"Walking the streets of London with safety and speed, is an accomplishment not to be acquired without experience, and a diligent use of one's eyes in every direction from which danger may be apprehended. Considering the immense number of carriages, and the throng of foot passengers, it is surprising that so few accidents happen. I witnessed one, however, a few mornings since, which it was distressing to behold. A poor women, with a child in her arms, was knocked down in crossing a street, and got entangled under the coach horses, where she was severely bruised before she could be rescued. Before the by-standers could sufficiently recover their self-recollection to yield her any assistance, a well dressed lady actually sprang under the horses and snatched away the child, with no small personal risk to herself—a gratifying instance of female intrepidity. To observe the apparently reckless manner in which coaches are driven, one would imagine they could hardly pass the length of a street without causing accidents. But pedestrians learn to look to their own safety ; and for this, an ever-vigilent circumspection becomes necessary. Were a coach to pull up till an opening was made in the throng of foot passengers, it would be in the predicament of the clown, who waited for the river to run by before he attempted to cross. The driver must make his way through, or come to a dead stand. If a passenger before him happens to be inattentive, which is not often the case, he ejaculates his accustomed heigh! in a tone so sharp, as to put the most heedless on their guard. The streets of London are no place for the reveries of an absent man."
see also Advertising Vans - click here
SKETCHES FROM LONDONTHOROUGHFARES
Through the London of the present day the rapid current of human life is ever rolling in living eddies, from east to west, and jostling in its mighty strength, every idle object it meets with on its way; and, in this ever moving ocean, each human wave has its allotted mission, each tiny ripple “its destined end and aim.” So rolls on this mighty river, bearing onwards those who pass and re-pass on each side of its shore-like pavement, and the rapid vehicles which glide swift as full- sailed vessels through its mid-channel!
Illustrated London News, 1847
All sorts of equipages fare worse here than anywhere. At last night’s Almack’s there was such a ‘bagarre’ among them, that several ladies were obliged to wait for hours before the chaos was reduced to any order. The coachmen on these occasions behave like madmen, trying to force their way, and the English police does not trouble itself about such matters. As soon as these heroic chariot-drivers espy the least opening, they whip their horses in, as if horses and carriage were an iron wedge; the preservation of either seems totally disregarded. In this manner one of Lady Sligos horses had its two hind-legs entangled in such a manner in the fore-wheel of a carriage, that it was quite impossible to release them, and one turn of the wheel would infallibly have broken both. Notwithstanding this, the other coachman could hardly be prevailed on to stand still. When the crowd dispersed a little, they were forced to take out both horses, and even then it was with some difficulty they extricated the tangled one. All this time the poor animal roared like a lion in Exeter ‘Change. At the same time a cabriolet was crushed to pieces, and ‘en révanche’ drove both its shafts through the window of a coach, from which the screams of several female voices proved that it was already full:—many other carriages were damaged.
Prince Pückler-Muskau, A Tour of Germany, Holland, and England.May 21st 1827
in the morning, before the chimneys of the houses and factories, of the
railway-engines and steamers, have had time to fill the air with smoke, London
presents a peculiar spectacle. It looks clean. The houses have a pleasing
appearance; the morning sun gilds the muddy pool of the Thames; the arches and
pillars of the bridges look lighter and less awkward than in the daytime, and
the public in the street, too, are very different from the passengers that crowd
them at a later hour.
Slowly, and with a hollow, rumbling sound do the sweeping-machines travel down the street in files of twos and threes to take off every particle of dust and offal. The market-gardener’s carts and waggons come next; they proceed at a brisk trot to arrive in time for the early purchasers. After them, the coal-waggons and brewer’s drays, which only at certain hours are permitted to unload in the principal streets of the city. At the same time, the light, two-wheeled carts of the butchers, fishmongers, and hotel-keepers, rattle along at a slapping pace; for their owners—sharp men of business—would be the first in the market to choose the best and purchase at a low price. Here and there a trap is opened in the pavement, and dirty men ascend from the regions below ; they are workmen, to whose care is committed the city under-ground, which they build, repair, and keep in good order. Damaged gas and water-pipes, too, are being repaired, and the workmen make all possible haste to replace the paving-stones and leave the road in a passable condition. For the sun mounts in the sky and their time is up. They return to their lairs and go to sleep just as the rest of the town awakens to the labours of the day.
