London, Volume 1
It was on the vigil of St. John the Baptist, in the year , that young men, wearing the dress of the King's Guard--the rich and picturesque uniform which has survived the changes of centuries, to linger about the Court of England, and preserve its gorgeous dignity, however vulgarized into associations with beef-eaters and showmen--that handsome and soldierly-looking young men came to the water-gate at , and, in answer to the
of the watermen, jumped into a common wherry. There were not many boats at the stairs, and those which were still unhired were very different in their appearance and their comforts from the royal barges which were moored at some little distance. The companions looked at each other with a peculiar expression before they sat down on the uncushioned and dirty bench of the wherry; but the boisterous laugh which burst forth from of them appeared to remove all scruples, and the boat was soon adrift in the ebbing tide.
The evening was very lovely. The last sunbeam was dancing on the waters, and the golden light upon the spires of the city was fast fading away. Suddenly,
| however, a redder light came up out of the depths of the streets, and wreaths of grey smoke mingled with the glare. The Thames was crowded with boats, and voices of merriment were heard amidst the distant sounds of drum and trumpet. The common stairs or bridges were thronged with people landing. The wherry in which sate the guardsmen ran in to a private stair at ; and with the same hearty laugh they stepped into a spacious garden. |
said the more boisterous of the companions,
In a few minutes a noble-looking person, dressed in a sober but costly suit, like a wealthy citizen, joined them, making a profound reverence.
exclaimed he of the loud voice; and then, making an effort to speak low,
It was Wolsey, then upon the lower rounds of the ladder of preferment, who answered Henry in the gay tone of his master. Brandon, who, in spite of his generous nature, did not quite like the accommodating churchman, was scarcely so familiar with him. The , however, all gaily enough passed onward through the spacious gardens of Empson's deserted palace, which covered the ground now known as and ; and with a master-key with which the prosperous Almoner was already provided, they sallied forth into the public street, and crossing Fleet Bridge, pursued their way towards West Cheap.[n.98.1]
Lud-gate was not closed. In the open space under the city wall was an enormous bonfire, which was reflected from the magnificent steeple of Paul's. Looking up the hill there was another bonfire in the open space before the cathedral, which threw its deep light upon every pinnacle of the vast edifice, and gleamed in its many windows as if a tapers were blazing within its choir and transepts. The street was full of light. Over the door-ways of the houses were
[n.98.2] Before the houses were tables set out, on which were placed ponderous cakes, and flagons of ale, and wine
and the sturdy apprentices, who by day were wont to cry,
threw open their blue cloaks, disclosing their white hose, with a knowing look of independence, as they courteously invited the passer-by to partake of their dainties. Over the doors hung the delicate branches of the graceful birch, with wreaths of lilies and wort; and there were suspended pots of the green or pine, in the bending of whose leaves the maiden could read her fate in love. Wending their way through the throng, the men of the west felt, the younger especially, something of that pleasure which human beings can scarcely avoid feeling at the sight of happiness in others. Henry whispered to Wolsey,
and the courtier answered,
The visitors of the city moved slowly along with the dense crowd towards the Cross in West Cheap. They there stationed themselves. The livery which of them wore would have secured them respect, if their lofty bearing had not appeared to command it. The galleries of the houses, and the windows, were filled with ladies. Between the high gabled roofs stood venturous boys and servants. Tapestry floated from the walls. Within was ever and anon heard the cadence of many voices singing in harmony. Then came a loud sound of trumpets; and a greater light than that of the flickering bonfires was seen in the distance; and the windows became more crowded; and the songs ceased within the dwellings.
