London: A Pilgrimage


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CHAPTER I - LONDON BRIDGE

We note between Greenwich andLondon that Commerce has not laid her treasures equally upon the right and left banks of the river, "as the herring-bone lies between the two sides," to use a Manx expression. But now, after passing the famous Hospital and the revelry-haunted Trafalgar, with its gay balconies and windows, the great proportion of the river activity leans to the right, where the shipping at the windings of the river appears to stand in serried rows and masses, out of the mainland. At hand the sky is webbed with rigging.


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The water swarms with busy men. You catch scraps of every tongue. The stately ocean fleets are the guard of honour of universal Trade-welcoming the guest just coming from the sea. These have borne the golden grain from the far East and the far West. The lightermen are receiving the barrels, the bales, the sacks, the hides. The creak of cranes and rattle of pulleys; the pulses of the steamships under way; the flapping of idle sails; the hoarse shouts of sailor-throats; the church bells from many quarters; and through all, the musical liquid movement and splashing of the water, strike a cheery note in the brain of the traveller who comes to us, by the Port, to London.

No artistic eye can watch the momentarily varying combinations and activities of the shore-and especially of the Middlesex shore-without frequent determinations to return and land. The glimpses of dark lanes and ancient broken tenements; the corner public-houses delightfully straggling from the perpendicular; the crazy watermen's stairs; the massive timber about the old warehouses; the merchandise swinging in the air midway from the lighter to the storage; the shapeless, black landing-stages, and the uncouth figures upon them: all in neutral tint, under a neutral tinted sky-make the gay stern of a barge, or the warmth of an umber sail, or the white feather of steam (no sign of cowardice here), grateful resting places, or centres, to the eye. The many forms and directions which human energy has taken on our scene, fix and fascinate the attention. You wonder at the forests of masts that stretch far inland, lending to the docks a limitless expanse in the imagination. A train glides between the forests and the shore! A tug spurts smoke into your face. They are dancing on the deck of the Gravesend boat. The stern-faced Thames


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police are pulling vigorously from under our bows. There is hoarse and coarse comment from the bridge of our good ship, delivered by the river pilot, and addresses to a pleasure party in a wherry, making for the rude and savage enjoyments of Shadwell. To the right lie, in trim array, some strange ships from Denmark: to the left, Italian decks. The Ostend and Antwerp hulls are of imposing build. Then there are the burly Scotch boats, and some Clyde clippers.

The Clyde! We are drawn to the Kentish shore, which presents a woful river-side spectacle. The great ship-yards and lines; the empty sheds, like deserted railway stations; the muddy, melancholy bank, and all the evidence of immense doings which are ended, smite us with a sad force as we pass Cherry Garden Pier. Behind this jetty of pretty name, suggestive of pranks in laughing gardens, lies, in the lanes and streets of Deptford and thereabouts, the worst part of the Great City's story. This shore, from Woolwich almost to London Bridge, is idle. The " clanging rookery" of shipwrights is as silent as the chapels of Westminster Abbey. There is rust upon everything. There are cobwebs in the wheels, and dust on all-except the little emigration offices. " Better a good dinner than a fine coat:" but it has so happened that the coat is in pawn: and the dinner is not in the cupboard. This is the dead shore. No breaking of bottles upon new bows: no flags; no sweet voices to name the noble ship! The convicts have departed from the highway: and so have the doughty Thames shipwrights, who put the Great Eastern and fleets of ocean steamers -together. But crowded craft afloat close up before the desolation of- the empty, silent yards: as the troops mass themselves before the ugly gaps on a royal progress. Should another songster of the Thames-another John


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Taylor, the Water Poet, arise, to sing of the pageantries of commerce, which are the water tournaments-the quintains-of our time; we can only wish him the independent manliness of the ancient bard of the sculls, who plied his trade and sang, and found his inspiration-

" A kingdom of content itself."

Through nearly two centuries and a half have these waters ebbed and flowed, fruit-laden with the natural bounties of every clime; and yet we find the " jolly young water-man " as rare by stairs, or jetty, or pier, or bridge, as ever. But as a grumbler he has established a reputation only equalled by that of the British farmer.

And still the bustle thickens upon the tide. The boats come and go-and sidle and shift, and bewilder the sight and sense. The water is churned with paddles and oars; and the tiny skiffs dance and plunge in the swell of the steamers. We have passed the old Thames Tunnel stairs with more brilliantly accidental lines of sheds, and houses, and stores-all in neutral tint still; and the Tower of London appears, through the tangles of tiers of ships: and we see the muddy Thames lapping idly against Traitors' Gate-with the whirl and stir of red Billingsgate beyond-receiving the disgorgement of the fishing-boats and screws. The progress of our big ship now appears to be a well-contested, inch-by-inch fight. The pilot waves a little, interloping boats out of the way, and they pass to starboard and larboard, within a hand's length of the paddle wheels. The barges broadside to the stream, float on-the bargees remaining wholly unconcerned at the passion and vociferations of the pilot. We are within an ace of running into everything before us: while the sailors in the fleets at anchor on either side smoke their pipes leaning over the bulwarks, and smile at every difficulty.



