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Highways and Byways in London By Emily Constance Baird Cook Characters: 54491

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Let others chaunt a country praise,

Fair river walks and meadow ways;

Dearer to me my sounding days

In London town:

To me the tumult of the street

Is no less music, than the sweet

Surge of the wind among the wheat,

By dale or down."-Lionel Johnson.

"I pray you, let us satisfy our eyes

With the memorials, and the things of fame,

That do renown this city."-Shakespeare.

What book has ever been written, nay, has ever attempted to be written, about the general architecture of London? The largest city in the world,-the metropolis of many cities in one city,-the aggregate of a hundred towns, each as big as Oxford, as Cambridge, as Winchester,-why should its stones be thus neglected? And, except for a sprinkling of traditional gibes, an annual dole of scornful references, what attention does the architecture of London receive from its inhabitants? or, indeed, from outsiders? Every one, on the contrary, considers himself at liberty to fling a stone at it. Such titles as "Ugly London," "The Uglification of London," are "stock" leaders for paragraphs in daily papers. It is a well-known fact that nothing new can be raised in the city without drawing upon itself the scathing remarks and innuendoes of a too-critical, and generally ignorant, public. Londoners are proverbially ungrateful; they also think it fine, and superior, to cavil at their works of art. Mr. Gilbert designs a Florentine fountain in Piccadilly Circus; the very 'bus-conductors fling their handful of mud at it as they pass; the new Gothic Law Courts arise in the Strand, to be freely criticised, and vituperated not only by every budding architect, but also by every "man in the street"; the City Powers erect a Temple Bar Memorial Griffin, and nothing less than their heads, it is felt, should with propriety go to adorn the monument of their crass Philistinism. A scheme is proposed for an addition to the cloisters of Westminster, and a public-spirited citizen offers to carry it out at his own expense: he is promptly fallen foul of, as a desecrator of the shade of Edward the Confessor, by the united force of the press. It is hard, indeed, in these critical days to be a philanthropist!

And not only are we thus critical to works of our own day, but also to those of the past. Old London, no less than New London, is gibed at and mocked. "A province in brick," "a squalid village," "a large wen"; such are only a few among the epithets that have from time to time been hurled at it by men and women of letters. And yet, looking at the matter calmly and without prejudice,-are London stones, indeed, so unworthy, so poor, so inglorious?

In respect of its architecture, as in nearly every other respect, London suffers, primarily, from its vast size. "One cannot see the forest for the trees." What chance has Italian cupola, Doric portico, Gothic gable, so crowded and overpowered in the busy mart of men and of things? And how many people, in the whirl and rush of London, even look at the surrounding buildings at all? Ask the ordinary person what the dominating architecture of London is; he or she will very probably be unable to make a suggestion on the matter, for the simple reason that the question never occurred to them in all their lives before. And, indeed, it is in any case a difficult question to answer. In this vast conglomeration of houses, houses built mainly for utility and not for beauty, it is difficult to see at first anything but heterogeneous chaos; all seems "a mighty maze, without a plan"; and the really noteworthy buildings are apt to be missed. The few Norman or Saxon antiquities may well be passed over, and even a "gem of purest ray serene" such as Staple Inn, may be overlooked in the general bustle of busy Holborn. To the large body of shoppers from the country and suburbs, "London" is represented satisfactorily, and finally, by the gay thoroughfares of Regent Street and Oxford Street; "the part where the shops are." And the white gleaming river, crossed by its many bridges, encircling the black causeways,-the long line of the Embankment, the Westminster towers at one end of it, the dome of St. Paul's on the other,-are, possibly, all that remains of London in the mind of the average Londoner; his view of it more or less resembling Byron's:

"A mighty mass of brick, and smoke, and shipping,

Dirty and dusky, but as wide as eye

Could reach, with here and there a sail just skipping

In sight, then lost among the forestry

Of masts; a wilderness of steeples peeping

On tiptoe through their sea-coal canopy;

A huge, dun cupola, like a foolscap crown

On a fool's head-and there is London Town!"

Why should we, the travellers of the world, who so admire other cities, so persistently pour obloquy on our own? It is true that London, on a day of east wind, when the sky is leaden, when suffering is writ large on the faces of poor humanity, and when dirty tracts of paper, notwithstanding the Borough Councils, blow about in all directions, is hardly inspiring; and on a wet day, or a day of fog, when pedestrians peer vainly through that "light which London takes the day to be," and suffering 'bus and dray horses slide and stagger, in the peculiar glutinous composition termed "London mud," through the murky thoroughfares, it can scarcely be said to be at its best. But then, neither are Paris nor Berlin prepossessing under like circumstances.... Paradise itself would be at a discount!

But, on fine days of spring or summer, days when the May sun, with "heavenly alchemy," transforms the dust in the atmosphere to gold,-when the slight haze of a London summer but adds to pictorial charm,-does not the great city seem a very Eldorado? Days such as these surely inspired Mr. Henley's London Voluntaries; soot, fog, grime are all forgotten; the city sparkles like a many-faceted diamond, and

"Trafalgar Square

(The fountains volleying golden glaze)

Shines like an angel-market. High aloft

Over his couchant lions in a haze

Shimmering and bland and soft,

A dust of chrysoprase,

Our Sailor takes the golden gaze

Of the saluting sun...."

