The thoroughfares of London constitute, assuredly, the finest and most remarkable of all the sights that London contains. Not that this is due to their architectural display, even though at the West End there are streets which are long hues of palaces — such as Pall Mall, with its stately array, of club-houses — and Regent Street, where the fronts of each distinct block of buildings are united so as to form one imposing facade, and where every facade is different, so that, as we walk along, a land of architectural panorama glides before the eye — and Belgravia and Tyburnia, where the squares and terraces are vast palatial colonies. Nor yet is it due to the magnificence of its shops — those crystal storehouses of which the sheets of glass are like sheets of the clearest lake ice, both in their dimensions and transparency, and gorgeous with the display of the richest products in the world. Nor yet, again, is it owing to the capacious Docks at the East End of the Metropolis, where the surrounding streets have all the nautical oddness of an amphibious Dutch town, from the mingling of the manv mastheads with the chimney-pots, and where the sense of the immensity of the aggregate merchant-wealth is positively overpowering to contemplate. Neither is it owing to the broad green parks, that are so many bright snatches of the country scattered round the smoke-dried city, and where the verdure of the fields is rendered doubly grateful, not only from their contrast with the dense rusty-red mass of bricks and mortar with which they are encompassed, but from being vast aerial reservoirs — great sylvan tanks, as it were, of oxygen — for the supply of health and spirits to the walled-in multitude. But these same London thoroughfares are simply the finest of all sights — in the world, we may say — on account of the never-ending and infinite variety of life to be seen in them.
But the nomenclature of the London streets is about as unsystematic as is the general plan of the thoroughfares, and cannot but be extremely puzzling to the stranger. Every one knows how the Frenchman was perplexed with the hundred significations given to the English term "box" - such as band-box, Christmas-box, coach-box, box on the ears, shooting-box, box-tree, private box, the wrong box, boxing the compass, and a boxing match. And, assuredly, he must be equally bothered on finding the same name applied to some score or two of different thoroughfares, that are often so far apart, that, if he happen to be the bearer of a letter of introduction with the address of "King Street, London," the unhappy wight would probably be driven about from district to district — from King Street, Golden Square, maybe, to King street, Cheapside, and then back again to King Street, Covent Garden — and so on until he had tried the whole of the forty-two King Streets that are now set down in the Post-office Directory.Clicked Images Enlarge
A painstaking friend of ours has, at our request, been at the trouble of classifying the various thoroughfares of London, and he finds that of the streets, squares, terraces, etc., bearing a loyal title, there are no less than seventy-three christened King, seventy-eight Queen, forty-two called Prince's, and four Princess's; twenty-six styled Duke, one Duchess, and twenty-eight having the title of Regent; while there are thirty-one Crown Streets, or Courts, and one Regina Villa.
Then many thoroughfares are named after the titles of nobles. Thus there are no less than eighty-nine localities called York, after the Duke of ditto; fifty-eight entitied Gloucester; forty-four Brunswick, in honour of that "house;" thirty-nine Bedford, thirty-five Devonshire, thirty-six Portland, thirty-four Cambridge, twenty-eight Lansdowne, twenty-seven Montague, twenty-six Cumberland, twenty-two Claremont and Clarence, twenty Clarendon, twenty-three Russell, twenty-one Norfolk — besides many other highways or byeways styled Cavendish, or Cecil, or Buckingham, or Northumberland, or Stanhope.
Next, in illustration of the principle of hero-worship, there are fifty-two thoroughfares called after Wellington, twenty-nine after Marlborough, and eleven after Nelson; there are moreover, twenty styled "Waterloo", and fifteen Trafalgar, thirteen Blenheim, one Boyne and three Navarino; whilst, in honour of Prime Ministers, there are six localities called after Pitt, two after Cox, and three after Canning; in celebration of Lord Chancellors, five are named Eldon; for Politicians, one Place is styled Cobden, and two streets Burdett; and to commemorate the name of great poets and philosophers, there is one Shakespeare's Walk (at Shadwell), one Ben Jonson's Fields, eight Milton Streets, and seven thoroughfares bearing the name of Addison, and one that of Cato.
