The fog was so thick that the shops in Bond Street had lights at noon. I could not see people in the street from my windows. I am tempted to ask, how the English became great with so little day-light? It seems not to come fully out until nine in the morning, and immediately after four it is gone.
King Charles’s saying of the English climate is often brought up; that it interrupts outdoor labour fewer days in the year than any other. Did he remember the fogs, and how very short the day is, for labour, during a portion of the year?
On the 22nd of the month, accidents occurred all over London, from a remarkable fog. Carriages ran against each other, and persons were knocked down by them at the crossings. The whole gang of thieves seemed to be let loose. After perpetrating their deeds, they eluded detection by darting into the fog. It was of an opake, dingy yellow. Torches were used as guides to carriages at mid-day, but gave scarcely any light through the fog. I went out for a few minutes. It was dismal.
Richard Rush, A Residence at the Court of London 1833
[gratefully copied from David Skilton's
pages at University of Cardiff
A LONDON FOG.
Now, the sun, after a vain attempt to catch a glimpse of St. Paul's, or the
Monument, gives it up in despair; while his morning herald, Lucifer, finds the
fog more than a Lucifer match for him, and goes out like a damp Jones-and-Co. of
a windy night. Now, the sleepy housemaid is in a fine trepidation, on discovering that her missis was right in giving her seven-o'clock ring an hour ago;
she (the maid) having just counted eight in full, on the kitchen clock. Now,
hook noses and cries of "clo" are more rife than ever; and, somehow or other,
silver spoons and forks disappear more frequently from the "domestic
hearth." Now, the poor behind-hand city clerk, who must be at his desk, in
Lombard-street, by nine (it is now half-past eight by Lambeth Palace clerk),
determines to sacrifice fourpence on the Iron-boat Company; and, having passed
an agonizing ten minutes in the cold, sloppy cabin, is at last annihilated by
the steward's informing him that, in consequence of the denseness of the fog,
the captain has determined not to run the boat this morning. Now, invisible cab-men drive unseen horses along viewless thoroughfares, and omnibusses go,
flitting like so many Flying Dutchmen, through the mist and fog. Now, the two
young gentlemen who have a coffee-and-pistol appointment at Chalk Farm, find it
anything but agreeable to be set up only three yards asunder, instead of having
the length of Primrose Hill between them, so as to have had a reasonable chance
of missing one another. Now, a walk in the neighbourhood of Smithfield is by no
means improved in its desirableness; it was bad enough before, but nothing to
what it is under the "Bull's new system." Now, young Government clerks, who
have to trudge "from the west," as they call it (namely-.Marylebone-lane,
"Chesterfield-street, Portland-place," and so forth), are highly indignant,
and more than usually vituperative of the superiors of their departments, whom
they commonly describe (particularly if of a political turn) as vile sinecurists,
"grinding the last drop of blood from the brows of a suffering people, to
pay for their own pleasures, and to minister to their own inordinate desires!"
Now, nursemaids not "accustomed to the care of children" (in a fog),
suddenly find their tender charges minus divers coral necklaces, ostrich
feathers, gold lockets, &c. &c.; while the interesting young lady who
leads dear little Fido about the parks, in a string, and reads Lord Byron the
while, is horrified on finding that, for the last half hour, she has been
engaged in dragging after her a mere remnant of blue ribbon. Now, omnibus cads
only shake their heads in reply to your most earnest appeals and uplifted
fingers, for their vehicles are all full, and can take in "no more." Now,
"blacks" come down in torrents; and coal-heavers and chimney-sweepers are
the only persons that can show a decent face on the occasion. Now, wood
pavements are in nice condition; particularly that in the pleasing bend by St.
Giles's church; where
"They slip now who never slipped before;
And they who always slipped now slip the more.
Now, housemaids do their work in no time; for it's of no use looking out for raps from chamber windows. Now, on the 5th. little boys exhibit their Guys in all parts of the town; and, on the 9th, "children of a larger growth" make Guys of themselves all the way from Guildhall to Westminster and back. Now, everybody has got a shawl, comforter, boa, or bandana, round his or her neck- except the philosophers, who appear in respirators; the result of which is, that the shawl, comforter, boa, and bandana-ites, escape scott free, while the philosophers catch most confounded bad colds and sore throats. Now, unhappy is that mamma who has a juvenile party for an excursion to the Monument; for, of course, they'll all twelve cry their twenty-four little eyes out - equally if they go and can't see anything, or are kept at home because nothing is to be seen. Now, on the river is confusion worse confounded, and smuggling is going on moat prosperously in all its branches. Now, the "old traveller," just arrived by the Antwerp packet, who will carry his own portmanteau and great coat, finds, on stopping to change arms, at the nearest post, that one or other of the commodities has disappeared while he was comfortably adjusting its fellow. Now, telegraph captains and weathercocks have a nice easy time of it, and the guide to the York column is gone to see his cousins in the country. Now, men with wooden legs look very independent, as they stump over the slushy pavement; and people who have the misfortune to possess complete sets are sadly perplexed at the crossings of the Royal Exchange, Charing Cross, and the Regent's Circus. Now, hare skins and worsted comforters are hung out prominently at the haberdashers' shops, and furs, "at this season," are, by no means, "selling at reduced prices." Now, the man "wot lights the lamps" in St. James's Park, is in a regular state of bewilderment, and not unfrequently is sound running up one of the saplings instead of the lamp-post. Now, the young gentleman who has an assignation in the "grove at the end of the vale," begins to wish he hadn't been quite so urgent in the matter, and would give his ears for a decent excuse to be off the bargain. Now, honest John Sloman, the grocer, at the corner of Cannon-street, in consideration of the werry orrid state of the weather, is inveigled by his wife and daughter to visit one of the promenade concerts; to which end, having never been at a promenade concert before, honest John provides himself with a stout cane and his easy walking boots, warranted to do four miles an hour over any turnpike-road in the kingdom. Now, clubs are crammed, particularly the Oriental, where enormous fires are kept up, and the chilly old nabobs cling round one another like bats in a cellar. Now, as the plot (alias the fog) thickens, torches make their appearance; first by dozens, then by dozens of dozens, then by dozens of dozens of dozens: Charing-cross is as difficult to navigate as the North-west passage, and the parks are impossible; hackney coaches drive up against church windows' old men tumble down cellar holes: old women and children stand crying up against lamp-posts, lost within a street of their own homes; omnibus horses dash against one another, and are handed over to the knacker; a gentleman having three ladies and a young family of children to escort home from Astley's (on foot, of course), is in a nice predicament; all the little boys in London are out, increasing, by their screams and halloos the bewilderment of the scene (scene, did I say?); pickpockets are on the alert; ditto, burglars; policemen are not to be found; watchmen are missing; in short, the whole town as in such a state of commotion and panic, that it only requires a well-organized banditti to carry off all London into the next county.
Cruickshank's Comic Almanack, 1841
Specimen of a Bit of London Fog
The Specimen of a slab of fog, too thick, until broken, to pass through Temple Bar, has been brought to Mr. Punch, who - in the proportion of one-twentieth of an inch to a foot - here gives its grain and texture. It has a very fine sulphurous flavour, and it perhaps the best specimen of the real London article. Mr. Punch thinks that London fog might become a very profitable article of commerce, inasmuch as there can be little doubt that, when cut, it is susceptible of a very high polish, and might be worn as mourning-rings, or shirt-studs.
Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1850
LONDON FOGS. The unwholesome fogs that prevail around London originate in the lamentably defective drainage of the neighbouring lands, as the numerous stagnant pools, open ditches, and undrained marshes in the east, and cold clay lands along the banks of the Thames, Colne, Lea, Wandle, &c. When these spots are thoroughly drained, the fogs will cease, and London become the most healthy city in the world.
Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850
SUCH of our readers as have never been in London in November can scarcely
imagine what it is to grope their way through a downright thorough London fog.
