I DIP my pen to write the first line of this book with a consciousness that it must be rather egoistic if written at all.
It is a rough impression of my own experience and opinions; and, do what I will, I cannot help using a large number of capital I's in its compilation. The subject is one which ought especially to interest Londoners; and as I have been repeatedly asked about it by friends, I fancy that some others may care to read what is at least an honest record of personal observation.
Circumstances led me some two years ago to move from a populous Western district of which I had long had charge - that of St. Luke's, Berwick Street, in St. James's, Westminster - to St. George's in the East, a large parish lying a little beyond the Tower, and containing the London Docks.
Thus I have the opportunity of bringing the experience of many years in the West to the observation of the East.
The result hitherto has been the correction of much of my own ignorance and the dissipation of some prejudice. As soon as I came I began in an aimless sort of way, sometimes even as I walked along the street, jotting down impressions on scraps of paper, just as they occurred, without any order or connection, and stuffing them into a large envelope. This has now grown ready to burst, and after emptying the heap of pencil notes upon my study table I have tried to assimilate and reproduce them. I cannot, however, transform this papery jumble into a severely connected record. Thus, if any one cares to be my reader, I must ask him to forgive me for the discursive and colloquial shape of my attempt; for, after all, I must offer the fruit of my observation much as it was gathered.
My first impression was, perhaps, of the nearness of the East of London to the West. The East is, to many who dwell in the West, an unknown distant land. Anything beyond the City is indefinitely remote. I lived close to the Langham Hotel, and on the occasion of my first taking Sunday duty at St. George's I hailed a crawling cab in Portland Place and drove there. To my surprise it landed me at the gate of my new church in twenty-eight minutes. Of course, it being Sunday, the streets were clear, but I had not urged the driver to any special speed. The next week I got the jailor at the Marlborough Street police-court to go over my course with the fatal wheel which decides the disputes between cabmen and their 'fares.' The distance from the Oxford Street Circus to the iron gate of the church at St. George's in the East turned out to be something under four miles - a verdict which several cabmen have since heard with much professional affectation of scepticism; but on my informing them of my authority they have shown by their acquiescence that they had drawn upon their faith in the vaguely exaggerated public conceptions of the remoteness of the East in attempting to decline half-a-crown for the journey.
It is not, however, the actual distance so much as the throng in the City which divides the East of London from the West.
By day Westminster and Whitechapel are, so to speak, on the opposite sides of a thick wood; but at night, or when the road is clear, they are easily joined by a half-hour's drive. The railways, from whichever side they approach it, as yet only empty themselves into the rim round the centre of London; and thus they have hitherto done little toward bringing the suburbs together. Wherever you alight there is the same dense core to be penetrated and passed through before an opposite terminus can be reached. Presently, however, there will be one connecting line between at least the East and West.
The East London Railway, which runs through the old Thames Tunnel and is burrowing under the London Docks, will, by striking into the Great Eastern Low Level, meet the extension of the Metropolitan at Liverpool Street, and thus provide a new way through part of the parishes of Bethnal Green, Stepney, and St. George's in the East, from Paddington to the Sydenham district, and so on to Brighton. This will of course immensely benefit us Easterners. Now we have no wholly unimpeded road westward but the river. This in summer-time provides a cheap and pleasant access to Westminster by the Greenwich boats which call at various piers above the Tower.
After all, however, the East is very much farther from the West than the West is from the East.
When I lived near the line of Regent Street, I intended for years to make an expedition to the Ratcliff Highway; but I was deterred, I imagine, chiefly by the supposed length of the trip. Now that I live near the Highway I find that I can get easily, by three or four routes, to my old neighbourhood in from half an hour to forty-five minutes.
The second general impression I received of the East of London was in respect to its spaciousness. Anyone may perceive this who penetrates and then traverses the City from the West, and after passing the 'Butcher's Row' at Aldgate enters on either of the broad thoroughfares, traversed by trains, which are called the Commercial Road or the Mile End Road. These, shortly after leaving the City, become two of the widest streets in London, and the pavement in the Mile End Road in particular is proportionately as wide as the roadway.
They are characteristic of the East, and branching off from them on either side may be seen long tributaries of modest houses, many, I may say most of them, only two stories high, in which rent is low and where the tenants get plenty of elbow-room.
The Mile End Road dies out into the country - which, by the way, involves Epping Forest - with a growing fringe of villas; and the Commercial Road justifies its name more and more as it goes on and reveals, by the masts of the ships in the docks, its connection with the maritime commerce of London.
To recur to that part of the East which is daily before me, and which lies immediately on the right of the Commercial Road after passing Whitechapel. It eminently impresses me with the sense of spaciousness. In this my present parish presents a remarkable contrast to the district in which I had worked for some years. There my church was jammed up so tightly in the centre of a crowd of courts that a stranger walking down Berwick Street, at the bottom of which it was placed, might traverse nearly the whole street and come away without suspecting that it contained a church at all.
Here the church dominates - in a material sense - the whole parish, and has a disused church yard of some three acres at its foot, or, rather, heel. There, at St. Luke's, we had a densely crowded population. That of the Berwick Street division of St. James's, Westminster, has been stated in published statistics to be the most crowded in the metropolis. My reader may believe me or not, but I am speaking the truth when I tell him that we had 10,000 people in 300 yards square. Here the streets are wider, the houses are less closely packed together, and poor people especially have more room. There, an artisan in the receipt of good wages is frequently obliged to content himself with one apartment, which serves for all purposes, and for which he pays some five or six shillings a-week. Here he can get a whole house of four rooms, with a commodious yard at its back, for about the same sum.
