay no natural claim.

This description of a religious meeting by the elder Mr Weller is pure genius:

I dresses myself out wery smart, and off I goes with the old ‘ooman, and up we walks into a fust-floor where there was tea-things for thirty, and a whole lot o’ women as begins whisperin’ to one another, and lookin’ at me, as if they’d never seen a rayther stout gen’l’m’n of eight-and-fifty afore. By and by, there comes a great bustle downstairs, and a lanky chap with a red nose and a white neckcloth rushes up, and sings out, “Here’s the shepherd a-coming to wisit his faithful flock;” and in comes a fat chap in black, vith a great white face, a-smilin’ avay like clockwork. Such goin’s on, Sammy! “The kiss of peace,” says the shepherd; and then he kissed the women all round, and ven he’d done, the man vith the red nose began. I was just a-thinkin’ whether I hadn’t better begin too–‘specially as there was a wery nice lady a-sittin’ next me–ven in comes the tea, and your mother-in-law, as had been makin’ the kettle bile downstairs. At it they went, tooth and nail. Such a precious loud hymn, Sammy, while the tea was a brewing; such a grace, such eatin’ and drinkin’! I wish you could ha’ seen the shepherd walkin’ into the ham and muffins.

As is this commentary by the elder Mr Weller on poetry:

‘Wery glad to hear it,’ said Mr. Weller. ‘Poetry’s unnat’ral; no man ever talked poetry ‘cept a beadle on boxin’-day, or Warren’s blackin’, or Rowland’s oil, or some of them low fellows; never you let yourself down to talk poetry, my boy. Begin agin, Sammy.’

And on compliments:

Wot’s the good o’ callin’ a young ‘ooman a Wenus or a angel,
Sammy?’

‘Ah! what, indeed?’ replied Sam.

‘You might jist as well call her a griffin, or a unicorn, or a king’s
arms at once, which is wery well known to be a collection o’ fabulous animals,’ added Mr. Weller.

‘Just as well,’ replied Sam.

‘Drive on, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller.

His view of Camberwell (as opposed to Gissing’s among others):

‘I don’t like it, Sam,’ rejoined Mr. Weller. ‘I never know’d a
respectable coachman as wrote poetry, ‘cept one, as made an affectin’ copy o’ werses the night afore he was hung for a highway robbery; and he wos only a Cambervell man, so even that’s no rule.’

And a mention of Brixton — I am collecting the literary geographies of South London you see:

The office of Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, of the Stock Exchange, was in a first floor up a court behind the Bank of England; the house of Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, was at Brixton, Surrey; the horse and stanhope of Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, were at an adjacent livery stable; the groom of Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, was on his way to the West End to deliver some game; the clerk of Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, had gone to his dinner; and so Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, himself, cried, ‘Come in,’ when Mr. Pell and his companions knocked at the counting-house door.

Some hilarious commentary on Bath and Tradespeople:

‘The ball-nights in Ba-ath are moments snatched from
paradise; rendered bewitching by music, beauty, elegance, fashion, etiquette, and–and–above all, by the absence of tradespeople, who are quite inconsistent with paradise, and who have an amalgamation of themselves at the Guildhall every fortnight, which is, to say the least, remarkable. Good-bye, good-bye!’ and protesting all the way downstairs that he was most satisfied, and most delighted, and most overpowered, and most flattered, Angelo Cyrus Bantam, Esquire, M.C., stepped into a very elegant chariot that waited at the door, and rattled off.

On Bristol (finally Dickens tackles Bristol!):

Having inspected the docks and shipping, and viewed the cathedral, he inquired his way to Clifton, and being directed thither, took the route which was pointed out to him. But as the pavements of Bristol are not the widest or cleanest upon earth, so its streets are not altogether the straightest or least intricate; and Mr. Winkle, being greatly puzzled by their manifold windings and twistings, looked about him for a decent shop in which he could apply afresh for counsel and instruction.

Now, as promised, we come to Samuel Weller’s song about Dick Turpin:

ROMANCE

I

Bold Turpin vunce, on Hounslow Heath,
His bold mare Bess bestrode-er;
Ven there he see’d the Bishop’s coach
A-coming along the road-er.
So he gallops close to the ‘orse’s legs,
And he claps his head vithin;
And the Bishop says, ‘Sure as eggs is eggs,
This here’s the bold Turpin!’

CHORUS

And the Bishop says, ‘Sure as eggs is eggs,
This here’s the bold Turpin!’

II

Says Turpin, ‘You shall eat your words,
With a sarse of leaden bul-let;’
So he puts a pistol to his mouth,
And he fires it down his gul-let.
The coachman he not likin’ the job,
Set off at full gal-lop,
But Dick put a couple of balls in his nob,
And perwailed on him to stop.

