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Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Virtual Ramble of the London of OMF





1. Southwark Bridge
2. London Bridge
3. Limehouse Hole
4. Six Jolly Fellowship Porters
5. Wilfer residence
6. The dust heaps/Boffins' Bower
7. Bradley Headstone's school
8. Jenny Wren's home
9. Podsnap residence
10. Temple Bar
11. Pubsey & Co.
12. Lammle residence
13. John and Bella's cottage




Go to the south side of Portman Square, W1. Portman Square, you will remember, was where Mr. Podsnap's house was. The squares north of Oxford Street formed a quarter - "Stucconia," as Dickens calls it - much favoured by the prosperous mercantile and professional classes in the mid nineteenth century. A few early and mid nineteenth-century houses survive among the modern buildings in the square, but the spacious under-stated elegance of the district can best be appreciated today, not in the squares, but in the quieter streets running north and south between Oxford Street and Marylebone Road. Mr. Veneering was another denizen of "Stucconia."

Now walk east from Portman Square along Wigmore Street to another of the squares of "Stucconia," Cavendish Square. Silas Wegg's stall was situated outside a house in the square.

From Cavendish Square, take the southern exit, Holles Street, cross Oxford Street, and continue southwards through Harewood Place, Hanover Square and George Street, as far as Conduit Street, where you turn left. Notice how the streets are becoming narrower, the houses, or what you can see of the original houses over shop fronts, though still grand, are smaller. Turn right at Savile Row, and left at Vigo Street, passing, on your right, the rear entrance of Albany (the front entrance is in a court off Piccadilly). Albany, sometimes called "the Albany," was originally the town residence of George III's brother, the Duke of York and Albany. It was converted in 1803 into exclusive apartments for wealthy bachelors. Dickens lodged Fascination Fledgeby in one. He was thrashed there, you may remember, by his neighbour Alfred Lammle, and ministered to afterwards by a less than sympathetic Jenny Wren.

I say "his neighbour Alfred Lammle." Mr. and Mrs. Lammle, recall, acquired a "temporary" residence, after their marriage, in Sackville Street. This is reached by continuing along Vigo Street to the next corner, and turning right. Above the shop fronts at street level, you see eighteenth-century frontages. Whether you use the front or the rear entrance of Albany, Sackville Street is just around the corner. Though it is now very grand, full of expensive shops and corporate headquarters, in the 1860s, the parish of St. James, where you now are, was developing a raffish reputation. Once the most fashionable of quarters, it was being deserted by respectable members of the beau monde, in favour of Belgravia, further westwards, the aristocratic counterpart of "Stucconia." Now St. James's was becoming the haunt of wild young upper-class bachelors, and financially embarrassed older ones. Hence the Lammles' insistence that their residence in Sackville Street was temporary.

Continue walking southwards along Sackville Street until you emerge into Piccadilly. On the other side you see St. James's Church, designed by Christopher Wren, where the Lammles were married.

Cross the road, and cut, via Church Place to the east of the church, into Jermyn Street. Cross that too and walk south down Duke of York Street (a little to the West) into St. James's Square, haunt of Mr. Twemlow and his friends. Mr. Twemlow was one of the financially embarrassed older bachelors inhabiting St James's. He lived "over a livery stable yard in Duke Street, St James's," a block to the west. There are still a number of old yards to be found up alleys off Duke Street.

Leave St James's Square by one of its southern exits, and head east along the grand thoroughfare of Pall Mall. On the opposite side of the road you see exclusive clubs such as the Reform and the Athenaeum (the latter on the corner of Waterloo Place) - clubs such as the one to which Mr. Twemlow belonged, where there was much lobbying on Mr. Veneering's behalf.

Continue along Pall Mall, pass along the north side of Trafalgar Square, cross into Duncannon Street opposite, and thence into the Strand, the ancient route (with Fleet Street) between the cities of Westminster and London. Opposite you see Charing Cross Station and, in front of it, the Victorian replica of Charing Cross itself, a memorial to Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I. It was here that Eugene Wrayburn witnessed the "ridiculous and feeble spectacle" of Jenny Wren's "bad boy" trying to cross the road. The station covers the site of Hungerford Market, Hungerford Stairs, and Warren's Blacking Warehouse, where Dickens was put to work as a boy of twelve. Many feel it was this episode that excited, or at least reinforced, both Dickens's compassion for the dispossessed, and his horror at the thought of sinking into the underclass. It might be said that his accommodation of the two sentiments in later life is manifested by the marriage of Eugene and Lizzie Hexam, and their indifference to Society's opinion.

