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Graphic Description of London

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Graphic Description of London

Post by Karen on Wed 8 Jan 2014 - 16:07


The city of London within the walls, occupies a space of only 370 acres, and is but the hundred-and-fortieth part of the extent covered by the whole metropolis. Nevertheless, it is the parent of a mass of united and far-spreading tenements, stretching from Hammersmith to Blackwall, from Holloway to Camberwell. A century ago, according
to Maitland, the metropolis had drawn into its vortex one city, and borough, and forty-three villages.
Despite its vast extent, still its increase continues to be so rapid, that every year further house-room has to be provided for 20,000 persons; so that London increases annually by the addition of a town of considerable size. At all times there are 4,000 extra houses in the course of erection. By the last return the metropolis covered an extent
of nearly 45,000 acres, and contained upward of 260,000 houses, occupied by 1,820,000 souls, constituting not only the densest, but the busiest hive, the most wondrous workshop, and the richest bank in the world. The mere name of London awakens a thousand trains of varied reflections. Perhaps the first thought that it excites in the mind
paints it as the focus of modern civilization, of the hottest, the most restless activity of the social elements. Some turning to the West, see it as a city of palaces, adorned with parks, ennobled with triumphal arches, grand statues, and stately monuments; others, looking at the East, see only narrow lanes and musty counting-houses, with tall chimneys
vomiting black clouds, and huge masses of warehouses with doors and cranes ranged one above another. Yet all think of it as a vast bricken multitude, a strange incongruous chaos of wealth and want - of ambition and despair - of the brightest charity and the darkest crime, where there are more houses and more houseless, where there is more feasting
and more starvation, than on any other spot on earth - and all grouped round the one giant centre, the huge black dome, with its ball of gold looming through the smoke (apt emblem of the source of riches!) and making out the capital, no matter from what quarter the traveller may come.
Those who have only seen London in the daytime, with its flood of life pouring through its arteries to its restless heart, know it not in its grandest aspect. It is not in the noise and roar of the cataract of commerce pouring through its streets, nor in its forest of ships, nor in its vast docks and warehouses, that its true solemnity is to be seen. To behold it in its greatest
sublimity, it must be contemplated by night, afar off, from an eminence. The noblest prospect in the world, it has been well said, is London viewed from the suburbs on a clear Winter's evening. The stars are shining in the heavens, but there is another firmament spread out below, with its millions of bright lights glittering at our feet. Line after line sparkles, like the trails
left by meteors, cutting and crossing one another till they are lost in the haze of the distance. Over the whole there hangs a lurid cloud, bright as if the monster city were in flame, and looking afar off like the sea by night, and phosphorescent by the million creatures dwelling within it. At night it is that the strange anomalies of London are best seen. Then, as the hum of life
ceases and the shops darken, and the gaudy gin palaces thrust out their ragged and squalid crowds to pace the streets, London puts on its most solemn look of all. On the benches of the parks, in the niches of the bridges, and in the litter of the markets, are huddled together the homeless and the destitute. The only living things that haunt the streets are the poor wretches
who stand shivering in their finery, waiting to catch the drunkard as he goes shouting homeward. Here on a door-step crouches some shoeless child, whose day's begging has not brought it enough to purchase it even the twopenny bed that its young companions in beggary have gone to. There, where the stones are taken up and piled high in the road, and the gas streams
from a tall pipe in the centre of the street in a flag of flame - there, round the red glowing coke fire, are grouped a ragged cloud, smoking or dozing through the night beside it. Then, as the streets grow blue with the coming light, and the church spires and the chimney-tops stand out against the sky with a sharpness of outline that is seen only in London before its million
fires cover the town with their pall of smoke - then come sauntering forth the unwashed poor, some with greasy wallets on their back, to hunt over each dirt heap, and eke out life by seeking refuse bones, or stray rags and pieces of old iron. Others, on their way to work, are gathered at the corner of the street round the breakfast stall, and blowing saucers of steaming coffee
drawn from tall tin cans, and with the fire shining crimson through the holes beneath; whilst already the little slattern girl, with her basket slung before her, screams watercresses through the sleeping streets.
Yet who, to see the squalor and wretchedness of London by night, would believe that 29 only of the London bankers have cleared through their clearing-house as much as nine hundred and fifty four million pounds sterling in one year, the average being more than three millions of money daily - or that the loans of merely one house in the city throughout the year exceed thirty millions?
Who could have visited the Rookery of St. Giles's as it existed but a few months back, and have seen the unutterable abominations of this retreat of wretchedness, this nest of disease, at once the nursery and sanctuary of vice - where in one house alone, Mr. Smirke tells us, were huddled together eleven men, thirteen women, and thirty children - where as many as sixty of the foulest
of the London lazzaroni often sleep in the same abode; who could witness this want of wretchedness, and yet believe that this country is "the bank for the whole world," as the late Mr. Rothschild called it in 1832; or that "all transactions in India, in China, in Russia, and indeed in every other empire, are guided and settled in this country?"
