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   Chapter 30 PART III. No.30

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 4767

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

In walking through the City to-day, one may remark that there is very little crying of things to sell. In certain streets, as Broad Street, Whitecross Street, Whitechapel, or Middlesex Street, there is a kind of open street, fair, or market; but the street cries such as Hogarth depicted exist no longer. People used to sell a thousand things in the streets which are now sold in shops. All the little things-thread, string, pins, needles, small coal, ink, and straps-that are wanted in a house were sold by hawkers and bawled all day long in the streets: fruit of all kinds was sold from house to house: fish: milk: cakes and bread: herbs and drugs: brimstone matches: an endless procession passed along, all bawling their wares. Then there were the people who ground knives, mended chairs, soldered pots and pans: these bawled with the hawkers. We can no longer speak of the roar of London: there is no roar: the vehicles, nearly all provided with springs, roll smoothly over an even surface of asphalt: there are no more drays without wheels: there are no more street fights: there is comparatively little bawling of things to sell.


In those days people liked the noise. It was a part of the City life: it showed how big and busy the City was since it could make such a tremendous noise by the mere carrying on of the daily round. Could any other city-even Paris-boast of such a noise? People who came up from the country to visit London were invited to consider the noise of the City as a part of its magnificence and pride.

What else had they to consider? What were the sights of London?

First of all, St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey. Then the Tower and the Monument, the Royal Exchange and the Mansion House, Guildhall and the Bank of England, London Bridge, Newgate, St. James's and the Horse Guards. These were to be visited by day. In the evening there were the theatres, Drury Lane and Covent Garden: and there were the Gardens.

The citizens were always fond of their Gardens. They were opened as soon as the weather would allow, and they continued open till the autumn chills made them impossible. The gardens were those of Vauxhall-still in existence as a small park: Ranelagh, at Chelsea: Marylebone, opposite the old Parish Church in High Street: Bagnigge Wells, which lay East of Gray's Inn Road: Belsize, ne

ar Hampstead: the White Conduit House in the fields near Islington: the Florida Gardens at Brompton: the Temple of Flora, the Apollo Gardens, and the Bermondsey Spa Gardens, all on the south side. These Gardens, now built over, were all alike. Every one of them had an ornamental water, walks and shrubs, a room for dancing and singing, and a stand for the band out of doors. People walked about, looked at each other, had supper, drank punch-and went home. If the Gardens were at any distance from the City they marched together for safety.

The river was still the favourite highway-thousands of boats plied up and down: it was much safer, shorter, and more pleasant to take oars from Westminster to the City than to walk or to hire a coach.


The high roads of the country were rapidly improving. Stage coaches ran from London to all the principal towns. They started, for the most part, at eight in the evening. They charged fourpence a mile, and they pretended to accomplish the journey at the rate of seven miles an hour. You may easily compare the cost of travelling when you remember that you may now go anywhere for a penny a mile-one fourth the former charge at five or six times the rate. The 'short stages,' of which there were a great many, ran to and from the suburbs: they were like the omnibuses, but not so frequent, and they cost a great deal more. Threepence a mile was the usual charge. There was a penny post in London, first set up by a private person. A letter sent from London cost twopence the first stage: threepence for two stages: above 150 miles, sixpence: Ireland and Scotland, sixpence: any foreign country a shilling. There were no bank notes under the value of 20l.: there were no postal orders or any conveniences of that kind. Money was remitted to London either by carrier or through some merchant. Banks there were by this time: but most people preferred keeping their own money in their own houses. Also banks being few everybody carried gold: this partly explains the prevalence of highway robbery: very likely the passengers on any long stage coach carried between them some hundreds of guineas: a whole railway train in these days would not yield so much: for people no longer carry with them more money than is wanted for the small expenditure of the day: tram, omnibus, cab, luncheon or dinner.

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