Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London by Day and Night, by David W.Bartlett, 1852 - Chapter 2 - The Parks

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[-31-]

CHAPTER II

THE PARKS.

    THERE is no park. in London which, in point of fashion, at all approaches to Hyde Park. There is Victoria Park away in the eastern part of London, amid beggars and poor people, mechanics and small tradesmen - its acres have God's sky over them like those in Hyde, but never a man of ton sets his foot there, for it is too vulgar, too plebeian ground! Its grass is just as green and soft as that in wealthier quarters - and the poor bless God for it - but splendid carriages are never to be seen in it, nor people of wealth and respectable standing in society, reckoning after the English manner.
    St. James Park is beautiful, but it is not fitted for carriages like Hyde, and Fashion never deigns to walk in town during the season.
    Green Park spreads out in front of Piccadilly, and is pleasant, but it has no Serpentine river to add to its beauty. It is a famous place for the children to romp in, and scream, and dance, and play wild sports. Poor men's children are fond of coming there to catch a sight of the blue skies, and to play in the free breezes which sweep across it. The stomachs of the Úlite are altogether too delicate to bear the sight of these ragged and dirty-faced children - if they were as delicate in the treatment of their consciences, it would be better for themselves and the world lying in misery about them.
    Regent's Park is of greater extent than any other in the [-32-] Metropolis It has its Botanical and Zoological Gardens, its Hippopotamus, and in fact all manner of wild beasts, so that the million go there, not for fresh air, or to exhibit themselves, but to see its curious sights, just as they flock to the National Gallery, or the Museum.
    The only park where people may be said to go to see, and be seen, is Hyde Park, and as it is the only fashionable one in London, is worthy of a careful description.
    Its extent is not far from 400 acres. Regent's Park has an area of over 400 ; St. James of 83 ; Kensington Gardens, 290 ; Green Park, 71; Victoria Park, 160 ; and Greenwich Park, 174. So that London is very well off for breathing-spots, considering the immense worth of space where the parks are situated. Still there is a strong party who are urging upon Parliament to construct still another park for the people in the region of Finsbury.

HYDE PARK.

