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“A days doings”

The Victorians have always fascinated me. Such drive and inquisitiveness they moved the country forward with their technological advances, however I do find the general population lacking imagination and in some instances free will, but I suppose given the tight social framework of the day its understandable that they were unwilling to go off piste.

It appears to me that no self respecting Victorian would ever embark on any journey without consulting some type of guidebook or almanac before setting off, take the Bradshaw’s railway guides as an example. I was looking through a Victorian tome called Enquire Within upon Everything. It is a how-to book, a short encyclopedia for domestic life first published in 1856 and was probably the Google of it’s day. It has a section for sightseeing in London, so I immediately sought out the chapter.

The first dictatorial line gives you an idea of what is to follow. “Before starting on your holiday spend two hours in studying a good guide-book and mapping out a programme for each day of your stay in London“. Two hours mind, not ninety minutes or a quick skim through. I have a vision of alarm clocks being set for two hours hence before the commencement of the guidebook reading. It also states the “bleedin’ obvious”, I’ll paraphrase to save time, “Some of the places you’ll want to see will only be open on certain days, plan accordingly so that they are open on the day you visit“.

A typical Londoner, do not enter into conversation with him or exchange pleasantries, he’ll rob you blind, run off with your wife and eat your children

It seems to me that Victorians from outside the metropolis in general held a deep seated mistrust of Londoner’s. The book somewhat bears this out with the following, “Ask your way of a policeman, postman, telegraph boy, or shopkeeper. If you are in a residential quarter, you will be compelled to resort to the courtesy of the casual wayfarer; but in that case take the direction from him and then pass on. (the highlighting is mine but it does seem to make my point, and whatever you do, do not strike up a conversation or even say thankyou).

And further on “If you feel that you are taking the wrong road, do not proceed farther until you have ascertained whether you are right or wrong. You have a civil tongue; do not hesitate to use it”. (see rules about conversing with Londoners) It’s surprising that there is no mention of being armed with a map. The London A to Z is 60 years in the future but the Victorians were good map makers and the Ordinance Survey maps had been available to the general public since 1824.

The next passage although a bit long establishes two main facts, firstly if a Londoner happens to speak to you, then he is surely setting about robbing you or some other confidence trick and that secondly all visitors to London are a little gullible. “If a stranger get into conversation with you in a gallery, or church, or the street, make himself particularly affable, claim that he thinks he has met you before or that he comes from the same town or district as yourself, be on your guard instantly. If further he be joined, apparently by chance, by a friend or two and propose to adjourn for a drink or a meal, and then talk of his prospects and the money he has, and ask you to lend him, for a short while, your purse, or an article of value, merely to show your confidence in him – he having already shown his confidence in them by handing some article to his confederates – be sure you are in the company of “confidence trick” rogues and leave them at once. If you happen on a policeman near by, describe the men to him and tell him where you left them. The information may be useful to him. Avoid all talk with undesirable or promiscuous folk whose appearance and manner you do not care for on acquaintance“.

On accommodation during your trip the book has this helpful but slightly obvious entry, “For a short stay it will answer your convenience and save time to put up at a comfortable central hotel rather than lodge in a suburb“.

I’ve left the passage on planning to the end as a phrase used within it made me smile and so I used it in the title of this piece. “Group the sights so as to economize your time. For example, avoid such a programme for a day’s doings as this – the Tower; Tate Gallery; Madame Tussaud’s; Greenwich Hospital; Hyde Park. To “do” these sights in a day would put a great deal of time to waste. The map below shows the example to be slightly ludicrous.

Despite it’s failings and at times rather improbable examples it does make for an interesting read, as the Editor writes in the introduction, Whether You Wish to Model a Flower in Wax; to Study the Rules of Etiquette; to Serve a Relish for Breakfast or Supper; to Plan a Dinner for a Large Party or a Small One; to Cure a Headache; to Make a Will; to Get Married; to Bury a Relative; Whatever You May Wish to Do, Make, or to Enjoy, Provided Your Desire has Relation to the Necessities of Domestic Life, I Hope You will not Fail toEnquire Within.”

Give the chapter on London a wide berth though!

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