Many people entertain a vaguely erroneous idea of the crowded 'slums' of the East. For the worst or most frequent specimens of 'slums' they should go to some parts of central London, or even some portions of St. James's, Westminster, and its contiguous parishes. Of course there are not a few vile corners and courts in the East; but, on the whole, the working classes are much better lodged here at St. George's than in those parts of the West of which I know most. And our neighbouring parishes of Stepney and Limehouse have fewer crowded corners than we have. Then, too - I speak of the districts which skirt the river - an enormous sense of space is afforded by the docks. These give us, moreover, something beyond a sense of space - a touch of catholicity or cosmopolitanism which is hard to be defined, though very real. It was a new sensation to me when walking down a street to see its whole width gradually filled up by, say, a full-rigged tea-ship from China, which, after months of plunging in tropical seas, was now creeping through the last few yards of its progress to some calmest nook within the docks, and, like a monster vessel in a play, crossed the stage silently with even keel.
All sorts of ships thus traverse St. George's, and, as may be supposed, contribute to the stream in its streets as well as to the crowd in its waters. You hear many languages on its pavements, and see men in all colours of skin and dress. This passing contact and contrast of races, this mixture of land and water, of homely trucks and foreign traders, of horse-vans and steam-vessels; the tier of huge ocean-going ships, brought so close to the shore that can touch their long black sides you with your stick or umbrella as you pace the edge of the docks, produces that sentiment of proximity to the ends of the world of which I have spoken, and which adds to the sense of space that characterises this part of the East of London. And I must remark, in passing, that this evidence of relationship with other parts of the earth seems to me to have its effect on the wits of the residents in St. George's.
Education has been somewhat neglected here - more of this presently - but the people are, it strikes me, eminently shrewd and colloquially intelligent. Their acquaintance with distant commerce must, I think, account for a certain freedom from that local exclusiveness of sentiment and information which characterises many dense communities. Fresh points are given to the many-sided sharpness of London life by familiarity with distant interests.
Another phase of spaciousness appears in the interest which many of the working classes here take in the keeping of animals. I do not now refer to Mr. Jamrach, whose beasts are my parishioners - though the fact of St. George's being notoriously the central market of the world for lions, bears, tigers, elephants, monkeys, and parrots, must create a sentiment of cosmopolitanism among those who can hear them howl and chatter - but to tamer tastes, exhibited in the possession of pigeons, fowls, and dogs. I appreciated the opportunities for this myself, and, being fond of most live things, soon had a company of cocks and hens, which resulted in abundance of fresh eggs throughout the year...
[There's a lengthy digression here about the Rev. Jones' fowls and dogs which has been omitted.]
There is a sentiment of elbow-room and manifold life at St. George's which is felt and reflected by its natives. Not that they do not work, and work hard. No one can live in the East without perceiving this. Life has a very severe and importunate side in these parts. The air is heavily charged with the sentiment of toil, and there is little to stir it. We seem not only to be always at work, but we hardly ever have a glimpse of the unoccupied side of London life. Every one appears either to have something to do or to be seeking work. I except, of course, the phase of relaxation, often grossly offensive, exhibited by sailors ashore, who crowd as much coarse indulgence as possible into the few hours at their disposal. Otherwise, all are obviously about some business. No one dreams of a carriage airing in this part of the East. Here I have never seen a coachman in a wig, or a footman in powder. I have never met a lady on horseback, or a 'Victoria;' and, though we go much about on foot, such a luxury as a crossing-sweeper is unknown. I tax my memory but I do not recollect ever to have seen a 'Punch' at St. George's. As I think about it I perceive that here the strain of work and sentiment of toil is continuous. It is unbroken by the exhibition of equipages and pleasure seekers that marks the 'London Season.' Here our only 'seasons' are summer and winter. We are hot or cold, but we are always at work. September is marked by no difference in the aspect of our streets. We have no fixed busy time, for all times are the same. We do not know when London is 'full' or 'empty,' When Parliament meets or disperses. The only annual event which makes a distinct impression on the neighbourhood is the Cambridge and Oxford boat-race. Then the smallest little draper's shop down the loneliest and dullest street breaks out in blue ribands, and the van horses toiling up Old Gravel Lane from the Docks wear their colour. The papers tell those who please to read such information, of Gun Clubs, Polo Clubs, Four-in Hand Gatherings, Lord's Cricket-matches, Garden Parties, Annual Exhibitions, and all the machinery of pleasure and play, whose wheels are set going from Easter till August, but no echo of this yearly stir reaches us here.
We live much from hand to mouth. Every farthing has to be earned, and a sixpence is severely perceived to be worth six pennies. True there is some pretext for relaxation associated with Victoria Park and the Bethnal Green Museum, but here we sorely want some mollifying influence, some commentary of ornament. The strain of toil is too importunate. An illustration of the general acceptance of the prevailing necessity of work in these parts appears in the use that is made of the big bell of our church - a use of it which, I fancy, would not be tolerated in the West of London.
The parish is proud of its peal of bells. There are eight of them, and at a little distance, or on Sunday before service, they sound well; though practices and rehearsals fill every room, within the radius of some hundred yards or so, with a tremendous din. We have, too, a sonorous clock, which chimes the quarters and strikes the hours with a will. Besides ordinary marking of time by the clock, the curfew is regularly rung; and so is the morning alarum.