The procession which was approaching was magnificent enough to afford the highest gratification to at least of the spectators that we have described. It suggested, however, the consideration that it did not belong to himself, and threw no particular glory round his throne and person. But, nevertheless, his curiosity was greatly stimulated; and that love of pomp which he had already begun to indulge, in processions, and jousts, and tournays, could not fail of receiving some delight from the remarkable scene that was before him. He was, as Cavendish has described him,
His amusements were-manly and intellectual,
The future sensual tyrant is not readily seen in this description. But here, on Midsummer-Eve in , was Henry standing beside the Cross in West Cheap, and mixing unknown amongst his subjects, like the Haroon Er-Rasheed of the
Onward came the Marching Watch, winding into Cheap from the little conduit by Paul's Gate. Here, literally,
The pitchy ropes borne aloft in iron frames sent up their tongues of fire and wreaths of smoke in volumes which showed, afar off, like the light of a burning city. Stow tells us that for the
of the Marching Watch there were appointed cressets; besides which every constable, amounting to , had his cresset. Each cresset had a man to bear it and another to serve it, so that the cresset-train amounted in number to almost men. This was, indeed, civic pomp upon a splendid scale. A poet of the next century, whose name is almost unknown in the ordinary catalogues of English poetry, but who has written with more elegance and taste than half of those we call classics-Richard Niccols, in a performance called
has the following very beautiful lines descriptive of the bonfires and cresset-lights of the great festival of the Summer Solstice:--
Mingled with the cresset-bearers came on men of the Marching Watch, some mounted, and some on foot. There were
on great horses; gunners with their harquebuses and wheel-locks; archers in white coats, with bows bent and sheafs of arrows by their sides; pike-men in bright corslets; and bill-men with aprons of mail. Following these came the constables of the Watch, each in bright harness gleaming from beneath his scarlet jornet[n.100.1] and his golden chain; with his henchman following him, and his minstrel before him, and his cresset-light by his side; and then came the waits of the city, and morris-dancers footing it to their merry notes; and then, in due order, the mayor himself on horseback, and his sword-bearer, his henchmen, his harnessed footmen, his giants, and his pageants. The Sheriffs' Watches, says Stow,
Niccols, still apostrophizing London, thus describes this part of the solemnity:--
Onward swept the mighty cavalcade past the Cross at Cheap, along , and by Leadenhall to . It was to return by and Gracious Street, and again into and through . The multitude thronged after it, but the strangers remained almost alone.
replied the king.
said Wolsey: and turning round to the king,
said the king,
The streets were watched. They again passed Ludgate; and as they descended Fleet Hill they found the lamps still burning before the doors, but the hospitable tables were almost deserted. At due intervals stood a constable in bright harness, surrounded by his footmen and his cresset-bearer; and as they went onward through , and looked to the right and left, up the narrow lanes, there was still the cresset gleaming in the armour. We are safe to-night,
This is a glorious affair, and I shall bring her Highness to see it on Eve. How looks the city, my grave Almoner, on other than festival nights? It is a melancholy place, your Highness. After curfew not a light to be seen: the cresset in a street makes it more gloomy; and masterless men cut purses in the dark, while the light-bearer tells the rogues where there is no watch.
exclaimed the king.
added the statesman.
replied the king. They were by this time at . There were led-horses waiting, and a dozen footmen with lighted torches. Slowly they rode, for the way was rough, past , and through , and by to the palace-gates. Here and there was seen a solitary bonfire, but there was no rush of population as in the city. The large palatial houses were dark and silent. The river, which ever and anon lay spread before them as they looked upon it through the broad open spaces of its bank, was red with the reflection of the city fires. The courtier-priest was at his master's stirrup as he alighted; and Henry whispered,
With a loud laugh his Highness and Brandon vanished into an inner court of the palace, and the Almoner rode thoughtfully to his lodgings.
