Victorian London - Districts - Streets - Gray's Inn Lane

see also George Godwin in London Shadows - click here

    The rain is falling heavily as we turn out of the crowded thoroughfare of Holborn into the equally crowded one of Gray's Inn-lane - Gray's Inn-lane, dismal and dirty at all times, but doubly so on an evening such as they, with its one side of dingy wall facing a row of even more dingy houses; brokers' shops, containing everything, from a pea-shooter to a piano, where knowing housekeepers resort to pick up bargains from the innocents who keep them, and who are always so strangely ignorant of the value of the articles they sell; old book-stalls, smelling like literary mausoleums, where poor pedants love to linger, diving into venerable tomes, and gathering as they amy stray crumbs from the riches they enclose; small public-houses whose receipts are large, whose doors are ever on the swing, and whose landlords make a fortune; butchers'-shops, where provender is alike provided for man and beast, where pieces of unwholesome-looking meat lie in heaps, blackening between the flaring gas; pie-shops, in whose windows appear an array of tarts, supported on either side by huge bowls of fruit, whose ripe luxuriance tempts, and too often taunts, the ragged Tantalus who lounges by. Other shops there are in plenty, yet all bearing that air of dingy shabbiness peculiar to the place, excepting one, an eating-house of much pretension, that, directing its plate-glass eye towards Verulam-buildings and its neighbourhood, has always an attractive show of viands in its windows, that, bathed in clouds of pearly steam, gain something more than admiration from the hungry clerks of those classic and legal regions. 
    Moving slowly along the muddy pavement, we look around us, and moralise as we go. Groups of dirty, ruffianly-looking men stand quarrelling about the doors of the dram-shops; while still more dirty-looking women, with loose-drapery and scattered hair, mingle with the disputants, and, with much vociferation, interfere, and are sent staggering into the road for their pains. Children - God help them! - literally swarm about the road, half-naked, shaggy-headed little savages, who flock about you, and, with canting phrase and piteous whine, solicit charity for their dying father, - that broad-shouldered, burly-looking Milesian, who has just reeled from the tavern-door, - for their starving and bedridden mother, who, with her red arms muffled in her tattered shawl, lazily leans against the wall, complacently watching her offspring's successful appear to the "sthranger's" kindly heart.

Watts Phillips, The Wild Tribes of London, 1855