Yet it is, on the whole, not so much ourselves, as foreigners and colonials, who are and have been the harshest critics of London stones. The colonists of Melbourne, accustomed to their own straight, wide streets, are shocked at our narrow, tortuous, and inconvenient city thoroughfares; the denizens of New York, fresh from their own system of regular "blocks," their town of parallelograms, are amazed at London's want of "plan." The French, recalling their tall, white palaces of the Place du Louvre and the Rue de Rivoli, are surprised no less at our prevailing soot and grime, than by the lack of continuity in our streets, of conformity in our public buildings. So depressed, indeed, was M. Daudet in our metropolis that he went so far as to call Englishwomen "ugly"; the kindly and accomplished author must really have suffered from "the spleen." So, also, must M. Taine, when he unkindly likened Nelson, on the top of his column, to "a rat impaled on the top of a pole," and added, further, that a swamp like London was "a place of exile for the arts of antiquity." Not one of these critics, be it observed, recognises either the "?sthetic value" of soot, or the charm of irregularity. And see how, even when we do try after conformity and classical regularity, they fall foul of us! For instance, M. Gabriel Mourey, in his charming book on England, Passé le Détroit, while admiring the beauty of Regent's Park, makes somewhat scornful reference to those too-ambitious stucco terraces, designed by Nash in the Prince Regent's time:

"The turf of Regent's Park" (he says) "under that misty sun of the London summer, that gives both a vagueness to the horizon and an indefinite enlargement to the immense city ... the turf of Regent's Park, with its depths of real country, notwithstanding the 'new Greek' lines of the big houses appearing in the distance-Greek lines that harmonise so badly with that northern sun."

Equally severe is M. Taine, the accomplished and broad-minded critic. Hear his condemnation of one of our finest palaces:

"A frightful thing is the huge palace in the Strand, which is called Somerset House. Massive and heavy piece of architecture, of which the hollows are inked, the porticoes blackened with soot, where, in the cavity of the empty court, is a sham fountain without water, pools of water on the pavement, long rows of closed windows-what can they possibly do in these catacombs? It seems as if the livid and sooty fog had even befouled the verdure of the parks. But what most offends the eyes are the colonnades, peristyles, Grecian ornaments, mouldings, and wreaths of the houses, all bathed in soot; poor antique architecture-what is it doing in such a climate?"

We give up the whole defence of the Regent's Park houses; yet, surely, poor Somerset House was hardly deserving of all this satire! Somerset House, though its river frontage is inadequate and lacking in dignity, yet testifies to the ability of its eighteenth-century architect, Sir William Chambers. The older palace of Protector Somerset, that English prison where two poor foreign queens, Henrietta Maria and Catherine of Braganza, languished in desolate grandeur, has given place to an imposing structure, a community of Inland Revenue, a Circumlocution Office on a vast scale. Situated at the Strand end of Waterloo Bridge, its condemned river fa?ade looms, nevertheless, attractively in gleaming whiteness, across the water-a whiteness to which the encroaching soot that the French writers complain of only lends picturesque setting.

M. Taine, however, had evidently no eye for sooty effects. To him, that mystic view from the river bridges, that view that inspired his best sonnet in Wordsworth, a "nocturne" in Mr. Whistler, and immortal art in the boy Turner, has to him merely "the look of a bad drawing in charcoal which some one has rubbed with his sleeve."

While London's natural and primitive instinct is perhaps toward Gothic architecture ("the only style," says M. Taine of Westminster Abbey, "that is at all adapted to her climate,") yet, no doubt, the prevailing note of her architecture is its cosmopolitanism. It is her misfortune, as well as her glory, to show every kind of feverish architectural craze and style in close juxtaposition-Gothic, Renaissance, Norman, Greek, and Early English. Ardent spirits have, at various times, sought to erect in her streets the oriflammes of other nations, quite regardless of suitability or appropriate setting. Italian spires and cupolas that would adorn their native valleys, and shine, gleaming pinnacles of white,-landmarks to the wandering peasant over the intervening black forest of pines,-are here crowded, perhaps, between a fashionable "emporium" and a modern hotel; Doric temples, such as should stand aloof in lonely grandeur each on its tall Acropolis, here are sandwiched, maybe, between a model dairy-shop and a fashionable library; Renaissance palaces that, by the waters of Venice, would reflect their arches and pillars in a sunny, golden glow, here confront blackened statues of square-toed nineteenth-century philanthropists,-or, more prosaic still, a smoke-breathing London terminus!

Yet, while we concede the Gothic style to be more in keeping with London skies and spirits, it is, nevertheless, difficult to say which of her styles is most dominant-for all, truly, have been dominant in their day. For London, in this respect, has been the victim of succeeding fashions; over her resistless and long-suffering mass have, in every new age and decade,

"Bards made new poems,

Thinkers new schools,

Statesmen new systems,

Critics new rules."

Nearly every decade of the past two centuries can be traced by the scholar in London streets and monuments. Nay, from the time of the Great Fire, when Wren, that master spirit in architecture, rose in his strength, and undertook to rebuild sixty destroyed churches,-the progress, or falling off, of London in this art can be generally traced in the metropolis. Wren, best known to posterity as the builder of St. Paul's, was a remarkable figure of his robust time. Like the magician of some old fairy tale, he caused a new and more beautiful London to rise again from its ashes. Macaulay wrote of him:

"In architecture, an art which is half a science ... our country could boast at the time of the Revolution of one truly great man, Sir Christopher Wren; and the fire which laid London in ruins, destroying 13,000 houses and 89 churches, gave him an opportunity unprecedented in history of displaying his powers. The austere beauty of the Athenian portico, the glowing sublimity of the Gothic arcade, he was, like most of his contemporaries, incapable of emulating, and perhaps incapable of appreciating; but no man born on our side of the Alps has imitated with so much success the magnificence of the palace churches of Italy."

Wren's master-work, it may be said, is after all only imitative; St. Paul's in London is but an adaptation of St. Peter's in Rome. But it is a free adaptation, and in the grand style. Nor will any one be disposed to deny the great architect's wealth of imagination, originality and resource, who studies Wren's sixty City churches, none of which, either in spire or church itself, is a duplicate of another. Perhaps, among them all, it is the spire of St. Mary-le-Bow that, for grace and beauty of design, bears away the palm.

