Highways and Byways
Rambles in the City
St. Paul's and its Precincts
Southwark, Old and New
The Inns of Court
The East and the West
Kensington and Chelsea
Theatrical and Foreign London
London Shops and Markets
The Galleries, Museums and Collections
Historic Houses and their Tenants
Rus in Urbe
The ways of Londoners
The Stones of London
London Shops and Markets
"The busy Mart of London."
"Gay shops, stately palaces, bustle and breeze,
The whirring of wheels, and the murmur of trees;
By night or by day, whether noisy or stilly.
Whatever my mood is, I love Piccadilly."
Locker-Lampson, London Lyrics.
I AM confident that if a million of women of all classes could by any possibility be placed in a Palace of Truth, and interrogated straitly as to what they liked best in all London, the vast majority of them would answer, "The Shops." Indeed, you may easily, and without any undue inquisitiveness, find this out for yourself by simply taking (in May for choice) a morning or afternoon walk down Oxford Street or Regent Street. Every shop of note will have its quota of would-be buyers, trembling on the brink of irrevocable purchase; its treble, nay, quadruple row of admiring females, who appear to find this by far the most attractive mode of getting through the day. I would go further, and say that as regards the more persevering among them, it is difficult to imagine that they ever have any other occupation at all. The shops of London have wonderfully improved in quite recent years; not perhaps, so much in actual quality, as in arrangement and taste. Labels with "dropsical figures" of shillings and perfectly invisible pence have, as in Dickens's time, still their charm for us; but other things have changed. Everything could, to those who "knew," always be bought best in London; but everything was not always displayed to the best advantage. To dress a shop-front well was in old days hardly considered a British trait. But "nous avons changι tout cela." Now, even the Paris boulevard, that Paradise of good Americans, has, except perhaps in the matter of trees and wide streets, little to teach us. "The wealth of Ormus and of Ind" that the shops of Regent Street and Bond Street display, their gold embroideries and wonderfully woven silks, tending to make a kleptomaniac out of the very elect, these it would be hard indeed to beat. Not Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these.
Even the critical American cousin is now beginning to forsake Paris, and to find out the real superiority of London shops. See how he she, I mean helps, in her numbers, to swell the shop-gazing crowds in Oxford Circus. Tramping from Bloomsbury boarding-houses, or, more aristocratic, from Northumberland Avenue hotels, the Americans have discovered, and are in a fair way to dominate, London; the London, that is, of July and August.
"The English," said a celebrated Frenchman once unkindly, "are a nation of shopkeepers." However that maybe, it is certain that we are nothing if not business-like. Evidently, the love of bargaining is inherent in the soul of the average British female who comes up from the suburbs for a day's shopping. She has a long, neatly-written list of her wants and necessities, generally pinned to some part of her person, a list with startling variations of subject, thus:" Baby's food-warmer, Tom's cricket-bat, lay-figure for Sylvia, beetle-trap for the kitchen, Effie's long Suede gloves, registry office for new cook, dentist, evening wrap, chiffon boa, something neat in the blouse line for Mamie, Aunt Maria's birthday." Poor woman! That "something neat in the blouse line" takes her nearly forty minutes in the finding; and "Aunt Maria's birthday" walks sadly into the hour for lunch, already attenuated. Several shops, alas! have been ransacked vainly, and the horrid "Sign 'ere. Miss!" that so cruelly stigmatizes, in certain cheap shops, the recalcitrant buyer, has more than once mortified the poor lady's sensitive ears. "Mamie," who is assisting at the martyrdom, gets quite cross over Aunt Maria; she succeeds, however, in detaching herself from her inconvenient parent, and appears, for her part, to be preferring the claims of a protιgι of her own, a personage who is very particular, apparently, about his special brand of ties. Finally, Aunt Maria's natal day is checked off by the purchase of an aggressive china pug, large as life, with staring eyes, which, for some occult reason, is supposed to be "the very thing" for that lady.
What are the special qualities that constitute "a good shopper"? They would appear to be as follows: endurance, patience, strength, coolness, self-control, amiability, mental arithmetic, and, lastly, an eye to a bargain. All these cardinal virtues are, for the average shopper, considered as generally necessary to salvation: but yet there are other qualifications. For instance, the intense delight that most women (and a few men) feel in obtaining an article at 1s. 11Ύd., that has once been marked with the magic 3s. 6½d., is of distinct value in this connection. How many women have delightedly bought a thing that is not of the slightest value to themselves or to any one else, simply because it is thus reduced in price! Hence the supreme advantage of sales - but that is another story.
