For this week’s post, a preview from the introduction of London: The Haunted City. As a reminder, our Kickstarter for the 1879 GM’s Guide is currently running at the time of this post. Please help us get the GM’s Guide out, so that the London book can advance toward being published!
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
— Samuel Johnson
The train clicked over the miles from Bristol to London, through Brunel’s endless tunnels and the countryside that fringed the great city round, and I saw the yellow fog creep across the windows, blurring the view so that buildings loomed from nowhere and vanished again. For a song of welcome I had only the rattle of wheels and the train’s whistle each time it paused at one of the stations along the way, each bigger than the last, until eventually it pulled under the arch of Paddington Station.
I alighted from the train and opened my mouth to call a porter for my luggage, but the fog crawled over my tongue, filling my mouth with a foul taste, and I coughed instead. When I finally regained my breath and left the station, the fog, if anything, thickened so that the streets were paved with golden smog. The porter summoned me a hansom cab and loaded in my luggage. I instructed the cabby to take me to Bertram’s and I was off, rattling through the yellowed streets.
London at last!
Extract from the diaries of Miss Jane Bartlett
Of all of the cities of Europe, London stands out as the most haunted, in multiple senses of the term. Not Paris with its ossuaries, nor Roskilde with its hundreds of years of royal interments, nor Moscow where the streets have run red with the blood of revolutionaries, have more ghosts per square mile. Munich and Berlin have set aside their pasts and modernised, Toledo remains a seat of learning but progresses in its subject matter. London still enforces laws written before the War of the Roses. Both the Great Smoke’s past and its past inhabitants continue to visit themselves upon the present day, like relatives that drink all your wine and take up the spare bedroom for weeks on end but cannot be sent on their way without offending the rest of the family.
London sprawls along the banks of the Thames river, the great city’s influence creeping into everything from commerce to culture, like its smoke and smog creeps round every building and through each crack and open window or door. It is a place of collisions of past and future, class and culture, at once a dream and a nightmare, bustling and broken, a city of filth and pollution whose streets, they say, are paved with gold. Here are found the central offices of Empire, Queen Victoria’s Palace, the Foreign and Home Offices, the entire Whitehall governmental district. Across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster, home of Parliament, the Archbishop of Canterbury resides in Lambeth Palace, secular and ecclestical leadership separated only by a stretch of water, and certainly not by any legal barrier. Other faiths and beliefs are represented – Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, the Spiritualist Movement, the Theosophical Society – but none have got as solid a presence as the State Church, even though officially Canterbury Cathedral in Kent is the home of the Anglican Communion. Here too are the economic engines, Lloyd’s, the London Stock Exchange, the home offices of the great trading firms. Amid the grand offices, though, and in the alleys behind the manors, squalid rookeries cluster, the poor living ten to a room or on the stair landings or in the streets themselves. Dodgers flit through the shadows from tradesmen’s entrances to rival manufactories, and Byrons tap the telegraph wires that web the capital together and connect it to the rest of the world in real time, reading the private messages of the great and small alike as they pass by. Day and night, London hums with activity, trade and governance, crime and scandal.