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London Bridge stretches across the river. London Bridge and the Pont Neuf are the two historical bridges of the world: bridges charged with mystery, romance, and tragedy. It is curious to see the eager faces that crowd to the sides of a steamer from the ocean, when London Bridge is fairly outlined against the horizon, and the dome of St. Paul's rises behind. This is the view of London which is familiar to all civilised peoples. "Le Pont de Londres!" the Frenchman exclaims, carrying his vivacious eyes rapidly over its proportions. The laden barges are sweeping through the arches, dipping sails and masts as they go: the Express boats are shooting athwart the stream above bridge: the Citizen boats are


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packed to the prow: the Monument stands clearly out of the confusion: the parapet of the bridge is crowded with dull faces looking down upon us as we swing about towards the sea again: we perceive the slow, unbroken stream of heavy traffic trailing to and fro, behind the gaping crowd, over the bridge. The deep hum of work-a-day London is upon us: and the church bells are musical through it, singing the hour to the impatient money-makers!

London Bridge is invested with a charm that belongs to no other fabric that spans the Thames. Nearly at this point of the river London city was connected with Southwark in the days of William the Conqueror. It was the only passage in the olden time between London and the Continent: the single road by which we communicated with the ancient Cinque Ports and the Foreigner. It was the highway of State: the mouth of London communicating with the rich and populous south. It was the scene of a battle in 1008: when the bridge was turreted and protected by ramparts, and literally tugged from its foundations by King Olave's boats. Here it is-much as Samuel Scott painted it in 1645-and here-as we came upon it the other day. It was swept away by a hurricane: it was consumed by fire. And then came a stone bridge-built upon wool "The cost of the new erection is supposed to have been principally defrayed by a general tax laid upon wool-whence the popular saying which, in course of time, came to be understood in a literal sense, that London Bridge was built upon wool-packs."
Bibliography: -Knight. ] as the citizens said; just as the modern Londoner may say of the Holborn Viaduct, that it was built upon coal-sacks And a very pretty transaction (for themselves) the City Corporation have effected in regard to the Viaduct. A pinch of fire is taken from every Whitechapel costermonger to pay for this fine work-and for the Corporation's astute bargain!



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The bridge upon wool is that of which romance-writers have made use; which survives, in its picturesque masses of houses, arches, and piers-an irregular street across a broad and rapid stream-in a hundred old drawings. It appears a grand mass of suggestive bits; and when the tournaments and processions enlivened the flood; and the state barges of the great, and the boats bearing prisoners to the Tower, streamed through its many narrow arches; and the windows and parapets were alive with citizens, it must have made a fine picture ready to the artist's pencil. Between Peter of Colechurch's Bridge and that which spans the river near its site, there are differences which suggest ages of time and yet


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hardly more than a century has elapsed since the houses were razed from the ancient structure. The shapely span of stone, from the low parapets of which the sad faces of poor-citizens are for ever gazing upon the sea-going ships at St. Catherine's Wharf-is of the time of William the Fourth.

The parboiled heads have been thrust out of sight (they stood upon pikes over Traitors' Gate, thick as pins in a milliner's cushion)-and Time and Fire and Water have cleansed the ancient site-and yet all is not holiday bravery, nor prosperous trade, nor Right, nor Goodness that is upon the bridge to which our faces are turned, while our ship is brought alongside the wharf. We shudder at the bare imagination of the heads of William Wallace and Sir Thomas More-raised upon pikes, in the wicked, barbarous old times: when there was a bloody record upon every pile, and a horror associated with every footstep. But there are terrors still upon the bridge: shadows-we have watched on many a night, flitting everywhere amid this pride of trade, and splendour of commercial power.

The ship touches the unsteady landing-stage: the gangway is cleared; and now the stranger makes his first acquaintance with the Londoner. If the Silent Highway to London shows one of the city's brilliant and imposing sides, the shores of the Thames expose its poverty. The poor fellows who wait by London Bridge to rush on board any steamer that has passengers with luggage to land, make many a traveller's first impression. In their poverty there is nothing picturesque. The Londoner reduced to hunting after odd jobs by the river-shore is a castaway, whom it is impossible to class. He is a ne'er-do-weel nearly always: but without the elasticity and spirit of the Paris chiffonnier, or the


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New York loafer. His clothes are picked anywhere; a black tail coat of the most ancient date, a flat cap or a broken silk hat-everything fifth hand! nothing suited for his work or intended for him. A hungry, hunted look-craving a job with brutal eagerness; at the same time a sneaking servility, ready to turn into insolence the moment the hope of gain is past. The crew of these pushing and noisy nondescripts, who wind through the passengers, to pounce upon the luggage, gives many a man a shudder. For they express chronic distress in a hideous form: and their fierce internecine war for a few pence puts their worst expression upon them. It is an ugly corner of the battle of life.

From Rennie's bridge the cousins of these poor fellows carrying trunks upon their bare shoulders, up the jumbled ladders and stairs, by which the traveller reaches the intricacies of the wharf;-are looking down- down upon the scramble. The foreigner desiring to make another effective book of a "Voyage de Désagréments à Londres," could not select a better opening than the sheds and passages, half stable and half yard; the shabby pestering loiterers, and uncivil officials; all leading to the first experience of a London Cab. It should be a wet day, for completeness: for then the cabman will probably have upon his shoulders such a coat as no other city can show upon a box seat; and about his legs, a sack.

London now lies before us-where to choose our points of view, and find our themes.

And, in starting on our pilgrimage, let me warn the reader once again that we are but wanderers in search of the picturesque, the typical. A settled, comprehensive, exhaustive survey of all that is noteworthy in the greatest city in the world, would be the work of a life-time. We hope to


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show that as observers, who have travelled the length and breadth of the wonderful City by the Thames, we have not passed over many of its more striking features, and instructive and startling contrasts. "We touch and go, and sip the foam of many lives"-says Emerson. Ours is a touch and go chronicle.



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