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London at the end of the century : a book of gossip online

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mounted policeman pursuing Flying Fox and
bringing him back! However, the spectators in
Brittany only laughed and cheered. The incident,
although not very novel, was evidently amusing.


But, in spite of the " sports " of the Empire and
the intelligent support of a new school of French
athletes, I do not think that racing will be popular
with our neighbours for a long time to come. If you
speak to a foreigner nowadays you will find that he


has lost some of his respect for the Lord Mayor, has
less regard for Leicester Square, and five times out
of six has heard of the Derby. However, the love
of horses is steadily gaining ground. Possibly taking
the idea from our Fifth Lancers and other cavalry
regiments, the Parisians have started an amateur
cirque. It is quite the mode, and excessively chic.
There is not only excellent horsemanship, but now
and again fairly amusing fooling. So far the Paris
cirque is unique, but as the French officers are the
chief performers it is not unlikely to prove the parent
of many similar institutions.


But, if the Parisians have got as far as following
the Fifth Lancers, they have yet to learn the benefits
of the Military Tournament at the Agricultural Hall.
And yet, strange to say, although there is nothing
like our Assault-at-Arms to be seen in Paris, one of
the features at Islington has evidently been suggested
by a well-known item in the old-time programme at
the Hippodrome. In the days of the Crimean War
the entertainment invariably concluded with a
military sketch. The " Siege of Silistria " was ex-
tremely popular in the fifties, and this " spectacle "
(which I witnessed as a very small boy) was brought
back to my mind at the end of the century, as I


watched the incidents of the Display of Combined
Arms. In the Paris Hippodrome there was a
sort of plot ; at Islington there is nothing of
the kind. The " Siege of Silistria," I remember,
used to conclude with the entrance of the
British Army (about tv/enty all told), contain-
ing detachments of " veritable Lif Gars " and
" veritable iglanders," the whole under the command
of " le Prince Albert." The " Lif Gars " wore a
miscellaneous lot of assorted helmets, and the
" iglanders " appeared in baggy fleshings. However,
the British army was received with effusion, which
grew in volume as " God Save the Queen " was
played by the orchestra, and culminated in the
wildest enthusiasm when the tune changed to
" Partant pour la Syrie."

And now, like the horses at the end of a race, I
must pull up. However, before quitting the subject
of this chapter, I cannot help recording the opinion
of a noted English athlete, who, speaking of the love
of sport in France, said to me the other day, " It is
steadily making progress, and gradually changing the
national characteristics. When the French love
sport as much as we do they will understand us
better, and the Channel will become nothing more
serious than a geographical expression."

" Yes," I replied, " except to those who have to
cross it on a rough day."




During the " silly season " (and even later) the con-
dition of our cabs is discussed in the columns of the
London Press. From this I take it that interest in
road-travelling is reviving — the more especially as
every now and again there is an " indignation meet-
ing " of cabmen to protest against something or other
— and consequently a few hints as to how it is done
at the end of the century may be acceptable. But
before I proceed to its consideration I may permit
myself to refer to Paris to act as a " city of com-


The French coufe is smarter than the London four-
wheeler ; but I am not sure that the Victoria is prefer-
able to the hansom. The Parisian jehus seem to be
suffering under a chronic grievance. They never


smile and seldom speak. When they have a fare
their chief object in life seems to be to commit man-
slaughter by driving over some absent-minded pedes-
trian. Thanks to the asphalte, it is not difficult to
kill a foot passenger. All you have to do is to
make for him, and, if he does not clear out
of the way, go over him. The omnibus drivers
are more merciful, and of the two would rather
save a pedestrian than kill him. Indeed, I have
seen a driver of a tramcar absolutely pull up
rather than run down a lady and a family of four!
But it is only fair to add that the driver was re-
garded as " eccentric " by his confreres. It may be
as well to know what to do in the case of coming
across a too-insolent cabdriver. The last time I was
in Paris I hailed a Victoria and told the coachman
that I wished to take him by the hour. He protested
loudly, but submitted. I was accompanied by my
better seven-eighths, and soon discovering that the
amiable lady was a trifle nervous, the indignant jehu
drove into everything. We charged omnibuses, col-
lided witii tramcars, and attempted to cross over vans.
At my urgent entreaties my better seven-eighths pre-
served her sang froid. Finding that the Dick^
Turpin's-ride-to-York kind of progress did not trouble
us, the coachman adopted other tactics. He made
his horse walk at the pace of a weary steed at a con-
gested State funeral. We took fully a quarter of an


