TABLE OF CONTENTS
You are going to live in a country which you will like, because of its greatness, and which will like you, because of your simplicity. Beware of trying to conquer it by shock tactics. Amongst the English everything is done slowly and discreetly, and in the fullness of time you will be given things that you never asked for. Nevertheless, to avoid causing shocks, you must observe certain formal rules; England will give you plenty of liberty in the greater things, so long as you observe the usages in the lesser. Being like yourself a foreigner, I feel ill-equipped to describe their customs for you; but I shall tell you what I have noticed.
You will be arriving in London for the Season. For that you must go into strict training. I know men who have explored Central Asia, gone through wars, and fought elections, but could not stand up to a London Season. For two months you won’t sit down to table alone, you’ll be talking from morning till night, you’ll write thirty letters a day, you’ll be telephoning and dancing and philosophising—all in an unaccustomed and freakish climate, with sudden east winds to upset your Continental liver, and long days of warm mist, with thunderstorms circling over London in murky clouds pierced by a harsh sun. That price you will pay, for playing your part in one of the most brilliant spectacles in the world.
Will you play it well? Yes—if you play conscientiously. England will expect of you, not brilliance, but precision. Punctuality there is more than a habit; it is a vice. If you are asked to dine at half-past eight, that means in London half-past eight, and not eight twenty-nine or eight thirty-one: still less, as in Paris, quarter-past nine. Within a few seconds you will see the cars drive up and the drawing-room filled, as in those plays of Labiche or Augier where the stage-direction runs “Enter the Guests.” Even in the country, after long journeys, everybody is punctual. I have seen a Frenchman arriving at a remote country house, after a whole morning on the road, two minutes late for his invitation for half-past one. His hostess addressed him kindly but sternly: “We were beginning to be anxious.…”
How do the English manage this? How do they allow for the inevitable traffic delays in the heart of London? It is my belief that they give themselves an ample margin of time, and just wait if they are early. They tell the chauffeur to drive round two or three streets until the exact moment. If they are on foot they walk up and down the pavement. The servants are living chronometers. A guest who rings the bell at twenty-seven minutes past $$$-8 is kept waiting for a moment, receives a chilling look from the butler, and inconveniences his hostess, who has not quite finished dressing. At eight twenty-eight, in the mansions of Belgravia, the footmen unroll the druggets down the steps and take up their stance behind the partly opened doors.
The corollary is that nobody waits for the latecomer. After five minutes it is assumed that they have either forgotten or died. Otherwise they would be punctual. I once completely forgot a luncheon engagement, and next day, in great embarrassment, I went to apologise to my hostess.
“At any rate,” I said, “I hope you didn’t wait?”
“Wait!” she exclaimed in surprise. “Why, I never wait for anybody!”
Next to punctuality, the most dangerous of English vices, and one that will cause most suffering to your lazy flesh, is letter-writing. I do not mean correspondence between friends; still less do I mean sentimental correspondence; both of these compensate with lovely delights for the trouble they cause. I mean the exchange of social letters. Here all human relationships are maintained by hand-written letters. You are invited to dine by letter, and you accept or decline by letter. If you have been prevented from going to an afternoon party (albeit three hundred other people went), you must write a letter. If you yourself entertain, the next day will bring you more letters, saying how pleasant it was, and if your courtesy is perfect you in your turn will reply that, if the evening was agreeable, it was because your correspondent was there. It is endless.
I have seen one English woman, during a visit to the country (a charming and cheerful person too!), sitting on the lawn in the midst of numerous friends, writing scores of letters on her knee. All around her were amusing people, playing games, and eating and drinking. But she, imperturbable, abstracted, wafted by the magic of custom into the dreamlike planes of Politeness, was finishing her letters.
“And now,” I asked her in the evening, “how long will you be free?”
“Till to-morrow,” she answered.
One of London’s most brilliant hostesses, by superhuman toil, has contrived a swift, looping handwriting which looks like a Persian manuscript and the plan of a scenic railway. It is delightful, but illegible, and one has to have it translated by telephone. But the law has been observed, the letter written. Another has trained a secretary to imitate her writing—a reprehensible evasion and not without its risks.
Conversation, too, has rigid rules. General conversation at table during dinner is exceptional: a phenomenon which has been explained to me as due to the naturally low pitch of English voices, which do not carry very far. I should attribute it rather to a dislike of all affectation. To attract general attention to oneself is improper. A hundred years ago, when Lady Holland heard Lord Macaulay holding forth, to admirable effect but at too great length, she called her butler and whispered: “Go round the table and tell Lord Macaulay from me that that’s quite enough.”
The rule is that you must deal out your conversation more or less equally between your two neighbours. Two or three times during dinner you will notice an automatic swinging of heads, to this side or that, which will deprive you of your interlocutor, sometimes, even in the middle of a sentence. Don’t be upset! Turn your own head and you will find a fresh partner already awaiting you.
What should you talk about? Anything at all—provided you don’t ask personal questions, or show too keen an interest in literature or the arts; provided that you avoid pedantry and disguise any personal distinction under a mask of humour; and provided, above all, that you do nothing to draw your neighbour “out of his depth.” If he loses his footing, the blunder is yours. If he is as good a swimmer as you, lead him on gently and cautiously, and be careful always to leave him a chance to swim, if he so wishes, towards the warm, safe shallows under the bank. Above all, don’t talk to authors about their books, nor to cabinet ministers about their politics. Not that the English dislike flattery more than any other people, but here it must be more dexterous and cryptic.
This code, however, would not hold in that small set, intelligent and rather exclusive, which is conveniently labelled “Bloomsbury” although it exists as much in parts of Chelsea or Mayfair. Conversation in these circles is a continuous flow of epigram, and reveals at every turn an incredible and universal erudition. But here too the English sense of shame in intellectualism is betrayed by the extreme swiftness of the exchange and its veiled allusiveness. They seem to wish to apologise for the sparkle of their wit by the obscurity of their expression.
After dinner you will suddenly see your hostess rise. That is the moment for the ladies to withdraw. The men remain alone, long enough to smoke a cigar. And you would like to know what happens then? Nothing mysterious. The port and brandy are circulated, but hardly touched. The host moves round to sit beside his chief guests, tells stories, makes himself generally agreeable. I apologise for saying it, but this is certainly the moment when the men in this country are at their most interesting: the moment too when great matters are dealt with in brief asides. The politics of England and of Europe have more than once been transformed by a few murmured passages between two men who have turned their chairs towards each other at the end of a table.
It is in the country, and at week-ends, that you will catch the true essence of English life. These great houses, cut off from the outer world by parks that are counties in themselves, are beginning to disappear. It is a pity: England was made in them. You will arrive on Saturday about tea-time. Do not come too soon. The week-end would be exhausting if one did not arrange moments of repose for oneself. Make it clear at once, and firmly, that you don’t come down for breakfast. Seek refuge for part of the day in the library. You will in any case be left perfectly free. The charm of these visits is in the unforced intimacy.
And also in the perfection of the servants. Shaw and Barrie have found amusement in showing the exalted station held in the scale of mankind by the English butler. They have not exaggerated. The best of them are geniuses, with gifts of magic. They know everything, arrange everything, control everything, and all sotto voce, without emphasis, occasionally with the ghost of a smile. Servants here love their vocation and believe in the hierarchy over which they keep guard. Miss Sackville-West, in The Edwardians, has described the order of precedence in the servants’ hall: it is stricter than that which prevails above-stairs.
Do not imagine that there is something terrifying about your face if, as you approach your bedroom, you see the startled housemaids fleeing like a flight of doves. It is a strange rule that these efficient and silent vestals should never be met face to face. A complex strategy of corridors and screens enables them, in this country where guests spend little time in their rooms, to carry out their work as if, like Wells’s invisible man, they were transparent creatures of the void. I have been told of an aged nobleman who would be out of temper all day long if he caught sight of a fleeing petticoat in the distance.
What about love? It is the fashion among the younger generation to regard love-making as a pleasant form of sport, and to keep it free of all sentimental converse. “I am not the conventional lover,” all the stage heroines here seem to say. What they mean is that their convention is different. Passion is suspect: “If you’re going to take this seriously, we mustn’t see any more of each other.” This cynicism is a passing fashion. Marriage is made delightful by the sight of old English couples, and you will also find in London liaisons of old standing, cemented by long habit and silently respected.
For in England durability is the most important element in success. No public tires of a new celebrity more quickly than the New York public; none is more loyal than the London public. To be a constant feature in the life of the place is reason enough to be loved there. Sarah Bernhardt was worshipped in London to her dying day. Yvonne Printemps will reign likewise if she has the sense to come over every year. A lady was singing the praises of an old Frenchman who had lived for many years in London. “We’re very fond of him,” she added; “his English is so bad that for forty years nobody has ever understood a single remark he’s made. But he’s become one of us.” Become one of them yourself. This will be your first Season in London; and in thirty years’ time you will be beginning to understand this simple, baffling, noble country.
TRAVELLERS coming to London from abroad—from any part of the world—will most probably arrive at one of the three newest of London’s many railway stations. If you land from an ocean liner at Southampton the boat-train will bring you to Waterloo station, if from a cross-Channel steamer at Dover, Folkestone or one of the other Channel ports you will find yourself an hour and a half or two hours later at Victoria station, while if you land at Harwich you will receive your first glimpse of London at Liverpool Street station.
But at whichever of these stations you arrive, you will find yourself practically in the heart of London. Even Waterloo station, which lies south of the Thames, in that vast portion of the city to which the average foreign visitor only strays by some extraordinary coincidence, is only a few minutes’ journey from the centre of London, despite the fact that London has comparatively few bridges, and even some of these are in course of construction or reconstruction. If you are fortunate enough to arrive in fine weather you may even obtain, from the bridge by which you choose to cross, a fine view of the Thames Embankment, which has been developed on rather magnificent lines during the past hundred years.
More favourably situated than Waterloo is Victoria station, north of the Thames. The moment you leave its vast glass-covered hall you will find yourself in the centre of things—the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Palaces, the exclusive diplomatic quarter of Belgravia, and many other world-famous places are only at a stone’s throw from this important centre of international travel.
Liverpool Street station borders on the City of London proper, and it may give you a thrill to know that, for instance, the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England, which constitute the pulse of world economy, are within comfortable walking distance from this station.
However, you will probably have other things to think about on arrival.
The stations themselves are not so impressive as the foreign visitor might expect. The English are very proud of Waterloo station, which is the biggest railway station in Great Britain and which, after repeated reconstructions and extensions, was completed in its present form in the year 1921, and deals with hundreds of trains per day. Nevertheless the external appearance of this station is by no means overwhelming. The same applies, with even greater force, to Victoria and Liverpool Street stations. However, Victoria station will be thirty years old in 1938, and considering that up till 1908 this famous station was a very modest building with a boarded roof, its present size and appearance cannot fail to impress, particularly when you know that it cost £2,000,000 to build.
Liverpool Street station, when it was built in 1875, was the biggest and finest railway station in London, but to-day it only serves as another example of the transitory nature of mere glory.
At all three stations the Continental visitor will probably be surprised at the manner in which vehicles—both private cars and taxis—drive up close to the platforms, though American visitors will see nothing extraordinary in this.
For the rest, London’s smoke-filled railway stations are not sufficiently inviting to cause the traveller to stay in them longer than necessary, although some of them, like Waterloo and Victoria, have news cinemas for the convenience of travellers waiting for trains.
The railway porters are scrupulously honest, and it would not even occur to them to take advantage of travellers. You will be quite safe in asking the porter who has assisted you what you owe him—he will be sure to tell you the correct charge. On the other hand, railway porters are of little use as a source of information, first because they are by nature uncommunicative and do not see why they should do other people’s work (every Main Line station has its Continental Inquiry Office), and, secondly, because you would probably not understand them, in spite of the fact that they are all Anglo-Saxons and most of them are convinced that they speak perfect English. Railway porters, taxi-drivers and bus and tram conductors sometimes speak Cockney—the London dialect—with regard to whose musical qualities opinions are sharply divided.
As a rule the traveller on arrival in London has nothing further to do with passport and customs examinations, as these unpleasant but necessary formalities are carried out at the port of arrival. As compared with most Continental countries, the foreign visitor’s entry into England is a complicated affair. Citizens of the United States of America experience little difficulty, but Continental visitors cannot help noting on arrival that they have come to an island whose inhabitants are under the impression that they must protect themselves against the intrusion of undesirable elements. Travellers of former centuries also complained of their unfriendly reception in England. All the travel books of the eighteenth century—e.g., those of Andreas Reim, De Esaussure and Sophie von Laroche—complain, either bitterly or in humorous vein, of the ruthless methods of the customs authorities at Dover. The passport and customs examinations are carried out no less strictly to-day, but the traveller is treated with every courtesy and, unless he gives cause for suspicion, he is accorded a friendly reception.
It should be noted, however, that even the little “harmless” irregularities which may be overlooked elsewhere, cannot be attempted with impunity in England. The traveller who is going to London on business should not tell the Immigration Officer, who has full authority to grant or refuse him permission to land, that he is going there as a tourist. Such statements are carefully checked in England, and trouble is bound to follow sooner than the untruthful visitor expects.
The same applies to the customs authorities. The customs officials are far more generous than travellers would expect, but they do insist on truthfulness. A bottle of liqueur for private use, or a box of your favourite cigars, as well as many another dutiable article, will be passed without the least difficulty, provided you frankly declare them, but the least concealment may prove a bitterly expensive game.
The foreign visitor cannot help observing, immediately on his arrival in England, the Englishman’s fundamental attitude towards his fellow men, namely, that everybody is honest until he is proved dishonest; but in the latter case the dishonest one is denied all further credence.
It must be admitted that these matters are taken somewhat less seriously on the Continent. Harmless little irregularities, playful attempts at smuggling, are engaged in as a sort of sport; but England, the home of sport, frowns at this particular variety.
However, as we have said, the traveller who has arrived in London without mishap has all these things behind him, and is now intent on finding suitable accommodation.
Two generations ago London was anything but a tourist centre, and was in no way equipped for an influx of foreign visitors. At a time when Paris, Vienna and several other big European cities already had many good hotels, London hardly possessed suitable accommodation for travellers. It was only in the eighteen-sixties that the building of hotels was begun. Some of the first luxury hotels survive to this day, such as the Great Western Hotel, which adjoins Paddington station, and has recently experienced a further process of rejuvenation, and the dignified Langham Hotel, close to Oxford Circus, which is a favourite resort of the musical world. Indeed the railway companies have done a great deal of pioneer work in connection with the English hotel industry. Thus, for instance, the building of Charing Cross Hotel, at Charing Cross station, close to Trafalgar Square, which until the end of the nineteenth century was counted among London’s most exclusive hotels, was an important step forward in the provision of adequate accommodation for visitors to London.
To-day, of course, not only has the deficiency been made good, but it is undoubtedly correct to say that no city in the world has better or more numerous and varied possibilities in the way of accommodation to offer than London. In addition to hotels of various types and grades, there are countless old-style boarding-houses and an increasingly large number of modern service flat establishments. In recent years a number of apartment houses, after the American model, have been erected and, of course, apartments are also available in private houses, though this form of accommodation plays a far less important rôle in London than in Continental cities.
It would be impossible for me to give a complete list of hotels here, or even a selection, and all I can do is to offer the foreign visitor a few useful hints.
Before setting out in search of accommodation the visitor must settle three questions in his own mind, the first and most important being how much he intends to spend. The second question is, which part of London will suit his purpose best, while the third question relates to his requirements in the way of accommodation, service, etc.
With regard to prices, there is practically no limit in the upward direction. A suite at one of the big luxury hotels may cost anything from £10 per day. In the downward direction the cheapest hotel room capable of satisfying modest requirements, which I have been able to discover in the course of my peregrinations around London, costs 4s. 6d. per day—but at this price the visitor must not be too exacting. At 5s. 6d. comfortable rooms with every convenience may be had at the colossal but simple Hotel Royal in Russell Square, quite near to the centre of London and its theatreland. This price does not include breakfast. However, the average price at middle-class hotels, with breakfast, is on a somewhat higher scale, and varies between 8s. 6d. and £1 per day.
Although there are hotels in almost every part of London, there are a number of hotel districts, each with a character of its own. The most exclusive of these is in and around Mayfair, once a purely aristocratic district which used to contain, and to some extent still contains, the town houses of aristocratic families. It was only after the war that a considerable number of these historic houses disappeared, in order to make room for luxury hotels and vast blocks of luxury flats. This development is still continuing in Mayfair, but although the character of the district has necessarily altered in consequence, its incomparable air of distinction still remains.
Mayfair, in contrast to other districts, has clearly defined boundaries, and is bounded, on the one hand by Park Lane and Bond Street, and on the other by Piccadilly and Oxford Street. The names of these thoroughfares, which must sound familiar even to those who have never visited London, show that Mayfair, in the true sense of the term, lies in the heart of London. Mayfair is, so to speak, in Hyde Park, yet quite close to the best and most famous shopping centres, and not too far from theatreland, either.
Most of London’s luxury hotels are situated in Mayfair. The Dorchester Hotel and Grosvenor House are both in Park Lane, overlooking Hyde Park. Other hotels of the same type are Claridge’s, the Berkeley, the Mayfair, and the Park Lane Hotel. If we are to classify we must include in the same category the Ritz Hotel, the Carlton, and the Hyde Park and Savoy Hotels. All these are hotels of an international character, equipped with every luxury and serving the requirements of wealthy visitors from all over the world.
It would be almost impossible to give a definite grading within this top class, as the visitor may prefer this or that hotel for reasons unconnected with actual quality, where quality is a common feature. However, perhaps it is possible to indicate certain differences which, though barely perceptible to the uninitiated, nevertheless exist.
The most luxurious of all London hotels is undoubtedly the Dorchester, which is patronised particularly by wealthy Americans, but also favoured by foreign royalties visiting London. Indian maharajahs when in London invariably stay at the Dorchester. Many of the most brilliant society functions also take place here, and smart society gathers for afternoon tea in the lounge, as well as for dinner and supper in the restaurant, with its Midnight Cabaret. The Dorchester is also unique among London hotels in that it has a small open-air restaurant. The Dorchester belongs to the Gordon Hotel Company, and was built in 1929 at a cost of £1,750,000. Prices range from 30s. per day.
Many people, particularly members of the aristocracy, declare that there is only one hotel for them, and that is Claridge’s, which, they hold, is one of the three best hotels in the world. Claridge’s can look back on a past of exactly 130 years, though it only achieved world fame far more recently under the management of Mr. Claridge, a famous pioneer of the hotel industry. To-day Claridge’s belongs to the same concern as the Berkeley and the Savoy, but retains its own distinctive character.
It is the most exclusive of London hotels, comparatively small, and, in addition, comparatively hidden, as though to show that the establishment has no use for chance patronage. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that it is impossible to obtain accommodation at Claridge’s without a special recommendation, it is nevertheless a fact that this hotel, which has no single rooms but only suites, pursues a strongly selective policy. Afternoon tea at Claridge’s is a favourite social rendezvous, but dinner time is reserved mainly for visitors staying at the hotel, or for those who wish to spend their evening in dignified peace.
Nearest to Claridge’s as regards character is the Berkeley Hotel, on the corner of Piccadilly and Berkeley Street, the interior of which was entirely reconstructed and soundproofed by the latest methods in 1936. Here, too, a strong social differentiation is observable, but whereas Claridge’s is almost entirely international, the Berkeley is distinctly English in tone. The restaurant is independent of the hotel, and is famous both for its cuisine and its entertainment programmes. As a concession to the trend of the times, two inexpensive sections have been added to the very exclusive, and correspondingly expensive, restaurant.
Prices at all these hotels, and also at the following, are approximately on the same level.
The eight-storey building of the Ritz Hotel, which is built somewhat after the French style, dominates one of the finest corners in Piccadilly, and is also in the front rank. On one side its windows overlook the busy Piccadilly, and on the other the restful Green Park. Under its colonnade there is a number of exclusive shops.
The importance of the Ritz in the social life of London is evidenced by the fact that members of the Royal Family have frequently dined there or attended the entertainment programme. In particular, ex-King Edward VIII and his friends, as well as the Duke of Kent, were practically regular patrons of the Ritz.
In the same class, though situated outside Mayfair, is the Carlton, a quiet, distinctly conservative hotel built in 1839, which refuses to make the least concession to the new style of hotel entertainment, and caters particularly for those who appreciate quiet comfort in dignified surroundings. Many famous statesmen and diplomats have stayed at the Carlton. The hotel is within a few hundred yards of Piccadilly Circus, but takes its tone not from the noise and movement of the latter but rather from the quiet and exclusive Pall Mall.
The May Fair Hotel, which occupies the site of the historic Devonshire House, has an atmosphere of up-to-date elegance. Grosvenor House, whose architecture has provoked a great deal of criticism, also occupies an historic site, that of the former town house of the Dukes of Westminster. Many English people regard it as “too American,” and, indeed, Grosvenor House represents a transition between a block of luxurious service flats and an hotel. Its dances and midnight cabarets are also attended by the “cream” of Society.
The Hyde Park Hotel, Knightsbridge, is very beautifully situated amid wide stretches of lawn in Hyde Park. Its tall towers are visible for miles, and are one of London’s landmarks. The Hyde Park Hotel is a very quiet establishment, without any entertainment programme, and is particularly favoured by diplomats, owing to its nearness to the diplomatic quarter in Belgrave Square. The building was erected in 1890, originally as London’s first block of service flats, and was converted into an hotel in 1900.
The Savoy Hotel, situated between the busy Strand and the Thames Embankment, has a character of its own. It is undoubtedly the busiest, most animated, most international of London hotels; the constant movement and the Babel of tongues in its lounge are without parallel. The Savoy, opened in 1889, was the first luxury hotel in London, and its standard of luxury, unheard of elsewhere in those days, made it famous all over the world. It was the first hotel to install a separate bathroom for every room. Naturally, during its nearly fifty years of existence, the Savoy has undergone many changes, and its general character has also altered. To-day it is somewhat less expensive than the other great luxury hotels, and rooms may be had from £1 per day. Also it has acquired an artistic atmosphere, authors, actors and film people having chosen it as their rendezvous. It is no particular exaggeration to say that those who wish to make a career in the theatrical or film world in England must stay at, or at least frequent, the Savoy. The Savoy Grill and Restaurant are each evening crowded with people who count in these fields, and ordinary mortals may admire their favourite stars in the flesh, while at the same time enjoying the excellent international cuisine of the hotel.