Turn to the left and walk eastwards along the Strand, as did Bradley Headstone, plotting, and Rogue Riderhood, muttering. Opposite the approach road to Waterloo Bridge on the right, you will find Wellington Street, running north. Here, on the southern corner of Tavistock Street, may be found the former offices of All the Year Round, the weekly periodical Dickens owned and edited from 1859 until his death in 1870. From 1860, Dickens's London home was a set of chambers over these offices. Here, much of Our Mutual Friend was written.

Continue eastwards along the Strand. At the junction with Chancery Lane, on the left, the road becomes Fleet Street. Still continue eastwards, as far as Inner Temple Lane on the right, which leads downhill into the Temple. Once the London headquarters of the Knights Templar, since the fourteenth century the Temple has been a centre for lawyers. It now houses the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple, two of the Inns of Court, as they are known - unincorporated societies for barristers (as advocates at the English bar are called), training schools for fledgling barristers, and accommodation for lawyers of all kinds. To enter the lane, you must pass through the early renaissance Inner Temple Gate, near to which Bradley Headstone lurked, "in a doorway with his eyes on Temple Gate," watching for Eugene Wrayburn, on whom he had murderous designs.

Walk southwards down the lane. Just before you reach the Temple Church, consecrated in 1185 by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, on your left you will see the Goldsmith Buildings, erected in 1861, the chambers within which overlook the graveyard. Dickens may well have had in mind an earlier building on this site for the chambers of Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood.

Pass the church and turn to your left. Walk through the square (Tanfield Court), and through the passageway at the end into King's Bench Walk. Turn right and walk south until, on your left, you see Whitefriar's Gate leading out of the Temple. Go out here, and walk straight ahead along Tudor Street until you emerge into New Bridge Street. Turn right, and walk as far south as the big traffic island. Look for the entrance to Blackfriars railway and underground stations, at the corner of Queen Victoria Street on the other side. Go into the Underground station and catch a tube train eastwards to the Monument.

When you emerge from the Monument station you are in the City, as the heart of the city of London is known. It is, and was in the 1860s, London's bustling financial and business centre. Dickens locates the business houses of Our Mutual Friend here, has his businessmen and clerks work here. But first, take a short walk westwards along Monument Street, towards the busy traffic, and emerge into King William Street. Turn left and walk towards the river, crossing to the other side. When you see the river below you, you are on London Bridge. Beyond Cannon Street railway bridge, upstream, you can see Southwark Bridge. Both London Bridge and Southwark Bridge have been rebuilt since the 1860s, but the stretch of water between them is where, at the opening of Our Mutual Friend, we discover Gaffer Hexam and Lizzie, in his boat, searching the water for corpses, close by the very heart of the City.

Now retrace your steps northwards, away from the river, along King William Street, until it reaches a busy and complex junction. Cross to the other side, turn to the right, and follow the road that branches to the left, Gracechurch Street. Walk almost as far as the next crossroads, but turn into the last narrow alley on the left, which will take you into the churchyard of St. Peter's Church, Cornhill, which seems to have been the chief model for the one where Bradley Headstone asked in vain for the hand of Lizzie Hexam. It's a surprising oasis of quiet amid the noise of the City.

Emerge into Gracechurch Street once more, turn left, and then immediately right at the crossroads, in order to walk eastwards along Leadenhall Street. The second turning on the left is St. Mary Axe, where the offices of Pubsey & Co were situated, and where Riah reluctantly did the bidding of Fascination Fledgeby. The roof garden of the premises was where Jenny Wren and Lizzie Hexam used to talk.

Turn right out of Leadenhall Street into Lime Street, the southward continuation of St. Mary Axe, then left at Cullum Street, and left again at Fenchurch Street. The first turning on the right is Mincing Lane, where Bella Wilfer visited her father at the offices of Chicksey, Veneering & Stobbles.

Continue eastwards along Fenchurch Street, until you see the approach to Fenchurch Street Station on the right. Go in, and take a train to Stepney East. It's only the second station, but make sure the train you catch stops there.