St. George's is the only place I know of in which the curfew fulfils some of its original purpose. Directly the clock has done striking eight it tolls for a quarter of an hour; and I am informed that it gives the signal for the cessation of work and the turning-off of the gas in divers workshops.
But the tolling of the day is preeminently in the morning. Then the big bell is rung for fifteen minutes before six, with irregular clang. Sometimes a few strokes are less vigorous than others, but they are never equidistant, and they are always strong. The purpose of this peal or metal monologue is not so much to herald the hour at which work should begin as to awaken the workers, and as it has been so rung for years by the same man he has become an expert in the business. The sleeping ear might survive an even unvarying sound, such as the striking of a clock, but it could hardly outsleep the strain of our alarum.
Did Mr. Fleming, our awakener, toll the bell with the same regularity and force as that which announces the hour, I believe that many might sleep through the summons, though he sounded it for a quarter of an hour. It is remarkable how soon the ear learns to accommodate itself to a recurrent sound, when it is simply and evenly repeated. But Mr. Fleming knows better than merely to reproduce his message. He never precisely repeats his morning performance; sometimes he tolls rapidly and loudly for a minute, then pausing for some fifty seconds, he gives a couple of clangs which seem to discharge an accumulated store of sound. Then, after another silence, he lets off an other big bang; to wait again during a parenthesis which is broken by a score of strokes, that increase in loudness, and crowd so closely on each other, that one wonders how he can get the heavy clapper to obey his tugs with sufficient rapidity. But his great and expiring effort arrives when the chimes begin to precede the striking of six o'clock. Then, stimulated by the additional perception that he can produce a discord as well as a noise, he pulls with a will, and produces a tocsin so complicated and vehement, that if the sleeper has outslept even the summons of the previous fifteen minutes, he must awake, at least if he lives anywhere near the church. My house adjoins it. Its tower is so close that I can hear the rattle of the rope and the groan of the wheel before each metal 'boom.' And when the last stroke of six has been struck in a storm of accompanying clangour from the heavy alarum bell, the air long remains filled with an angry hum, as if the emperor of all the hornets was flying around the room.
And this is done summer and winter, wet and dry. No wonder, if I have not finally contracted a habit of early rising, that I frequently find myself in my study at six o'clock.
Here, in this tocsin, this alarum, which is meant to be intolerable, and so borne with, we have remarkable witness to the general acceptance of the necessity of work in these parts. A great feature of the business here is cartage. The goods brought into dock from over the seas are incessantly being dispersed by wheel and axle. When the tocsin ceases you presently begin to hear a dull, distant rumble of wheels as the vans start for their day's work.
Barring the bells, however, which really represent 'noise' only to those who live close to them, this, though a populous and busy part of London, is tolerably quiet. The rectory, which stands a little off the street, is remarkably free from the usual London noises. Though I can discern the dull grind of wheels down Cannon Street Road, most of our vehicles move slowly. They are heavily laden. There is hardly any of the sharp penetrating rattle which is made by swift carriages and cabs; and the disturbance, lasting into the small hours of the morning, created by a contiguous late 'party' in the season is, of course, unknown.
The route of the Blackwall Railway, which traverses the parish, is distantly indicated by its whistles, but I hear little of the trains. Late at night, when the public-houses are emptied, there is an accession of shouts and singing, mostly from sailors abusing their liberty ashore by getting more or less drunk. But, curiously enough, to us this clamour seems to come from the church, which ' corners' on the rectory. The west front of its tower catches and reflects the noises that arise from the street. When I first heard these I fancied that some riotous party had made its way into the churchyard, but I soon found that they were strictly the echoes of that nocturnal dissipation \vhich may be heard everywhere in the neighbourhood of publicans, especially when they turn their customers out of doors. There is another sound, too, which is more constant in the evenings, and which for a long time I could not make out. I thought several times that somebody had upset a chair or table in the next room but one. It was as if a visitor was announcing his call by kicking intermittently at the outer gate with his shoes off. At last I found that these dull thuds came from a covered skittle-alley some fifty yards off. What I heard was that from the successful shots of the players. The sounds we hear are, however, altogether less than what one might expect from Ratcliff Highway. Most of the other streets are usually quiet enough, the liquor houses being chiefly congregated in our main thoroughfares.
As to the street organs and bands which plague the West End, I cannot say that I have heard one while sitting indoors at St. George's. There are a few to be met with sometimes, but very few. I seem never to hear them. Nor is there anything like the commercial row which costermongers used to make under my windows a few yards from Portland Place. There they incessantly proceeded, two to a barrow, day after day, offering onions, rhubarb, what not, in a yell, hour after hour, without ever, as far as I could perceive, meeting with any response to their tremendous proposals. Here, too, we have no roaring liars or frozen-out gardeners.
Indeed, barring the bells, our chief household noises arise from our own cocks and hens, which - record their domestic events with more cackling than I ever heard in connection with them. The vividness with which these are heard says much for the general quiet of our surroundings. When I am saying the daily morning service in the church hard by, I can distinctly note the advertisement of another egg...
[Another digression about his dogs follows and has been omitted.]TRADES AND INDUSTRIES
I SUPPOSE there is no part of London without its special trade or manufacture. Some callings, associated with constant immediate and universal demand - such as those of the baker, butcher, and publican - are, of course, spread evenly over the whole of the metropolis. Daily bread, meat and drink, must be easily accessible. But with the exception of bread, I am (for the moment) at a loss to think of anything in large and constant use which is not produced at special centres of industry, and then widely dispersed. This dispersal from the centres is continuous and conspicuous. But your baker is generally local, he goes mostly on foot; or if he has two wheels, drags his own load, and produces behind his shop the commodity which he sells. Meanwhile his neighbours - the butchers, grocers, linendrapers and publicans of his district - bring their goods from a distance. With some partial exceptions the articles in commonest demand are manufactured wholesale, and then distributed to be retailed.
