Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - About London, by J. Ewing Ritchie, 1860 - Chapter 9 - Over London Bridge

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MR. Commissioner Harvey is particularly fond of figures. The other day he caused an account to be taken of the number of persons entering the city within a given period. The result shows that the amazing number of 706,621 individuals passed into the city by various entrances during the 24 hours tested; and as the day selected, we are told, was free from any extraordinary attraction to the city, there can be no doubt that the return furnishes a fair estimate of the average daily influx. Of this large number it appears only one-fourteenth, or 49,242, entered the city in the night - that is, between the hours of 11 p m. and 7 a.m. Now this enormous population in very large numbers patronises London Bridge for many reasons - the principle argument with them in its favour undoubtedly is, that it is the shortest way from their homes to their places of business, or vice versa. Last year, for instance, the North London Railway carried nearly six millions of passengers; the London and South Western more than four millions; the [-93-] Blackwall nearly five millions; while 13,500,000 passengers passed through the London Bridge Station. Mr. Commissioner Harvey, however, makes the importance of London Bridge still clearer. On the 17th of March last year he had a man engaged in taking notes of the traffic, and he furnished Mr. Commissioner Harvey with the following figures :-In the course of the twenty-four hours it appears 4,483 cabs, 4,286 omnibuses, 9,245 wagons and carts, 2,430 other vehicles, and 54 horses led or ridden, making a. total of 20,498, passed over the bridge. The passengers in the same period were, in vehicles 60,836, on foot 107,074; total, 167,910. As we may suppose this traffic is an increasing one. The traffic across the old bridge in one July day, 1811, was as follows:- 89,640 persons on foot, 769 wagons, 2,924 carts and drays, 1,240 coaches, 485 gigs and taxed carts, and 764 horses. We must recollect that in 1811 the bridges across the Thames were fewer. There was then no Waterloo Bridge, no Hungerford Suspension Bridge, no bridge at Southwark, no penny steamboats running every quarter of an hour from Paul's Wharf to the Surrey side, and London Bridge was far more important than now. The figures we have given also throw some light on the manners and customs of the age. Where are the gigs now, then the attribute of respect~ ability? What has become of the 1,240 coaches, and what a falling off of equestrianism - the 764 horses of 1811 have dwindled down (in 1859) to the paltry number of 54. Are there no night equestrians in London [-94-] now. It is early morn and we stand on London Bridge, green are the distant Surrey hills, clear the blue sky, stately the public buildings far and near. Beneath us what fleets in a few hours about to sail, with passengers and merchandize to almost every continental port. Surely Wordsworth's Ode written on Westminster Bridge is not inapplicable :-
        "Earth has not anything to show more fair.
        Dull would he be of sense who could pass by,
        A sight so touching in its majesty;
        This city now doth like a garment wear
        The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
        Shops, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
        Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
        All bright and glittering in the smokeless air;
        Never did sun more beautifully steep
        In his first splendour valley, arch, or hill;
        Ne'er saw I, never felt a calm so deep,
        The river glideth at his own sweet will,
        Dear God! the very houses seem asleep
        And all that mighty heart is lying still!"
    Of the traffic by water visible from London Bridge as you look towards Greenwich, the best idea may be gathered by a few figures. A Parliamentary Return has been issued, showing that the amount of tonnage cleared from the port of London was in 1750, 796,632 tons, in 1800 the tonnage entered was 796,632; and that cleared was 729,554. In 1857 the tonnage entered had risen to 2,834,107, and that cleared to 2,143,884.
    [-95-] The traffic on London Bridge may be considered as one of the sights of London. A costermonger's cart, laden with cabbages for Camberwell, breaks down, and there is a block extending back almost all the way to the Mansion House. Walk back and look at the passengers thus suddenly checked in their gay career. Omnibuses are laden with pleasure seekers on their way to the Crystal Palace. Look, there is "affliction sore" displayed on many a countenance and felt in many a heart. Mary Anne, who knows she is undeniably late, and deserves to be left behind, thinks that her young man won't wait for her. Little Mrs. B. sits trembling with a dark cloud upon her brow, for she knows Mr. B. has been at the station since one, and it is now past two. Look at the pale, wan girl in the corner, asking if they will be in time to catch the train for Hastings. You may well ask, poor girl. Haste is vain now. Your hours are numbered - the sands of your little life are just run - your bloodless lip, your sunken eye, with its light not of this world - your hectic cheek, from which the soft bloom of youth has been rudely driven, make one feel emphatically in your case that "no medicine, though it oft can cure, can always balk the tomb." What have you been - a dressmaker, stitching fashionable silks for beauty, and at the same time a plain shroud for yourself? What have you been - a governess, rearing young lives at the sacrifice of your own? What have you been - a daughter of sin and shame? Ah, well, it is not for me to cast a stone at you. Hasten on, every moment now [-96-] is worth a king's ransom, and may He who never turned a daughter away soften your pillow and sustain your heart in the dark hour I see too plainly about to. come. What is this, a chaise and four greys. So young Jones has done it at last. Is he happy, or has he already found his Laura slow, and has she already begun to suspect that her Jones may turn out "a wretch" after all. I know not yet has the sound of his slightly vinous and foggy eloquence died away; still ring in his ears the applause which greeted his announcement that "the present is the proudest of my life," and his resolution, in all time to come, in sunshine and in storm, to cherish in his heart of hearts the lovely being whom he now calls his bride; but as he leans back there think you that already he sees another face - for Jones has been a man-about-town, and sometimes such as he get touched. This I know- 
        "Feebly must they have felt
        Who in old time attired with snakes and whips
        The vengeful furies."
