This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.

Introduction and Explanatory Notes

With the building of many railway passenger lines, living in the suburbs had become possible for those who could afford to move out of the heavily polluted cities. This article contrasts the ideology and the realism – the developers’ ‘hype’ and the actual conditions the moving households might face. Living ‘under the shadow of [one’s] own fig tree’ was at once attractive and apparently sanctioned by scripture in 1 Kings 4:25: ‘Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon’. Shoddy, speculative building made the reality a shocking contrast to this vision, destroying the fantasy of life in a cottage orné or decorated cottage, a style of architecture developed for the fantasy lives of a wealthy class of a former period.

Samuel gives a vigorous picture of the problems arising from the entirely new phenomenon of daily commuting, such as train companies promising more than they delivered, and the stressful conditions for commuters who were not yet used to living to someone else’s timetable. ‘Penistone Collision style’ is a topical reference to the Huddersfield Junction accident near Penistone Station on 30th March 1889, when a train run by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, was involved in a head-on collision, in which one person was killed and many injured. Like many other things, suburban living and commuting developed sooner in London than in the provinces, and we have numerous earlier accounts of the daily in-rush of workers into London from writers as different as George Augustus Sala and Richard Jefferies. New, strange experience came from the novel modes of mixing with other people which the railway, produced, and the unfamiliar visual and verbal environment produced by railway architecture, advertising, timetables and omnibuses. An illustration to Samuel’s Sentiments no. 155 (‘Samuel on Being in a Hurry’, 11th October 1890) is a case in point.

'to babble of green fields': compare Henry V.II.iii, in which it is reported that the dying Sir John Falstaff 'babbled of green fields.'

'Bijoure' is perhaps a phonetic rendering of an archaic exclamation, possibly used in period drama. —David Skilton

The town dweller who likes to imagine himself a country gentleman in a lawntennis club.

HIS is the season, sir, when the rash and misguided town house-holder, with a blind fatuity only equalled by that of the man who invests in mining shares or takes tickets in foreign lotteries, begins to babble of green fields, and to impress upon his wife the desirability of living a ‘mile or two out, you know, in the suburbs, my dear.’ And then the besotted man begins to conjure up to his wife's vision a highly fanciful picture which includes country fare (fresh eggs, milk, etc., naturally comprised in the list), a nice little tennis lawn, a garden capable of producing all the family vegetables, healthy walks for the children, and a miniature conservatory to be constructed at some future time when he gets ‘that rise’ (that ‘rise’ is sometimes what is known as the ‘kick-out’) from his ‘guv'nor – the whole constituting a perfect little paradise. Of course – wretched man he does not forget to expatiate on the economy of the contemplated step, and he waxes serious as be expounds on the subject of suburban residences ‘weaning’ (yes, weaning is the word) a man from clubs and all other town abominations, and the picture be draws of himself on a Saturday and Sunday sitting out upon the diminutive lawn taking tea with a strawberry and cream accompaniment, under the shadow of his own fig tree, is absolutely touching in its realism. The thing is as good as settled so far as the wife of his bosom is concerned.

The affable house agent.

And then comes what the American might call the ‘locating’ of this terrestrial Eden. An enterprising agent of the kind who advertise in the daily papers anent ‘Charming Bijou (capital house agent word that – don't forget it) Residences, standing in their own Grounds; ten minutes' walk from main line of railway,’ and Cottage Ornées [sic], only vacated on account of late occupant leaving for Scarborough,’ etc. – this residence fiend is next consulted, and, bless your life, he has any amount of charming little bouses to let. After a good deal of hunting about, the miserable victim of his own self-deception goes to look at one which is described in more than usually glowing colours, a ‘fish pond’ being added to the picture. He has some difficulty in discovering it after alighting at the nearest station, and he is bound to concede that it does seem rather a long way from the said station. An aged woman, who is clothed up to the elbow in soap suds, proves to be the custodian of the key, and she shows him over the ‘Bijou Residence.’

Its outward appearance is emphatically uninviting; indeed, the whole place has a decidedly mouldy and charnel-house look about it, but, as the woman of the key explains to him, ‘it nobbud wants a bit o' paint and a few pennorths o nails ta mack it fit for the Emperer o' Rooshia, or any other gent.’ The fish pond proves to be a dirty, suicide-suggesting sort of ditch or duck pond very near the side of the bouse, and which. if it ever contained any fish at all, must have received them dead in the shape of ‘two eye'd steaks’ [bloaters] from an itinerant 'fish salesman,' whose stock was too strong to be wrestled with any longer. The interior of the Bijou paradise reveals a general state of decrepitude. The plaster seems to have abandoned all hope, and to have become melted even to tears, except in certain cases, where it has evidently made up its mind that it was bound to fall, and has begun to fall accordingly in patches. The wall papers are in a state of moulting, and each floor board seems to have had a disagreement with its fellows, and to have shrunk from them in consequence. Some collector of specimens of lead piping appears to have visited the premises in search of specimens, for not a few yards of gas and water piping have disappeared. The only traces of the last tenant which remain are a few empty medicine bottles and several dozen empty tins labelled 'Carbolic Disinfectant.' The 'bath room,' upon which the house agent has expended much eloquence, proves to be a dark recess, with a vessel in it which suggests a lead coffin.