Besides these, there are a great many other classes whose avocations compel them to take to the street by break of day. At a very early hour they appear singly or in small knots, with long, white clay pipes in their mouths; as the day advances, they come in troops, ‘marching to their work in docks and warehouses. ill-tempered looking, sleepy-faced barmen take down the shutters of the gin-shops; cabs, loaded with portmanteaus and band-boxes, hasten to deposit their occupants at the various railway-stations; horsemen gallop along, eager for an early country-ride; from minute to minute there is an increase of life and activity. At length the shops, the windows and doors of houses are opened; omnibuses come in from the suburbs —and land their living freight in the heart of the city; the pavements are crowded with busy people, and the road is literally crowded with vehicles of every description. It is day and the hour is 10 a.m.
Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853
AM. One of the wheelers of a four-horse omnibus slipped on the pavement and fell
down at the foot of the Holborn-side obelisk, between Fleet-street and
Ludgate-hill. There’s a stoppage. The horse makes vain endeavours to get up;
there is no help for it, they must undo reins, buckles and straps to free him.
But a stoppage of five minutes in Fleet-street creates a stoppage in every
direction to the distance of perhaps half a mile or a mile. Leaning as we do
against the railings of the obelisk, we look forwards towards St. Paul’s, and
back to Chancery-lane, up to Holborn on our left, and down on our right to
Blackfriar’s-bridge; and this vast space presents the curious spectacle of
scores of omnibuses, cabs, gigs, horses, carts, brewer’s drays, coal waggons,
all standing still, and jammed into an inextricable fix. Some madcap of a boy
attempts the perilous passage from one side of the street to the other; he jumps
over carts, creeps under the bellies of horses, and, in spite of the manifold
dangers which beset him, he gains the opposite pavement. But those who can
spare the time or who set some store by their lives, had better wait. Besides it
is pleasant to look at all this turmoil and confusion. And how, in the name of
all that is charitable, are the London pickpockets to live if people will never
stand still on any account?
The difficulty is soon got over. Two policemen, a posse of idle cabmen and sporting amateurs, and a couple of ragged urchins, to whom the being allowed to touch a horse is happiness indeed, have come to the rescue, loosening chains and traces, getting the horse up and putting him to again. It’s all right. The fall of a horse gives exciting occupation to a score of persons, and even those who cannot assist with their hands, have at least a piece of excellent advice to give to those who can, exactly as if this sort of thing happened only once in every century in the crowded streets of London.
Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853
see also Augustus Mayhew in Paved with Gold - click hereLONDON ON WHEELS.
PEOPLE who live in the heart of London are so
accustomed to the rattling and rumbling of
wheels as to be in a manner insensible to the prodigious
noise they make; the racket and the din begin
in the morning before they are awake, and go on
without an instant's intermission for an hour or two
after they are asleep; and they sometimes tell that,
although the continuous uproar never disturbs their
rest, the cessation of it often does, and that they are
actually roused out of sleep by the unwonted silence
which prevails for a time during the small hours that
precede the dawn. It may not be uninteresting to
glance for a few minutes at locomotive London, and
see how far we can analyse and catalogue the endless
swarm of vehicles which every day and all day long
are traversing the thoroughfares of the metropolis.
The omnibus, or 'bus as it is familiarly called, rightly claims first notice, as being decidedly the most predominant feature in locomotive London, and as performing a species of service which long habit has rendered indispensable to Londoners. It is to our busy, calculating citizen the universal chaise-and-pair; it goes anywhere and everywhere at any hour and all hours of the day; it takes us up wherever we may happen to be, and sets us down wherever we choose to stop, and it doe it at a cost which all, save the very poorest, can afford to pay. If it is not a luxurious accommodation it is a punctual one, and has become so necessary to our pursuit both of business and pleasure, that were it to be suddenly with. drawn something like anarchy must result. The 'bus drivers and conductors look upon themselves as martyrs to the convenience of the public, and so in a sense they must be, since many of them are at work sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, and some of them even more than that-and, what is more, can enjoy but an occasional Sunday.