During the reign of Henry VIII, as Harrison tells us, he hung up, of great thieves, of petty thieves, and rogues, score and . This was a wholesale mode of dispensing with a preventive police; though we doubt whether the prison and the gallows were cheaper than lighting and watching. The same graphic pen, writing in , adds--
[n.101.1] London, we have no doubt, had a pretty equal share of discomfort and danger. The time was passed when it could be enjoined, as by the statute of Edward I.,
The progress of industry had rendered it necessary that others, besides great men and their accredited messengers, should go about at night, and not be considered as malefactors. years after the Midsummer Eve of , Henry VIII. put down the marching watch,
but the good old lovers of pageantry would not so readily part with it, and it was several times attempted to be revived, till, in , it was altogether abandoned; and it was determined
[n.101.2] It is curious, in these our own days of police and gas-lights, to look back to the means by which the safety and preservation of the city were secured. The watchman had gradually been transformed from a sturdy constable in harness into a venerable personage bearing halberd and lanthorn. It was the business of this reverend person to make the cry inscribed under the
| figure of the watchman here given. He had to deal with deaf listeners, and he therefore proclaimed with a voice of command, |
But a lanthorn alone was a body without a soul; and he therefore demanded
To this the vital spark was to be given, and he continued to exclaim,
To render the mandate less individually oppressive, he went on to cry,
And that even the sleepers might sleep no more, he ended with
We are told by the chroniclers that, as early as , the Mayor, Sir Henry Barton, ordered lanthorns and lights to be hanged out on the winter evenings, betwixt Allhallows and Candlemas. For centuries this practice subsisted, constantly evaded, no doubt, through the avarice and poverty of individuals, sometimes probably disused altogether, but still the custom of London up to the time of Queen Anne. The cry of the watchman,
was an exhortation to the negligent, which probably they answered only by snores, equally indifferent to their own safety and the public preservation. A worthy mayor in the time of Queen Mary provided the watchman with a bell, with which instrument he accompanied the music of his voice down to the days of the Commonwealth. The
in the time of Elizabeth, were careful enough for the preservation of silence in some things. They prescribed that
and, what was a harder thing to keep, they also forbad a man to make any
Yet a privileged man was to go about knocking at doors and ringing his alarum-an intolerable nuisance if he did what he was ordered to do. But the watchmen were, no doubt, wise in their generation. With honest Dogberry, they could not
and after the watch was set, they probably agreed to
Dekker, however, describes the bellman as a person of some activity-
Stow says that in Queen Mary's day of each ward
This is the more poetical bellman of Milton's
Herrick, also, has given us the verses of the bellman charming morsels of his
of poetry, in of the But, with or without a bell, the real prosaic watchman continued to make the same demand as his predecessors for lights, through a long series of years; and his demand tells us plainly that London was a city without lamps. But though he was a prosaic person, he had his own verses. He addressed himself to the
He exhorted them to make their lanthorns
He told them how long their candles were expected to burn. And, finally, like a considerate lawgiver, he gave a reason for his edict. In a print which is of the time of James I. we have the watchman here represented, with the following lines underwritten:--
The making of lanthorns was a great trade in the early times. We clung to King Alfred's invention for the preservation of light with as reverend a love, during many centuries, as we bestowed upon his civil institutions. The horn
|of the favoured utensil was a very dense medium for illumination, but science had substituted nothing better; and, even when progressing people carried about a neat glass instrument with a brilliant reflector, the watchman held to his ponderous and murky relic of the past, making |
with his voice,
| while he made |
with his lanthorn. But, as we see, in the early days of lanthorns, when the cresset was being superseded by
there was a wonderful demand for these commodities; and upon the maids and their mistresses, who were nightly appealed to for the provision of the external light that was to protect the ward from thieves and murderers, must have rested a very serious responsibility of keeping
and securing the candle against
either made by
or bad manufacturers. We have an old print of Hans Schopper's before us, representing the lanthorn-shop; and it will be observed that the lady has taken this piece of furniture under her especial care.