It is something like being imbedded in a dilution of yellow peas-pudding, just
thick enough to get through it without being wholly choked or completely
suffocated. You can see through the yard of it which, at the next stride, you
are doomed to swallow, and that is all. It is a kind of meat and drink, and very
sorry sustenance for those who are asthmatical, as you may tell by hearing one
old cough answering to another from opposite sides of the street, and which,
although you cannot see the passengers, you can tell, from their grumbling, that
they do not like the fare at all. You have the same soft-soapy atmosphere served
up at breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper; every time you open your mouth you
partake of it, and all day long you are compelled to burn lights, and, in
addition to the fog, inhale the fumes from gas, candle, or lamp, which have no
more chance of escape than you have, so burn on dim, yellow, and sulkily, as if
the very lights needed all the warmth they could obtain, and thus confine
themselves to illuminating the smallest possible space. The whole city seems
covered with a crust, and all the light you can see beneath it appears as if
strugglng through the huge yellow basin it overspreads. You fancy that all the
smoke which had ascended for years from the thousands of London chimneys had
fallen down all at once, after having rotted somewhere above the clouds;
smelling as if it had been kept too long, and making you wheeze and sneeze as if
all the colds in the world were [-244-] rushing
into your head for warmth, and did not care a straw about killing a few
thousands of people, so long as they could but lodge comfortably for a few hours
any where. You blow like a grampus in a quicksand, with the keel of a
seventy-four on his back, and get about as much fresh air as if you were in his
situation: a pair of bellows with a hole in the side, through which you might
cram your double fist, would make perfect music, when blown, compared to the
noise of your own breathing. You seem as if you had swallowed six broken-winded
horses; that they were inside of you alive and kicking; and, for the soul of
you, you cannot get rid of one.
You step gingerly along, feeling your way beside the walls, windows, and doors, whenever you can, until at last you tumble headlong into some cellar - perhaps on the shoulders of the little cobbler who is at work below, and who chances to have his sharp awl uplifted at the moment; or perhaps it is an underground coal-shed, and you alight on the back of the black-looking woman weighing coals, and double her up in her own scale - receiving, in return, a couple of black eyes from her husband. After a hearty drubbing, you escape once more into the street; and, as you cannot see a yard before you, break your shins over a milkman's can, and upset the contents on the greasy pavement; he tries to collar you, but your blood is now up, and you give him a "straight-armer," which sends him into the area, upsetting the fat cook as he falls. You then run for it, and come full butt against the "bow-window" of a respectable old gentleman, with whom you have a roll or two in the gutter, thankful that you did not fall on the other side, and stave in the shop-front. You shake yourself, and are glad that you are as you are; for a foot beyond where you fell there yawns an open grating, beneath which runs the huge sewer that empties itself into the Thames ; and you wonder how many have slipt in during the day. You tumble into a heap of unslacked lime; but that you think nothing of, too thankful to find it was not a fire. You turn up what seems to be a court, to give yourself a rub-down, and run your head against a pall of whitewash, which hangs suspended from a ladder: the whole contents flow over you, and, before you can see where you are, you fall over a sweep, who is tying up his blanket of soot, roll into the midst of it, and come out a pretty picture - something like the inside of an old chimney and the outside of a rough-cast wall, just mortared.
Some good Samaritan in the court takes pity on you by lending you a towel, and furnishing you with a pail of water, and you make the best of a bad job by cleansing yourself as you can. This done, you sally out again, more cautious than ever - the deep yellow darkness meantime increasing; you proceed slowly, and feel every foot of [-245-] your way, for seeing is out of the question beyond arm's length. Cautiously you grope along by the board of a fishmongers shop, on which lie three or four large black live lobsters; one with his claws open closes on your hand like a vice, and you run shrieking for very life. The fishmonger catches sight of the lobster dangling from your hand, and, believing you have stolen it, follows with a loud cry of "Stop thief!" He is brought up, with his head in the tar-barrel, at the front of his neighbour the oilman's door; and the monster, by being banged against the wall, having by this time loosed his hold, you go along writhing and groaning, and wondering what will next befal you.
Porters with heavy burdens, women and men with fish, watercresses, &c., you run against every few minutes, and think nothing of. Sometimes you are knocked down, then again it is their lot to fall; and finding that the average runs pretty fair for and against the feller and the fallen, you rest contented on that score - considering the running of the edges of half a dozen umbrellas into your mouth as so many little ones in. If you mistake a dimly-lighted shop-front for some turning, and chance to shove your head through a pane of glass, all you can do is to walk as quietly on as if nothing were amiss - two strides and you are in safety, and as far out of sight as if buried in Egyptian darkness; and they are sure to seize the first unfortunate fellow they can lay hands upon, who might have been just as likely to have made the mistake as yourself - to know which is some comfort. That two or three dogs have run full gallop between your legs, and thrown you down as many times, are accidents too common to need recording. As for your watch, that of course went before you had walked one hundred yards: you saw the fellow's arm that dragged it out of your pocket, and that was all; it was a jerk amid the deep fog, a rush, in which your nose came against a dead wall, and by the time you had rubbed the grazed tip a little, you thought that you might as well hunt for a needle in a bottle of hay, as attempt to follow the thief in that dusky, woolly, and deceptive light.
With great difficulty, and after many inquiries, you find a tavern; for you know no more than the man in the moon what part of London you are in. You enter a dim, cheerless room without a fire, in which the gas burns faintly, as if unable to pierce the fleecy fog which surrounds it. You wonder whether the peg on which you hang your hat would bear your weight; and, as you lay hold of the bell-rope, cannot help trying the strength of it: the height of the ceiling also catches your eye, and you marvel that more people do not hang themselves on such a day. The very poker in the fireless [-246-] grate has a cold, clammy, and murderous look; and when the waiter enters, you fancy that he has just been cut down. You light a cigar, and begin to think a little better of matters, and to reckon how many glasses of hot brandy-and-water would throw you into a state of oblivion-that is, leave you dead drunk until the dawning of another day. These thoughts vanish with a second glass, and you again venture forth, resolved this time to get into an omnibus, should one be found bold enough to venture out on such a day. After waiting for some time, and hailing by mistake half a dozen coal-wagons and carriers' carts, you perceive an omnibus creeping by at a snail's pace, enter, and squeeze yourself into a seat behind the door. You cannot see to the top of it for the fog, so have no fear of your tailor recognising you, should he happen to be inside-one comfort out of so many evils. While you are sitting, and congratulating yourself that you have escaped so well, up comes a cab-horse with his head through the open door, and his hot nostrils on your face. A few rough compliments are exchanged between the cab-driver and the conductor, during which something is said about the glanders, which haunts you for days after; the more so through your nose being red and raw by grazing it against the wall when the thief ran away with your watch. To what quarter the omnibus is going gives you no concern, for you are glad to get any where to be out of the way on such a day. Great, however, is your indignation, after having been carried some three score yards, to find that you are at the Cross Keys, in Fleet-street, having got in at the corner of Bride-court, and that the omnibus goes no farther. You pay your threepence with a protest, and are thankful that you cannot see the passengers, who are laughing at you. You have, however, the satisfaction of seeing a heavy old gentleman plant one foot into a basket of oranges on the edge of the pavement, and that puts you into a little better humour, especially when, at the next step, he plunges his head into the window of a book-shop, and knocks down the middle of three rows of richly-bound volumes, besides smashing no end of panes of glass.
On such a day the man who milks his cow in the street is compelled to lay hold of her tail, for fear of losing sight of her ; while the butcher-boy who carries out meat is often minus a joint or two when he reaches the door at which his orders ought to have been delivered. Should such a day be Smithfield market, all the cellar- flaps in the little by-streets are left open, in the hopes of catching a few stray sheep, and having a stock of mutton for nothing; should a prize bullock tumble in, they make no bones of him, but salt down what is left, and bless the fog for supplying them with so much excellent beef.
[-247-] A stranger to London, when the fog sets in at night, and he looks upon it for the first time, fancies his apartments filled with smoke, and begins by throwing open his doors and windows; thus making bad worse, by destroying all the warm air in the rooms. Even one well accustomed to the ins and outs of our far-stretching city is strangely deceived in distance, and the size objects assume, as they loom in dim and gigantic dimensions through the heavy fog. The gas-lamps appear as if placed three-story high, unless you stand close beneath them, for what light they emit is nearly all thrown upward; while a cab comes heaving up (to appearance) as large as the huge caravan which Wombwell formerly used for the conveyance of his stupendous elephant. Once take a wrong turning, and you may consider yourself very fortunate if you ever discover the right road again within three hours; for the houses wear a different appearance, and the streets appear to be all at "sixes and sevens."
Although a real Londoner looks upon a dense December fog as a common occurrence, and lights up his premises with as little ceremony as he would do at the close of the day, yet, to one unused to such a scene, there is something startling in the appearance of a vast city wrapt in a kind of darkness which seems neither to belong to the day nor the night, at the mid-noon hour, while the gas is burning in the windows of long miles of streets. The greatest marvel, after all, is that so few accidents happen in this dim, unnatural light, in the midst of which business seems to go on as usual, and would do, we believe, were the whole of London buried in midnight darkness at noonday, which would only be looked upon as a further deepening of the overhanging gloom. The number of lighted torches which are carried and waved at the corners and crossings of the streets add greatly to the wild and picturesque effect of the scene, as they flash redly upon the countenances of the passengers, and, in the distance, have the effect of a city enveloped in a dense mass of smoke, through which the smouldering flames endeavour in vain to penetrate.
