John McDonnell has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web his website with the electronic text, including scanned images, of the anonymous London Characters and the Humourous Side of London Life. With Upwards of 70 Illustrations apparently by a "Mr. Jones," which the London firm Stanley Rivers & Co. published in 1871. Brackets indicate explanatory material, such as interpretations of contemporary slang, by Mr. McDonnell. [Decorated initial "A" by Thackeray from Vanity Fair — George P. Landow.]
bout six or seven years ago, a gentleman of considerable fortune, a merchant of Liverpool, paid a visit to London after an absence of many years. He took an open carriage one fine afternoon, and drove with a friend to those quarters which he remembered once fields or gardens, and where magnificent streets and princely squares and terraces are now standing. After exploring the apparently interminable region about Bayswater, they drove to the more fashionable and still newer quarter called South Kensington. Here this gentleman's astonishment was excited, not only by the vast changes in this locality, but by the style and importance of the dwellings, which proclaimed them to be prepared for the wealthy only.
"The rents of these houses, you tell me," said he, turning to his friend, "range from three to seven hundred [pounds] a year. Now in the north we reckon that a man's rent should not exceed the tenth of his income. If you Londoners are guided by the same rule, what a vast number of people there must be amongst you with good comfortable incomes of from three to five thousand a year!"
His friend smiled, and half shook his head, was about to speak, when his companion resumed---
"People with ten thousand a year are, after all, not numerous: one might almost count them. But where do all the occupiers of these houses come from? Tyburnia alone could swallow up the West End that I remember twenty years ago. But how is this quarter peopled?"
"Perhaps," rejoined his friend, "from your part of the world---from Liverpool and Manchester. But don't run away with false ideas of our London wealth. House-rent here is no criterion of a man's means. With you it is comparatively moderate, with us inordinately dear. And people of small or moderate incomes would get no home in London at all if they limited their rent to a tenth of their income. And yet," continued the Londoner, with something of a sigh, as the rent and cost of his own expensive abode in Tyburnia presented themselves to his thoughts, "there is no item of our expenditure that we ought to study more, or more determinately keep down than this very one of house-rent, for one's expenses in this luxurious capital are very much regulated by the style of home and quarter one lives in. For instance, the class of servants that present themselves to you are more exorbitant in their demands, more luxurious in their habits, if you live in a fashionable neighborhood, than if you occupy an equally large house elsewhere. Rather than lose a footman who had been with me some years I was obliged to turn him into an under-butler the other day, as he told me "the society he was in rendered it impossible for him to remain any longer in livery."
This anecdote brought the conversation to the subject of household expenditure in London as compared with that of the great northern towns; and the picture drawn by the Londoner of the habits and customs of the great and wealthy in the metropolis caused his friend to exclaim, with thankfulness, "It was well for him that he had to fight the battle of life elsewhere."
"Perhaps so," rejoined his friend; "but you, too, have your weak points. Whilst you are content with waitresses, you spend double on your table. I have seen an alderman's feast prepared for a party of eight, and a lady's request for a few oranges answered by a whole case arriving, &c., &c. And then, again, your wives and daughters are more costly in their dress than-----"
"True! True! But we would rather spend our money upon them than upon flunkies."
Six or seven years have done little to alter the habits of living amongst the upper classes: something, certainly, towards increasing their expense, and a great deal towards improving and embellishing their abodes in town. The ugly, plain brick house, ill-lighted by windows few and small, yet, nevertheless, well-built, and with much substantial comfort about it, is now superseded by a bright, cheerful-looking dwelling, where, if there is less space, there is more light and air; where, if though the area it covers be smaller, there is more accomodation; where, if the walls are made thinner and neighbours ignored, the convenience and comfort of all the inmates are more cared for; where, if the rent is higher, the rates are less---where, in short, the attractions and advantages are so obvious that those who are able to consider and follow their inclinations (that class of people usually so prejudiced against the very new) have thrown aside this feeling, forsworn old associations, and adopted the new quarters of the town as their own.
