Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Little World of London, by Charles Manby Smith, 1857 - Our Terrace on Sunday

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[-49-]

OUR TERRACE ON SUNDAY.*

[*This sketch represents a state of things which has undergone considerable modification since the removal of the cattle-market from the city.]

FROM the fact of Our Terrace standing in the line of cattle transit from the rearing-grounds in the north of the island to the market of Smithfield, we are all invariably awakened on the Sunday morning by the ba-a-ing of sheep, the lowing and bellowing of cattle, the bawling of drovers, and the barking of drovers' dogs. This matutinal concert begins, whatever the season of the year, before it is light, and continues at intervals, rarely of long duration, throughout the whole of the day. It is not by any means so monotonous a performance as a stranger might suppose, being enlivened by a variety of little accidents and pleasantries on the part of the fourfooted pilgrims, all of which we can hear and perfectly comprehend as we lie comfortably in our beds, which, on this morning of the week alone, a commercial people may be said fully to enjoy. Sometimes it is a vivacious ox, that, seized with an unforeboding whim of friskiness, takes it into his head to leap out of the road to the high pavement of the terrace, and thence into one of the small gardens, where he marches straight to the house-door, and butts at it with his horns, as though bent on a morning call to some particular friend of his own. Sometimes it is a flock of Norfolk wethers that have made an irruption into the doctor's garden at the villa over the way, through the negligence of the boy, who, after polishing the brass-plate on Saturday night, and getting up a bright face on it for the morrow, forgot to lock the gate. [-50-] Sometimes it is a vociferous exchange of compliments between a couple of north-country drovers, who, without the slightest suspicion that a hundred pair of ears are cognisant of every syllable they utter, are lavishing affectionate endearments upon each other. These little incidents serve to vary the monotony of the perpetual ba-a-ing and boo-o-ing, and have a further effect in inducing us at length to rouse up, turn out, and confront the cold-water ewer, in preparation for getting down to breakfast.
    As early as seven or eight o'clock in the morning, if we are up so early, which is not always the case with all of us, we may see, on looking out of window, detached groups of artisans, and apprentices to humble handicrafts not a few, in fustian and second-hand garb, but with unmistakeable holiday faces, passing onwards towards Highgate or Hornsey, and the picturesque country in the neighbourhood of both, resolved on the enjoyment of a rural holiday in the fields and lanes - where they will spend the entire day in the full appreciation of such pleasures as perfect idleness and perfect freedom can afford. These are soon followed by groups of anglers, with their tackle and rods in canvas-bags. A sense of propriety makes these fishermen, who catch no fish, set forth on their expeditions at an early hour. It would be a scandal, they think, to be seen with a fishing-rod at an hour when church-going people are abroad with their prayer-books ; and, in consequence, the two discordant spectacles are seldom visible at once on the pavement of London. Comfortable anglers of mature years, who lie abed late on Sunday morning, and go a-fishing after breakfast, lock up their tackle at the fishing-stations, and are never seen carrying it at all. Next to the angler, it is as likely as not that the fowler passes along the terrace ; he has generally with him an assistant in the shape of a ragged boy or lad, tolerably well loaded both on the outward and homeward bound march. Besides the nets and the poles, which, [-51-] together, make up something considerably above a hundredweight, there is a whole cluster of cages to be carried, each containing one or more call-birds, and a pot of bird-lime, with sundry bundles of forked twigs, intended to serve as a snare for some desiderated songster. If you talk to the fowler on the subject of Sabbath desecration, he will tell you impudently that he cannot afford to be idle on the Sunday - that it is the best day for catching birds, and he had better give up any two days in the week than Sunday. He spreads his nets in the neighbourhood of the furthest and newest of the brickflelds, where, from some cause or other, the goldfinches, linnets, and titlarks most do congregate, and where on Sunday the brickmakers are act at work to scare them off the ground. He is a perfect model of patience in his way; and he had need to be so, for he will often have to trudge under his heavy apparatus, out and in, a distance of ten miles, and lie or kneel watching his traps all day, for no better remuneration than four or five small birds, marketable, perhaps, for 6d. apiece, with perhaps a score of sparrows for the shooting-trap at 8d. a dozen, or for has own supper if they are not in demand to be shot ; and sometimes he gets through his whole day's desecration for no remuneration at all. About this time of the morning, too, we see silently plodding past the terrace, every now and then, a race of demure-looking fellows, each propelling a truck or hand-cart, laden with fruit, nuts, or oranges, or with ginger-beer, lemonade, and sweet stuffs. These fellows are bound for the very furthest limits of London, and will bring their establishments to a halt at the foot of Highgate Hill, or somewhere in the neighbourhood of Hornsey Wood House, or at one of the gates or stiles leading to same favourite public or eel-pie house, whither the denizens of London's smokiest holes love to resort when Sunday emancipates them from the toils of labour. Here they will display their wares in a form as tempting as may be, taking advantage, where possible, of [-52-] some natural bank or prostrate tree-trunk, which may serve as a seat for their customers; and here, if the day prove propitious, they will do a good trade among the pleasure-seekers, nor think of returning to town until darkness has set in.