It would, however, be difficult to determine the causes of the selection of various parts of London for the production or storage of some articles of commerce. There is historical cause for the presence of silk-weavers in Bethnal Green and Spitalfields. Possibly there may be some equally good reason for the prevalence of watchmakers in Clerkenwell. The chemical manufactories at Bow were placed there I suppose, originally, to be beyond the range of the metropolitan nose. The crowd of minutely precise trades, such as those of dressing-case makers, hand bookbinders, engravers, &c. &c., located in Soho, are probably drawn there by the high pressure of the demand for the immediate supply of artificial wants which characterises the region of shops that minister to condensed and luxurious civilisation. Soho exhibits the fringe of skilled high class manual workers which has floated up from the centre and East of London towards the long-pursed territory of the West. The neighbourhood of the River and the Docks displays the paraphernalia of the sea and shore. Slops and sextants, deck-boots and telescopes, are offered in what, to an outsider, appears a superfluous abundance along the bank of the Thames east of the Tower. There, too, may be found rope-walks and sail-lofts. Many of the manufactures and trades associated with seafaring life are carried on in our part of the city. They are indeed common to all seaports; but of these London is the largest, and thus they abound among us.
In or near to St. George's, however, we provide things for which there is the widest and narrowest market. If anyone were to ask me what were the two articles most characteristic of the commerce of this neighbourhood, I should say sugar and wild beasts. We are, or rather were, conspicuous for our bakeries of sugar; and we hope we shall be again. Out of some five-and-twenty in the whole of London and its suburbs, you might count the chimneys of more than two-thirds from the tower of our church; and the factory which produces the best English loaf sugar stands within a few hundred yards of the church gate. The raw material is landed hard by, in a shape unattractive to any but flies and greedy little boys, who cannot keep their hands from picking at anything sweet however coarse, and, especially after school hours, buzz round any sugary waggon in which there is a leaky parcel.
Hereabouts we have transformed the coarsest brown stuff into loaf sugar. But this trade is now very much depressed. Indeed, there are some who think it wellnigh destroyed. I am informed that in 1864 there were twenty-three producers of loaf sugar in London. Since then their trade has shrunk very seriously. A short time ago I believe only three survived, and the chief of them, in St. George's in the East, has ceased operations in the course of this year. The action of the French Government in encouraging, chiefly by a bonus, the exportation of home made sugar, has, at present, made it impossible for the British manufacturers to compete with the French. But as this advantage is given to a special branch of industry in France by the taxing of its whole nation, it is to be hoped that French eyes will be opened to the matter, and that the cloud will pass away from the British trade. Especially is this desired at St. George's in the East, for, as I have said, sugar refining is, perhaps, the most 'conspicuous' trade of these parts. I have thus let my reference to it stand uncorrected, though at present our furnaces are cold.
In respect to the other article to which I have referred as characteristic of the trade of St. George's, and which may be considered peculiar to it, I suppose that there is no other place in the world where a domesticated parson could ring his bell and send his servant round the corner to buy a lion. Had I a domestic capable of discharging such an errand, and a proper receptacle in which to put the article when brought home, I could indulge the whim for a lion at five minutes' notice. My near neighbour, Mr. Jamrach, always keeps a stock of wild beasts on hand. Anyhow, if he happened to be out of lions, I should be sure of getting a wild beast of some sort at his store. A little time ago one of our clergy, who knows of almost everything going on in the parish, happened to remark to me that Mr. Jamrach's stock was low. He had just looked in, and the proprietor said he had nothing particularly fresh then, only four young elephants and a camelopard, beside the usual supply of mon keys, parrots, and such small deer.
The wild beasts are kept in Betts Street, within a bow shot of my door, but the shop in Ratcliff Highway is always full of parrots and other birds. The attitudes and gestures of those exposed for sale are always curious and sometimes comical. I was much struck the other day with the pose and expression of a posse of owls on view. They sat side by side full of thoughtful silent wisdom, with just a twinkle of possible humour in their eyes, like judges in banco; while in an oblong recess within the shop beyond them there were twenty-four large and perfectly white cockatoos standing in two precise rows, shoulder to shoulder, and giving out their best notes, exactly like a surpliced choir. In another room were two thousand parroquets flying loosely about, or clustering like flies upon the window frames in ineffectual attempts to get out. The incessant flutter of this multitude of captives filled the air of the apartment so thickly with tiny floating feathers that they settled on our coats like flakes of snow. We came out powdered. The twitter in the room was, of course, incessant and importunate. There is a great demand for talking parrots. Mr. Jamrach always has orders in his books for more than he can supply. The parrots kept in stock are all young and unlearned. They look like the rest, but education marks the difference in the world of birds as in that of men. The selling value of wild beasts varies very much. You must pay about £200 for a royal tiger, and £300 for an elephant, while I am informed you may possibly buy a lion for £70, and a lioness for less. But a first-rate lion sometimes runs to a high figure, say even £300. Ourang-outangs come to £20 each, but Barbary apes range from £3 to £4 apiece. Mr. Jamrach, however, keeps no priced catalogue of animals, but will supply a written list of their cost if needed. He does not, moreover, 'advertise,' so much as royally 'announce' his arrivals. Certain papers in London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, occasionally contain a bare statement that such and such beasts and birds are at 'Jamrach's,' no address being given. He has customers in all the Zoological Museums in Europe, and the Sultan has been one of the largest buyers of his tigers and parrots.
