London - Some Nooks And Corners
( Originally Published 1908 )
"The treasures which we have to look for are often very obscure—a sculptured gateway, a storm-beaten tower, or an incised stone—that in themselves might scarcely be worth a tour of inspection; but in a city where so many millions of inhabitants have lived and passed away, where so many great events of the world's history have occurred, there is scarcely one of these long lived remnants which has not some strange story to tell in which it bears the character of the only existing witness." — A.J.C. HARE, "Walks in London."
Fetter LANE has about it something which George Eliot says always goes with the smell of leather, -a spirit of radicalism and free-thought. Many of the advanced spirits of long ago have lived and lit their bonfires in this street.
The Moravian Chapel is interesting from its associations with Wesley, Baxter and Whit-field. It was in this Chapel that the accession of George I. and consequently the safety of the Protestant succession was first publicly announced. Mr. A. J. C. Hare thus graphically describes the scene:
"It was feared by many that on the death of Queen Anne the return of the Stuarts to the throne would re-establish the Roman Catholics in power. The Queen was dying, and Bishop Burnet had arranged with his friend Bradbury who was preacher at the Chapel, that if the end came during the time of Divine Service he would send a messenger to the Chapel who would enter at the gallery door and drop a white handkerchief. The messenger arrived while Bradbury was preaching his sermon and he made the agreed signal, whereupon Brad-bury at once announced the Accession of George I. to his startled, but delighted congregation, who at once offered up a most fervent Thanksgiving—ending with a hymn of triumph." The particulars of this event are recorded on Bradbury's tomb in Bunhill Fields.
THE HERALD'S COLLEGE.-It occasionally happens that when a new thoroughfare is made in an old district treasures are revealed and houses brought to public notice which have hitherto been obscured by mean streets. The Herald's College in Queen Victoria Street is a case in point. The present building dates from 1683 and was originally the town house of the Earls of Derby. The Herald's College is the office of the Earl-Marshal of England, the Duke of Norfolk, and contains the records and pedigrees of the nobility.
An interesting relic kept here is the sword of King James IV. of Scotland, who was killed at Flodden Field in T513. There are also many series of Genealogical Charts, among them that of the Saxon Kings who trace their descent from Adam.
THE LAST OF THE MERCHANTS' GARDENS.----In the days of old the City Fathers planted gardens behind their houses, and were actually able to sit under their own vines and fig trees in the City of London. Now, alas, these are all past and gone except in one instance. Behind a fine old mansion in Great St. Helen's may yet be seen a charming little harbour of refuge. The August sunshine, smiling upon a flourishing vine and fig tree bearing fruit, and casting a gentle shadow on the sun-dial, while the clamour of Bishopsgate Street is hushed to a dull murmur, makes the whole scene perfectly delightful. The owners courteously allowed me to fix up my camera and take a very interesting photograph of this unique survival from long ago. (While revising the proof of above one hears that this old garden has just been destroyed.)
WINCHESTER HOUSE, the palace of the Bishops of Winchester, used to stand immediately behind St. Mary Ovaries Church, Southwark (now the Southwark Cathedral). The ferry over the Thames from Watling Street crossed the river at this spot and in Stoney Street, Boro, which is a part of Watling Street, we have a survival of the old causeway where passengers were landed from the ferry boats and in the wall of the modern grain or hop warehouse in this street may still be seen a part of one of the arches which survives from Winchester Palace.
OLD WHITEHALL. — The facade of the Treasury in Parliament Street, Whitehall, extending from Downing Street to the Scotch Office was erected by Barry in the year 1846. Parts of the old palace were incorporated in the new building. The passage under the Treasury (Treasury Passage) leading from the Horse Guards' Parade to Downing Street, is an untouched portion, and there yet remain one or two ancient windows which light passages in the interior of the building.
It is most interesting to glance through the old Treasury minutes and find the signature of Sir Isaac Newton countersigning as auditor.
THE DARK ARCHES in the Strand upon which the Adelphi Terrace is built, though almost unknown by the present generation, enjoyed 70 or 80 years ago an unenviable notoriety. They were the haunts of the most daring pickpockets and highway robbers. The mother of the present writer was, when a tiny child, snatched up from the door of her home in Southampton Street by one of these thieves; she was carried to the Dark Arches, stripped of every rag of clothing, and the terrified little creature was found twenty four hours afterwards still wandering in these subterranean caverns.