Caveat Emptor! It is the object of the seller merely to sell; and in his behalf it may be urged, that there is no gauging the absurd vagaries of the public taste. I may add, with reference to "Aunt Maria's" china pug, that some shops (arguing, no doubt, from the oddly imitative ways of shoppers and their docile, sheep-like way of following one another's lead), have taken to the inauguration of strange fashions. Lately a well-known West End emporium started that blue cat with pink eyes, wearing a yellow riband, tied in an enormous bow round its neck. It was an aesthetic, Burne-Jonesian cat; indeed, it was hardly like a cat at all; but, nevertheless, it sat in rows in that shop-window, and the line (I believe such things are called "lines")"took," and forthwith no home was complete without a cat. Then some enterprising Tottenham Court Road firm evolved the idea that a life-sized negro, dressed in the latest fashion, and sprawling in a cane chair with a cigarette, was the "very thing" for the vestibule. Personally, I should have preferred the chair empty, so that one could have sat in it one's self; the negro, however, enjoyed wide popularity. Then a little, muzzled, foolish-looking china puppy became the Regent Street rage, and was forthwith attached as an ornament to every suburban house-door. Whose is the great mind who set these fashions, before whom every householder bows? It would be interesting to know.
There is great opportunity for the ever-interesting study of human nature, in observing the ways of shops and shoppers. The really able shopman or saleswoman can make you buy just anything he or she wishes; it is a mere question of degree in artistic persuasion. Indeed I have often almost wept with sheer pain to see some graceful, fairy-like shop-damsel (chosen mainly, be it remarked, for her figure), throw some elegant wrap on to her slim shoulders, and turning to a fat, middle-aged matron, say smilingly, "Just the very thing for you, ma'am!" And the deluded matron will buy the wrap, not even suspecting the pitiful ludicrousness of the situation. Truly, few people have a sense of humour. A friend of mine, who delights in new experiences, and enjoys seeing into the "highways and byways" of London life, once prevailed on a fashionable West End milliner, with whom she was well acquainted, to let her play the part of saleswoman for just one day. The results were afflicting to all concerned. The poor postulant nearly died of fatigue; every one's tempers were strained to the utmost; and several excellent customers were turned away. It was Kate Nickleby, Madam Mantalini, and Miss Knag, over again; especially Miss Knag. I learnt that, even before the arrival of the customers, a good day's work had to be "put in," in the decking and re-arranging of the shop-window. Every single hat and bonnet had to be taken from the stand, and carefully dusted, brushed, smartened up and replaced. And woe to the saleswoman who failed to effect a sale, more especially if that saleswoman happened to be unfortunate for two or three times in succession! My friend, after het sad experience of customers' ways, vowed ever to make it a point of religion to spend no more than ten minutes in the choosing of a hat, and always to end by buying it.
Nevertheless, so far as the big, well-managed shops are concerned, the employees are not really deserving of pity; they have good food and lodging, with comparatively short hours, and the situations they fill are, as a rule, much sought after. It is, rather, the owners of the smaller establishments, in the poorer districts, who "sweat" their unfortunate shop-girls. Here the poor white slaves are often kept hard at work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday nights till 12, with short intervals for hurried and indifferent meals. Of course, it is the working classes themselves who are the cause of this "sweating "; these do their shopping late, on Saturday nights especially late; and shops, if they closed early in poor districts, would for this reason lose the greater part of their custom.
The shop-girl in a really good West End establishment is in very different case. She is often more or less gently bred, such breeding being an important factor in her engagement. Very often, indeed, her superior manners contrast, oddly enough, with the rudeness of the "lady" whom she happens to be serving.
Shop-girls and shop-men are always popular elements of London life. There was, quite lately, a comic opera written in the shop-girl's honour. And, so far as shop-men are concerned, it is an eloquent fact that in the recent revival of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience, the only noteworthy alterations in the text were the substitution of the "Twopenny Tube young man" for the "Threepenny 'Bus young man," and of the words "Tottenham House" for the departed "Waterloo House." For a London audience must, above all things, be kept up to date, and a small anachronism of the latter kind, a mistake about the shops, would be noticed by them much sooner than a more important one.
Everything can be got in London, if (and the "if" is a comprehensive one) you know where to go for it. Old timber, for instance, can be bought not only at the Westminster wharves, but also in the Euston Road (where Messrs. Maple's vast timber-yards are in themselves an insight into the "highways and byways" of London); old silver may be had in the now spoiled Hanway Street, and Holborn; old furniture and antiques in Wardour Street and its neighbourhood; new furniture in Tottenham Court Road; live-stock in and about Seven Dials; artists' materials in Soho, and so on... The best stationers' shops are in the City; the City shops, however, make a "speciality" of solid worth rather than of outside attractiveness, a quality in which the Regent Street and Oxford Street marts bear the palm. It is not really of much importance where you shop; it is, however, important to remember that, unless your money happens to be more valuable than your time, you had better not frequent cheap marts or crowded stores.
