There can have been few if any travellers who did not stay for at least some days in London. What were their impressions of that great city, and what did they do with themselves when they had eaten their breakfasts in their inns or lodgings? Some, of course, were engaged in business; but even these found time to see the sights and to give their friends some idea of their impressions. Perhaps these had begun before they set foot in the street. The weary traveller may have been awakened every hour by the watch, that band of antiquated police, if such they can be called, who were supposed to arrest criminals. They were seldom on the spot when needed, but never failed to perambulate the streets at night with lantern and staff, proclaiming each hour. It cannot have been conducive to slumber to hear a raucous, quavering voice in the street below informing you that it was
Past one o'clock and almost two
My masters all good day to you.
"London" de Saussure tells us, did not possess "any watchmen on foot or on horseback as in Paris, to prevent murder or robbery. The only watchman you see is a man in every street carrying a stick and a lantern, who every time the clock strikes calls out the hour and state of the weather. The first time this man goes his rounds, he pushes the doors of the shops and houses with his stick to ascertain whether they are properly fastened, and if they are not he warns the proprietor."
Then there were the London Cries, immortalized by Wheatley. A few of these began very early in the morning. There was the cry of the poor little chimney sweep going his rounds with his master, and the milk woman with her pails slung from a yoke across her shoulders uttered a queer yodelling cry.
The waggons and drays coming into the London markets made a hideous noise on the cobbled streets. The markets opened very early. Billingsgate at four in summer, and before the actual opening all goods had reached the market.
The unfortunate traveller worn out with a long and fatiguing journey would not have had much sleep. However, having come so far and braved such hardships and dangers, he was determined to go out and see something of the famous city of which he had heard so much. Perhaps he hired a guide or was conducted by friends, or he may have ventured out by himself into the crowded, bustling streets. We complain now of the congestion and din of London traffic. Foreigners made the same complaint a hundred and fifty years ago.
"In the middle of the street" Lichtenberg tells us "roll chaises, carriages and drays in an unending stream. Above this din and the hum and clatter of ten thousand of tongues and feet, one hears the chimes from church towers, the bells of the postmen, the organs, fiddles and hurdy-gurdies and tambourines of English mountebanks, and the cries of those who sell hot and cold viands in the open at the street corners. Then you will see a bonfire of shavings flaring up as high as the upper floors of the houses, in a circle of merrily shouting beggar-boys, sailors and rogues. Suddenly a man, whose handkerchief has been stolen, will cry `Stop thief' and everyone will begin running and pushing and shoving, many of them not with any idea of catching the thief, but of prigging for themselves perhaps a purse or watch. Before you know where you are a pretty, nicely dressed miss will take you by the hand `Come my lord, come along, let us drink a glass together' or `I'll go with you, if you please.' Then there is an accident forty paces from you. 'God bless me!' cries one. 'Poor creature!' another. Then one stops and must put one's hand in one's pocket for all appear to sympathize with the misfortunes of the poor creature; but all of a sudden they are laughing again because someone has laid down by mistake in the gutter. `Look there, damn me' says a third and the procession passes on."
Then there were the ballad singers, who stood in circles at the street corners, impeding the traffic and singing such ballads as " Death and the Lady Margaret's Ghost and Chevy Chase ".
Lovely Oxford Street
Sophie de la Roche noted that the houses in London were not so splendid as those in Paris.
"I like this difference" she says "as most of the well-to-do plebeian houses are witness to the fact that England divides up fortune's spoils more equally."
If they were witness to anything it was to the rising standards of the lower middle class, and it seems probable that Sophie had never seen the slums, or, if she had, had turned a blind eye to them.
"We strolled up and down lovely Oxford Street this evening" she tells us "for some goods look more attractive by artificial light."
We all know these goods.
"A street" she continues "taking half an hour to cover from end to end, with double rows of brightly shining lamps, in the middle of which stands an equally long row of beautifully lacquered coaches, and on another side of these there is room for two coaches to pass one another and the pavement inlaid with flagstones can stand six people deep and allows one to gaze at the splendidly rich shop fronts in comfort."
Grosley, though he admits that the shops were superior to anything of the kind in Paris, gives a different account of the London streets.