The modern Mayfair hotels also include the Park Lane Hotel and the Hotel Splendide, which are situated close to each other in Piccadilly.
This does not by any means exhaust the number of Mayfair hotels. There is quite a number of small and what might be called old-fashioned hotels, which are no less distinguished than the gorgeous caravan-serais. These hotels have a purely English character, with open fireplaces in the public rooms and a strong personal note. They have regular patrons who remain faithful to them for decades and hand this loyalty down to their descendants. Perhaps the most typical of these hotels is Brown’s Hotel in Dover Street, where the present King of Greece lived during his exile. Batt’s Hotel, situated close by, is similar in character.
The big hotels of somewhat greater age than the luxury hotels mentioned above include, in addition to the Langham Hotel, to which we have already referred, the Victoria Hotel in Northumberland Avenue (its neighbour, the Metropole, was closed down in 1936, after a long and worthy career), and the Grosvenor Hotel near Victoria station. At these hotels rooms may be had from 12s. 6d. per day.
Other first-class hotels are the Washington in Mayfair and the Waldorf in Aldwych, near the Strand.
The chain of hotels run by the largest catering concern in the world, J. Lyons & Co. Ltd., would require a separate chapter to themselves. They are not so “smart” as the luxury hotels, nor do they afford what is called a “good address,” but they offer the same comfort, we might almost say the same luxury, as the luxury hotels at half the price or even less. Thus, if you can emancipate yourself from the snobbery implied by insistence on a “good address,” which is, to be frank, still rampant in England, you will receive at these hotels everything that you expect from a perfectly organised and managed first-class hotel.
These hotels provide for the middle class a standard of accommodation which was formerly only available to the privileged classes. The two older establishments of this type are the Regent Palace Hotel near Piccadilly Circus, and the Strand Palace Hotel in the Strand, while the newest is the Cumberland Hotel at Marble Arch. All these are standardised hotels with a standardised service and an impersonal note which attracts some people and repels others. The visitor is enabled to lose himself in the multitude, but he can never rid himself of the feeling that he is only one of the multitude.
However, the most important thing is the fact that single rooms, with bathroom and an ample breakfast, may be had at the Regent Palace and Strand Palace Hotels for 9s. 6d. As both hotels have restaurant services corresponding to this basic price, visitors desiring modern comfort, and having no social obligations involving the choice of a particular class of hotel, may enjoy their stay in London at a comparatively low cost.
The Cumberland Hotel, whose palatial white building was completed in 1933, dominates, together with the Regal Cinema, the whole of Marble Arch. It is one of the largest hotels in London, and each of its 1,000 rooms has a separate bathroom attached. Rooms, with a very ample breakfast, may be had—when they are available, which is rather rarely—at the low price of 11s. 6d.
Every railway station in London, and particularly Victoria, is surrounded by a large number of cheap and expensive hotels without any distinctive character. This type of hotel caters mainly for travellers who come to London for a short stay.
The hotel district centring in Russell Square, and extending from Kingsway, along Southampton Row, and down to Euston Station, contains hundreds of hotels to suit all pockets, but the dominant characteristic is what is usually described as “middle-class.” To mention only a few of these hotels, there is the big Imperial Hotel, which is in great favour with parties on a conducted tour; the Russell Hotel, which is only slightly smaller; Bonnington’s Temperance Hotel (where no alcoholic drink is served); the Royal, already referred to; and countless others.
No matter how many London hotels one enumerates, one discovers again and again that it is impossible to offer more than a very incomplete idea of the available accommodation, and the writer repeatedly remembers other hotels which for one reason or another must not be omitted. There is, for instance, the Royal Palace Hotel in Kensington High Street. It adjoins a street running along Kensington Gardens which is still known—and still aptly—as the Street of Millionaires. This street has imparted some of its dignified exclusiveness and opulence to the hotel, whose English cuisine is world famous, and where many prominent English families accommodate their guests. The Royal Palace Hotel is also frequently the scene of brilliant receptions at weddings and similar events.
Two hotels that are much favoured by foreign, as well as by English visitors, are the Rubens and the Rembrandt, both of which are favourably situated. The Rubens is right opposite the Royal Palace, while the Rembrandt occupies a corner site opposite Brompton Oratory. Rooms at these hotels may be had from 12s. 6d. per day, and they are eminently suitable for a longer stay. Another hotel of a similar type is Goring’s Hotel, between Buckingham Palace and Victoria station—a very good address, so good that many foreign diplomats make use of this hotel, particularly if they wish to be economical.
These few hints bring us to the vast group of the most typical growth in London’s jungle of hotels, namely, the family and residential hotels. Whereas London’s luxury hotels offer practically the same, with certain insignificant variations, as similar hotels in any other part of the world, these family hotels are so characteristically English that one is tempted to advise visitors desiring to gain a real knowledge of England to make use of one of these establishments. Of course the visitor must be prepared to make certain sacrifices in return for this insight into the English mentality, including his sense of personal freedom, and in the majority of cases he must also make concessions in the matter of personal comfort.
The English are far, far less interested in the private lives of their fellow men than other peoples—they are not communicative, and do not welcome personal confidences. This is one of the unwritten laws of the family hotel, where the Victorian mode of life continues unchanged, and those who infringe these laws become painfully conspicuous and, in fact, “impossible.”
Visitors staying at a family hotel must adapt themselves to the mode of life and standard of conduct of the retired army officers and Colonial civil servants, and the amazingly numerous host of old ladies who inhabit these establishments.
These small hotels are not made for gay adventures, nor even for loud conversation, and the visitor must be content of an evening to sit quietly and decorously in front of the fireplace or to take part in a game of bridge, or perhaps—where the other inmates are even more conservative—in a game of whist.
Further, the visitor must be satisfied with a very average and not particularly attractive English cuisine, and must not have any special requirements in this respect.
Here and there, as a concession to modernity, a family hotel has central heating, and running hot and cold water is taken for granted everywhere; but the rooms in most cases are furnished in such an old-fashioned style that the modern traveller is bound to find them uncomfortable, though they accord with the inmates’ ideal of comfort.
Naturally these remarks are not meant to apply to all family hotels, without exception. Indeed there is a large number of family hotels in London which, though of long standing, have completely adapted themselves to the style and spirit of the twentieth century. At the same time there are others where the landlady who, in contrast to her Continental sister, is rather dour and forbidding, exercises a strict and unlimited power over her patrons.
In some parts of London these establishments occupy entire streets. They are generally to be found in the vicinity of exclusive residential districts, and the best of them are situated around Hyde Park. To the north of Hyde Park the world of family and residential hotels begins at Lancaster Gate and stretches along the Park as far as Notting Hill Gate. Some of the streets radiating from here, particularly around Lancaster Gate, contain an unbroken chain of this type of hotel.
The position is somewhat similar on the other side of the Park, where an increasing number of new “hotel islands” rise among the quiet residential streets. Thus, for instance, Queen’s Gate, a magnificent wide thoroughfare, has assumed the character of an hotel street. Its comfortable Victorian houses have changed but little, either externally or internally, but they have nevertheless been converted into family hotels.
The farther one goes from the centre of the city—Queen’s Gate is already at a considerable distance from Piccadilly—the simpler, and cheaper, the family hotels become.
Further hotel quarters on the south side of the Park lie around Gloucester Road and, farther out, in Earl’s Court.
The difference between the family hotel and the boarding-house, so frequently described in novels and represented on the stage, is so negligible that the two types of hotels almost merge into one. The thoroughly English boarding-house with its precisely regulated meal times and the landlady presiding at table, is steadily losing in popularity. On the one hand the younger generation of English people now demand greater freedom of movement and, on the other hand, London is rapidly developing into a great tourist centre, and even though English caterers refuse to adapt themselves to the foreign visitor, but expect him to adapt himself to English customs, the Continental and American influence is steadily gaining ground.
There are many inexpensive boarding-houses in Bays-water, which is easily accessible, and is situated behind Bayswater Road; but the real home of the English boarding-house is in Bloomsbury, where it originated owing to the nearness of the district to King’s College, a number of High Schools, and the British Museum. These educational and cultural establishments have attracted to the district students from the country, as well as from India, the Dominions, the Colonies and foreign countries, and it is only natural that the concentration of so many ambitious, but mostly impecunious young men should have led to the development in the vicinity of the type of inexpensive hotel represented by the boarding-house.
Bloomsbury, which is situated between New Oxford Street, Euston Road, Southampton Row and Tottenham Court Road, is very central, in that it constitutes a connecting link, so to speak, between the City and the West End.
Bloomsbury has a pronouncedly intellectual and at the same time international atmosphere; Gower Street, for instance, contains a large number of boarding-houses inhabited exclusively by foreign students, including students belonging to the coloured races. Charlotte Street, within a few minutes’ walk from Gower Street, contains a number of comparatively inexpensive German, Italian and French restaurants.
The headquarters of the Y.M.C.A. (Young Men’s Christian Association), built in 1908 in the somewhat too ornate late Victorian style, is also in the Bloomsbury district, in Great Russell Street. This building, in addition to gymnasiums, swimming-baths and public rooms of all kinds, also contains 200 bedrooms for young men. However, the demand for these is naturally so keen that applications for bedrooms must be made several months ahead. A similar establishment for young women is situated nearby.
The great temperance hotels are also in Bloomsbury. Some of these have more than 200 rooms. The intellectual character of the district is emphasised, among other features, by the names of these hotels, some of which are taken from the works of the English classics, such as the Ivanhoe and the Kenilworth.
As to the question of price it is possible to obtain bed and breakfast at a boarding-house for as little as 25s. per week. Prices for board residence range, roughly, from two and a half to five guineas per week, although a person of modest requirements may obtain a room and full board at 35s. or £2. At the family hotels prices are somewhat higher. Nearly everywhere there are extras for heating, and sometimes even for lighting, as the rooms are mostly heated and lighted by gas or electricity from a penny or a shilling slot meter. Many of the smaller boarding-houses are entirely lighted from meters.
During our search for accommodation we have visited several typical London districts, and it will be interesting to visit a few more though these may be of less importance to the foreign visitor from the utilitarian viewpoint.
As we have said, Mayfair, in spite of all the changes it has undergone, still leads in point of distinction. To be living in Mayfair is such a recommendation that in recent years even the stables of the former aristocratic houses have been converted into flats. The mews, as these stable streets are called, are rather narrow and airless, but the flats are generally furnished in a most luxurious manner. Ownership of a mews flat in Mayfair lends distinction to the owner.
Many Mayfair streets are gradually losing their residential character and are changing into shopping and office streets, a fact which would formerly have been regarded as impossible. It should be remembered that it was only eighteen years ago that the first shop was opened in Curzon Street, and this intrusion of commerce almost caused a revolution among the exclusive denizens of Mayfair. To-day there are already countless fashion, antique and other shops in and around Berkeley Square and Grosvenor Square, though it must be admitted that as regards exclusiveness and price-levels these shops worthily uphold the reputation of Mayfair.
Mayfair now also has colossal blocks of luxury flats, where tenants may pay anything up to two thousand a year, or more, for a flat. Even private houses belonging to members of the Royal Family have been acquired by builders of luxury flats. Brook House, Park Lane and Lansdowne House in Berkeley Square, are typical of these luxury flat buildings.
Similar to Mayfair in exclusiveness is Belgravia, a district situated, roughly, between Hyde Park Corner and Victoria Station. Belgravia consists of only a few streets and squares. It provides typical examples of the private square, a miniature park set between rows of houses, which is only accessible to the inhabitants of these houses. Bloomsbury also possesses several such squares.
The distinction Belgravia enjoys is all the more interesting because the district is little more than a hundred years old. All its houses were built in the first decade of the nineteenth century on a reclaimed swamp. The majestic residences of Belgravia are characterised by a peculiar uniformity that is almost tedious, and its atmosphere of dignified reserve is not relieved by a single shop. Nearly all the embassies and legations are in Belgravia, and the Duke of Kent also resides here. There are neither hotels nor boarding-houses in this district.
Other exclusive residential districts are the centrally situated Portman Square, and the Regent’s Park district. The latter was designed by Nash for the aristocracy, but was in spite of its incomparable situation rather neglected for a long time. To-day the district is experiencing a great revival and is one of the best and most expensive residential districts.
Kensington and Bayswater, as well as Hampstead, which is far more distant from the centre of the city, are the residential districts of the well-to-do middle class. It should be noted here that London’s residential districts are but rarely so uniform in character as Mayfair or Belgravia. In Kensington, Bayswater and Hampstead there are working-class streets that are no better than slums side by side with the best residential streets.
London’s Montmartre, Chelsea (though in its almost provincial quietness and remoteness it bears little similarity to the bustle and animation of the artistic quarter of Paris), is experiencing a new revival. Chelsea, which adjoins Belgravia, and is bounded on one side by the Thames, was in the nineteenth century a favourite artistic quarter, and is now becoming so once more. Its enchanting little houses are being modernised one after the other, and modern blocks of flats are also being erected in the district.
In the vicinity of Baker Street, which runs from Oxford Street to Regent’s Park, and is, therefore, very central, many blocks of flatlets have been erected in recent years, offering the newest type of accommodation to visitors. Such buildings also exist in plenty in Hampstead, Bayswater and Kensington. They have nothing in common with the boarding-house, but are, on the contrary, designed to give the visitor the feeling that he is living in a flat of his own. The flats consist of one or two rooms, which are mostly small, but are furnished in an up-to-date manner, and ensure complete privacy. A characteristic feature are the bed-sitting rooms with their convertible bed-settees, built-in wardrobes and, in most cases, built-in wash-basins. These flatlets can be rented with or without breakfast. Residents are only restricted in so far as it is incumbent on everyone to show consideration for other residents.
Rents for flatlets range from 30s. to £4 per week. Hundreds of suitable addresses may be found in the classified advertisements of the London dailies, particularly the Daily Telegraph, The Times and Morning Post. Information concerning less expensive accommodation may be found in the advertisement columns of the Evening Standard, and even more so in Dalton’s Weekly, a paper devoted exclusively to such matters. However, the latter can only be of use to those possessing a fairly good knowledge of London. Another method of obtaining accommodation is to apply to one of the estate agents whose addresses will be found at the head of the classified advertisements. In some districts furnished flats are advertised in showcases outside shops.
In recent years flatlet houses on the grand scale have been erected in London, the best known of these being the Mount Royal in Oxford Street, where a kitchenette and bathroom are attached to each bedroom. The rent, without breakfast, is £3 15s. A still smarter establishment of the same type is Chesham Place, in the Belgravia district, where the rent for such a flatlet is at least £4 10s. per week. The St. Regis, in Piccadilly, is still more luxurious, and still more expensive, but here the residents may enjoy the advantages of a cocktail bar, gymnasiums, a Turkish bath, television sets, etc.
The above information will be of little use to those who require even more, and wish to rent a completely furnished flat in London. Flat hunting is such an individual matter that the best advice may prove useless. Generally speaking, however, apart from the Coronation period, furnished flats at all prices and standards of comfort are not difficult to find in London, though flats furnished after the modern style are rather rare. At all events, those who can afford it may have the best that London has to offer, as even members of the nobility sometimes let their houses, including the domestic staff, for various periods during their absence from London. Information concerning such opportunities may be found in the advertisement columns of The Times, or from one of the many reliable house agents.
An average furnished flat, consisting of two rooms, would cost at least £3 10s. per week, apart from extras, which may be not inconsiderable. Visitors should exercise the greatest caution when renting a furnished flat, as some professional letters demand unreasonable damages for repairs or breakages on the expiration of the tenancy.
If we add that excellent accommodation can also be obtained in the environment of London, as, for instance, in Richmond and other towns along the Thames, as well as in country mansions converted into hotels, and at hundreds of hotels at the seaside resort of Brighton, which is an hour’s journey from London, with a half-hourly direct train service—we shall have given the visitor all the information on the question of accommodation which it is in our power to give within the limitations imposed upon us.
In conclusion, one more piece of advice: particularly if you intend to make a long stay in London, devote every attention to the question of accommodation—see that you make it into a home. When in England you can only feel happy if you live like the English, and the English spend their lives not in the street or in cafés, but in their homes.
The sights of London? Why, every school child knows them. The sights of the English capital have become household words throughout the world, and one almost feels that it is superfluous to enumerate them.
There is the majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its vast dome, and with the tombs of many famous generals, admirals and statesmen, evoking memories of such historic figures as Lord Kitchener, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Roberts, Nelson and many others. And when you have had enough of martial figures, you may visit the tombs of more gentle figures of the past in the Crypt, such as those of Turner, Millais and Leighton. However, you are not likely to tarry long within the walls of this masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren—its vastness makes the visitor feel lonely, whereas from a judiciously selected corner in the street the exterior of the church presents a magnificent and enjoyable spectacle. Naturally the position is very different during one of those gorgeously stage-managed events that take place at St. Paul’s, such as the procession and service in connection with King George V’s Jubilee, or an important wedding, or a State funeral.
Very different from St. Paul’s is Westminster Abbey, another world-famous church, in whose nooks and corners the visitor will experience many moods and surprises, and where he will find himself walking, in the true sense of the term, through English history. This church was, in reality, never begun and never finished; it is the result of twelve centuries of growth, nearly every English monarch having contributed something to its development. Edward the Confessor, a thousand years ago, no less than King George V in our own time, gave his loving attention to this church. For a thousand years all the Kings of England have been crowned at Westminster Abbey and, until the nineteenth century, also buried there.
George I was the last King of England to be laid to rest in this church; all his successors on the throne have been buried in the Chapel at Windsor Castle.
It is only natural, and at the same time beautiful and symbolic, that Westminster Abbey, representing the nation’s history in stone, should also have become the English Pantheon. Prominent figures in the world of politics, literature, science and music have either been buried in the Abbey or, if they were buried elsewhere, like Shakespeare and Milton, they are commemorated by a statue in the church. A long line of poets and authors, from Chaucer down to Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling, and through Dickens, Tennyson and Browning are buried in the Abbey. The stone images of great philosophers and immortal composers look down on the visitor, and great empire builders, the creators of the British Empire, stand sentinel through the ages. And amidst all the great men whose names are inscribed in the history of humanity there lies, in its moving simplicity, the grave of the Unknown Warrior. Divine Service in this church is incomparably impressive. The ageless significance of Westminster Abbey will be thrown into relief once more this year, when, in May, the ancient and gorgeous ceremony of the Coronation takes place at the church.
Close to the Abbey stands another embodiment of English history, the Houses of Parliament. This magnificent building on the Thames Embankment has become one of London’s most important landmarks, despite the fact that it is of comparatively recent origin. There is very little left of Westminster Palace, originally the seat of the Kings of England. Centuries of decay was followed by the conflagration in 1834 that completed the work of destruction. Only Westminster Hall, a wonderful structure, remains, though it now has a new roof.
Westminster Hall has played a most important part in British History. It was here that Charles I was sentenced to death. It was here that Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector. It was here that the late King George V lay in state, surrounded by the sorrow of a whole nation. Twenty-six years earlier King Edward VII also lay in state at Westminster Hall.
Despite the comparatively recent origin of the Houses of Parliament, they nevertheless embody an age-old tradition, handed down from distant centuries. The political life of the English people has undergone many changes in the course of time, but Parliament, this wonderful framework which foreigners always regard with amazement and awe, has remained immutable. In the House of Lords the Lord Chancellor still sits on the Woolsack, just as the Speaker’s procession—of mediæval origin—still takes place in the House of Commons, when the Speaker, in his wig and robes, accompanied by the Chaplain, proceeds in solemn procession to prayers.
English Parliamentary life has many peculiarities which can only be sensed, but not understood or explained, in the course of a brief visit. Naturally the foreign visitor can only see a portion, and that a small portion, of the Houses of Parliament. In the House of Commons he will, no doubt, be surprised to find how small the actual Chamber is as compared with the vast bulk of the building, with space for little more than one-half of the 630 Members of Parliament, so that at particularly important sittings many Members must sit in the Gallery.
The finest view of the Houses of Parliament may be obtained from the opposite bank of the Thames where, after crossing Westminster Bridge, the 900 feet long frontage may be admired in suitable perspective. From here it is also possible to see to the best advantage the 300 feet high main tower, which contains the world’s biggest and most accurate clock, known as Big Ben. Big Ben has four dials of 21 feet diameter, and its bell weighs 13 tons. Wireless broadcasting has made the chimes of Big Ben known all over the world, and it is a strange feeling to hear at close quarters these sounds, after having heard them from vast distances.
At one time the area between Westminster Palace and the Tower of London comprised the whole of London. To-day these two principal “sights” of London seem to be very close to each other, although a walk from one to the other along the Thames takes a good hour.
In the past, Westminster Palace and the Tower of London played equally important parts in English history, but at present the Houses of Parliament are still a living reality, while the Tower is only an historic monument, and is only of interest as a show-place. A visit to the Tower brings us into the shadow of ten centuries. The building was begun in 1078 by William the Conqueror, and was later continued by other kings. Its vast bulk of grey stone has retained something of the magnificent aloofness of history despite the fact that it is now surrounded by the noise and bustle of the greatest commercial centre in the world.
How eventful and bloody its past was, is known to all who possess even a slight knowledge of English history. There were times when the Tower served as a Royal Palace, and there were times when it served as the prison and place of execution of kings. It was here that Anne Boleyn was executed, here that the tragic young princes were kept prisoners, here that Queen Elizabeth passed through a period of suffering prior to ascending the throne. Catherine Howard, one of the victims of Henry VIII went to her death at the Tower, and also Thomas More, the recently canonised great figure of the Roman Catholic Church. To-day the Tower has become so much of a museum that it requires an effort of the imagination to recall the bloody figures of these and others who died there, such as the Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Jane Grey.
The Crown Jewels, the great and complete collection of weapons, and the Bloody Tower, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Some of them probably fail to notice that even this grim relic of mediæval London has assumed a thoroughly friendly character. The families of the Beefeaters, who still wear their Tudor uniform, live in comfortable flats with idyllic gardens within the Tower, while there is a verdant park along the Thames, where, on the very spot where centuries ago the unfortunate prisoners of the Tower were dragged to the block, hundreds of workers from neighbouring factories and offices consume their sandwiches during the lunch hour.
As you will inevitably visit the Tower of London, you must not miss the opportunity to admire the mechanism of Tower Bridge, which was built in 1868 at a cost of £500,000. This bridge, built by the Corporation of the City of London, connects the two banks of the Thames without interfering with Thames shipping, in that it can be raised to allow ships to pass beneath it. However, many visitors will be even more interested in the view of London that can be obtained in both directions from Tower Bridge, and perhaps even more so from London Bridge, farther west, which affords a comprehensive view of old and modern London.