    At an hour somewhat later comes that lazy, lounging, blackguard tribe, who invariably infest the outskirts of London on a Sunday, and whose amateur vocation, if it is not their professional one, is dog-fancying and rat-hunting. In the pockets of the first half-dozen that lounge past, it is odds that a score at least of live rats would be found, which are carried out into the fields on a Sunday morning, to afford entertainment and training for that yelping tribe of terriers and terriers' pups clustering round their heels. When all the rats have been duly hunted and killed by the dogs, ferrets will be let loose among the hedges and corn-ricks, and more rats hunted and slain ; and in these congenial pursuits the morning will be spent, until the approach of one o'clock, at which hour the tippling-shops will be opened to supply a more potent temptation.
    There live on Our Terrace at least half-a-dozen Sunday-school teachers ; and about nine o'clock, or perhaps a few minutes before, we see them go past one after the other as sure as fate - some of them to the church, and some to the dissenting chapel further on. It does not seem to signify what may be the state of the weather to these friends of the poor girls and boys of the district. If the whole terrace stays at home in consequence of the rain, snow, or tempest, no matter - the teachers always brave it, and meet their classes. They generally pass by while we are at breakfast, in which we are apt to indulge somewhat more at length, or at least to conduct with more becoming ceremony, than on other days. After they are gone, there is a pause in the succession of human footsteps ; and we are struck with the solemn and Sabbath-like silence that prevails. There arc no omnibuses passing Our Terrace on Sunday-morning - no [-53-] cabs ever come wandering this way at that hour - not the faintest echo of the customary roar of London traffic reaches us. We should know by that circumstance alone that it was Sunday : the very cats know it, and not one of the whole number thinks of going to look out for the catsmeat-man. Our old Stalker, instead of coming to sit in the parlour-window to wait for that officer, goes down into the kitchen, and torments Betty for his allowance, who, as he knows well enough, took it in yesterday, and shut it up in the dresser-drawer along with the shoe-brushes. This quiet time soon passes away and while it is going, the sexton passes the window. Then the silence is broken by the sudden rush of a railway-train, whizzing like the discharge of a tremendous rocket, and cough-cough-coughing like a Titan with a fit of the asthma. The whole terrace seems to vibrate with the sudden shock as the train rushes along underground within a few yards of where we sit.
    "Dong! dong!" That is the bell from the chapel-of-ease at the north curl of the villas, warning for church-time. Now it stops now it warns again then the clock strikes the hour, and is followed by the peals of the bell in regular succession, which have quite a pastoral sound, mingled as they are with the bleating of a new flock of sheep, and the distant lowing of cattle not yet in sight. The sheep and the cattle go off, but the bell goes on - dong, dong - for half an hour. Soon, in response to its brazen voice, hundreds of doors are opened, and from almost every house pours forth the morning congregation, all having their faces turned towards the quarter whence the sounds proceed. Now is the terrace swarming with well-dressed people. It is wonderful, as Betty says, what a swell some of us do cut on this important occasion. There goes the butcher, with his wife and two daughters ! Who upon earth would suppose that portly and majestic figure in senatorial raiment to be the same man who yesterday, in blue blouse, and with a steel [-54-] dangling between his legs, brought us that quarter of lamb we hope to see smoking on the table at two o'clock ? There goes the grocer! Who wouldn't think him a magistrate at least? - and who would guess that the magnificent dame at his side weighed out the currants last night which Betty is at this moment mixing in the pudding ? There go the furniture-broker and his whole family! Here comes Smith, smirking - lucky dog! -with the pretty Miss Robinson on his arm, and shaking his cane at an advancing drove of oxen, of which she pretends - It is nothing but pretence - to be afraid. Yonder is Jones doing the genteelest of knocks at No. 9, of the villas, with the intention of escorting Miss Goodall - who, he says, is his cousin, and whom, according to Brown's version of that story, he has been "sticking up" to for these three months past - to the parish church, nearly a mile off. Now the grooms lead out the pony-chaises to draw the elderly people over the way in the villas to their several places of worship ; and there they stand, both horses and vehicles, as clean as a new pin, for a full quarter of an hour before the old folks come out and climb into their seats, and amble steadily off.