During a heavy fog many accidents occur on the river, through barges running foul of each other, or vessels coming athwart the bridges; for there is no seeing the opening arch from the rock-like buttress, as the whole river looks like one huge bed of dense stagnant smoke, through which no human eye can penetrate. If you lean over the balustrades of the bridge, you cannot see the vessel which may at that moment be passing beneath, so heavy is the cloudy curtain which covers the water. At such times the steam-boats cease running, and rest quietly at their moorings, for the man at the wheel would be unable to see half the length of his vessel. Sometimes a steamer coming up the river takes a fancy to a shorter cut, by trying to clear [-248-]Blackwall Reach, and come overland through the marshes below Greenwich, or by running her head into the Isle of Dogs, where she lies aground until the next tide.
Many lives have been lost through foot-passengers mistaking the steps at the foot of some of the bridges for the opening of the bridge itself, and, ere they were aware of it, rolling head-foremost into the river. Strong iron-railings have been erected during the last few years, and have put an end to such dreadful accidents at the foot of Blackfriars-bridge, many, we have heard, thus lost their lives.
At this time the pavement is greasy, and, though you keep lifting up your legs, you are hardly positive whether or not you are making any progress. You seem to go as much backward as forward, and some old Cockneys do aver that the surest way of reaching Temple-bar from Charing-cross would be to start off with your face turned towards King Charles's statue, to walk away manfully without once turning your head, and that, by the end of three hours, you would be pretty sure of reaching the point aimed at, should you not be run over.
Thomas Miller, Picturesque Sketches of London Past and Present, 1852A great deal of white is worn. It is a tremendous luxury, as this smoky atmosphere turns it grey in a few hours.
Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935
The winter-fogs of London are, indeed, awful. They surpass all imagining; he who never saw them, can form no idea of what they are. He who knows how powerfully they affect the minds and tempers of men, can understand the prevalence of that national disease—the spleen. In a fog, the air is hardly fit for breathing; it is grey-yellow, of a deep orange, and even black at the same time, it is moist, thick, full of bad smells, and choking. The fog appears, now and then, slowly, like a melodramatic ghost, and sometimes it sweeps over the town as the simoom over the desert. At times, it is spread with equal density over the whole of that ocean of houses on other occasions, it meets with some invisible obstacle, and rolls itself into intensely dense masses, from which the passengers come forth in the manner of the student who came out of the cloud to astonish Dr. Faust. It is hardly necessary to mention, that the fog is worst in those parts of the town which are near the Thames.
Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853
THE FOG IS SO VERY THICK THAT FREDERICK AND CHARLES ARE OBLIGED TO SEE CLARA AND EMILY HOME
Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1855
This morning, when it was time to rise,
there was but a glimmering of daylight, and we had candles on the
breakfast-table at nearly ten o’clock. All abroad there was a dense dim fog
brooding through the atmosphere, insomuch that we could hardly see across the
street. At eleven o’clock I went into the midst of the fog-bank, which for the
moment seemed a little more interfused with daylight; for there seem to be
continual changes in the density of this dim medium, which varies so much that
now you can but just see your hand before you, and a moment afterwards you can
see the cabs dashing out of the duskiness a score of yards off. It is seldom or
never, moreover, an unmitigated gloom, but appears to be mixed up with sunshine
in different proportions; some times only one part sun to a thousand of smoke
and fog, and sometimes sunshine enough to give the whole mass a coppery hue.
This would have been a bright sunny day but for the interference of the fog; and
before I had been out long, I actually saw the sun looking red and rayless, much
like the millionth magnification of a new half-penny.
I went home by way of Holborn, and the fog was denser than ever,— very black, indeed, more like a distillation of mud than anything else; the ghost of mud,—the spiritualized medium of departed mud, through which the dead citizens of London probably tread, in the Hades whither they are translated. So heavy was the gloom, that gas was lighted in all the shop-windows; and the little charcoal-furnaces of the women and - boys, roasting chestnuts, threw a ruddy, misty glow around them. And yet I liked it. This fog seems an atmosphere proper to huge, grimy London; as proper to London, as that light neither of the sun nor moon is to the New Jerusalem.
On reaching home, I found the same fog diffused through the drawing-room, though how it could have got in is a mystery. Since nightfall, however, the atmosphere is clear again.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The English Note-Books, Dec 8th 1857
see also George Sala in Gaslight and Daylight - click here
LONDON FOGS AND LONDON POOR.
I FIRST saw London on a morning late in November; or, it will be more correct
to say that I should have seen it, if a dense fog had not concealed every thing that belonged to it, wharves, warehouses,
churches, St. Paul's, the Tower, the Monument, the Custom-House, the shipping, the river, and the bridge that
spanned it. We made our dock in the Thames at an early hour, before I was dressed for landing, and by the time I
had hurried upon deck to cast the first eager glance around, the fog had descended, shutting all things from view.
A big, looming something was receding as I gained the top of the companion-ladder, and faded altogether before I could attach to it any distinct idea. But the great heart of the city was beating, and where I stood its throbbing was distinctly audible. A hum, in which all sounds were blended, a confused roar of the human ocean that rolled around me, fell with strange effect upon my ear, accustomed for nearly five weeks only to the noises peculiar to shipboard.
Certainly the fog did not afford me a cheering welcome. It was denser and dirtier than the fogs we had encountered off the banks of Newfoundland, and more chilling and disagreeable to the human frame. It did not disperse the whole day. What with the difficulty that attended our landing, and the long delay consequent upon the very dilatory movements of the Custom-House officers, the night had fairly closed in-it did not add much to the darkness-before I was en route to an hotel. A Scotch fellow-passenger, who had maintained a sullen
reserve throughout the voyage, which ought to have placed me on my guard against him, had attached himself to me during our troubles at the Custom-House, and now joined with us all in loud rebuke of the sluggish motions and rude behavior of the officers. He knew that I was a stranger, and with a show of cordiality, for which I was very thankful, he invited me to accompany him to a quiet, respectable hotel, where the
charges were not exorbitant. As his proposal suited my purse and my humor, I acquiesced willingly enough, little suspecting into what hands I had fallen. In less than an hour we were seated at a capital dinner, the best that I ever remembered to have eaten, so exquisite is the relish imparted by a keen appetite to the first meal one gets on shore after a long sea-voyage.
We were wearied with the day's annoyances, and as the streets were very uninviting, we sat smoking segars in the coffee-room of the establishment. As one person after another dropped in, we heard of the increase of the fog outside, and, indeed, it had long since entered
and filled the apartment till the outline of the waiter, as he moved to and fro in supplying the wants of' the company, became indistinct, an his head, whenever he approached the chandelier, radiated a glory. As I had often read of a London fog in November, I judged this to be an excellent opportunity for seeing one, and, accepted my companion's proposal to repair to the door of the hotel. The scene was like nothing else I ever had witnessed. At the distance of five yards the light of a gas-lamp was invisible. We could not distinguish each other's features as we stood side by side. Stages, cabs, and coaches were creeping forward at the rate of twenty yards in a minute, the drivers carrying
glaring torches, and leading 'the horses by their bridles. Even at this pace the danger of a collision was imminent.
Pedestrians, homeward bound, were at their wits' end. As they could not have proceeded fifty paces in security without a torch, they were each provided with one, but some of them contrived to lose their way notwithstanding, and seeing us on the steps of the hotel, halted to
make inquiries. One man assured us that he had been half an hour looking for the next street. The better to convince myself of the density of the mist, I extended my arm to its full length and tried to count my fingers. From ocular evidence alone, I certainly could not have told whether I had four, five, or six.
It was an amusing sight to see scores of ragged boys carrying about torches for sale. The cry of 'Links! links!' resounded on all sides. 'Light you home for sixpence, sir,' said one of them, as I stood watching. their operations. 'If 'tan't far,' he added, presently, 'I'll light you for a Joey.' A Joey is the flash term for a four-penny piece, or eight cents of our money, and is so called because these silver coins, somewhat larger than a half-dime, are said to owe their origin to Mr. Joseph Hume. We witnessed a bargain struck between one of these urchins and a servant-girl, who imprudently yielded to his demand to have the money in advance. No sooner had the young rogue conveyed it to his pocket than he ran off to seek another customer as simple, leaving the poor girl to strike a wiser bargain on the next occasion.