    Hyde Park is situated in the centre of the fashion and respectability. Piccadilly runs into it ; "Belgravia" (the region of Belgrave Square) lies a trifle to the south-east of it, while Brompton is a little to the south-west. Green Park runs up as close to it as the pathway which separates them will allow and St. James' Park stands in about the same relation to Green Park, that Green does to Hyde, so that there are three parks touching each other at the corners. One may start at the Horse Guards in St. James' Park, and go in a northwestern direction over green fields for a long distance until at the farther end of Hyde Park.
    We have often walked in Hyde Park, and yet were never  fond of it in the afternoon of the "season," for then there is always such a blaze of fashion there, as to make it unpleasant [-33-] to any one whose object in coming, is to get fresh air and exercise. 
    One frosty morning, when the renowned Crystal Palace was being built, with a friend, we arose early to give it a visit, well knowing that at that hour of the day, as well as season of the year, - the fashionables being in the country - we were secure from any crowd of people. We entered Piccadilly  - a street which contains some of the finest residences in the world, and which at the same time is one of the noisiest and busiest thoroughfares in London. On Park Lane corner, we hesitated a moment, to gaze at the residence of Mr. Abbott Lawrence, our Minister at the Court of St. James. The building is a rich and substantial affair and must rent enormously in that quarter, but happily Mr Lawrence has money enough aside from his salary to support himself in almost any style of grandeur. We believe Americans find no fault with his hospitality - those Americans who are in London. The only time we ever entered his superb mansion, we were on business, to get a passport visoed for the Continent. We, with the friend with us, were treated with great politeness. In fact all the officers of the American Embassy in London are in good repute. There are many who yet speak of Mr. Bancroft, our former Minister at London, in terms of great respect and praise. The American Consul in London - who has, we believe, held his post for a long time - is worthy of all praise. So far as our own experience goes, and it tallies exactly with that of many other Americans we have seen, he is invariably kind and attentive to Americans, and we doubt whether we have a more faithful officer in any other part of the world.
    Leaving Park Lane corner behind, we soon came in sight of the grand arched entrance to the Park, on the right, and stopping first, a few moments to gaze at an enormous statue of the Duke of Wellington, which stands on the left we passed under the archway into the Park.
    [-34-] After entering, we stopped again to gaze at the residence of the Duke of Wellington, which stands on a corner of the Park and Piccadilly.
    Yes, we were in the front of the famous Apsley House, the home of "the hero of a hundred fights!" In front of his drawing-room windows, stands the great monument in memory of his deeds - he can never look out of his windows without seeing it, and were he so modest as to ever forget them, that would be no gentle reminder of his military greatness.
    "But look at those western windows!" said our friend, pointing at all the windows which fronted the Park.
    "Yes!" we replied, "iron shutters are over every one, and that reminds us of a portion of the Duke of Wellington's character."
    "How ?"
    "Why, in the times of the great Reform Bill Agitation, years ago, this 'Iron Duke,' whom the people had worshipped so abjectly, bitterly opposed them, and stood sword in hand in defence of the most outrageous frauds. He was ready to shed his blood in defence of the iniquitous rotten borough system, and even went so far as to offer to march an army to Birmingham and shoot down the crowds of people, who were justly dissatisfied with the gross oppression of the aristocracy. And he would perhaps have done it, had he not upon sounding his officers, discovered the frightful fact to him, that in such a civil warfare, they could not be depended on! He was then in power as Prime Minister, and the people wanted him to resign and make way for liberal principles, but he would not. It was then that in their anger, they gathered in mobs about his residence, and broke in pieces these western windows, which he had ironed up as they now remain. However, the iron-willed soldier was broken dawn by the spirit of the nation, and at midnight of a memorable day, resigned his power into the hands of the sovereign."
    [-35-] But now the spacious Park lay spread out before our eyes with its acres of green turf, and its lofty trees, with graceful branches. All winter long, the grass in the English Parks looks verdant; either because the frosts are not sufficiently powerful  to wither it, or because frost does not affect English grass as it does that in America. It seemed like a country view, if only Piccadilly and Knightsbridge could have been shut out from the scene. The Serpentine River looked beautiful in the morning's sun, stretching gracefully away into Kensington Gardens. We walked down to the edge of the sheet of water, and found a thin coating of ice already formed on a portion of it. When it is frozen sufficiently thick to bear the weight of men, the sight on a frosty morning is a stirring one, for the whole area of ice will then be covered with skaters, young and old. Some of course will understand the art, and will glide gracefully away with the swiftness of a bird, here and there, making circles and elliptical figures in profusion. But the majority will be either beginners, or awkward performers, and the figures which they cut are ludicrous enough - only equalled by the performances of Mr. Samuel Pickwick on Mr. Wardle's ice-pond!