"I have seen" he says "the middle of the street constantly foul with a dirty puddle, where splashings cover those who ride or walk on foot, or in coaches when their windows happen not to be up, and bedaub all the lower parts of such houses as are exposed to it."
Baretti, who had the Italian's love of beauty, says that
"ugly, hopelessly ugly houses are far too common on every side. The streets are badly paved, filled with mud black as ink and with every kind of filth. It is difficult, unless you are very active upon your feet, to get out of the way of all the horses and carriages which, even if they do not actually touch you, cover your coat with ugly splashes."
The traffic problem existed in those days, and there were many complaints, from Englishmen as well as foreigners, about the congested condition of the London streets, especially those in the City, and the danger of being knocked down and run over.
Pastor Moritz also complained of the filth of the streets.
"Nothing in London" he says "makes so disgusting an appearance to a foreigner as the butcher's shops, especially in the environs of the town. Guts and all the nastiness are thrown into the middle of the street and cause an intolerable stench."
Sea Coal and Fog
The London fog and the general smoke and dirt of the city was much commented upon. Grosley says that if London increased at the rate which seemed probable "the inhabitants must at last bid adieu to all hope of ever seeing the sun".
Faujas de St. Fond admits that Londoners have to change their linen twice a day; but he does not think that this fog or smoke affects the health of the inhabitants.
"I am very far from thinking" he says "that the city of London is more unhealthy than other cities, because they burn sea coal here. For not only is the contrary proved by experience and a long train of observation; but it is also to be presumed that this immense quantity of fires contributes to its salubrity."
Meister, however, scouts this idea of the healthiness of smoke.
"Physicians" he says, with characteristic eighteenth-century scorn of the profession, "may, if they please, tell me that nothing is more wholesome than the sulphurous exhalations which we constantly breathe in London."
Those sulphurous exhalations had certainly greatly increased during the century and our practice of burning coal struck foreigners with surprise. De la Rochefoucauld found it at first
"most inconvenient. For the first few days I was in England" he says "I was extremely sorry that we had no wood, since it is a long time before one can get warm especially in the feet; but for warming a room coal is much better. Though I found the smell of coal highly disagreeable, I got used to it in a little while, and now that I have been in England for some time, I actually prefer it to wood partly because one is not obliged to attend to it every moment and partly because it gives out more heat."
As early as the reign of Charles II Londoners were complaining of the effects of burning sea coal, so called because it was carried by sea and river from north-eastern ports. As the eighteenth century advanced the sooty deposits and the impenetrable fogs increased. There were not many factories in the metropolis so the increase of dirt and soot must have been due to domestic fires, and the fog which became blacker and ever blacker originated in the marshes and undrained land in and around London.
We have all met people whose ancestors shot snipe in Belgrave Square, or who remembered sportsmen who shot them in Sloane Street. It was not until these districts were built over and the Hackney Marshes were drained that the black, impenetrable fogs began to disappear, and " the black rain " of which foreigners complained was no longer a feature of London weather.
Shops and their Signs
It was not only Sophie de la Roche who was enthusiastic about the London shops.
"Surely" de la Rochefoucauld says "there can be no other city which has anything so magnificent to show. Everything the merchant possesses is displayed behind windows which are always beautifully clean and the shops are built with a little projection on to the street so that they can be seen from three sides."
"The confectioners" Lichtenberg tells us "dazzle your eyes with their candelabra and tickle your nose with their wares . . . in these shops hang festoons of Spanish grapes, alternating with pine-apples and pyramids of oranges and apples."
He saw in a London shop a life-sized bust of Garrick which was priced at two guineas and he begins to complain at once that "things were immoderately dear at least for a German". He had lived comfortably in Gottingen on £40 a year and London prices shocked him. Grosley comments on a pair of scissors he had seen in a shop window "the branches of which were adorned in filigram mounted in brilliants". It was, he tells us, "totally deficient in point of taste" and cost fifteen guineas.
De Saussure speaks of a shop
"opposite St. Paul's where the most beautiful jewellery in Europe is said to be found. You cannot help admiring the exquisite workmanship, and the riches and curiosities here displayed."
