Victorian London - Districts - areas of London - Primrose Hill



ONLY a few days have passed away since the occurrence of a most important event The mighty George Robins has achieved what Time, with all his boasted power, has been unable to accomplish thoroughly, with respect to its Roman prototype - he has knocked down the Colosseum, and decided its lot ; for we believe it went in one only. With a power superior to Napoleon's, he has placed the right of way through the Swiss pass, and over the chain of mountains which separate Albany-street from the Regent's Park, in other hands. He has proved himself master of the Imperial Eagle - that bold and animated bird, whose lively plumage and haughty bearing all must recollect, when, perched in native dignity upon the clinker-rock, at an altitude of nearly three English feet above the level of the New Road, he contemplated the silent lake, supplied by the leaden pipe which took its origin from the New River. He has also (but this is whispered in strict confidence) secured the services of the daring mountaineer Melchthal Winkelreid Hopkins to conduct future visitors to these interesting regions, hallowed by the memory of that champion of Helvetian liberty, who, although his name was Tell, never revealed the projects of the confederacy. This great man (the Colosseum attendant), under whose sole control the ice of the Raspberry and Vanille Glaciers have been placed for many summers, was absolutely necessary to the establishment, and the promise of a liberal salary has retained him. The new proprietor recollected the axiom - so particularly appropriate to the localities of the Regent's Park - point d'argent, point de Suisse - and engaged him accordingly.
    But why has the Colosseum thus fallen beneath the hammer of the auctioneer? For the simple reason, that it did not pay. It was found necessary to put the whole establishment up the spout of its own ascending-room, because the shillings of the visitors no longer liquidated the pounds of the expenses to keep it up, on account of the feeling becoming so fearfully prevalent, that it is not necessary to pay for the best sights that London can offer. The century-blooming Aloes was entirely blown, and people thought more of them in the medical form of decoction; gold fish, of equal value, were gratuitously exhibited in the Pantheon conservatory, with macaws, exotics, and fountains to boot ; statues, in every respect as good as those in the saloon, could be seen at all the plaster shops near Drury Lane the excavations of the railways formed bolder ravines than the Swiss pass and, above all, the Panorama of London, which was the great feature of the establishment, could be seen for nothing front the adjacent hill of Primrose.
    This celebrated mountain, which derives its name from the profusion of primroses which cover its sides throughout the year, is well worth a visit from the stranger in London, if it be merely to inspect the panorama we allude to. There are various tracks for arriving at the summit, but possibly the one to be preferred is that leading from the Hampstead Road and by Chalk Farm - so called from the number of scores formerly run up there for breakfast, which were not always paid, in consequence of one or the other of the parties getting shot in the fields beyond. The visitor should notice the adjacent tea-gardens, in which, however, the plant is not cultivated, although it is supposed to be on an extensive scale in the hedges adjoining the estate. Further on, he will pass the frog-preserves, which form a principal point of rendezvous for the more juvenile Sunday frequenters, and from which the foreign gentlemen, who reside in the secret regions of the towns of Camden and Kentish, during the off part of the season are supposed to derive their chief subsistence. Should the traveller need refreshment it will be advisable to procure it at Chalk Farm - which again has, by other antiquaries, been supposed to derive its name from the milk produced at the dairy - for this is the last habitation up the mountain, and nothing can be procured on the top, except Barcolona nuts and brandy-balls, together with sticks of a substance peculiar to the district, apparently composed of treacle, dirt, and peppermint, and termed "cocktail" by the merchants who dispose of it to foreigners.
    The Panorama of London has all the effects of light and shade - although perhaps more of the shade than the light - in common with its artificial opposition below. The cross and ball of St. Paul's can sometimes be perceived with the naked eye but it is never brought so near as the one at the Colosseum.
    The vast lake of the Barrow Hill Reservoir appears at the feet of the spectator; and were it not for this, and some houses, and several other things besides, a very good view could be obtained of the Zoological Gardens. There is no ascending-room, as at the Colosseum, to arrive at the summit, but a very speedy way of coming down again may be attained by climbing ever the top of the shafts which lead down to the tunnel of the Birmingham Railway.
    The visitor should, however, be cautioned against forming too sanguine notions of the extent of this view; for possibly, when he arrives there he may find all his visions end in smoke, that being time chief natural production of London. And, indeed, it is in the smoke that the great points of resemblance in the two panoramas will be found, which in either case has the same effect - that of obscuring the view.
    There is Swiss scenery attached to the panorama of Primrose Hill as well as to the Colosseum. The rustic chalets are mostly situate in Park Village, amidst scenery in admirable keeping with their Helvetian architecture, together with railways, omnibuses, and public-houses. Their position appears exposed to this full force of the avalanches from the adjacent heights, but we do not hear of many catastrophes in consequence. During hard frosts in winter, the snow on the summit of Primrose Hill never melts, and therefore this period should not be chosen for the excursion. In summer, however, the attempt is perfectly free from danger, and the overland journey thither from Regent Street, by omnibus, which species of vehicle has opened a great facility of communication to travellers, should form one of the earliest trips of the stranger in London.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1843

[ ... back to main menu for this book]

Primrose Hill is a rather high mound at the north side of Regentís-park, whence a good view may be obtained. Only a few years ago Primrose-hill was in the fields, and from the Regentís-park to Hampstead there was little but open country. Now the hill is the centre of a large new town, and a great population has grown up around it. It is very popular with holiday makers who are unable to get out of town, although, with the exception of a rather small open-air gymnasium, there is nothing to contribute to the public amusement. NEAREST Railway Stations, Camden and St. Johnís Wood-road; Omnibus Routes, Albert-road, Regentís-park, Chalk Farm-road, and Wellington-road.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879