Book-shops are very inadequate in London; so few are they indeed, that one is tempted to wonder what the "five millions, in the richest city in the world" read? In most foreign towns book-shops are to be found, in twos and threes, in every important street; in English provincial towns, if you want a book, you are usually directed to "a stationer's"; and even in London, book-shops must diligently be sought for, though, when found, they are, it must be confessed, usually very good.
Second-hand book-shops are more plentiful than new book-shops; and these are mostly strangely dark, dingy, and rambling places, where the depressed proprietor rarely seems to wish to part with any of his dusty stock-in-trade, but sits apart in dusky recesses, moody and abstracted like Eugene Aram, annotating a catalogue. He is the unique tradesman who does not appear to want to sell his goods. After he has got over his annoyance at being disturbed, and if you do happen to come to terms with him, he will, as likely as not, heave a deep sigh as he turns to search for some very second-hand sheets of brown paper to enwrap the second-hand treasure. These old book-shops, with their outlying "twopenny" and "fourpenny" boxes, are generally to be found on busy city thoroughfares, as if by intent to entrap the unwary and impecunious scholar on his way home from his office desk to his little suburban home. In such spiders' webs of temptation he has been known to spend, in one fatal half-hour, all the money destined for the butcher's bill, or for the gas rate!
But, while impoverished scholars have a weakness for second-hand literature, the big circulating libraries, on the other hand, are the great weakness of their wives and daughters, cousins and aunts. About these vast emporiums ladies of all ages flit all day like bees around a hive. Ladies would appear but seldom to buy books; they always hire. A morning spent at Smith's or Mudie's is curiously instructive as to the methods pursued by them in the search for light literature. The library counters then usually exhibit a double or treble row of women, with a very faint sprinkling of elderly men, all waiting, in varying degrees of patience, for their turn. Several of the ladies have considerately brought pet dogs, which they hold by the chain, the dear little animals being meanwhile thoughtfully engaged in entangling themselves round all the other customers' legs.
"Have you some nice, new, good novels?" asks a plaintive materfamilias, with a stolid-faced bevy of half-grownup daughters behind her, just out of the schoolroom. "Something, you know, that is quite fit for young girls; no problems, or pasts, or anything of that kind."
The young man looks nonplussed. "We have Miss Yonge's latest," he suggests;" or Maeterlinck's Life of the Bee, just out "
"Oh! Maeterlinck is so very Maeterlincky, you know. And do you think that he's always quite safe?"
"I assure you, madam, you will find him so in this instance," urges the young man.
"Well, bees are, of course, interesting; and very nice and proper too, I'm sure; but I myself prefer the lives of celebrated people. Mr. Gladstone's Life, for instance? Oh, it's not written yet, is it? What a bore! Well, I suppose it's no use our waiting... And Miss Yonge, no, thank you... You see, she died last year, and then she's so very Early-Victorian!"
The man, seeing that it is to be a long business, gives up the problem for the moment, and moves in despair to the next customer.
Now it is the turn of a little old lady, with a deprecating manner: "I want something nice, and not too clever," she murmured: "something I can knit over, you know, after breakfast. No, not religious, I somehow find that's too depressing. How would this do?" as she picked up a volume that was flaunting itself on the counter, "Sir Richard Calmady, I think I'd like that, if it's at all like Sir George Tressady."
"No, madam, not at all the sort of thing for you," the young man hastened to say with an air of authority. "Allow me: Try this; this is a very safe book, Miss Edna Lyall's latest,
In Spite of All. This (confidentially) is an author we always recommend."
Now there bustled up a young-old lady with fuzzy hair and a sailor hat: "I want all the most go-ahead novels you have," she cried: "somethin' really startling, somethin' that'll keep you awake and excited all through."
This lady being fortunately in a hurry, was quickly got rid of with a judicious mixture of Hall Caine, Guy Boothby, and Marie Corelli, in equal quantities.
Finally there came a nondescript, pudding-faced young woman, who said, vaguely, as if fulfilling a painful duty: "I want a novel. What is being read now?" She, however, proved very amenable, and went off dutifully with Elizabeth's Visits, The Love-letters of Anonyma, and the Transvaal War.
What vast knowledge of human nature must, one thinks, these young men at the libraries possess! They seem to enact the part of general literary adviser to the enormous feminine public. They know their types well, too: they rarely mistake. They may almost be said to form the minds of their customers; and they may, they possibly do, rule over a large proportion of human opinion.
