Victorian London - Districts - Streets - Tower Hill




    The watering-place to which we now call the attention of the holiday visitor, as abounding in everything that is interesting in an antiquarian or manufacturing point of view, is situated on the north side of the Thames, at a very short distance from its banks, in the eastern precincts of London. It is approached by different labyrinthine thoroughfares in various directions, depending upon where you come from; and quitted, in the same manner, in accordance with where you are going to : but on every side, should you be once lucky enough to find the way, there is a great facility of communication with the inland country. And from the port, which is accessible to boats at all states of the tide, there is a fine view of the opposite coast of Bermondsey - Pickle Herring-stairs being distinctly visible to the naked eye.
    With the Tower itself, we have not , at present, much to do, further than stating its principal use, as a fortress, is to defend Trinity-square, and afford amusement to a select party of military, in opening and shutting its gates morning and evening; but whether for the purpose of locking in the residents or keeping out assailants, is not known. And to command the Thames with its guns, it is now of no use, since an inimical fleet, instead of sailing up to London Bridge, might now disembark its troops at Brunswick Wharf, whence they might easily arrive in Fenchurch-street by the Blackwall Railway, perfectly secure from every assault.
    The scaffold upon Tower Hill is at present (July 1843) situated against a house in Postern Row, for the purpose of executing some repairs. Other executions, however, still take place occasionally in the neighbourhood and usually end in taking off the head of the house wherein they are put, the ancient order of punishment being reversed, and the imprisonment following the execution. Otherwise the days of torture are past. The racks and halters are confined to the stables of East Smithfield; the scavenger's daughter is peaceably employed preparing her father's supper against his return from sweeping up the mud in the Minories - the blocks have migrated to the Poultry, where they trouble Sir Peter Laurie's head and neck quite as much as ever they did the criminals of former times. Society no longer countenances these uncivilised implements; and, save in listening to Hume's speeches, the Syncretic drama, and the ancient concerts, or reading the lucubrations and adaptations of Lord William Lennox, Memoirs of the Mouldy, or Meditations amongst the Coffee-cups, lingering torture is extinct.
    The popularity of Tower Hill, as a place of holiday resort, give. a lively impetus to home manufacture and enterprise. Pies, potatoes, fruit and salad; are there disposed of in the usual manner; but occasionally there is a Brandy-ball Union, and Gingerbread-nut Distribution, which is conducted upon speculative principles so attractive and out of the common, as to allure numerous adventurers. The owner carries a box with many apertures, of the shape of pigeon-holes, and from the extremity depend countless strings. By pulling one of these, a doll's head rises from the boxes with a number on his forehead, the lowest being fifteen, the highest a hundred; but the man alone is in possession of the secret by which the hundred nuts are gained - we never rose higher than thirty. The same proceeding is applicable to the choice of brandy-balls. If the word of the owner can be taken, "they cures consumption, warms you more than sperets, and is twice as innocent." We have noticed a western depot as well, for the sale of the latter article, in New-street, Covent Garden. But there you cannot risk the halfpenny, for in those districts the police have questioned the legality of the "Union." You must buy outright, after having had your attention arrested by a placard on the stall relating to the "SINGULAR DISCOVERY OF A HUMAN BODY," which proves, upon close inspection, to be a mysterious display of typography. On Tower Hill the brandy-balls are exposed to the winds of heaven ; in New-street they are sheltered by a crooked pane of glass, which is nevertheless open at each end for the transmission of air and dust.
    The pastry of Tower Hill is in unison with the fortress that commands it. The crust is impregnable, and the fruit has the air of having suffered long imprisonment; whilst the time-hallowed exterior of the buns and turn-overs calls up our admiration, not of the articles themselves, but the digestion of those who can devour them. And we have seen round dumplings in the windows of the restaurateurs - cannon-balls of flour and water that might be used in the event of a siege, against which no walls could stand..
Punch is addicted to Tower Hill. He performs often thereon, and can at any time command a good audience, until the little hat is taken round by the drum for halfpence. He does not appear to stand in any awe of the fortress, but commits his accustomed murders as coolly as if he were in. Bloomsbury Square; and beats Jim Crow and the clown  - two illegitimate additions of late years to the corps dramatique of Punch - with his wonted heedlessness.
    The fish markets of Tower Hill are well supplied with whelks and crabs, in common with all fashionable promenades - the former at five, the latter at three for a penny.; and the modern luxury of pickled eels is also finding its way there. Nor is the delicate winkle of the Peri absent, at a halfpenny the tin-pot full of uncertain measure. Indeed, for street shellfish generally, Tower Hill is the great mart, although perhaps there is more of the winkle at the distant port of Hungerford, where the conchologist may pick up shells for hours together upon the shore.
    Looking over Little Tower Hill is the Mint, where so much money is made; but as few are permitted to see how, the process so much coveted is very little known. The Mint is upon the north-eastern bank or Tower Ditch, and connected indirectly with the Bank of England. Some talented members of the Shakspere Society have been assisting Mr. Payne Collier in endeavouring to prove that this is the bank which the immortal bard spoke of as knowing, whereon the wild thyme blew - wild thyme and mint being usually classed together ; but on the other hand it is somewhat doubtful whether at the time he wrote the play, from his improvident habits, Shakspere knew any bank at all in reality, but merely spoke of one with poetical licence.
    The natives of Tower Hill, generally speaking, are a civilised tribe, living chiefly upon animal food and the produce of the earth. Once, we beheld a savage there, at the corner of the Minories, in a yellow caravan, towards evening, drawn by one horse, with steps to let up and down, like those of a bathing machine, according to the proximity of the police.. He performed a war-dance, but whether he was captured in the remote prairies of Goodman's Fields, or imported from the backwoods of Epping and Hainault we were not told, the exhibition being cut short by an order to "move on" from a local authority, by which means we enjoyed a compulsory ride from where the caravan had been stationed to the interior of Rosemary Lane.
    Lodgings we presume to be cheap, as well as provisions, but washing is dear - if we may judge from the scarcity, upon the principle that all rare things are expensive.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1843