The British Museum, in Bloomsbury, is not a museum in the ordinary sense, but a whole world in itself, which the visitors may explore for weeks, and even months. In addition to the most extensive library in the world, and the second largest reading room, the British Museum contains Assyrian, Egyptian and Greco-Roman museums, and a collection of manuscripts which has supplied the material for thousands of scientific works, and which embodies practically the entire cultural work of humanity in the course of the centuries.
It is impossible to “do” the British Museum, just as it is impossible to describe it; the visitor will be well advised to select a particular portion for inspection, lest his visit to the British Museum prove to be a waste of time and effort, instead of a worth-while experience. If you wish to take away with you at least some of the immense wealth of the British Museum which, by the way, was opened as a very modest little museum in 1759, you cannot do better than purchase the illustrated catalogues and coloured postcards of the various collections, which are probably the most complete publications of the kind.
The British Museum is in a perpetual state of development, with new sections being added at frequent intervals. The individual collections have reached such a state of completeness and perfection that the various sections are probably without rival anywhere else in the world. It should be noted that, in spite of the many millions of pounds spent on the British Museum—obtained from donations, lotteries or public collections—admission is entirely free.
The numerous other London museums can only be indicated here.
There is so much variety in the aspect of London, and the city possesses such enormous political and economic importance, that it is only too easy to forget that it is beyond doubt also the greatest museum city in the world. The ingenuous traveller who faithfully carries out the programme laid down for him by his Baedecker in this respect is in grave danger of making himself into a physical and mental wreck within a short time. For human receptivity is limited, and the treasures of London’s museums are unlimited.
In our opinion travellers at every railway station, except perhaps in small towns possessing only one museum, ought to be confronted with a warning notice: “Beware of excessive visits to museums!” And this applies most particularly to London. For it must be remembered that London’s museums have not been created for the benefit of foreign visitors who spend a few days or weeks in London. They are, on the one hand, treasures of a great Empire, and, on the other hand, they serve an important educational purpose to the youth of England.
The visitor can make no greater mistake than to attempt to “gobble up” all the immense riches of the London museums within a short time. There is a whole district in London, around the Exhibition Road in South Kensington, which may correctly be described as a museum district. The architecture of the museum palaces in this neighbourhood betrays the lack of taste of the late Victorian period almost as much as the famous, or rather notorious, Albert Memorial, the clumsy memorial raised to Queen Victoria’s Consort in Kensington Gardens close by. Peculiarly enough the name of this refined and artistically minded Prince is associated with other ugly memorials, such as the Albert Hall which is situated near the museum quarter. The Albert Hall, which has a seating capacity of up to 8,000 people, and which is frequently the scene of big balls, concerts and other performances, has provided artistic enjoyment for millions of people, but no one afflicted with good taste can derive pleasure from its architecture.
The vast Victoria and Albert Museum also bears distinct traces of the bad taste of its period, but it is easy to forget its architectural flaws when you are enjoying the endless treasures of this museum. To describe its contents would exhaust both the writer and the reader almost as much as if they tried to see everything. The museum contains a large number of individual collections, each of which would be sufficient to constitute a separate museum. The vast halls are packed with the products of the industrial art of the whole world, and all the nations are represented by the best they have produced from antiquity down to the present day. Jewels and furniture, pottery and textiles, costumes and masks, ivory carvings, wrought silver and gold, Italian sculptures, whole streets of shops representing the commerce of past centuries, form an apparently endless spectacle, and when the visitor thinks he has seen most of it he may find himself only at the beginning. There are people who visit the Victoria and Albert Museum once or twice every week of their lives, and are after decades still not in a position to say that they have seen everything. How, then, could a visitor to London who has only a limited amount of time at his disposal for the purpose undertake the task of “doing” everything? The visitor cannot do better than select a small section that appeals to him most, and enjoy the immense wealth stored in this mightiest of treasure-houses through a small portion of it.
The Victoria and Albert Museum must not be omitted from your programme; but there are other museums in South Kensington among which you may make a choice according to your particular interests or predilections. If you are interested in natural history, there is the Natural History Museum; if technical development is close to your heart, you will be attracted to the Science Museum; lovers of the Far East can revel in the exhibits of the India Museum. The latest accretion to the museum district is the Geological Museum, which was transferred from Jermyn Street only a few years ago.
There is one museum, the Imperial Institute, that could only exist in London. The Institute, with its vast collections, embodies the greatness of the British Empire. It represents the life and work of all the countries and nations in the five continents that are united in one vast commonwealth under the British Crown.
The Imperial War Museum, which was originally in this district, has been transferred to a new home in Lambeth Road, south of the Thames. The museum is also a memorial of the Great War.
But this by no means exhausts the number of London’s museums. The purpose of the United Services Museum and the Naval Museum in Greenwich is sufficiently described by their names. Then there are a few museums, like the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square and the Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn which, with their collections of pictures and art treasures, are among the most attractive of London’s multitude of museums owing to their private and intimate character. These collections have been left in their original environment where they had been accumulated by their artistically minded owners.
In contrast to these patrician houses of Old London, the Horniman Museum, which is situated in Forest Hill, rather far from the centre of London, makes an impression of modernity. This museum is devoted to exhibits relating to Natural History, particularly Anthropology and Zoology and, in addition, to the arts and crafts of primitive peoples. The Ken Wood Museum, which lies hidden in Hampstead Heath, was the private residence of Lord Iveagh, and was, together with its art treasures, including some fine portraits by English painters of the nineteenth century, presented to the nation, like the other private museums mentioned above.
The history of London is represented in the collections of the Guildhall, in the City, and the London Museum. The latter is housed in a fine building, which was formerly known as Lancaster House, and was purchased by the first Lord Leverhulme and presented to the nation.
No other city in the world can boast of anything like the generosity of the citizens of London, where voluntary donations and foundations have in many cases relieved the State of expensive tasks. The London Museum, whose most interesting treasures include a collection of Coronation robes, and a touching collection of toys, is unique among London museums, in that its lovely rooms are sometimes used for State functions and first-class concerts of chamber music. As the visitor will be sure to be wandering about in the vicinity of St. James’s Palace he should not omit to pay at least a brief visit to the London Museum which gives such a vivid picture of London’s past.
Among the picture galleries, the leading place belongs to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, which with its collections of English, Dutch and Italian masters, is one of the most complete picture galleries in existence.
The Tate Gallery, Millbank, is one of the finest collections of modern paintings, though the word “modern” must here be given a wide interpretation, since the chief treasures of the Tate Gallery are the works of the great English masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
If your time is not too short you should pay at least a hasty visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The many hundreds of pictures in the Gallery are naturally not uniform as regard artistic merit. Portraits by immortal artists hang side by side with the work of long-forgotten painters who were at one time in the fashion. However, artistic enjoyment may, perhaps, not be the principal object of a visit to the Gallery, which would also be justified by the fact that the multitude of faces looking down from the walls represent the spirit of England’s past, for the men and women immortalised here have shaped English history.
If you are keen on museums you will easily discover many more, in addition to the above. There is Dickens’ House (48, Doughty Street, W.C.1) for those who are interested in relics of Charles Dickens; the home of Dr. Johnson, compiler of the famous English dictionary, in Gough Square, Fleet Street, for those who wish to pay homage to his memory; while lovers of Keats may care to visit the Keats Museum in Hampstead; and there are many other similar museums.
However, having seen all this, or only a portion of it, and having, in addition, “done” such important London sights as the two Royal Palaces, Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace, you may leave London with the proud knowledge of having done very well indeed—yet you will have learnt nothing whatever about London.
It would almost amount to blasphemy to dismiss London’s museums with a cynical remark. That is not our intention; but we do emphasise that London’s museums are not London. In spite of their inexhaustible riches the museums are only a small fraction of the multitude of factors that constitute the character of London, that peculiar individual character which sometimes strikes one as old, remote, lost in the past, and sometimes as full of life and freshness and fascinating youth. London is not the sort of city that receives the stranger with a friendly embrace and makes an effort to conquer him. On the contrary it is a city that everyone must learn to conquer for himself. The stranger must work his way to the spirit of London. London has nothing in common with the idyllic towns of the south or east, nor does it possess the well-ordered harmony of the towns of the north; it is not a city with which the stranger would fall in love at first sight. Its climate alone is sufficient to oppress some newcomers.
Although London fogs are not so bad as they are painted, and foggy days for some insufficiently explained reason are becoming increasingly rare, the damp air, charged with the smoke of factory chimneys and the moisture rising from the sea, nevertheless produced a depressing effect on the foreign visitor during the first few days of his stay. Many foreigners complain that on arrival in London they feel so tired that they would best like to go to bed and sleep; but as soon as the visitor becomes somewhat acclimatised the unexpected happens, and he begins to like the much-maligned climate of London.
Londoners whom fate has led to sunny climes, to countries where the sky is always blue, long to go back to their grey city. London’s climate breeds a capacity to overcome obstacles, and an irrepressible optimism. A really wet, rainy day will not deter any true Londoner from moving about in the street as usual, or even from going for a week-end ramble. Besides, the Londoner is always hopeful. The weather changes continually, and a rainy morning may be followed by a sudden burst of glorious sunshine which, in turn, may give way a few minutes or a few hours later to thunder-clouds. In London the weather changes not daily, but hourly.
The true Londoner has so adapted himself to the climate of his city that a raincoat is sufficient to see him through all the four seasons, and he hardly ever feels the need of a heavy overcoat. It is probably due to the unreliability of the weather that, apart from negligible exceptions, there is such a regrettable lack of open-air cafés and restaurants in London, though the Englishman’s love of seclusion may be a contributory factor. To Londoners the street is an avenue of communication, and not a place of amusement. They spend the greater part of their lives between four walls which is also why London, unlike other big cities, has no corso or promenade. The Londoner uses the street to go somewhere, not to take a walk.
Naturally all this only applies to town life, or rather to life in the town, but otherwise open-air exercise is, perhaps, nowhere quite so popular as in England, the home of all sport. Millions of people who, in the town, make haste to reach their destination while away hours in the open, watching games of cricket, tennis, football, golf, etc. All this is too well known to require reiterating, but our picture of London would be incomplete without mention of this other side of the life of Londoners.
Indeed, those who wish to experience London must get to know as many aspects of it as possible. In this connection a conducted tour around London has its uses. There are many travel agencies in Trafalgar Square who run such tours day and night. It is advisable to join in such a tour before the visitor sets out on his independent exploration of the city, because even the superficial impression gained in the course of the tour gives a certain sense of familiarity, so that the visitor ceases to be oppressed by the vastness of London or confused by its variety.
However, the visitor may also make an independent tour by utilising the bus services. Nowhere in the world does the bus play such a colossal rôle as in London. The big red buses of the London Passenger Transport Board, which administers the whole of London’s means of public transport, are a characteristic feature of the street scene, particularly in such main thoroughfares as Oxford Street, Regent Street, the Strand, Piccadilly, etc.
During the rush hours one must possess the phlegmatic temperament of the English in order to rely on the buses for, despite all the traffic reforms that have been introduced, London’s traffic problem is still unsolved, and will probably always remain so.
Even a hundred years ago contemporary writers complained of unavoidable traffic hold-ups at a time when the motor-car had not even been dreamt of. The position is naturally far worse to-day when the traffic is a thousand times heavier than a century ago, whereas many of the most important London thoroughfares have not been widened at all. However, the slowness of the traffic, which is usually a source of justifiable annoyance to a professional person who is in a hurry, may be an advantage to the visitor whose sole object is to see the city.
At Piccadilly Circus—after having duly inspected the underground shop-windows—you may take an underground or tube train (which runs in a tunnel) to Paddington station, and thereby learn that London’s complete network of underground railways presents a fairly rapid means of communication. Then you may take a No. 15 bus for the return journey, booking right through to the City, with the pleasant feeling that you will see a good slice of London for the small sum of 5d.
At Marble Arch you will catch a glimpse of Hyde Park, and particularly of the open-air speakers’ corner, to which we will refer in greater detail later; and you will also see the magnificent big buildings which have arisen at this point during the past few years, as well as the Marble Arch itself, which really belongs elsewhere, but continues its spoilt career with charming illogicality here.
Oxford Street, which starts at Marble Arch, is one of London’s most important shopping centres, with magnificent but comparatively inexpensive stores, where even the “small man” can afford to make his purchases. Not far from Marble Arch, in Oxford Street, is the vast and palatial department store of Selfridge’s, whose lavish decorations on the outside of the building on national occasions, such as a Royal Jubilee or a Coronation, attracts millions of spectators. The founder and chief shareholder, Mr. Gordon Selfridge, is an American who has made his store an important and famous landmark without which London could no longer be imagined. If you have no shopping to do you may be satisfied with this fleeting impression of Oxford Street. The most striking features of this street—its long lines of shop-fronts and its apparently almost chaotic traffic—can be sufficiently enjoyed from a bus, though you are bound to pass through Oxford Street again and again, whether you want to or not.
However, you must pay a longer visit to Bond Street, the most famous side street of Oxford Street. Even if your budget does not allow you to buy anything you will later remember with a certain pride that you have been to Bond Street, which still remains the embodiment of quality, elegance and wealth. In the late afternoon, and before tea-time, which is at 4 o’clock in London and not at 5 as people on the Continent believe, it is possible to see some of the richest people in the world en masse, so to speak. You can see dozens of Rolls-Royces and Daimlers and, what is more, many of the people—particularly women—about whom you can otherwise only read of in the papers. The same elegance is the dominant note of the pedestrian traffic, which proceeds rather slowly in this surprisingly narrow street.
Oxford Circus, as well as Regent Street, into which our bus now turns was entirely rebuilt some years ago. A considerable portion of the present Regent Street was built after the war. Oxford Circus, from which the two most important streets of London’s West End radiate, has the advantage of being one of the most important traffic centres in the capital.
Whereas Oxford Street is mainly a “women’s street,” Regent Street, a somewhat smarter shopping centre, is more mixed and caters both for men and women. The large-scale rebuilding that was carried out here was sharply criticised by lovers of Old London who regretted the disappearance of the individual character of this famous street, which was changed into a boulevard, such as any other big city could possess. However, the commercial activity of Regent Street could not be reconciled with sentiment.
Piccadilly Circus surprises the visitor mainly by the fact that it is far smaller than one would imagine, in view of its fame. Though Piccadilly Circus is the very nerve centre of the gigantic city it only awakens to its full glory after nightfall, when an endless stream of cars flows around the statue of Eros in an attempt to find their way into the various streets of London’s amusement centre. Most of the London theatres, many of the palatial cinemas, variety theatres, and other places of amusement are grouped around Piccadilly Circus. Its dazzlingly illuminated buildings are covered with glittering electric signs. London, which even in its centre sometimes appears provincial, shows the visitor all the more strikingly at Piccadilly Circus that it is, nevertheless, the greatest city in the world.
The bus now takes us through another wide shopping street to Trafalgar Square, another important square in the heart of London. If one is more or less justified in asserting that in Piccadilly Circus the specifically London character of the place is submerged in the general “big city” atmosphere, the same cannot be said of Trafalgar Square which could not exist anywhere else except in London. It is not sufficient to enjoy the sight of over-fed pigeons calmly perambulating and feeding from the hands of little children, amid the thunder of passing traffic, at the foot of the 180 feet high Nelson Column; or to be impressed by the fact that the magnificent collections of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are housed close by. The visitor must know that he is not only in the heart of London, but also in the heart of the greatest Empire of modern times. In and around Trafalgar Square are the buildings of the various Dominions, such as the imposing South Africa House and, on the other side of the Square, Malaya House. Australia House, and the Houses of India, Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia, British Columbia, etc., are all near by. And, since the Houses of the Dominions and Colonies generally have shop-windows exhibiting the products of the countries concerned, Trafalgar Square and its neighbourhood may be said to be the shop-window of the world. Aptly enough the offices of the most important shipping companies in the world, as well as those of the various European railway systems and the travel bureaux of nearly every foreign country, are grouped around Trafalgar Square.
From here, too, radiates Whitehall, from where the British Empire is governed, and The Mall, the beautiful street of the Royal Palaces, from where the Crown exerts its unifying force.
Trafalgar Square also possesses another peculiarity. Late at night it shows the seamy side of the life of London. It is here that the destitute of the gigantic city congregate in order to obtain shelter at the 200 years’ old St. Martin’s Church, or to line up pitiably for the gift of a warm cup of tea from the “Silver Lady.”
It is no mere coincidence that power and destitution should meet in Trafalgar Square. Wealth and misery, gaiety and wretchedness, are nowhere such near neighbours as in London. In the shadow of proud palaces you will find slums; in Hyde Park care-free idleness meets with the wretchedness of enforced idleness.
These contrasts are only tolerable here on account of the calm, balanced temperament of the British people. The poor are even capable of being genuinely glad, without envy, at the happiness of the rich. Whenever there is an aristocratic wedding at one of the fashionable churches, with all the luxury such an event involves, hundreds of people watch the proceedings from a respectful distance with shining eyes and wave their hands in congratulation, though many of them have little to expect from life for themselves.
Rightly or wrongly the Strand is London’s most famous street. Formerly it lay at the back of mighty palaces whose frontages overlooked the Thames. Very little of that period survives, and the last remnant, the Adelphi, has recently been pulled down in order to make way for business offices. The Strand is not a beautiful street, but, somehow, though in a less dignified manner than Trafalgar Square it gives one the sensation of contact with the whole world. This impression is due not only to the fact that the Houses of the several Dominions and Colonies are situated here, but also to the colourful and animated scene which the street presents both by day and during the night. One always meets in the Strand people who have evidently just arrived from, or are preparing to go to, another Continent.
The Strand is one of the great approaches to London proper, that is to say, the City of London, where the most up-to-date commerce is coupled with immutable medieval tradition. The nature, significance and peculiarities of the City of London almost provide material for a separate science. The ordinary mortal from another country who, leaving the modern atmosphere of Aldwych and Kingsway, suddenly finds himself on the threshold of Fleet Street, cannot realize what it means to pass through the nonexistent gate of the City of London. The actual gate was moved to another place long ago, and there is only a pillar to remind you of its existence and, incidentally, to interfere with the traffic. But the City of London takes no official notice of the absence of the gate. This point is the beginning of a separate world, with its own administration, its own police, and in some respects with its own laws.
In past centuries the City was the most densely populated residential district in the agglomeration from which Greater London evolved. To-day it has very few permanent inhabitants, and its population is decreasing year by year. The few thousand people who still live in the City are lost in the human sea of 8½ million people. In 1921 the population of the City was about 14,000; by 1936 it had fallen to about 10,000, and the great majority are caretakers, watchmen and the like at the countless business houses that are to be found within the old limits of the City.
Though the City only occupies a total of 677 acres, only a fraction of Greater London’s area of 433,455 acres, it still remains the most important portion of the greatest city in the world, and no King or Parliament would dare to infringe its privileges.
It is a remarkable thing that these privileges should still be respected in this modern age. The King himself must not enter the City without the permission of the Lord Mayor. Uniformed soldiers are banned from this area, and the Metropolitan Police must not interfere in the work of the City Police.
The Lord Mayor of this square mile, whose population is smaller than that of many a small country town, nevertheless bears one of the most important offices in the whole Empire, and is surrounded with regal pomp.
The Lord Mayor as an individual, is of no personal importance, and after his year of office he returns to comparative obscurity among his fellow citizens. But so long as he is at the head of the City Corporation, so long as he is entitled to have the golden sceptre of the autonomous City carried before him, he is one of the most prominent public figures in Great Britain. He is the embodiment of all the great qualities of those whom he represents, and is honoured accordingly.
The Lord Mayor is elected each year from among the Aldermen—the “City Fathers”—and must be a member of one of the ancient Livery Companies or trade guilds which, with very few exceptions, are of no economic importance, but are nevertheless representative corporations of the citizens, and even princes of the blood consider it an honour to belong to them.
The Lord Mayors of the City are nearly always wealthy bankers or merchants who have retired from business and have the time for the immense duties of representation imposed upon them by their office. The Lord Mayor, during his year of office, must attend many hundreds of functions, most of them in connection with charitable objects. He is also the Chief Magistrate of the City, its military commander, and also Admiral of the Thames.
All these offices are taken very seriously by the State authorities. For instance, when the Lord Mayor visits a warship, he is received with the same ceremonial as a real Admiral.
Although the office of Lord Mayor is intrinsically democratic, in that it can be, and has been, attained by men who had started at the bottom of the ladder, it is undemocratic in practice, because none but a rich man can bear the cost. In spite of the immense expenditure of the City, the Lord Mayor’s salary in no way corresponds to the expenses of his year of office, so that when he retires, usually with a title, he leaves the Mansion House, his official residence, many thousands of pounds the poorer. The famous Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall, and the Lord Mayor’s Show, both held at the Lord Mayor’s inauguration, are only two of the events that involve a drain on the Lord Mayor’s purse.
The City of London has so many peculiarities that it would be difficult to enumerate them all. Even its aspect is different from any other urban district in the world. On the whole, the lay-out of the City has remained unchanged for centuries, although many new business palaces have arisen, and continue to arise, in the narrow streets, which are sometimes completely choked with traffic. And above this jungle of buildings rise, here and there, the graceful steeples of the churches built by the great architect, Sir Christopher Wren, who once elaborated a daring plan to change the face of the City, but was prevented from carrying it out by the greed and shortsightedness of vested interests.
The City of London has for centuries been the undisputed economic centre of the British Empire, and may also be described as the economic centre of the world, although in recent years the Wall Street district, in New York, a rather unequal rival to the City, has made claims in that direction.
It is only natural that the youngest World Power, the Press, should have its headquarters within the boundaries of the City. Fleet Street, which in spite of its many modern buildings, has retained its peculiar antiquated character, in strange contrast with its feverish activity, houses not only the big organs of the London Press, but also the offices of newspapers from all over the world. The Dominions and Colonies, as well as foreign countries, maintain here their Press Bureaux, Telegraph Agencies, etc. But Fleet Street is to-day more than the name of a thoroughfare—it has become a concept; it is the centre of a “newspaper world” which extends to the many ancient courts, alleys and hidden corners in the vicinity, encroaching more and more on the complex of streets between Fleet Street and the Thames Embankment. Further enormous new buildings are now in course of construction in and around Fleet Street. Of the existing newspaper palaces the dignified white building of the Daily Telegraph and, in strange contrast with it, the black glass palace of the Daily Express are the most impressive.