Ladies, as I said, seldom buy new books; they seem to prefer reading novels that others have well thumbed. New book-shops, therefore, are few and far between; they mostly congregate about St. Paul's, and, in the neighbourhood of what used to be Holywell Street; for trades in London, as is well known, tend to have their own special districts. In the poorer quarters, however, and in the near suburbs, everything is, on the contrary, placed in the queerest juxtaposition; thus, you may see a house labelled "Embalming done here," between two others respectively inscribed: "Hot Dinners served here," and "Cheap Mangling done;" while the big shopping palaces in Westbourne Grove and elsewhere advertise themselves, modestly, to provide everything, from a coffin to a hired guest. Some of our shops and ways must indeed puzzle the unsophisticated foreigner. Mr. Samuel Butler has told an amusing story of how a poor Ticinese peasant woman was one day found on her knees in prayer before an elaborate dentist's "show case" in Soho, imagining it, doubtless, to contain the relics of a saint!
Shops, in some of the poor districts, afford remarkable insight into cockney character. There is, for instance, the old plant-hawker who sells you rotten roots with a sweet smile; there is the no less charming bird-fancier who gets rid of a songless hen-canary at the modest price of 10/-, assuring you, meanwhile, that "no better singer ever lived"; there is the lady-greengrocer who lets you have plums at a penny a pound dearer than the market-price "though it's a robbin' me and my poor innercent childern, that's what it is!"
It is not, however, always the shopman whose ways are most open to criticism. For, not only in the poorer districts, customers exist whose ideas of integrity are not of the finest. In Somers, Camden, or Kentish Towns, where the trader must, of necessity and from custom, spread out his goods in the street, to catch the eye, on projecting booths, that articles should occasionally be missed is, perhaps, hardly wonderful; and yet, curiously enough, it is rather in the big West End emporiums that shop-lifting is most common. Sales especially are most dangerous in this respect. Managers, notably of big drapery emporiums, say that they expect to lose a certain percentage regularly in this way; it is regarded as part of the business.
"Oh, no! we don't prosecute now," a pleasant shop-walker said in answer to my inquiries on the subject:" It is too risky altogether; the thing isn't worth it. And we lost; £500, one year, by getting hold of the wrong person... it's so easy to mistake, in the crowd. No, we just place detectives here and there, where the biggest crushes are... they are dressed like ordinary customers, and carry parcels; so that no one could discover their business... Then, if a detective happens to see a suspicious-looking individual, he marks her or him (it is generally her), and follows, from one counter to another, to see if he is right. He doesn't speak until he is perfectly sure; but, when he is, he just goes up to the person and says politely, 'Please, would you kindly follow me for a moment into the office?' Once in the office, the shop-lifter is made very quietly to disgorge... It's nearly always a lady very well connected some of them are, too... She's never one of our regular customers sale-folks seem a kind of class by themselves, and we see nothing of them from one sale-day to another. Some of them make hay then, and no mistake... Why, madam," said the shop-walker, warming to his narrative, "why, I've seen ladies go into that office, quite stout persons, and come out of it so thin, you'd hardly know 'em again... They just wear cloaks with deep inside pockets all round."
"And don't they ever object, or make a commotion in the shop?" I inquired.
"No, they go as quiet as lambs mostly... and other customers don't notice anything... You see, they know there's no help for 'em, no use for 'em to brazen it out, lined with silks, and laces and stuffs as they are. Afterwards, we just warn 'em kindly, and let 'em go. They rarely do it twice in the same shop."
"What sort of things do they generally take?" I asked.
"Why, lace, and bits o' ribbon, put up in odd lots for sale, things lying about loose on the counter, like they are at sale times. Well-dressed they are, too, you wouldn't think they could want 'em badly. 'Oh, it must 'a got up my sleeve,' some of 'em say, looking most innocent, with perhaps two or three yards of brocade or surah hangin' out of their golf-capes... They've got a kind of a fancy, as well, for religious books: no knowing why, for religion," added the shop-walker thoughtfully, "has evidently done them no good."
With which reflection I cordially agreed.
Sales, however tempting, should be avoided by the unwary shopper, for they are dangerous as spiders' webs. They usually occur twice a year, in January and July; in January, they relieve the tedium of the winter fogs; in July, they are a very midsummer madness. The sales vary in honesty. Some of them are really held in order to clear out, at a sacrifice, the "old stock"; some, especially in the smaller shops, are simply quick sales of "cheap lines," bought in on purpose, and strewn about heterogeneously on the counters. Sale days are truly terrible experiences to the uninitiated. If you happened, unwittingly, to go to some familiar shop on one of these yearly occasions, the mass of crowded, struggling, gasping humanity, nearly all pushing, and nearly all fat, would lead you to imagine that life and death, at least, were intimately concerned in the tussle, instead of merely the question of securing the "first choice" of "Remnants."