Once, some long time ago, a disastrous and distressing accident happened in connection with this store of wild beasts. One of the tigers in transit escaped from his cage in the neighbourhood of the Commercial Road. Finding himself free, he picked up a little boy and walked off with him, intending probably, when he found a convenient retreat, to eat him. Of course, the spectacle of a tiger walking quietly along with a little boy in his mouth (he had him only by the collar) attracted the notice of residents and wayfarers. Presently the bravest spectator, armed with a crowbar, approached the tiger, and striking vehemently and blindly at him, missed the beast and killed the boy. The tiger was then secured.
Mr. Jamrach has great and, I suppose one might say, mystic power with beasts. His business, though, is not confined to the animals of the earth and the air. You may find curious products of the water in Mr. Jamrach's back-room. I especially recollect a vessel of telescope fish from Shanghai, queer little creatures with eyes starting out of their heads like the horns of a snail. These were on their way to the Brighton Aquarium.
Besides the store of birds, beasts, and fishes, there is a collection of all sorts of heterogeneous things from all parts of the world -armour, china, inlaid furniture, shells, idols, implements of savage warfare, and what not. Mr. Jamrach not only collects in comparative detail, but does not overlook the promising purchase of a whole museum. Some time ago he brought one in the lump from Paris. No wonder that the Ratcliff Highway is visited by many with money in their pockets for the purchase of antiquities and curiosities. From. what I have seen I fancy that sometimes a good judge of these things can pick up a bargain here.
Beside that of Mr. Jamrach's, we have divers shops for the sale of birds, especially parrots, and I imagine that many a sailor turns his collection of foreign curiosities into money within the limits of St. George's.
London and St. Katharine's Docks
Of course, one main feature of the catholicity which I have noticed as characterising the trade of these parts is exhibited in the London and St. Katharine's Docks, which are situated mainly in the parish of St. George's. People must be impressed with a sense of things being done on a large scale, when we have in one cellar six acres, of port, sherry, and madeira, and under one roof 6o,ooo large casks of brandy, worth on an average, say, some £70 apiece. Besides the cellar just mentioned, there are eight others, not so large, but immense. I believe that almost all the wine that enters the port of London pauses here, and most of the brandy. The greater portion of the rum is received in the West India Docks. Of course, with such alcoholic temptations and opportunities, the greatest care is exercised to employ none but trustworthy men. Sometimes, however, appetite gets the better of conscience in the dock attendants. On one occasion this appetite was terribly avenged in the case of a greedy subordinate, who thrusting his head into a newly opened vessel of spirits with the intention of a drunken gulp, was thus choked and killed. The most strenuous pains are taken to prevent official intemperance. Indeed, I am informed that to be drunk on duty involves an ipso facto excommunication of any servant, however long he may have served, or however good his previous character. The question does not arise whether he shall be discharged; if he transgresses he discharges himself.
The vaults or cellars in which the wine is stored are accounted one of the sights of London. They are, however, no more to be appreciated by a visit than London itself, inasmuch as the whole of a cellar cannot possibly be seen at once. You are provided with a round squat lamp at the end of a short flat stick, like a spoonful of fire, and are tramped, if you please, through miles of under ground streets, on either sides of which are piles of casks. In the largest vault - which, like others, has its countless alleys laid with iron rails on which the casks are rolled - I am informed that they altogether reach the incredible distance of twenty-one miles. The alleys are, however, narrow. While in the midst of them you see only a little at a time. All along the route the ceiling is black with fungus, like that which is supposed to distinguish and commend a bottle of old port. Here wine is racked and blended. Great funnels like jellybags are filled with, say, port, which trickles brightly down from the tips of the bags, leaving the lees behind it. And very nasty they look.
Talking of unpleasant looking material in connection with eating and drinking, I may remark that the sugar, molasses, and treacle stores in the Docks are anything but appetising. One day I was walking through the huge sheds on the ground floor where all this sweetstuff is lodged, and saw a parcel of men scraping the floor with hoes, much in the same way as the scavengers do the streets. And the mud they scraped up was very black. On my asking what they did with it, one of the superintendents told me it was going to be made into lollipops. Looking further, one could see many casks filled with this uninviting substance. However, whether it passes through the processes of the sugar refinery or not, the saccharine matter in the mess is made up into shapes nice-looking enough to children. Nothing is wasted from which sweets can be made. There is, though, one form of waste here which seems to me needless. One day I was standing on the church steps, and became conscious of what seemed to be an unusual descent of huge smuts. The air was full of them. They spotted the church path and the street. It was a fall of black snow. I never saw such a murky downpour. We asked one another whence these dark flakes came. No chimney in the neighbourhood seemed to be smoking enough to account for them, and indeed they were unlike the usual London smuts. Presently, I found that they came from the Queen's Pipe, as it is called - a fierce furnace in which contraband tobacco is destroyed, and which just then was engaged in the destruction of some condemned tea. The atmosphere was still, and the result of this incremation powdered the neighbourhood. One of the Queen's Pipes - for there are two or three - is in the middle of St. George's, and such of my readers as are smokers can understand the pathetic air with which the man who tends it once told me he had consumed in a single smoking bout some five or six thousand pounds of shag tobacco. 'And ever so many cigarettes and cigars,' he added.
