Personal Recollections of Birmingham and Birmingham Men
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FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF BIRMINGHAM.
It is a fine autumnal morning in the year 1837. I am sitting on the box seat of a stage coach, in the yard of the Bull-and-Mouth, St. Martin's-le-Grand, in the City of London. The splendid gray horses seem anxious to be off, but their heads are held by careful grooms. The metal fittings of the harness glitter in the early sunlight. Jew pedlar-boys offer me razors and penknives at prices unheard of in the shops. Porters bring carpet-bags and strange-looking packages of all sizes, and, to my great inconvenience, keep lifting up the foot-board, to deposit them in the "front boot." A solemn-looking man, whose nose is preternaturally red, holds carefully a silver-mounted whip. Passengers arrive, and climb to the roof of the coach, before and behind, until we are "full outside." Then the guard comes with a list, carefully checks off all our names, and retires to the booking office, from which a minute later he returns. He is this time accompanied by the coachman, who is a handsome, roguish-looking man. He wears a white hat, his boots are brilliantly polished, his drab great-coat is faultlessly clean, and the dark blue neckerchief is daintily tied. His whiskers are carefully brushed forward and curled, the flower in the button-hole is as fresh as if that instant plucked, and he has a look as if he were well fed, and in all other respects well cared for.
Looking admiringly over the horses, and taking the whip from his satellite, who touches his hat as he gives it up, Jehu takes the reins in hand; mounts rapidly to his seat; adjusts the "apron;" glances backward; gets the signal from the guard, who has just jumped up—bugle in hand—behind; arranges the "ribbons" in his well-gloved hand; produces a sound, somehow, with his tongue, that would puzzle the most skilful printer in the world to print phonetically, but which a Pole or a Russian would possibly understand if printed "tzchk;" gently shakes the reins, and we are off.
As we pass toward the gateway, the guard strikes up with the bugle, and makes the place resound with the well-known air, "Off, off, said the stranger." Emerging upon the street, we see, issuing from an opposite gateway, a dozen omnibuses, driven by scarlet-coated coachmen, and laden entirely with scarlet-coated passengers. Each of these men is a "general postman," and he is on his way to his "beat." As the vehicle arrives at the most convenient point, he will alight and commence the "morning" delivery. The process will be repeated in the evening; and these two deliveries suffice, then, for all the "country" correspondence sent to London.
Leaving them, our coach passes on through busy Aldersgate Street, where we are interrupted frequently by droves of sheep and numerous oxen on their way from Smithfield to the slaughter-houses of their purchasers. On through Goswell Street, alive with cries of "milk" and "water creeses." On through Goswell Road; past Sadler's Wells; over the New River, then an open stream; and in a few minutes we pull up at "The Angel." Here we take in some internal cargo....