The 'bus's younger brother, the tram, differs from the 'bus chiefly in his larger size and superior accommodation; but he has not the freedom of the other, being as yet shut out of the centre of the capital and confined to the environs. There are dismal complaints made from time to time by the proprietors both of 'buses and trams against their drivers and conductors. It is said some are given to compensate the hardness of their lot by intromitting with the moneys they collect - nay, the auditors of accounts go so far as to affirm that the shareholders lose a large proportion of their dividends through such intromissions; and it seems that the grand desideratum just now in the business of street locomotion by 'buses and trams is a contrivance for transfering entire the fares of passengers to the pockets of proprietors.
Next in general importance to the 'bus is the cab - not a very imposing article in itself, as having a character for dirt and slovenliness which the complaints of the public do not avail to abate. But the cab runs everywhere at the fiat of everybody, at all hours of the twenty-four, and in all weathers save at those fortunately rare seasons when it cannot run because the streets are glazed with ice. Cabby, the driver, is very much in keeping with the vehicle he drives - that is, he is rather a dusty, slovenly subject as a rule, the exceptions being all too few. He considers himself unfairly dealt with, inasmuch as he is not allowed to charge what he likes, but has to work for regulation pay, and runs the risk of being "pulled up" if he exacts more. But he does exact more, notwithstanding, and is most ingenious in so doing, electing to exercise his ingenuity on the fair sex when they favour him with their patronage. He seldom has any change, and seems to think it an impertinence to be asked for it. He expects always to receive sixpence more than the regulation fare, and when he doesn't get it he doesn't say "thank you." He has no objection to a glass of ale, but has a suspicion as he drinks it that it is intended as a substitute for the extra sixpence. His temper is not of the meekest, and is apt to get ruffled when he has been waiting half the day without custom - which is hardly to be wondered at, for Cabby's wages are not, like other men's wages, certain payments at certain time, but are simply all he can pick up over some ten to fifteen shillings a day which he has to pay to the proprietor of the cab and horses entrusted to him. Latterly he has begun to find out the value of civility, and is not ready so uncomplimentary (we will not say abusive) as he used to be. Indeed, there is now a class of cabmen who have introduced the elements of courtesy and respectability into their profession - men who are civil, punctual, and anxious to please, and moreover are content with the regulation fares. Perhaps by-and-by, when the cab-shelters are plentiful, and are preferred to the public-house, we shall have more of them.
The tradesman's trap - a modern institution quite unknown to our grandfathers - is one of the most perilous nuisances of the London streets. It is almost a projectile as much as a vehicle; it seems never to know where it is going, and yet is always in a hurry, dashing along the roads diagonally and pursuing a zigzag course at the top of its speed. In the morning it is out for orders, beating the covers right and left, and heedless of every one's convenience but its own. At noon and afterwards it is out on delivery, when it is observed to take things easier, as though both horse and driver had blown off the steam a little. The butcher (whose horse, by the way, has the reputation of being fed on beef), the baker, the grocer, the wine and spirit dealer, and a score or two of tradesmen besides, each has his trap with which to drive his business. These traps are mostly mounted on high wheels, and are drawn by ponies trained to stop the moment the reins are slackened; and it is said they contribute more to the sum - total of three or four thousand persons killed or maimed by wheel traffic in London streets every year than all the 'buses, trams, goods-waggons, and carts put together - though we do not vouch for the fact.
Akin to the trades' trap is the town-traveller's vehicle, which is a cross between a hearse and a dogcart. The town-traveller, unlike the provincial bagman, does not carry samples merely, but a good store of wares along with them. Hence his vehicle has a long body and a capacious stomach, and has to be drawn by a stout horse capable of heavy and rather continuous work. The Parcels' Delivery carts are much of the same build, but not so long in the body, and they work at greater speed and for longer hours.
The grimy angel of our firesides, the coal-waggon, is never absent from London streets, and is destined to pay periodical visits to every house, which it does with a solemn kind of deliberation edifying to witness. For the coal-heaver (vulgo coalie) is not a mercurial subject, and never was. Whether it is that the black diamonds weigh on his mind, or that the leathery sou'-wester that keeps the small-coal from dribbling down his neck is too much for him, we cannot say; but slow and sure is his motto, and about a mile an hour is his pace. If you drive you must keep out of his way, for he is too heavy and too indifferent to get out oi yours. The fact is, he knows that in a case of collision you would get the worst of it. He knows also that he is indispensable, and that we who know we cannot do without him will find it best to let him have his way.