I asked him, in reference to the black storm I have mentioned, how he ever came to burn so much tea, and why it made such smuts? ' Tea, Sir,' he said, 'is a numb-burning thing; one can't get the fire into it.' That which is destroyed is such as has been mildewed, or is so bad that it is not worth having the duty paid on it. This, I am told, goes into the Queen's Pipe; but we use our own pipe seldom now.
The Docks abound with rats, and an army of about three hundred cats is employed to keep them down. Besides these you find dogs. Some little time ago I came on a famous one with her litter of puppies, close by the 'bowl' of our Queen's Pipe. Her owner volunteered a record of some of her performances in the rat-killing way, and fondly enumerated the number she had slain. But, like a true Englishman, he had his grievance. I learned that the Company does not pay for or provide the keep of the dogs, while it seems to be at the expense of extensive orders for cat's meat. I should have thought dogs would have needed food, while cats could have kept themselves. Some of these dogs are very sharp. I was one day walking through the Docks with my big black retriever, 'Jem,' when he was furiously attacked by a cur just outside the Brandy Delivery Office. Poor Jem is always unlucky in these encounters, since he is never prepared for an assault, and indeed is hopelessly penetrated with the belief that his size, weight, and general respectability of appearance ought to protect him. On this occasion he had been much exercised by the investigation of a quantity of treacle which had escaped on the quay from some burst cask, and which he was quite unable to analyse or account for. He had obviously met with nothing really resembling it before. It looked like some of the results obtained in connection with the killing of a pig, and as such he thought it well worth pausing to examine, but it made his nose and paws sticky. Thus he could not bring his mind to realise the charge of a dog much smaller than himself and expressed his concern at the sudden change of the subject by tumbling over on his back and howling shame fully.
Beside the dogs and cats, there are men who get their living by clearing freshly unladen ships of rats. I believe that the charge for ratting a ship is £1. The rats are taken alive, and then sold for 2d. apiece to such as find amusement in killing them with dogs. As a couple of hundred rats are sometimes caught in one ship, the contracting catcher occasionally makes a good thing out of it.
Besides wine and brandy we land huge stores of ivory. In the early part of this year the result of discoveries of old accumulations of tusks by Livingstone made its appearance in a display of them, which at one sale realised, it is said, some £70,000. Divers of them were pronounced to be hundreds of years old. They covered a huge floor, and buyers came from all parts to secure them.
The wind is watched with much concern here by the dock-labourers, since upon it depends the due arrival of the ships, by the unlading of which they live. After a spell of east wind, which detains vessels in the Channel, the Docks are remarkably bare, while on its shifting, especially into the west, our waters are crowded as if by magic. And then the work presses. All sorts of cargoes, special and general, need to be bundled out as soon as the big ocean-going ships have crept slowly to their places alongside the quays. From my study-window I can see them, or at least their masts, towering above the roofs of some of the houses in the Ratcliff Highway, and moving towards their final berths, one after another, with a motion which from a little distance is hardly perceptible. What a change from some portions of their course! Talking of the arrival of ships and the diversities of sentiment in their voyage, I happened to be in the Docks when the 'Jefferson Borden' came in, on board of which a famous or infamous mutiny occurred on the high seas in April last. She was an American three-masted fore and aft schooner, deep in the water, being heavily laden with oilcake, which seemed to have saturated her deck. Indeed it was so greasy that I noticed several persons who traversed it carelessly slip down and have severe falls, which called forth an unsympathising laugh from the fringe of rough spectators who were not allowed to tread her planks. When she came alongside the quay I stepped on board. There, in the deck-house, lay the mutineers, wounded and ironed, with the marks around them of the bullets from the revolver with which the captain had protected his wife and himself. He was a quiet, slim, gentle spoken man, with a brown beard, and I had some conversation with him. The ship seemed certainly to have been undermanned, since there were only four men who, properly speaking, constituted the crew. Besides them were two mates, one the brother and the other the cousin of the captain; and a steward, cook, and boy. One night three of the crew, after having gagged the boy, fell upon the two mates, killed and threw them overboard. Then one, a Finn, tried to entice the captain out of his cabin but the captain missing his mates, and seeing that the man had something in his hand behind him - really the cruel iron bar with which the captain's. brother had just been murdered - declined to come out till he had provided himself with a revolver. Then came the terrible time in which the captain, first with pistol-shots, which had plainly pitted the outside of the deck-house, drove the men within its shelter, and on their refusing to surrender, eventually fired into it upon them till they submitted to thrust their hands out of a little window in its. side and be ironed. As I stood there the Thames Police swarmed in, and with stretchers and stern tenderness carried them off to the London Hospital. At that moment another ship came in, with a crew of negroes, and made fast alongside the American. They soon crowded the rigging, or peered over the bulwarks, to see the wounded mutineers borne off, thus witnessing one phase of a Nemesis which I could not help thinking, probably with injustice, set a grim lesson to as unpleasant countenanced a set of companions as any skipper ever found himself at sea with. But I dare say they were docile enough.
I was, indeed, struck with the example presented in the landing of these mutineers, of the severity in judgment which sometimes pursues failure, or accompanies a sordid appearance. 'Did you ever see three such rascally fellows?' said a spectator to me, as the wounded murderers were being carried ashore. They were ill-looking, sure enough; but if you were to take the three Graces and dress them in tarpaulins, and shut them up in a pigsty, and shoot their legs full of bullets, and tie their hands together, and lay them uncombed and unwashed on their backs for ten days, they would look, to say the least of it, ugly when drawn out into the sunshine. Pain and fear chiefly marked these poor fellows, though they were grievous malefactors. One of them cried out piteously as he was handed up the dock side. Their landing was a sad item of experience in that chance walk of mine along the quays.
