Fierce Fiction!!!: Dickens, Ainsworth, Bulwer and Thackeray in the Shadows of Newgate Prison

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He led them to a room upstairs which looked out upon Paternoster Row. One of Charlotte Bront?

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While I looked my inner self moved; my spirit shook its always-fettered wings half loose; I had a sudden feeling as if I, who have never yet truly lived, were at last about to taste life. The coffee houses lingered well into nineteenth-century London. When some became specialised exchanges, others turned into clubs or private hotels, while others again became dining-houses complete with polished mahogany tables, oil-lamps and boxes with green curtains dividing them.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century another kind of coffee house altogether emerged which catered for the breakfasts of labourers or porters on their way to work. There were other places for a meagre breakfast. These in turn were succeeded by more elaborate coffee stalls, which were constructed on the pattern of a medieval London shop with a wooden interior and shutters. The female proprietor is washing up a cup-most of the stalls were indeed run by women on the principle, maintained by many public houses of the present day, that aggressive customers were less likely to cause trouble and offence if a female was present.

A boy in a red jacket, bearing the livery of the City of London, sits in a wheelbarrow and blows upon his saucer of liquid; he was one of those employed by the City to run after horses in the street and scoop up their manure.

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A female crossing-sweeper and a female vendor, both with expressions of sorrow or perplexity, seem to be looking on at the feast. A well-dressed young lady, with umbrella and band-box, sips delicately from her cup on the other side of the stall. It is a suggestive picture of late Victorian London.

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In competition with such a stall was the baked-potato van, a portable oven wheeled around the streets. The ordinaries and the eating-houses continued well into the nineteenth century as chop-houses or ham-and-beef shops or? There were also taverns or public houses where it was customary for the client to bring in his own piece of meat which was then dressed and cooked upon a gridiron by a waiter, who charged a penny for the service.

The old chop-houses and beef-houses were not necessarily of good reputation. It was a measure of the discomfort and dirtiness to which Londoners, historically, have accommodated themselves. There were gradations in service and comfort, however. They were not necessarily an improvement on their predecessors. The St. Royal opened in and the Criterion Restaurant like many, named after an adjacent theatre in A contemporary description in Building News mentions a luncheon bar, a caf?

Social changes were engineered by the advent of the restaurant. Women, for example, were no longer excluded from dinner. Royal remained defiantly silent. With the new century, too, came the fashion for dancing at dinner and even between the courses. Other alterations were more gradual and subtler. In the city everything connects. These were rivalled only by the fish-and-chip shops. Strong tea and lashings of bread and butter were the other staples of life. Some were restaurants of the middling English sort, serving beef and mutton and greens, sausage and mash, apricots and custard.

But in Soho the restaurant trade flourished because of the influence of French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Chinese cooking. In the purlieus of Soho, too, an informality of eating was introduced or, rather, reintroduced. This revolution in taste was complemented, twenty years later, by the opening of the first coffee bar, also in Soho, the Mika, in Frith Street.

The world of quick eating and quick drinking, a phenomenon previously noted in the pie-shops of the fourteenth century no less than in the baked-potato vans of the nineteenth, thus re-established itself. Sandwiches are now the staple ingredient of the London lunch, from the Pret A Manger chain to the corner shop on a busy junction. There has been a concomitant increase in fast food, from burgers of beef to wings of chicken. The staple of the city diet remains the same, therefore, while the statistics of its voracious appetite also remain constant.

Now the London customer can choose between monkfish tempura and chilli breast of chicken with coconut rice, grilled rabbit with polenta and braised octopus with chickpeas and coriander. Many of these restaurants soon became flourishing commercial enterprises; their chefs were recognised and controversial London figures, their owners part of a chic world of art and society.

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Some of the more recently established restaurants are very large indeed, and the fact that few tables remain unbooked is testimony to the permanent and characteristic voracity of Londoners. That is why it has always been known as a city of markets. The first markets were upon the streets. In fact it is possible to envisage the central axis of twelfth-or thirteenth-century London as one continuous street-market from the Shambles at Newgate to Poultry by Cornhill.