Shade of King James! arise and view the scene realized that filled thy acute and far-seeing eye with dismay. Acres and acres of brick and plaster compass us around; the pleasant country homes of England are despised; their occupants, great and small, brought by our iron roads [railroads] into contact with the outer world, have had new impressions given, new desires inspired; the calm and quiet, the leisure of country life becomes unendurable, they exclaim, "Let us away! it is not good for man to live alone"---content to resign their prominence, even their individuality, if they may, though but as a drop to the ocean, swell the ranks of the world not inaptly named after their chief resort, Belgravia. Oh railroads! much have ye to answer for. Twenty years hence we may look in vain for the social, kindly, hospitable country life now only to be met with in remote counties, in Cornwall, in Scotland. Already have you made the "Great Houses" independent of their neighbours. Their fish and their friends come down from town together. And the squire, the small proprietor despairing of husbands for his girls or his rubber [of whist] for himself, where the doors around are closed nine months in the year, leaves his acres to the care of his bailiff and takes refuge in the nearest watering-place [pub], or yields to his wife's solicitations, and launches also into the cares and troubles of
HOUSEKEEPING IN BELGRAVIA.
How much these three words combine! And yet, have we anything to say about the homes and habits of Belgravia or the upper classes of London society, that people fancy they do not know already? We will leave our reader to settle that question by-and-by, when he has visited their abodes and inspected their menage [household management] in our company.
Formerly, when one spoke of oneself as living in the West End, one gave by that single word a general idea of one's locality. In the present day it is necessary to specify the particular quarter---whether Westbournia, Tyburnia, Belgravia, &c., for people now doubt whether the Regent's Park district may be classed under that general head; and the inhabitants of the regions round about Cavendish and Portman Squares speak modestly of themselves as inhabiting an "old-fashioned part of the town." We therefore discard a term which we do not care to define, or run the risk of offending by so doing, and adopt one now generally understood to apply to all who move in a certain sphere of society, whether living on one side of Oxford Street or the other, and derived from that quarter that contains fewer of the workers of life, and offers, perhaps, more gradations of fortune, rank, or fashion than any other. There may be found the wealthy titled, and the wealthy untitled family; the fashionable without fortune, and the fashionable because of fortune; those who give a prestige to the quarter they live in, and those who derive a prestige from living there. And yet little more than thirty-five years ago Belgrave Square was not. It owes its existence to a builder's speculation, who perceived the want of well-built first-class houses, and probably foresaw the increased demand that would arise from the centralizing influence of railroads. His speculation answered, in spite of the unhealthy reputation of the ground, and a new suburb rapidly arose, provoking the emulation of other builders, who have now nearly succeeded in their intentions of enclosing Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in a labyrinth of streets and terraces. Small as Paris comparatively is, every one knows that she has distinct quarters, and that each quarter has a character and society of its own. The barriars that divide them are fast being infringed in this imperial reign. And we, who twenty or thirty years ago had less cliqueism than any other capital, are gradually merging into it, simply because the vast growth of the town has scattered one's friends so far and wide, that for sociable and friendly visiting, people are thrown upon that which they are in most frequent communication. Already there is a sort of esprit de locale (if we may so express it) amongst the inhabitants of the new quarters that the old West Ender never dreamed of. He lived in London. He never thought of fighting a battle over the respective merits of Portman or Berkeley Square. Grosvenor Square, in his eyes, was ne plus ultra. And if he did not live there himself, it was because he could not afford it; so he took the best house nearest the Park that he could get for his money, and visited around, from a judge in Russell Square to a peer in Piccadilly. "How do you like your house?" was a question often addressed. "How do you like this part of the town?" was needless to him. In the present day it is the prelude to warm discussions; and so sensituve are people now to remarks upon their district, so bitter in their objections upon other parts, that it has been proposed more than once that Tyburnia and Belgravia should settle the vexed question of superiority by an appeal to arms---or, in common language, "Meet and have it out in Hyde Park." If this feeling increases, in ten years' time each of these vast suburbs will become, as it were, distinct towns, with a character and society of their own.
Those who remain faithful to the dingy-looking streets around Portman and Cavendish Squares, pique themselves on their central position, which enables them to enjoy the advantages of every, without identifying themselves with any, meighbourhood; and it is in these quarters still that some of the best resident London society may be found---society that lays its claims to this position upon higher grounds than mere rank or fortune, yet not deficient in either, the elements that form it being varied, and brought together from all points. The remark made by a lady lately dining in Princes Gate would never have been uttered there, or in Mayfair. After listening to the conversation that was pretty general for some time, she said to her neighbour---
"I could fancy I was dining in the country, you are so very local in your conversation. I hear of nothing but the state of the roads, of meetings about them, who has taken this house, and who has bought that."
"Well," replied her neighbour, "I suppose we are. I myself hardly visit any one not living in this immediate neighbourhood."