But apart from its connection with the Press, Fleet Street and its environment has sufficiently interesting sights to detain the visitor for several days. Right at the beginning of Fleet Street, at Temple Bar, are the Law Courts, built in the Gothic style, which occupies the site of some 400 houses cleared to make way for it. There are 23 courts and 1,100 other rooms in the vast building. It is interesting to watch the proceedings in one of the courts, and to observe the peculiar ceremonial associated with the administration of justice in England. The public are admitted without any special application. But even if you have no time to sit in one of the courts, you can stand in front of the Law Courts for a few minutes and watch the barristers, in their wigs and gowns, threading their way through the incessant traffic.
But nowhere are the contrasts and variety of London more strikingly apparent than in the vicinity of the Law Courts. If you pass through the modest and almost hidden entrance of the Temple, you will find yourself in one of the secluded Inns of Court, the High Schools of English Law. Suddenly, you will be out of the big city, and in the middle of the idyllic peace of a monastery garden. Indeed, the atmosphere does derive from a monastery, for this site was once occupied by the monastery, of the Knights Templars, and only became associated with the Law in the 14th century. London does not possess many ancient landmarks, for everything that stood in the way of modern progress has been ruthlessly swept away; but the secluded and self-contained Temple has been preserved unaltered in its medieval form. Its courts, halls, residences, and its wonderfully well-preserved 12th century church, hold so many impressions and surprises for the visitor at every turn that a visit to the Temple becomes unforgettable. Indeed, Temple Inn is one of the most worth-while “sights” in the world. To mention only a few of its historical and other interesting associations—William Shakespeare performed in its Hall; Dr. Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Thackeray, and other famous men lived in the Temple; and many world-famous lawyers, including Lord Reading, Lord Oxford and others had their chambers here.
Naturally, everything in the Temple is designed for the convenience of lawyers, from the charming little bookshop where they can browse undisturbed among dusty law books, to the shop of the famous wigmaker, where barristers and judges order their wigs to-day, just as their predecessors did centuries ago; and from the Hall where the disciples of the Law gather for their meals—ceremonial or otherwise—to the tennis courts on the Embankment side, laid amidst flower beds which further enhance the peculiar charm of the Temple.
Gray’s Inn, another of the Inns of Court, is no less charming; Lincoln’s Inn, on the other hand, has been somewhat disfigured by a few unsuccessful imitations of its lovely Tudor buildings.
The buildings of Fleet Street screen a whole maze of courts and alleys. For instance, if, after visiting London’s oldest inn, “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese”, you pass through Wine Office Court, you will find yourself in a bewildering maze of streets, whose buildings present nothing remarkable but which give a true picture of Old London.
It will be clear even from these few hints that Fleet Street and its environment comprise one of the most interesting parts of London. However, in order to appreciate the atmosphere and contrasts of this area, it is best to visit Fleet Street on a weekday. This equally applies to the rest of the City, whose true character can only be observed during working hours. From 7 p.m. from Monday till Friday, and from 12 midday on Saturday, the whole of the City rapidly loses its two million temporary inhabitants and assumes the character of a quiet provincial town on a Sunday afternoon. Naturally, the newspaper offices never cease their activities, but otherwise the streets are deserted, so that the City policemen on their beats must indeed feel lonely. Where only an hour ago hundreds of thousands of people filled the pavements, or were picking their way dangerously through dense motor traffic, it is now not unsafe to stand in the middle of the road and read a newspaper.
The reader may now comment with justified irony on the writer’s forgetfulness and ask what has happened to the bus with which we have travelled thus far? Well, the writer can do no other than admit that, unable to resist the temptations of Fleet Street, he has left the bus at this point. This will enable him to pay attention to many a thing which he might otherwise have forgotten, and which will undoubtedly be of interest to the foreign visitor. For instance, there is the venerable building of the most venerated newspaper in the world, The Times, and the headquarters of the various other newspapers, only three of which we have mentioned so far. Fleet Street sends many millions of newspapers every day not only all over Great Britain, but also all over the world. There is the Socialist Daily Herald with a circulation of two million copies per day. The Daily Express has a similarly vast circulation, while the Daily Mail, chief organ of the Rothermere group of publications, which is Nationalist in tendency, sells a mere 1,800,000 copies per day. The Liberal and pacifist News Chronicle has a circulation of 1,300,000, while all three of the politically most influential papers, The Times, Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, have far smaller circulations. The latter papers all support the present National Government, though they are otherwise completely independent of it (like all independent newspapers in England), and in spite of their small circulations they have become no less characteristic of and integral to English life than, for instance, Parliament or Oxford University.
The illustrated papers, Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch have educated millions of women to the habit of newspaper reading. The great Sunday papers, like the News of the World (circulation 3,000,000), The People, Sunday Express, Sunday Referee, Sunday Dispatch, Reynolds, Sunday Chronicle, Empire News and Sunday Graphic, provide weekend entertainment for all classes of the British people, while the Observer and the Sunday Times cater exclusively for the educated classes. This enumeration of the organs of London’s daily and weekly Press is not so superfluous as it might appear, for if there is anything that is typical of London it is the intellectual and spiritual forces reflected in these publications, which issue from a maze of mean streets into the whole world.
Let us now once more board our No. 15 bus and proceed further into the City. It will take us through the busy Ludgate Circus, which boasts the only traffic tower in London, and past St. Paul’s Cathedral, into the realm of Money. The peculiar mentality of the English people, which enables them to adapt themselves to the requirements of a modern age while still clinging to tradition, is manifested here also. The old private banks that started in their various patrician houses in this part of the City, have developed into large concerns with interests embracing the whole world, yet the have remained loyal to the old, narrow streets. In Lombard Street, Threadneedle Street, Lothbury, Cornhill, Poultry, and the surrounding streets—nearly all so narrow and haphazardly laid out that it is sometimes difficult to know which is which—more financial power is concentrated in one small area than anywhere else in the world.
This area contains the financial institutions which, by their vastness, importance and stability, have become concepts. There is the Bank of England, which is now being re-built. Its underground vaults, where England’s gold reserve is guarded, will be one of the modern wonders of the world. But while the engineers are applying the most marvellous devices known to science and technology, a military guard is posted each evening in the Bank, for no other possible reason than that this has been done for centuries past.
But in one respect at least the City has changed. Formerly stockbrokers—stock-broking is a gentlemanly profession in England—used to go to work wearing top hats. They have now almost completely emancipated themselves from this rule, though a few old gentlemen still consider it a disgrace to appear at their offices in ordinary hats. However, bank messengers have remained faithful to the old tradition, and still wear top hats and, in many cases, a special uniform. The messengers of the Bank of England in their mauve liveries and top hats are rather picturesque. Apart from the departure from top hats, the dignity of City life is maintained by the fact that City workers generally wear dark suits.
If you expect to see the same stormy scenes round the London Stock Exchange as at the Bourses of other countries, you are bound to be disappointed. The national character of the English precludes emotionalism even when millions of pounds are at stake. After the official closing hour members of the Stock Exchange continue to do business in the street,—“on the kerb”—but even here their conduct is no less quiet and reserved than if they were in one of the exclusive clubs.
Some traditional names in the City are misleading. For instance, the Royal Exchange, Cornhill, which can look back on a history of five centuries, has nothing to do with Stock Exchange business. Since 1720 it has been the head office of an insurance company. The Stock Exchange itself is hemmed in by blocks of offices and courts, so that the visitor would not notice it. Its present home is totally inadequate, and a new building will probably be erected on a site already secured by the Stock Exchange Company.
The London Stock Exchange originated in a coffee house, like Lloyd’s, the world-famous insurance concern, which was given a new home in 1928 in Leadenhall Street. However, members of Lloyd’s and insurance agents still learn about a shipping disaster by the tolling of the bell of the “Lutania,” a ship that was wrecked in the distant past.
In the enormous hall at Lloyd’s insurances relating to property in all parts of the world are offered to the underwriters and underwritten by them. There are countless anecdotes illustrating the varied nature of the insurance business that can be transacted at Lloyd’s, and there is an almost proverbial saying that “You can insure anything at Lloyd’s.”
“Baltic Exchange” is another misleading name. It is the designation of the great commodity exchange in St. Mary Axe, and has no more to do with the Baltic Sea than with any other.
Crowded into a small area in the vicinity of the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England are the head offices of the most important English banks, and the London branches of foreign banks. Naturally, the head offices of the “Big Five,” the five leading English Banks—Midland Bank, Barclays, Lloyds, Westminster, National Provincial—are also here. The paid-up share capital of these banks varies between £9 and £16 millions, with a reserve capital of approximately equal amount. The deposits held by any of the “Big Five” exceeds those of even the biggest American banks. For instance, the Midland Bank, which has 2136 branches, holds deposits, amounting to nearly £500 millions, whereas the National City Bank of New York, which is the leading American bank, only holds £350 millions.
This area also contains, in addition to many old private banks which have been in the same family for centuries, banks with such exotic names as the Bank of Taiwan, Bank of Baroda, Banco di Chile, Bank of Nova Scotia, and many others. The presence of all these banks in London clearly shows that the City of London is indeed the financial centre of the world.
The Lord Mayor “rules” this realm from the Mansion House and the Guildhall.
The former, which is the Lord Mayor’s official residence, is opposite the Bank of England, and was built in the classic style in 1740. The most interesting part of the Mansion House is the gorgeous Egyptian Hall, where the sumptuous banquets take place. The ballroom impresses mainly by its vastness.
The Guildhall, former headquarters of the City Guilds, is by far the more interesting of the two buildings, although it has shared the fate of most of London’s historical buildings, being damaged by fires and other disasters, so that little of the original 15th century building remains. Nevertheless, the Guildhall is a very mine of information concerning both the past and the present of London. The Guildhall Library was founded in the 15th century, and contains, among others, a number of first editions of Shakespeare, as well as the oldest maps of London. In its Picture Gallery there are too many pictures by forgotten academic painters, but the historical pictures are still worth seeing. In particular, the pictures of Old London are unique in their perfection.
The watch collection, housed in a small room, is worth visiting.
The Banquet Hall also has an impressive historical note, and provides a worthy background to the great ceremonial events of the City of London. It is here that the election of the Lord Mayor takes place, and it is also here that the Lord Mayor’s Banquet takes place, when the most prominent people in the public life of England, sometimes including Royal Princes are entertained by the Lord Mayor to a traditional dinner, which is eaten from gold plate.
The reader may be disappointed to find that we are dealing with the East End, and the once notorious Whitechapel in a few lines only, but, then, Whitechapel is no longer a mysterious district associated with the “romance” of crime, but simply a poor district. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is the fact that it is so close to the financial quarter. True, Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road, and the surrounding streets strike a somewhat strange and peculiar note, owing to their preponderantly foreign population, but the bustling activity of Eastern Jews can be observed far better in the ghettos of East European cities than in London, while as to the mode of life of the Chinese, the Chinese quarters of American cities offer a more striking impression than Limehouse, London’s China Town.
We also know that Whitechapel at one time used to have taverns at which the visitor could derive a thrill from the wild behaviour of seafarers. But these are mostly things of the past. The whole district has been converted to middle class respectability, and the foreigners have adapted themselves to the English sense of mental and physical tidiness. What remains of the former sinister glamour has been preserved for the benefit of tourists, and the reader will lose nothing by “giving it a miss.” At most, if you have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning, you may care to visit Petticoat Lane. The Jewish Street market, in this narrow street, with its noise and movement, presents a striking contrast to the peace of the rest of London.
In the process of destroying the visitor’s illusions, we must also mention the London Docks. Not that the Port of London is not the mightiest, most magnificent and most striking in Europe. It is all that, and more—the warehouse of the world. But the whole character and lay-out of the Port is such that it cannot be regarded as a “sight”. There is no comparison between it and the ports of Hamburg, Rotterdam or Marseilles.
A walk round the London Docks would be of little use, for if you wish to see everything you would have to tramp somewhere about 60 to 70 miles. The area administered by the Port of London Authority runs along the Thames from Teddington to the Sea, and covers 4246 acres. The estimated weekly arrivals and sailings involve the movements of 5,000 ships. The value of the turnover in goods amounted, in 1934, to £470 millions, which means that a third of the entire overseas trade of the United Kingdom passes through the London Docks.
As the Thames has many turnings in the Port Area, it is not possible to obtain a comprehensive view from any one point, except from the air, and then only in clear weather. The London Docks, the largest of which is the Royal Victoria and Albert Dock, are the clearing houses of every imaginable kind of commodity from all parts of the world. Ivory and marble, rubber and perfume, tea and fruit, chilled meat and tobacco, wool and wheat, and many other articles of commerce pass constantly through the London Docks, and the quantities are so huge that it is difficult to mention them in one breath.
Naturally, the individual docks, which you can visit by special permission, present much that is interesting even if only because they afford an insight into the whole technique of world commerce. However, since the individual Docks lie behind gigantic walls, and are situated at long intervals from each other, the purely optical impression is not so overwhelming as one would expect from a knowledge of what is happening behind those walls.
Thus we think the best advice we can give our readers, except those who have special interests in this connection, that they should reserve an afternoon for one of the tours round the Docks organised by the Port of London Authority itself. Such a tour provides a fair impression of the Docks without undue fatigue.
And now we will take a big jump to Soho, a very different district, which has nothing in common with the Port of London except that it, too, is international. Soho is one of the most peculiar parts of London. It lies in the heart of the city, between Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, only a few dozen yards from Piccadilly Circus, yet, in contrast to Whitechapel, which has already lost a great deal of its exotic atmosphere, Soho retains its foreign character. The origin of the name Soho is a debatable question, but according to a most prevalent view it is a contraction of the hunting cry “So-ho!”, which was used formerly, when the area lay in a hunting district.
In a sense, hunting is still a favourite sport in Soho, only it is the police who are hunting for shady characters, who live in dark tenements and engage in such queer occupations as the white slave traffic. The secrets of Soho are generally aired in the Press when a particularly sensational crime is committed there, such as the recent murder of “Red Max.”
Soho is also the district where gay gentlemen in search of light adventure can always be sure of finding a partner, though the visitor is advised to receive with due caution the invitations of strange young women to a night club or any similar place. However, in spite of its exciting and some what mysterious atmosphere, it would be a mistake to regard Soho as the haunt of criminals. On the contrary, if you wish to make your stay in London really pleasant, you cannot avoid Soho.
The restaurants of this district, which offers very considerable culinary variety, are dealt with elsewhere, and we will only observe here that the narrow streets of Soho, like Dean Street, Greek Street, Frith Street, and Old Compton Street, contain restaurants representing every country, from Hungary to China, and from Spain to India, that has any culinary speciality to offer. However, the Italian cuisine has the biggest representation, the majority of the permanent population being Italian. The French come next, with some typically French restaurants. The negroes are also well represented and at night, when the rest of the city is already alseep, their clubs provide many a sensation.
Incidentally, at one period during its eventful past Soho had its exclusive residential parts, such as Soho Square, where the great architect, Adams, built a number of beautiful dwelling houses. Unfortunately, the sites of these houses are, one after the other, sold for commercial purposes, and the Adams’ houses are gradually disappearing.
If Soho is the restless, untidy, an un-English pole of London, the quiet, exclusive and typically English quarter round St. James’s and Pall Mall may be regarded as the opposite pole. The distance from Soho to St. James’s is no more than a quarter of an hour’s walk, but this is sufficient to transport one into a different world, even a different age. London, in contrast to Paris, which is reputed to be a “feminine” city, is regarded as a distinctly “masculine” city. This impression, which one gathers from a professional aspect in other parts, such as the City, is strikingly confirmed in “Clubland,” as St. James’s is known. Everything here exists for men, and men only, particularly for the species which no one has yet succeeded in defining satisfactorily, that is to say, the English gentleman.
It is for him that the strikingly simple, old-fashioned shops exist, where the best bowler hats, the best umbrellas and the most aromatic tobaccos are sold, and which obstinately defy the modern vogue of publicity. It is no exaggeration to say that in some of these shops strangers are served only reluctantly; the shopkeepers like to reserve their treasures for regular customers. On the other hand, the legend that a stranger is not served at all without a recommendation is only a legend.
The best English clubs, into whose peculiar life the stranger can only obtain an insight if specially invited, are ranged along St. James’s and Pall Mall. Indeed, he would find it difficult to enjoy the glorious relaxation of utter boredom that reigns in these clubs, unless he is a born clubman. The unwritten rules of the club, which are far more important than its written statutes, must pass into one’s very blood before it is possible to adapt oneself to the atmosphere of the club. Quick movements, loud talk, uninvited attempts to start a conversation, are all taboo. The comfortable, and mostly somewhat worn, armchairs are occupied by isolated men, young and old, about whom it is difficult to say whether they are reading the Times, or thinking, or sleeping.
Probably the most typical of these clubs in Pall Mall is the Athenæum, whose members are church dignitaries, prominent scientists, conservative authors, etc., and enrolment to which is only possible after years of waiting, even when the would-be member possesses all the necessary qualifications.
In addition to the purely social clubs, like the approximately 200 years old Boodle’s and Brook’s, both in St. James’s Street, there are clubs with a political note, such as the exclusive Carlton Club in Pall Mall, which is the rendezvous of true-blue conservatives. There are also clubs based on a professional classification, clubs for officers of the Army and Navy, for graduates of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, etc. At the St. James’s Club foreign diplomats foregather and meet their British confreres. Somewhat less exclusive, and therefore also more modern, is the Royal Automobile Club, which has a magnificient swimming pool. The foreign visitor will find it easiest to obtain admission to this Club.
Visitors to London who must be content with an external view of the clubs—which means the majority of them—may find it interesting to walk, slowly and deliberately as befits the district, along St. James’s Street and Pall Mall, and observe the characteristic types of English clubmen on their way to their real home. (To the real clubman his own house is only a dormitory). It is also possible to gather something about the atmosphere of the clubs by the naughty device of looking in through the windows.
Women are either completely excluded, from or only admitted on very special occasions, to these citadels of the English gentleman. The women’s clubs, the best known of which are the Lyceum and the Forum, strike a far more sociable note, but are far less important than the clubs of the stronger sex.
It is due to a logical development that “Clubland” is in the immediate vicinity of Whitehall, the centre of government, for a considerable proportion of the club memberships is recruited from the Government services—the Army, Navy and Civil Service.
The Government offices at Whitehall, are situated not far from the two Royal Residences, Buckingham and St. James’s Palaces. Curiously enough, St. James’s Palace is symbolically still the Royal Residence, although it has never been so since the reign of Queen Victoria, except during the ten months’ reign of Edward VIII, who kept his “bachelor apartments” in a wing of the Palace.
King George VI is at the time of writing still living at York House, Piccadilly, but is shortly moving to his official residence at Buckingham Palace, which is the actual centre of court life, though foreign ambassadors are still being accredited to St. James’s. However, the levees take place at St. James’s.
The latter Palace occupies the site of an old hospital, and was originally built by Henry VIII as a hunting lodge. Buckingham Palace, which is bigger and more modern, was once the property of the Dukes of Buckingham, from whom George III purchased it.
However, even the older Palace presents little of historical interest. Indeed, there is not much left of the original building.
Neither of the two palaces is very representative, and those who wish to see the regal splendour will more probably find it at Windsor Castle or Hampton Court. These are more easily accessible to visitors than the two Palaces in London, for although St. James’s is open to the public on rare occasions, in ordinary circumstances it is no less inaccessible than Buckingham Palace. Nevertheless, the two Palaces attract many visitors each day, particularly during the picturesque ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, which takes place at midday.
If the visitor is lucky, he may arrive in front of one of the Palaces during a State event of some importance, when he may see statesmen and others in court dress, foreign diplomats in their richly embroidered coats, and, of course, the glittering uniforms of the various regiments and arms—generally, the sort of pageantry that can only be seen in London.
But perhaps the visitor may find it still more interesting to watch the arrival of debutantes—young women of a certain social class who have reached an age when they are “brought out”—for one of the Courts. At such a time hundreds of cars may be waiting for admission outside Buckingham Palace, each containing a debutante wearing the prescribed dress, probably with an ostrich feather in her hair, and an older lady who is to introduce her to the King and Queen.
This waiting period affords the public a glimpse of the life of the “upper classes,” but it also affords the said “upper classes” a little publicity, which they undoubtedly welcome.
Those visitors who, beyond seeing museum pieces and ancient monuments, wish to grasp the essence and meaning of the capital of a world empire, will probably find the key to the problem in Whitehall, the comparatively short street leading from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Street. The Monarchy in Great Britain, with its constitutionally restricted power, has retained all the pomp and splendour of feudal times, and everything connected with the Court is decorative, brilliant, impersonally majestic—and the British people will have it so. On the other hand, the dominant note of the British Government, which actually wields the power of the British Empire, is a contrasting simplicity, expressive of the realities of democratic, industrious England. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Whitehall, where the whole power of the British Empire is concentrated.
We quite understand the tourist who regards with awed surprise the two living equestrian statues posted in the improbably narrow gateways of the Horse Guards Parade, the two guardsmen who, in their helmets and red coats, sit on their horses motionless for hours. The Changing of the Guard, which takes place at 11 a.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. on Sundays, is also a remarkable show. By the way, the two sentries are not purely decorative; they are also there to guard the two gateways, which lead to the parade ground where, on the King’s birthday, the colourful ceremony of the Trooping of the Colour is held. None but privileged personages, whose names appear on a special list kept by the Lord Chamberlain, may use these gateways. Thus all this, though actually in Whitehall, still belongs to the Royal side of London.
But a few hundred yards further along Whitehall is a small and far from impressive street called Downing Street. This street contains but few houses, but those few represent Great Britain. It is always a pleasure to conduct a foreign visitor to Downing Street, point out No. 10 to him, and watch the amazed expression on his face. The building looks so simple, so unassuming, and, from the outside at any rate, so small, that it is difficult to realise that this is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Nor is there any indication to that effect on the door. The name plate only says, “First Lord of the Treasury,” though that is the traditional designation of the Premier. There is no uniformed doorkeeper, or a guard of honour, or even a policeman.
There is a cheerful looking bell on the door which almost seems to invite one to ring. It has often been suggested that the Prime Minister should receive a more impressive residence, but nothing has come of it so far. No. 10 Downing Street, which was originally built for a very different purpose, has been made into a symbol by the great figures of British parliamentary democracy who directed the destinies of their country from this house, and it will probably remain so in the future.