CHORUS (sarcastically)

But Dick put a couple of balls in his nob,
And perwailed on him to stop.

Thus we are brought to the end, and I quite loved the end because it eased my sadness at parting:

Mr. Pickwick, having said grace, pauses for an instant and looks round him. As he does so, the tears roll down his cheeks, in the fullness of his joy.

Let us leave our old friend in one of those moments of unmixed
happiness, of which, if we seek them, there are ever some, to cheer our transitory existence here. There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light. We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours, when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full upon them. It is the fate of most men who mingle with the world, and attain even the prime of life, to make many real friends, and lose them in the course of nature. It is the fate of all authors or chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and lose them in the course of art. Nor is this the full extent of their misfortunes; for they are required to furnish an account of them besides.

I’m afraid it makes me terribly sentimental. I am saving all the grim debtor’s prison stuff for a much better, more forceful and fascinating post. But this is everything I loved most.

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Tales of Mean Streets

Tales of Mean StreetsTales of Mean Streets  (1894) describes the contents exactly — the meanness not only of city and streets but also of characters and the poverty that confines them. These, I think, are stories written by a man who escaped such poverty and looks back on it only with relief that he managed to get out, and perhaps with a fear of falling back that erases generosity. There is none of the lurid and titillating violence and detail of Thomas Burke, nor yet any of the humour, pride and everyday mutual support seen in W. Pett Ridge. Just poverty, meanness, narrowness and desperation. In such depths of poverty these things exist, of course, in abundance. I hate when they are not balanced by the small things that still make lives bearable, humour above all, but I know that fear of poverty not just lying behind you but also lying in ahead and how it can shape your view of the world. These are tales of the working class by one of their own like those of Pett Ridge, and on the same subjects from Edwin Pugh, Somerset Maugham (whose work mostly infuriated me), and Richard Whiteing. All of whom together came to be seen as a new school of English fiction as stated by the introduction on Morrison’s life and work. I found another list of Victorian ‘slum fiction‘, which includes all of these titles and many more.

For a taste of daily life, a sense of the streets, Tales of Mean Streets is very good. The stories, too, are beautifully crafted. Always a hidden ugly little twist to make them stand out as far more than just descriptions of everyday life and struggle for survival. This is not surprising given the company Arthur Morrison kept — though that company was surprising. He worked for W.E. Henley, editor of the National Observer… who was on the crack team of writers forming his team? In addition to Morrison there was Rudyard Kipling, J.M. Barrie, Thomas Hardy, Charles Whibley, H.G. Wells, W.B. Yeats and H.D. Lowry.I can’t imagine them all just sitting in the pub after work, but I am enjoying the effort.

Morrison worked under Walter Besant on the newspaper at the People’s Palace in Mile End, which endears him to me immensely. He left to become a writer and journalist, wrote detective tales starring Martin Hewitt also published some tales of the supernatural in Cunning Murrrell (1900), and his more famous works, A Child of the Jago (1896), To London Town (1899), and Hole in the Wall (1902).

A street

This street is in the East End. There is no need to say in the East End of what. The East End is a vast city, as famous in its way as any the hand of man has made. But who knows the East End? It is down through Cornhill and out beyond Leadenhall Street and Aldgate Pump, one will say: a shocking place, where he once went with a curate; an evil plexus of slums that hide human creeping things; where filthy men and women live on penn’orths of gin, where collars and clean shirts are decencies unknown, where every citizen wears a black eye, and none ever combs his hair. The East End is a place, says another, which is given over to the Unemployed. And the Unemployed is a race who token is a clay pipe, and whose enemy is soap: now and again it migrates bodily to Hyde Park with banners, and furnishes adjacent police courts with disorderly drunks. Still another knows the East End only as the place whence begging letters come; there are coal and blanket funds there, all perennially insolvent, and everybody always wants a day in the country (19).

Of this street there are about one hundred and fifty yards–on the same pattern all. It is not pretty to look at. A dingy little brick house house twenty feet high, with three square holes to carry the windows, and an oblong hole to carry the door, is not a pleasing object; and each side of this street is formed by two or three score of such houses in a row, with one front wall in common. And the effect is as of stables (20).

There follows a categorisation of who lives on such a street, not noisy, loud troublemakers marching to Hyde Park or factory girls living a little further out of the city, instead on this street are the people too proud to ask for charity, the men work in the docks or the gasworks, maybe the shipbuilding yards. Two families live in each house, possibly a lodger.

