Victorian London - Directories - Dickens's Dictionary of London, by Charles Dickens, Jr., 1879 - "Householders, Hints to"

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

Householders, Hints to. —If you enter upon the adventure of taking a house without the assistance of a competent Solicitor, it is well to bear the following points in mind. Never take for granted the report of the house agent or of the landlord’s surveyor as to the state of repair of the house. Let the house be examined by your own surveyor, to whom particular instructions should be given to look after flues and drains (see DRAINAGE). Be careful to have the receipts for the Queen’s and parish taxes last due before signing your lease or agreement. If this precaution be neglected, you may have to pay for the shortcomings of your predecessors. The gas company is very likely to try experiments on your credulity. Full information as to how this matter can be dealt with will be found under the head GAS. The consideration of the terms of a lease or of an agreement, unless the latter be of the very simplest kind, should invariably be referred to a solicitor, Should you elect to deal with tradesmen in a neighbourhood in which you are a stranger, it is well to be very cautious as to whose advice you take. Personal inspection is in all cases the safest course. Above all things, never trust to the recommendations or importunities of servants. It may appear that there is considerable difficulty in establishing oneself in a house in London, and that is, no doubt, the fact; but it is only after the householder has begun to settle down, and more especially after his name has appeared in the directory, that his real troubles begin. As to such matters as rates, it appears almost impossible for any but the official mind to understand why they are imposed, and what becomes of the money after it is paid. One thing is certain, that both rates and taxes must be paid. It is also certain that if you pay your taxes, and the collector employs the money for his own benefit, and fails to account for it to the authorities, you will have to pay it a second time. It is therefore considered advisable by experienced tax-payers, only to pay when that course is no longer to be postponed.
Too much caution cannot be exercised in regard to the admission of strangers, especially during the absence from home of the master of the house. Every kind of thief is on the watch for a favourable moment to gain admission, and after having induced the servant to leave unprotected the hall or room, into which he contrives to be shown, to lay hands upon all the available portable property. Even when the nefarious stranger has no immediate eye to plunder, he is very frequently making careful mental memoranda, with a view to proximate burglary. A more dangerous class of intruder still is he who comes provided with the card of a friend or acquaintance of the family, and offers for sale lace or other light goods. This is sure to be a fraud of a most dangerous kind. The card which procures the introduction to the house has been stolen, and the object of the visit is invariably plunder. Equally annoying though perhaps not so ultimately dangerous, is the sham railway-porter or messenger. This variety of the predatory race is in the habit of watching the master or mistress clear from the house, and then calls with a bogus parcel, for the carriage of which, and sometimes for the parcel itself, he demands such sums of money as he thinks most likely to be paid without question. In no case should a parcel be taken in under these circumstances. Another well-known parcel dodge is to watch the delivery some draper’s cart of a parcel, and ten minutes afterwards to call and redemand on the plea of some mistake having occurred in the delivery. Great care should he taken in the matter of fastenings to doors and windows. Nothing is easier or more common than for a thief to make his entrance into a house by way of the upper windows, or by a climbing the portico at a time when the household is engaged at dinner, or when the general attention is otherwise diverted. If the pattern of your mud-scraper pleases you, or you attach any importance toits possession,  it is well not to leave it unsecured out of doors after dusk. It may be taken as a general rule that burglary or thieving on a large scale is never attempted unless the practitioner knows perfectly well that the house contains booty worthy of the risk necessarily involved. It is, therefore, to say the least of it, injudicious to allow servants to make an ostentatious display of plate at area or kitchen windows. When the table is laid for dinner, and the spoons and forks are in tempting array, the window should be always shut and locked when the room is unoccupied. Except in the case of a French window opening on to a garden (which, of course, will be provided with inside shutters) all basement windows should be protected by iron bars. It must be remembered at the same time that the perverse ingenuity of the burglar, the ordinary thief, and the area sneak, is inexhaustible, and that only by watchfulness and constant care, and drilling of servants, can practical security be obtained Every householder should be careful to make himself acquainted with the nearest fixed point (see POLICE, FIXED POINTS), the nearest police station (see POLICE STATIONS) and the nearest stations of the fire brigade, both for engines and escapes (see FIRE BRIGADE and FIRE ESCAPES). Nothing is prettier than the custom of decorating window sills with flowers. It is necessary that the pots or boxes which contain them should be securely fastened. Any accident a caused by neglect of this precaution may have unpleasant and expensive consequences for the careless householder. Equal care should be taken in the proper fastening of coal flaps or gratings. Every householder is under obligation to clear snow from the pavement in front of his house. For his own satisfaction he will no doubt clear it away from the roof and gutters. In the latter cases it is necessary to remember that the interests of the passers-by have to be considered, and that broken hats will certainly entail some expense, and that personal injuries will involve even more serious consequences. Among the other winter troubles which may be mentioned here is the supply of coal. If the householder would remember that every coal cart is provided with weights and scales and would insist on all his coal being weighed on delivery, considerable saving would be effected; the coal merchant is powerless to check the proceedings of his men after the cart is loaded and has left his yard.
Unless under very exceptional circumstances it is unwise to employ peripatetic chair-menders, knife-grinders, tinkers, or the like. A very favourite trick of the “needy knife-grinder” is to under take the sharpening of scissors for a stated sum, and then, having unscrewed them, to decline to put them together except at a greatly increased charge. But the class of peripatetic workmen who should be most carefully excluded from the house are the glaziers. Their glass is always bad, their work is invariably ill done, and in nine cases out of ten, their real business is robbery.—(See also POLICE and SERVANTS).

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