Paris was in the same condition as London for a long period. The nightly passengers through the streets walked about with-lanthorns; and it was only in times of alarm and imminent danger that ordinances were issued, commanding each occupier of a house to place a light in the window of his floor. La Reinie, the lieutenant-general of police, introduced public lanthorns in . This was hailed as a great event, for a medal was struck upon the occasion, bearing the legend . lanthorn, lighted with candles, in the middle of each street, and at each end, constituted the amount of the security and splendour which Louis XIV. and his minister of police bestowed upon the Parisians. We cannot exactly say whether Boileau had composed his satire before this event, but about this period he describes the darkest wood as far less dangerous than the streets of Paris, in which the
would encounter bandits as he turned a corner:--
London was perhaps better off, with its general system of private lights, however imperfect that system might be. In a licence was granted by the corporation to certain persons
for the sole supply of the public lights in all public places in the city, for years. Here, would have thought, would have been the prosperous commencement of a system which would really have insured safety to the inhabitants of London. But when the lease was expired we hear no more of the glass-lights or convex lights; and every housekeeper whose house fronts any street or lane and is of the rent of , and every person having the charge of a public building, are each required and obliged, in every dark night, from the until the , to hang out or more lanthorn or lanthorns, with sufficient cotton-wick candles lighted therein, and to continue the same burning in every such dark night, from the hour of until the hour of of the same night. The act of Common Council which makes these provisions tells us they are,
Glorious provisions indeed were they for accomplishing those ends! When there were clouds over the moon,--and whole streets and portions of streets were without light, because
| the inhabitants were not rated at ,--and there was no light at all after o'clock, we must admire the sagacity of the civic authorities who thus proposed to put down robbery and murder. Defoe, who in many things was a century before his age, published a pamphlet in , wherein he suggested a plan |
London continued to be by its
for another years; and the authorities began to think of rendering the streets
not until they had gone up in terror to George II., to implore
This was in . But we have something to say upon the period that intervened between the old days of
and those semi-modern days when society, pretending to be in the most civilized condition, was really going backwards in many of the essential matters that constitute the
It has been generally held that crimes of violence belong only to what are called the rudest states of society. They belong, unquestionably, to an imperfect state of civilization; but they may nevertheless exist under a condition which admits of great wealth amongst the higher individuals, a diffusion of wealth amongst the middle classes, and a certain refinement amongst those classes who are supposed to give the tone to an age. But they nevertheless indicate something radically wrong in the general social state--some imperfect application of the preventive forces which belong to a really civilized condition--some gross inequality in the distribution of freedom, and of the means for securing the comforts which are due even to the lowest class, conjoined with the inability, through the exercise of honest industry, to rise out of that class. These crimes are not always confined to the poorest, but spring out of the desire to employ the strong hand, under circumstances where mere brute force is a general indication of power, even amongst those whose peculiar interest, rightly understood, would be to show that no real power should be lawless. We can understand how a watch came to be established in London, when it was
[n.106.1] This was an age of general lawlessness; and the establishment of the watch in cities by Henry III. was the step towards a preventive police. But it is not so easy to comprehend how, nearly years afterwards (in ), London should have been in such a state that the Lord Mayor and aldermen went up with an address to the king, representing
If in the
armed gangs thus destroyed the safety of ordinary life, what must they have been in the hours of darkness, when a feeble light was hung out here and there from to o'clock, and after that the city was surrendered to gloom and rapine? In the years of the eighteenth century we should assuredly have thought that society had settled into order and security. These atrocities could not have existed without a most lamentable weakness in the government. Everything was then left to the narrow-minded local authorities. There was no central power. The government (what a misnomer!) had nothing to do but to make war and to hang. The Lord Mayor and aldermen cried,