hour to get across the Place de la Concorde, and ten
minutes to pass the Hotel Meurice in the Rue de
Rivoli. Then, finding we still were patient, he stopped
his horse altogether before the Louvre and put on
the nosebag. It was then I protested.

The man treated my complaint with contempt.
While we were in altercation a " guardian of the
peace " passed. I appealed to the law as represented
in his person. In a moment the " guardian of the
peace " was mounted on our box, and we were driving
at a smart pace to the nearest cabstand. The serg'int
descended, and introduced me to another policeman.
A book was produced from a kiosk, and I was re-
quested to insert a narrative of my wrongs. It was
then that I regretted that apathy shown about the
acquisition of the French language, which, alas ! is a
characteristic at our public schools. But my better
seven-eighths came to my rescue, helped me with my
irregular verbs, and generally superintended my gi-am-
mar. The story was told in French of varying

"And now, monsieur," said the commissaire, "as
we have your name and address, you will be warned
when your evidence is required at the trial. You will
please be in the way, and give the porter at your
hotel particulars of your movements."

I was horrified ! What had I done ? During tlie
rest of my two days in Paris I was in terror lest I


should be called. Fortunately the machinery of the
law was slow, and I made my escape.


But to return to London. People have grown
so accustomed to the rules and regulations anent cabs
that they have forgotten them. This seems rather
like an Irishism, but it is substantially correct 1 have
not looked into the Act cr the bye-law keeping the
Cockney jehu m order for a very long while, but I
fancy that every cabman should, upon the application
of his hirer, produce a list of his fares and also supply
a ticket. As the latter custom has entirely ceased it
may have been abandoned. However, it is worth
noting that when there is a dispute about a fare the
hirer can request the coachman to drive him to the
nearest police-station, where the matter can be ar-
ranged. As a rule the jehu prefers to grumble and
deoart. If he is not too abusive this is as it should be.
I must confess I cannot recommend summoning a
cabman. I know, of course, that ever>^one .)wcs it
to society to take steps to protect his fellow-man, and
particularly his (if I may use the expression) fellow-
lady from the danger of insult and over-charge. But
for all that I prefer to leave a police-court severely
alone. And for this entirely selfish reason. Many
years ago a cabman was so indignant at receiving


about a shilling more than his proper charge that
before driving away he struck at me with his whip.
I was a lad in those days in my teens, and remember
the exact date. It was on the first night of Fechter
as " Hamlet " at the Princess's. Well, I determined
to summon the man (fortunately, or unfortunately,
I had secured his number), and I carried out my
vengeful intention. The result was that I had to
hancf about the court until the time arrived for the
Jiearing. When it did arrive, the man never appeared,
and in his stead came a miserable-looking wife and
two small children. The husband and father was ill.
The magistrate, at my earnest request, granted a
remand. I felt deeply touched — I was very young
in those days. When the case was again called — a
week later — the man appeared, pale and careworn,
and explained that his wife and children were laid
up. He was most miserable, and asked for mercy.
I seconded his efforts to the best of my ability,
giving my evidence reluctantly and as a hostile wit-
ness to myself. By the aid of these tactics he and I
managed to get the defendant off with the infliction of
a small fine. Personally, I was delighted the fine was
a small one, as ultimately 1 paid it myself. How-
ever, I was rewarded for my trouble by the penitent
cabman thanking me with tears in his eyes, and cour-
teously intimating that he saw no reason why I
should not call myself a gentleman. Previously his


language had suggested that, whatever I might think
myself, he had serious doubts as to the validity of
my claims to rank with the lowest order of chivalry.