That I might fairly appreciate the character of the fog, my companion proposed that we should 'put off into the unknown dark.' Not till I had got into the street, and was groping my way among the pedestrians, instead of watching them in security from the topmost of a flight of steps, could I estimate its real nature. To my bewildered eyes it had the appearance of a solid wall constantly opposing our further progress. The blazing torches that we met were invisible at fifty yards' distance. The tradesmen had closed their stores from fear of thieves, who are remarkably active at such seasons. I afterward learned that in one of the leading thoroughfares a vender of hams and bacon, who had a
quantity of goods exposed in front of his open store, was robbed in a most daring manner at an early hour of the evening. The thieves drove a cart to his door, and had nearly filled the vehicle with spoil before they were observed. The tradesman rushed into the street, but the villains had urged on the horse, and although he heard the noise of the wheels, pursuit was an utter impossibility. Robberies on the person are of
frequent occurrence at such times, even in the most crowded streets, the security with which the thief attacks a single individual rendering his audacity almost incredible. Before assistance can arrive he has darted across the road, and is in safety at a few yards' distance from the scene of his violence.
We were about a quarter of a mile from the hotel, and were on the point of retracing our steps when a cry of 'Fire!' was raised in our vicinity, followed by a rush of several persons in the direction from which the alarm proceeded. In a few minutes all the torches in the street seemed to be collected in one spot, and the crowd grew rapidly. I expected to hear the fire-bell, but I was told that the Londoners have no alarm-bell of any kind. The glare of a conflagration is usually the first warning conveyed to the firemen, when instantly a score of engines are turned out, horses, that are always kept ready harnessed, are fastened to the shafts, and away they go, pell-mell, through the streets, every vehicle, to the Lord Mayors or Prime Minister's carriage, being compelled to draw aside and give them room to pass. On this occasion their services were not required, the fire being confined to the basement-story of the building in which it had originated, and extinguished by the exertions of the inmates before any material injury was sustained. The crowd that had collected was not a small one, and the congregation of so many torches dispelled in part the oppressive gloom of the fog. But when they had dispersed, and the unnatural darkness was made more palpable by the sudden contrast effected by the withdrawal of such a glare of light, I found that my companion had disappeared.. Once I fancied that my name was called, and I thought that he was perhaps searching for me in a wrong direction. I ran, as I conjectured, in pursuit of his retreating footsteps, but was soon abruptly brought to a halt by a wall, against which I nearly dashed myself with a force that would have stunned me. Of the name of the hotel, or even of the street on which it was situated, I was utterly ignorant, and as the climax of my difficulty, I discovered that all the money I had in my pocket was a fifty-cent piece that I had brought from New York. I attempted to buy a torch of a boy, but I could not persuade him that my half-dollar, though it was not current money, was worth much more than an English sixpence, valued as old silver.
He evidently regarded me as an improper character, and refused to deal with me. I detained the first man I met, and explained my situation, but as I could give him no clue to the whereabouts of the hotel, he could furnish me no assistance. As nearly as I could conjecture, it was within half a mile of the spot where I was standing, but I could not indicate the direction.. 'There are fifty hotels,' he said, 'within that distance, taking the sweep of the compass.'
I now began seriously to fear that I should have to pass the night in the streets. My clothes were already moist with the fog, and I knew that before morning they must be saturated. A policeman, who chanced to pass at this juncture, recommended me to obtain a bed at the nearest inn, and to renew my search in the morning. Then arose the difficulty about the money; but as it occurred to me that I could leave my
watch in charge of the landlord as security for the payment of my expenses, I decided to accompany him to an inn in the neighborhood, to which he undertook to guide me. It was an indifferent place, being one of the gin-palaces for which London is famous, but I was content, under the circumstances, to remain there. The landlord, having examined my watch, and being satisfied that it would cover all reasonable charges, if I never reappeared to claim it, conferred with his wife respecting her domestic arrangements. It was not usual, he told me, personally, for him to let beds at such a late hour to strangers, but he thought I could be accommodated. The policeman's satisfaction was very cordially expressed, and as he lingered at my elbow, and significantly remarked that the fog had got into his throat, I ordered him a glass of warm brandy and water, for which he bowed acknowledgments. He was dressed, I noticed, in the livery with which the engravings in
Punch have made our public familiar. He asked me several questions about the police in New-York, complained that it was impossible for a man to live decently in England, and remarked that if it weren't for the knocking-up money, a policeman in London couldn't do it
nohow.' I inquired what he meant by 'knocking-up money,' and was informed that it was the custom in London, and in all the large towns, for laboring men, who had to rise to their work at an early hour, to pay a small sum weekly to the policeman in whose 'beat' they resided, for knocking loudly at their doors in the morning to awaken them. It is usual for policemen to add several shillings to their weekly wages by this
practice, and it is so far recognized by the regulations of the force, that men who have slightly misconducted themselves are punished by being removed from a 'beat' where there is a great deal of 'knocking-up' to be performed, and transferred to a more respectable quarter of the town, where the inhabitants are not compelled to rise until they choose.
I had leisure before the arrangements for my night's repose were concluded, to contemplate the novel scene which the interior of the gin-palace presented. Many of our Broadway liquor-stores are, in point of gilding and decoration, equally splendid, but there all resemblance ceases. Behind the spacious bar stood immense vats containing whole hogsheads of ardent spirits. These were elevated on a pedestal about four feet from the floor, and reached to the lofty ceiling. Their contents were gin, whisky, rum, and brandy, of various standards. Others of a somewhat smaller size contained port, sherry, and Madeira wines, or the adulterations which pass by their names, with an undiscriminating public. When these vats were empty, they were filled from barrels in the cellars beneath by means of a force-pump.
The customers at the bar were of a motley description. There were many females among them, mostly girls of the town, who were swallowing undiluted drains of gin and peppermint. Pallid mechanics and their wives, the latter sometimes bearing young children in
their arms, exhibited varying degrees of drunkenness, from the hilarious or maudlin state to that of rolling intoxication. Even children, whose size was so diminutive that they had to stand on tiptoe to elevate their heads above the counter, demanded and received their liquor, imbibing the burning fluid with eyes that sparkled delight. I was in the temple of the gin-fiend, and the crowd around me were his daily devotees.
The next morning when I awoke I hastened to the window of my room. The opposite houses were visible, and the ordinary traffic of the streets was not impeded. A. drizzling rain was falling, and pedestrians waded ankle deep in slush and mud. The fog, though partially dispelled, brooded over the house-tops, and concealed the chimneys. All the stores were lighted with gas, and one could well imagine that the sun had
never shone in that dismal climate.
The landlord readily consented to advance me a pound sterling on my watch, and without stopping to take breakfast, I plunged into the miry streets. I was at a loss what course to pursue. The fog of the previous evening had prevented my noticing any of the external features of the hotel in which I had dined with my Scotch acquaintance, and where my trunks, that contained all the money for my travels, and the introductory letters that were essential to the purpose for which I had visited Europe, were deposited. The house in which I had
passed the night was situated in St. Martin's Lane, and a radius thrown out from that centre would, in some quarter, touch the hotel at a distance of half a mile or thereabout. I was sure of that, as of one ascertained fact, but I had no other clue to guide my footsteps. I know not how many hotels I entered during that day. The night, I know, had closed in, and found me a denizen of the streets, splashed with mud to the collar of my coat, and worn out with fatigue. At night I got a bed at a small coffee-house, for I saw that it would be necessary to economize the few shillings that I had in my possession. The sun was really shining the next morning,
when I breakfasted, and the landlord spoke of the blue sky, remarking that the day would be a fine one. To my apprehension the sky was gray, which is, indeed, almost always the color of the English sky at all seasons. From the Post-Office Directory, which I found at the coffee-house, I copied a list of all the hotels within half a mile of St. Martin's Lane. Entering one of these about noon - it was situated in Rupert street I recognized the first waiter who presented himself. I thought it strange that he did not seem surprised at my appearance, or allude to my enforced absence, but upon inquiring for the Scotchman, I was utterly confounded by his reply: 'Oh! the gentleman that dined with you, sir, the day before yesterday. He went away yesterday, sir, and took your trunks with him.'
'Took my trunks with him!' I exclaimed.
'Yes, sir; he said that you had gone and without stopping to take breakfast, on to Birmingham, by the, mail-train, and that he was to follow with the luggage.'