The suburban resident’s usual morning run for his train.

Alas that I should tell it of any of my species – for I am tender-hearted, I assure you I am – the victim actually takes the Bijou upon his hands even after this dispiriting view. He argues that Spring is rapidly approaching, and that, consequently, he ought to move at once, that this particular Bijou is as good as any other he has seen, and that the ‘pot o'paint and the few pennorths o' nails’ will work wonders in the way of transformation – and he takes, yes, he takes it, oh, wirra, wirra and woe is me, he TAKES IT. From that time forth be becomes a slave, sir, an abject slave: a slave worse than ever Moorish merchant exposed in the market place of his sultry city. ‘A slave to what?’ you very properly (I quite pardon you) ask – slave to drink or to his wife or to the Bijou, or to what?’ Why, sir (I have been a dweller in the suburban residences myself, I am ‘one as knows,’) a slave, a very slave to TRAINS! TRAINS! (Print this large, Mr Comp., I do entreat you).

The time table that he has previously consulted but cursorily reveals the fact that the difficulty of getting out of that suburb at a convenient time for anybody on earth is only equalled by the frightful difficulty of getting back again. He likewise finds that the line is reputed to be about the worst in point of facilities, speed, and accommodation generally on earth – at least the pass-holders say so. When a train upon it is not stopping in a tunnel (presumably that the passengers may count the bricks as well as the imperfect light will allow them) it is having a wrestling match (Penistone Collision style) with another train that will insist upon travelling upon the same line of rails in the other direction. He finds that there is no room for advertisements on the walls of the passing stations (of course that doesn't matter to him, because the most unprejudiced person must per force admit that the announcement of ‘Keen's Mustard’ and ‘Colman's Mustard’ does become just a bit – only a little, you know – monotonous when it is mustard too often), no room on account of the number of notices put up by the company as to passengers who have contravened the bye-laws of the company, of which bye-laws the number appears to be as of the sands of the ocean [see Genesis 23:17].

No use shouting at the guard – the train goes on.

Poor man, he likewise discovers that the pass-holders pay at a rate that at once dissipates all his notions of the economy of his removal, and he learns that his fellow pass-holders from the same district are about the most grumpy and disagreeable lot on earth (probably through long residence there) save such of them as know a trick or two at cards and always desire a ‘leetle’ game on the up and down journeys, when they run admirably in the ‘skinning’ stakes. Conversations in the, train reveal to him the fact that the locality in which he resides is usually accounted about the best thing out of Sierra Leone in the way of a death rate with an upward tendency. In the summer there is such a scarcity of water that all the inhabitants have to drink beer (which they do) or go without suction altogether. In the winter there is too much water ‘by a lump,’ as one of the inhabitants mistakenly put it. So unhealthy is the climate reckoned for children and young persons that it has become quite a resort for men who have married widows with large families and want to get rid of a few samples of the superfluous family they have in stock.

Wretched suburban resident; it moves me to tears when I think what he has to endure on account of those trains. In a morning he takes the ‘short cut’ (perhaps the unkindest cut of all) to the station with one boot unlaced, one hand grasping a half consumed piece of toast, and the other hand buttoning his waistcoat. If he misses the ‘business’ train (which sometimes lands him a good clock hour late at the office even at its best) there is no other means of getting to town for an hour and twenty minutes) and the porters, who seem to be imbued with a particularly derisive and sarcastic spirit, stand and leer at him and peep round the corner of the porters' room door at him. He hardly even gets a decent breakfast, for, even, when he is in good time, he hears some demon engine give its shrieking war-whoop and be nearly chokes himself by the thought that that may be his train and that his clocks are all wrong. Sometimes he has to plunge wildly through a morass in order to be at the station in time, at others he wrecks his most admired inexpressible [trousers] by climbing over the station palings, sometimes he falls, sometimes he suffers the bitter mortification, humiliation, and chagrin of arriving at the platform just as the train is moving off (than which there can be no situation so well calculated to lacerate the feelings of sensitive men), to see his stony-hearted and unsympathetic fellow passengers that-were-to-have-been gibing at him from the carriage windows as he madly hurries up the platform with beating heart, clammy brow, disorganised apparel, muddy boots, and a bitter hatred of all mankind in his heart. Alas, poor suburban resident. And the cup of his misery is not yet full – but stay, the narration – the rest is too harrowing to my susceptible feelings. I feel I am about to give way to unwonted though not unmanly emotion; I have said enough for one week, and there yet remains all the sad, sad story of the Bijou (which Bijoure I shall tell) part of the business to be related. But I'll nerve myself to the task, and next week continue the relation to the bitter end. So, sir, see that you duly announce that this tragic history is

To be continued in our next.

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Last modified 16 May 2022