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The Counties of England by  Charlotte Mason
Table of Contents


 

 

LONDON

I

[213] "The people, ah, the people!" Not the same people standing about in a crowd, but new people always, streaming past like the waters of a river. Not excited crowds, hurrying to a show; but, quiet and grave, everybody intent on his own business, nobody dawdling or looking about, on they pour in two streams, forward and back. See, there is a countryman, he is peering round to see where all the folk can be going; now he has got in the way, and is jostled and pushed until he finds his place. We are on London Bridge, and "Keep to the right," and "Go straight on," are the rules by which we must keep our footing.

Surely all London is not so crowded; let us try the City. Yonder is the big round dome of St. Paul's to guide us, the dome which is to London as the nose upon its face. Still we hold our breath and say, "The people, ah, the people!" Not the same sort of people, however; most of these wear black coats, and look keen and full of business. It is one o'clock, and the City clerks are hastening to the eating-houses to lunch. We wish to cross the street; somebody says, "Wait till the road is clear"—a joke evidently. Does this roaring tide of vehicles never ebb? On they go, up one side of the street, down the other; the back of carriage or cab under the nose of the horse behind. Yes, we are told, there are times when this hurrying [214] to and fro ceases. Come here on a Sunday, or late in the evening, and you will find these noisy and crowded streets empty and silent. The three and a half millions of London people do not live here, but in the streets of dwelling-houses which extend east and west, north and south of the City. Three and a half millions of inhabitants ! Why that is enough to people a country. Holland has not many more; Switzerland, considerably fewer. London is indeed a wonderful place; perhaps there has never been in the world so large or so rich a city, or a city with such a wide foreign commerce. A walk of eight miles would hardly take you from the farthest east to the farthest west end; and from north to south is not short of six miles. To go round London you must make a circuit of between twenty and thirty miles.

Londoners have no time to walk much; omnibuses and tramway carriages carry them about, and help to throng the streets; streets so crowded, that a novel plan has been hit upon to lessen the traffic. A tunnel, an underground passage, has been bored, making a circuit beneath the busiest and most crowded part of the metropolis. Lines of railway are laid in this tunnel, and there are stations above ground at many busy points; people go from place to place by this underground railway, and think no more of it than they do of driving in a cab.

Not only underground, but under water, have the Londoners bored. There is a Tunnel, a dry road, right under the bed of the Thames from the Middlesex to the Surrey side, a road twelve feet broad, which you reach by a sort of shaft with one hundred steps for passengers to go up and down by, and through which the East London Railway now runs.

II

THE CITY

[215] TO return to "the City." The portion of London to which this name is properly given is really but a small part of the whole. Once the City was enclosed within walls, and was entered by gates, and people who care for relics of old times were sorry when old Temple Bar, the last of the gates, was taken down quite lately. Now there are no gates to show that you are within the bounds, but the roar of business in Cheapside does not leave you in doubt. The City is the very heart of London, the seat of its vast commerce; and perhaps Cheapside, always in a "very turmoil of trade," is the heart of the City.

Running out of Cheapside, and indeed out of all the City streets, are narrow byways, where the walls on each side are so high that you look up at the bit of sky between as from the bottom of a well. These are the warehouses where the merchant princes keep their precious stores. Now you see why the walls are so high. Eoom, more room! is the cry here as in every corner of the vast metropolis. Enormous as many of these stores are, every inch of space, from roof to basement, is crammed. Goods to the value of thousands of pounds are bought and sold in one such warehouse every day. Well may the men of the City look full of business! Very busy, too, do they keep the "Old Lady of Threadneedle Street;" so the clerks irreverently call the Bank—the Bank of England. Strangers are allowed to go through some of the rooms; and it is curious to see the rapid way in which gold and notes are handled.

Then there is the Royal Exchange to be seen, "where merchants most do congregate," but it is [216] beyond us to understand anything about the great money transactions which take place here. We can only look at the outside of the noble building, and looking up we catch the words, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof"—a pleasant, restful thought (chosen by "Albert the Good"), for we are apt to forget that it is as true of the wealth of this busy city as of the fulness of orchard and corn-field.

We must not miss the Mint, where all our money is coined, stamped with the Queen's head; and we must see the General Post Office, one of the] great sights of the City. We should be in time to see the red mail carts come in from all parts of London, each with its cargo of letters and parcels.

The Port of London, with which the City has much to do, lies farther east, between^London Bridge and Blackwall. Here are the Docks, the finest in the world. Those on the Middlesex side are the London, St. Katharine, West India and East JIndia Docks, and, farther on, the Victoria. Along the banks of the river are warehouses and wharves, and workshops and factories of every kind. Here is, also, a dense mass of narrow streets and crowded houses, the homes of the river-side population, sea-faring folk, who have little to do with the rest of London.

III

ST. PAUL'S

WE must not leave this part of London without a visit to its great church, the Cathedral of St. Paul, the patron saint of the City, whose day was kept with great rejoicings in old St. Paul's.

[217] It would be strange to us to see a church used as was this old St. Paul's. The floor of the church was laid out in walks, and it was a common thoroughfar for porters and carriers; nay, mules and horses and other beasts were driven through the aisles.

This cathedral was entirely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, in which nearly all London was consumed,—a terrible fire which raged from street to street for four days and nights, while the people who had escaped from their burning houses could but stand looking on, helpless. They could not stop the raging fire-fiend; in vain they tore down houses and brought water as they could; the wind favoured the spread of the flames, which rushed onward, king and people looking on in despair. From the Tower to Fleet Street was as if a volcano had burst in the midst of it and destroyed it. The very ruins were reduced to powder.