    Hundreds are gathered to enjoy the sport on the banks of the stream, who shout and laugh at the sudden descent of some unlucky amateur upon the hard ice, while those who are expert, win plaudits from fine gentlemen and beautiful ladies. Upon the river, or its bank, scattered near the most dangerous places, are the men in. the employ of the Royal Humane Society, as well as some of the metropolitan police, ready for any accident; and not a season passes away during which several are not rescued from a death in the Serpentine. They stand ready with their instruments, their hooks and ropes, and other contrivances for rescuing those who may chance to be too venturesome and break through the ice, so that every one is willing to run risks, he is so sure of being saved. Sometimes [-36-] there are weeks together when there is skating on the Serpentine, but that is a rare thing. A few days of ice-weather is almost always followed by mild weather, which melts away the ice and spoils the excellent sport in which the boys and men join.
    Passing along one of the avenues for carriages, we soon came in sight of the Crystal Palace, or building of the Great Exhibition. It was not finished, but the structure was so far completed as to give to us an idea of its wonderful beauty. it lay away to the south-western extremity of the Park, and showed well from almost any quarter save the thoroughfare in front of it, which was too near for a good view.
    The workmen were all over it, and around it, like bees in a hive, making the air hum with their industrious noise. It was the song of labor - not so sweet perhaps as Jenny Lind's thrilling notes, and yet of far more importance. What but labor could construct such a palace of glass, to be the wonder and delight of the nations? What but labor could have exhibited such a sight as the World's Fair?
    While we stood looking upon the wonderful sight, and listening to the music of the workmen's hammers, two young ladies stopped not far from us to gaze also at the fairy structure. They were neatly attired, and had evidently come out in despite of fashion for an early walk before breakfast, for the sake of health. One of them had dark hair, which swept back across her argent neck in curls, while her eyes were like diamonds. The other had cheeks which might rival the most delicate rose, the crimson and marble were so exquisitely intermixed.
    "Here," said our friend, "are two ladies who dare to laugh at Fashion, for if they were her devotees they would not be here at this day or hour!"
    Yet they were very beautiful, and probably wealthy, and a health was theirs, which the women of fashion never know. [-37-]  What a luxury it is to meet in society a woman of beauty and perhaps rank, and especially intellect, who acts the pure woman out in daily life, never curbing in her sweet benevolence to suit the cold dictates of fashion-mongers; never refusing to pluck flowers while the dew is on them, because the rich-vulgar say that the night was made for those who have money and rank, and the day for the poor who must work!
    But the fair couple soon tripped away, leaving us to moralize as we pleased on women and fashion, and rank and labor.
    It was in Hyde Park, if we recollect aright, that Sir Robert Peel met with the accident which resulted in his death. Riding up one of the avenues his horse became frightened, threw him to the ground, and fell upon him with so much force that he was fatally wounded, and in a few hours the man who was the glory of the British nation, and who a short time before was in the full vigor of manhood lay a cold corpse, and the nation was in tears. It was a sudden and awful stroke, and the nation trembled.
    It was in this Park, too, that many years ago, Oliver Cromwell met with an accident which came near proving fatal to his life. Riding over these grounds one day, he took a fancy to drive his carriage, and so mounted the driver's seat, and grasped the reins. But he was awkward at the business of driving horses, or the steeds were not aware that it was great OLIVER P. who guided them, for they ran and overturned the carriage. Cromwell was thrown out, and the landed pistol which he invariably wore about his person went off the charge escaping his body only by a hair's breadth.
    But we have spoken of this Park as the park of fashion and must say something of its appearance when it is in all its peculiar glory. That is in May and June, on any pleasant day after one o'clock. It is the height of vulgarity to appear in it much before that hour, but after-what a blaze [-38-] of fashion ! Then all the various avenues are crowded with brilliant equipages, horsemen and gentlemen on foot. Thousands are gathered there upon this spot; the carriages full of splendidly-attired ladies, who are continually nodding (how very slightly !) their heads to this person and that, while the horses slowly pace up one pathway and down another. Yonder you see the carriage of the Field Marshal, Duke of Wellington, and in it sits an old man with white hairs, and a back bent with age, and a nose never to be mistaken - the Roman nose of the hero of Waterloo! There perhaps you see, upon a prancing steed, the black-haired and brilliant-eyed D'Israeli, bowing to this Duchess or that Honorable Mrs. Somebody. There goes the Countess of Jersey, prouder in her mien than the Queen herself - and close following after, in chaste carriage, that sweet poetess, the beautiful "Undying One," the Honorable Mrs. Norton.
    Crowd surges after crowd as wave follows wave out in the ocean, made up of wealth, and rank, and intellect.
    in Hyde Park many a love-affair has been nursed, and many an intrigue carried on. You see that fair young man, perhaps modestly on foot among these crowds, how earnestly he looks for one carriage, and when at last he spies it coming straight up towards him in the distance, how nervous he looks - and now that it is against him, takes off his hat to that fair young girl in it, who crimsons to her forehead as she, watching carefully that no one sees her, drops her white kid glove to him! Alas for her; -tis a case of secret love, and the chances are ten to one that some match-making mamma will break her young heart. But all intrigues carried on here are not so pure and innocent as this. Many is the home which has been made wretched by soft whispers uttered here, many the seduction coolly carried on from day to day until the ruin was complete, of some creature whom God had once fashioned pure and beautiful.
    [-39-] Sunday is said to be the day when the Park is fullest - then there are sometimes 30,000 or 40,000 people in it.

