Sunday, 21 March 2010
Travelling by rail around London, 1851
While following links around the internet instead of doing the thousand and one things which I have to do, I came across this account of a train journey from Fenchurch Street to Camden Town in 1851, first published in the Illustrated London News. It's fascinating for all sorts of reasons. There is the language - 'railroad' is not yet established as an Americanism, and is freely used here - the punctuation of 'the Regent's-park' and street names, all hyphenated in the fashion familiar in the eighteenth century but which endured well into the nineteenth, as if English couldn't decide if it wanted to be like its German cousin and enthusiastically embrace compounds. The train made it possible to appreciate the scale of the metropolis - not only could Poplar go to Primrose Hill, they could both see Pentonville grow in front of them. The remark that the Roman camp near Canonbury has been completely covered by new streets and houses conveys something of the nineteenth-century British sense of moment, the overturning of ancient precedents; London was a new Rome, and a greater one. Look also for the architecture of Homerton parsonage - this is a time when having ones own parish church and parsonage were a sign of civic identity, and both by their construction and design claim deep roots. The covered way at Minories is remarkable too - a reminder that in the City in 1851, the railway engine was still the nervously polite guest of the horse.