For forty years no important building was erected in London in which Wren was not concerned. That his wider plan for the regulating and straightening of the streets themselves was not adopted we have, perhaps, reason to be thankful. While nearly all the city spires recall Wren's master-hand and versatile tastes, the Banqueting House, that well-known palatial fragment in Whitehall, is the principal monument left to us by Inigo Jones, Wren's immediate predecessor. Inigo Jones is principally famous as the designer of that splendid palace of Whitehall that was never built, that "dream-palace" of Palladian splendour that was intended to replace the ancient "York House" of Wolsey, the former "Whitehall" of the Tudors. The river-front of this imagined palace, as designed by Inigo, would, in its noble simplicity, have been a thing of beauty for all time; it is to be regretted that the plan was never carried out. The civil troubles of the impending Revolution, the want of money for so grandiose a scheme, prevented the undertaking. The sole realisation of the dream is now the old Banqueting House that we pass in Whitehall, a building isolated among its neighbours, intended only as the central portion of but one wing of the enormous edifice. Cruel, indeed, is the irony of history, and little did James I., for whose glory this magnificent palace was planned, think "that he was raising a pile from which his son was to step from the throne to a scaffold." For this very Banqueting House served later as Charles's vestibule on his way to execution. With the final banishment of the Stuarts, Whitehall was deserted as a Royal residence; and the old palace, destroyed by successive fires, its picturesque "Gothic" and "Holbein" gateways removed as obstructions, has in its turn made way for imposing Government Offices. Yet the Banqueting House, sole and sad relic of a vanished past, still stands solidly in its place, and is now used as a Museum.

What, one imagines, would modern London have been had Inigo Jones's plan found fruition, and the whole of Whitehall, from Westminster to the Banqueting House, been given up to his palatial splendours? That the present Buckingham Palace is but a poor substitute for such imagined magnificence is certain, and the loss of Inigo's fine Palladian river-frontage is perhaps hardly atoned for by the terrace of our modern Houses of Parliament; yet these, too, are beautiful, and Whitehall has not lost its palatial air; for its wide and still widening streets, its spacious and imposing Government Offices, still serve to keep up the illusion, and, at any rate, the state of royalty. Already one of the handsomest streets in London, its buildings are being yet further improved, and a new War Office of vast proportions is rising slowly on the long-vacant plot of ground where, it was said, three hundred different kinds of wild flowers lately grew, whose yellow and pink blossoms used to wave temptingly before the eyes of travellers on omnibus-tops.... Now, never more will flowers grow there; no longer will the picturesque, green gabled roofs of "Whitehall Court" look across to the fleckered sunlight of the Admiralty and the Horse Guards. Instead, palatial buildings, something after the Palladian manner of Inigo Jones's imagined Whitehall Palace, will form a noble street, in a more or less continuous line of massive splendour; a road of palaces, to be further dignified by the erection of new and spacious Government Offices, near the Abbey, on the line of the destroyed and obstructive King Street. When all the Whitehall improvements are carried out, the dignity and beauty of London will gain immensely, and the view down the long street of palaces,-the Abbey, unobstructed by intervening buildings, shining like a star at its Parliament Street end,-will be among the very finest sights in the metropolis.

The Horse Guards.

If Inigo Jones, steeped in Italian art, was severely Palladian in style, Wren, his successor, "a giant in architecture," was a versatile and original genius. The quantity and the quality of his work may well overpower a later age. "He paved the way," says Fergusson, "and smoothed the path"; none of his successors have surpassed if, indeed, equalled him. During the eighteenth century, the Renaissance still held sway in architecture; James Gibbs, in 1721, built the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, of which the Grecian portico, says Mr. Hare, "is the only perfect example in London"; the brothers Adam, of "Adelphi" fame, flourished, giving, with their doorways, their fireplaces, their curves and arches, a new impulse to the domestic architecture of their day; Sir William Chambers erected Somerset House; and Sir John Soane, who in 1788 designed the present Bank of England, was, with others of his contemporaries, a pioneer of the coming classical revival. With the beginning of the nineteenth century the change came, and architectural design in England completely changed. Now the "new Greek lines" that, say the French, "go so ill with our northern climate," became all the rage; the mild Gothic of Wren, itself a "last dying echo," completely disappeared, and Greek temples, "orders," pediments, columns, grew everywhere like mushrooms. Nash, the architect of the Regency, the "Apostle of Plaster," planned out Regent Street, a new road to extend from the Prince's colonnaded mansion Carlton House, to the new Park named after him: hence arose the Quadrant, and the Regent's Park terraces already alluded to. All was Greek, everything was colonnaded, at that day:

"Once the fashion was introduced it became a mania. Thirty or forty years ago no building was complete without a Doric portico, hexastyle, or octastyle, prostylar, or distyle in antis; and no educated man dared to confess ignorance of a great many very hard words which then became fashionable. Churches were most afflicted in this way: next to these came gaols and county halls, but even railway stations and panoramas found their best advertisements in these sacred adjuncts; and terraces and shop-fronts thought they had attained the acme of elegance when either a wooden or plaster caricature of a Grecian order suggested the classical taste of the builder."

Nash was the chief introducer of "stucco" (the covering of brick with cement to imitate stone), which has since become so vulgarised everywhere, and especially in the fashionable West End squares and streets. Nash's tastes in this respect gave rise to the following epigram:

"Augustus at Rome was for building renowned,

And of marble he left what of brick he had found;

But is not our Nash, too, a very great master?

He finds us all brick, and he leaves us all plaster."