    And even Jones may regret he married Laura and quarrelled with Rose, 
        "A rosebud set with little wilful thorns
        And sweet as English air could make her."
    What a wonderful thing it is when a man finds himself married, all the excitement of the chase over. Let all Jones' and Laura's and persons about to marry see well that they are really in love before they take the final plunge. But hear that big party behind in a [-97-] Hansom, using most improper language. Take it easy, my dear sir, you may catch the Dover train, you may cross to Calais, you may rush on to Paris, but the electric telegraph has already told your crime, and described your person. Therefore be calm, there is no police officer dogging you, you are free for a few hours yet. And now come our sleek city men, to Clapham and Norwood, to dine greatly in their pleasant homes. The world goes well with them, and indeed it ought, for they are honest as the times go are they slightly impatient, we cannot wonder at it, the salmon may be overboiled, just because of that infernal old coster's cart. Hurra! it moves, and away go busses, and carriages, and broughams, and hansoms, and a thousand of Her Majesty's subjects, rich and poor, old and young, saint and sinner, are in a good temper again, and cease to break the commandments. Stand here of a morning while London yet slumbers; what waggons and carts laden with provisions from the rich gardens of Surrey and Kent, come over London Bridge. Later, see how the clerks, and shopmen, and shopwomen, hurry. Later still, and what trains full of stockbrokers, and commission agents, and city merchants, from a circle extending as far as Brighton, daily are landed at the London Bridge Stations, and cross over. Later still, and what crowds of ladies from the suburbs come shopping, or to visit London exhibitions. If we were inclined to be uncharitable, we might question some of these fair dames; I dare say people connected with [-98-] the divorce courts might insinuate very unpleasant things respecting some of them; but let us hope that they are the exception, and that if Mrs. C. meets. some one at the West End who is not Captain C., and that if the Captain dines with a gay party at Hampton Court, when he has informed his wife that business will detain him in town; or that if that beauty now driving past in a brougham has no business to he there, that these sickly sheep do not infect the flock, and, in the language of good Dr. Watts, poison all the rest. Yet there are tales of sin and sorrow connected with. London Bridge. Over its stony parapets, down into its dark and muddy waters, have men leaped in madness, and women in shame; there, at the dead of night, has slunk away the wretch who feared what the coning morrow would bring forth, to die. And here woman - deceived,, betrayed, deserted, broken in heart, and blasted beyond all hope of salvation - has sought repose. A few hours after and the sun has shone brightly, and men have talked gaily on the very spot from whence the poor creatures leapt. Well may we exclaim- 
        "Sky, oh were are thy cleansing waters
        Earth, oh where will thy wonders end."
    The Chronicles of Old London Bridge are many and of eternal interest. When Sweyn, king of Denmark,. on plunder and conquest bent, sailed up the Thames, there was a London Bridge with turrets and roofed bulwarks. From 994 to 1750, that bridge, built and rebuilt many [-99-] times, was the sole land communication between the city and the Surrey bank of the Thames. In Queen Elizabeth's time the bridge had become a stately one. Norden describes it as adorned with "sumptuous buildings and statelie, and beautiful houses on either syde," like one continuous street, except "certain wyde places for the retyre of passengers from the danger of cars, carts, and droves of cattle, usually passing that way." Near the drawbridge, and overhanging the river, was the famed Nonsuch House, imported from Holland, built entirely of timber, four stories high, richly carved and gilt. At the Southwark end was the Traitor's Gate, where dissevered and ghastly heads were hung suspended in the air. In 1212, the Southwark end caught fire, and 3000 persons perished miserably in the flames. In 1264 Henry III. was repulsed here by Simon de Mountfort, earl of Leicester. Thundering along this road to sudden death rushed Wat Tyler, in 1381. Here came forth the citizens, in all their bravery, ten years after, to meet Richard II. Henry V. passed over this bridge twice, once in triumph, and once to be laid down in his royal tomb. In 1450, we hear a voice exclaiming "Jack Cade hath gotten London Bridge, and the citizens fly and forsake their houses;" and thus the chronicle goes on. Nor must we forget the maid servant of one Higges, a needle-maker, who, in carelessly placing some hot coals under some stairs, set fire to the house, and thus raised a conflagration which appears to have been of the most extensive character. [-100-] On London Bridge lived Holbein and Hogarth. Swift and Pope used to visit Arnold the bookseller on this bridge. From off this bridge leaped an industrious apprentice to save the life of his master's infant daughter, dropped into the river by a careless nursemaid; the father was Lord Mayor of London. The industrious apprentice married the daughter, and the great-grandson of the happy pair was the first duke of Leeds. On the first of August, 1831, New London Bridge was opened with great pomp by King William IV, and since then the stream of life across the bridge has rushed without intermission on.