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assistance. AVe occasionally caught a glimpse of two or three
children, in mourning like herself, as they sat in the little
parlour behind the shop; and we never passed at night
without seeing the eldest girl at work, either for them, or in
making some elegant little trifle for sale. We often thought,
as her pale face looked more sad and pensive in the dim
candle-light, that if those thoughtless females who interfere
with the miserable market of poor creatures such as these,
knew but one-half of the misery they suffer, and the bitter
privations they endure, in their honourable attempts to earn
a scanty subsistence, they would, perhaps, resign even oppor-
tunities for the gratification of vanity, and an immodest love
of self-display, rather than drive them to a last dreadful
resource, which it would shock the delicate feelings of these
charitable ladies to hear named.

But we are forgetting the shop. Well, we continued to
watch it, and every day showed too clearly the increasing
poverty of its inmates. The children were clean, it is true,
but their clothes were threadbare and shabby ; no tenant had
been procured for the upper part of the house, from the
letting of which, a portion of the means of paying the rent
was to have been derived, and a slow, wasting consumption
prevented the eldest girl from continuing her exertions.
Quarter-day arrived. The landlord had suffered from the
extravagance of his last tenant, and he had no compassion
for the struggles of his successor ; he put in an execution.
As we passed one morning, the broker's men were removing
the little furniture there was in the house, and a newly-
posted bill informed us it was again " To Let. " What
became of the last tenant we never could learn ; we believe
the girl is past all suffering, and beyond all sorrow. God
help her ! We hope she is.

We were somewhat curious to ascertain what would be the
next stage for that the place had no chance of succeeding
now, was perfectly clear. The bill was soon taken down,


and some alterations were being made in the interior of the
shop. We were in a fever of expectation; we exhausted
conjecture we imagined all possible trades, none of which
were perfectly reconcilable with our idea of the gradual
decay of the tenement. It opened, and we wondered why we
had not guessed at the real state of the case before. The
shop not a large one at the best of times had been con-
verted into two : one was a bonnet-shape maker's, the other
was opened by a tobacconist, who also dealt in walking-sticks
and Sunday newspapers ; the two were separated by a thin
partition, covered with tawdry striped paper.

The tobacconist remained in possession longer than any
tenant within our recollection. He was a red-faced, impudent,
good-for-nothing dog, evidently accustomed to take things as
they came, and to make the best of a bad job. He sold as
many cigars as he could, and smoked the rest. He occupied
the shop as long as he could make peace with the landlord,
and when he could no longer live in quiet, he very coolly
locked the door, and bolted himself. From this period, the
two little dens have undergone innumerable changes. The
tobacconist was succeeded by a theatrical hair-dresser, who
ornamented the window with a great variety of " characters,"
and terrific combats. The bonnet-shape maker gave place to
a green-grocer, and the histrionic barber was succeeded, in
his turn, by a tailor. So numerous have been the changes,
that we have of late done little more than mark the peculiar
but certain indications of a house being poorly inhabited. It
has been progressing by almost imperceptible degrees. The
occupiers of the shops have gradually given up room after
room, until they have only reserved the little parlour for
themselves. First there appeared a brass plate on the private
door, with " Ladies' School " legibly engraved thereon ; shortly
afterwards we observed a second brass plate, then a bell, and
then another bell.

When we paused in front of our old friend, and observed
these signs of poverty, which are not to be mistaken, we


thought as we turned away, that the house had attained
its lowest pitch of degradation. We were wrong. When
we last passed it, a "dairy 11 was established in the area,
and a party of melancholy -looking fowls were amusing
themselves by running in at the front door, and out at the
back one.



SCOTLAND-YARD is a small a very small tract of land,
bounded on one side by the river Thames, on the other
by the gardens of Northumberland House : abutting at one
end on the bottom of Northumberland-street, at the other
on the back of Whitehall-place. When this territory was
first accidentally discovered by a country gentleman who lost
his way in the Strand, some years ago, the original settlers
were found to be a tailor, a publican, two eating-house
keepers, and a fruit-pie maker; and it was also found to
contain a race of strong and bulky men, who repaired to the
wharfs in Scotland-yard regularly every morning, about five
or six o'clock, to fill heavy waggons with coal, with which
they proceeded to distant places up the country, and supplied
the inhabitants with fuel. When they had emptied their
waggons, they again returned for a fresh supply; and this
trade was continued throughout the year.