Not a whit less independent than the coal-heaver is the brewer's carman, or drayman, as he is sometimes called - though the dray, from some reason or other, seems now to have almost vanished from the streets. The London brewer's horse is the grandest figure of a horse to be found in the kingdom, both as to size and symmetry; his work is easy to him because of his vast bulk, and he is both fed and groomed with the utmost care. He leads a luxurious life, and lasts a long time. Unhappily, we cannot say as much for his custodian, the driver; working brewers, it is too well known, do not last long; we have it on medical authority that a drayman of fifty is hardly to be met with in all London - that so unfavourable is unlimited beer to the human constitution, those who have the means of indulging in It rarely reach far beyond the middle term of life. The drayman is fond of asserting himself in a rather unpleasant manner. He not only blocks up the causeway sometimes for the hour together, while lowering his barrels into the publican's cellar, but he has a knack of meeting his fellows towards the close of the day, when you will see a long string of empty beer-barrel waggons, the heads of the horses close to the tail-board of the preceding wain, stretching half a furlong down the road, so as to bar the passage of a crossway until the whole have passed, the drivers grinning with satisfaction at the impatient crowd awaiting their pleasure.
Carriers' carts, waggons, vans, and vehicles of all descriptions for the transport of goods are for ever winding about through all the highways and bye-ways of the capital. The most prominent of these are the railway vans which have to deliver the millions of tons of merchandise of all sorts that London swallows up during the year. The railway goods stations would be hopelessly blocked but for their constant depletion by the railway vans and carts; and, worse than that, thousands of tons of perishable wares would be destroyed if delivery were long postponed. It may well be imagined that the system on which the goods traffic of the London railways is managed is the result of study and long experience. That it must be so simple as to be easily worked, is evident from the fact that the percentage of parcels, bales, boxes, etc., which are lost or not delivered in the course of a year, is but a mere fraction of the whole. But delivery is only one part of the railway carriage system. The collection of goods to be sent into the provinces is another part, equally important if less in amount. From all the great houses of business the goods for carriage are collected every day, and every day the countless deposits of goods are carted from the depots in time for the night luggage trains. Again, there are special seasons when the traffic is doubled, trebled, or quadrupled- as the eve of magazine day, when the Row is blocked by the railway receiving-vans to a late hour, and Christmas eve, when all the world are exchanging presents along the railway lines, and New Year's eve, the echo of Christmas, when the same thing takes place on a minor scale. The driver of a carrier's van or cart is notably a business hand. He is not given to gossip, and seldom hints at a gratuity. He is the last link in a contract, for the completion of which he is responsible, and he puts a rather serious face on the matter. Take the parcel he brings, pay the money due if any be due, and sign a receipt for the goods in his book: that is all he wants of you. If, at Christmas time, he touch his hat and intimate that he would have no objection to drink your health, you may conclude he has not been long at the business.
Everybody knows the country carrier, and his canvas-covered cart, available for either goods or passengers, and restricted by law to a pace of four miles an hour. This worthy also has his representative in London, who, however, cannot carry passengers, and is not restricted as to pace; he contrives to make a tolerably good living by the transfer of goods from one part of London to another, in spite of the Parcels' Delivery Company, which, he says, tried to gobble him up, but could not do it, and for whose good intentions he has a word of a sort. till, he has condescended to take a leaf from their book. He has learned punctuality and moderation in charges from them; and, like them, he has established depots, at which he calls regularly at stated times for the deposits.