All the great public buildings of the time shared in the classic revival. The British Museum, built by the Smirkes in the first half of the last century, at enormous expense, is the most successful imitation of Ionic architecture in England. The style of the pediment is after that of the Athenian Acropolis. Though critics object to it that it has no suitable base, it is, nevertheless, an imposing structure. The Greek portico of the London University Buildings, in Gower Street, erected by Wilkins in 1827, is, says Fergusson, "the most pleasing specimen of its class ever erected in this country." But it is so secluded and recessed from the street, as to be hardly seen. Its architect, Wilkins, had the misfortune to be chosen to erect our much-abused National Gallery building, with its condemned "pepper-boxes" of cupolas; the designer, however, was so hampered by conditions and restrictions, as to be almost helpless in the matter. The National Gallery, nevertheless, still stands on the finest site in London, an object of scorn to visitors and foreigners.

But the ultra-classic craze, in London, burnt itself out at last in one final flare. Of the innumerable buildings that still tell of the extent of the mania, perhaps the most exaggerated is the church of New St. Pancras, built after not one but several Athenian temples. It is a strange medley of forms, a real nightmare of Greek art. Its tower is a double reproduction of the "Temple of the Winds," one temple on the top of the other: while its interior and its caryatids are modelled on the Erechtheion. Poor caryatids, designed for the bright sunlight of the Acropolis, and imprisoned, blackened and ogre-like, in the dreary and muddy Euston Road! "Calm" you may be, in your pre-surroundings, but hardly "far-looking"; for your view is restricted (even if fog does not restrict it yet further) to the uninspiring buildings of Euston Station opposite! Truly, they who placed you here must have been somewhat lacking in sense of humour! The double Tower of the Winds is not so unhappy as the poor caryatids; it even looks well, in its height and its silvery greyness, seen over the Tavistock Square trees, which hide its inadequate portico. The failure of this incongruous church, added to its vast expense, brought the final reaction from the classical fever; yet, from one extreme, men directly rushed to the other.

The Gothic revival, as might be expected, set in severely; the classic sculptors changed their style and became Gothic; new Gothic sculptors, Pugin, Britton, and others, arose on the artistic firmament. Then, in 1840-59, Sir Charles Barry built the chief modern architectural feature of London, the New Palace of Westminster, in the medi?val and Tudor style. The small chapel of Henry VII. gave the idea for this vast edifice. The enormous structure, so often criticised, is yet, to judge by the many photographs and views annually sold of it, the most popular building in London.

Even M. Taine, who consistently falls foul of all London architecture that is not Gothic, speaks thus of it:

"The architecture ... has the merit of being neither Grecian nor Southern; it is Gothic, accommodated to the climate, to the requirements of the eye. The palace magnificently mirrors itself in the shining river; in the distance, its clock-tower, its legions of turrets and of carvings are vaguely outlined in the mist. Leaping and twisted lines, complicated mouldings, trefoils and rose windows diversify the enormous mass which covers four acres, and produces on the mind the idea of a tangled forest."

The great Exhibition of 1851 gave, naturally, much impetus to the enlargement, as well as the architecture, of London. And though the English school of architects became somewhat more catholic in taste, yet the Gothic style still held the public favour. Butterfield's severe church of All Saints, Margaret Street, delighted the public taste, and initiated the fashion for "Butterfield" spires; Scott's church of St. Mary Abbott's, Kensington, was also popular. Would not either of these be noticed, if "planted out" in an Italian valley? And Street's well-known New Law Courts, in the Strand, built 1879-83, are the latest expression of modern Gothic. Opinion is divided on the subject of their merits, but undoubtedly they form, viewed from the Strand, a fine pile of buildings.

What is called the "Queen Anne" building craze has set in strongly of late years, its chief pioneers being the two architects,-Norman Shaw, who built the picturesque mansion of Lowther Lodge, solidly fine in its darkened red-brick, close to the Albert Hall,-and Bodley, who designed the fine offices of the London School Board on the Thames Embankment. Lowther Lodge is said to "exhibit very well the merits of the best order of "Queen Anne" design of the domestic class"; its successors are much more efflorescent. Everywhere now spring up so-called "Queen Anne" mansions, streets, houses, public offices; and red-brick, terra-cotta, nooks, ingles, casement windows are multiplying ad libitum all over the metropolis. Different styles prevail at different times, and the "Queen Anne" wave just now threatens to overwhelm us. Flats, stores, police-stations, hotels, all are becoming "Queen Anne." Even if walls are still thin, even if the jerry-builder is still to the fore, new streets are, none the less, built in the "Queen Anne" manner; and the last stage of every craze is worse than the first.

What, then, is the prevailing architecture of London? We have perused its history; we have wandered through its streets, and have gazed on all and every style of building. Decision ought to be easy. Yet it is not so easy as it looks. In the Forum at Rome, you have to dig to find out all the different strata of buildings-republican, monarchical, imperial. In London, it is even more puzzling, for here you see them all together, above ground, in close juxtaposition-Tudor, Stuart, Hanoverian-it needs more than a magician's wand to relegate each to its proper period in history. Wren's St. Paul's, the enormous Hotel Cecil, the Whitehall Government Offices, the old timbered mansions in Bishopsgate Street, Pennethorne's new Tudor Record office, the Railway Architecture of Charing Cross and of Liverpool Street, the Aquarium hung gaily with posters, the Savoy Hotel in white and gold-you have them all, side by side. You pass through the prevailing stucco and heavy porticoes of Belgrave Square,-the new red-brick and terra-cotta of the Cadogan and Grosvenor Estates,-the stone dignity of Broad Sanctuary,-the dull brick uniformity of Bloomsbury;-which style, think you, suits your ideal London best?

