That is the London I saw and felt when I first became consciously aware of London. I had been running about it for some years before that, but it is from the Diamond Jubilee that I date remembered detail. It was a London that still held ...
That is the London I saw and felt when I first became consciously
aware of London. I had been running about it for some years before
that, but it is from the Diamond Jubilee that I date remembered
detail. It was a London that still held many of the fixtures and
much of the atmosphere of what has come to be known as the Dickens'
London. A London of horse-trams with halfpenny fares, and of
hansom cabs; of crystalline bells and spattering hoofs. A London
with winters of slush and fog of a richer sort than any known to-
day, and summers of dust and clam; the slush and dust being its
heritage from the horse-traffic. A London of silk hats, frock-
coats, beards, curled moustaches, "choker" collars, leg-of-mutton
sleeves, veils, bonnets, and, threading through these gigmanities,
as herald of revolt, an execrated vixen in bloomers riding a
bicycle. A London of solid homes, which regarded the introduction
of flat-life as something Not Quite Nice; in fact, Fast. A London
in which the head of the house still carved the joint at his Sunday
table in the presence of his six or seven sons and daughters. A
London of low buildings against which Queen Anne's Mansions was a
sky-scraper. A London of lost corners; of queer nooks and
rookeries; of curling lanes and derelict squares, unknown to the
rest of London, and often, it seemed, forgotten by their local
Councils. A London which, away from the larger streets, held pools
of utter darkness, and terraces of crumbling caverns, and
infinitudes of mist which called one as surely as the ranges to
penetrate their fastness. A London whose roads were mainly granite
setts, and therefore a London of turmoil and clatter. A London in
which the more prosperous business men drove to their offices in
their broughams. A London in which the first cars were appearing,
to the puzzled scorn of the majority of the brougham-owners.
"Never make a Do of those things. People never give up horses for
THOSE." A London in which particular trades and callings still
wore particular clothes, and which still nourished public
"characters" and eccentrics. A London in which strong language, of
a strength that would blanch these outspoken times, was used by
certain men of all social classes. A London where entertaining in
restaurants was just beginning to displace the more pleasant but
(for the hostess) more troublesome custom of entertaining at one's
own table. A London in which paper money, save in the five-ten-
twenty series, was unthought of. A London in which a golden
sovereign would give you a quiet evening's entertainment of a kind
which five pound-notes could not buy to-day. A London which, as
befitted a great metropolis, had nine evening papers against to-
day's meagre three. A London which was the centre of an Empire,
and knew it. And a London which, in a few of its nerves, was
beginning to be aware of the end of an epoch and of the New this
and the New that.
Districts then were emphatically themselves; little islands washed
by various alien waters which never penetrated inland. East was
East and West was West. The foreign quarters WERE foreign. Soho
was beginning to be anybody's country, but ordinary Londoners were
seldom seen in the Italian streets of Back Hill, Eyre Street Hill
or Warner Street; or in the recesses of the Ghetto, or in Limehouse
or the Dutch streets of Spitalfields. Few of them knew the inner
courts of Notting Dale and Hoxton, and artists and poets were never
seen in the taverns of Bankside or Shadwell. All these places were
then enclosed communities. So were many of the central districts.
Chelsea was Chelsea and Streatham was Streatham. Cromwell Road
knew nothing of Barnsbury, nor Stratford of Dulwich Village; and
only a few cyclists had ever discovered the end of Finchley Road.
Regent Street was then an "expensive" street, and even Oxford
Street had not yet become the rendezvous of suburban housewives.
Each district had its own perceptible key and maintained it. If a
man lived in a mews he was a working-man, and if he lived in Mount
Street he was a man of quality. If he lived in Bloomsbury he was
hard-up, and if he lived in Prince's Gate he was wealthy.
Kensington was notably Kensington and had little to do with the
other side of the Park, the not-quite Bayswater; and a young man of
Jermyn Street would not know of the existence of a place called
Islington. The West End was still the West End. Change was being
felt, and, in a small way, its seclusion was, by its own
invitation, being invaded by people who could be "used." But
commercial establishments had not disrupted the stateliness of its
squares and streets.