The most picturesque of all the vehicles that arrive in London are, beyond all comparison, the loaded wains that converge towards. Covent Garden early on a summer morning. To form a fair idea of these you should perambulate the purlieus of the market between the hours of three and six on a morning of June or July. A waggon loaded to the height of twelve or fourteen feet with fragrant wallflowers in full bloom; another, just as lofty, ready to topple over with summer cabbages; a third rearing tall pilllar's built up of baskets of fruit; a cart smothered alive in cowslips and bluebells; another crammed with garden flowers in pots; another heaped high with roots of flowers already in bud, and destined to bloom or die, as may happen, in some far away East-end alley - these are pretty sights and pleasant odours, but they represent only a fraction of the multitudinous mass of green and floral produce daily delivered in the market, all the avenues and approaches of which are crowded and crammed with vehicles of every description, ready to get into place and unload in their turn. It is here, too, that the costermongers, whose characteristic equipages pervade city and suburb throughout the day, are seen to most advantage. They affect mostly the northern side of the square, and here you see them by hundreds, with every conceivable kind of vehicle, from a couple of loose planks, rattling on two odd wheels, and drawn, or rather dragged, by a half-starved donkey, to a handsome, well-built and gaily decorated cart, drawn by a sleek and well-fed cob. The market carts, so gay with the garments of Flora in the morning, cut, many of them, a different figure in the after-part of the day, since not a few of them, after discharging their greenery, are off to the mews and stables, where they load with manure, and transfer that to their gardens .and nursery-grounds. If the driver cannot contrive to get a sleep of a few hours before starting for his return load, he is likely to be seen napping on the top of his load, with the reins in his hand, as he jogs homeward - a spectacle not at all uncommon on summer evenings.
"Biggest born of earth" among wheel-carriages is the furniture-van, a ponderous machine in whose cavernous maw are often engulphed at a single meal the whole of the household gods of a large family. These monster caravans are the veritable leviathans of the roads, and seem to be growing larger and larger every year, and are withal one of the most useful inventions of the day. Owing to their use, combined with the facilities afforded by the railways, a household may be removed for hundreds of miles without loss or damage to property, and at a cost less than one-twentieth of what it would have been fifty years ago. Then, the goods would have had to be secured in packing-cases or swathed in haybands, and would not have travelled far without a dismal loss by breakage. Now, they are stowed in the furniture-van with perfect safety, the interior fittings of the van being contrived so as to eliminate the risk of fractures of any kind. The van itself mounts on the rail, in a few hours arrives at its destination, and discharges the goods perfectly uninjured without any ceremony of unpacking. For any injury, indeed, the van-owner holds himself responsible; and it is rarely the case, however long the journey, that he has any loss to make good. It is about quarter-day - a few days before and after - that the huge goods-van is most ubiquitous. A vast number of families in London flit every quarter, and, as a rule, the flitting has to be got over in double-quick time, in consequence of which one sometimes comes across the queer spectacle of a moving out and a moving in going on at the same time at the same house. Brown's crockery gets mixed up with Jones's hardware, or Robinson's four-poster is exchanged, unawares, for Smith's camp bedstead; if such a thing happens nobody is angry, and it only furnishes occasion for a pleasant joke being easily rectified. The monster furniture-van: as its use is rather periodical than continuous, is, we suspect, mostly drawn about by hired horses, even in London; at the end of a railway journey hiring is, of course, the only resource.
Of the pleasure-vans, which all the summer long run with loads of holiday-makers to Epping Forest, Hampton Court, and fifty places besides, we need not say anything here. The readers of the "Leisure Hour" know all about them, and not a few of them, we imagine, have enjoyed many a merry day through their means, and we heartily hope may live to enjoy many more.
Hearses and funeral equipages are but too common sights in London streets, though it seems to us that, relatively to the population, they have visibly declined of late years. This is owing, it may be supposed, partly to the ill-repute of undertakerism, which has aroused public disgust, and partly to the action of funeral companies connected with the outlying cemeteries, who, making use of railway transit, have done much towards freeing the streets from the melancholy death processions. Still the sable steeds keep their ground, and the hollow trumpery of mutes and plumes, and hired mourners, who go out grave and mournful and come back jocular and tipsy, and all the profitable paraphernalia that clings to them, remains in vogue, and will endure, in spite of its palpable absurdity, till folks grow wiser.
Why it is that the hearse, with its dead bodies, couples itself in our imagination with the prison-van, we can hardly tell, unless it be that the prison-van - her Majesty's omnibus, as it is sometimes called - is certainly instrumental in burying bodies, though it selects the living, and not the dead. It is like no other vehicle carrying passengers, for it conceals them all from view, and makes no demand for a fare - which cannot be said of anything else that runs on wheels.