In a time before clocks and alarms for the common man, there is this (reminds me of EP Thompson writing about clocks and time):

Every morning at half-past five there is a curious demonstration. The street resounds with thunderous knockings, repeated on door after door, and acknowledged ever by a muffled shout from within. These signals are the work of the night-watchman or the early policeman or both… (21)

And then a description of the mayhem, the waves of male workers, school children, children carrying their fathers lunches down to the docks or gasworks, their return, the return of the men. Every day except Sunday.

Nobody laughs here–life is too serious a thing; nobody sings. There was once a woman who sang–a young wife from the country. But she bore children and her voice cracked. Then her man died, and she sang no more. (24)

And this:

Yet there are aspirations. There has lately come into the street a young man lodger who belongs to a Mutual Improvement Society. Membership in this society is regarded as a sort of learned degree, and at its meetings debates are held and papers smugly read by lamentably self-satisfied young men lodgers, whose only preparation for debating and writing is a fathomless ignorance. For ignorance is the inevitable portion of dwellers here: seeing nothing, reading nothing, and considering nothing.

Where in the East End lies this street? Everywhere. The hundred and fifty yards is only a link in a long and a mightily tangled chain–is only a turn in a tortuous maze. This street of the square holes is hundreds of miles long. That it is planned in short lengths is true, but there is no other way in the world that can more properly be called a single street, because of its dismal lack of accent, its sordid uniformity, its utter remoteness from delight. (28)

From this street all of the stories grow, as much as anything can grow in the environment so described. Everything stunted, petty, brutal mean. For many there is some compassion from the author — distinctly in contrast with lack of compassion and the hatred of anyone getting above themselves from the rest of the neighbourhood, which often hastens their brutal end.

The exception is the fallen woman — there are these terrible descriptions from a story of a streetcar to Bow Bridge (otherwise a fascinating little glimpse into early public transportation):

In the midst of the riot the decent woman sat silent and indifferent, her children on and about her knees. Further along, two women ate fish with their fingers and discoursed personalities in voices which ran strident through the uproar, as the odor of their snack asserted itself in the general fetor. And opposite the decent woman there sat a bonnetless drab, who said nothing, but looked at the decent woman’s children as a shoeless brat looks at the dolls in a toyshop window.

A man by the door vomited his liquor: whereat was more hilarity, and his neighbors, with many yaups, shoved further up the middle. But one of the little ones, standing before her mother, was pushed almost to falling; and the harlot, seeing her chance, snatched the child upon her knee. The child looked up, something in wonder, and smiled; and the woman leered as honestly as she might, saying a hoarse word or two. (62)

This is also noteworthy for use of one of my favourite words ‘stramash’, meaning fight. I always thought it was scottish, but perhaps was once as common down South?

‘The Red Cow Group’ describes an eager young anarchist (I am fairly certain police provocateur along the lines of The Secret Agent) willing to teach men how to make bombs and tell them where to put them but loathe to do anything himself —  he is demolished in the most satisfying way by a group of working class boozers.

There are the Nappers, who come into a little wealth and of course it goes to their heads and inspires a discourse on fashion and the East End’s class geographies:

Mrs. Napper went that very evening to the Grove at Stratford to buy silk and satin, green, red, and yellow–cutting her neighbors dead, right and left. And by the next morning tradesmen had sent circulars and samples of goods. Mrs. Napper was for taking a proper position in society, and a house in a fashionable part–Barking Road, for instance, or even East India Road, Poplar; but Bill would none of such foolishness. He wasn’t proud, and Canning Town was quite good enough for him. This much, though, he conceded: that the family should take a whole house of five rooms in the next street, instead of the two rooms and a cellule upstairs now rented (131).

There are stories that show the desperation of the great Dock Strike of 1889, the promise of boxing as one way of escape, the mix of the criminal and the decent, the explosiveness of violence and the pervasiveness of poverty. I wonder what it was exactly that brought Morrison back to to write these stories.

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Women on the Tramp: Workhouses and Shelters

Mary Higgs and her unnamed friend(s) set out to find the truth about where a woman with little money could stay while travelling looking for work. Workhouses, shelters and lodging houses and none of them nice. They never spent more than a couple of days at a time on the tramp — it was all they could bear.

They tried to dress appropriately and carried with them only a few shillings, precluding the possibility of even a small escape. You can find her background and impossibly Victorian intellectual framing of the problem of ‘women tramps’ in part one of this three part series, but here we get into the good stuff. The only thing they brought with them that the other women would not have had was plasmon, which Higgs felt made a huge difference.