Emerge from Stepney East Station into Commercial Road. You are now in London's East End, to which the prevailing wind has always carried the air pollution and the Thames the water pollution of the rest of London. Not surprisingly, it has always been the home of, among others, London's poorest. Dickens houses many of the poorest and roughest characters of Our Mutual Friend here. Turn to the right, eastwards, and right again almost immediately, into Branch Road. This issues into the Highway, formerly the Ratcliff Highway. This was a notorious criminal quarter in the 1860s, natural habitat of such as Rogue Riderhood, and of Gaffer Hexam, whose home was "down by Ratcliff . . . down by where accumulated scum of humanity seemed to be washed from higher ground."

Turn left into the Highway, follow the road as it turns south through a right angle, then turn left at Narrow Street, and start walking eastwards. Note the dockside milieu as you cross the bridge over the channel from the Thames on your right into Limehouse Basin on your left. On the right-hand side you eventually come to the Grapes Inn, generally held to be the model for the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters. It's now a pleasant pub and restaurant. If the time is right and you so wish, go in, refresh yourself, and pass through to the rear, where you will find the "crazy wooden verandah impending over the water."

When you reach the junction with Three Colt Street on your left, you are close to where Rogue Riderhood lived, "deep and dark in Limehouse Hole, among the riggers, and the mast, oar and block makers, and the boat-builders, and the sail-lofts." Strictly speaking, Limehouse Hole was a feature not of the shore but of the river - a stretch of deep water once found at this bend in the river, useful for turning ships in - but the name also attached itself to the area of shore adjacent to the old Limehouse Hole Pier. Dickens knew about riggers in Limehouse Hole. His godfather Christopher Huffam, whom Dickens often visited as a child, had been a rigger, ship's chandler and contractor, with a place of business in a part of Garford Street now covered by the wharves to your south, as you stand at the junction of Narrow Street and Three Colt Street.

Start walking northwards along Three Colt Street, and turn left into Newell Street. This was once Church Row where Christopher Huffam's house was, at number twelve (later renumbered five).

Turn right into Commercial Road, and go into the churchyard, on the right, of Hawksmoor's St. Anne's Church, parish church of Limehouse. It was here that Miss Abbey Potterson, Dickens tells us, the landlady of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, "had been christened some sixty and odd years before." It was here, too, that John Harmon awaited George Radfoot, only to be drugged, robbed and thrown into the Thames.

You may now return to central London, if you want to, on a number 15 bus heading west along Commercial Road.

This ramble hasn't taken you to all the parts of London featured in Our Mutual Friend. You may care to visit others on separate excursions.

The dust mounds of the novel are modelled on those which used to be located in and around the area now occupied by King's Cross Station. "Maiden Lane, Battle Bridge," of which Mr. Boffin speaks, is now called York Way. It flanks the station to the east of it. There is still a Battle Bridge Road to the north of it. Dickens may have had in mind a particular dust mound in the Camley Street area, between St Pancras Way and York Way.

The Wilfers' home was in Holloway, a district north of King's Cross. The Caledonian Road, just east of York Road, runs north through Lower Holloway to the Holloway Road, which runs northwest to Upper Holloway. The inn overlooking the river at Greenwich, in which Bella Wilfer entertained her father, and later ate her wedding dinner, was probably modelled on the Trafalgar Tavern there. The Children's Hospital where Johnny dies is clearly the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, Bloomsbury.

Church Street, Smith Square, home of Jenny Wren, is now known as Dean Stanley Street, and can be found running west off Millbank, opposite The Victoria Tower Gardens to the south of the Palace of Westminster. The area is quite transformed, and the "little quiet houses" are much sought after by Members of Parliament and other political figures. Smith Square itself, at the other end of Dean Stanley Street is particularly handsome. The "very hideous church," Dickens describes, "with four towers at the four corners, generally resembling some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic, on its back with its legs in the air," is in fact St. John's, Smith Square. It is an extremely fine building, for all its not being to Dickens's taste, and is now used as a concert hall rather than as a church. There are still black doors under it, leading to the vaults, the ones through which Jenny Wren dreamed of blowing pepper at the boys who teased her, locked inside for the occasion. The vaults now house the refreshment rooms of the concert hall.

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