Until the year 1766 London shops had displayed painted signs. These did not necessarily advertise the wares on sale within. There were Roasted Pigs and Spotted Lions, Dogs and Gridirons which had no connection with the contents of the shop. These old signs, interesting though they were, were thought to be a nuisance. They creaked and groaned as they swung aloft and sometimes fell down on the heads of passers-by. In 1766 the signs were removed and when they had gone it was necessary to indicate in some manner what the shop sold. Some kept the emblems of their trade, the barber's pole, the grocer's sugar loaf, the golden arm holding a mallet, which was the sign of the goldsmith. Others had their names and occupations painted above their shops and places of business.
"There is hardly a cobbler" says Moritz "whose name and profession may not be read in large golden characters . . . it is not uncommon to see on doors in one continued succession `Children educated here, Shoes mended here, Foreign spirituous liquors sold here, and Funerals furnished here.' I am sorry to observe" he adds "that `Dealer in foreign spirituous liquors' is by far the most frequent."
Shops selling the same sort of wares tended to set up in the same neighbourhood. The booksellers were in Little Britain, chainmakers in St. Paul's Church Yard, fishmongers appropriately on Fish Street Hill, and Paternoster Row was not noted for its books, but for its sempstresses.
"A number of them (streets) are dirty narrow and badly built" de Saussure tells us, "others again are wide and straight, bordered with fine houses. Most of the streets are wonderfully well lighted, for in front of each house hangs a lantern, or a large globe of glass, inside of which is placed a lamp which burns all night. Large houses have two of these lamps suspended outside their doors with iron supports and some have even four."
The superior lighting of the London streets was much commented on by foreigners. Before 1736 the lighting of the city was entirely a matter for the citizens. Each proprietor whose house fronted on the street was obliged, on moonless nights, to hang out a candle, usually enclosed in a horn lantern, from six o'clock till eleven at night. After this hour the metropolis was in complete darkness, only broken here and there by the gleam of a torch or link. This gloom encouraged every kind of crime, and the Mayor and Corporation at last agreed to levy a rate on householders, and light the city with five thousand oil lamps. It was this illumination which so much impressed the foreigner.
The Baretti Case
"I think" de Saussure says bitterly "that no cleverer pick-pockets exist than in this country."
His snuff box had been stolen from under a buttoned coat and waist coat. He goes on to complain of the "surprising number of robbers" in the metropolis.
"I am convinced" he says "that, in the thirteen cantons and their allies fewer robbers are caught in a year than are judged in a single London assize."
This preponderance of crime had not escaped the notice of the legislature; but the only remedy they could think of was the increase of punishment, and the encouragement of informers and thief takers. These proved to be worse than useless.
"It is said" Lichtenberg tells us "that voluptuousness, evil and debauchery have never been so rampant in London as they are at present (1772). Not an evening passes when not only one, but three, four or five robberies are committed by footpads, not to mention burglaries and other crimes. Dozens are hanged and batches of fifty sent off to America, but all this makes no impression on them."
The immorality of the city shocked many foreigners.
"Every ten yards one is beset even by children of twelve years old" Lichtenberg tells us; "often they seize hold of you in such a fashion of which I can give you the best notion by the fact that I say nothing about it . . . I cannot understand why no one has tried to put an end to this evil."
The authorities had tried. They had established Bridewells where prostitutes were imprisoned and whipped. They had passed laws against solicitation; but it remained a fact that
"whole rows" of these unhappy women" as Grosley says "accost passengers in broad daylight . . . the list of those who are in any way eminent is publickly cried about the streets. This list which is very numerous points out their places of abode and gives the most circumstantial and exact detail of their features, their stature and the several qualifications for which they are remark able."
Possibly foreigners were more exposed to solicitation than the native; they certainly found the streets of London very dangerous, as Baretti knew to his cost. A prostitute, whose overtures he had rejected, struck him in the face; Baretti returned the blow and became involved with three of her bullies.
" I was a Frenchman in their opinion" Baretti says, "which made me apprehensive I must expect no favour or protection, but all outrage and blows."