Corn, the staff of life, therefore lies under the aegis of the Church. Just beyond the corn-market were established the markets for fish in Old Fish Street and Friday Street on Fridays people were to refrain from meat. Bread Street and Milk Street are adjacent, thus setting up a topographical alignment of great significance to the city. The naming of the streets is established upon the food which is purchased there.

The city may be defined, then, as that place where people come to buy and sell. As the citizens of thirteenth-century London walked down West Cheap-now Cheapside-away from the smell of the Shambles and the fish stalls, they passed shops where harnesses and saddles were sold, where cord-wainers plied their trade, and where mercers and the drapers laid out their fabrics upon their stalls.

Beyond these lay Poultry, of which the meaning is self-explanatory, and Coneyhope Lane where rabbits were sold. There are some energetic if idiosyncratic drawings of adjacent street-markets in A Caveatt for the Citty of London Beside St. The noise and tumult were intense, and several laws were passed in order to prevent crowds. There were other perils, too, with strict measures against the resale of stolen articles. The clothes-market of Cornhill, for example, was notorious; it was here that the narrator of London Lickpenny recognised the hood which had been lifted from him at Westminster.

One bell rang an hour before sunset, and another thirty minutes later; it is possible to imagine the traders calling out to the slowly diminishing crowds, as the sun begins to decline over the towers and rooftops of the city. There is an engraving, limned just before its removal, which shows the statue of Charles II erected in the very heart of the market; two small dogs look up at a stall selling cheeses, while a woman and child sit with their baskets against the steps of the statue. In the background there is an animated scene of trading and bargaining.

A pair of lovers meet in the foreground, apparently oblivious to the noise around them, while a Londoner is pointing out directions to a foreign visitor. In such visions, London may be said to live again.

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Thus came the phrase to shriek like a fishwife. These fish porters were complemented by the fish salesmen who wore straw hats even in winter. So a definite tradition of dress, and of language, emerges from this small area of London. The same phenomenon can be witnessed at a variety of sites. Market days were held on Tuesday and Friday; the horses were kept in stables in the neighbourhood, but the cattle and other livestock were driven in from the outlying areas causing much distress to the animals and inconvenience to the citizens.

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The danger, too, was significant. Of vegetable markets , there is no end. Borough Market in Southwark can claim to be the first ever recorded, having its origins at some time before the eleventh century, but Covent Garden remains the most illustrious. Once it was truly a garden, filled with herbs and fruit which seem uncannily to anticipate their later profusion on the same spot; then it was the kitchen garden of Westminster Abbey, contiguous with the garden of Bedford House erected at the end of the sixteenth century.


Gradually, inexorably, the market spread across the piazza. It became the most famous market in England and, given its unique trading status in the capital of world trade, its image was endlessly reproduced in drawings and in paintings. Twenty years later, in , the painted image has entirely changed; instead of ramshackle sheds there are now two-storey buildings, and the market activity stretches over the entire square. Everything is in life and motion, from the young boy struggling with a basket of apples to the middle-aged female trader who portions out some herbs.

Here are cabbages from Battersea and onions from Deptford, celery from Chelsea and peas from Charlton, asparagus from Mortlake and turnips from Hammersmith; carts and sedan chairs jostle, while the covered wagons from the country make their way through the crowds. This picture depicts the very essence of a trading city, while another painting of slightly later date betrays the evidence of pickpockets and street musicians among the assembly.

The drawings of George Scharf, dated and , depict in minute and various detail the life of the market. The shop of J. There are wheelbarrows filled with cabbages and turnips and carrots and cocoa nuts, alongside mobile stalls with apples and pears and strawberries and plums. In a permanent market, with avenues and colonnades and conservatories in three parallel ranges, was completed; it gave the market an institutional aspect, as well as confirming its status as an emporium of world trade.