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Plasmon advertisement, 1902

Plasmon? It sounds like nutritional nectar capable of saving them from starvation in this account. I had never heard of it but it was big dietary news at the time — a powder, a milk albumen or kind of protein, more commonly used in biscuits, and sworn to by a fairly astonishing array of famous people: Ernest Shackleton took these biscuits with him on his arctic expedition, George Bernard Shaw ate them, actress Ellen Terry, Mark Twain, and Victor Whitechurch’s fictional vegetarian detective Thorpe Hazell.

Immediately they realised the difference between traveling as a protected middle-class woman and as a poor one, and this is one of the most revealing passages of the whole book I think:

We passed some men who were working in a barge; they shouted to us, and invited us to come to them. We walked away and took no notice, but repeatedly on our journey we were spoken to, and I could not help contrasting the way in which men looked at us with the usual bearing of a man towards a well-dressed female. I had never realised before that a lady’s dress, or even that of a respectable working-woman, was a protection. The bold, free look of a man at a destitute woman must be felt to be realised. Being together, we were a guard to one another, so we took no notice but walked on. I should not care to be a solitary woman tramping the roads. A destitute woman once told me that if you tramped, “you had to take up with a fellow.” I can well believe it.

And so we come to the first lodging-house, and it is fascinating:

So we found ourselves, between six and seven o’clock, at the door of the house, which was not bad-looking outside–an old-fashioned, roomy-looking, stone house, which might once have been a farmhouse and seen better days…

Yet it was not the place itself, but its inhabitants, that are quite unforgettable. We sat down on the wooden bench behind a table, and immediately facing us was a huge negro with a wicked face. By his side a quiet-looking woman, who had a little girl and boy, was sitting crocheting. An old woman, active and weather-beaten, was getting supper ready for her husband, a blind beggar, who shortly afterwards came in led by a black dog. A woman tramp was getting supper ready for the negro; she wore a wedding ring, but I question if she was his wife. Several young children, almost babies, were running about, or playing with the perambulator. A young man on the seat near us was tossing about a fat baby born “on the road,” whose healthiness we duly admired. It was not his own, but belonged to a worried-looking woman, who also had a troublesome boy. The next room was full of people, whom we could hear but not see distinctly. The little boy of two caused much conversation, as he was always doing something he should not, and caused disgust by his uncleanliness, freely commented on. His mother made raids on him at intervals, but neither cleanliness nor discipline was possible in such surroundings. The most striking character, next to the negro, was a girl, apparently about twenty. She wore a wedding ring, and belonged to some man in the company, but from the character of her conversation I doubt if she was married. The negro told some story, and she capped it with another; evidently she was noted for her conversation, as she was laughingly offered a pint to keep her tongue still! Her face would have been handsome, but for a crooked nose and evident dissipation. All the stories were more or less foul, and all the conversation, on every side, was filthy or profane. The negro told how he had outwitted a harlot who tried to rob him. The whole story of his visit to her house was related in the most shameless way, with circumstantial details, no one appearing to think anything of it. … The girl told, sitting on the table near the negro, how she had got her nose broken by an admirer and made him pay for it. A conversation sprang up about the treatment of wives, and it was stated that a woman loved a man best if he ill-treated her. This theory was illustrated by examples well known to the company.

It’s exactly like staring at the past through a window, and though you could wish for a slightly less prudish narrator, this is still racy stuff for the times and cracks my image of widespread repression. I’m only saddened by the confusion of abuse and jealousy with love.

The landlady told us not to mind the man who slept in the next bed, for he was blind! He slept there, and so did his dog. The other occupants of the room, who came to bed later, we could not see, but we could hear them plainly. From the conversation we think the nigger and his mistress slept just outside, and next to them (no partition) a married couple with a baby and a child. A third couple would be round the corner. The room barely held the beds and partition, with room to stand by the side; there was no ventilation but a chimney close to our bed. We could hear someone continually scratching himself, and the baby sucking frequently, and other sounds which shall be nameless.

I had to laugh at that last sentence… though I know I would never have been able to sleep in such a place. And despite the casual racism of the epithet, this is a scene unimaginable anywhere in the US at the time, there is not a sign of other boarders’ discomfort much less  of a white mob or a lynching.

By degrees, however, the noises subsided, and my companion and I fell into an uneasy slumber. I woke in an hour or two, in dim daylight, to feel crawlers. The rest of the night was spent in hunting. I had quite a collection by the time my companion woke. They were on the bed and on the partition. I watched them making for our clothes; but there was no escape till morning was fully come. Besides, my companion was resting through it all; so I slew each one as it appeared.

The morning light also showed just how filthy the place was.