The question arises, In what does the superiority of one district over another consist? Without entering into the reasons that induce people to prefer one to the other, we may briefly describe them as follows:---Grosvenor Square and its immediate environs as the most aristocratic, Belgravian the most fashionable, Tyburnia the most healthy, Regent's Park the quietest, Marylebone and Mayfair the most central, and Bayswater and Eccleston Square quarters as the most moderate. People's views and means may be guided, in a general manner, by these leading features. The man of small income finds he must locate himself in a region verging upon what in former years one would have called Shepherd's Bush, or in a quarter uncomfortably near Vauxhall and the river; if a family man, solicitous for the health of his children, he decides in favour of the former, where he finds a cloice of houses, from L60 a year and upwards to L200, and the rates moderate.
But, if either he or his wife are linked by ever so small a chain to the world of fashion, he chooses the latter, where, for much the same rent and rates and taxes, he finds an abode with all the modern improvements; extra story, light offices, plate glass windows, portico, white-papered drawing-rooms, &c., and deludes himself into the notion of his being in Belgravia. The man of an ample, though not large fortune, has a wider range: he may choose from all parts, for there are homes to suit his purse and his style of living in every quarter; but when his home is London---when he leaves the metropolis only, perhaps, for a three-months' tour abroad, or some sea air at Brighton---he carefully eschews the "out of the way" quarters, as he terms them; he will go no farther west than Connaught Place, scarcely to Hyde Park Square, and no further south than Grosvenor Place, and so settles finally in Mayfair or Marylebone, choosing the latter for health, the former for fashion, and finding everything else too far from his club "and the busy haunts of men." In Great Cumberland Street, one of the pleasantest and most central streets, a good small house may be had for L200 a year, a larger one from L300 to L400; in Connaught Place, where the advantages of light, air, and an open space in front (Hyde Park), are combined with a central situation, and quiet at the back, from their being no thoroughfare, the smallest house, including rates and taxes, will cost the owner L500 a year, and the larger considerably more. These houses may perhaps be considered dear, for those near the corner of the Edgware Road suffer from the noise and dust of that great line of traffic, and many of the others are ill built. In Seymour, Wimpole, Harley, and Lower Berkeley Street, the average rent of a good-sized well-built house, with stabling, is L200 a year. In the Regent's Park, in the terraces that so delight the foreigner, there is a choice of charming moderate-sized abodes at rents from L150 to L300 a year. These houses, however, in spite of the advantages they offer of greater light and cleanliness, and the attractions of gardens to look upon, and cheat oneself in summer time into the idea of being in the country, must be considered expensive, as the accomodation they afford is limited, and the terms from which they are held from the Crown involve more frequent painting and restoration than is elsewhere insisted upon.
Within the last few years a new suburb has arisen, enclosing the once countrified Primrose Hill, and throwing out arms that almost touch Hampstead and Highgate. We will not attempt to decide whether it constitutes part of the West End; it holds much the same position, in that respect as St. John's Wood; but as the class of people living there hardly come under the head Belgravia as we define the term, we shall make a long step to the more fashionable neighbourhoods of Mayfair and Park Lane, where a greater choice of houses in respect to rent and size is to be met with than in any other part of London, and where a man of good, although not large fortune, may locate himself very desirably; he must, of course, confine himself to the streets, the squares in the older parts of the West End, like Hyde Park Gardens, and the larger houses in Park Lane, Rutland or Princes Gate, facing the Park, being attainable to the wealthy only, ranging from L500 to L1000 a year. There are, it is true, a few smaller and less expensive houses in Berkeley Square; but, as a rule, if a house in a square is desired, and the rent not to exceed L300 per annum, it must be looked for in Hyde Park or Gloucester Squares, and the region beyond Portman and Belgrave Squares. Grosvenor Square and one side of Eaton Square contain first-class houses, family mansions, seldom in the market, and then chiefly for purchase, not hire. There are no two more agreeable or convenient streets in London than Upper Brook and Grosvenor Streets; and although there has been an invasion into them of brass plates, supposed to be fatal to the fashion of a street, the character of the neighbourhood is not likely to fall but rather to rise again; for the improvements projected and being carried out by the Marquis of Westminster will place Grosvenor Square so far beyond its modern rivals, that the streets in its vicinity will add to their present advantages the prestige of appertaining to it. Not only are extra stories and handsome frontages being added to these princely dwellings, but as the leases fall in, the noble owner sacrifices some of the houses in Lower Grosvenor and Lower Brook Street, to build stabling for the houses in the square. It cannot be doubted, therefore, that when a nobleman can lodge his servants and his horses as well in Grosvenor as in Belgrave Square, he will not hesitate between the two.