Of the number of thoroughfares called by simple Christian names, the following are the principal examples: There are fifty-eight localities known as George, forty christened Victoria, forty-three Albert, and eight Adelaide. Then there are forty-seven Johns, forty- nine Charleses, thirty-five Jameses, thirty-three Edwards, thirty Alfreds, twenty Charlottes, and the same number of Elizabeths and Fredericks, together with a small number of Roberts, and Anns, and Peters, and Pauls, and Adams, and Amelias, and Marys, beside eight King Edwards, two King "Williams, one King John, and one King Henry.
Many streets, on the other hand, bear the surnames of their builders or landlords; and, accordingly, we have several thoroughfares rejoicing in the illustrious names of Smith or Baker, or Newman, or Perry, or Nicholas, or Milman, or Warren, or Leigh, or Beaufoy, and indeed one locality bearing the euphonious title of Bugsby's Beach.
Religious titles, again, are not uncommon. Not only have we the celebrated Paternoster Row, and Ave-Maria Lane, and Amen Corner, and Adam and Eve Court, but there are All Hallows Chambers, and a number of Providence Rows and Streets. Moreover, there is a large family called either Church or Chapel, besides a Bishop's Walk, a Dean's Yard, and a Mitre Court, together with not a few christened College or Abbey; whilst there is a Tabernacle Row, Square, and Walk, as well as a well-known Worship Street, and no less than twenty distinct places bearing the name of Trinity, as well as two large districts styled Whitefriars and Blackfriars, and a bevy of streets called after the entire calendar of Saints, together with a posse of Angel Courts and Lanes.
Other places, on the contrary, delight in Pagan titles; for in the suburbs we find two Neptune Streets, four Minerva Terraces, two Apollo Buildings, one Diana Place, a Hermes Street, and a Hercules Passage; besides several streets dedicated to England's mythological patroness, Britannia, and some half-dozen roads, or cottages, or places, glorying in the title of the imaginary Scotch goddess, Caledonia. The same patriotic spirit seems to make the name of Albion very popular among the godfathers or godmothers of thoroughfares, for there are no less than some fifty buildings, chambers, cottages, groves, mews, squares, etc., rejoicing in the national cognomen.
Further, there is a large number of astronomically-named highways, such as those called Sun Street or Sols' Row, or Half-Moon Street, or Star Alley, or Corner. And, again, we have many of an aquatic turn, as witness the Thames Streets and River Terraces, and Brook Streets, and Wells Streets, and Water Lanes — ay, and one Ocean Row.
Others delight in zoological titles, such as Fish Street, Elephant Gardens, or Stairs, Cow Lane, Lamb Alley, and Bear Street, as well as Duck Lane, and Drake Street, and Raven Row, and Dove Court, with many Swan Streets and Lanes and Alleys, and Eagle Streets, and Swallow Streets, and one Sparrow Corner. In the same category, too, we must class the thoroughfares christened after fabulous monsters, such as the Red Lion and White Lion Streets, the Mermaid Courts, and Phoenix Places and Wharves.
In addition to these must be mentioned the gastronomical localities, such as Milk Street, Beer Street, Bread Street, Pine-Apple Place, Sugar-Loaf Court, and Vinegar Yard; and the old Pie Lane, and Pudding Comer; besides Orange Street, and Lemon Street, and the horticultural Pear-Tree Court, Fig-Tree ditto. Cherry-Tree Lane, and Walnut-Tree Walk.
Others, again, have botanical names given to them: thus, there are ten Rose Villas, Terraces, Lanes, or Courts; nine Holly ditto; seven Ivy Cottages or Places ; one Lily Terrace; two Woodbine Villas; the same niunber of Fir Groves; a Lavender Hill and Place; twelve Willow Walks and Cottages, besides three Acacia and Avenue Roads or Gardens; one Coppice Row; and no less than fifty-four Cottages, or Crescents, or Parks styled Grove - though mostly all are as leafless as boot-trees.
A large number of thoroughfares, on the other hand, are called after their size or shops; Thus there are twenty-three Streets, Courts, Pavements, Walls, and Ways styled Broad; but only three Streets called Narrow. There are, however, six Acres, Alleys, or Lanes called Long; and an equal number of Buildings denominated Short. Then we have as many as thirty-five styled High, four called Back, and the same number bearing the opposite title of Fore; whilst there are no less than ten Rows denominated Middle, and twenty Courts, Lanes, etc. christened Cross, as well as one dubbed Tumagain. In addition to these there are three Ovals, four Triangles, two Polygons, and one Quadrant; besides an innumerable quantity of Squares, Circuses, and Crescents.