And the king promised he would hang:
Some person, whose good deeds, like those of many others, have fallen into oblivion, suggested a wiser course; and Maitland, the historian of the city, from whose work we collect these remarkable facts, tells us,
A mental illumination had been required before this desirable event. In the long interval between the vigour of despotism and the better vigour of sound legislation, London must have been anything but a pleasant abode. Under the sway (in the latter days of Elizabeth for example), Fleetwood, the recorder, strung up a dozen cutpurses on a morning; and although he says,
[n.107.1] yet he contrived to clear London for a season of the rogues, by dint of the halter and the whip. But then came the age of weakness--a necessary consequence of a government relaxing its discipline, in that regard for the
which was another name for its own ignorance and idleness. All the social pictures of the days of Anne and of the Georges exhibit a state of police much worse than the days of Elizabeth. London was then a prey not only to daring thieves, but to swaggering bullies and hired assassins, who had lost the old salutary terror of the Star-chamber, and despised the ordinary administration of justice. In the time of Charles II. Dryden was waylaid and beaten by a gang of ruffians hired by Rochester, as he walked home from Will's Coffeehouse to . This was a solitary case. But the Spectator has left us the unquestionable evidence of the existence of
--a that would appear as impossible to have existed in the London of the days of Anne as of those of George IV.:
Gay has given his testimony to the existence of the same association:--
We have a Mohock or still left; and sometimes our magistrates are still weak enough to inflict a miserable money penalty, instead of honestly levelling all distinctions amongst those made equal by crime and folly. But we have no of Mohocks. A firm police will root up the last of the race. Some years after the Spectator had described the Mohocks, Johnson gave us a picture, in his
of the individual bully:--
This then () was the age of flambeaux and linkboys. London had only
| still its lanthorns here and there, and its few glass lamps. was perhaps worse provided. But the coach rolled from the theatre and the ball with its liveried torch-bearers; and even the present century has seen flambeaux in London. The intelligent antiquary--not he who discovers nothing of antiquity but what is buried in the earth or described in the classics--may behold a relic of the manners of a years ago in some of our existing squares and streets, that have stood up against the caprices of fashion. On each side the door-way, and generally attached to the posts that carry an arching lamp-rail, are instruments that look like the old tin horn of the crier of |
They are the flambeau-extinguishers: and when the gilded coach was dragged heavily along at midnight to the mansion (people of fashion once went to bed at midnight), and the principal door was closed upon the lords and ladies of the great house, the footmen thrust their torches into these horn-like cavities, and as the horses moved off by instinct to their stables, the same footmen crept down the area in utter darkness. There was perhaps a solitary linkboy at the corner of the square, especially if an opened cesspool, or a little lake of mud, promised a locality where gentlemen without his aid might break their necks or soil their stockings. But generally hovered about the theatres and taverns. He was, too often, a half-idiotic wretch, whose haggard features have been admirably preserved by Boitard, an artist of Hogarth's period, who possessed some share of the Hogarthian humour. Gay describes
| but he has also given the fraternity a bad character, which perhaps they were enabled to live down. The poor fellow of Boitard's picture we are sure did not deserve the reproach:--
Oily rays, and crystal lamps! The very existence of the
tells us to what extent, the illumination reached, and what were dignified by the name of
But the age of lamps was really approaching. The City, as we see, became vigorous in lighting, when it was found that severity did little against the thieves; and the Paving and Lighting Act was passed in . Then came the glories of the old lamplighters;--the progress through each district to trim the wicks in a morning-and the terrible skurry, with ladder driven against your breast, and oil showered upon your head, as twilight approached. What a twinkling then was there through all the streets! But we were proud of our lamps; and Beckmann, in his
has described them as something like a wonder of the world. Beneath the faint lamp slept the watchman; or if he walked, he still walked with his lanthorn; and the linkboy, yet a needful auxiliary to the lamp and the lanthorn, guided the reeling gentleman from his tavern to his lodging.