The shopping, however, of the rich is one thing, and the shopping of the very poor is quite another. Most interesting, to those who care to study the book of human nature, are the "street-markets" of the people, those rows of noisy booths and barrows which have stood from time immemorial, by traditional right, in certain streets, and where jets of brilliant, flaring naptha-lights display the kaleidoscopic stock-in-trade. Among such streets are Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road; Leather Lane, Holborn; or, to descend to a yet lower social depth, Brick Lane, Spitalfields. Booths and barrows are, as everybody knows, not allowed to obstruct the majority of streets, being generally limited to slums or wretched paved alleys; here, however, the authorities evidently make exceptions in favour of certain ancient vested rights. In Goodge Street fruit and vegetables are mainly sold; in Leather Lane, tools, appliances, pedlars' wares, butchers' meat; everything, in fact, in infinite variety; in Spitalfields, birds and live-stock, together with old clothes, and second-hand articles generally. In such street-markets, from eight to ten on Saturday night is the gala time for business. M. Gabriel Mourey says:
"These streets of London, where the poor do their marketing, are, on Saturday night, gay with light and thronged with people. Because of the next day's rest, there is, until past midnight, an open market, which invades the pavement with costers' barrows heaped with fruit, butchers' stalls, booths of incongruous articles, kitchen utensils, old tools, all the bric-a-brac of the second-hand suburban shop; vehicular traffic is suspended; all barriers are encroached upon; every one walks in the middle of the street. Dealers and brokers offer shoes, clothing, hats, boots, plates and dishes, all at ridiculous prices."
Curious, indeed, are the bits of life and character that are to be met with on these London by-ways. Not changed one whit in essentials since Dickens's time, they recall his wonderful insight, observation, and inimitable cockney touches. There are small differences, of course; the street matrons, for instance, have changed their former floppy caps for battered sailor hats, or other articles of damaged head-gear; the use of their nails, as an offensive weapon, for the more formidable "hat-pin." The traditional dress of the self-respecting feminine street-dealer is, however, still as sternly conventional in its way as the Mayfair belle's. At the present day it consists, usually, of a black cloth or plush jacket, a vividly red or blue skirt, a large white apron, a black hat of either the "feather" or "sailor" variety, slovenly boots down at heel, and, most important point of all long and conspicuous gold earrings. Thus attired, the lady street-vendor haggles and chaffers all day in a conscious elegance and propriety. The ladies of the profession generally monopolize the itinerant greengrocery trade; and among their customers you may still see some Mrs. Prig, carefully selecting a juicy "cowcumber" for the supper of her "friend and pardner, Sairey Gamp"; while yonder, perhaps, is some Mrs. Tibbs, or Mrs. Todgers, carefully appraising the piece of steak destined for the dinner of her rapacious boarders, and weighed down by all the distracting cares of paying guests. Near by, perhaps Jo, that poor vagrant, finger in mouth, eyes wistfully a juicy plateful of shellfish that the" winkle-barrow" man has just got ready for a customer. Then, maybe, a hansom rattles by with a jaded diner-out, yawning from a sense of the emptiness, not of his stomach, but of society and life, and you recall almost unconsciously Molloy's haunting words:
"Go thy way! Let me go mine,
I to starve, and thou to dine."
Let us, however, hope that those who really "starve" are few in number. For the barrow-men, who pay small rates as compared to shop-owners, give good value in return for their money, with much homely wit and caustic joking thrown in; and poor, indeed, must be the household that cannot enjoy, on Saturday night, their something "'ot with innions," their portion of fried fish, or of sheeps' trotters. Of course, when dealing with barrows, the buyer must have as many eyes as possible. "Let the buyer beware" may be specially said of this class of shopping. It were perhaps too much to expect, as Mr. Oliver Wendell Holmes seems to suggest, that fruit, when you buy it, should "grow bigger downwards through the box "; yet, perhaps, when you see a pile of luscious pears or apples heaped up temptingly in front of you, you need not allow yourself to be fobbed off with a few rotten ones, shovelled up carelessly from unseen depths behind. Much art is necessary when dealing with a barrow-man, who, as often as not, really respects the careful and fastidious shopper, and retorts to her complaints with a good- natured joke. If a trifle less distant in manner than his West- End brother, he is certainly more affectionate, and dubs his customer "my dear." But, in the street markets, it is usually the meat-huckster who is the greatest "character." His voice may be heard above the general din: "Buy my pretty meat," he shouts from his stall to the red-armed housewives;" now, lydies, don't go a fingerin' it too much, or it'll taste er kid gloves when you go to eat it... 'Ave that there sheep's 'ed, Miss? wy, certingly; that wuz a 'appy sheep, that wuz! jest look at the smile 'e's got on 'im; know'd you wuz a-goin' to buy 'im, 'e did... There now, my dear! look wot you've been and done, rolled that there bit 'o' shin in the mud, it 'II 'ave to go for cats' meat now," &c. &c.
