Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Twice Round the Clock, or The Hours of the Day and Night in London, by George Augustus Sala, 1859    

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    The red-whiskered, quick-tempered gentleman, who carried the shiny leather bag and the bundle of sticks-umbrella and fishing-rods tied together like the fasces of a Roman lictor - and who wore a cloak gracefully over his forty-shilling suit of heather tweed, "thoroughly well shrunk," the gentleman who, at Morley's Hotel, Trafalgar Square, and at twenty minutes before twelve, engaged a Hansom cabman, No. 9,009, and bade him drive "like anything" (but he said like something which I decline to mention) to the London Bridge Terminus of the South-Eastern Railway, has thrust his bundle of sticks, &c., through the little trap-door in the cabriolet's roof, and has savagely ordered the driver to stop, or to drive him to Jericho, or to the deuce. But the high-towering Jehu of 9,009 cannot drive to the dominions of the deuce, even as did "Ben," that famous Jarvey of the olden time, immortalised in the ballad of "Tamaroo." He can drive neither to the right nor to the left, nor backwards nor forwards ; for he is hemmed in, and blocked up, and jammed together in the middle of the Poultry; and just as a sarcastic saloon omnibus driver behind jeeringly bids him "keep moving," accompanying the behest by the aggressive taunt of "gardner;" and just as the charioteer of the mail-cart in front affectionately recommends him not to be in a hurry, lest he should injure his precious health, Twelve o'Clock is proclaimed by the clock of St. Mildred's, Poultry; and cabman 9,009 has lost his promised extra shilling for extra speed, and the red-whiskered gentleman has lost his [-117-] temper, and the train into the bargain, and there will be weeping at Tunbridge Wells this afternoon, where a young lady, with long ringlets and a white muslin jacket, will mourn for her Theodore, and will not be comforted-till the next train arrives.
    It is noon, high noon, in the City of London. Why did not the incautious cabman drive down Cannon Street, the broad and unimpeded? or why did he not seek his destination by crossing Waterloo Bridge - he of the red whiskers would have paid the toll cheerfully - and tread the mazes of Union Street, Borough? Perhaps he was an inexperienced cabman, new to its daedalian ways. Perhaps he was a prejudiced and conservative cabman, adhering to the old Poultry as the corporation adhered to the old Smithfield, and detesting newfangled thoroughfares. Perhaps he was a misanthropic cabman, whose chief delight was to make travellers lose trains. If such be the case, he has his wicked will now ; and the red-whiskered gentleman, sulkily alighting, scowlingly pays him his legal fare, leaves him grumbling, and retires himself moodily muttering, conscious that he has nearly two hours before him through which to kick his heels, and not knowing what on earth to do with himself. Be of good cheer, red-whiskered, shipwrecked one. Comfort ye, for I am here, the wanderer of the clock-face, and the dweller on the threshold of time. I will show you brave sights, and make your heart dance with mulligatawny soup and Amontillado sherry at the " Cock," in Threadneedle Street. You are not hungry yet? Well, we will stroll into the Stereoscopic Company's magnificent emporium in Cheapside, and mock our seven senses with the delusions of that delightful toy, which, if Sir David Brewster didn't invent, he should properly have invented. You care not for the arts? Shall we cross by King Street, and have a stare at Guildhall, with Gog and Magog, and the monument that commemorates Beckford's stern resolve to "stand no nonsense" from George III. Or we may stroll into Garraway's, and mark how the sale of sandwiches and sherry-cobblers may be combined with the transfer of land and the vending of freehold houses. There is the auction-mart, too, if you have a fancy to see Simony sales by auction, and advowsons of the cures of immortal souls knocked down for so many pounds sterling. There is the rotunda of the Bank of England, with its many-slamming, zinc-plated doors, and its steps and flags worn away by the boots of the ever-busy stockbrokers. We will not go into the Dividend Office, for I have no dividends to draw now, and the sight makes me sad neither will we enter the [-118-] Great Hall where William the Third's statue is (prettily noticed by Mr. Addison in a full-bottom-wigged allegory in the "Spectator" ), and where the urbane clerks are for ever honouring the claims upon the old lady in Threadneedle Street ; giving "notes for gold" and "gold