London Tells Her Story. Part 2.

Thought I would leave you with Part 2…. before we go off in the Motorhome for a couple weeks to Cornwall to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary, Part 3 when we come back……………….


Yet it is little more than a century since the chief roads into London were made free–for travel by horse or foot was not always free. Toll-bars at Hyde Park Corner, at Knightsbridge and Chelsea were not cleared away till 1825, less busy places knew them forty years later. The roads were kept up by the money taken.

After that, people still paid toll to cross all but three of the Thames bridges. London has lost Rennie’s beautiful Waterloo Bridge, which began to sink, and in 1935-6 it was deemed necessary to destroy it. It made a long level line over the water, upon which, when the river was full, the whole structure seemed lightly to float. Waterloo Bridge was among the last to levy toll, and so late as 1877-8 an annual sum of £21,000 was collected at its bars, mostly in pence.
Foreigners tell us that having created the Thames Embankment on the Middlesex side, from Chelsea to the City, a stupendous work, we must be madmen to leave the opposite shore untouched. Yet why seek change? The view given of the brown sails of the barges lying against the Surrey bank, the wharves and the nodding cranes lifting their loads, brings before all eyes the reality of London seaport, even above bridges.
Rail and horse-drawn traffic had no rivals through-out the Victorian age.

So little anticipated was another momentous invention in transport, the motor-car, that up to 1896 the pioneers who drove in our streets were compelled to send a man walking in front to show a red flag. The speed limit enforced by the police was four miles an hour ! That was the law, and is one reason, possibly, why our country did little for the early development of the motor-car. Daring women passengers in the first open ramshackles rode thickly veiled, to protect them from the clouds of dust raised from the road, and wrapped in vast ulsters to keep them warm.
Bow Bells ring at St Mary-le-Bow Church, Cheap side a musical clangour. By old tradition, the true Londoner must be born within sound of Bow Bells. Not many to-day have that birthright.
The City keeps its position as the mercantile and financial quarter of the world’s greatest capital, and commerce has pushed out the residents. In 1861 there was a resident City population of 112,000.
Thereafter the drift away was hastened. It is London’s emptiest area. In 1931 the night population of the City had fallen to 11,000– actually one short, for the census revealed 10,999 inhabitants. But more than half a million persons earning their living in the City are estimated to pass in and out each weekday. That is a measure of its importance in London’s working life.

 A London book should pay honour to the city’s famous son’s, but how shal that be done when there are so many? In every calling they are found. The ranks of statesmanship give Chatham, Charles James Fox, Bolingbroke, Canning, Benjamin Disraeli, Joseph Chamberlain, Rosebery–all these were London born, and in our town won distinction.
The greatest poets of our race have been Londoners, though the streets and public places have nothing to remind us of them.
Geoffrey Chaucer, striding about the mediaeval city observing London characters, was the son of a Thames Street vitner.
Edmund Spenser was born in East Smithfield, in the Elizabethan town of which he sings
……………..they all to mery London came,
To mery London, my most kindly Nurse,
That to me gave this lifes first native sourse,
Though from another place I take my name,
An house of auncient fame.

John Milton’s father was a London scrivener, living in Bread Street, Cheapside, and there the great poet was born.
Herrick’s birthplace, too, was Cheapside, where his father traded as a goldsmith.
“Rare Ben Jonson” was a lifelong Londoner, his native place Charing Cross;
Alexander Pope was born in Lombard Street;
Lorn Byron on Holles Street, Cavendish Square.
Gray, whose haunting “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” is known wherever English is spoken, is another of London’s citizens, born on Cornhill. (A tablet is on the site.)
John Keats’ birthplace was over his father’s  town livery stables by Moorfields, far remote from the woods and dales and Arcady which his verse recalls.
Thomas Hood, born in the Poultry, if Scottish by blood was a true Londoner at heart; no one has written more intimately of the city’s life and tragedies.

When stupid people say that London possesses no soul above trade and commerce, do not these names give them the lie? Let other cities come forward to show their like!

London grew out of hand these last hundred years, spreading miles distant from the innermost City which had been its origin. It had become possible for London workers to live away. Shillibeer’s Omnibus in 1829 was  the forerunner of a still popular means of town travel.

Then came the railways, later the “Underground”, at last the “Tubes” to spill |London’s population farther and farther over the countryside. At the outset no authority existed which was concerned with London as a whole, for the City’s rule ended–as it ends to-day–at its frontiers. Beyone lay a confusion of out-parishes, each one independent, its interest in itself.
The City Corporation, dignified and capable, was at the centre, while inefficiency reigned in all the larger London around it. In the patchwork were thirty parish vestries and a dozen district boards, demanding rates and levies from London householders, but over few of them had the householders effective command. The street tangle was such that a single thoroughfare, the Strand, was in the care of seven paving boards. Water came from eight companies, whose charges and supplies varied. London’s drainage, of vital concern to everyone, ran through the severs of seven different authorities.
The capital’s plight had not been overlooked. A Royal Commission sat in 1833, and as a result other cities and towns gained their reformed corporations. For growing London a government from the centre was advised. But nothing was done. As the mid-century passed by, it became plain that the drift could not go on, and in 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works was set up. It carried out civic duties over a considerable area, acted as transport authority, looked after the parks, and made slum clearances.
London was given a fire brigade; the straining horses, glittering brass helmets of the fireman, and the traffic cleaved asunder to the piercing shout of “HI, HI!” made a familiar street spectacle before the motor age.

The Metropolitan Board of Works gave the capital its main drainage system, which has done much to make teeming London the healthy place it is. It showed the good that a central government, when popularly elected, might confer. It paved the way for the London County Council.
Why then does London’s government differ from that of all other cities? Time was when an all London government might have been won, had not the City within its “Square mile” stood out in isolation.
“Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams”(Acts ii.17). There were many who, amid the bad old misgovernment, saw before them the vision of London under a unified control, with the ancient City Corporation extending its authority and its great prestige to frontiers thrown far out, in a new central Council for London.
The Lord Mayor should be the head of all. Lord Elcho had a Bill in the Parliament of 1875 which proposed that, and nine years later Sir William Harcourt made a second Parliamentary effort in the same direction. The City Corporation’s implacable opposition defeated both measures. Eventually, in 1889, an Act of Parliament set up London as itself a county of England, with the City embedded in its midst.

To be continued…………

Till next time then…………………………………


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