    Now you may discern among the crowds of respectables on both sides of the road, here and there a slipshod damsel, with bare elbows and bare head, carefully edging her way as she carries a joint of meat resting on a substratum of solid pudding to the baker's at the coiner of the next street. Children follow, still more cautiously, with gigantic pies from the cottages in the rear of the main road - and now and then a busy, fiery-faced woman darts past like a phantom, with ribs of beef and potatoes bound for the oven. Now comes a column of tall boys, dwindling by degrees into a line of very small ones from the Rev. Mr. Leatherlad's boarding and educational establishment, from a neighbouring terrace, which is not Our Terrace. They defile past slowly, the lanky leaders with an oppressive sense of dignity, and the [-55-] subjugated small tail with an equally oppressive sense of supervision, under the eve of the Rev. Mr. Leatherlad himself, who, arm-in-arm with his friend and confidant the mathematical master, brings up the rear. When they have all gone clean past the villas - for, being the genteelest of schools, they always lead out their procession on the genteeler side of the way - then the Misses Backboard, who invariably wait and watch for that event, discharge from their own front-door an equally imposing column of young ladies, comprising bodily proportions of equal variety - the members of their unimpeachable seminary. Before all the good people have gone off to church, it is odds that some of them feel considerably scandalised by the presence of a series of very equivocal equipages, which about this time make their appearance in the road. It may be, that the first is a sorry hack (which ought in justice to have fed the city cats long ago) harnessed to a rickety cart, into which half-a-dozen chairs have been thrown to serve for seats ; upon each chair sits an unshaven fellow, in greasy costume, and with folded arms, and all are puffing volumes of smoke from black stumpy pipes. The drivers of the crazy, rickety vehicle, which is mounted on wheels of different colours, are two :  he who holds the reins has enough to do with both hands to guide the hard-mouthed anatomy of a horse clear of obstructions, while the other is laboriously at work supplying the incentive of a whip to his bony flanks. The next is a Whitechapel butcher's cart, and a fast-trotting horse, in the rear of which sit a whole family packed together in a solid lump. Then follows a coster's equipage similarly loaded - and this is followed in its turn by a long, flat board upon wheels, drawn by a couple of donkeys, bound for some Cockney Arcadia, and freighted with a cargo of veritable gamins. After them comes a three-wheeled velocipede, labouring along under the weight of a couple of blacksmith's apprentices, who take it by turns to steer and work the treddles by which the [-56-] useless machine is propelled, at a cost of considerably more exertion than it would take to get over the ground without it.
    By and by, the bell ceases tolling; and now, with the exception of a few belated stragglers, with whom it is a constitutional habit to be late at church, and a group or two of idle mechanics in working-garb, lounging lazily at intervals towards the outskirts, the terrace is comparatively silent and deserted. But anon comes more ba-a-ing of sheep and boo-o-ing of cattle, of which, being unfortunately confined to the house by a slight indisposition, we have the especial benefit. Now the drovers, as if aware that they have the world pretty much to themselves, indulge in unusual latitude of speech, and their sturdy voices reverberate angrily from the tall buildings on either side of the way. There goes a whole flock of sheep, leaping over one another's backs, and plunging headlong into the doctor's garden - and out rushes the doctor's cook, armed with a long broom, to drive them back again ; but in at the same moment scampers the drover's dog, and cook is driven back herself - there is a prodigious barking and bellowing, and roaring and ba-a-ing for the next twenty minutes, until all are turned out again - all but one unfortunate mutton, that has got maimed in the mel?e, and is unable to move, and which the drover, finding that neither he nor his dog can prevail upon him to join the march, tethers to a tree in the garden, promising to fetch him in the afternoon. More boo-o-ing and ba-a-ing, more drover's rhetoric, more barking of dogs, more intervals of quiet, more rushing past of railway-trains ; and thus, hour after hour, passes away the suburban Sabbath morning.
