MoboReader > Literature > The History of London

   Chapter 9 PART II.

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 4912

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Outside the walls, he says, there were many places of pleasant resort, streams and springs among them. He means the Fleet River winding at the bottom of its broad valley: farther west Tyburn and Westbourne: on the south the Wandle, the Effra, the Ravensbourne. There was a well at Holywell in the Strand-it lies under the site of the present Opéra Comique Theatre: and at Clerkenwell: these wells had medicinal or miraculous properties and there were, no doubt, taverns and places of amusement about there. At Smithfield-or Smooth Field-just outside the City walls, there was held once a week-on Friday-a horse fair. Business over, horse racing followed. Then the river was full of fish: some went fishing for their livelihood: some for amusement: salmon were plentiful and great fish such as porpoises sometimes found their way above Bridge.

Then there were the sports of the young men and the boys. They played at ball-when have not young men played at ball? The young Londoners practised some form of hockey out of which have grown the two noble games of cricket and golf. They wrestled and leaped. Nothing is said about boxing and quarterstaff. But perhaps these belonged to the practice of arms and archery, which were never neglected, because at any moment the London craftsman might have to become a soldier. They had cock fighting, a sport to which the Londoner was always greatly addicted. And they loved dancing with the girls to the music of pipe and tabor. In the winter, when the broad fens north of the walls were frozen, they skated. And they hunted with hawk and hound in the Forest of Middlesex, which belonged to the City.


The City, he tells us, is governed by the same laws as those of Rome. Like Rome, London is divided into wards: like Rome the City has annually elected magistrates who are called Sheriffs instead of Consuls: like Rome it has senatorial and inferior magistrates: like Rome it has separate Courts and proper places for law suits, and like Rome the City holds assemblies on ordered days. The writer is carried away by his enthusiasm for Rome. As we have seen, the government, laws, and customs of London owed nothing at all, in any single respect, to Rome. Everything grew out of the Anglo-Saxon laws and customs.


By his loud praise of the great plenty of food of every kind which could be found in London, FitzS

tephen reminds us that he has lived in other towns, and especially in Canterbury, when he was in the service of the Archbishop. We see, though he does not mention it, the comparison in his mind between the plentiful market of London and the meagre market of Canterbury. Everything, he says, was on sale. All the roasted meats and boiled that one can ask for; all the fish, poultry, and game in season, could every day be bought in London: there were cookshops where dinners and suppers could be had by paying for them. He dwells at length upon this abundance. Now in the country towns and the villages the supplies were a matter of uncertainty and anxiety: a housewife had to keep her pantry and her larder well victualled in advance: salt meat and salt fish were the staple of food. Beef and mutton were scarce: game there was in plenty if it could be taken; but game laws were strict; very little venison would find its way into Canterbury market. To this cleric who knew the country markets, the profusion of everything in London was amazing.

Another thing he notices-'Nearly all the Bishops, Abbots, and Magnates of England are, as it were, citizens and freemen of London; having their own splendid houses to which they resort, where they spend largely when summoned to great Councils by the King, or by their Metropolitan, or drawn thither by their own private affairs.'

In another century or two London will become, as you shall see, a City of Palaces. Observe that the palaces are already beginning. Observe, also, that London is already being enriched by the visits and residence of great lords who, with their retinues, spend 'largely.' Down to the present day the same thing has always gone on. The wealthy people who have their town houses in the West End of London and the thousands of country people and foreigners who now flock to the London hotels are the successors of the great men and their following who came up to London in the twelfth century and spent 'largely.'

'I do not think,' says FitzStephen, 'that there is any city with more commendable customs of church attendance, honour to God's ordinances, keeping sacred festivals, almsgiving, hospitality, confirming, betrothals, contracting marriages, celebration of nuptials, preparing feasts, cheering the guests, and also in care for funerals and the interment of the dead. The only pests of London are the immoderate drinking of fools and the frequency of fires.'

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top