The old system of watching lasted up to . It is impossible to conceive any institution more unfitted for the demands of society, more corrupt, more inefficient;--in a word, as it was described by all parties before the passing of Sir Robert Peel's Police Act, it was an intolerable nuisance. It is amazing how it could have lasted so long; and its duration can be accounted for upon no other principle than that, it being agreed on all hands that it was utterly worthless and contemptible, means were resorted to for rendering the police of London in some degree efficient, whilst those reverend pensioners, who had only the duty to discharge of having their lanthorns broken (sometimes their heads), and of springing their rattles duly at the midnight hour, row or no row, were held to be entirely without responsibility in the serious matters of burglary and street-robbery. These were left to the inspection of the officers of ; and very vigilant had these functionaries been for some years. There was no such
|thing as a mounted highwayman known in the neighbourhood of London; streetrobberies had become very rare; burglaries were not common. The face of things had been wonderfully changed since the London thieves plotted to stop Queen Anne's coach as she returned from supper in the city; and since highwaymen committed robberies in noon-day in the immediate vicinity of the capital, and slowly rode through the villages without any daring to stop them. But the application of a scientific discovery had as much to do with some of these beneficial results as the greater vigilance of a police. When London became lighted with gas, half the work of prevention of crime was accomplished.|
It is pleasant to think what has been done in this matter in our own day. Birmingham, Halifax, Manchester, had employed gas as a means of lighting manufactories very early in the present century; but London adopted this beautiful light in her public streets. Pall-Mall was thus illuminated in ; and we certainly owe this application of the invention (although to the invention itself he can have no claim) to the sanguine perseverance of a German, named Winsor. He raised a subscription of- for his experiments; and not a penny came back to the subscribers. But he lighted a street. For several years Pall-Mall alone was so lighted. His extravagant expectations of enormous profits to his subscribers had utterly failed; but the principle could not fail. The business of the chartered company was also long unprofitable; but in years they had conquered every difficulty. Other companies were rapidly established; and the metropolis now burns gas in every square, street, alley, lane, passage, and court. It was shown in , upon a parliamentary investigation into the affairs of the chartered company, that they produced cubic feet of gas every night, giving a light equal to of tallow candles. The consumption of the metropolis is now reckoned at nearly millions of cubic feet in hours; so that the production of gas in London night is equal to the light of of tallow candles. Compare this with the
hung up here and there, from to o'clock on dark nights. In , when public lamps were to a certain extent established, the City had only throughout all its great thoroughfares and numberless lanes and alleys. Should we err in saying that the light of these lamps was not more than equal to that of of tallow candles? This slight computation supplies food for thought.
But if the nightly illumination of London is to be presented to the mind in a picturesque shape, let us recollect how Richard Niccols described the illumination of the bonfires and cresset-lights of Midsummer-Eve, startling the shepherd tending his flocks on the neighbouring hills. There is a nobler and far more brilliant illumination now lighting up this mighty city, from sunset to sunrise every night throughout the year. The noblest prospect in the world is London from Hampstead Heath on a bright winter's evening. The stars are shining in heaven, but there are thousands of earthly stars glittering in the city there spread before us: and as we look into any small space of that wondrous illumination, we can trace long lines of light losing themselves in the general splendour of the distance, and we can see the dim shapes of mighty buildings afar off, showing their dark
|masses amidst the glowing atmosphere that hangs over the capital for miles, with the edges of flickering clouds gilded as if they were touched by the sunlight. This is a spectacle that men look not upon, because it is common; and so we walk amidst the nightly splendours of , and forget what it was in the days of Marching Watches. But in all these things we may trace the progressive growth of a principle. A city has made some progress in civilisation when its institutions are sufficiently compact for men to be agreed upon union for their common safety. It has made a great progress when that union, however imperfectly directed, exhibits itself in occasional magnificence amidst habitual poverty of expenditure. There is another stage when the pomp is abandoned, and the capital wasted upon it is dedicated to some general improvement. The extent of the improvement is a question only of time. The cressetlights of the Midsummer-Eve of , and the thousands upon thousands of the nightly gas-lights of , are not so widely separated as the lapse of years might appear to say. They are to be associated as much as they are to be contrasted. The lamplighter of appears to belong almost as little to our own day as the ancient cresset-bearer.|
[n.98.1] On Midsummer- Eve, at night, King Henry came privily into West Cheap, of London, being clothed in one of the coats of his guard. (Stow's Annals, under date 1510.) It is not likely that Henry, though bold enough, would so far yield to the impulses which belong to a youth of nineteen as to go alone. Brandon had been his companion from childhood; Wolsey had already learned to minister to his pleasures as one mode of governing him. The patent by which the great churchman obtained Empson's house is dated 1510.
[n.98.2] Stow's Survey.
[n.100.1] Probably scarf.
[n.101.1] Description of England, book ii. ch. 11.
[n.101.2] Stow's Survey.
[n.106.1] Roger Hovenden, quoted by Stow in his Survey.
[n.107.1] Ellis's Letters, First Series, vol. ii. p. 299.