for notes." We will not enter, because we don't want any change just now; and one of the Brothers Forrester, who is sure to be hovering about the court-yard, in conversation with yonder cock-hatted beadle in blazing scarlet, might think we came for gold or notes that didn't belong to us. The Bullion Office we cannot visit, for we haven't an order of admission; and there is one place especially, O rubicund-headed traveller, where we will be exceedingly cautious not to show our faces. That place is the interior of the Stock Exchange. I am not a "lame duck;" I never, to my knowledge, "waddled;" I never attempted to pry into the secrets of the "bulls" and the "bears;" my knowledge of stockjobbing is confined to the fact that I once became possessed, I scarcely know how, only that I paid for them, of fifty shares in a phantom gold-mining company; that I sold them, half an hour afterwards, at half-a-crown premium to a mysterious man in a dark room, up a court off Cornhill, who to every human being who entered his lair handed a long list covered with cabalistic figures, with the remark that it was "very warm," and which - the list, not the weather - I believe contained the current prices of stocks, though it might have related to the market value of elephants, for aught I knew; that I pocketed the fifty half-crowns, and that I have never heard anything of the phantom company from that day to this. Vice-Chancellor somebody will be down upon me some day as a "contributory," I suppose, and I shall be delivered over to the tormentors; but, meanwhile, I will tell you why I won't take my red-whiskered friend into the Stock Exchange - why I should like mine enemy to go there as soon as convenient. I have heard such horrible stories of the tortures inflicted by the members of the "House," upon unwary strangers who have strayed within its precincts; of the savage cries of "two hundred and one," the shrieks, the yells, the whistles, and the groans; the dancing round the captive, the covering him with flour, the treading on his miserable toes, the buffeting of his wretched ears, the upripping of his unhappy coat-collar, and chalking of his luckless back; the "bonneting," the "ballooning," and the generally fiendish cruelties which intruders upon the speculators for the "account" have to suffer, that I would sooner venture without permission behind the scenes of a well-[-119-]regulated theatre, or attempt to beard the lion in his den, or walk up, unannounced, into the sanctum of the editor of the "Times" newspaper, or pay a morning call in a Choctaw wigwam, myself being a Pawnee or a Sioux, at war with my friends the C.'s, or pass through Portugal Street, Cursitor Street, or Chancery Lane, at any hour of the day or night, if my affairs should happen to embarrassed, than trust myself to the tender mercies of the members of the Stock Exchange. They are the staunchest and most consistent of Conservatives.
    Whither, then, away! Why, bless me, how stupid I have been! The Mansion House police-court opens at noon precisely, and we may enjoy, gratuitously, the sight of the Corporation Cadi, the Caesar of Charlotte Row, the great Lord Mayor of London himself, dispensing justice to all corners. By the way, I wish his Lordship would render unto us one little modicum of justice, combined with equity, by ridding us of the intolerable swarm of ragged, disgusting-looking juvenile beggars, who beset pedestrians at the doors of Messrs. Smith, Payne, and Smith's banking-house, and of the scarcely less intolerable importunities of the omnibus cads who are wrestling for old ladies and young children on the very threshold of the Mansion House. Here we are at the Municipal Hall of London's AEdiles ; architecture grand but somewhat gloomily florid, like George the First, say, in a passion, his bulbous Hanoverian jaw flaming from his perturbed perriwig, glowering, half-angry, half-frightened, as he tears his embroidered coat-tail from the grasp of Lady Nithsdale, and obstinately refuses pardon for that poor Jacobite lord yonder cooped up in the gloomy Tower under sentence of death, but who, thanks to his wife's all-womanly devotion (well did Madame de Lavallete imitate her bright example to save her chivalrous husband just one hundred years afterwards), will cheat the headsman's axe and George's Hanoverian malice yet. The attic storey was evidently clapped on as an afterthought, and threatens to tumble over on to the portico; the whole is profusely ornamented, like everything civic, and reminds me generally of a freestone model of the Lord Mayor's state carriage, squared in the Corinthian manner, and the gilt gingerbread well covered with smoke and soot.