Some places, on the other hand, appear to have chromatic names, though this arises from the pigmentary patronymics of their original landlords. Hence there are sixteen thoroughfares called Green, two White, and one Grey.
Further, we have a considerable quantity named after the cardinal points of the compass, there being as many as forty-eight denominated North, not a few of which lie in a wholly different direction, and forty-four bearing the title of South; whilst there are twenty-nine nicknamed East, and an equal number "West; but only one styled North-East.
In the suburbs the topographical titles are often of a laudatory character, and generally eulogistic of the view that was (originally, perhaps,) to be obtained from the Buildings, or Crescent, or Cottages, or Row, to which the inviting title has been applied. Accordingly we find that there are twenty-four Prospect Cottages and Places; four Belle-Vues, and a like number of Belvideres; whilst there is one Fair-View Place; besides nearly a score of Pleasant Places, four Mount Pleasants, sixteen Paradise Terraces or Cottages, and six Paragon Villas or Rows.
Others, still, are christened after particular trades. Thus, the Butchers have two Rows called after them; the Fishmongers two Alleys; the Dyers, three Courts or Buildings; the Barbers, one Yard; the Sadlers, three Buildings or Places; the Stonecutters, one Street; the Potters, a few Fields; the "Weavers, two Streets; the Ironmongers, one Lane; and the Ropemakers, one "Walk"; whilst there are no less than thirty-three thoroughfares having the general title of Commercial. Further, in honor of the Bootmakers, there is one Place styled Crispin, one Lane called Shoe, and one Street bearing the name of Boot — besides a Petticoat Lane in honour of the ladies, and, for the poorer classes, a Rag Fair.
Then, of thoroughfares named after materials, there are eight "Wood Streets, one Stone Buildings, one Iron and one Golden Square, seven Silver Streets, and two Diamond Rows.
Lastly, there is a large class of streets called after some public place near which they are situate. For instance, there are just upon one hundred localities having the prefix Park, and thirty-seven entitled Bridge, nineteen are called Market, twelve styled Palace, fourteen Castle, nine Tower, two Parliament, two Asylum, three Spital (the short for Hospital), one Museum, four Custom House, and a like number Charter House; but as yet there exist only two Railway Places, and one Tunnel Square.
Nor would the catalogue be complete if we omitted to enumerate the London Hills, such as Snow, Corn, Ludgate, Holbom, Primrose, Saffron, and Mutton; or the streets named after the ancient Gates, as Newgate, Ludgate, Aldgate, Aldersgate, Bishopsgate, and Moorgate; or those cosmopolitan thoroughfares dubbed Portugal Street, Spanish Place, America Square, Greek Street, Turk's Row, Denmark Hill, and Copenhagen Fields, not forgetting the ancient Petty France and the modern Little Britain.
Again, the very east-end of the town, such as Bethnal green, is as marked in the cut of its bricks aad mortar — in the "long lights" of the weavers' houses about Spitalfields, and the latticed pigeon-house, surmounting almost every roof — as is May Fair from Rag Fair; and so striking is this physiognomical expression — the different cast of countenance, as it were — in the houses of the several localities inhabited hy the various grades of society, that to him who knows London well, a walk through its divers districts is as peculiar as a geographical excursion through the multiform regions of the globe.
Stroll through the streets, for instance, that constitute the environs of Fitzroy Square, and surely it needs not brass cards upon the doors to say that this is the artistic quarter of London. Notice the high window in the middle of the first floor, the shutters closed in the day time at all but the upper part of the casement, so as to give a "top-light." See, too, the cobwebby window panes and the flat sticks of the old-fashioned parlour blinds leaning different ways - all betokening the residence of one who hardly belongs to the well-to-do classes. Observe, as you continue your walk, the group of artists' colour-men's shops, with the boxes of moist colours in the windows, and some large brown photographs, or water-colour drawings exposed for sale; and mark, in another street hard by, the warehouses of plaster casts, where you see bits of arms, or isolated hands, modelled in whiting; and chalk figures of horses, with all the muscles showing. After this, the mind's eye that cannot, at a glance, detect that hereabouts dwell the gentry who indulge in odd beards and hats, and delight in a picturesque "make-up," must need some intellectual spectacles to aid its perception.