As the settlers derived their subsistence from minister-
ing to the wants of these primitive traders, the articles
exposed for sale, and the places where they were sold, bore
strong outward marks of being expressly adapted to their
tastes and wishes. The tailor displayed in his window a
Lilliputian pair of leather gaiters, and a diminutive round
frock, while each doorpost was appropriately garnished with
a model of a coal-sack. The two eating-house keepers


exhibited joints of a magnitude, and puddings of a solidity,
which coalheavers alone could appreciate ; and the fruit-pie
maker displayed on his well-scrubbed window-board large
white compositions of flour and dripping, ornamented with
pink stains, giving rich promise of the fruit within, which
made their huge mouths water, as they lingered past.

But the choicest spot in all Scotland-yard was the old
public-house in the corner. Here, in a dark wainscoted-room
of ancient appearance, cheered by the glow of a mighty fire,
and decorated with an enormous clock, whereof the face was
white, and the figures black, sat the lusty coalheavers, quaffing
large draughts of Barclay's best, and puffing forth volumes
of smoke, which wreathed heavily above their heads, and
involved the room in a thick dark cloud. From this apart-
ment might their voices be heard on a winter's night, pene-
trating to the very bank of the river, as they shouted out
some sturdy chorus, or roared forth the burden of a popular
song; dwelling upon the last few words with a strength
and length of emphasis which made the very roof tremble
above them.

Here, too, would they tell old legends of what the Thames
was in ancient times, when the Patent Shot Manufactory
wasn't built, and Waterloo-bridge had never been thought
of; and then they would shake their heads with portentous
looks, to the deep edification of the rising generation of
heavers, who crowded round them, and wondered where all
this would end; whereat the tailor would take his pipe
solemnly from his mouth, and say, how that he hoped it
might end well, but he very much doubted whether it would
or not, and couldn't rightly tell what to make of it a
mysterious expression of opinion, delivered with a semi-
prophetic air, which never failed to elicit the fullest con-
currence of the assembled company ; and so they would go on
drinking and wondering till ten o'clock came, and with it
the tailor's wife to fetch him home, when the little party
broke up, to meet again in the same room, and say and do


precisely the same things, on the following evening at the
same hour.

About this time the barges that came up the river began
to bring vague rumours to Scotland-yard of somebody in the
city having been heard to say, that the Lord Mayor had
threatened in so many words to pull down the old London-
bridge, and build up a new one. At first these rumours
were disregarded as idle tales, wholly destitute of foundation,
for nobody in Scotland-yard doubted that if the Lord Mayor
contemplated any such dark design, he would just be clapped
up in the Tower for a week or two, and then killed off for
high treason.

By degrees, however, the reports grew stronger, and more
frequent, and at last a barge, laden with numerous chaldrons
of the best Wallsend, brought up the positive intelligence that
several of the arches of the old bridge were stopped, and
that preparations were actually in progress for constructing
the new one. What an excitement was visible in the old
tap-room on that memorable night i Each man looked into
his neighbour's face, pale with alarm and astonishment, and
read therein an echo of the sentiments which filled his own
breast. The oldest heaver present proved to demonstration,
that the moment the piers were removed, all the water in
the Thames would run clean off, and leave a dry gully in its
place. What was to become of the coal-barges of the trade
of Scotland-yard of the very existence of its population?
The tailor shook his head more sagely than usual, and grimly
pointing to a knife on the table, bid them wait and see what
happened. He said nothing not he; but if the Lord
Mayor didn't fall a victim to popular indignation, why he
would be rather astonished ; that was all.

They did wait; barge after barge arrived, and still no
tidings of the assassination of the Lord Mayor. The first
stone was laid : it was done by a Duke the King's brother.
Years passed away, and the bridge was opened by the King
himself. In course of time, the piers were removed; and


when the people in Scotland-yard got up next morning in the
confident expectation of being able to step over to Pedlar's
Acre without wetting the soles of their shoes, they found to
their unspeakable astonishment that the water was just where
it used to be.