Is it possible to believe that any man among us should want a roof to shelter his head by night, or a crust to quell his hunger by day, when we find that the amount of the property insured against fire is valued at more than five hundred millions sterling, even though, according to the returns made of the fires in the metropolis during 1836 and 1837, forty per cent of the houses, amounting to
two-fifths of the whole, were entirely uninsured? "A very short excursion into the worst part of St. Giles's," says Mr. Smirke, "will be enough to convince any one, through the medium of every sense, that it was built before the wholesome regulations respecting building and cleansing were in force. Indeed, there is scarcely a single sewer in any part of it; so that here, where there is the greatest
accumulation of filth, there is the least provision made for its removal." And yet, in the Holborn and Finsbury division alone - close neighbors - the length of main covered sewers is 83 miles, the length of smaller sewers to carry off the surface water from the roads and streets 16 miles - the length of drains leading from houses to the main sewers 264 miles - an extent almost equal to the distance
of London from Edinburgh. The amount of money spent and the vastness of apparatus employed simply in lighting London and the suburbs with gas, would seem to dispel all thoughts of poverty. According to the account of Mr. Headley, the capital employed in pipes, tanks, gas holders, and apparatus of the London gas works amounts to 2,800,000 pounds, and the cost of lighting averages
close upon half a million of money per year; no less than 1,460,000,000 feet of gas being annually consumed, and upwards of nine millions being used on the longest night, giving a light equal to half a million pounds of tallow candles.
"The consumption of butchers' meat," says an excellent authority, "is nowhere so great in proportion to the population as in London. The population which obtains a supply of animal food from the metropolitan market amounts to two millions. Now, calculating the number of cattle and sheep sold in Smithfield in 1849, with the number of pigs and calves, from the returns of a previous year, and averaging
the dead weight of each according to the judgment of an intelligent carcasse butcher in Warwick-lane, the gross weight of animal food which is furnished by the Smithfield market will amount to two hundred and seventy millions eight hundred and eighty thousand pounds of meat annually consumed in the metropolis alone. At the low price of 6d. per pound the above quantity amounts to 6,847,000 pounds;
and dividing this quantity among a population of two millions, the consumption of each individual will average 136 pounds of meat in the course of the year; so that it seems almost impossible to believe that any living soul within or without the city walls should ever want a dinner.
The amount of crime in London is almost as amazing as its wealth. About 36,000 criminals pass through the metropolitan gaols, bridewells, and penitentiaries every year. In one year the number of persons taken into custody by the metropolitan police for various infractions of the law amounts to 65,000 and odd - equal to the whole population of some of our largest towns. The criminal district of the metropolis
are peculiar. Larcenies in a dwelling-house were most numerous in Whitechapel in one year, and St. George's-in-the-Borough in another. Larcenies on the person, on the other hand, were most common in Covent-Garden at one time, and at another in Shadwell. Highway robberies, burglaries, and shop-breaking occur most frequently in the eastern and southern district, as Whitechapel, Southwark, Lambeth,
Mile-end, and Poplar. The parish of St. James annually furnishes the largest proportionate number of cases under the head of drunkeness, disorderly prostitutes, and vagrancy. Clerkenwell is distinguished for the greatest number of cases of horse-stealing, of assaults with attempt to rescue, and wilful damage. Common assaults are said to be most frequent in Covent-garden and in St. George's-in-the-East; coining
and uttering counterfeit coin in Clerkenwell and Covent-garden; embezzlement in Whitechapel and Clerkenwell; and pawning illegally in Mile-end and Lambeth. Murder has been found to be most prevalent in Clerkenwell and Whitechapel; manslaughter in Islington and Clerkenwell, and arson in Marylebone and Westminster. One thing is at least clear, that, judging from the limited number of facts supplied to us, Clerkenwell
would seem to hold a bad pre-eminence for the number and nature of the offences committed within its limits. The Constabulary Commissioners, who had access to the best sources of information, made a return of the number of thieves and suspicious characters within the boundaries of the metropolitan police, and the following is the result of their investigation: - They divided the whole number into three classes, and they found,
1st, that there were 10,444 persons who had no visible means of subsistence, and who are believed to live by the violation of the law, as by habitual depredations by fraud, by prostitution, &c.; 2dly - of persons following some ostensible and legal occupation, but who are known to have committed some offence, and are believed to augment their gains by habitual or occasional violations of the law, there were 4,353; and, 3dly - there were
2,104 persons not recognised to have committed any offences, but know as associates of the above classes, and otherwise deemed to be suspicious characters. Besides this, return, the Constabulary Commissioners also obtained another, giving the number of houses open for the accommodation of delinquency and vice in the metropolitan district, namely, houses for the reception of stolen goods, 227; houses for the resort of thieves,
276; number of brothels where prostitutes are kept, 933; number of houses of ill-fame where prostitutes resort, 848; number of houses where prostitutes lodge, 1,554; number of gambling-houses, 32; and number of mendicants' lodging-houses, 221. - London Morning Chronicle.

Source: The Cambridge Chronicle, Volume V, Number 14, Thursday April 4, 1850

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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