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SUNDAY IN A PEOPLE'S GARDEN.
I HAVE often thought that an interesting series of
articles might be written on the subject of "London
out of Church," dealing with the manners and customs
of those people who patronize no sort of religious
establishment on the Sunday. I have seen pretty well
all the typical phases of religious London and London
irreligious ; but these would rather be characterized as
non-religious than as irreligious folks. They do not
belong to any of the varied forms of faith; in fact
faith is from their life a thing apart. It is in this
negative way that they are interesting. Sunday is
with them only a regularly recurring Bank Holiday.
It would be interesting to know what they do with it.
A special difficulty, however, exists for me in any such
inquiry, resulting from the fact that, in my capacity
of clerical casual, I am pretty generally engaged on
the Sunday; and when I am not, my Day of Rest is
too valuable to be devoted to any of the manifold forms
of metropolitan Sabbath-breaking. I have a great
idea that parsons ought to be frequently preached at;
and so I generally go to some church or chapel when [-109-]
out of harness myself; and if "hearing sermons" constitute the proper
carrying out of the things promised and vowed on my behalf at baptism I must
have undergone as complete a course of Christian discipline as any man in
Christendom, for I have been preached at by everybody from Roman Catholics down
to Walworth Jumpers and Plumstead Peculiars.
But impressed with anxiety to know about the doings of the non-Church-goers, I have for a long time cast sheep's eyes at the Sunday League, and more than once definitely promised to join one of their Sunday outings; but I am strongly of Tom Hood's opinion that-
The man who's fond precociously of stirring
Must be a spoon
The Sunday League commence their excursions at untimely hours; and it is a
cardinal point in my creed that Sunday ought to be a Day of Rest, at all events
in the matter of breakfast in bed. I missed the excursion to Shakspeare's House
in this way, and the paper on the Bard of Avon, full of the genius loci, must
have been as edifying as a sermon. So, too, on a recent Sunday, when the Sunday
League on their way to Southend got mixed up with the Volunteer Artillery going
to Shoebury, I was again found wanting. But still the old penchant remained, and
Sunday was my last free one for a long time. How could I utilize it? I had
it; I would go to the People's Garden at Willesden. I had heard that [-110-]
certain very mild forms of Sabbath breaking prevailed
there. I would go and see for myself.
I had been at the People's Garden twice before ; once on the occasion of a spiritualistic picnic, and once, more recently, at a workmen's flower show; and felt considerable interest in the place, especially as the People had been polite enough to send me a season ticket, so that I was one of the People myself.
This People's Garden was not exactly a Paradise yet, though it is in a fair way of becoming one. It is a spot of some fifty acres reclaimed from the scrubbiest part of Wormwood Scrubbs, and made the focus of a club of working men, of whom I am very proud indeed to be one. Indeed, I do not see why throughout the remainder of this article I should not use the first person plural. I will. Well, then, we secured this spot, and we have got in the first place one of the finest - I believe the finest - dancing platform in England, for we as a community are Terpsichorean, though I, as an individual, am not. I felt it necessary to give up dancing when my weight turned the balance at fourteen stone odd. Then we can give our friends refreshments from a bottle of champagne down to tea and cresses. We have all sorts of clubs, dramatic and otherwise, and rather plume ourselves on having put up our proscenium ourselves, that is with our own hands and hammers and nails. There is the great advantage of being a Working Man or one of the People. If you had been with me that Sunday [-111-] you would have seen a glow of conscious pride suffusing my countenauce as I read the bills of our last amateur performance, consisting of the "Waterman" and "Ici on parle Franqais," played on the boards which I, in my corporate capacity, had planed, and sawn, and nailed. My route last Sunday lay across the crisp sward of the Scrubbs; and it was quite a pleasure to be able to walk there without danger of falling pierced by the bullet of some erratic volunteer ; for there are three butts on Wormwood Scrubbs, which I examined with minuteness on Sunday, and was exercised to see by marks on the brickwork how very wide of the target a volunteer's shot can go. I wonder there is not a wholesale slaughter of cattle in the neighbouring fields. The garden lies on the other side of the Great Western Railway, across which I had to trespass in order to get to it. But the man in charge regarded me with indulgence, for was I not a working man and a "mate?" The portion of the garden abutting on the rail is still unreclaimed prairie. The working men have begun at the top of the hill, and are working downwards.