Travel then across Regent Street to Saville Row, and, if you be there about noon, it will not be necessary to read the small brass tablets graven with "Night-bell," to learn that here some renowned physician or surgeon dwells in every other house; for you will see a seedy carriage, with fagged-looking horses, waiting at nearly all the thresholds, and pale people, with black patches of respirators over their mouths, in the act of leaving or entering the premises; so that you will readily discover that the gentry frequenting this locality are about to hurry round the Metropolis, and feel some score of pulses, and look at some score of tongues, at the rate of ten guineas per hour.
Next wend your way to Chancery Lane, and give heed to the black-coated gentry, with bundles of papers tied with red-tape in their hands, the door-posts striped with a small catalogue of names, the street-doors set wide open, and individuals in black clerical-looking gowns and powdered coachmen-like wigs, tripping along the pavement towards the Courts; and stationers' shops, in which hang legal almanacs, and skins of parchment, as greasy-looking as tracing-paper, with "this indenture" flourished in the corner, and law lists bound in bright red leather, and law books in sleek yellow calf. Note, too, the furniture shops, with leathern-topped writing-tables and pigeon-holes, and what-nots for papers, and square piles of drawers, and huge iron safes and japanned tin boxes, that seem as if they had had a coat of raspberry jam by way of paint, against which the boys had been dabbing their fingers - all which, of course, will apprise you that you are in the legal quarter of the town.
Then, how different the squares in the different parts of London — the squares which are so purely national — so utterly unlike your foreign "place," or "plats" that bare paved or gravelled space, with nothing but a fountain, a statue, or column, in the centre of it. True, the trees may grow as black in London as human beings at the tropics; but still there is the broad carpet of green sward in the centre, and occasionally the patches of bright-coloured flowers that speak of the English love of gardening — the Londoner's craving for country life.
What a distinctive air, we repeat, have the fashionable West End squares; how different from the "genteel" affairs in the northern districts of the Metropolis, as well as from the odd and desolate places in the City, or the obsolete and antiquated spots on the south side of Holbom and Oxford Street — like Leicester and Soho.
How spacious are the handsome old mansions around Grosvenor Square, with their quoins, windows, and door-cases of stone, bordering the sombre "rubbed" brick fronts. In France or Germany such enormous buildings would have a different noble family lodging on every "flat." The inclosure, too, is a small park, or palace garden, rather than the paved court-yard of foreign places.
Then there is Grosvenor's twin brother, Portman Square, where the houses are all but as imposing in appearance - and St. James's Square — and Berkeley - and Cavendish — and Hanover — and Manchester — with the still more stately and gorgeous Belgrave and Eaton Squares.
Next to these rank the respectable and genteel squares, such as Montague, and Bryanstone, and Connaught, and Cadogan, at the West End, and Fitzroy, and Russell, and Bedford, and Bloomsbury, and Tavistock, and Torrington, and Gordon, and Euston, and Mecklenburg, and Brunswick, and Queen's, and Finsbury - all lying in that district east of Tottenham Court Road which was the celebrated terra incognita of John Wilson Croker.
After these come the City squares - those intensely quiet places immured in the very centre of London, which seem as stoll and desolate as cloisters; and where the desire for peace is so strong upon the inhabitants, that there is generally a liveried street-keeper or beadle maintained to cane off the boys, as well as dispel the flock of organ-grinders and Punch-and-Judy men, and acrobats, who would look upon the tranqidllity of the place as a mine of wealth to them. To this class belong Devonshire Square, Bishopsgate; Biidgewater Square, Barbican; America Square, Minories; Wellclose Square, London Docks; Trinity Square, Tower; Nelson Square, Blackfriars; Warwick Square, Newgate Street; and Gough and Salisbury Squares, Fleet Street; though many of these are but the mere bald "places" of the continent.