A great proportion of London residents, however, do not hire but buy their houses, or rather the leases, paying a ground-rent, which varies, of course, according to situation; and as land becomes more valuable every day, is higher in the new than in the old quarters of London, except of course in business quarters, and in such cases as, for instance, the Portland estate, where many leases having lately fallen in, the duke has doubled, and in some instances trebled, the ground-rent on renewing or granting a new lease, so that a small house on his property was paying L60 a year ground-rent,and one of the same dimensions in Upper Grosvenor Street only L20. Generally speaking, the ground-rents of Tyburnia are higher than those of Belgravia; whilst the new houses in South Kensington are higher still. Houses looking into Hyde Park, whether north, south, east or west, are in much the same ratio, from L70 to L150 yearly; those on a large scale even higher: one, for instance, in Princes Gate was lately to be sold at a ground-rent of L200 per annum; and fast as squares and terraces and gardens spring up (for street is now an old-fashioned word) in this magnificent quarter they are inhabited, furnished, and fitted up handsomely and luxuriously, proving that the owners who have the money to buy, have also the money to live in them; and causing even the old London resident, a being who is never astonished at anything, to inquire with a Lord Dundreary air of surprse, "Where all these rich fellahs come from?" More than one-half are supplied by the legal profession and the mercantile community. There has been quite a flight of judges and well-to-do barristers to South Kensington---long-sighted men, who saw that it would be a rising neighbourhood, and bought their houses before Fashion had given the approving nod, which instantly ran up the rents to a premium. To this class of men the drawbacks to this neighbourhood are unimportant, the distance from those parts of the town that we may term the heart of West End life, the clubs, the lounges, the libraries, the shops, &c., signify nothing to those engaged in chambers or the counting-house all day. The denizen of South Kensington has no other wish, when his day's work is over, than to get home, and to stay there. The light, the cleanliness, the airiness, and modern comforts of his house are doubly grateful to him when contrasted with his close business quarters: once in his cab or his carriage, what is a mile more or less to him? He has not the smallest intention of going to his club in the evening; and the theatre he forswore years ago. The ladies of his family find no fault with the situation; but, on the contrary, will not allow a quarter so near Hyde Park, and the fashionable morning walk by Rotten Row, to be termed out of the way. As they drive out every afternoon, they do not care to be in the way of visitors; and as the female mind is not strong upon the matter of distance, they are not troubled by the reflection of how many miles their unfortunate horses are daily doomed to perform. But then, perhaps, their horses are jobbed, and the best plan too; they are therefore often changed and rested. No single pair of horses could stand the amount of work required by a fashionable lady, living in one of the new outlying quarters of the town.
The Belgravian, of course, keeps a carriage of some kind: if rich, more than one, a close one for winter and an open one for summer, and a brougham, perhaps, for dinners and night work. If moderately well off, he is content with a brougham only; or allows his wife horses to her barouche in the season; and, although he rides his own horses, he almost always jobs his carriage horses; if a little more expensive, that plan is so much more convenient, as a man is then never without the use of his carriage, that even those who have time and inclination to look after their own stables generally adopt it; and where the head of the house is too much occupied to look after horses, it is unquestionably the best plan. For ladies living alone, the best course is to job the whole concern, horses, carriage, and coachman: there are liverymen who undertake this, and provide a handsome carriage, of the colour desired, with the crest and arms of the hirer, with the proper livery for the coachman, for about L300 a year. The horses stand at livery; and a lady is thus sure that they are well cared for, that she will have a sober and civil driver, without any of the trouble and anxiety of looking after him herself.
The usual plan with regard to the carriage in London is to have it built for you, for a term of years, generally five, at a certain annual sum; for which it is kept in repair, furnished with new wheels, relined, varnished, &c.
