In searching for a publication or writings of some description pertaining to the metropolis on the evening before All Saints Day, although no doubt there are many in existence, only one was readily apparent for the time being. Written by Charles Williams All Hallows’ Eve (1945) was apt for the subject of today’s post at least in terms of title and setting if nothing else.
Charles Williams was born Islington 1886 living in Holloway until 1894 when his parents moved to St. Albans from where they ran a shop selling art materials. Later returning to London to study at University College. In 1908 he began work as a proof reader for Oxford University Press at the London offices in Paternoster Row moving to Warwick Square 1924 where the name Amen Corner given to the warehouse on the site of the old Newgate Prison still remains. Rising to editor Williams worked in London until 1939 when the outbreak of the Second World War saw the publishing house relocate the London arm of the business to Oxford. The move to Oxford was instrumental in Williams becoming a member of the Inklings literary society formed by C. S. Lewis which included J. R. R. Tolkien in the group.
Charles William’s tale of All Hallows Eve was not to the taste of boz. Supposedly a story of divine love triumphing over evil; this reader found it to be sickening and trite. In the intentions of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers Fat Boy “I wants to make your flesh creep” it succeeds but in that it makes the reader uncomfortable in the manner of voyeur not because it is a frightening narrative. However it is not for boz to impose unasked for opinions on the readers of this post therefore for those not familiar with Charles William’s All Hallows Eve (1945) it may be read here: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks04/0400061.txt
All Hallows Eve takes in some parts of the City beginning on Westminster Bridge continuing the narrative encompassing St. Paul’s, Holborn, Tooting and Highgate Hill. Central to the story is a hall described as being ‘Behind Holborn, close to Great James Street, in a short street undamaged by the raids’. The reality of this imagined street could be any of a half dozen in that neighbourhood, however for the purposes of this post it is well suited to the convenience of boz to suppose that it may well have been Dombey Street. The reason for this is nothing to do with the street’s 1936 renaming after a novel by Charles Dickens. This thoroughfare was formerly known as East Street and as we have been disappointed with fictional tales we may conjure some factual horrors for All Souls Eve in the form of the building practises of Nicholas Barbon who obtained the reversion of a fifty one year lease for the development of East Street in 1684. Of the original houses put up by Barbon only numbers nine to fifteen have survived as a result of restoration much as took place in Red Lion Square for any who recall last weeks post.
The major source of biographical information on Nicholas Barbon is from The Autobiography of the Hon. Roger North‘s who wrote of him:
“. . . . with his much dealing in building, and consequently transacting with multitudes, he was exquisite mob master, and knew the arts of leading, winding, or driving mankind in herds as well as any that I ever observed. “
And a description from purchasers of two of Barbon’s houses:
“were very incomplete, imperfect and unfinished, and such works as were done were so ill and artificially done that the same were found to be new done and amended and repaired, several of the piers being cracked, the floors shrunk, and the house in some places in danger of falling . . . the vaults thereof are not tight but are so built whereby the rain comes in to them whereby the defendants cannot lay any goods in them.”
This related from PRO Chancery Cases within an excellent account of both Nicholas Barbon and speculative building in the eighteenth century The Birth of Modern London (1999) Elizabeth McKellar.
Being not currently in possession of any pictures of Dombey Street we will make do with a photograph of a street which at the time of capturing boz did not take care to note so beyond recalling that it is very near the locality of Red Lion Square it will remain uncatalogued until a return to that district is made. Should it be identified by any observers in the meantime that would be most useful in facilitating the correction of such negligible reporting.
Attempting to remain on the subject of grimness whilst not straying into the occult and also inspired by the site of the Oxford University Press warehouse; we will finish (as finish we must or this post will lose a little of its pertinence beyond midnight) with an account of Newgate Prison:
“It was a spacious, bare, whitewashed apartment, lighted of course, by windows looking into the interior of the prison, but far more light and airy than one could reasonably expect to find in such a situation. There was a large fire with a deal table before it, round which ten or a dozen women were seated on wooden forms at dinner. Along both sides of the room ran a shelf; and below it, at regular intervals, a row of large hooks were fixed in the wall, on each of them was hung the sleeping mat of a prisoner; her rug and blanket being folded up, and placed on the shelf above. At night these mats are placed on the floor, each beneath the hook on which it hangs during the day; and the ward is thus made to answer the purposes both of a day-room and sleeping apartment.”
This 1836 account by Charles Dickens taken from Chapter twenty two of Sketches by Boz alludes to a scene which could be considered if not cheerful then one could certainly forgive the reader for believing the establishment described to be warm and well ordered in fact rather more welcoming than most workhouses at that time if this observation is accurate. For now the benefit of the doubt must be granted so we will return to Newgate at a later date when there has been time enough for a little research away from the rose tinted glow of Dickens spectacles.
For quite some time now the spectre of the Shard has afforded some fascination in these quarters. So on an evening of apparitions will bid farewell with a night time view; taken from the gutter whilst looking at the stars; the wisps are likely to be from the smokers in the alleyway but can be viewed as something more whimsical should it so please.