It was a terrible misfortune at the time, but did not prove a bad thing for London in the end. The old streets were narrow, with overhanging stories, so that people might almost shake hands across the street out of their top windows; the houses were built of wood, and were mostly very old, and not over clean. Worse than all, the year before, London had been visited by an awful sickness. There was hardly a house whose door had not been marked by a red cross to show that some one within lay sick of the plague. At night carts were carried round the City for the dead; a bell was rung, and "Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!" was cried before every house.

The year after this sickness the fire came, and burnt the old plague-stricken houses clean away; a merciful thing, for perhaps it was the only way to save London from being again a City of the Plague.

[218] The cathedral was gone; as it had stood in the middle of the City, and on the highest point in London, no better site could be chosen for the new St. Paul's, of which Sir Christopher Wren was to be the architect. He made a cathedral quite unlike any other in the country, but very suitable for the great metropolis, spreading and vast, as if to gather all London into its broad aisles: then the dome—what would London be without the great black dome of St. Paul's? Flying buttresses and tapering spires would not suit our solid City half so well. The tombs of many famous men were destroyed with the old cathedral, but in the vaults beneath our St. Paul's lie two of England's greatest sons; there, side by side, rest the ashes of Wellington, our greatest soldier, and Nelson, our greatest sailor.

The City of London is in many ways under the rule of the Lord Mayor and his Council of Aldermen. Perhaps, in the Guildhall, or by the Mansion House, we may get a glimpse of them in their grand civic robes. But we must hasten westward to another city with another minster, for London includes two.

IV

WESTMINSTER

NOW we are within the much quieter old City of Westminster, which was once divided from London City by green fields and country lanes. There is the splendid Westminster Palace—the new Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Hall, and there is the West Minster itself, the grey old Abbey. How beautiful it is, with fretted stone-work, and sculptures, and airy pinnacles, and [219] with its ascending lines rising, light as flame, towards the sky. What -a look of reverend age it bears! It would seem removed by centuries from the bustle and business of the City we have just quitted.

We go softly as we enter, for within lie the mighty dead: the last honour England pays to her noblest sons is a place among her Great in Westminster Abbey. Their monuments crowd about us,—statesmen and soldiers, men of science and men of letters—names which belong to England's history. The poets have a corner, Poets' Corner, to themselves; and in Henry VII.'s beautiful Chapel rest all our Tudor sovereigns with the exception of Henry VIII.

No monument is more interesting than the crumbling shrine of the Confessor King; despoiled now of gold and gems, but still surmounted by the iron-bound oaken coffin which contains the ashes of the last Saxon king of England.

Dear was the Abbey to him: he found it, even then, an old minster; and to rebuild and beautify it was the great work of his life. A tenth of his substance, in gold, silver, cattle, and all other possessions did he give to this work; and we may think of him as watching its progress from his palace hard by, a palace of which no trace remains.

Hither came the Conqueror to be crowned; and the coronation of every king and queen of England, from the Norman William to our Queen Victoria, has taken place in Westminster Abbey; with one exception, the boy-king, Edward V.

Nothing remains of the Confessor's work but a few blackened arches. The Abbey, as we now see it, was rebuilt for the most part by Henry III.

Not far from Westminster is Whitehall, the royal [220] palace in which Charles I. was beheaded; and near it are the Government Offices and other interesting buildings which we cannot stop to speak of.

We must go through the parks, Hyde Park and St. James's, and get into the West End. The West End is the best end of London, the end where are the mansions and stately houses of the rich people and noblemen; and for a good reason. The wind which blows upon England most days in the year is a west wind, a wind that blows up from the Atlantic; the wind drives the smoke before it, and the smoke from the chimneys of the West End is carried east, towards the City.

The two finest streets of shops in this part of London are Eegent Street and Oxford Street; very fine shops they are, with such shows of silks and velvets and furs, gems and laces, pictures and porcelain, in their windows as country folk do not often see.

We have no room to speak of the British Museum, nor of the National Gallery, nor of the statues of great men, nor of a hundred other interesting sights; but we must pay a visit to

V

THE TOWER OF LONDON

THERE it stands, on the bank of the Thames, a strong fortress for the protection of the City, east of which it lies. It is not one tower, but many, grey and old, with walls so thick that a winding staircase has been built in more than one place in the thickness of the masonry. A Tower Palace, of which little remains, was once enclosed with the fortress within the strong outer walls. It is not for the sake of palace or fortress [221] that every English person cares to visit the Tower: since the days of the Conqueror, this has been the State Prison of England.

In one or another of its narrow chambers have been confined many of our country's heroes who have fallen under the displeasure of the crown; and the walls of many of the cells are scratched all over with brave, patient words, or with the names of those dearest to the noble prisoners. The IANE, IANE, scratched by the poor young Lord Guildford Dudley is still to be seen. His wife, Jane, was in another cell, and there is the window at which she stood praying while she watched her young husband led forth to be beheaded on Tower Hill, within the walls of the fortress. The Lady Jane herself was the next to suffer this traitor's death. Three weeks before she had entered the fortress as Queen of England.

There is the Bloody Tower, in a chamber of which the two young princes, Edward V. and his brother, were smothered by order of their uncle, afterwards Eichard III. In this Bloody Tower Sir Walter Raleigh was confined by James I. for twelve dreary years for no fault of his. There is the Traitors' Gate, a water-gate fronting the Thames, by which the young Princess Elizabeth, to her anger and dismay, was brought in from her home, Hatfield House in Herts: she was shortly released.

Not so had it fared with the most gentle, witty, and wise of statesmen, Sir Thomas More. He had been brought hither from his pleasant house at Chelsea, in the gardens of which he and the king had often walked up and down in merry talk; but he would not tell a lie to satisfy the king, and Henry VIII. would brook no contradiction, so he, too, fell as a traitor.


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