And when I hint that harshness is sometimes
the necessary medicine for rudeness, I would add that
kindness is, when possible, the better remedy. As
a body of men cabmen are an excellent set of fellows.
Considering that they have to be out in all weathers
and at all times, they really are wonderfully good-
tempered. That they are past-masters of chaff is
universally allowed. The other day a friend of mine
took a cab a journey which extended to within some
three hundred yards of two miles. He gave the
driver a shilling. " Beg your pardon," said the man,
" but do you mind my driving you to next door ? 1
want to complete the full distance!'' On another
occasion a middle-aged man, after emerging from
Lock's in a brand new chapeau, gave eighteenpence to
a coachman who had carried him from St. James's
Street to Sloane Square.

"Quite right, sir, I have no doubt," said cabby;
" and if sixpence should be due to me, oblige me by
keeping it towards getting a genteeler 'at ! "

The man had his joke, but not his " extra tanner."

Since the establishment of shelters I have noticed



a marked improvement in the sobriety of our jehus.
Even intoxication, however, on occasions has its ad-
vantages — a sentiment which, no doubt, would meet
with the stern reprobation of Sir Wilfrid Lawson.
In advance of this contention, perhaps, I may instance
what occurred on a recent occasion. There was a in London. It was simply terrible. I w^as
coming" home from a newspaper office, and could not
see a cab anyw^here. At length, about half a mile
from Fleet Street, I stumbled upon a four-wheeler.
The driver was cheerful and quite tipsy. He made
not the slightest difficulty to driving m.e some three
or four miles in a westerly direction. I do not believe
that he would have objected to attempting to get to
Aldershot, Margate, or, if it comes to that, India,
China, or Japan. We were a little tardy in starting,
as my coachman thought it necessary to tell me a long
anecdote about nothing in particular through the win-
dow. Then a policeman interfered, and ordered him
to " drive on." The cabman was exceedingly polite
to the constable, and off we went. At first we took
the pavement a little too much, but later on proceeded
excellently well, Jehu leaving matters in the hands,
or rather legs, of the horse. I am glad to say our
well-trained steed was evidentlv a teetotaler. After
some short cuts that I fancy must have been favourites
with the worthy brute (I refer to the quadruped), we
reached our destination. I paid the cabman his fare,


and remarked that " it was a storm ! " " What
storm ? " asked the man indistinctly and smihngly.
He had evidently not noticed the inclemency of the

"Are you sure you will get home all right? " I re-
peated two or three times.

" 'Corse ! " returned Jehu at last with dignified
amiability. " Sammy knows 'way better than I do ! "

And then Sammy starting off, I saw no more of
either of them.


Taken all round, our cabs and our cabmen are not
unsatisfactory. The men are cheerier than a number
of their foreign contemporaries. They are, as a rule,
civil and obliging; as for the cabs, in spite of the
complaints about the hansoms, there are no better
vehicles for the public in the world. The '' London
gondola " is exactly suited to Londoners. Victorias,
well enough in the summer, would be impossible in
the winter. As to the '' growler," several specimens
of this type of conveyance are far from bad. There
are worse four-wheeled conveyances on the Continent
than in London. But it is only right to add, "not
many." However, we might go farther and fare
worse, and with this rather half-hearted benediction
I reserve further remarks about cabs and cabmen for
my next chapter.





During the last few years the public have had a
practical experience of the inconvenience attendant
upon a body of working men " going on strike." As
a rule Londoners do not come face to face witli
artisans who have abandoned toil. Generally they
read of a cessation of labour in the daily papers, and
discover the result of the cause in the increased
charges for coal, gas, and other necessaries. How-
ever, not long since, the Cockney mind was concerned
by the vagaries of cabby. The streets were deserted
by hansoms, and even the four-wheeler was difficult
to find. In spite of this, none of the body politic
were much the worse. Sufficient for the day were
the growlers thereof, and no one was at a loss to
secure (when really necessary) that particular kind of
conveyance which years ago used to be known as a
" patent safety." So the nuisance of the suspension
of operations caused a minimum of inconvenience.