Baretti, though he declared that he did not know how to use his fists, gave one of his assailants such a blow that he afterwards died. He was brought before Sir John Fielding, who committed him to the prison in Tothill Fields, fortunately the best of its kind in London, where the inmates were actually made to wash. Baretti was supported by Johnson, Reynolds and Garrick, who gave evidence at his trial as to his high character. A great point was made by the prosecution that Baretti should have carried a knife. It was according to him "a little fruit knife with a silver blade", but with it he managed to stab one of the bulliesm "so that the blood ran down into his boots". Topham Beauclerk, who was also a friend and supporter, explained to the court that on the Continent it was usual for people to carry knives, as they were not provided at inns or taverns. Baretti was acquitted. There were murmurs about the verdict and the Gentleman's Magazine went so far as to suggest that only a foreigner would have got off. This may have been true; it was not the custom for law-abiding Englishmen to carry knives. Baretti, too, was fortunate in his friends. A friendless foreigner might not have fared so well.
It was into this noisy, bustling, crowded city that the traveller ventured, braving pickpockets and cut-throats, bawds and bullies, the mud and filth, the stench and the black rain. It was often difficult for him to find his way and, according to Grosley, the Frenchman, the rabble were
"as insolent as can be met with in countries without law or police. Inquire of them your way in the street, if it be upon the right they direct you to the left, or they send you from one of their vulgar comrades to another. The most shocking abuse and ill language make a part of their pleasantry on these occasions. To be assailed in such manner it is not absolutely necessary to be engaged in conversation with them; it is sufficient to pass by them. My French air, notwithstanding the simplicity of my dress, drew upon me, at the corner of every street, a volume of abusive litanies, in the midst of which I slipped on, returning thanks to God that I did not understand English. The constant burthen of these litanies was 'French dog'!"
His servant who had followed the crowd to Tyburn fared even worse, and was rescued with difficulty by three French soldiers, deserters from the French guard.
A Day In London
Macky gives a pleasant account of the day as he spent it in London.
"We rise by nine" he says "and those that frequent great men's levees, find entertainment at them till eleven, or as in Holland, we go to tea tables. About twelve the beau monde assembles in several chocolate and coffee houses, the best of which are the Cocoa Tree and White's Chocolate House, Mrs. Rochford's and the British Coffee House. We are carried to these places in chairs (or sedans) which are here very cheap, a guinea a week or a shilling per hour, and your chairmen serve you for porters and run your errands. If it be fine weather we take a turn in the park till two, when we go to dinner, and if it be dirty you are entertained at picquet or basset at White's or you may talk politics at the Smyrna or the St. James's . . . at two we generally go to dinner. The general way here is to make up a party at the Coffee House to go dine at a tavern where we sit till six when we go to the play except you are invited to the table of some great man, where strangers are always courted and nobly entertained . . , or, if you like rather the company of ladies, there are assemblies at most of the people of qualities' houses."
The sedan chairs were a feature of English town life. They could, as Macky says, be hired by the week or picked up at a stand in the street like a hackney coach. The passenger was set down at the door of the house he wished to visit; on wet and foggy nights, he could be carried inside and put down in the hall. If the bearers kept in step the motion was pleasant, far better than that of a hackney coach jolting over the uneven stones of the London streets. They were useful for visiting the numerous sights which the foreigner was anxious to see. De la Rochefoucauld thinks
"that the conduct of an Englishman's day in London leaves little time for work".
He was, of course, speaking of the life of the upper classes. He tells us how the Englishman
"gets up at ten or eleven and has breakfast (always with tea). He then" he continues "makes a tour of the town for about four hours until 5 o'clock, which is the dinner hour, at nine he meets in a tavern or a club and there the night is passed in play or drink; that is precisely how the day is spent."
Early in the century Zetzner saw in progress the re-building of St. Paul's Cathedral after the great fire. On this, he tells us, a thousand workmen were employed daily. Most travellers admired St. Paul's, "a fine and elegant imitation of St. Peter's church in Rome", and de Saussure describes it as "the most truly magnificent in all London and England ". Meister admired Westminster Abbey and called it "that remarkable specimen of Gothic architecture". Other travellers were less enthusiastic.
"This structure" Grosley says, speaking of Henry VII's chapel, "resembles that goddess whom an unskilled artist represented in most gorgeous apparel because he could not give her an elegant shape."
