Victorian London - Transport - Roads - Paving - types of pavement

On leaving Whitehall the guides took us through the courtyard of the Admiralty, which is entirely paved with rubber - a luxury really appropriate to a people so fond of silence.

Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935


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The Wood pavement, ever unpopular in the City, has just been removed from the roadway of Cheapside; and its place supplied by granite grouted with concrete, nearly as was done in the streets of Pompeii, upwards of 2000 years since.
    The taking up of the Wood gave rise to many a ludicrous scene. It was notified that the blocks might be taken away by such persons as chose to fetch it; and, accordingly, there was many a "robustious struggle" and scramble for the eleemosynary fuel.

from The Illustrated London News, 1846


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    The usually crowded roadways of Fleet-street and the Strand have just been re-laid with granite pavement, in well-timed anticipation of the additional amount of traffic to be expected during the approaching Exhibition. The system now generally adopted in the metropolitan carriage-roads is, to prepare a foundation of concrete, and then place upon it the granite blocks to a proper curve, generally a flag segment of a circle, so as to throw off the water into the side gutters. The interstices are then grouted with liquid mortar, and the whole surface is afterwards strewed with sand, and thus made ready for traffic.
    The Illustration shows the work in progress on the west side of Temple Bar, where a line of paviors are using their rammers with almost the precision of an engineering operation. The combined power of the workmen, by means of this arrangement, is very great.
It may be interesting to add that the present mode of paving the roadways of the metropolis almost precisely corresponds with that adopted in the streets of Pompeii, upwards of 2000 years since.

Illustrated London News, April 26, 1851

Judge then my disappointment on entering London to see no signs of that opulence so much talked of abroad; wherever I turn I am presented with a gloomy solemnity in the houses, streets and the inhabitants; none of that beautiful gilding which makes a principal ornament in Chinese architecture. The streets of Nankin are sometimes strewed with goldleaf: very different are those of London; in the midst of their pavements a great lazy puddle moves muddily along; heavy laden machines with wheels of unwieldy thickness crowd up every passage; so that a stranger instead of finding time for observation is often happy if he has time to escape from being crushed to pieces.
    The side-walks are exceedingly low and very narrow. Oxford, Regent, Cannon and a few other streets are the only exceptions. I have frequently seen brewers' teams and others come within one foot of the store windows, and have been obliged to jump into a store door to escape being struck. To walk two or three abreast in the city is perfectly impossible. In very few streets is there any protection to the curb and consequently the hubs of the wheels, especially when passing other teams, extends several inches over the side-walk. 

W. O'Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859



Punch, October 21, 1871

London Pavements.

In the New York Sun of August 18th, some interesting facts are given regarding pavements in London, by its correspondent in that city. He says that until 1839 the road ways of the London streets were paved almost exclusively with granite blocks. Macadam was indeed somewhat used then, and is even now emploved to some extent, but it was not durable enough and too soon wore into holes. Its defect was, that it did not sufficiently resist heavy traffic. Granite blocks are durable, but the noise made by vehicles passing over them is almost deafening. In 1839, the first wood pavement was laid in the Old Bailey, which runs past Newgate Prison, and this was soon followed by many others. As then made, however, these pavements were not at all satisfactory, and when they wore out they were mostly’ replaced by granite. Wood pavement for heavy traffic was, in those early’ experiments, a sign of failure. Stone again had the field undisputed.
    In May-, 1869, Threadneedle street was paved with compressed asphalt by the Val de Travers Company. Several other varieties of asphalt pavement have been tried, but the Val de Travers is the only one that has come into extensive use. It is as smooth as marble slabs and not noisy, and the only objection to it comes from horse owners, members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the horses themselves. Unfortunately, the horses cannot vote, or the asphalt would all be removed at once. The general public, who like to travel on a smooth roadway and object to noise, are very well suited with it.
    At present the greater part of the streets are still paved with granite blocks. The early stone pavements were of large square blocks of uniform size, laid in rows across the street. The stone now used is oblong and between three and four inches thick. It is aim improvement on the old stone pavement. The fashionable quarter of the West End, where traffic is not so trying, uses mostly macadamized roadways, and desires nothing better. In Central London, where traffic is heavy, theme have been most frequent changes, and here improved wood and asphalt prevail to a considerable extent. The streets radiating from the Bank of England are nearly all asphalted.
    To macadam the only objection is that it does not resist heavy traffic well enough. But where traffic is light it is likely to be the favorite road. Stone is so noisy that the more fashionable quarters reject its use altogether, and no locality uses it except under protest. Almost any change is welcome. But its cheapness and durability appeal strongly to the pockets of the tax-payers, and this is a very cogent argument. Some streets have complained that their noisy granite pavement has driven much of their custom into quieter streets, and this consideration is beginning to weigh quite heavily. In the future the contest for public favor is likely to be mainly between wood and asphalt. In spite, however, of the great difference in cost, wood pavement is now taking the lead. It has really no serious drawbacks, except in its cost; it is quiet, and gives good foothold for horses. At one time twenty--four large horse owners presented a petition against the further use of asphalt in the London streets. Among these was the London General Omnibus Company ; sixteen of the signatory parties, including the one named, owned in the aggregate 13,448 horses. When horses fall on this pavement they have great difficulty in regaining their feet. Its most dangerous condition is when a light dash of rain falls on a thoroughly dry- pavement. When quite dry or thoroughly wet it is not so bad. After a slight rain horses often have the greatest difficulty in keeping their feet at all, even at a slow walk. At such a time it is often possible to see three or four horses down in Cheapside at once from one point of view.
    The improved wood pavement is laid upon a thick bed of concrete ; a layer of planks is placed upon the concrete, and upon these the blocks are set upright in parallel rows across the street. The blocks used are of pine, and the size is usually six inches deep, eight inches long, and three inches thick. The rows are separated by a strip three-quarters of an inch thick, and the interstices are then filled with a mixture of asphalt and pitch poured in hot. When cold it is almost as solid as rock.
    In 1873, the City Police made observations with a view to testing the merits of wood and asphalt. The observations extended over 150 consecutive days, and for 12 hours each day. The weather was mostly cool and dry. The results were averaged, and made to show how far a horse might be expected to travel before falling, in given kinds of weather. In all kinds of weather, and including complete and partial falls, it was found that on asphalt a horse might travel 191 miles before falling, while on wood he might be expected to travel 330 miles before falling. But on asphalt 43˝ per cent of the falls were complete, while less than 12 per cent of those on wood were complete. Considering only complete falls, and all varieties of weather, a horse would travel 686 miles on asphalt before falling; but on wood 2,939 miles. On dry asphalt pavement he would fall once in going 1,101 miles, and on wood he goes 4,180 miles before having a complete fall. On damp pavements, a fall in 333 miles on asphalt, and on wood a complete fall in 1,592 miles. On asphalt, when the pavement is wet, a horse gets a complete fall in going 568 miles, and on wood he may travel 3,583 miles before falling.
    The figures given do not contradict the statement that the asphalt is most dangerous when slightly damp ; they  refer to a condition of settled dampness. This statement refers to a peculiar condition which immediately follows a dash of rain on an entirely dry pavement. In every case it will be seen that the figures tell most decisively against asphalt and in favor of wood.

Manufacturer and Builder (New York), September 1878