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25 June 2014

TRAVELS IN ENGLAND IN 1782: The Prospect of London.

The Monument
by Sutton Nicholls, 1753
Yesterday turnout to be rather hectic, so London was delayed. But here it is. Lots of great imagery to keep in ones head as you write about (or read about) London:


"We first descried it enveloped in a thick smoke or fog.  St. Paul’s arose like some huge mountain above the enormous mass of smaller buildings.  The Monument, a very lofty column, erected in memory of the great fire of London, exhibited to us, perhaps, chiefly on account of its immense height, apparently so disproportioned to its other dimensions (for it actually struck us as resembling rather a slender mast, towering up in immeasurable height into the clouds, than as that it really is, a stately obelisk) an unusual and singular appearance.  Still we went on, and drew nearer and nearer with amazing velocity, and the surrounding objects became every moment more distinct.  Westminster Abbey, the Tower, a steeple, one church, and then another, presented themselves to our view; and we could now plainly distinguish the high round chimneys on the tops of the houses, which yet seemed to us to form an innumerable number of smaller spires, or steeples.

The road from Greenwich to London is actually busier and far more alive than the most frequented streets in Berlin.  At every step we met people on horseback, in carriages, and foot passengers; and everywhere also, and on each side of the road, well-built and noble houses, whi

Viewing Platform at the top
of the Monument

lst all along, at proper distances, the road was lined with lamp-posts.  One thing, in particular, struck and surprised me not a little.  This was the number of people we met riding and walking with spectacles on, among whom were many who appeared stout, healthy, and young.  We were stopped at least three times at barriers or gates, here called turnpikes, to pay a duty or toll which, however small, as being generally paid in their copper coinage, in the end amounted to some shillings.

At length we arrived at the magnificent bridge of Westminster.  The prospect from this bridge alone seems to afford one the epitome of a journey, or a voyage in miniature, as containing something of everything that mostly occurs on a journey.  It is a little assemblage of contrasts and contrarieties.  In contrast to the round, modern, and majestic cathedral of St. Paul’s on your right, the venerable, old-fashioned, and hugely noble, long abbey of Westminster, with its enormous pointed roof, rises on the left.  Down the Thames to the right you see Blackfriar’s Bridge, which does not yield much, if at all, in beauty to that of Westminster; on the left bank of the Thames are delightful terraces, planted with trees, and those new tasteful buildings called the Adelphi.  On the Thames itself are countless swarms of little boats passing and repassing, many with one mast and one sail, and many with none, in which persons of all ranks are carried over.  Thus there is hardly less stir and bustle on this river, than there is in some of its own London’s crowded streets.  Here, indeed, you no longer see great ships, for they come no farther than London Bridge

We now drove into the city by Charing Cross, and along the Strand, to those very

Adelphi Buildings, 1772

Adelphi Buildings which had just afforded us so charming a prospect on Westminster Bridge.

My two travelling companions, both in the ship and the post-chaise, were two young Englishmen, who living in this part of the town, obligingly offered me any assistance and services in their power, and in particular, to procure me a lodging the same day in their neighbourhood.

In the streets through which we passed, I must own the houses in general struck me as if they were dark and gloomy, and yet at the same time they also struck me as prodigiously great and majestic.  At that moment, I could not in my own mind compare the external view of London with that of any other city I had ever before seen.  But I remember (and surely it is singular) that about five years ago, on my first entrance into Leipzig, I had the very same sensations I now felt.  It is possible that the high houses, by which the streets at Leipzig are partly darkened, the great number of shops, and the crowd of people, such as till then I had never seen, might have some faint resemblance with the scene now surrounding me in London.

There are everywhere leading from the Strand to the Thames, some well-built, lesser, or subordinate streets, of which the Adelphi Buildings are now by far the foremost.  One district in this neighbourhood goes by the name of York Buildings, and in this lies George Street, where my two travelling companions lived.  There reigns in those smaller streets towards the Thames so pleasing a calm, compared to the tumult and bustle of people, and carriages, and horses, that are constantly going up and down the Strand, that in going into one of them you can hardly help fancying yourself removed at a distance from the noise of the city, even whilst the noisiest part of it is still so near at hand.

It might be about ten or eleven o’clock when we arrived here.  After the two Englishmen had first given me some breakfast at their lodgings, which consisted of tea and bread and butter, they went about with me themselves, in their own neighbourhood, in search of an apartment, which they at length procured for me for sixteen shillings a week, at the house of a tailor’s widow who lived opposite to them.  It was very fortunate, on other accounts, that they went with me, for equipped as I was, having neither brought clean linen nor change of clothes from my trunk, I might perhaps have found it difficult to obtain good lodgings.

It was a very uncommon but pleasing sensation I experienced on being now, for the first time in my life, entirely among Englishmen: among people whose language was foreign, their manners foreign, and in a foreign climate, with whom, notwithstanding, I could converse as familiarly as though we had been educated together from our infancy.  It is certainly an inestimable advantage to understand the language of the country through which you travel.  I did not at first give the people I was with any reason to suspect I could speak English, but I soon found that the more I spoke, the more attention and regard I met with.  I now occupy a large room in front on the ground floor, which has a carpet and mats, and is very neatly furnished; the chairs are covered with leather, and the tables are of mahogany.  Adjoining to this I have another large room.  I may do just as I please, and keep my own tea, coffee, bread and butter, for which purpose my landlady has given me a cupboard in my room, which locks up."

Up Next: St. James's Park

1 Comments:

Blogger Helena said...

What a fantastic description of London! This book must be so useful for an author of books set during that period.

12:15 AM  

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