There is a good-sized refreshment-room at the entrance, with all the paraphernalia of secretary's office, &c. ; and this large room, which is exceedingly useful in wet weather, opens right on to the dancing-platform, in the centre of which is a pretty kiosk for the band. We have no gas ; but tasty paraffin lamps at frequent intervals give sufficient light, and, at all [-112-] events, do not smell worse than modern metropolitan gas. There is a large tent standing en permanence during the summer for flower shows, and terrace after terrace of croquet lawns, all of which it will, I fear, shock some Sabbatarian persons to learn were occupied on that Sunday afternoon, and the balls kept clicking like the week-day shots of the erratic riflemen on the Scrubbs. I had a young lady with me who was considerably severe on the way in which we workmen male and female, handled our mallets. There was, I confess, something to be desired in the way of position; and one group of German artisans in the corner lawn made more noise than was necessary, howling and uttering all sorts of guttural interjections, as though they were playing polo at least, or taking part in a bull-fight, instead of in croquet-beloved of curates.
And then the flowers. We are making the desert blossom like the rose. It is really marvellous to see what has been done in so short a time. We might have been a society of market gardeners. We don't get so many flowers along the walk of life, we working men ; so that we want to see a bit of green sward and a flower or two on Sundays. There is a capital gymnasium, and our observation of the young men who disport themselves there would lead an uninitiated observe to form the opinion that the normal condition of humanity was upside down. The way one youthful workman hung by his legs on the tra-[-113-]peze was positively Darwinian to behold. Swings attracted the attention of the ladies ; and I regret to say that the particular young lady I escorted - who was of the mature age of twelve-passed most of the afternoon in a state of oscillation, and was continually adjuring me to push her.
An interesting addition to the gardens - our gardens - since I was last there, consisted of a cage of meditative monkeys, four in number, who were stationed so near the gymnasium as inevitably to suggest the Darwinian parallel. They had their gymnasium too, and swung gaily on their tree-trunks at such times as they were not engaged in eating or entomological researches. I could not help thinking what a deprivation it was to the gymnasts that, in course of evolution, we have lost our tails. They would have been so convenient on the horizontal bar, where that persevering young workman was still engaged in the pursuit of apoplexy by hanging head downwards. Soon after we got there an excellent band commenced playing, not in the kiosk, lest we should be beguiled into dancing. The first piece was a slow movement, which could scarcely have been objected to by any Sabbatarian, unless he was so uncompromising as to think all trumpets wrong. The second was the glorious march from "Athalie ;" and then - my blood runs cold as I write it -a sort of pot pourri, in the midst of which came the "Dutchman's Little Wee Dog," considerably disguised in the [-114-] way of accompaniment and variation, I own, but the "Little Wee Dog" beyond a doubt. Then I understood why the band was not in the kiosk; for, fourteen stone though I be, I felt all my toes twiddling inside my boots at that time as wickedly as though it had been Monday morning. There were fourteen or fifteen loud brass instruments, with a side and bass drum and cymbals. All these were playing the "Little Wee Dog" to their brazen hearts' content, and only one gentleman on a feeble piccolo-flute trying to choke their impiety by tootling out a variation, just as the stringed instruments in the glorious " Reformation Symphony" of Mendelssohn try in vain to drown with their sensuous Roman airs the massive chords of the old Lutheran chorale-" Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott." I really could not bear it any longer, and was rising to go when they stopped; and as the gentleman who played the circular bass got outside his portentous instrument, I found he had a little wee dog of his own who retired into the bell of the big trumpet when his master laid it on the grass. Perhaps it was in honour of this minute animal the air was selected. However, I could not lend myself to such proceedings ; so I bribed my youthful charge with a twopenny bottle of frothless ginger beer to come out of her swing and return to the regions of orthodoxy. The Teutonic gentlemen were still hooting and yelling as we crossed the corner of their croquet lawn, until I expected to see [-115-] them attack one another with the mallets and use the balls for missile warfare ; but it was only their peculiar way of enjoying themselves.
My little friend described the action of our working men in the croquet lawn as "spooning," and also drew my attention to the fact that two lovers were doing the same on a seat, in the approved fashion prevalent among us workmen, with the manly arm around the taper waist coram publico. This arrangement is quite a necessity with us. We should often like to forego it, especially when little boys make rude remarks about us in the street; but it is expected of us, and we submit.
The sun was beginning to sink grandly over that magnificent panorama of country visible from Old Oak Common as we passed down the hill and again violated the bye-laws of the Great Western Railway Company. The spires of the West End churches were bathed in the soft glow of departing day; and in the distance the Crystal Palace glittered like a fairy bower. We got back after making a little detour on account of some gentlemen who were bathing in a very Paradisiacal way indeed - we actually got back in time to go to church like good Christians ; and I do not think either of us felt much the worse for the hours we had spent in the People's Garden - save and except the wicked Little Wee Dog !