But, while it may reasonably be matter for conjecture as to what architectural style really suits London best,-or if, indeed, a wholesome mixture of all styles be not a desideratum,-it seems, perhaps, safe to say that it is the "dark house," in

the "long, unlovely street" of Tennyson's condemnation, of Madame de Sta?l's vituperation,-that, in its dull uniformity, really occupies most of the area of London. There are, of course, minor differences. In West London, the "unlovely street" may flower into questionable stucco; in East London, it may become lower, dingier, and meaner: but in original intent all are the same. So monotonous, indeed, are they, that, in secluded squares or corners, one welcomes joyfully an original door-knocker, even such a door-canopy as that described in Little Dorrit, "a projecting canopy in carved work, of festooned jack-towels, and children's heads with water-on-the-brain, designed after a once-popular monumental pattern." In interiors, these same monotonous houses may all differ widely, though even here no universal rule of taste can be laid down; and the little School Board boy who said, na?vely, "Rich people's houses ain't nice inside; there is books all round, and no washin'" unconsciously testified to the wide differences entailed by "the point of view." In Mayfair, Westminster, or Belgravia,-yes, even in Bloomsbury, one dull brick or stucco house-front may present the same external gloom as another, and yet, internally, may differ much from that other in glory. And this fact is typical of poor as well as of rich London. An Englishman's house is his castle, and Englishmen's tastes, as we know, are seldom much in evidence. "Adam" ceilings, "Morris" tapestries, Pompeian courts, leafy vistas, medi?val halls, "Queen Anne", "ingleneuks," all these may surprise the visitor, when once the "Open sesame" has revealed to him all that lies behind that magic front door that guards the Briton's household gods from the vulgar glare of the street.

Even some of the treasure-houses of England's magnates, merchant-princes, and collectors are curiously unsuggestive externally. In this connection I may quote Mr. Moncure Conway's description of the late Mr. Alfred Morrison's house in Carlton House Terrace, adorned by the genius of Mr. Owen Jones:

"The house" (he says) "is one of those large, square, lead-coloured buildings, of which so many thousands exist in London, that any one passing by would pronounce characteristically characterless. It repeats the apparent determination of ages that there shall be no external architectural beauty in London. Height, breadth, massiveness of portal, all declare that he who resides here has not dispensed with architecture because he could not command it. In other climes this gentleman is dwelling behind carved porticoes of marble and pillars of porphyry; but here the cloud and sky have commanded him to build a blank fortress and find his marble and porphyry inside of it. Pass through this heavy doorway, and in an instant every fair clime surrounds you, every region lavishes its sentiment; you are the heir of all the ages."

The street that Tennyson really designed in In Memoriam was Wimpole Street, surely not as ugly or as pretentious a street as many others of the West End. Gower Street, too, was called unkindly by Mr. Ruskin "the nec plus ultra of ugliness in British architecture"; yet, indeed, Bloomsbury houses, unfashionable as they are, seem by their very plainness and want of adornment to maintain a certain dignity that is unknown to those long rows of stucco catafalques of Kensington and Belgravia, where, standing beneath the endless vista of projecting porches, one's mind naturally turns to tombs and whited sepulchres.

The Bloomsbury houses are, at any rate, simple and inoffensive. Mr. Moncure Conway, in a further passage, pleads the cause of London's ugly residential streets:

"Much is said from time to time about the ugliness of London street architecture ... the miles and miles of yellow-gray and sooty brick houses, each as much like the other as if so many miles of hollow block were chopped at regular intervals. And yet there is something so pleasant to think of in these interminable rows of brick blocks, that they are not altogether unpleasant to the eye. For they are houses of good size, comfortable houses; and their sameness, only noticeable through their vast number, means that the average of well-to-do-people in London is also vast. It implies a distribution of wealth, an equality of conditions, which make the best feature of a solid civilisation. There is much beauty inside these orange-tawny walls. Before any house in that league of sooty brick you may pause and say with fair security: In that house are industrious, educated people ... they have made there, within their mass of burnt clay, a true cosmos, where love and thought dwell with them: and between all that and a fine outside they have chosen the better part."

But, according to Edward Gibbon, the historian, the excuse for London's ugly "exteriors" is not so much because the inhabitants have "chosen the better part," as because the average Englishman mostly keeps his show and his magnificence for his country seat. Comparing London and Paris, Gibbon said (in 1763):

"I devoted many hours of the morning to the circuit of Paris and the neighbourhood, to the visit of churches and palaces conspicuous by their architecture.... An Englishman may hear without reluctance that in these.... Paris is superior to London, since the opulence of the French capital arises from the defects of its government and religion. In the absence of Louis XIV. and his successors the Louvre has been left unfinished; but the millions which have been lavished on the sands of Versailles and the morass of Marli could not be supplied by the legal allowance of a British king. The splendour of the French nobles is confined to their town residence; that of the English is more usefully distributed in their country seats; and we should be astonished at our own riches if the labours of architecture, the spoils of Italy and Greece, which are now scattered from Inverary to Wilton, were accumulated in a few streets between Marylebone and Westminster."

In some parts of Bloomsbury,-Great Ormond Street, for instance, or Queen Square,-some of the old houses are charming in their darkened red-brick and plain casements neatly outlined with white paint. But then most of these are, like old Kensington Palace, really of Queen's Anne's time, and the original is ever better than the imitation. No doubt, to the inhabitant, there are accompanying drawbacks to some of these; beetles of long standing may infest their grimy kitchens, and their ancient oak panelling may be prolific in those large rats which are so unpleasantly suggestive, to the nervous, of ghosts.