The next house, No. 11, is no less simple. It is the residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; or England’s Minister of Finance. The closeness of the two official residences may have been a coincidence at first, but it has proved extremely useful, as Chancellors of the Exchequer have frequently succeeded to the Premiership, and in such cases the cost of moving has not been very considerable. No. 11, also contains the offices of the Whips, or parliamentary chiefs of the government party, whose task it is to see that the Government should always have the necessary voting strength in the House.
The whole of the opposite side of Downing Street is occupied by the Foreign Office, from where England’s foreign policy is directed.
All the other Ministries are situated close-by, in more or less beautiful buildings, some of which, particularly those of recent origin, may be described as palaces. The face of Whitehall would have changed in the near future, had the Government decided to carry out the project for re-building it.
The Whitehall which gave its name to the street, was once part of the Royal Palace of Westminster, which was built in 1622, and burned down 70 years later. Only the great Banquet Hall escaped destruction, and to-day constitutes the finest part of the Royal United Services Museum. The most interesting exhibits at the Museum are the reconstruction of historical events, such as the Battle of Trafalgar, the Indian Rebellion, and even the Battle of the Somme in the Great War.
There are many other things in Whitehall that provide an impulse to the imagination. There is the huge building of the Admiralty, with its wireless mast. The Admiralty is in constant touch by radio with all ships of the navy, in whatever part of the world they may be.
In the middle of Whitehall, in solitary dignity and simplicity, stands the Cenotaph, a national memorial to those who fell in the War. There are always a few wreaths at the foot of this memorial. All men passing it raise their hats in homage to the dead. On the 11th November, on Armistice Day, a memorial service accompanied by military ceremonial is held at the Cenotaph. The King is usually present.
And Scotland Yard, known at least by name to all readers of newspapers and detective stories, is also in Whitehall. London’s police headquarters, which, curiously enough, was built on a site originally reserved for an Opera House, takes its name from the small street in which it stands. But beyond a certain illusion which the name and fame of Scotland Yard has probably engendered in the visitor’s mind, there is nothing impressive about the building itself. It is a sombre, almost ramshackle building overcrowded with offices, and is rather small.
But now that we are here, there is something really interesting that we must not miss. Opposite Scotland Yard is the recruiting headquarters of the British Army. The countless coloured posters with which the walls are plastered, some of them depicting the attractions of military service with the aid of humorous drawings, and the peculiar competition that is apparent between the different sections of the Army, are most illuminating as regards the organisation of a non-conscript army. This friendly method of recruiting creates a strange impression, particularly on those who come from conscription countries.
At the far end of Whitehall, the visitor faces the magnificent building of the Houses of Parliament, the highest expression of English public life.
A few hundred yards from the centre of government is the peace and beauty of St. James’s Park, with its trees, flower beds and pond, a jewel of nature set amidst, and affording a comprehensive view of royal, military and political England. There is a little bridge in St. James’s Park, from which everything can be seen in perspective—and perspective lends enchantment even to that which is not beautiful in a close view. Viewed from here, Buckingham Palace, the outlines of the government offices, the slender towers of Westminster Palace, blend into a fascinating harmony, all the more fascinating because it has not been planned, but has developed accidentally, like a natural miracle.
And this brings us once more to another world, the world of London’s parks. In other cities the parks are laid out artificially, as a spot of colour amidst a jungle of walls, without a life of their own, and with their character determined by the surrounding district. In London, which has more open spaces than any other city, the parks are nothing but a piece of nature preserved in the original state. Perhaps this is only possible in England, where the whole countryside looks like one vast park. In order to create a park, it is only necessary to fence round a piece of the countryside.
That such open spaces have been preserved in the middle of the vast city, shows the wisdom of Londoners, whose heart is always in the country, and who have thus created for themselves the possiblity of returning to nature every now and then, even if only for a few minutes.
Each of London’s parks has a different aspect. The most important in the life of London, is Hyde Park, which covers an area of 360 acres, and extends from Park Lane to Kensington Gardens, an adjacent park. As these two parks are contiguous, there is an apparently endless stretch of green in the middle of the city, which determines the character of London almost as much as its streets and squares.
Hyde Park, which naturally has many beautiful and picturesque corners, is the resort of both the rich and mighty and the utterly destitute. Religion, politics, love and sport live together in peace in this vast area. For instance Rotten Row is only a few hundred yards from Marble Arch, but they represent two different worlds.
The Marble Arch corner of Hyde Park is the meeting place of those who have nothing to gain and nothing to lose. This is the famous and unique spot where open-air speakers, without special permission or interference from the police, hold impromptu meetings, at which they propound their views on any subject they happen to be interested in, from religion to morals and politics, and from a personal grievance to the value of roast frog’s legs as a cure for rheumatism. Representatives of every imaginable sect erect their platforms and hoist their banners here, proclaiming their message as the only cure for the ills of humanity.
Jews and Negroes air their wrongs here; fanatical Communists preach Red Revolution against the Fascists dictators of the world, or demand assistance for the Spanish Government, their hoarse cries mingling with the shrill oratory of Fascist and anti-Socialist agitators who preach a contrary gospel. Nature cures or the epoch-making virtues of a new method of shorthand, are proclaimed with the same fiery enthusiasm as the teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes as many as forty or fifty speakers orate simultaneously, shouting themselves hoarse, answering questions, or arguing with hecklers. Anywhere else in the world this battle of words would degenerate into a battle of fists, and even knives, but here an almost parliamentary decorum is observed, even during a clash between the bitterest opponents. Marble Arch provides an enjoyable daily show for the unemployed, the idlers, and also for foreigners who come here to improve their knowledge of the English language.
Rotten Row, on the opposite side of the Park, and also of the social scale, is the rendezvous of the “cream” of London Society from early morning to noon. Politicians, wearing the appropriate costume, aristocrats and their ladies, ride here on choice horses. Everybody who is anybody is there, to say nothing of the nobodies. Rotten Row is a daily exhibition of riding fashions and horsemanship, just as it was a century ago, and probably will be a century hence.
A short distance from Rotten Row is the Serpentine, a large pond with swans, rowing boats, and even an open-air swimming bath, which the English with unconscious humour call the “Lido”. Many London motorists stop their cars on the banks of the Serpentine and spend an hour or two in enjoyable idleness, ladies and gentlemen sitting in their closed cars and staring into nothingness as only Englishmen can.
Hyde Park also has a pond for those who like to play with miniature sailing and motor boats. Here you can see grown men engaging in boat races with their model boats, or spending many days on end with mysterious experiments.
In another corner there is a bowling green, where the ancient English game of bowls is played by men in appropriate uniform, consisting of a straw hat and rolled-up shirt sleeves. Football and miniature golf are also played in Hyde Park.
You can walk in Hyde Park for three miles without returning to the same spot. The paths run between stretches of ever-green grass, and sometimes you can see flocks of sheep grazing over it, guarded by clever little sheep-dogs, just like in the heart of the country. The presence of the sheep is explained by the fact that sheep improve the land over which they graze by providing natural manure and also by stamping down the soil, and it is in accordance with an old tradition that Hyde Park is let for grazing. However, the presence of the sheep does not worry the thousands of people lying on the grass or sitting in deck chairs all over the Park.
The green deck chairs are supplied to all the big London parks by the same concern. A twopenny ticket entitles visitors to the Park, to use any deck chair that happens to be free, and to change from one to another as often as he likes. The uncomfortable steel chairs are available on the same terms.
In some parts of Hyde Park there is a “perambulator parade” every morning, when the younger generation of English Society are taken for their airing by English, Chinese and even Negro nurses, sometimes under the eyes of a proud mother. Latterly, Hyde Park has also been the scene of birthday parties. On such occasions a long table is laid in the open bearing, in addition to other good things, the inevitable birthday cake, decorated with the number of candles corresponding to the age of the child. It is here that Father and Mother, amid the envious glances of the little guests, hand over the mysterious box or bag containing their birthday presents.
It is characteristic of the tact and good manners of the English that although all this takes place in public, it would never occur to passers-by to intrude upon the privacy of such a family event by any exhibition of curiosity.
Hyde Park reminds one of the idyllic pleasures of a seaside resort when, during the summer, the military band of the Guards is performing in the Music Pavilion, generally to a large audience reclining comfortably in deck chairs. Apart from their band, the Guards, with their bright red coats, provide an enlivening splash of colour to Hyde Park. At dusk they appear in their hundreds, attracting the admiring glances of the girls.
For Hyde Park is also, so to speak, a Temple of Love. Here, “in the lap of nature” the modesty and reserve which is otherwise characteristic of the English, and which governs their conduct even between four walls, seems to lose its force, and after nightfall Cupid holds undisputed sway. The Hyde Park police, who have a separate station within the park, have a difficult task when, towards midnight, just before the gates are closed, they have to remind the courting couples of this fact.
Yes, the most characteristic thing about Hyde Park is the fact that everyone here may do what he likes, without interference from others.
Hyde Park is more than a park—it is a mirror of the whole of English life, by which the changes in its own life are determined; but fundamentally Hyde Park always remains the same—like England herself.
We have dealt with Hyde Park in some detail not only because it holds so many novel impressions for the foreign visitor, but also because owing to its enormous size and central position it is bound to attract his especial interest, and, unfortunately, we have had to do this at the expense of the other big parks, with which we can only deal briefly. Unfortunately, because, as we have said, each of these parks has a character of its own, and is of immense importance to the population of the district in which it is situated.
It is perhaps not generally known that London’s parks are, in a sense, graded according to “rank.” The most beautiful of them belong to the Crown, while others are administered by the city, and a large number, particularly of the newer parks, are under the authority of the London County Council, the body by which greater London is governed.
Kensington Gardens is perhaps the most “royal” of the Royal Parks. Although is is contiguous to Hyde Park, it is subject to very different regulations from its great neighbour. As both Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens belong to the Crown, the special position of the latter is one of those mysteries of London that no one is able to penetrate completely. Probably the stricter regulations of Kensington Gardens date from the time when Kensington Palace was still a royal residence. The Palace was acquired by William III from the Earl of Nottingham, and was a favourite residence of many royal personages. William III, Queen Mary, Queen Anne, her Consort, Prince George of Denmark, and George II all died in this modest red brick building, and it was here that Queen Victoria was born.
Not far from the Palace is the Albert Memorial, which we have already mentioned, and which was erected in 1872, at the express wish of Queen Victoria. The memorial cost £120,000, and took twenty years to complete.
Whereas Hyde Park is a colourful, democratic place, Kensington Gardens breathes exclusiveness. This exclusiveness arises not from any special regulations, but solely from the peculiar sequestration of the social classes in England, which applies just as much in the downward as in the upward direction. Particularly in recent years, Kensington Gardens has acquired a considerable social importance, its tea house, which for many years had led a modest existence, having suddenly come into the fashion. English Society people have acquired the habit of having their tea, and even their lunch and dinner, at this open-air restaurant, thus bringing about a minor social revolution, for nowhere else in London is there any open-air restaurant of any importance. However, a further development of social activity in Kensington Gardens is rendered impossible by the strict regulations, which decree a comparatively early closing hour.
There is a whole chain of parks in the area between Kensington Palace and Trafalgar Square, for in addition to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, there is, within a short distance from the busy Hyde Park Corner, the Green Park with its rural atmosphere, which is adjoined by St. James’s Park, a miracle of garden design. Its five-acre pond, its rock gardens and romantic corners give the impression of a well-tended private park.
The largest of London’s parks is Regent’s Park, which stretches from Marylebone Road to Primrose Hill, and is the recreation ground of an immense residential district. Its fields and flower beds cover an area of 553 acres. It includes the famous Zoological and Botanical Gardens. The former is one of the largest and best stocked zoos in the world, and is visited each year by hundreds of thousands of people. But the general character of Regent’s Park is determined at least to the same extent as its lay-out, by the symmetrical circle of aristocratic dwellings (built by Nash) which almost entirely encloses it.
The attractions of Regent’s Park include the open-air Shakespearean performance given in summer, boating facilities on a natural river, and a number of cricket grounds, where the English practise with a touching application the great national game, which must forever remain a mystery to the foreign mentality.
Hampstead Heath, a vast natural park, is in the centre of a good middle-class residential district, and is regarded by Londoners as the nearest excursion-resort where the illusion that they are in the country, far from the madding crowd of urban civilisation, is really possible. On August Bank Holiday Hampstead Heath is invaded by vast crowds of people for the traditional Bank Holiday Fair.
Battersea Park and Victoria Park, and many other parks of various sizes, have the same importance for their respective districts, and although they are situated in working-class districts, they are no less carefully tended than the parks in the most exclusive districts.
The so-called commons, vast stretches of grass-covered land which are the perpetual property of the community and must never be built upon, are a blessing to the children of London. The commons may be described with more justification as the lungs of London than the parks.
Mention of Battersea Park, which is situated South of the Thames, may perhaps remind the reader that we have hardly mentioned this part of London. However, this omission is justified, for unless the visitor is interested in the industrial establishments of South London, or wishes to see the huge County Hall, the administrative headquarters of the London County Council, or Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he will have nothing to do South of the Thames. At the same time as we have already mentioned when dealing with London’s museums, this part of the city also has a few interesting collections. Further, the visitor who wishes to gain an insight into the lives of the masses may like to visit such places as the Old Kent Road and the Elephant and Castle. The latter, incidentally, boasts the largest cinema in the whole of England.
Talking about the life of the masses reminds us of London’s markets. The Caledonian Market, London’s “rag fair,” has become world famous. Markets are held twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, and in addition to old clothes and sundry rejects of middle-class homes, it is still possible to find worth-while bargains in Caledonian Market. It has been and still remains, the happy hunting ground of collectors of every possible—and impossible—kind of thing, though it must be said that nowadays really valuable antiques find their way to Caledonian Market less and less frequently.
In contrast with the decay that Caledonian Market represents, Covent Garden is the symbol of everything that is wholesome and fresh. Covent Garden is London’s central fruit and vegetable market, and is easily accessible from any part of the West End. The Market adjoins Covent Garden Opera House and, not unnaturally, many a paradoxical impression may be gathered here, particularly late at night, when the operatic performance comes to a close, and the Market is just beginning to bestir itself for next morning’s business.
Covent Garden is the wholesale market, and presents nothing that could be called romantic, but it is nevertheless well worth visiting. Fruit and vegetables from practically every country in the world arrive here daily, and are massed in a colourful, fragrant array before being distributed all over England.
In Whitechapel, Soho, and other parts, there are street markets, each of which reflects the character of the district. The colourfulness, movement and animation of these street markets contrast strongly with the dignified reserve of English business life in general.
London has no central market hall, like, for instance, Paris, but each of the specialised wholesale markets is impressive in its own way. There is, for instance, Billingsgate, London’s chief fish market, and Smithfield, London’s meat market. Both are strikingly interesting, though not on account of any peculiarity of costume or romantic location, but solely on account of the colossal mass of the goods they handle as the larders of the biggest city in the world.
We have endeavoured to guide the reader to some points of the labyrinth of London, but we are naturally unable to guide him everywhere, and there are many more interesting aspects of London that the visitor must discover for himself. For instance, London also has a University City which, though not so compact as the University districts of many other seats of learning, nevertheless occupies, by reason of the number and excellence of its Colleges, a leading place in the academic field even in the international sense. Then there are nooks and corners in London, sometimes close to the most modern thoroughfares, which have retained their rural character. Near Brompton Road and Campden Hill, as well as in Hammersmith and Hampstead, there are fascinating little cottages containing only two or three rooms, standing proudly in the very shadow of vast modern palaces. On the other hand there are also large country houses with park-like gardens in the middle of the city, and there are also slums reflecting the most revolting degree of destitution. And all this may be found side by side.
1937 is Coronation Year. This applies not only to London, or the British Empire, for the whole world will participate in this great event. As is known, the 12th of May was fixed as the date of his Coronation by the wish of Edward VIII. The calm and sensible solution of the constitutional crisis which led to the abdication of the former king, has made it possible to carry out the original Coronation programme with but few alterations, and even the date has not been changed. And during the anxious days of waiting for Edward VIII’s decision preparations for the great event were continued on the same scale as before, as though nothing had happened.
This fact shows, on the one hand, the wonderful self-discipline of the British people, and, on the other hand, the firm hold which the institution of monarchy has on this country. The Coronation itself does not possess the same constitutional significance as in some other countries. The King of England is the rightful ruler of the Empire from the moment of his accession, when this is proclaimed amid traditional formalities, and the King takes the oath. Thus to-day the Coronation, apart from its religious significance, is mainly a symbolic and ceremonial act.
It will be gathered from this that the real meaning of the Coronation centres not so much in the person of the King as in the ideal of monarchy. That is why it has been possible, without any particular complications, to transfer to King George VI. in the Coronation the role originally destined for his brother.
Although the character of the world interest in the Coronation has changed; since the former king was far better known internationally than King George VI, it has lost nothing in intensity. On the contrary, the fact that the ceremony is now to include the crowning of a Queen, adds both attractiveness and splendour to the Coronation. The Peeresses, the wives of the Dukes, Earls, Viscounts and Barons will now have to wear, in addition to their ceremonial robes, the coronets corresponding to their respective ranks.
In addition, the accession of George VI meant a return to tradition, so that the historical pomp of the Coronation will be fully maintained. Another circumstance which will add to the interest of the Coronation—and to the pleasure of the fortunate millions who will be in London at that date—concerns the past which the two young princesses, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose will play in the Coronation. Their participation in the historic pageantry will introduce a homely note into the proceedings. Further, it has been decided that, contrary to tradition, the Queen Mother, widow of the late King George V, shall be present at the Coronation of her son.
In addition to the two English Queens, there will be a number of foreign royalties present, including, among others, Princess Juliana with her husband, Prince Bernhard von Lippe-Biesterfield, representing the Queen of Holland. Military delegations from all the British Dominions and Colonies, representatives of the Dominion Governments, and exotic princes, including the fabulously rich India Maharajahs, will provide a living illustration of the might and majesty of the British Empire.
Although the principal event of Coronation year will naturally be the Coronation itself in Westminster Abbey, and the brilliant procession connected with it, there will be a long series of festivals and social events before and after the Coronation, which will keep London in festive array from the end of April until the late autumn.
None but those who know the mentality of the English masses can possibly realise to what extent the great event will effect the whole life of the city during those weeks and months. No people lead, in ordinary circumstances, a calmer and more ordered existence than the English, and—perhaps for that very reason—no people is capable of celebrating with such passionate enthusiasm, with such jubilant abandon, an important festive event. Although for reasons governed by etiquette, tradition and considerations of space, comparatively few people will be present at the ceremony itself and the receptions associated with it, the great masses of the British people will feel that they, too, are participating in the historic event which symbolises the greatness of their country.
Even in the year 1935, during the Silver Jubilee of King George V, which was celebrated on a far more modest scale than will be the Coronation, the change in the aspect of London, as well as in the attitude of its population, was nothing less than miraculous. Quite apart from the individual events, there was the all-day and all-night procession of beflagged private cars, the endless stream of festive crowds through floodlit streets, and the jubilant mood of all classes of people, which for many days made London into the gayest city on earth. All this will be intensified a hundredfold during the Coronation period, and the Govermnent and municipal authorities, as well as the heads of private establishments of all kinds, have been feverishly preparing for months past to make a Mecca of joy during those weeks.
In view of the multiplicity and variety of the events scheduled in London for the spring and summer, it would be impossible to compile a complete programme, and we give here only a list of the official events:
May 5th and 6th Reception by Their Majesties at Buckingham Palace.
|May 10th||Arrival of representatives, ambassadors, and deputations from the Dominions, Colonies and foreign countries. The same evening; a great State banquet in Buckingham Palace.|
|May 11th||Dominion Premiers, Indian representatives, and Colonial deputations will present to Their Majesties an address of homage. This will be followed by a lunch in honour of the Empire representatives. In the evening, Their Majesties, together with a number of other distinguished guests, will be entertained to dinner by the Duke of Gloucester, the King’s brother.|
|May 12th||The Date of the Coronation which, together with the associated events, will last from early morning till late at night.|
|May 13th||State banquet in Buckingham Palace.|
|May 14th||The King and Queen will be guests at a dinner given in their honour by Mr. Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary. The dinner will be followed by a ball at Buckingham Palace.|
|May 15th||Reception and departure of the foreign deputation.|
|May 19th||The King and Queen will drive in procession to the City, where they will be entertained to lunch by the Lord Mayor at the Guildhall.|
|May 30th||Naval review at Spithead, in which all the available units of the British Fleet, ships of Britain’s Merchant Fleet, and battleships of a number of foreign countries—France, Germany, Italy—will participate.|
|May 24th||Their Majesties will take part in an Empire Day Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.|
|May 25th||Prime Minister’s dinner at 10, Downing Street, at which Their Majesties will be present.|
|May 26th||Birthday of Queen Mary. Ball at Buckingham Palace.|
|May 27th||Reception of the London County Council at County Hall, which Their Majesties will attend.|
|May 28th||Levee at St. James’s Palace, which will be attended by diplomats, high Government officials, judges, officers, etc.|
|June 9th||Official celebration of the King’s birthday. Trooping of the Colour at the Horse Guards Parade.|
|June 10th and 11th||Investiture. (Actual conferment of honours, such as knighthoods, etc.)|
|June 22nd||Another levee at St. James’s Palace. In the afternoon, garden-party at Buckingham Palace.|
|June 27th||Parade of ex-service men before the King.|
|July 1st||Reception at Buckingham Palace, at which debutantes will be introduced, as the previous two courts.|
|July 5th to 12th||Their Majesties will visit Scotland.|
|July 14th and 15th||Their Majesties will visit Wales.|
|July 22nd||Garden-party at Buckingham Palace.|
The above are only the official functions in which Their Majesties will participate. But, in addition, there will be an endless series of functions of various kinds, for the young and for the various social classes.
However, the greatest show of the Coronation period will be the Procession to and from Westminster Abbey on the 12th of May. It will probably be the most brilliant spectacle of the present age. It is expected that the route of the procession will be lined by at least a million people. The vast majority will naturally have to be content with standing places, and, as usual in London, the crowds will occupy various points of vantage the previous evening, equipped with folding chairs, cushions, thermos flasks and food. They will be arriving throughout the night, and the scene along the route of the procession will be enlivened by the cries and chatter of hosts of street vendors offering programmes, emblems, sweets and other things. By the morning, when the troops of various regiments arrive in their gala uniforms to form a miles long cordon, the area between the Royal Palace and the Abbey will be one vast sea of gay and expectant humanity.
For some 85,000 persons the Government is providing seats on wooden structures that are being erected along the whole route. Some of these seats will be reserved for members of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of Parliament and other official persons, while some thousands of them will be occupied by children. The remaining seats will be allotted to various organisations, but none will be sold to individuals.