The English, he thought, "had a rambling taste" but he found much to admire in Walpole's villa at Twickenham. The Abbey was certainly greatly neglected. The monuments were broken and scribbled over. An Italian cardinal had knocked off a piece of the coronation stone and taken it away with him, and Von Politz thought that the custodian would "have sold the whole stone for a guinea".
Walpole had described the neglected state of the Abbey and declared that
"monuments tumble upon one's head through their neglect as one of them did and killed a man at Lady Elizabeth Percy's funeral".
The Houses Of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament were not, Moritz tells us, open to the public. Visitors could be introduced only by a member. He found, however, that the price of a bottle of wine, which was two shillings in those halcyon days, served as well as any introduction.
"It is not uncommon" he says "to see a member lying stretched out on one of the benches while others are debating. Some crack nuts, others eat oranges or whatever else is in season. The many rude things which the members said to each other struck me much. It is astonishing with what violence and even rudeness they push and jostle each other. Some members bring their sons whilst quite little boys and carry them to their seats along with themselves."
The Houses of Parliament were, of course, the old buildings which were destroyed by fire in the following century. They were large gloomy chambers, the House of Commons being particularly funereal. Iron pillars with gilded Corinthian capitals supported the galleries of the Lower House. These had been erected by Sir Christopher Wren in the reign of Queen Anne when he had been called in to repair and restore the chamber. Until that date the walls had been hung with the tapestries which Queen Elizabeth had ordered to commemorate the defeat of the Armada, one of which depicted Sir Richard Grenville's ship The Revenge fighting against the ships of Spain. Unfortunately most of these priceless hangings were swept away to make room for Wren's galleries. The House of Lords was less gloomy than the Commons. Here the very uncomfortable wooden benches, with which both chambers were furnished, had been painted crimson, the hangings of the throne were of the same colour and the old tapestries remained. Fine, gilt candelabra hung in both chambers. Kielmansegg also complained of the difficulty he experienced in getting into the House of Commons, that he had had to stand from half-past two to eight o'clock and could hardly use his arms and legs next day.
"Still" he says, "I should be wrong if I were to say that I had found the time tedious."
He had heard some very fine orators, including Pitt,
"one of the most powerful speakers of our time ", and he adds that "absolute silence reigns in the whole House".
Francesco de Miranda, the Venezuelan patriot who was in England at the close of the century, describes the debates in the House of Commons as
"really a sublime school of politics and legislation for the man of application ".
Von Uffenbach, who apparently visited St. Stephen's when the members were not sitting, complained that the great expectations he had formed
"are monstrously disappointed. The woolsack" he adds "is very hard to sit on."
The Tower was another sight which attracted many visitors. Von Uffenbach was enthusiastic about the Tower.
"There are" he says "such precious things here, crowns, jewels that I cannot sufficiently express my amazement. The most remarkable thing is that the armour of the old Kings of England is seen on full sized, wooden figures. The most notable is King Henry VIII, whose armour is of prodigious size. The head piece, like the stomach piece and breeches, is lined with velvet. For a jest countless pins have been stuck into this velvet, and any young person, particularly females, who come here, are presented with one because they are supposed to be a charm against impotence and barrenness."
The average sightseer was generally less interested in crowns and jewels and Henry VIII's armour than in the Tower Menagerie. De Saussure dismisses the relics of the past by saying that to see all these "would take you several days, and would be to your cost". He describes the menagerie as
"a small, rather dirty place containing ten lions, one panther, two tigers and four leopards. Also what the keeper calls a tiger man, a very big monkey wide striped like a tiger. We were told" he adds "that this animal is very intelligent, and I will give you proof of this. One day the poor beast being ill, a little wine was given it, which seemed to do it good. The rogue found it excellent and having remarked that no wine was given him unless he were ill he feigned sickness two or three times in order to receive the coveted remedy. The keeper, we are told, discovered this and beat the poor creature soundly."
Sophie de la Roche pities the unhappy creatures in their miserable, cramped quarters, especially the eagles fastened by thongs to the beams. It made her as unhappy, she says, as if she had seen "fine young men, born with good intellect condemned to low servile work ".
Pity for caged animals was, however, even more rare in the eighteenth century than it is in these days. Visitors flocked to the Tower and to the other menageries in London.
