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

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Illuminations– Except in the event of some extraordinary occurrence, such as the proclamation of peace after the Crimean War, or the recovery of the Prince of Wales from his almost fatal illness, the occasions of general illumination are two a year: the first being the Queen’s birthday, which falls on the 24th of May, but is observed on a day specially selected for that purpose in each year; and the second, the Prince of Wales’s birthday, on November the 9th. Although a couple of skeleton gas-jet initials, a few Chinese lanterns, or an arrangement in tiny oil lamps, may here and there be dotted at wide intervals north of Oxford-street, south of Trafalgar. square, or east of where Temple Bar once stood, illumination proper is practically confined to the principal clubs and to tradesmen patronised by members of the Royal Family and their households, whose shops are situated in a few of the chief West-end thoroughfares. The most comprehensive route for the sight-seer is from Cockspur-street, Charing-cross, and Pall Mall-east, up Waterloo-place and the right-hand side of Regent-Street to Oxford-circus; to the right for a short distance up Oxford-street, and returning on the reverse side of the way down Regent-street to New Burlington-street thence through Savile-row and Burlington-gardens into Old Bond-street, down St. James’s-street, and along Pall Mall to the original starting point. Strangers must be prepared to encounter an enormous throng of people, many of whom indulge in somewhat rough but usually good-tempered horseplay. The vendors of cheap gingerbread, “jolly noses,” “back scratchers,” and other catchpenny articles de luxe, drive a thriving trade on these occasions,and “scent fountains” in especial are sold by thousands. These latter abominations consist of narrow metal tubes, by compressing which a jet of the so-called scent they contain can be thrown for several yards; and as they are in the hands of about seventy-five per cent, of the mob, they are relatively as troublesome as the confetti in a Roman carnival and are much more dangerous to the eyes. Timid and nervous people can avoid a great deal of this nuisance by seeing their illuminations from a cab, or, still better, from an open carriage; but for those who do not object to the annoyances incidental to a huge multitude walking is undoubtedly preferable, since the slow rate at which vehicles are compelled to proceed renders riding somewhat tedious.

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