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Edwardian Story Of London

Edwardian London VIII: Bank


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 on a walk along Holborn Viaduct, Old Bailey and Cheapside. On the way, we visit the haunts of Charles Dickens, the infamous Newgate prison, take a look at the new Post Office being erected in Newgate Street and visit St Paul’s Churchyard – “one of the busiest shopping quarters in the world.” Finally we arrive at Bank – “the Eye of London” – to view the new style of Office Building.



Holborn to Newgate and the BankHAVING ARRIVED AT THE HEAD OF KINGSWAY, ADMIRED THE BAPTIST CHURCH HOUSE AND OTHER HANDSOME BUILDINGS IN THE NEW STONE STYLE, THE VISITOR IS ADVISED TO TAKE A WALK ALONG HOLBORN, AND MAKE HIS WAY PAST NEW NEWGATE UNTIL HE COMES TO THE BANK.The head of Kingsway with the new Baptist Church and Sherry's College.There is a famous and inviting phrase about taking a walk along Fleet-street, which has been attributed to Johnson simply on presumptive evidence. The _late George Augustus Sala admitted that he put it into the Doctor’s mouth for the sufficient reason that no man could very well have paced up and down a street so many years without having used some phrase of the kind. On pretty much the same grounds we might say, “Come and let us take a walk along Holborn”; and father it on one of the many characters in the pages of Dickens. For there is perhaps no thoroughfare in the world so filled with the spirit of any particular author as Holborn and its many tributaries are with the atmosphere of Boz, from the Soho end, where Manette-street keeps alive a tender memory of “A Tale of Two Cities,” to the eastern extremity, where we lose sight of the name of Holborn under the grim walls of Newgate. And the half-mile or so that intervenes is so full of interests and associations that no visitor to London should fail to walk along it, with all the leisure and observation he can command.The head of Kingsway, where it confronts Southampton-row, is an excellent point for starting eastward. It brings us face to face with the new and handsome Baptist House, which adorns itself with a fine statue of John Bunyan. Here has just been held the greatest conference the denomination has ever known, as well as one of the most important and far-reaching in its influence. Holborn has almost transformed itself within a decade or so, by a series of widening operations, and while it has preserved that picturesque old landmark, Holborn Bars, it has made a virtue of self-renewal by the erection of palatial new buildings like those of the Prudential and the Birkbeck Bank. On the right, of course, we pass Lincoln’s Inn Fields, with the quaint old Soane Museum, the house of John Forster (No. 65), which Dickens has immortalised as the chambers of Mr. Tulkinghorne, in “Bleak House,” and where the biographer’s friends so often assembled to hear the novelist read his stories in manuscript, with the cheerful accompaniment of supper and infectious laughter.A few steps to the south of the square, towards King’s College Hospital, is the quaint old tumbledown building that has the best claim to be the original of the “Old Curiosity Shop”; and on the other side of the green and pleasant square is Lincoln’s Inn Hall, the scene of the tedious Chancery trial of Jarndice v. Jarndice in “Bleak House.” A few steps more, and we emerge into Chancery-lane, and are at the centre of so many scenes in the same pathetic story, the one that embodies, more than any of his novels, Dickens’s early experiences as a lawyer’s clerk.On the north side of Holborn is Furnival’s Inn, now undergoing many changes, where Dickens lived before writing “Pickwick.” It was at No. 15, on the right side of the square, to be exact, and from this modest dwelling, on the 2nd of April, 1836, that he set out one fine morning to be married. On the south side of Holborn, a little further east, is Staple Inn, a congeries of quaint old chambers, guarding a decrepit tree or two, with their secluded air of peace and ancientry; and to enter this quiet backwater from the stream of Holborn traffic produces in miniature the same effect one gets from turning into the Temple Gardens from the Strand. Staple Inn, of course, figures in “Edwin Drood, and was the favourite and meditative haunt of Mr. Snagshi, so there is the more excuse for those busy workers of these busier days who turn in among its shadows and share a mid-day meal with the sparrows.Further down Holborn, on the same side, is Barnard’s Inn, which furnishes a descriptive passage or two in “Great Expectations”; and further still, where we touch Holborn Circus, is Thavies Inn, where Mrs. Jellibi lived the “strenuous life” in her own preoccupied way. On the other side of the Circus is Eli-place, where Mr. Waterbrush had his “establishment,” a scene that brought together David Copperfield and Agnes, Uriah Heep, and the irrepressible Thomas Traddles.But there are older and more reverent memories than this in Ely-place; for here the Bishops of that See had their palace, and its famous rose garden, afterwards leased to Sir Christopher Hatton, Elizabeth’s courtier and diplomatist. It was to this same garden of his that Bishop Morton sends for the present of strawberries for the King – that figures in the middle act of “Richard the Third.” And the cruel memory of the Hunchback is no bad preparation to attune our minds for Newgate.The New Sessions House.It is in “Barnaby Rudge “(chapter 64) that Newgate finds one of its fittest descriptions, for the grim old gaol bore the brunt of the incendiaries and rioters who lit the way of Lord George Gordon, a hundred and twenty years ago. We have already passed the site of Langdale’s distillery, which the No Popery mob sacked and burned, with a hideous sequel of wholesale debauchery. “On this last night of the great riots,” says the novelist, in a fine sentence, “the wretched victims of a senseless outcry became themselves the dust and ashes of the flame they had kindled, and strewed the public streets of London.” After the riots Newgate was rebuilt; and it is the old fortress of retribution which has all but disappeared in its turn, to one of the chief gates of the City, along with BishopsgateCripplegateBridgegateMayhew’s London prostitutes: Part 7LudgateAldersgate, and Billingsgate. It