Curious that here and at the workhouse where they stayed the next night, the main topic of conversation was the ‘Moat Farm Murder‘. Even more curious now that I have looked it up: Miss Holland, ‘a maiden lady of means’ and a lodger of boarding houses (though clearly of a different kind than those described here) was married by Dougal, ‘an expert in the art of sordid amours’ and within weeks murdered on the farm they bought in Essex. Whereas money clearly offered some level of protection for single women moving through a far superior set of temporary lodgings, they remained vulnerable.

This vulnerability is emphasized the following night at one of the infamous workhouses — again you feel perhaps she is being prudish, but on reflection the power relations and the powerlessness of poor women on their own must have made rape a common occurrence in these places, and this is clearly on Higgs’ mind as part of her investigations:

and then he took my age, and finding I was a married woman (I must use his exact words), he said, “Just the right age for a bit of funning; come down to me later in the evening.” I was too horror-struck to reply; besides, I was in his power, with no one within call but my friend, and all the conditions unknown and strange.

The conditions here were terrible, the food inedible, the work hard and thankless and such to ruin your clothes. She later writes:

the Tramp Ward is itself a factor in national degradation, the mockery of a provision for need; meaning often semi-starvation, weary toil and unrest. A man or woman must emerge from it more unfit for toil, and learn to avoid such a place if possible in future.

The way it stayed with her — and the lessons she learned about human dignity — are clear in her fears upon approaching the Salvation Army:

Would it be possible to escape personal interrogation? The “bullying” in the Workhouse was fresh in my mind, and in contrast with this the perfect freedom of the common lodging-house has its attractions. You may come and go, and “mind your own business.” No one has any right to interfere with you as long as you “pay your way.” I did not, of course, expect anything but kindness, but I thought I might be interrogated “personally,” questioned as to my antecedents, and possibly about my soul… In thus thinking I was probably sharing the feelings of my poor sisters (your feelings undergo a curious assimilation to those of the class you represent). Many a woman may be deterred from entering a suitable Home by fear of cross-questioning. Poor thing! The only thing that belongs to her is her past.

I actually find this strange sense of class solidarity through representation endearing (and worthy of more thought around representation itself), though I am not quite sure why. She finds the Salvation Army quarters the best of all of them, but to compare the following sentence with all of the theoretical rubbish that frames her actual experience is so telling:

But the immediate and crying need is for the abolition of an old, inhumane and insufficient provision for suppression of vagrancy, in favour of adequate provision for the modern fluidity of labour, coupled with honourable relief of destitution, neither degrading nor charitable.

I liked this also:

When shall we apply common sense to the daily matters of town life? Not till we recognise that a community is a unit, composed of many parts, but when one suffers, all suffer.

Now we come to London — even then it was more expensive and just as terrible as the conditions Higgs found up north, and this also gives a rough sense of women’s labour and how they were forced to live:

I have been deterred from specimening women’s lodgings in London by this difficulty–that one could not be sure of emerging in a fit condition to be received into the house of respectable friends.

I found that to secure a bed I must go into the men’s lodging-house and pay my money–6d.–to a man who was playing cards with several others. No rude language was used, the men eyed me, that was all. I paid and passed in next door. Upstairs was a small room in which a number of women, all with their hats on save one–the “deputy”–were sitting. Some passed in and out, but being a stranger I was not welcome, and was told to “go forward.” This was downstairs; and I found myself, after some turns I cannot remember, in a long low cellar room, with concrete floor, very dirty looking. A window at one end was half underground. A fireplace on the right had bars and hobs, but no oven or range or proper kitchen convenience. This was, however, the living and cooking room. Plenty of garments were hanging up to dry on strings. Under the tables were heaps of dirt and débris. A number of women were present sitting on forms, who seemed to be hawkers, or women gaining some scanty livelihood. The general conditions were much the same as in northern lodging-houses, where 4d. is charged for a bed, only the cooking facilities were poorer and the price was higher. I learned that in London a bed was not easily got under 6d. “It took a good bit of getting,” one woman said. The sanitary state was no better than in the north, and I was thankful I had not to stay the night.

One of Higgs’ big reform ideas was the labor colony where people would go, live, work for weeks at a time. I quite love that she actually asked people what they thought, and reported their answers faithfully:

I mentioned the Labour Colony, but though I sang its praises, it did not seem to be very acceptable, though tolerable if a step to better things.

There is such a wealth of detail to be mined here on food, clothing, customs… but my next and final post will look more at the question of labour, beginning with a lodging house for prostitutes and Mary Higgs’ ruminations thereon.

Part 1 | Part 3

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