Count Kielmansegg tells us that near Westminster Bridge he found
"a quantity of outlandish animals such as a large, white-haired water animal which we took to be a sea bear from Greenland, a camel and a quantity of monkeys, eagles, civet cats, etc."
Englishmen complained of the difficulties they met with on trying to visit the British Museum. At one time admission could only be obtained by ticket for which application had to be made to the Museum porter, with a statement of
"names, condition and residence with the day and hour when they desire to visit the house".
Not more than ten tickets were issued for any one hour and there were other tiresome and deterring regulations. Perhaps foreigners were more used to regimentation in their own countries. Count Kielmansegg certainly did not complain about having to obtain a ticket. What he noted with approbation in this country "where a man's hand was always in his pocket", was the fact that "no servant or warder etc. is allowed to receive a penny under penalty of dismissal". He adds that the maintenance and heating of the museum cost £8,000 a year, a very large sum in those days. Moritz, however, talks about
"venal praters who ten times a day repeat the same dull lesson they have got by heart",
and complains that he was rushed through the museum and only saw glass cases and shelves and had a hasty view of the library. De la Rochefoucauld thought that the collections could not compare with those in France, but he admired the public spirit of the English.
"A considerable portion of the exhibits" he says "has been voluntarily given and every day new legacies are recorded."
Meister speaks with enthusiasm of the Leverian Museum, and this was indeed considered to be better arranged and more interesting than the British Museum. It comprised the collections of Sir Ashton Lever and was housed for a time in Leicester House, Leicester Square, which had once been "the pouting place of princes". It had, Meister says,
"the best collection of birds ever exhibited, with a collection of uncommon articles brought from the several places discovered by Captain Cook, consisting of dresses, arms, idols and utensils of every kind, together with the coat of mail which Cromwell wore when he defeated the royal army".
Baron Dimsdale, who had seen the museums of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Dresden and Paris, declared that the whole of these collections could not be compared with the Leverian Museum. It was open freely every day to anyone who cared to enter and there were no tiresome restrictions.
Besides the ordinary everyday sights there were special occasions and of these perhaps the chief was the Lord Mayor's procession on the 9th of November. Zetzner tells us how he went to this, and saw three men, entirely naked and looking like savages, running through the streets. They had vowed that they would never wear coat or shirt till James II had been restored to the throne.
"They assure me that they are persons of high rank" Zetzner adds. When he came near the route of the procession he was nearly crushed to death and was carried by the crowd for several minutes. Fearing that he "would be reduced to marmalade" he got out of the throng and returned home, having seen nothing more interesting than the three naked men. Count Kielmansegg was more enterprising. He declined to pay one or two guineas for a seat on the roof or on an unsafe stand, but contrived to catch glimpses of the show from the crowd.
"The cheering for Pitt" he tells us "nearly exceeded that for the King and Queen."
He had some difficulty in moving on as the people hung on to his carriage and horses.
Lord Mayor's Day
"At these times" de Saussure tells us, speaking of the Lord Mayor's Day, "it is almost dangerous for an honest man, and more particularly for a foreigner, if at all well dressed, to walk the streets, for he runs a great risk of being insulted by the vulgar populace which is the most cursed brood in existence. He is sure of not only being jeered at and being bespattered with mud, but as likely as not dead dogs and cats will be thrown at him, for the mob makes a provision beforehand of these play-things, so that they may amuse themselves with them on the great day."
De Saussure saw the Lord Mayor on the day of his investiture go in his barge from the City to Westminster.
"The Lord Mayor's barge is magnificent" he says; "it is enriched with gilding, carving and delicate paintings, it is decked with banners, streamers and flags, and is manned by forty oarsmen all wearing a bright hued livery and caps of black velvet. The other barges are handsomely decorated likewise, one of them having a band of music on board."
This voyage from the City of Westminster was preliminary to the Lord Mayor's Show. The Lord Mayor having gone to Guildhall where he was met by the outgoing Lord Mayor, arrayed himself in his robes. He then proceeded to the Three Cranes Wharf accompanied by javelin men, footmarshals, livery men of the City companies and their pensioners in bright coloured gowns and caps. The Lord Mayor's barge, followed by others carrying the attendant company, was rowed to Westminster, where at New Palace Stairs they disembarked. The javelin men made a lane, a necessary precaution in earlier times, and the Lord Mayor passed through it to Westminster Hall, where he took the necessary oaths and left a handsome sum of money to be distributed among the poor.