was outside Newgate that the common hangman used to do his office, in the seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries; and here that, in pursuance of his duty, he solemnly burned certain “infamous books “written by one John Milton. It was here in the June of 1830 that the last offender stood in the public pillory; and here, too, that the last public use was made of the gallows a little less than half a century ago. They were terrible times, as fatal in some cases to the judge as to his victim, for the gaol-fever was a dreaded reality, and the bunches of flowers that stood till lately on the judges’ desk in the Old Bailey were a memento of the days when the precincts of the benches were strewn with rue as a sanative. Too often it proved inefficacious, and in 1750 there was an outbreak of this plague which carried off two judges, several aldermen and advocates, and the Lord Mayor as well, whose privilege it has ever been to preside over the court, and sit in precedence even of make room for a new Sessions House, more in keeping with the times. The result will be one of the most conspicuously imposing additions to City architecture of the official kind, and if for nothing else, we may welcome it as wiping away the black and grimy walls of doom which were the survivals and reminders of a barbarous age.The story of Newgate can no more be conceived from the crime-stained pages of the “Calendar” than we may read the story of Tyburn Tree in the street signs near the Marble Arch. Newgate was the judges themselves, under the great sword which hangs as an emblem of justice.Times alter, and the meaning of words shows the same spirit of change, in some cases to a surprising degree. Our modern conceptions of justice would have seemed faltering and pusillanimous to our forefathers. In the yard at Newgate here, when the accused refused to plead either guilty or not guilty, the practice was for centuries to strip them and load them with weights of iron, until, with this, and an alternating diet of coarse bread and fouler water, death put an end to their sufferings. This was the peine forte et dune, and it was held to be a delicate device for avoiding a conviction without proof of guilt.The typical cell was a stone chamber with a hammock-like bed, a bowl for food, a mug for drinking, a prayer-book, and a bell for calling the warder. The punishment cells, below these, were barer and darker; and the fare and treatment got worse, if possible, as you went down the scale of demerit, until you finished in the condemned cell, and the black or condemned pew in the prison chapel, facing everyone else in the dim and evil-smelling place. You were preached at pitilessly by the prison chaplain, who was already printing his sermon and the hideous record of your life, to be hawked in the streets for his own benefit later on at so many pence a copy. By this time you had made your journey, as Hogarth and his contemporaries show, in a creaking cart along Holborn, to the clanging of church bells and the shouting of crowds intent on making you the occasion of a public holiday, until you arrived at Tyburn Tree and finished your one and only career.The old gate of Newgate Prison.A couple of summers ago, when Newgate was passing into the hands of the builder and the demolitionist, there was a sale of relics, and these mementoes of famous criminals have passed into private collections, museums like Madame Tussaud’s, and the decorative scheme of one or two London taverns. It was a famous haul for the enthusiast, for the “ever lasting flints “of Newgate were hardly more numerous than the notorious criminals on whom they had imposed unwelcome hospitality. Here are a few of the more prominent names within a hundred years : Jack Shephard, the housebreaker; Jonathan Wild, the informer; Savage, the poet; Elizabeth Canning, the perjurer; Mrs. BrownriggCaptain Kyd, the pirate; the five other pirates of “The Flowery Land “; Dr. Dodd, the forger; Bellingham, who killed Mr. Perceval; Eliza Fenning; the Cato Street conspirators; F Fauntleroy, the forger. Or again, perhaps you have looked through Howell’s thirty-three huge volumes of State Trials, down to 1827 –that curious collection of the uhpleasantest elements in later English history.Let us pass out through the bolt-studded solid gate into the fresher air outside, and note the scattering, wheeling flock of pigeons who have so often flaunted their liberty in the eyes of remorseful captives within. Turning up the hill and along to the right, along Newgate Street, we pass on the left the site of Christ’s Hospital, now a wilderness filled with the telephone cables of the Post Office scheme; and on the right the little street where the “Salutation and Cat “used to stand, a memory of convivial evenings for the two men who alone would have made the hospital immortal, Coleridge and Charles Lamb. This tiny thoroughfare dips us down into a labyrinthine cluster of alleys and byways, filled as full as they can hold with publishing offices. Over them, as a sort of professional and patronal divinity, looms Stationers’ Hall, and through them all runs Paternoster Row.The Liverpool, London and Globe, Mansion House Circus, showing the new style of Business Offices.Now and anon comes the hour-bell pealing from St. Paul’s, and a few steps brings us out into the bustling Churchyard, one of the busiest shopping quarters in the world. From the north-eastern end, between the plane-trees and the Peel Statue, one catches, perhaps, the finest glimpse of Wren’s great fane, the dome rising in strength and majesty -above the trees like a Titanic mother brooding over her young. There is no such sight any-where else in London, not even at Westminster, or even at the other end of Cheapside, where we presently arrive. This spot, with the Royal Exchange opposing us, and flanked by the gloomy portals of the Bank, has been called (was it by Walter Besant?) the Eye of London, for it focuses in a flash the myriad activities of the Metropolis.Seven crowded arteries of traffic here converge, and Lombard Street, with its revived old signs and merchant emblems, is perhaps the quaintest. With a glance along it, and another at the commanding pile of insurance buildings that make, as it were, another buttress for the Exchange, we pass along King William Street to the Monument.