Queen Square is the oldest of all the Bloomsbury Squares; for in 1746 London hardly extended further than the northern end of Southampton Row, all beyond being more or less open country. Queen Square is so named in honour of Queen Anne, and her statue, as its presiding genius, adorns its further end, which was left open, as already mentioned, on account of the beautiful view it afforded of the heights of Highgate and Hampstead. Of the same solidity and almost medi?val suggestion as Queen Square are the picturesque Charterhouse Square (now mainly hotels and business precincts), Trinity Square, near the Tower (with the same tendency), and other unsuspected haunts of old time. And in the charming "old Court suburb" of Kensington, several such squares, delightful in greenery and mellowed red-brick, are to be found. How refreshing, for instance, is Kensington Square, a square that still keeps its old-world look, and suggests Miss Thackeray's pleasant touches, despite the sad encroachments of modernity at one end, in the shape of tall and very prosaic blocks of "model dwellings." There is, as stand, a great modern craze for red-brick, and the many new and often quaintly designed houses, when darkened by years, will no doubt improve residential London vastly. And despite the enormous recent growth of London, and the incessant crowding of bricks and mortar, there yet remains an almost suburban charm about Kensington, Chelsea, and Fulham-in Kensington especially-where a few old-world corners are still untouched, where Kensington Palace still, in its Dutch solidity, "maintains all the best traditions of Queen Anne's time," and where the pretty modern dwelling-houses abound, described so sympathetically by M. Gabriel Mourey in Passé le Détroit:

"In front of the pretty little fa?ades of the little red-brick houses, the style which Philip Webb, the architect, invented, and which is so happily appropriate alike to the requirements of English life and to the colour and movements of the atmosphere, it is pleasant to dream of an existence in which all is calm, intimate, and gravely happy. The windows are guillotine-like, half hidden by balconies with trailing plants, and through them one catches sight of neat, bright furniture, designed at once for utility and decoration. A woman is seated at the window, working or reading, of quiet and placid beauty. The children come in from playing in some neighbouring park. They are supple and vigorous, like young animals, frank and direct of aspect, not spoilt by any unhealthy precocity. The husband comes in from the City, his bag in hand, after his hours on feverish business, the joy of the same horizon found every evening, the sweetness of home; happiness composed of simple, various elements, a sensation of prosperity in all the little houses, all alike the same comfortable contentment. And as before a camera or in reading a book one likes to imagine or evoke the soul of the artist, so here the personality of this Philip Webb claims me, the soul of the architect who, like Solness, the master builder, has passed his life in building not palaces or churches, but simple houses."

Such modern houses are, at any rate, a great relief from the monotonous and too-predominating fever of Georgian and Early Victorian stucco. A new city of red brick has arisen on the Cadogan Estate, and in the remodelled purlieus of Sloane Street big mansions of red flats tower skywards, and blossom into oriels, gables, dormer-windows, and such like excrescences. Originality is a new thing in London domestic architecture, and the Cadogan Estate is, on the whole, vastly improved. The Bedford Estate of Bloomsbury might, no doubt, be rebuilt to equal advantage but for two potent reasons, the one being that its house walls, built strongly in last century's beginning, show no signs of decay; the other, that the fitful tide of fashion has so deserted the locality as to make the expense hardly worth incurring. Therefore, Bloomsbury houses are merely "tinkered" up in places, and adorned here and there with facings and mouldings of terra-cotta; a half-hearted proceeding at best, and no more successful than such half-measures usually are.

But, while the plain, nondescript brick houses of Gower Street and Baker Street still remain the prevailing type of London architecture, there is everywhere noticeable a tendency to improve and embellish the streets of the metropolis, to rebuild in a better or, at any rate, a more ambitious way. Travelling along the highway of Oxford Street, from ancient Tyburn to Tottenham Court Road, how many tall, new, and ornate house-fronts rise along the line on each side of us! There is a warehouse in Oxford Street by Collcutt, which, say architectural authorities, "has probably the most showy fa?ade in England for the money." The lease of a small, mean house expires; it is promptly destroyed-to rise again in dazzling red-brick, terra-cotta, and wide casements. Everywhere else it is the same; everywhere is red-brick, and red or buff terra-cotta, adorning alike shop-front, warehouse, "Tube" station, and palatial mansion, till, indeed, you hardly know which is which. Very good indeed is the effect of some of this new street-architecture. Sometimes the new houses are even rebuilt in "old English" style, or on old models, with all the latest improvements; as, for instance, "Short's" famous wine-tavern in the Strand, lately re-erected as a semi-medi?val building, with white and green adornments, sloping roof, and the projecting "sign" of old times. Could we "dip into the future far as human eye can see"; were it given to us, but for one moment, to behold the architectural glories and wonders of the London of, say, the year A.D. 2000; well, we should, at any rate, comprehend better whither our present efforts tend. Then will the public buildings of the Victorian Age, as of the Elizabethan Age, be pointed out proudly to the wondering sightseer; the golden glitter of the "Anno Victori?" on the Royal Exchange Pediment will prove no less inspiring than the "Anno Elizabeth?"; and while such ancient monuments as St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey must ever command the primal reverence of every Englishman worthy the name, no less will such landmarks as the Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial, the Natural History Museum, or the Imperial Institute, speak to the ages of the famous "sixty years of ever widening Empire." For, surely, the greatest power of architecture is that it leaves the memorial, in turn, of every age. Therefore, all the more, should

"You, the Patriot Architect,

You that shape for Eternity,

Raise a stately memorial,

Make it regally gorgeous, ...

Rich in symbol, in ornament,

Which may speak to the centuries,

All the centuries after us...."

Architecture, like literature, needs time to orb it "into the perfect star," to give it its right place and setting in history. And yet, it should be of every age. "We could name," said the late Mr. Walter Pater, "certain modern churches in London ... to which posterity may well look back puzzled. Could these exquisitely pondered buildings have been, indeed, works of the nineteenth century? Were they not the subtlest creations of the age in which Gothic art was spontaneous? In truth, we have had instances of workmen, who, through long, large devoted study of the handiwork of the past, have done the thing better, with a more fully enlightened consciousness, with full intelligence of what those early workmen only guessed at."