    Not by that door in the basement will we enter, which is flanked by announcements relative to charity dinners, and youths who have absconded from their friends. Within that eternally-gaslit office is the place of business of the Eumenides of finance, whose grim duty it is to pursue forgers and bank-robbers through the world. There dwell, [-120-] for thief-catching purposes, the terrible Forresters. Not by that door in Charlotte Row. Don't you see the handsome carriage, with the fat, brown, gaudily harnessed horses drawn up before it, and the superb powdered footmen sucking their bamboo-cane tops? How odd it is that you can always tell the difference between a footman appertaining to one of the high civic dignitaries, and the flunkey of a real patrician. The liveries, on a drawing-room day, for instance, are equally rich, equally extravagant in decoration, and absurd in fashion; both servitors sport equally large cocked-hats, equally long canes, and have an equal amount of powder dredged over their heads; yet, on either flunkey's brow are the stigmata "East" or "West" of Temple Bar, stamped as legibly as the brand of Cain. The door in Charlotte Row is his Lordship's private entrance; and her Ladyship is very probably at this moment preparing to go out for an airing. Not by that other lateral door in George Street-that low-browed, forbidding-looking portal. That is the prisoners' entrance. There the grim cellular van brings and waits for the victims of Themis. There it sets down and takes up, if not the chief actors, at least those who are most deeply interested in the moving drama which is every day enacted in the police tribunal of the Mansion House.
    So - up this broad, roomy flight of granite steps on the Lombard Street side of the Mansion House frontage-on through a double barrier of swing-doors at the corresponding angle beneath the portico and in less time than it would take to accept a bill (an operation in comparison to the celerity of which a pig's whisper is an age, and the pronunciation of the mystic words "Jack Robinson a life-long task), we are within the sanctuary of municipal justice. The first thing that strikes the stranger, accustomed as he may be to frequenting other police-courts, is the unwonted courtesy of the officials, and their gorgeous costumes. About Bow Street, Lambeth, Westminster, there hangs an indefinable but pervading miasma of meanness and squalor. A settled mildew seems to infest the walls and ceiling, a chronic dust to mantle the furniture and flooring. No one connected with the court, officially or otherwise, with the single exception of the Magistrate - who, always smug and clean shaven, and in a checked morning neckerchief and a high shirt collar, looks like a judicial edition of Major Pendennis - seems to have had his clothes brushed for a week or his boots blacked for a month. A dreadful jail-bird odour ascends from the ill-favoured auditory. The policemen are shabby in attire [-121-]


[-122-] and morose in manner. The buckles of their belts are dull, and their buttons tarnished. They hustle you hither and thither, and order you in or out in a manner most distressing to your nerves; and the gloomy usher thrusts a ragged Testament into your hands, and swears you as though he were swearing at you. But at the Mansion House there is a bluff, easy-going, turtle-and-venison-fed politeness generally manifest. You enter and you emerge from the court without being elbowed or shoved. The city policemen are more substantial-looking, well to do, and better natured men than their metropolitan confreres. Some of them have the appearance of small freeholders, and others, I am sure, have snug sums in the savings' banks. As to the jailers, ushers, court-keepers, warrant-officers, marshalmen, and other multifarious hangers-on of civic justice, they are mostly men of mature age, rosy, bald and white-headed sages, who remember Sir John Key and the great Sir Claudius Hunter, and mind the time when Mr. Alderman Wood rode on horseback at the side of Queen Caroline's hearse, on the occasion of the passage of that injured lady's funeral procession through the city. As to their attire, it is positively- if I may be allowed the use of a barbarism - "splendiferous." Stout broadcloth, bright gilt buttons, with elaborate chasings of civic heraldry, scarlet collars, with deep gold lace; none of your paltry blue blanketing, horn buttons, and worsted gloves. No doubt, when in full uniform, the "splendiferous" functionaries all wear cocked-hats. Maybe, feathers. There is one weazened creature who flits in and out of a side door, to the left of the Lord Mayor's chair, and is perpetually handing up printed forms to his Lordship or to the chief clerk. I don't know exactly what he is, whether the Lord Mayor's butler, or the sword-bearer's uncle, or the city-marshal's grandfather, or the water-bailiff's son-in-law ; but the front of his coat is profusely ornamented with bars of gold braid, like pokers from Croesus's kitchen, and on his shoulders he wears a pair of state epaulettes, the which give him somewhat of a military appearance, and, contrasting with his civilian spectacles and white neckcloth, would produce an effect positively sublime if it were not irresistibly ludicrous. The home of Beadledom-its last home, I am afraid, after the exhaustion of the Windsor uniform, and that of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity house-will be at the Mansion House.