I almost reeled at the intelligence. The perfidy of the Scotchman was manifest. He had taken me into the fog to lose me, and while I was picturing his dismay at the accident which had separated us, and his anxiety on my account, the scoundrel was appropriating my trunks and valises. I hastened to confer with the proprietor of the hotel respecting the step which it would be best to take. He was a very respectable man, and was sincerely grieved for my loss.
'We will go to Scotland Yard immediately,' he said, 'and acquaint the Chief of Police.'
My money, my letters, every thing that stood between me and beggary were in the purloined trunks. The landlord told me to regard his house as my home. The police-officer heard my story patiently, but seemed to think that the chance of getting back the trunks was a small one. And the sequel proved he was right.
Altogether, I resided fifteen months in London, and the present record will consist of my later and more matured impressions. An American who has never seen this metropolis can have but a faint idea of it. A fair distribution of the houses would cover Manhattan Island. Two of its parks contain some square miles of pleasure-ground, and the smallest of five would clear NewYork of buildings from the City Hall to the
Battery. It is indeed a mammoth city. The ancient suburbs of Westminster, Southwark, Lambeth, Chelsea, Islington, Pentonville, Shoreditch, Hackney, Whitechapel, Limehouse, Rotherhithe, with the modern Pimlico, Knightsbridge, Old and New Brompton, Bayswater, Paddington, St. John's Wood, Camden Town, Somer's Town, Kingsland, Camberwell, and many more, are now united with it, and make it by far the largest city in the world. Starting from almost any point of its extreme boundary, and traversing the city till you reach the opposite boundary - as from Brompton to Hackney - you will walk nine miles nearly in a straight line without quitting the pavement. I was disappointed in many of the public buildings.; I would be understood, how- ever, to refer to them only as works of architecture, for to the interest attaching to their historical associations I could not be insensible. Protestantism has built no churches. St. Paul's is its best effort, and that is a failure, lit is, indeed, a wonderful building, considered per se, but compare it with the Continental cathedrals, or with York Minster. I must own that the shameful exaction of money at the doors created a feeling of dissatisfaction which, perhaps, in some measure transferred itself to the edifice. The English are the only people who are so mercenary as to charge for admission to their temples, and the man who guards the door of St. Paul's is one of the worst specimens of his class. I paid cheerfully a dollar and a quarter to see a play of Shakspeare's performed at the Hay-
market Theatre, but I grudged the four cents that I dropped into the exacting palm of the rubicund janitor of St. Paul's. 'Tis a vile system. They sell the memories of their famous heroes, of their philosophers and poets, by making a raree-show of their tombs. A nation should have free access to the hallowed spots where rest the ashes of its mightiest dead. St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey, and all such buildings, should be
free as the streets to decent people, for genius receives inspiration at such altars, and men fresh from the commonplace of every-day life rub off the rust of the world in the holy and awful calm of these and kindred sanctuaries. How venerable would they appear to the American, if they were not markets of gain and greed to their clerical proprietors! The poets whose tombs are the chief attraction in Westminster Abbey
are not foreigners to the Anglo-Saxon race of the New World. We, too, claim a property in their works. Our forefathers were cotemporaries with Shakspeare, Spenser, and Milton, inhabited the same land, breathed the same air, were subject to the same laws; and we speak to-day the language of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Tennyson. We have, I insist, a claim on the glorious memories that give renown to England;
and the avarice that bars the gates of her abbeys and cathedrals against the poor, is a disgrace to a great nation.
There has been lately a report that St. Paul's had grown ashamed of its greediness, and Westminster Abbey has at length really admitted the public without demanding its sixpences - admitted, that is, to a large portion of the building, but not to the whole. The mausoleums of the kings are still worthy, in the opinion of the Dean and Chapter, of some silver coins sterling. Let them remain so. We are not especially anxious to do homage to them. The intellectually great of England are worthy of much - sometimes of all - reverence; her kings of very little, or of none. But St. Paul's is closed still, notwithstanding the report of free admission which recently agitated the public of London. Nelson's sepulchre is worth some score of pounds sterling per annum. Dr. Johnson's statue can be seen any day for twopence, which is tenpence less
than Madame Tassaud charges for admission to her wax effigies, and must therefore be considered cheap.
An American is astonished at the number of beggars in every city of England. Even the small towns and the smallest villages have them. Their numbers in London are roundly estimated at one hundred and twenty thousand. You meet them every where. They are, in some quarters, like the paving- stones of the street - eternally present. There are artists in colored chalks, who limn the heads of Christ and Napoleon on the pavement, with the inscription: 'I am starving.' Very fairly are the portraits executed; very decent artists they are, and they grovel by the side of their handiwork in an attitude of broken-hearted despondency, and pocket the pennies of the charitable. Objects the most decrepit in nature, hideous, half-nude wretches, male and female, creep along the streets, shivering, too evidently starving, till your heart aches at the spectacle, and you deprive yourself of your last cent to administer relief. These are impostors. So are the respectable class - the broken-down tradesmen, who, in a suit of decent black Saxony cloth, and wearing a spotless white kerchief around their necks, offer lead-pencils for sale. So respectable are they, that you start to see them, and are almost ashamed to offer them a dollar; but they will accept a cent, and will ply the same trade for years to come, in a suit equally as respectable. It is one of the mysteries connected with them, that their clothes never wear out. I grew familiar with the features of one of these respectable men, from seeing him almost daily in some quarter
of London. During the twelve months that I kept my eye upon him, the condition of his apparel was unchanged. His coat never got old, nor did he ever have a new one. That man is at this moment an unpleasant puzzle to me - a conundrum without a solution. The income of this class of beggars, I was told, is considerable-much better than a clerk's in Lombard or Wall street.
The lodging-houses of the lowest class of professed beggars, who do not trade on assumed respectability, or make a pretense of having once been better off present to an American a spectacle, or chapter of spectacles, of which he can previously have no conception. They
are situated in the most densely crowded and dirtiest quarters of the town, and are approached through lanes of the most noisome filth. No comparison holds good with any quarter of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or any city of the Union, for there is nothing in our cities to compare with them. Let us enter one of them. The common boarding-room, in which meals are taken, is about forty feet long by twenty broad.
Either the floor has never been paved, or a thick layer of street-soil has hidden the stones for many a day past. Along each side of a long, narrow table, runs a wooden bench of rough construction, which is the only seat the place affords. The knives and forks are chained to the
table. Strange implements they are, and a thief one would think, must be reduced to shifts indeed if they could offer him a temptation. Almost every fork has lost one of its prongs, and every knife has been notched or otherwise abused. The plaster has mostly fallen from the walls of the room, the very laths are cut away, and the naked bricks and rude masonry are exposed. The ceiling is blackened with the tobacco smoke of years, ascending every night from a hundred pipes. The filth that accumulates is seldom cleared away, but is swept into heaps in the corners,
and remains there perhaps for weeks. A stench pervades the place, and a horrible moisture settles upon the walls. The room every night has the appearance of a market-place, where beggars vend and where beggars are the purchasers. From the roof a dim light is suspended, and candles stuck into glass bottles are placed upon the table. The daily contributions of the benevolent are here disposed of; what one has, another lacks. Old coats, old boots and shoes, old gowns, are freely bartered for tobacco and gin. Women from neighboring rag-shops attend to buy, and candle-makers send their agents to collect fat and grease. Every individual brings his own food, for the proprietor of the house
finds lodging only, and not board. The atmosphere reeks with the smell of herrings and fried sausages. After supper is finished, a fiddler-one of their number, paid for his services by contributions of tobacco and beer- strikes up some merry music; dancing commences, and goes on till midnight, and often far into the morning. Save in such houses, such dancing and such dancers were never seen. The lame cast aside their
crutches, the blind regain their sight, the paralyzed are alert and nimble, the trampers of every species jig in turn, or altogether, shaking their rags unto the jocund tune; and where is there a blither party? Burns has pictured the scene in his 'Jolly Beggars,' and he is the laureate of the night.