The Docks are, however, an endless source of entertainment and instruction to anyone gifted with the least share of curiosity or observatiion, and I must have a little more chat about them before I pass on to some other prominent features in the trade of these parts. It is difficult to realise the amount of labour and wealth represented by the square plantations of bare masts upon which we can look down from the summit of our church tower. They show like woods or copses in the map of the estate of London. In a much fuller and more accurate sense than that in which the phrase is generally used, the Docks are a world in themselves, since they represent every corner of the earth into which British enterprise has thrust itself. Those dull piles of white brick warehouses, which discard every sentiment of decoration, and fearlessly exhibit the ugly side of usefulness, are, within, full of tropical products and appliances and means of the most luxurious beauty and sumptuous fare. Here are stores of ivory and ebony. Here are the choicest cigars, the richest drugs, the brightest dyes, the sweetest perfumes, and the finest wines. Here are landed and hence are dispersed the accompaniments of perhaps the costliest, most curious and exacting civilisation, and the busiest commerce to be found on the face of the globe. Here are pines from the West Indies, oranges from Seville, teas from China, masses of ice from Norway, and of marbles from. Carrara, along with spices from Ceylon and ivory from Africa. Here, on these wharves, are heaped together for the day the most unlike though equally precious products of the earth, and yet many a man in walking through them would probably carry away a very slight impression of the business being carried on around him. Take our comparatively small docks, such as the London and St. Katharine's. I say comparatively small, as there are besides them the West India, Miliwall, Surrey, &c. You perceive no bustle or prominent strain of labour within their limits, and would hardly believe that five or six thousand men are not unfrequently paid their wages at the close of the day. Their employment is, however, necessarily uncertain. The great bulk of them do not live here. Many of them - almost shiftless, without a trade, reminding one of Falstaff's recruits - come from all parts of London for the chance of a job; and if the weather has been against the progress of ships in the Channel, you may see hundreds of these would-be labourers standing all the day idle about the various entrances of the Docks. Then a shift of wind brings in a number of ships, and the whole machinery of the place is suddenly in full operation. But it works smoothly, and it is only after repeated visits that the magnitude and complexity of the business transacted can be apprehended. I am told that nothing strikes foreigners more than the quiet methodical way in which everything moves on here. There is no shouting, scolding, uproar, or excitement of any kind, as the riches of the world are unfolded or poured out. But go round the perfect little dock of St. Katharine, with its hedge of hydraulic lifts steadily disembowelling the vessels, which lie so close to the shore that you might toss a halfpenny into their holds when you look out of the top storey of the warehouse which is absorbing the cargo. Go round this little dock. Mount tier after tier of floors; see even a single shipload of coffee, consisting of about 10,000 bags or sacks, being repacked and distributed; or picture, if you can, the presence of, say, £750,000 worth of indigo - which was the value of the amount being prepared for show in a single department when I went over it one day - and you will begin to perceive the largeness of the work in these parts, and admire the quietness with which it is carried on.
It must be remembered, however, that the surroundings of this dock represent but a small proportion of the storageroom used for merchandise in St. George's alone. After writing these lines I happened, on my way down to the Raines Schools on pastoral business, to fall in with our dock superintendent who remarked that on one side of the Old Gravel Lane down which I was walking there were deposited I am afraid to say how many thousand tons of sugar, and 6o,ooo bags of coffee on the other. It is difficult to realise these quantities, much less what they represent; for this bulk of coffee, enough one would think to keep London awake for a month, is only a passing deposit under one of divers roofs...
My readers will be pleased to know that in connection with the Docks, at least with the London and St. Katharine's, there are compulsory night schools for the boys, and that well-attended readings and entertainments are given in the winter to the servants of the company. Moreover, a gradually ascending scale of salary makes the position of a well-conducted official a comfortable and encouraging one. Commodious residences are provided for many of them, and anyone who, not knowing it, fancies that Wapping is a scene of coarse toil and rude debauchery, would be surprised to see the quiet pleasant river-side square which characterises the place. This square is well planted with trees, and skirted on two sides by handsome edifices which look on the Thames. These are mostly occupied by dock officers. In respect to other residents whose presence might be objectionable, pains are taken by the vestry of Wapping to discover and suppress any disorderly house within their jurisdiction. Beside these official residences there is excellent accommodation for artisans and others, erected by the company over which Sir Sydney Waterlow presides, and there has lately been built a small Board school for their children. Altogether, Wapping is one of the most respectable and well-conducted parishes in London. Curiously enough, the Orton family never lived there. Their house, which was pulled down this summer, was situated in St. George's, which extends nearly to the riverside. It latterly seems to have been used as an eating-shop, so that, as a man standing by it one day said to me, quite seriously, visitors might be able to say that they had dined in the room where 'Sir Roger' was born - a queer mixture of confused associations. This house stood near the Wapping entrance of the London Docks, and adjoined that in which it is said Lord Nelson got his outfit when he first went to sea. Both are now demolished to make way for warehouses, which promise to displace most of the old residences by the river-side in these parts. Indeed, the High Street of Wapping is gradually being skirted by enormous piles of these buildings, and before long few beyond the model lodging-houses of Sir Sydney Waterlow and the residences of the dock officers I have alluded to, will be left for domestic use. Hitherto this neighbourhood, though its Stairs are celebrated in song, has been supposed to be very little visited or traversed by the rest of the London world, especially the Western. Passengers by the Scotch steamboats have, however, always sailed from Wapping. And presently many residents in the West of London, especially those who live in the neighbourhood of the stations on the Metropolitan Railway, will be familiar with the railroad now rapidly approaching completion, which, running under the London Docks and cutting through St. George's and Wapping, will take them (possibly without change of carriage) to the Sydenham district and Brighton. This East London Railway will provide a very important outlet for the West as soon as the long-delayed work of boring under the Docks has been finished. The old Thames Tunnel already supplies a way for trains under the river, and gives access to Rotherhithe, which looks at us from the opposite bank. It is proposed also to provide a steam-ferry between the shores of the Thames at this spot. This, if provided, will be able to carry the loaded waggons which are now obliged to go round by London Bridge, some mile and a half off.. As it is, I generally like to cross by a wherry, which provides a pleasant change from the usual modes of locomotion in London and in this case, when the place to be reached is Rotherhithe, affords the quickest, most obvious, though sometimes the least conventional means of access. The first time I went to dine with my old acquaintance, the rector of that parish - who is indeed, a near neighbour, though the Thames lies between us - I landed on the beach, not far from his house, among a parcel of naked natives, like Captain Cook. It was high summer and low tide, and half the boys of Rotherhithe were bathing there...