Queen Elizabeth had still a place in the affections and memories of many Englishmen, and her birthday was observed with processions, bonfires and the burning of unpopular effigies. To the mob it was another excuse for violence, robbery and drunkenness.
"The last birthday" a foreign traveller writes "was kept with great solemnity. I saw the procession of the Pope, the devil and the Chevalier de St. George on that night performed in great order, as also their being burnt at the expense of the Hanover Club at Charing Cross."
May Day was observed in London as the chimneysweep's festival, and also as a holiday for milkmaids. De Saussure saw the milkmaids dancing a jig in the Strand.
"One of these maidens" he says "carried a trophy of different pieces of crockery and tinsel on her head; she was accompanied by young men playing the fiddle and they stopped and danced before various houses, from which they received food and money."
This trophy was known as the milkmaid's garland, and though de Saussure speaks of it contemptuously as crockery and tinsel, it usually consisted of a frame in the shape of a pyramid, hung round with pewter and silver dishes. The plate, which was often valuable, had been borrowed from pawnbrokers, and the structure was not usually carried on the head, it was born through the streets on a hand-bier, sometimes in the shape of a horse. The company stopped only at the houses of customers, where they were regaled as de Saussure describes.
London parks seem to have impressed the foreigner.
"This place" says de Saussure, speaking of the Mall, "is no longer used for the game (pall-mall) but is a promenade and every spring it is bestrewn with tiny sea shells which are then crushed by means of a heavy roller. Deer and roe-deer are so tame that they eat out of your hand, and there is little danger of being attacked in the neighbourhood of the palace, for should the offender be taken up in any of these privileged parts, the laws would condemn him to lose his hand."
Von Uffenbach also mentions the red deer and speaks of the cows in St. James's Park, or the May Park as he calls it. He does not tell us if he had a glass of milk warm from the cow which many visitors to the Park were in the habit of drinking. He saw a man bearing a cask walking among the carriages and sprinkling the dusty roads with water. This was a variant of the water cart, which even then was to be seen in London streets. Hyde Park was surrounded by a brick wall and like St. James's was well stocked with deer. Macky counted three hundred coaches in succession going round the Ring.
"Nothing is more beautiful than the road from London to Kensington crossing Hyde Park" de Saussure tells us. Kensington Gardens, as von Uffenbach says, had "sun boxes which could be turned round on pivots ", a form of summer-house, which has been re-invented in our own day. These gardens could be entered only by ticket, and the parks, though they were declared open to the public, admitted only well-dressed persons, and on weekdays were supposed to be the close preserve of the upper classes. Here ladies, who would be escorted by male relatives or footmen while walking the dangerous London streets, might go alone as it was supposed that they would meet no one but their friends and other persons of their own class. It was the sole taste of liberty which most of them ever enjoyed, and there were those who made the best of it. Many women, during the earlier years of the century, wore masks at the theatre or other public places, and protected by these, some would talk to anyone they met.
Besides the sights of London which we have described there were others of a repulsive kind. Count Kielmansegg went to Tyburn to see a man hanged "à l'anglais ". De Saussure visited Bridewell, where he saw
"thirty or forty robbers, pickpockets, etc. occupied in beating flax. Each of those unfortunate wretches was seated in front of a large block of wood on which he beat the flax with a large heavy mallet. On one side of the room were the men, on the other the women and between the lines walked an inspector or Captain Whip'em. This man had a surly, repulsive countenance; he held a long cane in his hand about the thickness of my little finger and whenever one of these ladies was fatigued or ceased working he would rap her on the arms and in no gentle fashion. One young girl of fifteen and extremely beautiful said she was there `because of my tender heart'. She had helped some friend to steal and was sent to Bridewell for two weeks. She had been there three as she could not afford the crown garnish money."
This was a sum payable to the turnkey before a prisoner could be liberated. De Saussure tells us that the friend, who was with him, was so shocked and indignant that he paid the five shillings for the girl's release.