    The architect who has contrived the new Justice-room in this stately edifice must have been, if not a man of genius, at least one of original conceptions. The old police-court-sacred to the manes of Mr. [-123-] Hobler - was simply a Cave of Trophonius and Den of Despair There was no light in it - only darkness visible; and when you peered at the misty prisoner in the dock, you were always reminded of Captain Macheath in his cell, when the inhuman Mr. Lockit wouldn't allow him any more candles, and threatened to clap on extra fetters in default of an immediate supply on the captain's part of "garnish" or jail fees. But the Palladio who has arisen to remedy these defects has contrived to introduce a considerable amount of light - only it labours under the trifling disadvantage of being all in the wrong place. The Lord Mayor, with his back to the window, sits in a reflected light, just as does Wilkie's portrait of the Duke of York; and the fine effect of the city arms carved on his chair, to say nothing of his Lordship's gold chain and furred robe, is thereby totally lost. Mr. Goodman and the clerks, who are all very gentlemanly-looking individuals, much given to all round collars and parting their hair down the middle, fill up commitments and make out summonses in a puzzling haze of chiaro oscuro ; the reporters are compelled to pore over their "Times with their noses close to the paper (for no one ever saw a police reporter do anything save read the newspaper, though we are sure to read a verbatim narrative of the case in which we are interested next day), and the general audience is lost in a Cimmerian gloom. To make amends, there is plenty of light on the ceiling, and some liberal patches of it on the walls, and a generous distribution of its bounty on the bald heads, golden epaulettes, and scarlet collars of the marshalmen. We can't have everything we want, not even in the way of Light. Let us be thankful that there is some of it about, even as it behoves us to be exceedingly grateful that there is such a vast amount of wealth in the world. Other people possess it-only, we don't.
    This, then, is the justice-room of the Mansion House. I have not given you, seriatim, a George Robins's catalogue of its contents, but by bits and bits I trust you will have been enabled to form a tolerably correct mind-picture of its contents. My Lord Mayor in the chair, clerks before him, reporters to the right, marshalmen left; spectacled official at the desk in the left-hand corner - the summoning officer, I think - audience not too tightly packed into a neat pen at the back of the court ; dock in the centre, and the prisoner - Ah! the prisoner!