This kind of "patter," continued ad libitum, seems to be regarded as the slum butcher's special mιter.
In Brick Lane, Spitalfields, not the Jewish "Ghetto," but the purely English quarter, there is, moreover, a Sunday morning "poor man's market." It is usually, in more select London highways, more or less difficult to make purchases, be they never so necessary, on Sunday morning. I remember, indeed, a despairing search for food on such an occasion (food necessitated by the arrival of unexpected visitors), which ended in the obtaining, almost by force, of a couple of boiled chickens from a small Italian restaurant, with the added injunction to "keep them well hidden" from the eye of the law on the homeward journey. In the East End, however, it is very different. Brick Lane, an unsavoury region, described by the late Mr. Montagu Williams as "a land of beer and blood," presents on Sunday morning a strange sight to the uninitiated. Here is its picture by an eye-witness:
"In Brick Lane... scenes are to be witnessed on Sunday mornings which afford a companion picture to those in Whitechapel. The East End English have also, like the Jews, their 'poor man's market, and where Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Spitalfields meet at the northern part of Brick Lane, which is in Spitalfields, the poorest and meanest of them are to be found. In the early part of Sunday morning, for a couple of hours or so, there is a woman's market where cast-off clothes, tawdry finery, and the newest things in hats and feathers are bartered. Heterogeneous heaps of clothing, boots and shoes included, lie spread over the ground, and some amusing scenes are to be witnessed. Pass along Sclater Street and new scenes meet the eye. The women are left behind, and men and boys are met with. Instead of old clothes one sees and hears twittering birds. Here come the pigeon fanciers from all parts of Bethnal Green and Spitalfields; birds of all kinds are to be bought, and the noise and bustle are in striking contrast to the subdued, sorrow-stricken tone of the women's market. It does not require any long acquaintance with these scenes to discover that the men are fonder of their birds than of their wives. Nowhere is bird-fancying and pigeon-breeding more general than in the crowded East End. Where one would think there was not house-room enough or food enough for human occupants, prize birds of great value are reared most probably with money that should have gone to feed and clothe the children."
The special markets where the poor buy and sell are not, however, exactly tempting to the well-to-do, unless in search of "copy" or other experience. For those London visitors who do not appreciate the slums, yet whose olfactory organs are not too fastidious, the big London markets, Covent Garden, Smithfield, Billingsgate, will perhaps afford a sufficient experience in that line. Billingsgate is the most perilous excursion of the three. Its aroma is strong and lasting, and the stranger in its diverging courts and alleys runs considerable danger of having winkle-barrels or fish crates descend on his devoted head, as they are lowered from the wharves on to their respective carts. Yes, a little of Billingsgate will undoubtedly go a very long way; yet it is an interesting place to have seen, and the strange, sudden appearance of ancient churches, St. Dunstan's, St. Magnus, St. Mary-at-Hill, incongruously calm amid the wild turmoil all round them, gives a momentary peace even "amid the City's jar." The language of Billingsgate fish-wives and porters is proverbial, yet it is perhaps hardly worse than in many other less fishy quarters of London. The Coal Exchange, opposite Billingsgate, has, with its broad flight of steps, on which people sit, itself a kind of ecclesiastical look. The fish market opens at five in the morning.
All this quarter of London is a vast hive of industry. The stranger should walk along the busy thoroughfare of Upper and Lower Thames Street all the way from the Tower to St. Paul's; tall, blackened, ever-devouring warehouses line the street, which is a very inferno of bustle and labour. Though the street is muddy and noisy, and its perambulation may not impossibly render the pedestrian more than a little cross, he will, at any rate, gain from it some insight into London life. Mr. Hare describes the scene well:
"Thames Street," he says, "is the very centre of turmoil. From the huge warehouses along the sides, with their chasm-like windows and the enormous cranes which are so great a feature of this part of the City, the rattling of the chains and the creaking of the cords, by which enormous packages are constantly ascending and descending, mingle with uproar from the roadway beneath. Here the hugest waggons, drawn by Titanic dray horses, and attended by waggoners in smock-frocks, are always lading or discharging their enormous burthens of boxes, barrels, crates, timber, iron, or cork."