A result so different from that which they had anticipated
from this first improvement, produced its full effect upon
the inhabitants of Scotland-yard. One of the eating-house
keepers began to court public opinion, and to look for
customers among a new class of people. He covered his
little dining-tables with white cloths, and got a painter's
apprentice to inscribe something about hot joints from twelve
to two, in one of the little panes of his shop-window. Im-
provement began to march with rapid strides to the very
threshold of Scotland-yard. A new market sprung up at
Hungerford, and the Police Commissioners established their
office in Whitehall-place. The traffic in Scotland-yard
increased ; fresh Members were added to the House of
Commons, the Metropolitan Representatives found it a near
cut, and many other foot passengers followed their example.

We marked the advance of civilisation, and beheld it with
a sigh. The eating-house keeper who manfully resisted the
innovation of table-cloths, was losing ground every day, as
his opponent gained it, and a deadly feud sprung up between
them. The genteel one no longer took his evening's pint in
Scotland-yard, but drank gin and water at a "parlour"" in
Parliament-street. The fruit-pie maker still continued to
visit the old room, but he took to smoking cigars, and began
to call himself a pastrycook, and to read the papers. The
old heavers still assembled round the ancient fireplace, but
their talk was mournful: and the loud song and the joyous
shout were heard no more.

And what is Scotland-yard now? How have its old
customs changed ; and how has the ancient simplicity of its
inhabitants faded away! The old tottering public-house is
converted into a spacious and lofty " wine-vaults ; " gold leaf


has been used in the construction of the letters which
emblazon its exterior, and the poet's art has been called into
requisition, to intimate that if you drink a certain description
of ale, you must hold fast by the rail. The tailor exhibits
in his window the pattern of a foreign-looking brown surtout,
with silk buttons, a fur collar, and fur cuffs. He wears a
stripe down the outside of each leg of his trousers : and we
have detected his assistants (for he has assistants now) in
the act of sitting on the shop-board in the same uniform.

At the other end of the little row of houses a boot-maker
has established himself in a brick box, with the additional
innovation of a first floor ; and here he exposes for sale,
boots real Wellington boots an article which a few years
ago, none of the original inhabitants had ever seen or heard
of. It was but the other day, that a dress-maker opened
another little box in the middle of the row ; and, when we
thought that the spirit of change could produce no alteration
beyond that, a jeweller appeared, and not content with
exposing gilt rings and copper bracelets out of number, put
up an announcement, which still sticks in his window, that
" ladies' ears may be pierced within." The dress-maker
employs a young lady who wears pockets in her apron ; and
the tailor informs the public that gentlemen may have their
own materials made up.

Amidst all this change, and restlessness, and innovation,
there remains but one old man, who seems to mourn the
downfall of this ancient place. He holds no converse with
human kind, but, seated on a wooden bench at the angle
of the wall which fronts the crossing from Whitehall-place,
watches in silence the gambols of his sleek and well-fed dogs.
He is the presiding genius of Scotland-yard. Years and
years have rolled over his head ; but, in fine weather or in
foul, hot or cold, wet or dry, hail, rain, or snow, he is still
in his accustomed spot. Misery and want are depicted in
his countenance ; his form is bent by age, his head is grey
with length of trial, but there he sits from day to day,


brooding over the past ; and thither he will continue to drag
his feeble limbs, until his eyes have closed upon Scotland-
yard, and upon the world together.

A few years hence, and the antiquary of another generation
looking into some mouldy record of the strife and passions
that agitated the world in these times, may glance his eye
over the pages we have just filled : and not all his knowledge
of the history of the past, not all his black-letter lore, or
his skill in book-collecting, not all the dry studies of a long
life, or the dusty volumes that have cost him a fortune, may
help him to the whereabouts, either of Scotland-yard, or of
any one of the landmarks we have mentioned in describing it.