Emigrants at Blackwall Pier
The Blackwall Pier is, I think, the best from which the Londoner may see the traffic of the Thames. It is certainly reached by a railway which has some of the dirtiest and shabbiest stations and carriages to be found anywhere, and thus the contrast presented when the door of the Blackwall Terminus has been passed is the more striking. You exchange in a moment its dingy interior for the view of a grand bend in the river, alive with a crowd of red-sailed barges and other craft, through which a few big ships proceed slowly, like oxen among sheep. To the right the masts of the vessels in the West India and Miliwall Docks show like a larch plantation in the winter time. Both ways there is a long view down the Thames.
This spot was once chosen as a likely site for a temple of whitebait, but the hotel is now converted into an Emigrant Depot. With its bow-windows commanding a finer prospect than 'The Ship' at Greenwich, it is now a hive of swarming emigrants, at least just before each shipload of them is despatched. The large balconied dining-room has exchanged the 'purple and fine linen' of its white cloths and coloured wineglasses for a number of plain bare deal tables.
I must say a word about this, as it is indeed in some measure characteristic of the business that goes on at this end of London. Not only are we in contact with the uttermost parts of the earth by means of the merchandise which we receive from thence, but this depot is our door of departure for New Zealand. I have frequently to sign the papers of those who sail hence. The first day I visited it the dining-room was filled with a crowd of hungry emigrants waiting for dinner, and the air with the odour of its advent. They sat in messes of eight or ten, to each of which was a captain, who kept his nose steadily pointed towards the door through which the smell came.
Presently a signal was given, and each disappeared, receiving a ticket as he passed out. With this he descended to the kitchen, returning in a minute or two, mostly grinning, and bearing a large brown oval dish, divided in the middle. One half was filled with roast-beef and the other with potatoes. There was enough and to spare for all. 'They waste a lot,' said one of the officials. But I don't know; it seemed to be appreciated. 'Ah,' remarked a country-looking fellow to me, with his cheek bulged with a huge bite, and a twinkle in his eye, 'I wish, sir, they would let me stay here for a month.' 'Rare good victuals,' said another. 'I believe you,' added a third; 'Tain't allus we've had a bellyful of cooked meat every day.'
The emigrants are fed and taken to New Zealand free of charge, excepting £1 each for 'bedding-money' for those over twelve, and 10s. each for those under that age. I was struck with the air of confidence displayed by most. They were leaving the old country with less regret than I liked to see, though some of the elders looked sad. The majority were labourers. The officials told me that on the arrival of the ship at its destination they were for some time lodged in a depot free of expense, but that they were generally engaged at once, or soon fetched away by friends.
The sleeping arrangements at the depot prepare the emigrants for their inevitable crowding on board-ship. The married couples have each a berth to themselves, but dozens of these sleep in what would be called, on shore, the same apartment. Their discomfort, to use the mildest word, especially during the first week of the voyage, must be extreme. The single men and women are of course kept scrupulously apart, and their berths, especially those of the former - which were 22 inches wide, and separated by a wooden division some 6 inches high - looked unpleasant enough. However, free carriage and food can hardly be expected to be luxurious. Some of the men wore red-carpet slippers, which were an odd finish to an earth-stained suit of fustian or corduroy. Divers, however, had on their 'Sunday' clothes. The vessels are fine-looking and roomy. But the 'roominess' of a ship, like that of any other place, is comparative, being determined by the number it is made to hold. Several of them were waiting their turn in the Docks hard by, and sticking their bowsprits over the quays in that long masted line which fringes the land in these parts, and to which the dirty Blackwall Railway ministers with incessant trains. The depot associated with this at Plymouth sends emigrants to Sydney, Adelaide, and New Zealand. This at Blackwall is a point of embarkation for New Zealand alone, and has seen the departure of seventeen thousand emigrants from May 11th, 1874, to August 7th in this year, which gives an average of more than a thousand a month. I found divers Scotch and German families awaiting the next ship. It looks as if New Zealand were filling up fast, since this is only part of the human stream which is incessantly being poured into it from Europe.Reprinted with permission of David Rich, Tower Hamlets History On Line.