Would you know what kind oft dormitories these people resort to when their dancing is finished? I will describe one out of many that I saw, which will serve as a specimen of the rest. Let us ascend the rickety staircase. The atmosphere is intolerably foul, and you feel that a week's confinement in such a den would cause your death. Well, these are the beds; a heap of straw, matted with long service, and a filthily foul rug for a coverlet. The sleepers have no other covering, in summer or winter. These beds change their occupants, perhaps, every night; for a tramper seldom sleeps two consecutive nights in the same place. Do not approach too near, for they are alive with loathsome vermin. There are twenty-five beds in a room thirty feet by fourteen, and in each bed two and sometimes three persons are placed. When the landlord is doing a good business, he puts three lodgers in each bed. Seventy-five sleepers in that confined space! For such accommodation the charge is six cents per night. And this is quite a respectable lodging-house. There are four-cent lodging-houses, where there is only straw without any covering; and there are three-cent houses, where there is no straw even, but only bare boards rotting beneath a crustation of dirt and
filth, which is never washed off.
The frequenters of these places are professed beggars; and although their sufferings are at times great, they must not be classed with the deserving poor. You will see the latter lingering at the doors of work-houses. I have seen some two hundred of them on a winter's evening, when the frost has sharply bound up the lakes in the parks and the fountains in Trafalgar Square, shivering in semi-nudity on the bare and
bitter pavement, waiting for admission. The houses of the rich - where lap-dogs were fed on hot and savory steaks, or even on daintier poultry-were standing around, and the heavens were as brass to the wails of the wretched crowd. I have been fairly staggered at such sights.
I remember that one occasion a man dropped dead in the street where I was, while on his way to the workhouse, and it was found upon inquiry that he was really starved to death.
They sit and lie before the workhouses, at such times, huddled almost upon one another, and forming such groups of hungry, squalid, and degraded human beings, as no painter would venture to transfer from life to canvas. Of the number that apply for admission, one half will be rejected, who must shelter themselves under the dry arches of the bridges, or creep into hidden doorways, up narrow alleys, where the
police are not likely to find them. For if found, they would be seized and taken before a magistrate, to be punished for being homeless and without food. Many of them do not dread this punishment, but will seek to, deserve it by more criminal conditions than enforced indigence and helpless hunger. They will break street-lamps and tradesmen's windows, to get a month's imprisonment, with food, and rest, and shelter for that period. Others, and the majority, have a prouder spirit. They will escape a prison, with the help of God. Their number is very great. There are fifty thousand, it is said, in London, who rise every morning without knowing where to procure a breakfast. God be with
them! But all the want, and all the sin produced by want, in London, it would take all the volumes of the Conversations-Lexicon to recount. The streets-every street - is filled with it. Survey the thoroughfares at night. If any modest person is occasionally shocked at the exhibitions in Broadway, what would he say to Regent street, the Haymarket, the Strand, Fleet street, Cheapside, or fifty other streets in London? I have
reckoned nearly three hundred unfortunate females, as they call themselves, in the space of one mile, on one side of the street alone, from Charing Cross to Temple Bar. These girls, as records testify, were mostly starved into the life of their adoption. They will tell you, if you converse with them in their serious moments - for they have such - that but for the mad excitement drawn from gin, they could not live. The river that flows sullenly along - what a catalogue of woes, what shame and frenzied despair, it has ended!
I was crossing Waterloo Bridge one night when there was suddenly a shout and a rush of people. A girl had thrown herself off the parapet, and was struggling in the water. The moon shone brightly down, and her figure was distinctly visible as she wrestled with the tide that was bearing her away. She was the third that had jumped into the river within twelve days; the average of such suicides in London being one in
eight days. A vain effort was made to save her. Her body drifted down the river to be cast up at Greenwich or Woolwich, or perhaps the tide swept it out to sea, never to be found. I searched the newspapers for many days afterward, but saw no record of the poor creature's miserable end. These things happen so frequently in London, that the press seldom records them, unless they offer some peculiar features of
In treating of the horrid want and misery that prevail among the very poorest class in London, I have as yet only partially uncovered the picture. We will draw the curtain back a little further, not to present the entire truth in all its fidelity, for that would be too harrowing.
In the streets of London I have seen women and children contending for the possession of a bone drawn from the slush of the kennel. I have seen boys fight and bruise each other for a crust of bread dropped upon the. pavement, and covered with wet mud, or even unsightlier filth. I have entered the abode of this desperate poverty, led thither by children, who have clamored at my side for alms, and found such misery as I am incompetent to express in words. I have seen the living unable to rise from sickness, in the same bed with the dying and the dead. I have known an instance where a living man in strong health, bating the exhausting effects of privation and sorrow, has been compelled to seek repose in the straw beside the body of his dead wife, his children occupying the floor, and there being in the room neither chair in which he could seat himself nor table on which he could stretch himself for rest. I have seen an infant crawl for nourishment to its dead mother's breast, and there was not in all the house the value of a cent to buy it food. I have seen a wife, in following her husband's body to the grave, drop in the road and die before medical assistance could be procured. A post-mortem, examination proved that she died from hunger.
Let no one say that there are charitable asylums enough in London to furnish assistance in all deserving cases of extreme distress. If there are, their doors - and I appeal to all Englishmen who know any thing about the workings of the Poor Law System in their country, whether I do not record the truth - are closed in three cases out of five against the applicant. Besides, charity in London is reserved and suspicious. But its reserve is chilling to the deserving poor, who are usually too proud to disclose their sufferings to strangers, and are ashamed to solicit alms with an open hand. They strive as long as they are able; their history, if duly recorded, would swell the roll of martyrs. I have known among them heroes and heroines, as in all nations such, whether apparent to the world or not, are never wanting. Wives, who have been bred in comfort, working for their husbands who were out of employment, and supporting them by the scanty wages of such industry as many men would shrink from. Girls of tender years toiling to support a surviving parent, sisters toiling for their brothers. And all done not only with-
out a murmur, but with cheerfulness and thankfulness to God that their condition was no worse. I have heard hopeful accents from the plodding char-woman, that have made me ashamed, as Wordsworth stood rebuked before the 'leech-gatherer, upon the lonely moor.' Let England look to it. These women mothers of men, are abandoning her shores for foreign lands. When good and dutiful children desert the maternal home, what provocation must they have had from the parent?
'In the year ending Lady-day 1859,' said the London Times of February 15th, 1860, 'England and Wales spent five million seven hundred and ninety-two thousand nine hundred and sixty-three pounds in the relief of the poor. It is estimated that on July 1st, 1859, nine hundred and ninety-seven thousand seven hundred and ninety-six paupers were receiving relief in or out of the work-house in this part of the empire. This
is near a million of persons, at an average cost of about five pounds sixteen shillings a head, a considerable improvement on the previous year. The computation is, that every sixteenth person, or one person in every three households, is a pauper, hanging like a dead weight
on the industry of the other fifteen. This, too, is only one form of charity, beside untold millions spent in endowed alms-houses, hospitals, asylums for every imaginable infirmity, coal-funds, clothing-funds, charity-schools, voluntary labor-rates, church-collections, alms done
in secret, and several hundred other species of benevolence.
Vainly does an American strive to realize such a state of society. Its effects are visible in the hatred of the poor toward the rich, which, if things continue as they are, will ultimately produce a war of classes. The work-houses and other alms-houses are always filled. There may be brief intervals when trade is brisk, and statesmen brag of the prosperity of the country, but these are only as the sane moments of a delirious patient. The general health of the community must not be judged from these. When in a year that it confesses is a favorable one, the leading political journal admits the proportion of paupers subsisting on alms to be one to fifteen, what must be the proportion in periods of great mercantile depression, which recur more frequently as time advances? I can not at all agree with Mr. Emerson, that England has not within her the elements of decay. She has. Her maritime supremacy is gone; her commercial advantages have vanished. In the world's market she possesses a stall, and nothing more. If it is better supplied than the stalls of some nations in the same market, it is, in its turn, inferior to those of others. I can not say, with her enemies, Let her decay. But I do bid her look to it in time, for her present condition is not one of promise.
Continental Monthly, October 1862
THE FOG, JANUARY 21st., 1865
Link-boys (Masters of the Situation). "IF YER DON'T GIVE US A SHILLIN' WE'LL SINGE YER WHISKERS."
Punch, February 18, 1865
FOG OF LONDON.
THIS phenomenon is caused by the millions of blazing coal-fires in the metropolis vast quantity of fuliginous matter, which, mingling with the vapour, partly arising from imperfect drainage, produces that foggy darkness which Londoners not inaptly term "awful." Sometimes it is of a bottle green colour; but if the barometer rise, it will either totally disappear or change into a white mist. At other times it is of pea-soup yellow; in the midst of which the street gas-lights appear like the pin-head lamps of old. The latter is the genuine November London Fog.
"First at the dawn of lingering day,
It rises of an ashy grey;
Then deepening with a sordid stain
Of yellow, like a lion's mane.