HIGHWAY ROBBERY IN PICCADILLY. - Mr. Cunningham tells us that " the iron bars of the two ends of Lansdowne Passage (a near cut from Curzon Street to Hay Hill) were put up late in the 18th century, in consequence of a mounted highwayman, who had committed a robbery in Piccadilly, having escaped from his pursuers through this narrow passage by riding his horse up the steps. This anecdote was told by the late Sir Thomas Grenville to Sir Franklin Lewis. It occurred while George Grenville was minister, the robber passing his residence to Bolton Street, full gallop."
AMERICA IN LONDON. — In the building which until recently was the Church of Holy Trinity Minories, which Church has now been united to the parish of St. Botolph, Aldgate, may be seen the only relic that London possesses of the great Washington. It is the crest of the family and embodies the design of the "Stars and Stripes" which was adopted by Washington as the national emblem at the Declaration of Independence.
In the same building is a small carved panel with date 1620, which is part of a memorial recording the sailing of the " Mayflower." Quite recently it has been shamefully mutilated by having a large hole bored through the centre, and a hideous gas bracket fixed upon it. One would have thought that at this time of day it would have been impossible that any man should be allowed to commit such a ruthless act without at once being severely punished. If wishes could punish, the unknown wretch would be suffering by this time the worst that Dante's imagination ever conceived.
THE GEORGE INN, SOUTHWARK. — Timbs narrates this story in his ` London ':—" Edward, sixth Lord Digby, who succeeded to the peerage in 1752, was a man of active benevolence. At Christmas and Easter, he was observed by his friends to be more than usually grave, and then always to have on an old shabby blue coat. Mr. Fox, his uncle, who had great curiosity, wished much to find out his nephew's motive for appearing at times in this manner, as in general he was esteemed more than a well-dressed man. On his expressing an inclination for this purpose, Major Vaughan and another gentleman undertook to watch his Lordship's motions. They accordingly set out; and observing him to go to St. George's Fields, they followed him at a distance, till they lost sight of him near the Marshalsea Prison, wondering what could carry a person of his Lordship's rank and fortune to such a place, they inquired of the turnkey if a gentleman (describing Lord Digby) had not just entered the prison?"
"Yes, masters," exclaimed the fellow, with an oath; " but he is not a man, he is an angel, for he comes here twice a year, sometimes oftener, and sets a number of prisoners free. And he not only does this, but he gives them sufficient to support themselves and their families till they can find employment. This," continued the man, " is one of his extra-ordinary visits. He has but a few to take out today."
"Do you know who the gentleman is?' inquired the Major.
"We none of us know him by any other marks," replied the man, "but by his humanity and his blue coat."
The next time his Lordship had on his almsgiving coat, a friend asked him what occasioned his wearing that singular dress. The reply was, by Lord Digby taking the gentleman shortly after to the George Inn, in the Borough, where seated at dinner were thirty individuals whom His Lordship had just released from the Marshalsea Prison by paying their debts in full.
BUNHILL Row is one of the most interesting and one of the most curious thoroughfares in London. Factories and showrooms, printing works, and sawmills, tower up on every hand, and yet there are parts of the street as quiet as a retiring suburb. A row of quite well appointed dwelling houses is so respectable that the shrill whistle of the passing vanboy is almost quelled, and the two old Burial Grounds, well planted with trees, give the central portion of the street at any rate almost a rustic air.
Bunhill Fields was originally the practice ground for the Finsbury Archers, and there their butts were erected. More than 700 years ago the field was taken over from the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's by the Corporation of the City. The Burial Ground contains many hundreds of tombstones, and it is surely something of a disgrace to London that the men who wrote the two most popular books in the English language should lie here almost unnoticed. To be sure there are memorials, but oh how unworthy the names they bear: Still after all, perhaps, while "Robinson Crusoe" and the " Pilgrim's Progress" are read and delighted in, their authors have the memorial they would themselves have desired.
On the west side of Bunhill Row, and immediately behind the De la Rue Printing Works, is the "Friends" Burial Ground, containing but one small headstone some 18 inches high. It bears the name of George Fox, the founder of the Society. In 1670 a Conventicle Act was passed which prohibited under severe punishment the assembling of more than four persons besides the family for religious worship except according to the ritual of the Church of England. The Quakers stood fire. Professor Masson, in his " Life of Milton," says that the jails then were less places of punishment for criminals than receptacles for a great proportion of what was bravest and most excellent in the manhood and womanhood of England.
After the abdication of James II., one of the first Acts of William and Mary was a bill to nullify the infamous Conventicle Acts, and so George Fox had the happiness and satisfaction of seeing the Society he had founded legally recognised before he died on the 13th November, 1690. Very often misunderstood by friends, and constantly insulted and lampooned by those not worthy to black his shoes, George Fox was a man whose character sheds lustre on the name of Englishmen, and whose memory is green and fragrant still.