At the end of the term the carriage remains to the builder, unless it is in such a condition as to be done up and used again, when of course a fresh arrangement is entered upon. It is scarcely possible to keep a handsome well-appointed carriage and pair under L300 a year. Before the introduction of broughams, therefore, many people, in easy circumstances even, did not attempt to do so, but contented themselves with hiring one occasionally. Now, the one-horse carriage predominates; so much less costly, so light and convenient are the broughams, that not only those who hesitated to have a carriage have adopted them, but many who had already a chariot or coach were glad to drop one horse, and come down to a brougham, when they found it was a reduction that they could effect without loss of that prestige in society so dear to the heart of the Belgravian. And, as these horses are not generally jobbed, the reduction could be effected by those who understood looking after a horse at rather less than half the cost of the pair, the job-master having had, of course, his profit to make. Another advantage of the brougham is that a groom can drive it. It does not necessarily entail that important personage---a middle-aged, sedate-looking coachman---whose dignity would never condescend to drive one horse, and who requires twice the help in the stable for his carriage horses, that the lighter, younger, more active groom does for his master's riding horse and the brougham horse also. Truly the introduction of the brougham has been a blessing to many whose means forbade a carriage otherwise, and whose habits of life and ideas made them consider one a necessary, not a luxury. The sacrifices some people make to enable them to "keep their carriage," savour sometimes of the ridiculous to those who are in the secret of their menage. Plain, substantial Mrs. Blunt, of Devonshire Street, Portland Place, was surprised when Lady Mary Fauxanfier called on her for the character of Jane Bell, her under-housemaid, the girl having informed her she was going to be her "la'ship's" own maid.
"I assure you, Lady Mary," she exclaimed, as she looked at the elegant dress of the earl's daughter, and observed the smart, well-appointed brougham that brought her to the house, "I assure you the girl is not fit for a maid; she has never even dressed me; as to hair-dressing, I should think her incapable of even brushing mine."
Lady Mary smiles, and said, "The girl is teachable, I suppose, and, you say, honest and respectable; such important points the latter, I think I shall take her. We are only in town three months of the year, and then---well, good morning."
And so Jane Bell went to Lady Mary, who had a furnished house for the season in a small street not a hundred miles from Belgrave Square, where her husband's father, Lord Belmontine, had a spendid mansion, and her own papa another; and Mrs. Blunt often wondered, when she saw Lady Mary's name at the great parties of the season, how poor Jane Bell managed to attire her elegant form, arrange her ladyship's head, and so forth. She was not surprised when the said Jane made her appearance one day in August, and said she was looking for a place again.
"Ah, Jane! I thought it would be so; I thought you could not play lady's-maid very long. How could you take a place for which you were so unfitted?"
"Unfitted, ideed, ma'am; but not as you suppose. Why, I was nothing but a general servant. I and the groom---and he was out all day with the horse and carriage---were the only servants they kept. I did all the work of the house, except what an old charwoman did for an hour or two in the morning. I fastened her la'ship's gounds, to be sure; in short, ma'm, I was maid, and housemaid, and cook, too, sometimes."
"I was just going to ask," said Mrs. Blunt, "what they did for a cook."
"Well, ma'am, they seldom or ever dined at home; always going to some grand place or t'other, and if by chance they had no dinner party, master, he went down to his club, and I cooked a chop for her la'ship with her tea."
Such was the town establishment and town life of this well-born pair, who lived the rest of the nine months of the year with their relations and their friends, spending more than half their income on the small furnished house, at ten or fifteen guineas a week, and on their brougham; sacrificing for the three months' London season the independence of the rest of their year, being in the position of always receiving and never giving. Few of their London acquaintance suspected that the neat-looking girl who opened the door when the MAN was out, was Lady Mary's sole female attendant; and those who did know it, doubtless thought it strange that, with the limited means such an arrangement bespoke, they could contrive to keep up the appearance they did. For our part, we are not sure, if the choice lay between spending one's money upon half a dozen servants, or upon one's self, we should not prefer the latter too; but then it must not be at the sacrifice of one's independence. There are certain people to whom a carriage in London is as much a matter of necessity as their dinner. The younger children, perhaps, of wealthy or noble families, they have been accustomed to the use of one all their lives; and, whilst it would be no hardship to dine upon one course only, and that of the plainest, it would be so to have to pay their visits or do their shopping on foot. These people are really not so inconsistent as they would seem; still, it must be allowed, that it is a mistake to adopt any habit of life that implies means above the actual state of the case. You lay yourself open by so doing to have things expected from you that you have no means of meeting; and often, therefore, incur the charge of being mean and stingy, when unable to comply with such claims. You place yourself also in a false position to your own servants, who, naturally associating certain luxuries with the idea of wealth, misunderstand the economy of the other household arrangements, think ill---and very likely speak ill---of you; for, if servants and masters are to go on well together, there should be a certain degree of confidence between both parties. If a servant is worth having and keeping, he should not be treated as a mere paid machine, but should have a general idea at least of his master's position, when he will feel an interest in, and in time will associate himself with the family he serves, and work with his heart as well as with his head
Last modified 24 November 2012