Vapour importunate and dense,
It wars at once with every sense.
The ears escape not. All around
Returns a dull, unwonted sound.
Loath to stand still, afraid to stir,
The chilled and puzzled passenger,
Oft blundering from the pavement, fails
To feel his way along the rails;
Or at the crossings, in the roll
Of every carriage dreads the pole.
Scarce an eclipse with pall so dun
Blots from the face of heaven the sun.
But soon a thicker, darker cloak
Wraps all the town, behold, in smoke,
Which steam-compelling trade disgorges
From all her furnaces and forges
In pitchy clouds too dense to rise,
Descends rejected from the skies;
Till struggling day, extinguished quite,
At noon gives place to candle-light.
Oh, Chemistry, attractive maid,
Descend, in pity, to our aid:
Come with thy all-pervading gases
Thy crucibles, retorts, and glasses,
Thy fearful energies and wonders,
Thy dazzling lights and mimic thunders;
Let Carbon in thy train be seen,
Dark Azote and fair Oxygen,
And Wollaston and Davy guide
The car that bears them at thy side,
If any power can, any how,
Abate these nuisances, tis thou;
And see to aid thee in the blow,
The bill of Michael Angelo,
O join (success a thing of course is)
Thy heavenly to his mortal forces;
Make all chimneys chew the cud
Like hungry cows, as chimneys should!
And since tis only smoke we draw
Within our lungs at common law,
Into their thirsty tubes he sent
Fresh air, by act of parliament.
The Fog, too, sensibly affects the organs of respiration:
hence a Scotch physician has asked, "If a person require half a gallon of
pure air per minute, how many gallons of this foul atmosphere must be, as it
were, filtered by his lungs in the course of a day ?"
Sometimes the Fog is caused by a very ordinary accident,-a change of wind, thus accounted for: the west wind carries the smoke of the town eastward in a long train, extending twenty or thirty miles, as may be seen on a clear day from an eminence five or six miles from the town,-say, from Harrow-on-the-Hill. In this case, suppose the wind to change suddenly to the east, the great body of smoke will be brought back in an accumulated mass; and as this repasses the town, augmented by the clouds of smoke from every fire therein, it causes the murky darkness.
By accurate observation of the height of the Fog, relatively with the higher edifice~ whose elevation is known, it has been ascertained that the Fogs of London never rise more than from 200 to 240 feet above the same level. Hence the air of the more elevated environs of the metropolis is celebrated for its pure and invigorating qualities, being placed above the fogs of the plain, arid removed from smoky and contaminated atmosphere. The height of the Norwood hills, for example is 390 feet above the sea- level at low water; and thus enjoys pre-eminent salubrity.
What is often called Fog, which darkens the metropolis in winter, is, in reality, the smoke of millions of coal-fires, which are much increased in very cold weather. To prevent this, a Correspondent of the Times recommends this simple plan :-Before you throw on coals, pull all the fire to the front of the grate towards the bars, fill up the cavity at the back with the cinders or ashes, which will be found under the grate, and then throw on the coals. The gas evolved in the process of roasting the coals will then be absorbed by the cinders-will render them, in an increased degree, combustible. The smoke will thus be burnt, and a fine glowing, smokeless fire will be the result. This rule should be enforced from the kitchen upwards.
John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867
NOBODY THAT KNOWS THEM COULD DOUBT THE RESPECTABILITY OF THESE TWO GENTLEMEN, YET YOU WOULD HARDLY CREDIT THE UNNECESSARY PANIC THEIR IMAGINATIONS CAUSED THEM THEE OTHER NIGHT IN THE FOG.
Punch, February 19, 1870
Gustave Doré, detail of 'A November Fog,' in the Graphic, 1872
Deaths from Drowning in the East end through the Fog
On Friday afternoon, the deputy coroner for Middlesex, held an inquiry at the Spotted Dog Tavern, High Street, Poplar, respecting the deaths of Robert Bryant 52, Thomas Ford 53, James Price 63, William Everett 38, Henry Carol 20 , Fitzroy Waters 17 and Thomas Cleman 44, all of whom perished through falling into the waters of the West India Docks during the intense fog of Tuesday evening last. . . . The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and requested the coroner to write to the Company urging them to have iron stands erected so that in the event of fogs occurring ropes or chains could be at once attached to avoid a recurrence of such a melancholy catastrophe . . . The following accidental deaths are reported to have taken place during the fog: - On Wednesday night Catherine Brookes 50 walked into the Regents Canal and was drowned. Tuesday William Farinth 28 fell off a boat into the Regents Canal at Limehouse. Patrick Reardon 38 fell into the London Docks. Bartholomew Donovan 57 dock labourer found drowned on Wednesday. Edward Fisher a cooper in the London Docks fell into the dock on Wednesday night 10th December. A dock constable was found in Millwall Docks. Joseph Reynolds fell off his barge while parking on the Thames and drowned.”
Eastern Post 20 December 1873
LONDON FOG RULES
FIRST. - Should the fog be very dense, withdraw
half the Police from the thoroughfares. Remember their lives are valuable to the
community at large.
Secondly. - Let none of the Street Lamps be lighted, until the usual time (if then); they are of very little use, and the shops must have more blaze than usual. Never do for yourself what you can get some one else to do for you.
Thirdly. - In the neighbourhood of St. Paul's and the Banks, where the traffic, like the Fog, is at its thickest, let care be taken to secure the absence of all light and all Police. Surely everyone who is out on such a day ought to be old enough and wise enough to take care of himself. As to omnibuses, waggons, carts, cabs and carriages, they ought all to have lamps, and, when they haven't lights, they have lungs, and can ward off danger by continuous shouting.
Fourthly. - No extra Gas must be used at Railway stations, and great care should be taken that all the carriages may be left without the usual lamps. When the Fog has entirely cleared off, the Lamps may be lighted, and the Police may resume their duties.
Punch, December 20, 1873
Fogs are, no doubt, not peculiar to London. Even Paris itself can occasionally turn out very respectable work in this way, and the American visitor to England will very probably think, in passing the banks of Newfoundland that he has very little to learn on the subject of fog. But what Mr. Guppy called “a London particular,” and what is more usually known to the natives as “a peasouper”, will very speedily dispel any little hallucination of this sort. As the east wind brings up the exhalations of the Essex and Kentish marshes, and as the damp-laden winter air prevents the dispersion of the partly consumed carbon from hundreds of thousands of chimneys, the strangest atmospheric compound known to science fills the valley of the Thames. At such times almost all the senses have their share of trouble. Not only does a strange and worse than Cimmerian darkness hide familiar landmarks from the sight, but the taste and sense of smell are of fended by an unhallowed compound of flavours, and all things become greasy and clammy to the touch. During the continuance of a real London fog—which may be black, or grey, or more probably orange-coloured—the happiest man is he who can stay at home. But if business — there is no such thing as out-door pleasure during the continuance of a London fog—should compel a sally into the streets, one caution should be carefully observed. Mr. Catlin, well known for his connection with the Indian tribes of North America, once promulgated in print a theory, that a royal road to long life was, sleeping or waking, to keep the mouth as much as possible closed. This advice, whatever its value may be generally, should always be followed when a London fog has to be encountered Nothing could be more deleterious to the lungs and the air-passages than the wholesale inhalation of the foul air and floating carbon which, combined, form a London fog. In this connection it may be taken as an axiom that the nose is nature’s respirator. It almost unnecessary to add that the dangers of the streets, great at all times, are immeasurably increased in foggy weather; and that advantages of being able to dive into the unnatural darkness after successful robbery, are thoroughly appreciated by the predatory classes.
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879
Fog Signals - Under the Conservancy bye-laws every steam vessel when the steam is up, and when under way, shall in all cases of fog use as a signal a steam whistle, which shall be sounded at least every three minutes. (a) Sailing vessels when under way shall in like manner use a fog horn. (b) When at anchor all vessels shall in like manner use a bell. The penalty for breach of these bye-laws is a sum not exceeding £5.
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881
see also LONDON FOGS by R.Russell - click here
A LONDON FOG.
A FOG in London daytime like the night is,
Our fellow-creatures seem like wandering ghosts,
The dull mephitic cloud will bring bronchitis;
You cannon into cabs or fall o'er posts.
The air is full of pestilential vapours,
Innumerable "blacks" come with the smoke
The thief and rough cut unmolested capers,
In truth a London Fog's no sort of joke.
