Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London : A pilgrimage, by Gustave Dore and Blanchard Jerrold, 1872

CHAPTER IX 

THE WEST END

The non-workers, viz., those who are able, choose, or are compelled to live without labour, are a minority ; but they are powerful by their culture and their wealth. The rich and high-born, o often miscalled, the idle; whose province it is to lead in society, to fill Chiswick Gardens and give a brilliant aspect to the Ladies' Mile, are a distinct, exclusive, cultivated, and winning class. Princes and princesses of fashion; the observed of all observers at Court and Drawing Rooms, and the favourite leader of the cotillon; the peerless beauty and the most engaging of men at a dejeuner, dinatoire a the or a pic-nic; the deadliest match-maker, with the financial predicament of every suitor at her fingers' ends, and the man of the club; the whole fun, in short, of Vanity Fair, troops and sidles, rides and drives, smiles and dances in a circle that may be said to have Hyde Park Corner for its centre. It has broadened westward and northward since Theodore Hook said that London par excellence was bounded on the north by Piccadilly, on the south by Pall Mall, on the east by the Haymarket, and on the west by St. James's Street * (* This region, with the addition of the district to the north of Piccadilly, extending through May Fair to Hyde Park Corner, and with Hyde, the Green, and St. James's Parks, is the one with which these pages are concerned.-Round about Piccadilly and Pall Mall. By Henry B. Wheatley. ). Some two centuries ago Hook's London was suffering the process which has been carried on in our own time in Tyburnia and Westbournia, Belgravia and South Kensington. Like "the great Orion" we see the sun of fashion still "sloping slowly to the West." Hook's London is identified with Lords Burlington, Berkeley and Clarendon: as St. James's Square is with the Earl of St. Albans. The traditions of the Stuarts lie thick about Pall Mall and Piccadilly. The liveliest stories of the Court thenceforth, are grouped hereabouts. The club gossip of generations; the scandals of the great; the lives of the wits, and beaux, and beauties; the impertinences of Brummell and the mots of Sheridan; the gambling bouts of the last generation in Jermyn Street, and the learned evenings of the peaceful Albany; the histories of Almack's and the disasters brought about at Crockford's are disjecta membra for history, on which Cunningham and Timbs, and Wheatley in our own day, have loved to dwell, and of which the cultivated Londoner never tires. He is happy in the midst of all these associations; and, while lounging under Macaulay's window, or by the Green Park, or under White's, or through St. James's Square, feels himself to be in the best of all good ghostly company. Can he ever tire of Piccadilly * (*"The origin of the name appears to be wrapped in impenetrable mystery, and the various attempts to solve it are nearly all alike unsatisfactory. The earliest conjectural etymology is to be found in Thomas Blount's `Glossographia,' of which the first edition was published in 1656. The passage is as follows: `Pickadil (a Belg. Pickedillekens, i. e. Lacinia, Teut. Pickedel), the round hem, or the several divisions set together about the skirt of a garment, or other thing; also a kind of stiff collar, made in fashion of a Band. Hence, perhaps, that famous ordinary near St. James, called Piccadilly, took denomination; because it was then the outmost or skirt house of the suburbs that way. Others say it took name from this: that one Higgins, a tailor, who built it, got most of his estate by Pickadilles, which, in the last age, were much worn in England.' In the second and later editions of his work, Blount omitted the passage which contained what was apparently his own conjecture, viz., `because it was then the outmost or skirt house of the suburbs that way.' This is, I think, the most probable of the two derivations, for Higgins and his collars appear to have been a pure myth."--Wheatley. ) , now narrowed to the street that stretches from Regent Street to Hyde Park Comer; or of any of that part of London which dates from the Restoration? Here are to be studied all classes of London characters, from the fashionable man about town to the West End dog-fancier. A libertine of the Restoration period wrote:, "Farewell, my dearest Piccadilly, Notorious for good dinners;Oh! what a Tennis Court was there!Alas! too good for sinners." 
    For dinners Piccadilly has lost its prestige completely, since Francatelli left the hotel by Devonshire House; and the tennis court ceased to exist in James Street, Haymarket, five years ago:, but the whole length of this splendid avenue that leads to the Ladies' Mile, is peopled with entertaining memories. The Earl of Burlington, Sir William Petty (whose site is now occupied by Lincoln and Bennett), the author of "Vathek," Lord Holland, George Selwyn, the Earl of Sunderland, Lord Melbourne and the Duke of York, original proprietor of the palace, now called the Albany! In the quiet avenue of the Albany, memories f the illustrious dead crowd upon you; while you are arrested at every turn by curious specimens of the living, as our old London friend the fly-paper vendor, for instance. Lord Byron wrote his "Lara" here, in Lord Althorp's chambers; George Canning lived in A5, and Lord Macaulay in E1, Tom Duncombe in F3, Lord Valentia the traveller in H5, Monk Lewis in K1. Watier's Club (celebrated for fops and fine dinners, and Brummell's vagaries) at the corner of Bolton Row; Sir Francis Burdett barricaded against the Sergeant at Arms in Stratton Street; Madame d'Arblay's lodgings over Barrett's Brush Warehouse; Cambridge House, where Lord Palmerston's brilliant assemblies blocked the way weekly; the houses of Sir Thomas Lawrence and Sir William Hamilton; Mr. Hope's costly mansion, now the junior Athenaeum Club; Gloucester House, where the Elgin marbles were first exhibited; the old Duke ofQueensberry's, "old Q, The Star of Piccadilly;" 
    Byron's house (139), where he passed his short domestic life ; and Apsley House, the site of which was occupied by the old Ranger's Lodge and an apple stall* (*"It is reported that one day George II. recognized an old soldier, named Allen, as having served at the battle of Dettingen, and gave him this piece of ground at Hyde Park Corner, where his wife kept a stall, which is marked in a print dated 1766. Lord Bathurst had a controversy with this woman, and she filed a bill against him, on which he gave her a considerable sum of money to relinquish her claim. It was observed at the time that `here is a suit by one old woman against another, and the Chancellor has been beaten in his own Court.' " Wheatley.); here are pleasant points of interest on the way to join the splendid crowd and hurly-burly of the Park. The Anti-Jacobin was published in the shop now Ridgway's; Albert Smith, Haydon; Sir George Hayter, and a host of lesser lights are associated with the Egyptian Hall but the entertainers have deserted the old temple for the more splendid housing of St. James's Hall ; wherein, one evening, my fellow-pilgrim made some very whimsical notes of the famous negro minstrels.
    Of all the streets north or south of Piccadilly, Regent Street, albeit the most pretentious, the handsomest, designed as it was as a royal way from Carlton Palace, is the least interesting. The Piccadilly side streets, even to the smallest, are full of delightful story, as Mr. Wheatley has reminded us in his great book of West End gossip; but Regent Street was commenced only in 1813. It is the highway which distinguished foreigners most affect; it is a busy scene of fashionable shopping in the Season; it is the street where the perambulating dog-fancier finds his readiest market; but it has no story more interesting than that of the Brighton carpenter, John Nash, who designed it, under the favour of the Prince Regent. Bond Street, Pall Mall, King Street, St. James's, and St. James's Street, with every little way to the east and west of it, Park Lane, and all May Fair indeed, are filled with fashionable romance; and even the new glories of Belgravia have not dimmed Piccadilly's lustre, as May Fair dimmed that of Soho and Covent Garden, making them as strange to the Fashion of our Victorian era, as Old Buckingham Gate.