Edwardian Story Of London

Edwardian London IX: Round About the Monument

In 1905 the Pall Mall Magazine published a “little book [which] will appeal to all who wish to possess what is really a portfolio, in a handy form, of beautiful drawings and photographs of the marvellous New LONDON which is rising up around them day by day.” The first part of the guide was effectively a guide book for the Londoner and the visitor alike, but a guide book with a difference, as it includes architect’s drawings of the many new buildings and streets which were still at the planning stage. Our guide now takes us for a trip through the streets surrounding the Monmument. We visit noisy stinking Billinsgate where our guide is disappointed not to hear some of the fammous swearing the market is famous for. We also visit Pudding Lane, and the baker’s shop wher ethe Great Fire of London started and colmplete out tour with a vista of London from the Syteeple of St Magnus the Martyr.

Round About the Monument:
ITS PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE.:THE VISITOR DESCENDS THE TURRET STAIRS ON LONDON BRIDGE, AND REACHES LOWER THAMES STREET. ON THE RIGHT IS THE BEAUTIFUL CHURCH OF ST. MAGNUS THE MARTYR; ON THE LEFT IS THE SITE OF THE FAMOUS “MERMAID” TAVERN, WHICH ONCE ECHOED WITH THE LAUGHTER OF FALSTAFF, BUT HAS NOW GONE TO MAKE WAY FOR NEW LONDON. PUDDING LANE, IN WHICH THE GREAT FIRE BROKE OUT, IS CLOSE BY, AND IN LOVE LANE IS THE HOUSE IN WHICH SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN LIVED WHILST RE-BUILDING THE LONDON OF CHARLES II.Lower Thames Street.Lower Thames Street, Billingsgate is on the right.He who loves to loiter about London with an eye to the picturesque seldom goes on one of his pilgrimages without missing some old familiar landmark. It has vanished as surely as the Djinn’s Palace, and in its place are ugly cranes, mounds of brand-new bricks, piles of girders, and a bristling framework of masts, amongst which an army of men is at work busily raising up some new edifice more suitable to the age we live in. Or it may be that the space has gone to widen some crooked thoroughfare too long choked by traffic.Such a fate, for example, has befallen Lower Thames Street, which the writer visited one holiday morning in the company of the artist, while making a little tour of the historic ground about the Monument. We were both much surprised, but London is so vast that many upheavals may be in progress which quite escape the public eye. Ancient houses that had stood on the river bank for centuries lay in ruins; of the famous Mermaid Tavern, which once, they say, used to echo with the jokes of Falstaff, only the bar and its beer-taps remained, a thing like a shanty of the hack blocks; to retain its licence it was still an open house, and in more senses than one; open to the thirsty, open also to the winds of heaven, torn up as though by the socket, a heap of bricks and mortar, throwing up clouds of dust like a volcano in the throes.Billingsgate.It was about eleven o’clock, and the narrow roadway was still crowded with those who traffic in fish: dealers, clerks, and porters, the last wearing those quaint articles like horse-collars, which they place on their heads to ease their loads. The air reeked of fish, and though the sun was shining fiercely, the street was ankle-deep in slime and slush, yet spangled with iridescent scales which flashed and glittered out of the obscene.Trucks and harrows were flying hither and thither, heavy carts and other vehicles continually passed to and fro, and it was with difficulty that we could either stand still or make any progress without danger to life and limb. No one could pass this way without understanding that fish was the only thing which mattered The Monument, Fish Street Hill, from the steeple of St., for we saw barrels of them, warehouses full of them, and each sign informed you that every fish swimming in the ocean deeps was dealt with. In dark and devious passages, which seemed to lead nowhere, tired fish-porters were sleeping or eating, regardless of the smells, the slime, the eternal din, grateful only for mother earth, be it never so stony, and the cool dark shade.They sat on the roadside, hung in groups about lampposts, before public-houses, including the Mermaid bar, lounged against the rails of churches – for, as we shall see, there are churches even here – smoking, yawning, gossiping, wrapt in reflection – a rough set of men indeed, such as hard physical labour produces; men whose night is day, whose day is apparently night or rest-hour; riverdogs and watermen, who help to handle boats and barges; men in whose skin the river ooze has entered never to leave again; amphibious creatures peculiar to Billingsgate – and yet though that name is a byword all the world over for strange oaths, not one caught our ears. Perhaps they were lost in the deafening din, swept away in the screech of wheels, playing maddening Wagnerian strains on the stone-setts to join the general roar of London, the awful hum as of the revolutions of a giant mill-wheel. Or have we English lost all our originality, eclipsed by America?Pudding Lane.Who would expect the picturesque in such a place? Who the antiquities, ancient history and associations?Yet the ground is historic, for only a few yards away is Pudding Lane, in which the Fire of London’ first began to burn. Here, in a dark little court which branches out of it on the left, is the site of the very baker’s shop, for all times memorable. It is still a baker’s shop, and the baker’s cart was, at the very moment of our visit, waiting at the door for its load.The baker of the Restoration was one Farryner, who was bread-maker to the King, and probably some overheated oven set the Great Fire going on that fateful night in September of 1666. In those days Pudding Lane was even narrower than it is now an alley of wooden houses, with beams and baulks pitched over, and roofs of thatch. Wood smouldered sullenly, till some gust fanned it into flame, and Farryner’s house was swiftly converted into a raging furnace.”Some of our maids,” says Pepys, “sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgown and went to the window, and thought it to be on the back-side of Mark Lane at the farthest, but being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off, and so went to bed again, and to sleep.”But the next