WE have always been of opinion that if Tom King and the
Frenchman had not immortalised Seven Dials, Seven Dials
would have immortalised itself. Seven Dials ! the region of
song and poetry first effusions, and last dying speeches:
hallowed by the names of Catnach and of Pitts names that
will entwine themselves with costermongers, and barrel-organs,
when penny magazines shall have superseded penny yards of
song, and capital punishment be unknown !

Look at the construction of the place. The gordian knot
was all very well in its way: so was the maze of Hampton
Court : so is the maze at the Beulah Spa : so were the ties of
stiff white neckcloths, when the difficulty of getting one on,
was only to be equalled by the apparent impossibility of ever
getting it off again. But what involutions can compare
with those of Seven Dials? Where is there such another
maze of streets, courts, lanes, and alleys ? Where such a
pure mixture of Englishmen and Irishmen, as in this com-
plicated part of London ? We boldly aver that we doubt
the veracity of the legend to which we have adverted. We
can suppose a man rash enough to inquire at random at a
house with lodgers too for a Mr. Thompson, with all but
the certainty before his eyes, of finding at least two or three
Thompsons in any house of moderate dimensions; but a
Frenchman a Frenchman in Seven Dials ! Pooh ! He was

VOL. i. G


an Irishman. Tom King's education had been neglected in
his infancy, and as he couldn't understand half the man said,
he took it for granted he was talking French.

The stranger who finds himself in "The Dials" for the
first time, and stands Belzoni-like, at the entrance of seven
obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough
around him to keep his curiosity and attention awake for no
inconsiderable time. From the irregular square into which
he has plunged, the streets and courts dart in all directions,
until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs
over the house-tops, and renders the dirty perspective
uncertain and confined; and lounging at every corner, as if
they came there to take a few gasps of such fresh air as has
found its way so far, but is too much exhausted already, to
be enabled to force itself into the narrow alleys around, are
groups of people, whose appearance and dwellings would fill
any mind but a regular Londoner's with astonishment.

On one side, a little crowd has collected round a couple of
ladies, who having imbibed the contents of various "three-
outs" of gin and bitters in the course of the morning, have
at length differed on some point of domestic arrangement,
and are on the eve of settling the quarrel satisfactorily, by
an appeal to blows, greatly to the interest of other ladies
who live in the same house, and tenements adjoining, and
who are all partisans on one side or other.

" Vy don't you pitch into her, Sarah ? " exclaims one half-
dressed matron, by way of encouragement. " Vy don't you ?
if my 'usband had treated her with a drain last night, unbe-
known to me, I'd tear her precious eyes out a wixen ! "

"What's the matter, ma'am ?" inquires another old woman,
who has just bustled up to the spot.

" Matter ! " replies the first speaker, talking at the obnoxious
combatant, " matter ! Here's poor dear Mrs. Sullivvin, as has
five blessed children of her own, can't go out a charing for
one arternoon, but what hussies must be a comin', and 'ticing
avay her oun' 'usband, as she's been married to twelve year


come next Easter Monday, for I see the certificate ven I vas
a drinkin' a cup o* 1 tea vith her, only the werry last blessed
Ven'sday as ever was sent. I 'append to say promiscuously,
'Mrs. Sulliwin,' says I "

"What do you mean by hussies?" interrupts a champion
of the other party, who has evinced a strong inclination
throughout to get up a branch fight on her own account
("Hooroar," ejaculates a pot-boy in parenthesis, "put the
kye-bosk on her, Mary ! "), " What do you mean by hussies ? "
reiterates the champion.

"Niver mind, 11 replies the opposition expressively, "niver
mind ; you go home, and, ven you're quite sober, mend your

This somewhat personal allusion, not only to the lady's
habits of intemperance, but also to the state of her wardrobe,
rouses her utmost ire, and she accordingly complies with the
urgent request of the bystanders to " pitch in, 11 with consider-
able alacrity. The scuffle became general, and terminates, in
minor play-bill phraseology, with "arrival of the policemen,
interior of the station-house, and impressive denouement?