The Albert Hall, so much abused for its acoustic defects, is, from its impressive size at least, a well-known London landmark. "That monstrous caricature of the Colosseum," some one has called it; but critics of London's modern buildings generally err on the side of severity, and the vast elliptical mass is certainly imposing. In the Albert Hall, the new style of terra-cotta decorations, already referred to, is largely prominent; the Pantheon-like dome has a pleasing solidity, and the glow of smoke-darkened red, in spring, is delightfully contrasted with the green trees of the neighbouring Park. Enormous "mansions," also red-brick, but hardly attractive, have arisen, in Babel-like height, beside the Albert Hall, painfully dwarfing and overshadowing the charming building of "Lowther Lodge" adjacent. These "mansions" and "flats" have increased of late years enormously in London, are, indeed, still increasing. From "model lodging-houses" to elaborate and expensive palaces, every kind of income and taste is, in this respect, catered for; and these enormous dwelling-houses,-cities, or at least villages, in themselves,-attain terrific proportions of height and size. In them live "all sorts and conditions of men." Thus, in the "blocks" of model dwellings, ladies in eternal "Hinde's curlers" quarrel vociferously, with arms akimbo, from across their railed-in outer landing-places; while, in more elaborate dwellings, tubs of "yuccas" and other evergreen trees greet the visitor cheerfully from the glazed-in Nuremberg-like courtyards, and elaborate flower-boxes adorn the balconies. Indeed, the modern "flats" already form no inconsiderable factor in London's street architecture; and sometimes, as in Bedford Court Mansions, Bedford Square, they are of considerable artistic merit. The new hotels, also, are another leading feature of modern London. Fifty years ago London had but few hotels, and those that did exist, often left much to be desired in the way of comfort, cleanliness, and reliability. Now enormous palaces have arisen everywhere, not only in the West End, but in Bayswater, Bloomsbury, and other less modish quarters; sumptuous mansions, still of ornate red brick and terra-cotta, springing up with the promptitude of an Aladdin's palace, and dominating, as it may be, their respective street or square. It was not long since that I chanced to meet two queens in a cart filled with straw-unregal state for a queen! going along, smiling placidly, to their final resting place. The queens were of terra-cotta, and their last, sad journey was presumably only from Doulton's factories in Lambeth to their destined abode on the Russell Hotel fa?ade; nevertheless, I sympathised with the poor things in their patient submission, led thus, in an open cart, to execution, roped and hung amid the jeers of the populace.

In the "Venetian Gothic" style is the modern Crown Insurance Office, in New Bridge Street, built by Woodward. Of this edifice, D. G. Rossetti, who lived at one time close by it, says: "It seems to me the most perfect piece of civil architecture of the new school that I have seen in London. I never cease to look at it with delight." Of what is called the "Secular Gothic" order, is the large terra-cotta "Natural History Museum," at South Kensington, an ambitious building by Waterhouse, about which much difference of opinion rages. While Mr. Hare has no doubt at all but that it is "an embodiment of pretentious ugliness, a huge pile of mongrel Lombardic architecture," other authorities have seen in its originality "many evidences of anxious and skilful pains." Its general effect is, it must be confessed, at present somewhat bizarre and striped. The "Prudential Assurance Offices," also by Waterhouse, built close to the site of old Furnival's Inn, in Holborn, is a more generally popular edifice, sober and solid in its unrelieved, dark-red terra-cotta.

Many other notable buildings might, of course, be mentioned, but space is limited. Enough, however, has been said to show that Londoners are still slaves to architectural fashion, and that the now prevailing mode is for red-brick and terra-cotta. Indeed, the London of the close of the nineteenth and the opening of the twentieth century, will surely be "picked out" by future antiquaries by lines and "holdings" of red, just as the limits of the Georgian and early-Victorian classical fever are now shown by white Doric and Ionic pediments and columns, gleaming from beneath their invading mantle of soot. Some people say, by the way, that the present love of terra-cotta as building material, partly arises from the fact that it can be washed. If this be true, then it only shows that the Londoner of to-day is wanting in appreciation of the before-mentioned "artistic value" of soot. It may be, that, like the tailless fox of the fable, we admire what we must perforce put up with, or what we are accustomed to. Yet, it has always seemed to me that London's chief beauty lies in this all-pervading grime, mellowing, softening, harmonizing. M. Taine, we know, did not hold this view; is it, indeed, to be expected from any one but a true, a born Londoner? St. Paul's blackened festoons of sculptured roses; the grimy cupids, nestling on the pedestals of the Russell family's statues in the Bloomsbury squares; the mournful Greek frieze on the Athen?eum Club, in Pall Mall;-yes, even the sooty resignation of the St. Pancras caryatids; does not the pall of soot, which so afflicts the Southerner, seem to convey something of London's spirit, humanity, Ego, in fact? Who, for instance, will maintain that the blackness of St. Paul's itself does not immeasurably add to the grandeur of its effect? As G. A. Sala said:

"It is really the better for all the incense which all the chimneys since the time of Wren have offered at its shrine; and are still flinging up every day from their foul and grimy censers."

Who, also, will not own that the new Tate Gallery, erected at such expense by Sir Henry Tate's munificence on the old site of Millbank Prison, is not improving, year by year, by the combined action of London's river, fogs, and soot? It already looks less incongruously white amid its murky surrounding wharves; less like a frosted wedding-cake, less aggressively Greek near the grey Gothic pile of neighbouring Westminster. And what of that picturesque railway station of St. Pancras, picturesque with the combined glamour of blue London mist and distance, towering like some shadowy medi?val fortress over the murky modernity of the Euston Road! (Even the Euston Road, saddest and least inspiring of thoroughfares, can, on occasion, be glorified.) In one of London's lurid autumn sunsets, the large red sun, obscured through fog and mist, sinks slowly behind the embattled towers of St. Pancras, lending it such an appearance of romance that even a French writer (not, however, M. Taine!) has called it:

"A monumental railway-station, like a cathedral with its arched windows, its turrets, and enormous belfry, all of red-brick, which the weather darkens so prettily."