    So soon as the church-clocks have rung out One, we begin to perceive a gathering, from various quarters, of figures in exceedingly various costume, all converging towards the baker's shop at the corner. The slipshod girl who slunk so stealthily among the crowd three hours ago with her brown [-57-] dish, is now neat, and trim, and tidy, like a good-looking lass as she is, and marches proudly home with the family dinner ; the working-carpenter, dressed in his Sunday's best all but his coat, which he is afraid of greasing with the gravy, walks into the baker's in his shirt-sleeves and comes out again with that scored leg of pork browned over with crackling, of which he is so fond, and whose savoury odour reaches us as we sit at this distance at the open window. That fiery-faced matron, who was in such a heat and hurry at ten o'clock, is now calm and composed enough as she emerges with the beef and potatoes she is about to dispense at the head of her own table. The dinners are scarcely cleared off from the baker's, when, if the road should happen to be free from cattle, we may hear the hum of the organ in the chapel-of-ease pealing the final voluntary, and forthwith the whole congregation come streaming forth, and Our Terrace is, for the next ten minutes, alive with indisputable gentility and fashion. Amidst the pattering of feet, and the subdued hum of pleasant and complimentary voices, there is a prodigious alarm of knockers, among which the portentous sis-e-ra-ra of Jones, as he assaults Mr. Goodall's door in behalf of his fair cousin or sweetheart, whichever it may be, is pre-eminently audible. Positively the fellow walks in when the door is opened, and no doubt means to stay and dine with the charming girl and her wealthy papa. Sure Brown was right after all there is something in it ; we shall keep an eye upon Jones and Miss G-, and get at the rights of it before long by hook or by crook. There goes our landlord, who nods us a good-day as he passes. There goes our butcher, looking, for all the world, as though he had just waked up out of a dream, which, considering how late his shop was open last night, and that he is upon his legs some fourteen hours every day in the week, we have a strong suspicion is the fact. There goes the grocer, who wafts us a polite bend, in virtue, no doubt, of the little bill which Betty pays him [-58-] every Saturday night. Robinson is looking well, but that pretty daughter of his hanging upon Smith's arm looks better. Good-morning to you, Mr. Scriven ; glad to see you about again. Ha! here comes our better-half - rat-a-tat-tat. Now, we shall soon see what to-day's dinner is made of.
    Just as we are sitting down to dinner, comes the milkman from the monstrous far-famed establishment in the immediate neighbourhood. He, too, is dressed in his Sunday garb, with a clean snow-white smock and glazed hat inscribed with the address of the firm to which he belongs, and rejoices this day in polished boots. He never cries "Mee-ho!" on a Sunday, but gently tingles the area-bell, and quietly deposits your allowance in a small tin can within the railings, gathering up his numerous vessels when the servants have withdrawn their contents. The dinner-hour is generally a very quiet time on the terrace, barring the accidental presence of the herds and flocks, and barring, too, the apparition of Silly Willy on the pavement, who, if he happens to be dinnerless himself, is very likely to come by, and to favour some of us with an angry jobation on the subject of gluttony, delivered in a stentorian voice, with his grimy face jammed between the garden railings - gluttony, in his view, consisting in people barbarously eating their own dinners without inviting him in to take a share. After dinner, we dwellers on the terrace are accustomed to indulge on the Sunday in a modest glass of wine ; and before the decanters are glittering on the table, we hear the voices of three or four fellows at once bellowing "Walnuts, ten a penny ! very fine wa-a-a-lnuts! Oranges ! fine oranges! fine oranges!" as though these geniuses were convinced that it is part of a Londoner's religion to partake of a dessert of fruit after the Sunday's dinner, and that they were commissioned to furnish him with the means. Never, by any chance, is this hebdomadal supply of the fruits in season whatever they may happen to be, wanting between the [-59-] hours of two and six on the Sunday afternoon and very rarely indeed are the members of the very numerous commissariat, who cater for what must be a pretty universal demand, out of hearing.
    But while we crack our nuts, and temperately sip a glass or two of sherry, and are cosy and happy within the sacred walls of home, a change - a melancholy change - steals gradually over the world without. As Our Terrace lies in the immediate route to several church-yards and burying-grounds, and to Highgate Cemetery to boot ; and as, of the thousand persons who die weekly in the metropolis, at least seven-tenths are buried on the Sunday afternoon, it follows that we have more than an average share of funerals to witness. The mortuary bell begins to toll while we yet sit at table, and its sad note mingles discordantly with the clatter of the knives and forks. Anon comes the ponderous hearse with its nodding plumes, preeceeded by the stalking mutes, and followed by a train of mourning-coaches all slowly wending onward to the distant and populous cemetery which overlooks the huge living world of London. Then there is a walking funeral, followed by a. party-coloured train of weeping relatives. At the heels of this comes the coffin of a child aloft on the shoulders of a single bearer, and followed only by the sorrowing members of the family. Then, perhaps, a young girl is borne to her last home by her maiden companions, all in white, and carrying flowers to cast into her grave. Or, it may be, that the remains of some parish pauper, in unseemly shell, is carried to earth without a single follower to justify the assertion of the poet, that
        There is a tear for all that die,
        A mourner o'er the humblest grave.