Further, we have the obsolete, or "used up" old squares, that lie south of Oxford Street and Holborn, and east of Regent Street, and which have mostly passed from fashionable residences into mere quadrangles, full of shops, or hotels, or exhibitions, or chambers; such are the squares of Soho, Leicester, Golden, Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, and even Covent Garden.
And, lastly, we have the pretentious parvenu-like suburban squares, such as Thurlow and Trevor, by Brompton; and Sloane, by Chelsea; and Edwardes, by Kensington; and Oakley, by Camden Town; and Holford and Claremont Squares, by Pentonville; and Islington Square; and Green Arbour Square, by Stepney; and Surrey Square, by the Old Kent Road; and the Oval, by Kennington.
In fine, there are now upwards of one hundred squares distributed throughout London, and these are generally in such extreme favour among the surrounding inhabitants, that they are each regarded as the headquarters of the elite of the district by all aspirants for fashionable distinction; so that the pretentious traders of Gower Street and the like, instead of writing down their address as Gower Street, Tottenham Court Road, love to exaggerate it into Gower Street, Bedford Square.
Of streets, again, we find the same distinctive classes as of the squares. There are, first, the fashionable streets, such as Arlington Street St. James's, and Park Lane, and Portland Place, and Richmond and Carlton Terraces, and Privy Gardens.
Then come the respectable or "genteel" thoroughfares of Clarges Street, and Harley Street, and Gloucester Place, and "Wobum Place, and Keppel Street, etc.
After these we have the lodging-house localities, comprised in the several streets running out of the Strand.
Moreover, mention must be made of the distinctive streets, and narrow commercial lanes, crowding about the bank, where the houses are as full of merchants and clerks as a low lodging-house is full of tramps.
Further, there are the streets and districts for particular trades, as Long Acre, where the carriage-makers abound; and Lombard Street, where the bankers love to congregate; and Clerkenwell, the district for the watch-makers; and Hatton Garden for the Italian glass-blowers; and the Borough for the hatters; Bermondsey for the tanners; Lambeth for the potters; and Spitalflelds for weavers; and Catherine Street for the newsvendors; and Paternoster Row for the booksellers; and the New Road for the zinc-workers: and Lower Thames Street for the merchants in oranges and foreign fruits; and Mincing Lane for the wholesale grocers; and Holywell Street and Rosemary Lane for old clothes; and so on.
Again, one of the most distinctive quarters about London is in the neighboiirhood of the Docks. The streets themselves in this locality have all, more or less, a maritime character; every other store is either stocked with gear for the ship or the sailor; and the front of many a shop is filled with quadrants and bright brass sextants, chronometers, and ships' binnacles, with their compass cards trembling with the motion of the cabs and waggons passing in the street, whilst over the doorway is fixed a huge figure of a naval officer in a cocked hat, taking a perpetual sight at the people in the first-floor on the opposite side of the way. Then come the sailors' cheap shoe marts, rejoicing in the attractive sign of "Jack and his Mother;'' every public house, too, is a "Jolly Jack Tar," or something equally taking, and there are "Free Concerts" at the back of every bar. Here, also, the sailmakers' shops abound, with their windows stowed with ropes, and smelling of tar as you pass them. All the neighbouring grocers are provision agents, and exhibit in their windows tin cases of meat and biscuits, and every article is "warranted to keep in any climate." The corners of the streets, moreover, are mostly monopolized by slopsellers, their windows parti-coloured with the bright red and blue flannel shirts, and the doors nearly blocked up with hammocks and well-oiled nor'westers; whilst the front of the house itself is half covered with canvas trousers, rough pilot-coats, and shinny black dread-noughts. The foot-passengers alone would tell you that you were in the maritime district of London, for you pass now a satin waistcoated mate, and now a black sailor with a large fur cap on his head, and then a custom-house officer in his brass-buttoned jacket.
Nor would this account of the peculiarities of the London streets be complete if we omitted to mention the large body of people who derive their living from exercising some art or craft, or of carrying on some trade in them. This portion of people are generally to be seen in the greatest numbers at the London Street Markets of a Saturday night, and a more peculiar sight is not to be witnessed in any other capital of the world.--- The Great World of the London Streets. By Henry Mayhew. 1862.