VICTORIA PARK.

    But from looking at the Park of fashion let us tarn to the Victoria Park. We visited it one Sunday afternoon, because nothing is to be seen in it save on Sundays, when the laborng population is not at work. This park is emphatically the park of the poor. No fashion enters it; wealth and so-styled respectability shun it. It is situated north-east of London, and immediately adjoins Bethnal Green and Spitalfields, those great rendezvous for the wretched, vile, and suffering. It is miles east of that great airing-place of the aristocracy, Hyde Park, and has no fellowship with any of the other parks. It is kicked out of their society for its want of name, ancient associations, and its poverty.
    Yet, though the grounds are new and not all laid out, it is a beautiful park. Its entrance-gate is, though not costly, in good taste, and the first department is laid out very gracefully. There are miniature lakes in it, full of swans and other aquatic birds. A beautiful island is formed by one of them, and upon it there is an elegant and fairy-like structure in the Chinese style of architecture, which is, in the proper season, almost buried among a profusion of flowers and shrubs and plants. The open fields are kept beautifully green, the walks are well gravelled, and it is one of the healthiest spoil within ten or fifteen miles of London, in any direction.
    The proximity of Bethnal Green is apt to subtract from the pleasure of visiting it, but in a few minutes' walk, if you choose, you can leave all London out of sight.
    It was one Sunday afternoon when we started out to see Victoria Park in all its glory - with the people it was intended for, in it. Our walk lay through a portion of Spitalfields [-40-] and Bethnal Green, and was not pleasant. The streets were crowded with a filthy set of vagabonds - very likely so because they were unable to obtain work - and the shops were at least half of them open; the gin-shops especially appearing to be driving a heavy business. Some of the streets through which we walked were very low and dirty, and sometimes it was with difficulty that we faced our way through them, the odors that greeted us at every step were so nauseating.
    After a long walk we came to Bethnal Green, where there is a good-looking church and a pleasant green, though the houses and streets in the vicinity are all of the poorest kind, or pretty much so. n
    In a few minutes the Park was in sight. Immediately in front of the Park-gate there are two or three acres of open land, unenclosed, upon which the people gather for any kind of meetings, and we could already see several different crowds or assemblages. The people were the workmen of London, that we could see plainly enough by their brawny arms, work-worn hands, and care-worn faces. The mechanics of London, to our eye, are a sad-looking set of men. They are not like the English farmers with their red cheeks and lusty voices; not like the race of English squires fatted upon roast-beef and plum-pudding, but are either beer-bloated and sodden-eyed, or pale and care-worn.
    We stopped before one of the crowds of people to see what was the subject of excitement. There were two or three hundred men gathered around a little hillock, upon which a pale young man stood delivering a sort of political speech. Said he, in earnest tones, as we approached
    "Yes! hypocrite Lord Ashley has established a reading- room for working-men! A reading-room for the working-men of London! And what do you suppose this philanthropic nobleman gives us to read? Why! the only paper [-41-] which we can find there is the bloody Times! That paper which calls the noble Mazzini a scoundrel, which eulogizes butcher Haynau, which is paid for its advocacy of despotism by Austria - that is the paper which my Lord Ashley dares to offer us to read! He and the proprietor of that paper pretend to love us, and yet refuse to give us our God-given rights! Call themselves our friends, and still tax us till we bleed at every pore, and refuse to let us vote!"
    There was a rough eloquence in the words of the speaker, and the crowd that gathered about him seemed to feel all that the rude orator felt, and to despise the Times and the aristocracy. We watched their faces carefully to get some indications of the spirit within, and saw clearly by the compressed lips and clenched fists that they felt keenly the despotic conduct of the English nobles.
    We passed on to another collection of people, and there "Universal Suffrage" was the theme of the speaker. He told his hearers how that in England only one in every six of male adults can vote, while all are taxed alike, and detailed some of the abominations which are practised under the "glorious constitution of old England."
    Going on a little further, we found a smaller group gathered about an honest Scotchman, who with an open Bible in his hand, was warning his hearers to "flee from the wrath to come." His voice was raised to its highest pitch, and his body kept swaying to and fro in a most ludicrous manner, and we found it impossible to resist a quiet smile. Yet we honored the pious old man for coming to such a place and sowing the good seed, though upon such a barren soil. Every moment his audience grew smaller, until at last only two or three were left, and the preacher closed up his Bible as if in despair.
    It is a sad thing, but there are frightful masses of people [-42-] in London, who know little and care less for the Bible or religion, and what is sadder still, we fear the English churches are in a manner to blame for it. These hard-working men have got to think that a religious man is an aristocrat, that a churchman is one who debars them from their political rights. The State-church they think lives upon what is not its own,; its bishops upon immense salaries wrung from the people while they are starving. They see the well-dressed religionists in their coaches before the churches, and imagine that the Bible upholds oppression and fraud, and in their anger they cast it beneath their feet. Mistaken men! - and yet as such to be pitied as condemned. It is a startling fact, and one which no proper judge can deny, that infidelity is increasing in London among the working classes, and it is our belief that for this infidelity those persons who are practical infidels, though professional Christians, must to a great degree be held responsible. These poor men feel that their rights are defrauded from them, and no amount of argument will convince them that their defrauders are good men. It is too much to expect that the oppressed will judge their oppressors with liberality.
    Victoria Park is every pleasant Sunday the scene of gatherings for almost blasphemous purposes. The language of some of the speakers is many times fearfully wicked, but it indicates to the careful observer the religious condition of the poorest classes of the metropolis. Upon the very spot where we lingered to listen to the pious Scotchman, Bishop Bonner once lived, and some of the trees are now standing which used to flourish in his garden.
    Turning in at the Entrance-gate, we were among a better class than those who congregated on the open common outside of it. There were many men, women, and children wandering over the grounds, but almost all, if not quite, were of the humblest classes. There was but a sprinkling of wo-[-43-]men, as the women of the wretched classes are, if anything, worse in their tastes than the men. Drunken women are as common, or nearly so, in London, as drunken men.
    At the entrance of the eastern park-for a highway divides the park in two-there is a pretty porter's cottage, or lodge, where we saw all manner of intoxicating liquors, and also edibles.
    The eastern park is much larger than the western, but is not so well cultivated, or so tastefully laid out and decorated. It is much like any public common, and yet we liked rambling over it better than over its more civilized neighbor, for its wildness savored more of the country, and the breezes seemed freer as they swept over it.

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