    Did it never strike you, in a criminal court of assize- the judges all ranged, a terrible show, the solemn clerk of the arraigns gazing [-124-] over the indictment, the spectators almost breathless with excited curiosity, rays from opera glasses refracted from the gallery, Regent Street bonnets and artificial flowers relieving the dark mass of the menfolk's dress, the bar bewigged, the eloquent advocate for the defence thundering forth genteel philippics against the eloquent counsel for the prosecution - did it never strike you, I say, what a terrible fuss and bother, and calling on Jupiter to lift a wagon wheel out of a rut, what a waste of words, and show, and ceremonial all this became, when its object, the End to all these imposing means, was one miserable Creature in the dock, with spikes, and rue, and rosemary before him, accused of having purloined a quart pot? As for the prisoner who is this day arraigned before the mighty Lord Mayor-but first stand on tiptoe. There he is, God help him and us all!  a miserable, weazened, ragged, unkempt child, whose head, the police reports will tell us to-morrow, "scarcely reached to the railing of the dock." He has been caught picking pockets. It is not his first, his second, his third offence. He is an incorrigible thief. The great Lord Mayor tells him so with a shake of his fine head of hair. He must go to jail. To jail with him. He has been there before. It is the only home he ever had. It is his preparatory school for the hulks. The jail nursing-mother to thousands, and not so stony-hearted a step-mother as the streets. He is nobody's child, nobody save the police knows anything about him, he lives nowhere ; but in the eyes of the law he is somebody. He is a figure in a tabular statement, a neat item to finish a column in a report, withal. He is somebody to Colonel Jebb and Mr. Capper of the Home Office, and, in the end, the Ordinary of Newgate, the sheriffs, and, especially, somebody to CALCRAFT. He is somebody to whip, somebody to put to the crank, and into "punishment jackets," and to "deprive of his bed and gas," and gag, and drench with water, and choke with salt, and otherwise torture a la mode de Birmingham (Austin's improved method), somebody to build castellated jails for, somebody to transport, somebody to hang.
    There are reformatories, you say, for such as these. Yes, those admirable institutions do exist; but do you know, O easily-satisfied optimist! that police magistrates every day deplore that reformatories, niggardly subsidised by a State grudging in every thing but jails, and gyves, and gibbets, are nine tenths of them full, and can receive no more inmates, even though recommended to them by "the proper authorities"? But the streets are fuller still of strayed lambs, and though wolves devour [-125-] them by the score each day, the tainted flock of lost ones still increases and increases.
    I must tell you, that before the "case of wipes," as an irreverent bystander called the procès of the pickpocket, was gone into (a good- for-nothing rascal that filou, deservedly punished, of course), what are called the night charges were disposed of. As I shall have something to say of the manners and customs of these night charges at another hour in the morning and in another place, I will content myself with informing you now, that a blue bonnet and black silk velvet mantle, charged with being drunk and disorderly in Cheapside the night before, were set at liberty without pecuniary mulct, it being her, or their, first offence; but a white hat with a black band, surmounting a rough coat, cord trousers, and Balbriggan boots, who had fought four omnibus conductors, broken eighteen panes of glass, demolished sundry waiters, and seriously damaged the beadle of the Royal Exchange (off duty, and enjoying the dulce deripere in loco in the shape of cold whiskey-and-water in a shady tavern somewhere up a court of the Poultry) - all in consequence of their (or his) refusal to pay for a bottle of soda-water, was fined in heavy sums-the aggregate cost of his whistle being about six pounds. The white hat was very penitent, and looked (the face under it likewise) very haggard and tired, and, in addition to his, or its, or their penalty, munificently contributed half a sovereign to the poor box. My Lord Mayor was severe but paternal, and hoped with benignant austerity that he might never see the white hat there again ; in which hope, and on his part, I daresay the white hat most cordially joined.
    I never could make out what they are always doing with paupers at the Mansion House. I never pay his Lordship a visit without finding a bevy of the poor things pottering about in a corner under the care of some workhouse official, and being ultimately called up to be exorcised or excommunicated, or, at all events, to have something done to them, under the New Poor Law Act. This morning there are at least a dozen of them, forlorn, decrepit, shame-faced, little old men, cowering and shivering, although the day is warm enough, in their uncomfortable-looking gray suits. Pauper females seem to be at a discount at the Mansion House, save when, brazen-faced, blear-eyed, and dishevelled, they are dragged in droves to the bar to be committed to Holloway prison, for a month's hard labour, for shivering innumerable panes of glass, throwing cataracts of gruel about, and expressing an earnest desire to lacerate with sharp cutlery the abdominal economy of the [-126-] master of the City of London Union. Of incarnations of male impecuniosity, there is a lamentable plenty and to spare.
