We hurry along the bridge, with its pagoda-like piers, which serve to support
the iron chains suspending the platform, and turn down a flight of winding
steps, bearing a considerable resemblance to the entrance of a vault or cellar.
On the covered coal barges, that are dignified by the name of the floating pier, are officials in uniform, with bands round their hats, bearing mysterious inscriptions, such as L. and W. S. B. C., the meaning of which is in vain guessed at by persons who have only enough time to enable them to get off by the next boat, and who have had no previous acquaintance with the London and Westminster Steam Boat Company. The words "PAY HERE" are inscribed over little wooden houses, that remind one of the retreats generally found at the end of suburban gardens; and there arc men within to receive the money and dispense the "checks," who have so theatrical an air, that they appear like money-takers who have been removed in their boxes to Hungerford Stairs from some temple of the legitimate drama that has recently become insolvent.
We take our ticket amid cries of "Now then, mum, this way for Creemorne!" "Oo's for Ungerford ?" "Any one for Lambeth or Chelsea?" and have just time to set foot on the boat before it shoots through the bridge, leaving behind the usual proportion of persons who have just taken their tickets in time to miss it.
Barges, black with coal, are moored in the roads in long parallel lines beside the bridge on one side the river, and on the other there are timber-yards at the water's edge, crowded with yellow stacks of deal. On the right bank, as we go, arc seen the shabby-looking lawns at the back of Privy Gardens and Richmond Terrace, which run down to the river, and which might be let out at exorbitant rents if the dignity of the proprietors would only allow them to convert their strips of sooty grass into "eligible" coal wharves.
Westminster Bridge is latticed over with pile-work; the red signal-boards above the arches point out the few of which the passage is not closed. The parapets are removed, and replaced by a dingy hoarding, above which the tops of carts, and occasionally the driver of a Hansom cab may be seen passing along.
After a slight squeak, and a corresponding jerk, and amid the cries from a distracted boy of "Ease her!" "Stop her!" "Back her !" as if the poor boat were suffering some sudden pain, the steamer is brought to a temporary halt at Westminster pier.
[-234-] Then, as the boat dashes with a loud noise through one of the least unsound of the arches of the bridge, we come in front of the New Houses of Parliament, with their architecture and decorations of Gothic biscuit-ware. Here are the tall clock-tower, with its huge empty sockets for the reception of the clocks and its scaffolding of bird-cage work at the top, and the lofty massive square tower, like that of Cologne Cathedral, surmounted with its cranes.
Behind is the white-looking Abbey, with its long, straight, black roof, and its pinnacled towers; and a little farther on, behind the grimy coal wharves, is seen a bit of St. John's Church, with its four stone turrets standing up in the air, and justifying the popular comparison which likens it to an inverted table.
On the Lambeth side we note the many boat-builders' yards, and then "Bishop's Walk," as the embanked esplanade, with its shady plantation, adjoining the Archbishop's palace, is called. The palace itself derives more picturesqueness than harmony from the differences existing in the style and colour of its architecture, the towers at the one end being gray and worm-eaten, the centre reminding us somewhat of the Lincolns' Inn dining-hall, while the motley character of the edifice is rendered more thorough by the square, massive, and dark ruby-coloured old bricken tower, which forms the eastern extremity.
The yellow-gray stone turret of Lambeth church, close beside the Archbishop's palace, warns us that we are approaching the stenches which have made Lambeth more celebrated than the very dirtiest of German towns. During six days in the week the effluvium from the bone-crushing establishments is truly nauseating; but on Fridays, when the operation of glazing is performed at the potteries, the united exhalation from the south bank produces suffocation, in addition to sickness - the combined odours resembling what might be expected to arise from the putrefaction of an entire Isle of Dogs. The banks at the side of the river here are lined with distilleries, gas works, and all sorts of factories requiring chimneys of preternatural dimensions. Potteries, with kilns showing just above the roofs, are succeeded by whiting-racks, with the white lumps shining through the long, pitchy, black bars; and huge tubs of gasometers lie at the feet of the lofty gas-works. Everything is, in fact, on a gigantic scale, even to the newly-whitewashed factory inscribed "Ford's Waterproofing Company," which, with a rude attempt at inverted commas, is declared to be "limited."
On the opposite shore we see Chadwick's paving-yard, which is represented in the river by several lines of barges, heavily laden with macadamized granite; the banks being covered with paving stones, which are heaped one upon the other like loaves of bread.
Henry Mayhew and John Binny, The Criminal Prisons of London, 1862