But, though a visit to Billingsgate is only faintly suggested, and the delights of the great central meat-market of Smithfield are, it is fair to say, only capable of thorough appreciation by farmers and connoisseurs, every visitor to London ought to be enjoined to go and see Covent Garden Market, and preferably in the early hours of the spring morning, the time of its highest activity. Not only interesting at the present day as a special focus of London life, Covent Garden has, also, the classic charm of history. For as early as the thirteenth century this was the" convent garden" of Westminster, supplying its monks with fruit and vegetables. That the course of centuries and the habit of cockneys has dropped the sacred "n," and changed the name into "Covent Garden" is easily understood. Covent Garden is still faithful to its fruit and vegetables, though these, alas! are no longer to be seen growing there, but are transported thither from the rich gardens of England, as well as from colonies and nations overseas. Here, within this small enclosure, can be got, it is said, all that skill can grow, care can transport, and money can buy. Here can be obtained, at any time, and at short notice, the roses of a Heliodorus, or the orchids of a Vanderbilt; together with priceless fruits in mid-winter, new vegetables in February frosts, and tropical produce all the year round. The middle avenue of Covent Garden is expensive, but it can produce anything wished for in the fruit and flower line. Riches in such places are as the magic wand of an Aladdin. The central avenue of the market is refined and polite; outside its limits, however, the manners of the locality are original and peculiar, a kind of "law unto themselves." The Covent Garden porters and market-women are rough diamonds; the men, especially, full of good-natured horse-play, seem alarming on a first introduction, but harmless when you are used to them. Yet I have known timid ladies who have shrunk from a walk through "the Garden," imagining its denizens to be robbers and cut-throats, or, at least, revolutionary citizens of a supposed "Reign of Terror!"
Covent Garden is at its highest glory on certain May mornings, from about six to eight, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, which are special "market days." On these occasions the din and bustle is indescribable; and "Mud-Salad Market," justifying its title, becomes a green sea of spring vegetables, interspersed with still greener islands of laden, tottering market carts. The show of cut flowers is a wonderful sight, and street hawkers, flower-girls, itinerant flower-vendors and plant-sellers, are one and all busy making their special "bargains." The flower-girls, untidy, shawled and befeathered, sit about on doorsteps or on upturned market baskets making their "button-holes" for the day, and scanning anxiously the weather; so much of their profit depends on that! They are all a cheery, though somewhat rowdy, folk, who mean no harm by their very outspoken witticisms. Even their rowdiness is an historic legacy; for, in past days, this neighbourhood used to be ravaged by the redoubted street bullies called "Mohocks" or "Scourers," pests of an older time. There is a well-known print of Covent Garden Market, from Hogarth's picture, Morning; the print shows the red, barn-like Church of St. Paul dominating, as it still does, the market, and the old taverns near to it. The taverns and inns of Covent Garden used to be famous, but have now mostly decayed, like its "Piazza," or Italian colonnade, little of which is now left standing, but which was once the glory of the town. Thackeray, who used to stay at the "Bedford," thus describes the place in his day:
"The two great national theatres on one side, a churchyard full of mouldy but undying celebrities on the other; a fringe of houses studded in every part with anecdote or history; an arcade, often more gloomy and deserted than a cathedral aisle; a rich cluster of brown old taverns, one of them filled with the counterfeit presentments of many actors long since silent, who scowl and smile once more from the canvas upon the grandsons of their dead admirers; a something in the air which breathes of old books, old painters, and old authors; a place beyond all other places one would choose in which to hear the chimes at midnight, a crystal palace the representative of the present which presses in timidly from a corner upon many things of the past; a withered bank that has been sucked dry by a felonious clerk, a squat building with a hundred columns, and chapel-looking fronts, which always stands knee-deep in baskets, flowers, and scattered vegetables; a common centre into which Nature showers her choicest gifts, and where the kindly fruits of the earth often nearly choke the narrow thoroughfares; a population that never seems to sleep, and that does all in its power to prevent others sleeping; a place where the very latest suppers and the earliest breakfasts jostle each other over the footways."
Fielding, the novelist, devotes in Humphry Clinker a page or two to Covent Garden market, which he supposes to be described by an old country gentleman. The writer complains of its dearness And dirt:
"It must be owned," (he says), "that Covent Garden affords some good fruit; which, however, is always engrossed by a few individuals of over-grown fortune, at an exorbitant price; so that little else than the refuse of the market falls to the share of the community; and that is distributed by such filthy hands, as I cannot look at without loathing."