Those who cannot be accommodated on the platforms and refuse to stand, can obtain seats in one of the buildings along the route. All the shops, restaurants and offices in the vicinity are making arrangements to accommodate spectators, and even the windows of private dwellings will be filled with spectators on the great day. Special concerns have been formed to sell such seats, in addition to the established travel agencies and theatre ticket bureaux. Offer of seats may be found in the advertising columns of the morning papers, like the Times, Daily Telegraph and Morning Post.
With the approach of the great day prices are rising higher and higher, a considerable part of the accommodation having been bought up by speculators. It would be impossible to give any definite idea of the price of a seat, as there are enormous day to day fluctuations. However, it is certain that no seat can be obtained under £5, and even that would be on the fourth or fifth floor of a building at some distance from the procession route, affording only a bird’s-eye view of the procession. The highest price for a single seat is about £50, and it makes little difference that this includes breakfast and lunch.
Some letters even provide alcoholic refreshment and facilities for listening in to the proceedings. Originally it was intended to televise the procession to the masses of people who could not see it. The plan was approved by Edward VIII, but has been cancelled after the accession of George VI.
A great many people form into parties, and rent jointly a room affording a good view of the procession. A balcony in Regent Street, with space for thirty people, and a room behind it, has been offered for £600. Two rooms with large windows at Charing Cross have been valued at £350. If you wish to acquire even a moderately good single seat, you must be prepared to pay anything from £15 to £25. However, before renting a seat you are advised to study the route carefully and, if possible, test the accommodation itself.
The route of the procession will be as follows:
To the Abbey:
West and North Side of Victoria Memorial—The Mall—Admiralty Arch—South side of Trafalgar Square—Whitehall—East and South side of Parliament Square—Broad Sanctuary—West Entrance of the Abbey.
From the Abbey:
Broad Sanctuary—West—and North side of Parliament Square—Bridge Street—Victoria Embankment—Northumberland Avenue—South side of Trafalgar Square—Cockspur Street—Pall Mall—St. James’s Street—Piccadilly—West side of Piccadilly Circus—Regent Street—Oxford Circus—Oxford Street—Marble Arch, and through Centre Gate opposite into Hyde Park—East carriage road in Hyde Park—Hyde Park Corner—Constitution Hill—North, East and South side of Victoria Memorial—Buckingham Palace.
Naturally, all these parts will be decorated, just as the whole of London will be in festive garb. Some Borough Councils have appointed special Commissions to make the street decorations as impressive and artistic as possible. Some individual streets, like Regent Street and Bond Street, have created their own organisations for the purpose. There is keen rivalry between the large hotels and department stores, each of which intends to make a striking contribution to the colourful scene.
But the most brilliant and colourful show will naturally be at the Abbey itself. Owing to the limited accommodation in the ancient Church, only a comparatively small number of people, privileged by their rank or official capacity, will be present at the actual coronation. The number of seats available will be 7,700—700 more than at the Coronation of King George V.
There will be about 1,500 peers and peeresses, all wearing the robes and coronets appropriate to their rank. A thousand seats have been reserved for Members of Parliament and their wives. Forty other categories will be represented, including the Dominion Governments, the Diplomatic Corps, baronets, the various Orders, Members of the Privy Council, Judges, Scientific bodies, Guilds, etc. It is hardly necessary to say that admission to the Abbey cannot be purchased with money. Also, the participants are commanded to attend and are not at liberty to stay away.
The peers and peeresses will sit on chairs upholstered with gold embroidered blue velvet. Their Majesties will walk into the Church over the blue carpet, 173 feet long and 17 feet wide, woven in one piece. The floor of the actual scene of the Coronation, the so-called Coronation Theatre, of which the Sanctuary and Edward the Confessor’s Chapel forms part, will be covered with a specially made golden carpet. The big curtains at the entrance to the chapel will also be made of gold tissue.
The privileged spectators in the Abbey will have to be in their places at 9 a.m., and will probably not leave the Church before 3 p.m. The ceremony itself will last from two and a half to three hours, and will be the same as that carried out at the Coronation of the Kings of England centuries ago. The rôle of the various dignitaries who are privileged to perform even a small act in the ceremony, such as handing the King his glove, or holding one of the insignia, has been determined by a special court, the co-called Court of Claims.
In front of the Abbey the King and Queen will be received by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York and other Church dignitaries. The Princes and Princesses of the Royal Family, and the members of foreign Royal Families, will join the procession in front of the Abbey.
The King will be crowned with the Crown of St. Edward, while a special crown is being made, which will be set with the finest diamonds in the world, including the famous Koh-i-Noor. The Coronation ceremony is full of symbolic details rooted in English history, in which various high dignitaries play an almost dramatic rôle. At the conclusion the tension of the spectator is relieved in the cry, “God Save the King.” The sounding of fanfares and the thunder of guns from the Tower will then proclaim to the world that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth have been crowned.
Naturally, an event of this magnitude will attract thousands of visitors to London, but adequate arrangements have been made to make accommodation available whatever the number of visitors may be. Although the large hotels are all entirely sold out, there are still plenty of rooms to be had at the countless medium and small hotels and boarding houses. If all this should prove inefficient, than a central bureau will direct visitors to private houses with rooms to let.
Some ten thousand visitors will be accommodated in “floating hotels” on the Thames, fifteen big English and foreign steamers having secured berthing points between Greenwich and Gravesend and London Bridge. In addition to the English ships, there will be Dutch, Polish, American and Scandinavian vessels of a tonnage varying between fifteen and twenty thousands. Facilities will be provided to enable the visitors to reach the centre of the City at any time of the day or night. In addition to the large vessels, a number of yachts will also be stationed along the Thames.
One of the English railway companies has equipped a “hotel train,” composed of fifty-two compartments with accommodation for eight passengers each. The train will be standing at a suburban station for a week, and will serve as a dormitory for the lucky 416 people. Special traffic arrangements have been made, and visitors will be able to stay at places 50 or 60 miles away without inconvenience, as fast trains between these places and the Capital will be available at short intervals.
For weeks London, particularly at night, will present a magnificent spectacle. The authorities, in conjunction with large private concerns, have made arrangements to provide illumination on an unprecedented scale. The most imposing buildings will be floodlighted; the Thames Embankment, the Houses of Parliament, the Shell building, and many others, will be bathed in brilliant light, and will present a spectacle which alone would justify a visit to London.
As we have said, the Coronation Season will extend far into the autumn, and all the usual spring and summer events will assume a special festive character, quite apart from the large number of events which will not be repeated.
May will see the beginning of the International Opera Season at Covent Garden, one of the greatest attractions not only in the musical, but also in the social sense. In addition to Sir Thomas Beecham, the most famous foreign conductors will conduct; the greatest German, Italian and other foreign stars will sing; and the boxes and stalls will be occupied by members of the Royal Family, the aristocracy and foreign visitors, presenting a gorgeous scene that cannot be matched anywhere else in the world. The season will last till June 30th.
Thousands of people will make a pilgrimage to Stratford-on-Avon, where, in the vicinity of the birthplace of William Shakespeare, the greatest dramatist of all time, a Festival Season of his plays will be given from May till September.
The Mozart Festival begins on May 19th at Glynde-bourne, near Brighton. In the intimate atmosphere of an aristocratic country house musical performances of the highest perfection will be given.
On July 1st begins, at the Covent Garden Opera House, the season of the world-famous Russian Ballet, which will last a whole month, and will bear a brilliant festive character similar to the opera season.
Another Festival Play Season will take place in Malvern, Worcestershire, from July 26th till August 21st.
Naturally, all the London theatres are ready to participate in the Coronation Season in a worthy manner. C. B. Cochran, André Charlot and Ivor Novello all have Coronation Revues in preparation.
The Overseas League for Coronation visitors has been founded to collaborate with the Royal Empire Society in entertaining overseas visitors. These bodies have appointed a Reception Committee, through which their good offices can be taken advantage of.
On Tuesday, May 4th, Lord and Lady Londonderry will hold a great evening reception at the famous Londonderry House.
On May 15th, the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland will give a garden-party at Sutton Place, near Guildford.
On May 19th there will be a reception at the headquarters of the British Broadcasting Corporation in honour of 250 overseas visitors.
On May 28th the members of the Zoological Society will give a dinner in the floodlighted Zoo.
On May 29th Lord and Lady Salisbury will give a garden party in Hatfield.
On June 3rd the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey will offer a concert to overseas visitors, at which the new organ of the Abbey will be played.
The date of a reception to be held by the Masters at Eton is not known at the time of going to press.
Of the more usual events we can only mention the most important. The world-famous military display, the Aldershot Tattoo, will take place this year on a particularly festive scale. The proceedings will be rendered unique by searchlight effects. Thousands of soldiers of the various arms will participate in historical costume. The Tattoo will be given from June 9th to 12th, and from June 15th to 19th, and from July 1st to 3rd and from July 6th to 10th.
This year the displays will be given as a Coronation Tattoo, with scenery representing Old London as the background. The content of the display will be homage to the newly crowned King and Emperor. The Tattoo will commence with a procession of the flags of the Dominions, Colonies and Possessions to pay homage to the national flag. The final scene will be a representation of the banners and life-guards of all the Kings of England, from William the Conqueror to George VI. Modern mechanised troops will also participate, side by side with scenes of Cromwell’s army, and of the battles of the Duke of Wellington. Among the many musical performances included in the Tattoo, the visitor will perhaps be most interested in the “pipe band” of the Highlanders.
About 7,000 soldiers will participate in the individual scenes, the size of the natural stage being 11 acres. There will be seating accommodation for 77,500 people.
The Royal Naval, Military and Air Force Tournament, which will take place between May 27th and June 12th at Olympia, will be particularly impressive this year. The International Horse Show is scheduled to take place between June 17th and 26th, also at Olympia.
One of the most interesting annual events is the Royal Air Force Display at Hendon, in which all types of military aircraft participate. This year the display will be given on June 26th.
An artistic and social event is the great annual exhibition of the Royal Academy. This year it will be open from May 3rd till August 2nd.
If you like to witness historic scenes in an appropriate setting, you must go to Windsor on June 14th, when a meeting of the Most Noble Order of the Garter will take place there, beginning with a wonderful procession, in which the King and the Knights of the Garter, wearing the uniform of the Order, will participate. The only two lady members of the Order, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, will also join in the procession, wearing gorgeous dark blue velvet cloaks embroidered with the coat of arms of the Order, and the wide-brimmed black Garter hat with ostrich and heron plumes. After a service at St. George’s Chapel, which will be celebrated with all the pomp of past centuries, His Majesty will entertain the Knights at a banquet in St. George’s Hall.
Ascot Races, which is not only a sporting event but also one of the most important social events in the world, will represent a transition to sporting events. This year’s Ascot promises to be the greatest Royal Ascot of all time. It will last from June 15th to 18th. The King and Queen will, during this time, reside at Windsor Castle, while members of the English aristocracy will be staying at their castles and mansions in the neighbourhood. On each of the four evenings Their Majesties will give a banquet, at which the King and the Royal Princes will wear the particularly magnificent Windsor uniform.
Their Majesties, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, will be at the races every day. The Royal Family will drive to the course in famous open carriages drawn by Windsor Greys, and the races will be opened by a procession of the royal carriages round the course. The Royal Enclosure, admission to which is by individual invitation from the Lord Chamberlain, will contain the most prominent figures, and the most famous beauties of English society. Ascot is also an international fashion parade of a unique character.
Epsom Races are of an entirely different character—an event for the masses. The vast crowds at Epsom, gay, colourful and essentially good-natured, reflect a typically British state of mind as it manifests itself on festive occasions. The “pearlies” (whose clothes are almost entirely covered with mother-of-pearl buttons) are there with their families, and sell “sure tips” with the same persuasive eloquence as the gipsies who, with their covered wagons, congregate here from all over the country.
Entertainment is provided not only by the races but also by a vast fair, with all the usual booths and shows.
A striking phenomenon is the hundreds of small bookmakers who, with the assistance of a clerk, offer their odds in bitter rivalry. The clerks stand on a car, or some other elevation, and signal to their masters from the distance after a code that suggests intense excitement, but otherwise conveys nothing to the uninitiated. Naturally, society has reserved places at Epsom too, but the Derby days are nevertheless an almost purely sporting event and do not compete with Ascot.
A characteristic side of Epsom Races is the fact that they are visited by entire families, who arrive by every possible and impossible conveyance, heavily equipped with picnic baskets and thermos flasks. Luxury cars, motor lorries, crowded buses and horse carriages, are all to be seen at Epsom. The latter include picturesque stage coaches.
The principal event, of course, is the Derby, the most famous race in the world, which this year will take place on June 2nd. On June 3rd a special race, the Coronation Cup, will be run. The Oaks will be run on June 4th.
What Ascot and Epsom are to racing, Wimbledon, a residential district south of the Thames, is to tennis. At the English Championship, contests and the Davis Cup games, tennis lovers from all over the world congregate, and in addition to the excitement of the games the human scene is also striking. The English Championships are competed for by the best European and Overseas players. They will take place between June 21st and July 3rd. The Davis Cup competition will be played on July 17th, 19th and 20th, then July 24th, 26th and 27th.
Henley and Cowes are place-names that are well known all over the world. Henley is a beautifully situated town on the Thames, between London and Oxford. Henley Regatta takes place between June 30th and July 3rd. Many visitors rent some of the old houses in Henley for the Regatta, and during. Regatta Week the otherwise quiet town is all colour, gaiety and animation.
Cowes, Isle of Wight, which is easily accessible from all the South Coast resorts, and is also connected with London by a regular air service, has become famous for its exclusive Regatta, in which the late King George V usually participated with his yacht. Cowes Week is from August 2nd to 7th, and is an important social event.
Cricket, the English national game, plays an immensely important part in the, summer. The game is played and watched with equal enthusiasm by young and old. The Eton and Harrow match, which is played at Lord’s Cricket Ground, St. John’s Wood, on July 9th and 10th, shows the immense importance that is attached to cricket in England. The spectators include not only the young sisters of the players but also the older generation of Eton and Harrow “boys,” who sometimes appear with their whole families.
In June this year the New Zealand cricketers will come to England for the Tests, which will last till August, and will be followed with immense interest by the whole of England. The Australian lady cricketers will arrive somewhat later.
Other sporting events include the University Athletic Championships on May 14th and 15th, and English Championships on May 16th and 17th.
The Chess Congress at Blackpool in which the leading English and foreign masters will participate, is one of the most important events in the chess world.
England, being essentially a sporting country, facilities for indulging in or watching all kinds of sports are available to all. For instance, there are so many golf courses in all parts of the country that the total number is practically incalculable. There are courses within London, as for instance at Holland Park, while Richmond, Surrey, has municipal courses, which are accessible at low fees to everyone. However, the countless golf clubs in and around London welcome visitors, and accept temporary members. The golf course of the Royal Automobile Club is one of the many that is available to visitors on such terms.
Polo is played on the courses of the Ranelagh and Hurlingham Clubs, both near London and easily accessible.
As regards tennis courts, too, London is probably ahead of any other city in the world. Many suburban hotels have their own grass or hard courts. There are also tennis courts at some of the parks, as at Regent’s Park, Richmond and Battersea Parks.
Richmond Park, the more distant Windsor Great Park, and Wimbledon Common, are also open for riding, though the most popular riding course is Rotten Row in Hyde Park, where hundreds of riders congregate in the early morning. Horses may be hired from one of the many riding schools at a cost of 5s. or 6s. per hour.
Oarsmen with modest requirements may row in Regent’s Park or Hyde Park, but those with more exacting requirements must go to one of the many places along the Thames. There are some fine resorts between London and Oxford, at all of which boats can be had for hire. Punting is a typical English variety of this sport.
Swimming is the one sport for which there are few facilities in London, though in recent years the position has improved by the creation of new swimming pools. Of the municipal swimming baths we mention those in Marshall Street, near Oxford Circus, Porchester Hall, near Paddington, and the Baths near Victoria station. The largest swimming pool is at Wembley Stadium. This, as well as the swimming pool at Richmond, is in winter converted into an ice rink.
Open-air swimming baths will also be found in places near London, like the beautiful Surbiton Lagoon. A recent development are the pools at the so-called roadhouses, some of which are luxurious wayside hotels. Roadhouses will be found on every road leading out of London. Some have swimming pools with artificially heated water. Most road houses are open all night. The largest of them include those of the Ace of Spades Petrol Company on the Great West Road and on the Kingston by-pass.
Although the Thames, beyond London, where bathing is possible, is not very wide, there are some charming spots, as at Shepperton, where you can bathe and sun-bathe in peace.
But the Londoner’s real “bathing pool” is the sea, which can be reached in about an hour at Southend, Brighton, and many other attractive places.
IT is a mistake to suppose that it was Napoleon who first said, if indeed he ever said, that the English were a nation of shopkeepers. The history of the phrase can be traced; for many years before Napoleon could possibly have known anything about England it was used by Englishmen about the English, and by no means always in an opprobrious sense.
As shopkeepers the English have behind them more varied resources than perhaps any other nation has yet been able to claim. One cannot even except ancient Rome, or the wonderful bazaars of the East, the romantic argosies laden with strange products, of which we read in the Arabian Nights. All the adventures of Sindbad, all the discoveries of Columbus, and the whole range of progress in science, which has made easier the transport of goods, the manufacture of goods, the discovery of raw material and the methods of bringing it within the use of man, have tended to make shopping one of the interesting occupations of the world. Economic stress has sharpened the tastes of the shopper, no less than of the producers and the salesman; so that now the thing is a fine art, an instrument which will answer to the right touch.
London is a splendid centre in which to exercise this talent. It presents to the visitor, at first sight, the countenance worn by almost any foreign city. That is to say, it displays along the thoroughfares certain to be traversed by visitors all the wares it thinks those visitors will like. These are not necessarily those which appeal to people of individual taste, but they are perfectly sound wares for the week-ender, or the ten-day visitor, who has but little time to explore the enchanting avenues which open on every side to the shopper who has more time in which to make purchases.
The first thing to do, for those who wish to buy to the best effect in London, is to realise how much history and romance lie behind all the merchandise displayed. Neither Baghdad nor Damascus did better. Even the situation of a retail shop to-day has some significance.
There is a tendency for sellers of one particular thing to gather together in one spot. This has always been the case. It is not any native relationship between the workers which has put tea in Mincing Lane, drapery in Hounds-ditch, herbalists in Bucklersbury, and Jewish firms in Lothbury; it is the convenience of grouping. You might think that one draper would want to keep away from another draper; but the direct opposite is the case.
Wholesale merchants in old days gathered together because of the ease with which delivery could be made on the one hand, and buyers could collect on the other. Nowadays the same thing is seen in the retail trade. Transport has become easy. Any firm worth its salt can collect the best of the wares in which it deals, and the old wholesale thoroughfares like Mincing Lane have been replaced by shopping districts that have an ever-increasing public which can with ever-increasing ease transport itself from its home, whether a mansion in the country or a flat in the suburbs, to its chosen centre of shopping.
Those who take a bird’s-eye view of London can see how saddlers congregate in St. Martin’s Lane; motor-cars (successors to carriages) in Long Acre; auctioneers and picture-dealers in St. James’s; and all of them tending to move westward, till we have motor-cars in Great Portland Street and St. James’s Street.
You can take another view of London. You can try and divide it into a map of its own interests. The rich in Mayfair and St. James’s; artists in Chelsea (oil and colourmen, picture-frames, and the makers of the picture which require these); the theatre-world of Shaftesbury Avenue (with costumes, band instruments; and, it may be added, the clothings and shoeings which belong to these professions); club-land in Pall Mall and St. James’s (tobacconists, hatters, wine merchants); and all the engrossing shops which gather round the British Museum, whether you are interested in mummies, books on genealogy, an amber necklace which proudly announces that every bead encloses a fly, or merely on having lunch on a rickety table in a space overcrowded by people who want to eat cereals in no comfort at all.
These are very well served, very good meals for those who take feeding as an offshoot of learning.
The tendency to-day is towards the big stores, because they offer the greatest profit for the least effort. They have classified the needs of the country as Foreign Offices classify the needs of different nationalities. Each of them has a good selection of everything from socks to typewriters, from dictionaries to cake.
It is easy to give a list of big shopping centres of this kind, but it must not be forgotten that there is also a prevalence of “little men.” Nearly every household has its own workman, whether a handy-man or a working-tailor or working-watchmaker in the district, which it regards as its own special discovery. With men they tend to be purveyors of food or drink (“I get them from a little fellow behind St. Martin’s Lane”). With women they are usually dressmakers (“I have a wonderful woman who runs up things for me in Earl’s Court”). The upper classes in London still cling to the idea that it is better (even perhaps more ethical) to go to a privately owned small shop than to a big branch store. In some cases this leads to a ramp, as with the small “old-fashioned” chemist, whose prices are double those of the figures of the great multiple store, though his materials may be exactly the same.
London may look like a mixture, as all foreign towns look like a mixture, to those who are coming to it for the first time, or even for the seventh or eighth time, if they have no guide. But a map to London, properly coloured, as maps should be, would tell everybody where to go for what they want.
The male shopping district is roughly a square which, taken from Pall Mall on the south, St. James’s on the east, and the Haymarket on the west, and, turned into a pentagon on the north, covers the district enclosed by Regent Street and Oxford Street, turning down again along South Molton Street.
This covers a stretch of country rich in historical traditions of the well-dressed man, the cultured man, and that exacting pair, the clubman and the collector. It even covers the reading man, because the London Library is situated in St. James’s Square.
In one way you cannot claim this district as a shopping district; there are too many clubs in it, and restaurants, and libraries, and then some more clubs.
But, on the whole, this is the man’s shopping district. Like every other vigorous ground, growing things instead of being sterile, it cannot be wholly limited. It has shoots. Up to the north the male shopper, whether he be a newcomer or an old-timer, will find what he wants in Savile Row, in Bond Street, or in the Burlington Arcade. These three thoroughfares (with apologies to the Burlington Arcade, since it is no such thing as a thoroughfare), represent what one may call an overflow from the intense male-furnishing of Piccadilly down to Pall Mall.
Sackville Street is now another Tailors’ Row.
Getting down to brass tacks one may say that if a man keeps to this quarter he cannot go wrong on his purchases.
Savile Row will claim his clothes, and he can get them very well made from Tom Brown in Cavendish Street. And this by the way is a bit north, but belongs by quality to the rest.