morning Jane came and told him that she heard that above three hundred houses had been burned down, and that it was burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge. So, indeed, it continued to burn for days, ever fanned by the sharp east wind, raging from the Tower in the east to the Temple in the west. The citizens were distracted; churches fell, hospitals, monuments, public buildings, streets of private houses. The Thames was thick with furniture and all kinds of floatable goods; the stones of St. Paul’s flew like grenadoes into the air; the dome of the Guildhall glowed – a palace of gold; the melting lead flowed like water down the gutters; the sky was fiery like the top of a burning oven; the light of burning London could be seen forty miles away.”So near the fire,” says Pepys, “as we could for smoke, and all over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of fire-drops. This is very true; so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four-nay, five or six-houses, one from another. When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the Three Cranes, and there staid till it was almost dark, and saw the fire grow, and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners, and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid, malicious, bloody flame, not like the flame of an ordinary fire. We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill in an arch of above a mile long ; it made one weep to see it.”Love LaneSt. Magnus the Maretyr, showiung the dry arch of London Bridge and the remains of the Mermaid Tavern, now removed to make way for new London.The great Wren was appointed surveyor-general and principal architect of the new London which rose out of the ashes, and would have built a city of magnificent distances, worthy of the opportunity, if the citizens had not stuck out for their private rights and fancies. The result was another maze of streets, above whose heads, however, loomed the wonderful dome of St. Paul’s, and the host of spires and towers which to this day soothe many a weary eye by their manifold beauties.Parallel with Pudding Lane, now given up to the fishes, runs another beetling passage, called Love Lane. It is so narrow that you can almost step across it; it curves like the folds of a serpent; in places the houses overhang till their fronts almost touch. It requires some courage to struggle through the throng of porters and fishmen which surges to and fro; but it is worth the pilgrim’s trouble, for in the very middle of it is the back of the house in which Wren lived whilst he was building his churches and laying out the new city.A flight of stone steps protected by rusty iron rails leads up to the massive oak door, now sadly battered, with great pieces chipped out of it, splashed with mud and choked up with the sweepings of ages. It is a melancholy memorial, in much the same case as some relic which we have not the heart to consign to the dust-heap. Returning to Pudding Lane, we dived under the arch of a warehouse, and found ourselves in a square court-yard, one side of which is occupied by the front of the old mansion whose back only we had seen.Wren’s House.Who would believe that this ugly court had once been a blooming garden, with lawns beyond, sloping down to the riverside? The front door, of massive oak like the one at the back, was open, so we entered, and found ourselves in a hall, gloomy but spacious, and thence ascended with some curiosity and not a little daring a fine old staircase, with balustrades of oak, carved, and polished by the hands of many generations.Our doubts as to the use to which the house was put were ended when we reached the landing, for through an open door we saw a panelled chamber hung round with small hats, cloaks, and satchels. It was evidently a City school; we could now hear the hum of lessons, the drowsy monotone peculiar to all assemblages of children. Another door opened – it had seemed part of the wall – and in the opening stood a master, book in hand, who eyed the intruders curiously. We offered an apology and an explanation, were politely shown various ancient chambers with panelled walls and richly ornamented ceilings, and were finally ushered up a ghostly little staircase on to the leads, whence we may suppose that Wren sometimes contemplated the slowly rising city in the cool of the summer evenings. Today an amazing panorama of spires, towers, chimneys, bridges, and a tumbled sea of roofs is presented to the roving eye, such as even Wren, with the imagination of genius, could never have conjured up in his wildest dreams.St. Magnus the Martyr.St. Magnus London BridgeOnce more we found ourselves in the seething turmoil, and for peace sought refuge in St. Magnus the Martyr’s, the doors of which were open. The apparitor was sitting in the cool, chamber-like passage formed by the sombre oak screen, very rich and handsome in appearance, which divides the body of the church from the entrance, a little girl in a red cloak being with him, reading a lesson-book placed on an ancient oak coffer thickly studded with nails. He seemed surprised to see visitors, who, he told us, seldom found their way to St. Magnus’.Indeed, it is not surprising, for few, we fancy, care to brave the terrors of Lower Thames Street; most are content to see the church from the security of London Bridge or the Monument. But are we not all, citizens and visitors, too greatly inclined to keep to the well-known roads, though the unfrequented byways, difficult, perhaps, like the narrow path of virtue, may lead to the picturesque?St. Magnus is of itself cool, dark, beautifully serene, enriched with fine carving, with numerous mural tablets; and, though few appear to know or care, amongst the sacred dust lie the bones of Coverdale, he who translated the Bible for us. The apparitor showed us the tablet raised to Coverdale’s memory, allowed us to peep into the quaint old vestry, and, taking us out into the sunlit porch, explained that a hundred years ago it was the beginning of the footway across old London Bridge. As it is to-day so it was in those times, but London Bridge itself has been moved on. He then unlocked the sunken door of the tower for us, and we ascended the dark winding steps to the very summit, whence we got a view of London of surpassing interest.London Briodge and St. Magnus, from a print dated 1796.