And has not the misty glory of soot and river fog appealed to Turner, the artist; appealed, in turn, to all the painters who have at all penetrated to the spirit of the beauty and the mystery of London? Even M. Taine, so severe otherwise upon London's sooty palaces, is compelled to admit, reluctantly, some charm, after all, in this "huge conglomeration of human creation," and to confess that "the shimmering of river-waves, the scattering of the light imprisoned in vapour, the soft whitish or pink tints which cover these vastnesses, diffuse a sort of grace over the prodigious city, having the effect of a smile upon the face of a shaggy and blackened Cyclops."

The "Cyclops" is maligned and traduced by tradition, and the smile on his blackened face is often beautiful. We call London ugly, mostly from mere custom, but very few among us trouble to look and judge for ourselves. "I wonder," once said Archbishop Benson, "who out of the many thousands who daily pass St. Paul's, ever look up at it." And it is so with all London's great and historic buildings. Church spires and towers were supposed, in the simple days of old, to carry the eye and the mind up to Heaven; but what chance have they, poor things, when, even on one of London's delightful grey-blue skies of summer, no one heeds them, or their message? Like Bunyan's "Man with the Muckrake," we fix our eyes ever steadily on the ground; the only London stones that attract our notice being its jutting kerb-stones, its sounding asphalt and macadamized pavements ... we fix our attention on the dull, dead levels; we lose "the fair illuminated letters, and have no eye for the gilding." Yet we still scoff at our own historic city, not because we ever look at it on our own account, but because we have always been taught that it is the right thing to do so.

It is a curious fact that the fine passages which everybody knows and quotes about the Stones of London, all refer to them in ruins. Macaulay placed his New Zealander on a broken arch of London Bridge, to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's. Shelley pictured London as "an habitation of bitterns," and the piers of Waterloo Bridge as "the nuclei of islets of reeds and osiers." Rossetti overthrew the British Museum in order to leave the arch?ologists of some future race in confusion as to the ruins of London and Nineveh. Ruskin, who had so much that is bright and beautiful to say of the Stones of Venice, dismissed London with a warning of prophetic doom; saw her stones crumbling "through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction." It is surely time that some new and ardent spirit-some twentieth-century Ruskin-with eyes no longer set upon the dear dead past, should fix his gaze on what is grand and significant in the Stones of London, while still they stand the one upon the other; and, seeing, should reveal to the world something of the sombre glory of its greatest city.



"Adam" decorations, 246, 462

Addison, 80, 179, 383

Adelaide Gallery, the, 290

Advertisement, art of, in London, 320

Aggas's Map, 5, 187

Ainger, Canon, 146

Albany, the, 380

Albert Bridge, 26, 224

Albert Embankment, the, 32

Albert Hall, 213, 468

Albert Memorial, 397

All Hallows Staining, tower of, 55, 81

"Almack's," 181

Amen Court, 97

American Tourists in London, 299

Ancient Tomb-portraits, 348

Anne Askew, burning of, 65

Antiquarian zeal, 55

Appian Way, our, 193

Apsley House, 378

Arnold, Sir Edwin, on a mummy-case, 336

Arnold, Matthew, on Kensington Gardens, 395;

on the legend of Westminster Abbey, 188;

lecture at Toynbee Hall, 174

Artists in Kensington, 217

Ashbee, C. R., 176

"Asia Minor," 295

Asiatics in the East End, 295

Astor Estate Office, 42

"Augusta," 2, 21


Baby-farms, 431

Bacon, Francis, 139, 160

Bank Holiday, 434

Bankside theatres, 128

Barclay and Perkins's brewery, 129

Barnard's Inn, 159

Barnett, Canon, 173

Barry, Sir Charles, 205

Bartholomew Fair, 64

Battersea Park, 27, 224, 400

Beauchamp Tower, 106

Beaumont, Sir George, 354

Bedford Court, 246

Bedford House, 242

Ben Jonson, 153

Benson, Archbishop, 471

Berkeley Square, 379

Berners Street hoax, 370

Besant, Sir Walter, 8, 13, 24

Bevis Marks, 80

Billingsgate, 43, 316

Birds in London, 400, 410

Birkbeck Bank, 156

Bishopsgate Street, 76

Blackfriars, 13, 42

Blake, William, 26, 251, 349, 380, 384

"Bleak House," 144, 148, 154, 159, 261

"Blenheim Raphael," 344

Bloody Tower, 104

Bloomsbury, 238, 247

Bloomsbury Square, 243, 245

Blue mist, 23, 27, 388, 471

Boarding-houses, 263, 427

Bolt Court, 364

Bond Street, 176

Book-shops, 305

Booth, Charles, 446

Borough High Street, 126

Botanical Gardens, 406

Botticelli, 351

Bridge of Sighs, English, 40

British Museum, 333

Broad Sanctuary, 204

"Brompton Boilers," the, 341

Brompton Oratory, 215

Bront?s, the, 97

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, 380

Browning, Robert, on view from the dome of St. Paul's, 51

Buckland, Frank, 230

Burglars in London, 442

Burne-Jones, Sir Edward, 252, 369

Butler, Samuel, 42

Byron's view of London, 449


Cabs in London, 423

Cabmen, wages of, 425

Calverley's "Savoyard," 289

Campden Hill, 217

Canova, 40

Canterbury Pilgrims, the, 126

Carlton House, 181

Carlton House Terrace, 181

Carlton Restaurant, 322

Carlyle, on the Press, 14;

on Westminster Abbey, 193;

on Cheyne Row, 225;

on the Leigh Hunts, 226;

his London homes, 261;

on the British Museum reading-room, 268;

and the omnibus conductor, 422

Carlyle House, the, 224

Carlyle, statue of, 226

Carlyle, Mrs., 225, 260, 392, 442

Carpaccio, 352

Caryatids on St. Pancras Church, 409, 459

Casual wards, 441

Catherine of Braganza, 36, 228

Cats in London, 409

Chained books at Chelsea Old Church, 234

Chancery Lane, 148

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