The man who wants to give himself the proper hat will certainly go to Lock in St. James’s Street, though Barnard & White in Jermyn Street will do him remarkably well. For his shoes he has Lobb in St. James’s Street, Moykopf in the Burlington Arcade, and Faulkner’s in South Molton Street—another arrow pointed towards the ever-growing northern district of the West End.
If he wants really satisfactory mass-production shoes, he cannot do better than go to Randall or Lilley & Skinner, in any of their shops.
His waterproofs he must buy from one or two people. Those who swear by Burberry, and those who swear by Cordings, are so sincere that you have to toss up before choosing which you will have.
The Englishman who knows what is which gets his sticks and umbrellas from Briggs in St. James’s Street. There seems to be no question about this.
For ties, hose, and underclothing Hilditch & Keys of Jermyn Street run a keen race with Tremlett of Conduit Street and Beale & Inman of Bond Street. There is a school which considers that Tremlett’s ties are such as you cannot beat, no matter in what society you mix. The wise man will not overlook Harborough of Bond Street.
Men who want their hair to be worn as a man’s hair should will go to Hill, or Truefitt’s in Bond Street, or to the man with the lovely name of Penhaligon in St. James’s Square.
The difficult question of men’s jewellery is properly met by Lacloche or Streeter in Bond Street, and Frodsham in Oxford Street has a special talent in regard to watches.
For general, complete fit-up, everything from hair cream to shoe lace, from overcoat to vest, Austin Reed in Regent Street can be counted on. He has a wonderful array of different fittings for each size.
Simpson’s in Piccadilly has replaced the solemnities of the Geological Museum by a grand array of necessities for men.
In a good many of these women now join; but it still remains a convenient classification. There is a famous shop in St. James’s Street for fishing tackle, and Hardy in Pall Mall runs it close. For cigars the good buyer is very apt to go to Fribourg & Treyer, who sell them behind those old-fashioned bulgy windows in Haymarket which continue to prove that our latest ideas are not always our best.
All optical instruments, from monocles to field-glasses, can come from Negretti & Zambra. If you want the kind of glass which is bought by the Navy, which has the whole of the Admiralty behind it, you will ask for those made by Barr & Stroud, and sold by all first-class houses.
The shopping district for women, in regard to everything they wear, or carry, for use or for pleasure, lies to the north of that frequented by men, and tends increasingly to be west of it. During the last few years Bruton Street and Grosvenor Street have seen the tide of luxury trades moving over their solemn, solid, and attractive houses. Berkeley Square has accepted the fact that it must sell to those who once inhabited it. Grosvenor Square, though it has allowed flats at two of its corners, instead of the individual mansions of the past, has not yet accepted trade within its actual area. Molyneux, however, has reached the very edge of the Square. He has taken one of the “town houses” of what used to be known as the nobility and gentry, and has made of it, without altering its nature, a place of rest, even though full of activity. His work-girls are housed at the end of a terrace unique in London, and overlooking one of the most interesting of London’s queer humble-jumble collections of houses.
Schiaparelli has overshot the square by settling in Upper Grosvenor Street.
One can take the shopping district for women as bounded on the west by Park Lane, on the south by Piccadilly, on the north by Oxford Street, and on the east by Regent Street.
But this is only, as it were, the headquarters. There are offshoots, in particular on the south of the Park, to Knightsbridge and Kensington; with a rather important branch to the north of the Park, because Whiteley and Bradley are there.
Also, lean purses are pleased with the dress and hat shops of Shaftesbury Avenue to the east, and Russell’s in Coventry Street and Leicester Square are extremely useful to the woman who knows what she wants but has not much money with which to procure it. The Shaftesbury Avenue shops, in the middle of theatre-land, naturally show a tendency towards what one may call histrionic clothing. Nevertheless, they do not cater only for people with what one may call the footlight complex in dress.
When one comes back to Piccadilly Circus one enters on the famous West End. Swan & Edgar’s is the first stronghold of the industry, and is really the farthest east of the big drapery stores which have strong pretensions to belong to the fashionable dressmaking industry. In the space between straight Piccadilly and curving Regent Street the fanwise district of good dressing opens out to the woman shopper. The small woman is particularly considered by Stiebel in Bruton Street, and, incidentally, in those eighteenth-century rooms the business of clothing oneself is made beautiful by the flowers. These are done by Flower Decorations, and at his dress shows manage to fit with all his interesting, perky clothes.
Those who want something so much the latest that it has hardly yet been born, and something so smart that it is almost eccentric, will be glad to find Schiaparelli.
Molyneux does not like exaggeration. He has refused to fall for the exaggerated hats of the autumn of 1936, though he made one or two to show that he had noticed that they were there. His new sports department on the ground floor is run by Madame Lombardi, who knows not only what is what, but who is who. Nigel Ltd. in Grafton Street uses colour particularly well. Without ever giving a studied look to a dress or a costume she manages to give it a glint of romance by the use of contained colour, showing as the wearer moves. Marjorie Castle in Berkeley Square has some remarkable specialities, such as the very latest and most wonderful American shoes; and her house-coats are lovely enough to make the average woman want to wear them morning, noon and night.
An outpost to the west is Bradley, who makes very good, dignified and fashionable dresses, and has a special reputation for fur. Fur also is a speciality of Reville in Hanover Square, Reville-Terry in Grosvenor Street, and, of course, of Revillon in Regent Street, while the National Fur Co. in Brompton Road can be relied on in this very difficult matter.
The big drapery and dressmaking stores tend to cluster together. In the Oxford Circus region there is Marshall & Snelgrove’s, which has managed to make discretion and smartness go together.
Selfridge is, of course, the big noise in the Oxford Street district. He represents the shortest cut the average woman has towards achieving what she wants in a very large number of departments. Shopping here is rather slow, but can be very satisfactory. D. H. Evans have a big postal and direct clientele for drapery of every sort.
Behind Oxford Street it is well to note Wigmore Street. This is becoming more important, and more and more of the Oxford Street traffic is diverted along it. From the dress point of view it is important for two things. One is the presence of Debenham & Freebody, a firm in which good taste and good value go together. The other is Pamela de Bayou’s shop in Duke Street, two doors out of Wigmore Street. She is one of the most original, amusing, and decorative makers of dresses in the capital. She is not appalled by age or stoutness or plainness, though naturally she prefers beauty; she uses beautiful and unusual stuffs in beautiful and unusual ways, and yet never falls into the “art-y.”
The Kensington colony is led by Barker’s, followed by Derry & Toms, Pontings and Gooch’s, of which the two last are the less expensive. It has been pointed out that these Kensington shops provide two spectacles. One consists in the wares exposed in their windows; the other consists in the wistful public which gazes through those windows, not with any idea of buying, but much as children look at the cakes in a confectioner’s shop. The busy buying within provides a third. The giant of the Knightsbridge district is Harrods. If there is anything that a well-to-do and well-bred person does not want, it may be said that it will not be found at Harrods; and certain it is that whatever they do want will be found there. A special reputation has been attained by Peter Jones in Sloane Square, because his big general drapery store manages to keep its head up among the haughtiest single dressmakers of the West End. His evening wraps are notable.
In Knightsbridge, which is growing in importance, Woolland and Harvey Nichols represent the good-class shops where quality and fashion keep an even keel.
For materials John Lewis in Oxford Street is so good that practically all the “little” dressmakers, and certainly all the home-dressmakers, go to him first for anything they need, from tweeds to lace. Russell’s in Leicester Square have a special reputation for ribbons.
Peter Robinson, Swan & Edgar, Barker’s and Pontings have a kindly eye for the needs of the woman who is over-size or under-size.
For sports wear, in addition to the sports departments now run by so many first-class dressmakers, as instanced by Molyneux’s new departure, there are one or two firms which are thoroughly reliable. Not only will their wares be in the latest fashion, but will also be of the soundest possible material, soundly and well cut and made. Lillywhite’s, just off Piccadilly Circus, is a case in point; and Fortnum & Mason’s offer things which lend a new attraction to sport. Mary Brown in Wigmore Street also specialises in sports clothes.
Those who are going to the moors, and would like to be rightly dressed, should have expert advice before they enter on the very complicated questions of plaids and tartans. The Scottish manufacturers naturally say it is better to wear the wrong tartan than to wear no tartan at all; but that is only in their business moments. Out of business hours they are as sensitive as any other Highlander to the traditions and historical events recorded, to the eye of those who know how to read them, in the disposition of every thread of a Highland tartan.
For advice in this matter, which may not seem important to the newly arrived visitor, but will certainly seem important when she gets to Scotland, Scott Adie in Conduit Street cannot be bettered. Their tartans are right, and their tweeds are good.
Harris tweed, by the way, has conquered a ground of its own, especially since it started its trade mark. The art of making the genuine Harris tweed is so many centuries old that it is said the Vikings must have brought it to the Outer Hebrides. In accordance with gentler ways of living, the original material has been brought now to such a point of softness that it can be worn by women for town use, and even in the evening, as well as by the sturdy islanders who live their hard lives within its folds. To-day genuine Harris tweed can be bought from all reputable London stores. The buyer who wishes to be sure of its origin should look for the mark on the selvedge—a ball surmounted by a Maltese cross, and encircled by a studded belt. This will ensure that the purchaser is not buying one of the many imitations brought from far beyond the limits of Europe. The original material is often still dyed, as in the beginning, from the mosses, lichens, seaweed or crotal, hidden in the crags of the wild mountain passes. The typical scent of Harris tweed comes from the smoke of the peat-fires with which the islanders warm their cottages.
Another kind of tweed lately brought to London is woven in the Vale of Avoca, the gentle Irish river which has given us a song, unforgotten even in these days of jazz, about the sweet valley where the wild waters meet.
Those in search of interesting and original craft-made material should ask for scarves and ties of London silk.
People do not associate England with real silk, but its history in that direction is really distinguished. It has never become a big industry, because of its expense; but both in Staffordshire and in the East End of London silks are being woven which are well worthy of attention. Possibly the person who knows most about these is Queen Mary.
Incidental to this trade is one of the curious and least known sights of London. Driven from the Netherlands and France by religious troubles, the silk craftsmen found a warm welcome from James I. Forty thousand of them settled in Aldgate, Bishopsgate and Shoreditch, and gradually spread towards Spitalfields. To-day you will find in the crowded streets of these districts descendants of those Huguenots proudly bearing their old French names. The weavers’ looms were set up in the top storeys of rows of houses built for them by Sir George Wheler early in the seventeenth century. Divided below, the floor space of two or three houses was thrown into one large communal room above, entered by trap-doors. As it was 300 years ago so it is to-day, though the houses have been rebuilt, and are still being rebuilt as occasion demands. The visitor to London should make a point of seeing this work. Exquisite mediaeval shades in rich terra-cottas, greens and blues are woven in fine silks to be sold for scarves and ties. Piccadilly and Bond Street are gay with these emblems of the time of James I.
In the matter of hats the market is very wide. Most of the first-class dressmakers now make their own hats, and some have reversed the process. Derek Skeffington in Berkeley Square started with hats and now makes dresses as well. Jeff, in that same lovely spot of London, is thoroughly original. It was he who invented the Dolly Varden hat which set every woman pushing masses of curls up the back of her head. But he won’t let you wear a Dolly Varden hat if you haven’t a Dolly Varden face. He prefers to invent something especially for you.
In mass-production hats you get good ideas, and a wide range of sizes, at Parnell’s opposite Victoria Station, and Bourne & Hollingsworth does remarkably well in this department. Indeed, it is a very good store all round.
For quiet hats of impeccable taste, smartness, and relation with the latest ideas, Christine Lynne should be noted, in Duke Street, Grosvenor Square. She has very good sports clothes too.
Underclothing has reached a point in London which, as in other cases, enables the city of old Thames to rival the city of the Seine. With great good sense the main firms specialising in fine linen have adapted themselves to changing fashion. While still selling webs of lawn as fine as gossamer, they are also offering silk garments, real or artificial, inset with lace (also real or artificial) and made with due regard to the latest alteration in the fashions for dresses. Robinson & Cleaver and Walpole’s are notable examples of this kind of intelligent adaptation. Individual garments specially made are specialties of Lydia Moss, in Bond Street.
On the mass-production side for underclothing and stockings, Etams fills the bill for a large proportion of women.
Speaking of stockings, one should not forget to find the stocking which suits the foot, and ask for it in the drapery store. Nowadays the branded article is well understood there. The adherents of Aristoc, Bear, and Ballito stockings are very numerous. Many visitors from overseas will have already met with Aristoc, through their enterprise in making little cartons in which a present of a pair of stockings can be easily put into an envelope and posted.
Englishwomen are paying more attention than ever before to their footwear. American shoes have been recently very popular, and are to be had in most of the good shops. Fortnum & Mason’s shoe department has a remarkable range of lasts; and Pinet’s in Bond Street satisfies those who want the very latest French fashions.
Ready-made shoes are good at Randall’s, and the Dolcis chain-shops provide a cut which suits most people.
The difficult question of a woman’s head is treated in most of the big drapery stores by special salons. For the rest, there are multitudes of hair-dressing shops, of which perhaps Antoine’s in Dover Street has a claim to call himself the leader; Truefitt in Old Bond Street sustains a reputation now two generations old, and Rex-Perm, at the corner of Portman Street and Oxford Street, represents the claim of the modern generation to wear its hair as smartly done as it possibly can for the least possible money.
Perfumes are not lacking in Bond Street. There live such flagons of beauty as are associated with the name of Yardley’s and Atkinson’s; and Morny carries the scent eastwards into Regent Street.
As for beauty, that is the commodity which everybody in the world would like to purchase. There has been in the last few years a reaction against too much perfume, and a distinct wish to replace heavy creams by pleasant lotions. Cyclax, in South Molton Street, restores to woman the delightful sensation of washing in soap and water, and saves her from too many heavy applications of cream to her face. Helena Rubinstein owns some of the best-arranged salons in the West End, and in Old Bond Street, a stone’s throw away, the famous Elizabeth Arden gives to visitors to London all that they could hope from her New York or Paris establishments. Josephine Kell has made a speciality of electric massage and other treatments of the sort; and the foam baths at the Maison Blanche in Dover Street have been arranged under the supervision of the highest hygienic and medical authorities. Soignée, in Old Bond Street, cares for the whole person.
Grandparents, parents, and collaterals having been considered, we come to the question of children. Beginning with the babies there is the Precious-Baby bath, and the Treasure Cot, to be bought at any good house, like Hamley’s. Hamley’s also give you all the toys there are, in a general way. If you want something individual you should go to the Abbatts’ new house in Wimpole Street, where their graded toys, covering the child’s enjoyment from two years upwards, and the books that the older child wants to read, are all on show.
Mothers and Nannies will approve the Kamella baby bags, which allow the child full kicking-freedom, with no draught-inlet. Viyella nursery wear, to be had at all big shops, tries to give to hurried mothers and Nannies the same loving touch which in quieter times they achieved for themselves. For instance, you can have a mass production garment of the finest material, with real handwork to make the smockings elastic.
For perambulators there are still two kings: Hitching’s, at the corner of Bond Street and Oxford Street, and Dunkley’s in Queen Victoria Street.
Golf Clubs are supplied by Lillywhite’s, or Spalding’s or Slazenger’s; and Luckford Brown appeals to the pundits of the game.
Those who need a gunsmith, and all that he can add to the pleasure of life, go to Cogswell & Harrison in Piccadilly or Greener in Pall Mall.
Go to Tattersall’s still if you want to round Tattenham Corner and lead your horse into the paddock; or even if you want to ride down Rotten Row.
If you want a car you had better walk along Long Acre, and down St. James’s Street. and then go and look at Roote’s in Piccadilly.
There are certain categories of merchandise which fall under the heading of gifts, even if you buy them for yourself. Here are some of the places where you will get them at their very best, selected for you by experts at least as well informed as yourself, and possibly even more so.
BOOKS: for rare editions of the rarest books and the most luxurious reprintings of the classics try Quaritch, Maggs, or Sotheran.
For ordinary books, new or old, or certain rarities not falling under the cases above, go every time to Foyle’s in Charing Cross Road. If you want anything special good work will be done for you if you go to the Cheyne Book Shop in King’s Road, Chelsea.
PICTURES: Old masters, Agnew and Colnaghi. New masters, Wildenstein and Lefevre. Flower-prints, Dulau, Bond Street; Michael Williams, Curzon Street. Sporting prints, Ellis & Smith, Grafton Street.
PORCELAIN, HARD-STONE, ETC.: For Chinese jade and similar wonderful things go to John Sparks in Mount Street. For old Chinese ceramics you will get what modern phraseology calls “the goods” in Duke Street, St. James’s, from Bluett. Rather newer Chinese ceramics are sold by Handcock of Vigo Street.
Do not overlook the possibilities, if they appeal to you, of Copenhagen china, in their shop in Bond Street.
GLASS: There is good glass in Marylebone High Street. For modern glass come back a hundred yards or so to Wigmore Street and see the Powell windows, where everything from a cocktail glass to a great jar carries an individual countenance. Czechoslovak glass is dealt in by Leander in Jermyn Street. Just before you turn off for the Albany from Bond Street, Lalique has a collection of stuff in which he shows you what he thinks a dessert plate should be, and without taking breath also shows you what an altar should be.
For silver one goes to Mappin’s, or to Elkington’s, or to the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths in Regent Street. These are the firms which, dealing with metal at its best and precious metals at their finest, will give you anything from a mug to a piece of fine jewellery.
FLOWERS: Goodyear in Bond Street is an old-established firm with modern ideas—a good mixture. Moyses Stevens, outside Victoria, and in Berkeley Square, Robert Green of Crawford Street, and Gerard’s in Bond Street are the other leaders.
FURNITURE: Old furniture tends to accumulate near St. James’s Square and in Soho. A shop which enjoys the most august custom in the land is that of Moss Harris in New Oxford Street. There is some pleasant furniture-hunting to be done in Marylebone High Street, and near by, in St. Christopher’s Place, a little traffic-less street as quiet as Venice, are remarkable stores of real interesting things. Botibol and Mallett both have unique and important prices.
Gordon Russell’s modern ideas can be studied in Wigmore Street. One of the most up to date of the big furnishing stores is Heal’s in Tottenham Court Road.
DOMESTIC GEAR: Staines, in Victoria Street, has such a collection of domestic fittings and gadgets as must melt the heart—and the purse—of any woman or man. Gifts for the house are here numbered by the thousand.
CLEANERS AND DYERS: Achille Serre does fine work very reliably. Eastman and Pullar have huge followings. Duggin in Duke Street, Oxford Street, has a useful system of special flat rates for a quantity of work; and he uses neat little chip-labels, easily detached, instead of the usual sprawling stitchery.
GIFTS IN GENERAL: Knightsbridge has just asserted its growing importance by the opening of Rivoli, a branch of the famous German gift store Rosenhain. It is a mixture of Asprey’s, Fortnum & Mason’s, Drew’s and Hamley’s. The most important departments are ladies’ handbags, week-end cases, and travel kit, jewellery, card tables and accessories, smokers’ accessories. The general tone is expensive, although prices are lower than at the stores above mentioned.
YOU are a visitor to London. You’ve money to spend and time too. How best can you do both? So much depends on your taste, but, if you can only find it, there’s something for everyone in our great city.
Let’s start with food. You must eat something and somewhere before you go on to your theatre, concert, music-hall, or circus. But where? Let’s assume first that expense is only a secondary consideration. You want the best. Where can you get it? First, come the great cosmopolitan hotels where to dine you must dress, that is to say, you must wear a dinner jacket, and, if there are ladies in your party and you’re going on to a show, “tails” and a white tie are de rigueur. Most exclusive, but not perhaps except to snobs, the most amusing is Claridge’s. If there is foreign royalty in town that’s where they stay, or at the Carlton, which is about on a par. The Ritz is smarter for lunch than for dinner; the Berkeley for both. The Dorchester, Grosvenor House, the Mayfair or the Savoy are all in the same flight; a first-class cosmopolitan cuisine, such as you will find in the same class of hotel in any of the great capitals of the world.
Then there is the same type of restaurant with the same range of prices and menus but without the hotel attached. Quaglino’s in Bury Street, the favourite haunt of our ex-King in his Prince of Wales days; the Apéritif in Jermyn Street; Prunier’s in St. James’s Street where fish is the speciality; the San Marco in Devonshire House with its gay décor by Oliver Marsch, and dozens more. In these and their peers, dinner with wine will not cost you less than a pound a head, if you do things well, though you may get out a little under if you spoil your ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.
If food and drink but no band or cabaret is what you want, then I suggest you will eat and drink better at Boulestin’s in Southampton Street or the Jardin des Gourmets in Greek Street. But these are not places to dine before a show so much as when you want to eat at leisure, relish your food and make a night of that only. You’ll pay well for it but it will be worth paying well for.
Between these, the most expensive, and Soho, the cheapest of London’s restaurants, there are myriads of moderate priced eating places where for about half the price of the first category, i.e., for, say, ten shillings a head, you can dine reasonably well. The Hungaria in Lower Regent Street, the Café Royal in Regent Street; the Trocadero in Shaftesbury Avenue; the Cumberland at the Marble Arch; Prince’s in Piccadilly; Simpson’s in the Strand, the one place where they specialise in English joints; The Ivy opposite the St. Martin’s Theatre, where all film and theatredom dine gaily—and lunch too; Kettner’s in Soho.
But if you don’t want to spend as much as this then Soho should be your Mecca. Frith Street, Greek Street and New Compton Street are stuffed with French, Italian, German, Indian—all nationalities of restaurants—where you can spend as little as one and six or two shillings and come out feeling satisfied. Try, for instance, the Ristorante del Commercio in Frith Street or Grimaro’s in New Compton Street, or the Rendezvous or the Chantecler or the Escargot.
Then, of course, there is always Lyons with their vast Corner Houses in Coventry Street and the Strand, their restaurants and grill rooms in the Strand Palace, Cumberland and Regent Palace Hotels. In these you’re sure of your fare; the menu is vast in its choice, and the prices are more than moderate.
That, I think, should be enough about dining, and with these hints as a start, you should soon be finding more for yourself. London is gradually dining later and later and, broadly speaking, the smarter the rendezvous the later the hour. When I go to a theatre I never dine first, and this habit is growing. One dresses late, with a sandwich and a cocktail, and eats at supper afterwards. What I’ve said about dining applies equally to supping, but the choice is even more extensive. All the principal hotels run cabaret shows: of them the most regularly good are the Savoy, the Dorchester, Grosvenor House, and Quaglino’s, the Ritz and the Cafe de Paris.