In addition to the numerous groups who are idling about
the gin-shops and squabbling in the centre of the road, every
post in the open space has its occupant, who leans against it
for hours, with listless perseverance. It is odd enough that
one class of men in London appear to have no enjoyment
beyond leaning against posts. We never saw a regular brick-
layer's labourer take any other recreation, fighting excepted.
Pass through St. Giles's in the evening of a week-day, there
they are in their fustian dresses, spotted with brick-dust and
whitewash, leaning against posts. Walk through Seven Dials
on Sunday morning: there they are again, drab or light
corduroy trousers, Blucher boots, blue coats, and great yellow
waistcoats, leaning against posts. The idea of a man dressing
himself in his best clothes, to lean against a post all day !

The peculiar character of these streets, and the close
resemblance each one bears to its neighbour, by no means


tends to decrease the bewilderment in which the unexperi-
enced wayfarer through " the Dials " find himself involved.
He traverses streets of dirty, straggling houses, with now
and then an unexpected court composed of buildings as ill-
proportioned and deformed as the half-naked children
that wallow in the kennels. Here and there, a little dark
chandler's shop, with a cracked bell hung up behind the
door to announce the entrance of a customer, or betray the
presence of some young gentleman in whom a passion for
shop tills has developed itself at an early age: others, as if
for support, against some handsome lofty building, which
usurps the place of a low dingy public-house ; long rows of
broken and patched windows expose plants that may have
flourished when " the Dials " were built, in vessels as dirty cs
" the Dials " themselves ; and shops for the purchase of rags,
bones, old iron, and kitchen- stuff', vie in cleanliness with the
bird-fanciers and rabbit-dealers, which one might fancy so
many arks, but for the irresistible conviction that no bird in
its proper senses, who was permitted to leave one of them,
would ever come back again. Brokers 1 shops, which would
seem to have been established by humane individuals, as
refuges for destitute bugs, interspersed with announcements
of day-schools, penny theatres, petition-writers, mangles, and
music for balls or routs, complete the "still life" of the
subject; and dirty men, filthy women, squalid children, flut-
tering shuttlecocks, noisy battledores, reeking pipes, bad
fruit, more than doubtful oysters, attenuated cats, depressed
dogs, and anatomical fowls, are its cheerful accompaniments.

If the external appearance of the houses, or a glance at
their inhabitants, present but few attractions, a closer
acquaintance with either is little calculated to alter one's
first impression. Every room has its separate tenant, and
every tenant is, by the same mysterious dispensation which
causes a country curate to "increase and multiply" most
marvellously, generally the head of a numerous family.

The man in the shop, perhaps, is in the baked "jemmy"


line, or the fire-wood and hearth-stone line, or any other
line which requires a floating capital of eighteen -pence or
thereabouts : and he and his family live in the shop, and the
small back parlour behind it. Then there is an Irish
labourer and his family in the back kitchen, and a jobbing
man carpet-beater and so forth with his family in the
front one. In the front one-pair, there's another man
with another wife and family, and in the back one-pair,
there's "a young 'oman as takes in tambour-work, and
dresses quite genteel," who talks a good deal about "my
friend," and can't "a-bear anything low." The second floor
front, and the rest of the lodgers, are just a second edition
of the people below, except a shabby-genteel man in the
back attic, who has his half-pint of coffee every morning
from the coffee-shop next door but one, which boasts a little
front den called a coffee-room, with a fireplace, over which
is an inscription, politely requesting that, " to prevent
mistakes," customers will " please to pay on delivery." The
shabby-genteel man is an object of some mystery, but as he
leads a life of seclusion, and never was known to buy any-
thing beyond an occasional pen, except half-pints of coffee,
penny loaves, and ha'porths of ink, his fellow-lodgers very
naturally suppose him to be an author; and rumours are
current in the Dials, that he writes poems for Mr. Warren.

Now anybody who passed through the Dials on a hot
summer's evening, and saw the different women of the house
gossiping on the steps, would be apt to think that all was
harmony among them, and that a more primitive set of
people than the native Diallers could not be imagined.
Alas ! the man in the shop ill-treats his family ; the carpet-
beater extends his professional pursuits to his wife ; the one-
pair front has an undying feud with the two-pair front,
in consequence of the two-pair front persisting in dancing
over his (the one-pair front's) head, when he and his family
have retired for the night ; the two-pair back will interfere

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 7 of 31)