Toll-toll goes the weary, weary bell, and on, with slow and solemn step, go the funeral-trains in all their sad varieties. That is the sixth-seven -eight-nine-ten-eleven-twelve, this afternoon, while we, bound for the same journey, [-60-] and the destined objects of a similar ceremony, sit in self-satisfied ease and luxury, living, loving, laughing, and enjoying, with that to come! Such are life and death, and such are habit and custom, which, by a merciful provision, have been made "to lie upon us with a weight" heavy enough sufficiently to counterbalance the inevitable future, in order that we may make a wise use of the present. But adieu to moralising.
    By the time dinner is cleared away, the servant-girls on Our Terrace are for the most part released for an hour or two, and may be seen filing off, some of them to the afternoon service at the Methodist chapel down the road, and some to enjoy a gossip and a walk with friends or cousins. Betty is off with the servant next door, and after she is gone, we are apt sometimes to forget ourselves in our easy-chair, starting up every now and then at the renewed bleating and clamour of the sheep and cattle, and catching just an inkling of the tinkling of the muffin-bell, but no cry of "muffins,'' which the baker would not think respectable on a Sunday. We are roused before five o'clock, by a single dab at the door - it is Betty's sister come to take a sisterly cup of tea ; she is despatched down stairs to the kitchen, and a few minutes later Betty lets herself in with the street-door key. Tea is served in  double-quick time by the aid of an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, and that is no sooner discussed and cleared away, than the church-bells ring out again for evening service. There is shortly a repetition of the ceremonial gathering of the morning, minus, however, the columns of young gentlemen from the Rev. Mr. Leatherlads, and of young ladies front the Misses Backboard, neither of whom attend the services of the evening at the chapel-of-ease, though both undergo a course of homiletical instruction - at least, so say the prospectuses - at home. The evening gathering is not followed by a tranquil season, like that of the morning. The cattle and sheep now begin to increase [-61-] very considerably and very rapidly in numbers, and the dogs and drovers, having harder work to do, grow more impatient and more noisy. The anglers begin to return, wearied out with their day's no-sport ; and the country pedestrians, "dusty and deliquescent" with their long rounds, are seen marching back towards the city, bearing with them some verdant trophy ravished from the country-side - branches of blossoms or of berries, or handfuls of mosses or wild flowers - to decorate their dull chambers at home in the smoky city. Then come the characteristic charioteers of the morning, in high spirits and in high voice, audibly proclaiming their practical dissent from the doctrines of Father Mathew.
    As twilight comes clown upon us, Our Terrace is almost as crowded as Cheapside on a week-day, owing to the simultaneous return of the tens of thousands of straggling pedestrians whom the fine weather had seduced into the country. The congregation which the chapel-of-ease pours forth after the conclusion of the service, makes hardly a sensible difference in their number. For an hour or more, this tide of returning population rolls on, continuing till past supper-time. Supper-time on Sunday has but little effect on the public-houses at each end of Our Terrace ; they are crowded just then by the cattle and sheep drovers and we think it as well not to send our servants among them, except upon a mission of absolute necessity. By the time we have finished our supper, the returning pedestrians have for the most part passed on to theirs. At about ten o'clock, if you walk out upon the terrace, it is ten to one that you hear Smith grinding away on his semi-grand at one of Handel's choruses but you must wait till that lot of sheep is gone by to hear it advantageously. Perhaps Jones and Co. are there, too, singing in parts but the din outside is so great, that it is impossible to say. We are all so much used to this boo-o-ing and ba-a-ing, however, that we think nothing of it, and shall [-62-] assuredly miss it when it is gone, as go it soon will, now that the new cattle-market is fairly on its way to completion ; it is not unlikely, such is the force of habit, that we may even regret its loss, though, of course, we have none of us ever failed to exercise our undoubted privilege of abusing it as an intolerable nuisance.
    As the voices of cattle and sheep are the first accents that awake us in the morning of Sunday, so are they the last we hear at night. We are lulled to rest by the ba-a-ing, and boo-o-ing, and bow-wow-ing of the brute creation ; and if we dream, as we are likely to do, of beeves and flocks, and patriarchal times, and fancy ourselves wandering with Abraham on the pastoral plains of Mamre, or sitting with his angel-guests under the shadow of his milk-white tent, it is an agreeable and innocent delusion which beguiles the last moments of Sunday on Our Terrace.

source: Charles Manby Smith, The Little World of London, 1857