Suppose, however, that you want to dine or sup and watch a full stage show the while, then try the London Casino, where for the price of a first-class dinner, a sumptuous show is included but, if the display of the female form divine in the “almost altogether” shocks you, don’t!
If you are a snob—and who is not at heart?—and like a good stare at celebrities, then the place to sup, dressed or undressed, is the Savoy Grill, especially on such occasions as a big first night. Here from 11.30 p.m. onwards you can eat à la carte and snoop to your heart’s content at film stars, actors, actresses, producers, directors, titled gossip writers, authors, artists, and the finance behind them.
Now what about the theatres? I can’t obviously give you specific advice, but I can perhaps help a little with some general hints. You must dress in the stalls, and should in the dress circle. If you’re a man the following tips may save you bother. Hats and coats are a nuisance, dispense with them altogether if you can, but if you cannot the cloakroom in most theatres is more nuisance than it’s worth. It takes so long to get one’s things at the end. Have a supply of sixpences ready for programmes, and buy them before you get into your seat. Above all, both sexes, please get there in good time. A late comer at the theatre is the personification of selfishness. Most of the shows start about 8.30 p.m., but do please make sure in advance and, if you must dine before, leave plenty of time not only for dinner but for the traffic blocks in getting to the theatre.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to say in advance what type of show you’ll find in what theatre; it’s safer therefore not to attempt it. A little concentration on any newspaper’s amusement list will be a much better guide. If you book seats at the theatre’s own box-office they are a little cheaper than from the agencies, but when the theatre itself has no seats the agents often have. Our oldest theatres are the Haymarket and Drury Lane. Our newest the Cambridge, the Phoenix, the Saville and the Duchess.
At the. Old Vic, across the river in Lambeth, you will usually find Shakespeare or classics playing at popular prices, but exceptionally well produced, and often with big stars in the cast. This “people’s theatre” is the training ground for stars, an honour which it shares where opera and ballet are concerned, with Sadler’s Wells. This theatre, rebuilt and completely modernised a few years ago, maintains a remarkably high standard in its productions. Opera in English interchanges with ballets, old and new. If you like either you are safe at Sadler’s Wells, and the prices are most moderate.
Then there are the music-halls, always said to be about to disappear, but always, as far as I can see, bobbing up as lively as ever and packed from ceiling to floor. Of the lot the Palladium is the most refined, but that’s not saying much. Who, after all, goes to a music-hall for refinement? The humour, though low, possibly, is not generally nearly as suggestive as in many a so-called polite play. Most of them run two shows nightly and in them you’ll find, as a rule, good variety shows abounding in knockabout humour rather than wit. After the Palladium comes the Holborn Empire; others are the Victoria Palace and, if you want to share the pleasures of the people, try the Old Collins at Islington, which continues to purvey the fare of thirty years ago, and in the traditional way.
Names of producers are often a guide to the contents of a show. Cochran, for instance, is a name to follow and, whether it’s a play or a revue, if his name is on it it is almost certain to be worth seeing. Chariot’s shows, light revues as a rule, are consistent in quality and if light entertainment is your choice there is the little Windmill Theatre with a continuous show and frequent changes of programmes.
Let’s take music next. There’s always plenty of it in London, and sooner or later all the world’s great artists perform in one or another of our concert halls. The Albert Hall is usually reserved (only because of its size, acoustically it’s frightful) for celebrity concerts. The Queen’s Hall in Langham Place is the most likely to have the best orchestral concerts with the best solo artists. Here the great B.B.C. orchestra can often be heard and seen in the flesh, and here too the London Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestras give their concerts under such conductors as Sir Thomas Beecham, greatest of our English conductors, Dr. Malcolm Sargent, Dr. Adrian Boult, Mr. Albert Coates, Sir Hamilton Harty and others.
Recitals by solo artists, both unknown and famous, are to be found in the smaller halls, such as the Aeolian, the Wigmore, the Grotrian.
During the season, that is to say between May and July inclusive, there is usually six weeks’ season or two months of opera at Covent Garden. This is as good as the same thing anywhere else and the repertoire no different. It usually consists of a cycle or two of Wagner’s Ring, a little Verdi and Puccini, with occasional Strauss, Mozart and Rossini thrown in. It is often followed by a season of so-called Russian ballet. Covent Garden is well worth a visit. It is a magnificent though rather down-at-heel house, and the opera season brings out Society in all that remains of its pre-war glory, bejewelled and tiara-ed, strictly according to tradition, and those faces which jostle for space in the society weeklies are there to be seen in flesh en masse.
Of cinemas, London has legion with prices from sixpence to twelve and six. They can be roughly divided into four categories: pre-release houses, i.e., those where the newest films make their English debut; news-reel houses with a continuous show of news interest and cartoon features; speciality houses where interest, highbrow or foreign films are to be found, and the great mass of “General Release” houses.
In the first category the principal ones are the Empire, the Leicester Square, the Carlton, the Regal, the London Pavilion, the Plaza, the Tivoli. In the second the oldest is British Movietone Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue; there are dozens of others. In the third are the Curzon, the Academy, the Studio One, the Polytechnic, and the Forum. The last category is too numerous to particularise but here again any newspaper is a sure and up-to-date guide.
What have I left out in London’s after dark amusements? A good deal, I’m afraid. There’s skating, for instance. There are several first-class ice-rinks during the winter, the Westminster Ice Rink, the Empire Pool at Wembley, which becomes a bathing-place in the summer (if any) the Empress Stadium, Earl’s Court, and at some of these and at other places there is Ice Hockey as well.
Then there are boxing and all-in wrestling at, for instance, the Ring in Blackfriars Road and Lane’s Club off Baker Street. There are dance halls galore, the Astoria in Charing Cross Road, the Paramount Salon de Danse in Tottenham Court Road, and plenty more both in the West End and in the suburbs.
The Café Royal deserves a special paragraph to itself. In Regent Street, just off Piccadilly Circus, it combines the virtues of a first-class restaurant, with a fine cellar, with a café where one can dine or simply sit and drink. This café part is the most cosmopolitan and bohemian place in London where artists, M.P.s, models, and several lower grades of society mix in noisy and semi-continental surroundings.
Lastly comes the question of night clubs and their shady relatives, the bottle parties. The doyen of night clubs is the Embassy at the Piccadilly end of Bond Street: then, especially on Thursday nights, you will find London’s smartest and best-dressed women and the most exclusive of the semi-demi-monde. But you must be either a member or be signed in by one. It is expensive but it’s worth it—occasionally.
The bottle parties are one escape from our ridiculous licensing laws. Briefly the system is this: You join them at your first visit or before being duly proposed and seconded by any other member for which purpose there is always someone on the premises to sign for you. You then are given an order form on which you order vast quantities of any drink you might be likely to want, but you don’t have to pay for it until you drink it. Then you’re within the law to drink to any hour of the night. There are said to be some six-hundred of these places within a two-mile radius of Leicester Square: they range from the highest of the high (as such things go) to the lowest of the low. To give an idea of them would take half this whole guide. I suggest, therefore, that you ask your hotel porter, a taxi driver, or any commissionaire round the West End, and any of them can put you on to dozens. The “400” in Leicester Square is the most respectable, and there you must be dressed, but they go rapidly down from dress suits to dungarees, from pure white to pure black, but don’t blame me if the police raid the low one you choose. I disclaim all responsibility.
Anyway, I hope I’ve been some help.
THE Thames—without which London would lose so great a portion of its romance and personality—is the most satisfying river in England. Its scenery ranges from the placid green loveliness of such stretches as Cliveden Reach, where the wooded hills rise in soft curves straight from the waterside, to the mysterious, smoky underworld setting of Wapping, Limehouse, and the dock quarters.
Down its slow stream have flowed, as it were, most of the big events of English history. The old fords, commemorated by such place-names as Wallingford, were used by the invading Roman legions, and by the dim, skin-clad primitive tribes who were there before them. Viking galleys sailed up the river, pillaging and colonising. King John signed his Great Charta, sullen and swearing, on the mid-stream island of Runnymede. And at the Tower of London, whose bastions stand darkly above the river, some of the most splendid and most tragic happenings of the pageant of English history have been enacted.
Sleepy old villages whose thatched roofs are hidden among the great riverside elms; comfortable old inns, with their bar windows looking out upon the willows and the passing boats and the gliding white swans; castles like Windsor and palaces like Hampton Court; fashionable centres like Henley and Richmond—all these stand upon the banks of the Thames.
And east of London Bridge begins that last seaward stretch of the Thames, upon whose broad waters the big shipping steams, bound in and out of London from Valparaiso and Vladivostock and the far harbours of the world.
The 209 miles of the Thames begin, geographically, in a spring that bubbles like liquid glass out of a meadow on a slope of the Cotswold Hills. But for Londoners, and for visitors to London, the river begins at Westminster Pier, beneath the benign vastness of Big Ben, and runs east to Southend, Margate and Ramsgate, and west to Oxford.
These points form the limit of steamer traffic, and if you wish to explore the upper miles of the river—and they are very charming, and right off the worldly track—you must hire a punt or canoe and make a camping holiday of it, or put up at nights at one of the pleasant waterside inns at places such as Cricklade, Lechlade or Kempsford.
From Westminster to Mortlake the Thames is not exhilarating in its scenery, but for all that it has a good deal of interest. At Putney, where the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race starts, the towpath also has its beginning, and continues on one side of the river or the other (the various bridges link it up) all the way to Lechlade. So that one may walk or ride a bicycle beside the river for 135 miles, with the certainty of finding a welcoming inn at convenient intervals along the whole route.
The first Thames-side resort of importance up-stream from London is Richmond, always a busy place where there is a continual traffic of rowboats, barges, steamers and tugs passing. The terraces of the White Hart and the Castle are excellent vantage points from which to enjoy the scene.
After Richmond comes Twickenham, still retaining much of the quiet elegance of two centuries ago, when Horace Walpole, Dr. Johnson, Reynolds, Addison, Pope and Gay, and a host of frail and frilled Georgian beauties, strolled in the summer sunshine beside the cool river.
Eel Pie Island, once the scene of the gourmandising orgies which gave it its name, lies in the stream off Twickenham’s pleasant frontage of Georgian architecture. It is now a popular lido, where beneath striped umbrellas you may sit and watch the exuberant beauty of streamlined bathing belles and listen to crooners and saxophonists.
Along the 6 mile stretch from Twickenham to Hampton Court the Thames is notably charming. Many old-world houses line its banks, their velvet green lawns running down to the waterside; and from Ditton Ferry to the bend where the first Tudor towers of historic Hampton Court come into view, the left shores of the river are lined with houseboats.
Hampton Court Palace, which Cardinal Wolsey built for himself and had to “present,” very unwillingly, to Henry the Eighth, is probably the finest “sight” along the Thames. Unlike Windsor, it is always open to the public, and its wonderful mellow Tudor brickwork and the spacious beauty of its gardens beside the river make it a favourite terminal point for a day’s river excursion from London. The best way to enjoy Hampton Court is to go out by electric train from Waterloo station and come back in the late afternoon and early evening by river steamer.
In the gardens is the famous Maze, down whose narrow yew-edged alleys, it is said, Henry the Eighth plunged hugely and amorously in pursuit of the impudent fleeing figure of Ann Boleyn; and at the bridge-head stands the Mitre Inn, an historic hostelry with some fine panelling and delightful river views from its windows.
From Hampton Court, as one proceeds up river, the Thames becomes increasingly attractive. Sunbury, Walton, Halliford and Shepperton succeed each other like beads on a string—pleasant, quiet places where the boats glide smoothly and men contentedly sit along the banks with their fishing-rods bowed out over the water. Then comes Chertsey, Staines and Egham, the last small Thames-side towns before Windsor dominates the landscape.
The shortest approach to Windsor Castle from the river is by the Hundred Steps, which ascend from the flamboyant monument to Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein, at the corner of Thames Street, not far from where the steamers berth.
One should go to the top of the Round Tower, the great central fortification of the castle, for the view from the ramparts is extraordinarily fine. The Thames can be seen winding for mile after mile like a silver ribbon through the restful landscape of meadows and woods. The galleries of the State Apartments of the castle contain some priceless treasures of the work of Rubens, Van Dyck and Rembrandt.
Maidenhead, the most famous riverside town immediately above Windsor, is one of the high-spots of the Thames. Almost every building within fifty yards of the water is a fashionable club or hotel. At Skindles, the Riviera and the Thames, you may watch the glittering stage stars of London sway romantically in the waltz on an open-air dance floor whose shimmering boards seem to merge with the water of the river flowing so softly alongside. Coloured lights are festooned between the trees; punts lie moored conveniently at hand. Your dance over, you may step into your waiting craft and drift with your partner, as in a gondola upon the canals of Venice, along the moonlit Thames. For all this, of course, the prices are pitched accordingly. But thousands of people think it is worth it. And if you are unattached and under forty and have the means—well, it probably is.
At Maidenhead is Boulter’s Lock, the most famous on the river. In the height of the season a thousand small craft are manœuvred through the lock in the course of a day. Once through the lock you are in Cliveden Reach. It was Charles Kingsley’s opinion that “the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen or care to see is the vale of the Thames from Taplow or Cliveden, looking down towards Windsor and up towards Reading.”
The woods mass thickly to the riverside, billowing in great sweeps of green to high ridges where the tree-tops meet the sky line. Mercifully, the scene will never be desecrated by the attentions of the speculative builder and his “desirable Thames-side residences”; for the land has for all time been declared inviolable to building by the public-spirited action of the owners.
After Cliveden, Hurley and Marlow have been passed, Henley is reached. The most classic of all the Thames regattas is held here every summer, when the leading racing crews and individual oarsmen, as well as many famous competitors from abroad, take part in the various events. Henley marks the end of the first day’s run of the two-day journey to Oxford.
And so along the last miles of the two-day’s steamer route to Oxford, with short stops at Reading, Wallingford and Abingdon. There is a sameness about all the Thames on this stretch, but it is a sameness of which one somehow does not tire. There is always something to see—the swift darting flight of the swallows that skim the water incessantly, a few feet from the steamer’s bows; the stately white flotillas of swans gliding so conscious of their beauty against the green background of the river bank; the constant traffic of small river craft—punts, skiffs, canoes, motor-boats; the glimpses of villages and inns and old church towers and vivid modern bungalows; of urchins bathing in noisy delight and old men fishing in awed silence.
A few hundred yards beyond Iffley Lock the river gives a twist, and through a gap in the trees the first spires and domes of Oxford come into sight.
There is no town in England quite like Oxford. Almost every building is a “show piece,” and the atmosphere of history and learning and dignity hangs over every stone. You cannot know Oxford in a day, or even in a month or a year. But the best way of reaching the historic old city is undoubtedly by the placid, gradual approach through typically English pastoral and river scenery which the journey along the Thames alone can give.
ON London Bridge romance and workaday dreariness—fetters and freedom—meet with peculiar drama. To realise that it is only necessary to stand on the bridge in the dinner hour and watch the face of some young city clerk, condemned to return to the grey pages of a ledger in a few minutes, as he gazes wistfully at the ships anchored in the river below.
When the Thames, east of London Bridge, changes to its other name of London River, it becomes one of the most exciting water highways of the world.
What names they bear, those ships! Read the white lettering on the curve of their sterns. “Gretchen Haas,” Hamburg; “Felix Dzerjinski,” Leningrad; “Solveig,” Bergen; “Marietje,” Rotterdam.…
And just below the bridge, opposite the grim walls of the Tower, is a big black vessel with a cream smokestack and green water-line moored at Hay’s Wharf—the “Baltrover” of the United Baltic Corporation, 5,000 tons, the largest ship that passes through the opened bascules of the Tower Bridge.
Four days ago her masts were beneath the fantastic Gothic spires of Danzig. She lay at Gdynia while the moonlight threw a pale sheen over the dark Polish forests. Now she’s back in London again. The Thames laps her sides instead of the Vistula. Every fortnight she sails for the Baltic, through the Kiel Canal, carrying passengers and cargo, and bringing the romance of distant places to the very threshold of the prosaic City offices.
All the way from London Bridge to the tip of the North Foreland the Thames is continually dramatic. The ceaseless procession of international shipping alone would make it so; and in addition its banks are steeped in history. The man who takes a day trip from Tower Bridge to Ramsgate and back by the “Royal Eagle” can absorb in the things he sees enough imaginative matter to bite on for years—if he follows up what he has seen and intends to think about it all properly.
One of the first features of interest after the huge bascules of the Tower Bridge have opened to let the steamer pass is a couple of squat Dutch eel boats anchored in the stream off Billingsgate fish quay. They are the lineal descendants of two such boats that were anchored there in 1666 when the Great Fire blazed. Their crews then helped the stricken Londoners in their fight against the flames, and as a reward they were granted a charter which has allowed them to lie ever since. They are the same boats that you may see any day lazily gliding up the waters of the Scheldt and along the calm ribbons of the Dutch canals.
Broad in the beam, sleek and plump, they look like two good-humoured housewives from Holland. They need a background of windmills and wooden-shoed girls and black and white Friesian cows in a green meadow to be in their best setting. But even amid the busy river traffic of the Pool of London they keep their picturesque individuality. Always you will find them there, selling their eels, which the boats of the Batavier Line bring from Holland, to the merchants of Billingsgate.
Wapping Old Stairs next. Pirates were hanged there in the fierce days of the past, and the victims were left dangling in their chains until three Thames tides had passed over them. The notorious Captain Kidd suffered a just fate at this spot; and just beside the stairs is the Town of Ramsgate inn, to which the infamous Judge Jeffreys, cringing and snivelling from the pursuing mob, fled. But they got him, and the cruelty and viciousness of the Bloody Assize was later wiped out.
Deptford, which looms up through the blur of steamer smoke and the slight haze which is always hovering over the river, is a glum and ugly smear of buildings. But it was at this waterside, where the factories now stand in a grey mass, that Queen Elizabeth went on board the “Golden Hind” to knight Drake; and in the Deptford pubs Peter the Great of Russia learned to like English ale, with which he refreshed himself in vast draughts after a heavy day working as an ordinary artisan in the shipyards; and in the dingy old church of Saint Nicholas, Christopher Marlowe sleeps. A rapier thrust in a drunken brawl put an end to his poet’s wit.
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We have passed Barking Creek, whose only fame seems to lie in an unprintable English limerick. Ahead lie Tilbury and Gravesend. Old Gravesend—that part of the town which fronts the river—has narrow winding streets. Many of the local men are shrimp fishers, and their small boats are anchored close to the pier.
The Three Daws at Gravesend is one of the most interesting inns along the Thames. It has been licensed continually for 300 years, and in its low-beamed old rooms bargees, pilots and lightermen gather and gossip over their mugs of beer.
Canvey Island on the port bow. A long, low island whose shores are protected from inundation by sea-walls which Dutch engineers first constructed in the seventeenth century. The island is rapidly developing into a bungalow colony and a series of riverside bathing beaches. But here and there among the rather hideous new houses may be seen some of the old timber and tile dwellings which the Dutchmen who settled there after their dyke-building work erected for themselves.
In the summer Canvey Island is a jovial haunt. Its idiom is unashamedly plebeian, like that of Southend. There are merry-go-rounds and sideshows along the beaches, and the people who frequent it enjoy themselves with robust noise and excellent good humour.
But Southend is the real London-by-the-Sea, to which every true Cockney makes exodus as often as he can, by train or coach or river steamer, during the summer months. Its pier juts out from the shore for over a mile, and there is a light railway to take people from town to pierhead.
If you are ultra-refined and superior, the sight of Southend pier occupying what appears to be half the width of the entire river, will feel you with a slight feeling of nausea. Such a common place! At Southend trippers from the East End eat winkles which they gouge out from their shells with a pin. How horrid! No county families there. They are all shootin’ or huntin’ or fishin’ somewhere else.
For that Southend can, perhaps, be thankful. For the whole charm of the place lies just in the fact that it is a resort of the people, where enjoyment is loud and jovial and unashamed.
The town has five miles of sea promenade, some of its shelters are fitted with “Vita” glass, which allows the beneficial sun rays to penetrate, and the amusements range from a boating pool for children to a Kursaal, whose attractions comprise a zoo and innumerable sensations in the way of switchbacks and scenic railways.
Oysters, shrimps, whelks and cockles are the especial Southend fish delicacies. They are usually consumed to the accompaniment of stout. On the pier there is a band pavilion and concert hall, also a big dance hall. The public gardens contain tennis courts, bowling greens and miniature golf courses.
A word about the “Royal Eagle,” which with its sister ship “Crested Eagle,” is the most popular steamer plying from London in a seaward direction. It is the largest and best fitted pleasure steamer the Thames has known. Built in 1932, one of its features is a large glass-enclosed main deck, where passengers can sit and enjoy the sunshine without being exposed to the wind. An open top deck runs nearly the whole length of the ship, where one may bask luxuriously in lounge chairs.
The steamer sails daily between the Tower and Ramsgate at a speed of 19 knots, taking its passengers far beyond the Nore Lightship and out into the open sea round the point of the North Foreland. Lobster teas are a feature of its commissariat.
From Southend the “Royal Eagle” cuts across the wide estuary of the river to Margate, on the Kent shore, the course passing close to the Nore Lightship, whose red hull gently yawing in the fairway marks the seaward limit of the Port of London Authority.
Beyond the Nore you are at sea, and a chart of the river about here reveals a bewildering muddle of lights and lightships, beacons, buoys and sandbanks. There are names such as East Spaniard, Shivering Sand, Knock John, Ham Gut; old wrecks are marked upon the chart, so that one feels like a desperate character aboard a buccaneering galleon instead of a fare-paying passenger on a day-trip paddle steamer from London.
The London (Kingston) to Oxford services are maintained by the boats of Messrs. Salter Bros., the well-known Oxford firm of boat builders. A service runs each way daily, two days being necessary for the complete trip. The boats can be joined at any lock or regular stopping place on the river; and if hailed from a ferry or hired small craft they will slow down for passengers to embark. There are dining and recreation saloons on board, but no sleeping accommodation. The night is spent at Henley, both on the up-river and down-river journey.
For shorter trips above London—to Hampton Court, Richmond, Twickenham etc.—there are steamers starting from Westminster pier, Richmond and Kingston.
The “Royal Eagle” and the “Crested Eagle” are run by the General Steam Navigation Company. They start from Tower Pier about nine in the morning, and the full trip to Ramsgate and back takes 13-16 hours, with stops at Woolwich, Greenwich, Gravesend, Southend, and Margate in both directions.
Tickets for all Thames steamers can be booked at any travel bureau during the season.