Strikes are more or less a modern invention. In
the days of yore, when workmen were dissatisfied
they resorted to violence, instead of depending upon
" masterly inactivity." Ages ago machinery used to
be the foe, and the most popular mode of meeting
the enemy was to utterly demolish the offending
apparatus. Things are changed since then, although
even now the tradition lingers upon the stages of
theatres devoted to melodrama. And here, as I have
mentioned things histrionic, I may refer to The Long
Strike, which was produced at the Lyceum by the
late Mr. Dion Boucicault some while after the success
of The Colleen Bawn. No doubt Mrs. Dion Bouci-
cault (who was in the cast) will remember it. There
was one scene in it which v/as immensely effective,
but which would have been more effective still had
the telephone been then invented. I have the
vaguest recollection of the play's plot, but I call to
mind that it was necessary for some one or other to
be stopped from sailing from Liverpool. I fancy the
some one or other was a missing witness required to
save the hero's life or the heroine's reputation. The
scene was a telegraph office. Enter the friend of
the hero or heroine (as the case may have been),
who asks the telegraph clerk if he can be put into



communication with the operator at the other end.
There is some delay, as the operator has to be found
— he was on the point of leaving the office for the
night But soon he is at his post. Then comes the
great effect. " Has the Star of the North (or what-
ever the ship was called) started .? " " Yes." " Is
So-and-so on board ? " " Yes." " Can he be
brought back.?" "Only by signal." "Signal
for him, then." " We have." " Does the ship see
the signal ? " " Yes ; and So-and-so is coming back."
This was the climax, and on a grateful cry of " Saved,
saved ! " the curtain fell amidst thunders of applause.
Had Boucicault had the assistance of the telephone
in those days how much " sharper " would the
dialogue have been. There was an air of unreality
in the working of the needles, but with a telephone
it would have been perfect. I wonder what has
become of The Long Strike. Is it ever played now-
a-days ? As Mr. Tree says in The Red Lamp, " I
wonder." And here I may recount a little anecdote
that is interesting, when we remember that Mrs.
Boucicault is still amongst us. I was editor of The
Glowworm in those days, and I called upon Dion
Boucicault at the Lyceum, and saw him in his dress-
ing-room. I was arranging for a feuilleton, and
thought he might write " us " a story. He suggested
novelizing The Flying Scud, and novelized it was
with the collaboration of the late Mr. Clarke, author


of " Charlie Thornhill." I was standing behind a
screen, when, unsuspicious of my presence, Mrs.
Boucicault entered and said she wanted to intercede
for one of the company who had been fined (Dion
was a strict disciplinarian) for some breach of the
rules. I shall never forget the sweet kindness of
Mrs. Boucicault's pleading accents. Possibly with a
wish to terminate the interview as quickly as possible
the husband yielded, and Mrs. Boucicault departed,
overjoyed at the success that had attended her
mission. V/hen she had left the room I emerged
from my accidental ambush, and continued the nego-
tiation about The Glowworm feuilleion.

" That is a woman in a thousand, sir," said the
author of The Long Strike. " She has a heart of

And I agreed with him.


And as I am talking of things theatrical I may
mention that some twenty years ago I wrote myself
a domestic drama (I called it on the playbill " a social
problem "), with the title of On Strike. If I may be
permitted to criticise my own work, I may say it is
not a bad little play, and was a great success when
produced at the old Court Theatre. The cast in-
cluded Messrs. Edgar Bruce, J. G. Hill, Walter


Fisher (husband of Miss Lottie Venne), Mrs.
Stephens, and Mr. Alfred Bishop. It was distinctly
written for the classes. The agitator was held up to
scorn, and the working man, who played rather than
laboured, to reprobation. However, it is a fact that
when Miss Lytton's company went on tour, the
aristocratic sentiments were more heartily cheered
at the Standard, Shoreditch, than at the old Court
Theatre in Sloane Square. The East-enders were
just as much opposed to the loafing-do-nothing as
their brothers of the West.