You rise by candle-light or gaslight, swearing
There never was a climate made like ours;
If rashly you go out to take an airing,
The soot-flakes come in black Plutonian show'rs.
Your carriage wildly runs into another,
No matter though you go at walking pace;
You meet your dearest friend, or else your brother,
And never know him, although face to face.
The hours run on, and night and day commingle,
Unutterable filth is in the air;
You re much depressed, e'en in the fire-side ingle,
The hag Dyspepsia seems everywhere.
Your wild disgust in vain you try to bridle,
Mad as March hare or hydrophobic dog,
You feel in fact intensely suicidal:
Such things befall us in a London Fog!
Punch, December 30, 1882
'It was by this time about nine in the morning, and the first fog of the season. A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr Utterson beheld a marvellous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths. The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passenger, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful re-invasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer's eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare.'
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1886
Mond. Jan. 9. Hideous fog; bad cold. ...
Tuesd. Jan. 10. Fog still; cold worse. ...
Wed. Jan. ll. Fog denser than ever. Cold so much worse, had to lie up in house. ...
Thursd. Jan. 12. A terrible day; the fourth that we have not seen the sky. Happily began to clear in the evening. My cold too bad to let me go forth. ...
Frid. Jan. 13. Fog hanging about still, until 3 in afternoon. then clearing. Got up at 10; cold almost gone, but did not go to Grahame. ...
Sat. Jan. 14. Black fog at noon, then cleared, and at night thanked heaven for showing its stars once more. ...
Thursd. Jan. 19. Sent cheque to mother. Walked to Tott. Ct. Rd. for tobacco etc. ... Cold and cloudy. Must be several weeks since there was a single gleam of sunlight.
George Gissing, Diary, 1888
Foggy weather is propritious to amatory caprices. Harlots tell me that they usually do good business during that state of atmosphere, especially those who are regular nymphs of the pavé,and who don't mind exercises in the open air. Timid men get bold and speak to women when they otherwise would not. That is my own experience also, and recollect going along a main street on one such night, accosting nearly everyone in petticoats, and felt six or eight c**** within an hour at a shilling a feel, felt till I hadn't any silver left and perforce left off thus amusing myself.
'Walter' My Secret Life, Volume 11
Victorian London - Publications - Humour - Punch - cartoon 11
A HARMONY IN LONDON SMUT.
Punch, 16th February, 1889
see also Mary H. Krout in A Looker-On in London - click here
HAVING referred to events relative to Spring, Summer and Winter, and even Autumn, although
perhaps not having specially mentioned the fact,
I will try and make my little work as complete as I am
able in dealing with Hyde Park all the year round, so
will just make a few observations as to how we get along
during dreary, foggy November - not that fog strictly
confines itself to visiting us during that particular month
alone, but as a matter of fact we are not surprised to
get a plentiful supply of that objectionable mixture at
this period of the year. I cannot recall any special
occurrence consequent on fog, for the simple reason
that Hyde Park is conspicuous by the absence of its
usual frequenters, riding, driving, and even walking
(with few exceptions), as though by common consent
giving it a wide berth. From individual experience I
must say I do not blame them, for a more dismal,
deceptive place during such weather can scarcely be
imagined, at least it appeared so to me. I, myself, after
traversing the Park for twenty years and over, would
naturally be supposed to know every inch of the place,
and could safely walk about so to speak blindfolded;
and I would be inclined to think I could have done so.
However, be that as it may, all I can say is that in a
dense evening fog I have to confess, that a stranger who
had never put foot in the place before wouldnot be at
much greater loss to find their way than I; a pitch dark
night was a treat comparatively, so far as finding one's
way about was concerned-for this simple reason, we
carried our "bull's-eye" lantern on our belt, and when
occasion required to turn on the light, by just giving the
reflector a twist, the surroundings for a dozen or twenty
yards would be lit up all of aglow; but not so in a dense
evening fog, the radiant little "bull", illuminating though
it may be in pitchy darkness, yet through this murky
stuff you were lucky if it penetrated at most a couple of
yards. Pam iliat' spots appear so totally different, strange
and fantastic objects seem to rise in front of one, occa
sioned by the clouds of drifting fog; in fact it gave one
the creeps, especially should it be accompanied with
frost, the damp clammy coldness seemed to penetrate
to one's very bones. There is also such an unnatural
sort of stillness as you grope your way slowly along, in
order to keep the right footpath and avoid barking you
shins against the low sharp rails that edge the numerous
paths, or from coming into sudden contact with an iron
post or hurdle, and after considerable straining of eyes
and puzzling of brain in this manner, in order to arrive
at a particular place, by some chance or other you all
at once discover that you are going in quite an altogethe
opposite direction. One's feelings in such a predicament
may be more easily imagined than described.
In speaking of myself I believe I am only relating what is similarly experienced by others. The only advice I can offer to anyone who should find themselves in such difficulties is that it is utterly useless to attempt to re trace one's steps; the safest and quickest way in the end is to continue as straight and careful as one is able to proceed, and eventually some way of egress will be found from the Park, even should it have taken you considerably out of your ordinary route, but to twist and turn about means loss of time, and most probably a fall over the low rails into the bargain. Another danger which should be borne in mind in crossing the Park in a dense fog is the Serpentine, for in many instances people have walked into the water-not that I a am aware of a case that proved fatal owing to the - mistake made, but in all probability such a thing may have happened. One instance I recollect. A young man walked into the water, and in attempting to regal terra firma he found he was going considerably deeper he had the good sense to stand perfectly still, and com menced shouting "Help!" Old Mr. Smith, for many years the Serpentine water-fowl keeper, attracted by the cry, went out of his lodge adjacent to the lake, obtained the assistance of a policeman, went in search and discovered the terrified young fellow just up to his knees in water, and whom they promptly helped out. Not a bad idea on his part, I consider, to take the precaution he did; such presence of mind might help a someone else placed in similar straits.
Owen, Hyde Park, Select Narratives, Annual Event, etc,
during twenty years' Police Service in Hyde Park, 1906
Fogs are, no doubt, not peculiar to London. Even Paris itself can occasionally turn out very respectable work in this way, and the American visitor to England will very probably think, in passing the banks of Newfoundland that he has very little to learn on the subject of fog. Time was, and with the last twenty years, when London's experience in this way was a thing to be dreaded, and to which the title of "pea-souper" was quite applicable. There have been several weeks in the eighties when its penetration indoors and its blackness outside has almost brought the inhabitants of London to a state of despair. Whether Smoke Abatement Acts have done something to make things better or the peculiar atmospheric combination, have failed to amalgamate as they certainly used to, whilst London gets fogs (as nearly any place with a river near the sea would naturally do), of recent years they have not been so thick and dense and orange-coloured as they once were, there is more pure fog in them, less smoke, and they are whiter than they used to be. As they come now, however, great care is necessary in crossing the thoroughfares, the character of the traffic having altered considerably during the last few years, and the towering motor-bus or the rushing motor-car or cab has given a new anxiety to the pedestrian in the streets, especially in crossing them. In any kind of fog it may be taken as an axiom that the nose is Nature's respirator, and it is wise to keep the mouth as much as possible closed.
Charles Dickens Jr.
et al, Dickens Dictionary of London, c.1908 edition
(no date; based on internal evidence)
The worst fogs I ever recollect in London were about these times [ in the 1850s, ed.] ; there was quite an alarm, too, about the garrotters, who had an amiable habit of coming behind one, choking their victim and robbing him of all he had, and then leaving him half dead; and I well recollect not being allowed to go alone with my sister to our dancing-lessons, though we had only to cross the road, run through our friendly doctor's house, and cross another road to reach our destination; first, because of the fogs; we might lose our way; secondly, because we might be garrotted; though what thieves could be supposed to steal from small girls of nine and eleven is more than I can imagine. There have been fogs since, notably when Brett and Haydon, the celebrated detectives, came to sit, and came into the schoolroom to wait and see if the fog would lift, the while they told us blood-curdling stories of their adventures, and showed us how to open handcuffs should we ever find ourselves in the grasp of the law; and then came, much later, an awful fortnight of real black densenesss when Mama died, and the world suddenly seemed to become black too. There have not been for many years anything like those fogs; one could not see an inch before one's nose; boys bearing torches used to rush about and try to earn a penny in leading old gentlemen all wrong, and Papa once found himself in a hansom cab, with the horse going up the steps of a house, instead of along the road; and another time was guided home by a blind man, who said pathetically, "Fogs make no difference to me, Sir!"
Mrs. Panton, Leaves from a Life, 1908