Another of her Majesty's curricles is the mail-cart, of which we shall only say you had better keep out of its way. Time and tide, they say, wait for no man, and the driver of the mail-cart is as imperative as they are.
The doctor's brougham, on the other hand, is much given to waiting, and waits patiently by the half-hour together at the door of the patient, the doctor's boy, or tiger, who drives, amusing himself as well as he can, in winter by blowing his fingers, and in summer by endeavouring to keep awake on his box while dipping into a sheet of the cheap literature now so common, or digesting a wholesome tract.
We have almost reckoned up the wheel-work of London so far as it is connected with, or conducive to, the furtherance of business. True, there are other items that might be added, were we disposed to exhaust the subject. There are the fire-engines, which, though they are note exactly business agencies, yet do a good. deal of business in their way, so much, in fact, that any competent account of them would furnish matter for a long article. There are the hospital vehicles, that convey the sick to the hospital to prevent the spread of disease by infection. There is that queer carriage with its cranks, and windlass, and low floor, by which foundered oxen are machined up from the ground and carried to the layers or the slaughter-house. There is the steamroller, which levels our macadamised roads at once, and saves no end of breakdowns and broken knees. There is the strolling cart of the Sisters of Mercy, which goes about collecting the surplus food and raiment that might otherwise be wasted, but being thus collected, is utilised for the poor. There are the hay-carts from the country-side bound for the hay-market. There are the water-carts irrigating the highways - the fish-carts, musical-instrument carts, laundry-carts, and even sweeps' soot-carts; and there is the scavenger's cart, that rolls about in the dark, and does for the streets by night what the dust-cart does for the household by day. But all these, and such as these, we must pass without further mention, and turn our attention for a few moments in conclusion to the wheel-work that revolves, not for business, but for pleasure or pride, or state ceremonial.
At the head of this department is the Queen's state-carriage, with the cream-coloured horses, each with his golden-liveried attendant - a spectacle always welcome to a London populace, but not so familiar as it once was to her Majesty's loyal subjects. The state equipages of the foreign ambassadors come next, rarely seen but in the precincts of palaces and the drives of the West-end. The Lord Mayor's coach, and the coaches of the sheriffs and City notables, would in popular estimation claim the next place. After them we may group together the whole of the magnificent equipages of the nobility and gentry as they drive out during the London season to be stared at in Rotten Row. Then come the resuscitated stagecoaches, the property and the pride of their aristocratic drivers, who, of late years, have undertaken to revive the delights of the old coaching days, and have done it successfully and pleasantly enough. Of the private carriages in London, including every imaginable structure that ingenuity could invent and the coachmaker can build, from the capacious family machine to the most diminutive buggy, the name is legion. His eminence the aristocratic coachman, and their excellencies the aristocratic high-steppers, are London institutions, and exist here in such perfection as no other capital in the world can boast of. Some estimate might be formed of their number by anyone who would take the trouble to visit the long miles of mews which for the most part lie away out of the beaten track, and in the rear of the fashionable streets and squares, and who would count up the number of livery-stables to be met with in any quarter of the metropolis. Hence it is that the processions of wedding-coaches are recruited when the "happy day" at length has dawned; and here also any number of black horses and mourning-coaches are always ready when the funeral rites have to be performed.
It must not be supposed, however, that in the matter of which we have been treating any hard-and-fast line can be drawn between business and pleasure. The identical equipages that figure in Rotten Row do at times also make a part of a funeral procession; and, on the other hand, thousands of wheel-carriages, built and maintained for business purposes, sally forth on occasions for purposes of pleasure and merrymaking. There are times and seasons when all thought of business is banished, and when everything that can be mounted on wheels, and everything in the shape of "horse, mule, or ass," that can be made to gallop or trot, to canter or crawl, is turned out to exhibit itself in public. Such occasions are the days of public rejoicing, and nights of general illumination, recurring only at long intervals. Once a year, indeed, there is a sort of universal muster of everything that can be called a wheel-carriage, and he that would fain see what it is like has but to watch the return home of the motley crowds on the evening of the Derby day.
The Leisure Hour, 1877