To come to 'the strike that occurred five years ago.
It commenced hurriedly. As a rule the Union of the
trade or calling proposing to cease work takes some
weeks to prepare for the operation. To be successful
the strike must be general and hearty, and there
must be sufficient funds in hand to support the
strikers at least for a month or two. On the occasion
to which I refer, the Union was scarcely in existence
before it was called upon to conduct a very delicate
negotiation. Then the cabmen, as a class, were never
heartily in favour of the association. To say the
least, opinions were divided. Then there seemed to
be a very slenderly furnished fund available for
paying the strikers, and lastly, there was no effort


made to collect funds sufficient in amount to make
good deficiencies. Under these circumstances, con-
sidering that the cab proprietors or masters were
represented by a very strong and compact organisa-
tion, the prospects of the drivers seemed anything
rather than rose-coloured.


One evening during the strike, as I was ordered
to be " in attendance upon the ladies of my family "
during a visit to one of the theatres, I seated myself
next to the cabdriver on his box. This arrangement
allowed me to smoke and to collect information.

" How about the strike ? " I asked.

"A bad thing all round, sir," replied the driver;
" it don't affect me as I drive my own cab, but it hits
a lot of men who would work if they were allowed to."

" Who's in the wrong ? "

" Well, I take it both, sir. It's very hard to make
a living sometimes. I have known pals of mine for
three days running not make a single penny for
themselves. Yes, have to borrow money to make up
the sum charged for the cab. Then, at other times,
they have made a lot of money by five o'clock and
gone home, after taking back their cab to the yard,
cozily to tea."

This seemed in the mind of my friend to be the

height of luxury.


" But what I most object to," continued Jehu, " is
those swells going into business. I hear two young
gentlemen in the Guards have started a couple of
cabs. Or rather they would have done, but just as
they were ready with stables in Pimlico, up comes
the strike and spoils their little game ! "

" But are there not too many drivers ? " I asked.

" Yes, sir," was the response. " That's where it
comes in. Anyone can be a driver nowadays.
' How would you go from Charing Cross to Ludgate
Circus ? ' they ask at the Yard. * By the Embank-
ment.' * Right you are — give him a licence.' That's
how it's done, sir, and that's why there are so many
of us."

" Do you ' think the masters make excessive
profits ? "

" Well, sir, it looks like it. I know a man with
only a couple of cabs two years ago, and now he's
got thirteen. And they were all bought out of the
profits on the letting of the first couple. Now some
of them pay 20 per cent, and surely that's too much,
isn't it, sir } "

I did not answer. The driver was a sensible
fellow and spoke with great moderation. Speaking
personally, I repeat that I have always found the
driving brotherhood a most civil and obliging class.
For some years, when I was editing a weekly
newspaper, a driver always turned up early on a


Sunday morning at Bouverie Street and waited for
me until I was ready to be driven by him to the
Belerave Road. Sometimes he waited more than an
hour, and for this accommodation I only paid him,
by his own request, a shiUing more than his bare
fare. And if I had Hstened to him, sixpence would
have been sufficient, but I preferred, in the cause of
justice, to pay the shilling. And when he was away
he always sent a substitute, who cheerfully adopted
the arrangement. I dare say many journalists could
tell a similar story.

From this I take it that cabmen are not overpaid,
and whether they are or not, I wish them a satis-
factory outcome from any difficulties that may be
looming for them in the future.




During the last quarter of a century it is a perfect
mercy that London has not been burned to the
ground. On more than one occasion recently, a
sinp-le hre has drawn all the available resources to
its centre, to the terrible danger of the remainder of
the metropolis. According to the report of the Chief
Officer who has taken the place of my gallant but
retired friend. Captain Sir Eyre Shaw, it has been a
perfect mercy, not to say a miracle, that the Great
Fire of London has found no parallel in modern times.
Over and over again we have been within an ace of
seeing the great city reduced to ashes. Under these
circumstances it may not be entirely out of place to
devote a chapter to fires and how to extinguish
them. It is certainly a matter that, for the safety of
the public at large and Londoners in particular,
should be carefully considered. The method should
be acquired — the thing should be done.



There used to be an expression much in vogue
years ago that denoted the instruction of the
juvenile — it was " teaching the young idea how to
shoot." When I was a lad at school my head master,
who was distinctly a man of notions, insisted upon

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 8 of 19)