    The pickpocket is succeeded by a distinguished burglar, well known in political - I beg pardon, in police-circles. There is no absolute charge of felony against him at present, and the only cause for his appearance to-day is his having been unfortunate enough to fall in with an acquaintance, who knew him by sight, in the shape of a city police constable, who forthwith took him into custody for roaming about with intent to commit a felony. My Lord having heard a brief biographical sketch of his career, and being satisfied that he is a "man of mark in a felonious point of view, sends him to Holloway for three months, which, considering that the fellow has committed, this time, at least, no absolute crime, seems, at the first blush, something very like a gross perversion of justice, and an unwarrantable interference with the liberty of the subject. When subsequently, however, I gather that a few inconsiderable trifles, such as a "jemmy," a bunch of skeleton keys, a "knuckle duster," and a piece of wax candle, all articles sufficiently indicative of the housebreaker's stock-in-trade, have been found in his possession, I cease to quarrel with the decision, and confess that my burglarious friend's incarceration, if not in strict accordance with law, is based on very sound principles of equity. After the housebreaker, there are two beggar women and a troop of ragged children-twenty- one days; and a most pitiable sight to see and hear-beggar woman, children, and sentence, and their state of life into which it has not pleased Heaven to call, but cruel and perverse man to send them. Then an Irish tailor who has had a slight dispute with his wife the night before, and has corporeally chastised her with a hot goose-a tailor's goose, be it understood-to the extent of all but fracturing her skull. He is sent for four months' hard labour, which is rather a pleasurable thing to hear, although I should derive infinitely more delectation from the sentence if it included a sound thrashing.
    But, holloa! we have been here three-quarters of an hour, and it is close upon one o'clock. Come, my red-whiskered friend, I think we have had enough of the Mansion House Justice-room. Let us make a bow to his Lordship, and evaporate. You want some lunch, you say- you are hungry now; well, let us go and lunch accordingly; but where?
    I mentioned Garraway's and the Cock. There is the Anti-Gallican, famous for soups. There is Birch's, with real turtle, fit for Olympian deities to regale upon. There is Joe's in Finch Lane, if you feel dis-[-127-]posed for chop or steak, sausage or bacon, and like to see it cooked yourself on a Brobdignagian gridiron. No you want something simple, something immediate; well, then, let us go to the Bay Tree.
    I never knew exactly the name of the street in which the Bay Tree is situated. I know you go down a narrow lane, and that you will suddenly come upon it, as a jack-in-the-box suddenly comes upon you. The first time I was taken there was by a friend, who, just prior to our arrival at the house of refection, took me up a dark entry, showed me a small court-yard, and, at its extremity, a handsome-looking stone building. That is Rothschild's, he said, and I thought I should have fainted. I am not a City man, and when I come eastward, it is merely (of course) to make a morning call on my friend the Governor of the Bank of England, or the Secretary for India for the time being, at his palace in Leadenhall Street. When I travel in foreign parts, my brougham (of course) takes me to the London Bridge Terminus. Authors never come into the City now-a-days, save to visit their bankers or their publishers. Authors ride blood horses, dine with dukes, and earn ten thousand a year. Such, at least, is the amount of their income surmised to be by the Commissioners of Income Tax, when they assess them arbitrarily ; and at such a figure their opposing creditors declare their revenue should be estimated, when they petition the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors.
    I never sat down in the Bay Tree; though its premises include, I believe, vast apartments for smoking and punch-bibbing purposes. I never looked one of the innumerable assistants (are they barmen or barmaids?) in the face. I was always in such a hurry. All I know of the establishment is, that it is a capital place to lunch at, and that everything is very excellent and very cheap; and that the thousands who resort to it between eleven and three, always seem to be in as desperate a hurry as I am.

[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]