The old gentleman also goes on to complain of the nightly terrors of the London "watchman, bawling the hour through every street and thundering at every door." This custom, fortunately for us, is now in abeyance; also the street cries of London (at least in its more polite circles) are likewise much diminished in intensity. Even the muffin man's bell, so welcome in the winter afternoon's gloom, seems now more seldom heard. "Sweet Lavender," however, still has a familiar autumn sound, and the flower-hawkers of spring are still discordant. Yet one's ears are no longer so generally deafened, and the reason for this is not far to seek. For London is now so gay with advertisements that in every direction our eyes meet strange, gaily-coloured hoarding and sky signs; and the manifold attractions of various articles, instead of being cried in the streets, now cry at us from the walls, or shout discordantly at us from out of the blue of heaven, from ugly black wires and glaring brazen letters. We cannot go out of doors without being asked a hundred times, in varying type, such silly questions as "Why does a Woman Look Old Sooner than a Man?" "Why Let Your Baby Die?" "Why Pay House Rent?" or other such idiotic queries. Why, who would pay house rent, especially in London, if he or she could help it? In shops, or on railways, it is the same. For at least several miles out of London you travel in the constant company of "Pears's Soap," and "Colman's Mustard;" and outside eating-shops you see in large letters the cunning legend," Everything as Nice as Mother Makes it." The Art of Advertisement is everywhere paramount. You cannot even travel in the humble omnibus without being implored "not to let your wife worry over the house-cleaning," and being asked "why your nose gets red after eating"; together with suggested remedies for both these sad states of things. These are really, when one comes to think of it, impertinent personalities. This mania for posters has, of course, largely resulted from the modern spread of education: for of what use to ask such questions in old days, when few could have succeeded in reading them? The fashion of advertisements is still growing, the Americans are encouraging it to preposterous proportions; and we shall soon, indeed, live in a mere criss-cross of lettered wires, not unlike Mr. Wells's idea of a future Utopia.
Yet far away be that time still! Although the threatening wires already faintly line the blue here and there above our city gardens, although telephones and electric connections necessitate the continual dragging up of our streets, London has its charm still, and sweet is yet the London summer when the square lilacs and acacias blossom, and when, to quote Mr. Andrew Lang, "fans for a penny are sold in the Strand!"
"When strawberry pottles are common and cheap,
Ere elms be black, or limes be sere,
When midnight dances are murdering sleep,
Then comes in the sweet o' the year!"
(Though I fear me that Mr. Andrew Lang did not mean it altogether in that sense!)
The London children love flowers. "Give me a flower, lydy," some of the ragged street waifs will say, as you come back, laden with your store, from Covent Garden. And the child will take the flower lovingly, and stick it forthwith into her ragged bodice, smiling like a conscious princess.
The subject of shops and markets would lead us naturally to that of restaurants. These, at the present day, are many and excellent. While the more ancient taverns of Covent Garden and of the City have largely lost their fashionable vogue, the general improvement in restaurants and modern hotels has been rapid. In the last twenty years, revolutions have been worked in this respect. Twenty years ago, to begin with small things, a cup of tea at a confectioner's cost at least sixpence, and was not always easy to get; now, it is obtainable for two or three pence anywhere, and for a penny at cheap shops. Everything else in the commissariat has improved and cheapened in proportion. Elegant little dinners may be had now at all prices; from the famous "Savoy" dinner at a guinea, to the cheap and dainty repast "in the Italian style" at 2s. 6d. Of this latter class is the "Comedy" Restaurant, Panton Street, in a small and hidden by-way, where little dinners, comprising smart waiters' separate tables, candle-shades, and table decorations, are provided for the modest price of half-a-crown per head. Or at the Holborn Restaurant Dinner, at 3s. 6d., you may, if so inclined, enjoy the strains of a band, while entertaining your pre-theatre party. Or, if you be rich, the big hall of the new and expensive "Carlton" is now the most modish place for after-theatre supper parties. Here the parting guest is politely "sped," if he linger, by lamps discreetly and suggestively lowered at intervals... Ah, what a delightful city London is for the rich to live in! Everything may be had and enjoyed!
The Art, then, even the Poetry, of Dining, may be thoroughly studied in London at the present day. Every passing mood may be consulted, every gastronomic fancy indulged. You may choose your company as you choose your menu; you may make a free selection from the quality of either. You have but to know exactly beforehand what you want. If the lady whom you honour be frivolous by nature, you can take her to the smart restaurant of the Hotel Bristol, and to a comedy adapted "from the French"; if she be serious, to the "Grand Hotel," and then to Shakespeare; if crude, to Frascati's and to melodrama. But, whether you choose expensive dining places or cheap ones, and in whatever manner you may elect to spend your long London day, one thing is certain, that at its close you will generally find yourself to have spent a considerable sum. For, however improved and reformed, in essentials the city is yet not much changed since the days of John Lydgate, who found, he says, to his cost, and even so early as the fifteenth century that:
"lacking mony I mighte not spede."