Not Old Dogs, But Old Books

I have several books passed down to me by my Father. I have written about him on my other blog. Although he left school and any formal learning at 13 to help with the family finances, he never stopped learning.

He ingrained upon his three daughters the idea that learning was the only way to proceed; to get ahead in the world. He bought books, usually second hand, and read to us when we were young and gave them to us to read as we got older.

He was a proud Londoner. In all his 96 years he never wanted to live anywhere but in the East End. And today I will tell you of a couple of books that I have that were his.

One book is called Walking Around London.

‘I have seen the greatest wonder which the world can show to the astonished spirit.  I have seen it and am still astonished – and ever will there remain fixed indelibly on my memory the stone forest of houses, amid which flows the rushing stream of faces of living men with all their varied passions, and all their terrible impulses of love, of hunger and of hatred – I mean London”

These words are shown in the preface of the book and were written by Heinrich Heine, who lived in Craven Street, Strand in 1827.  At that time apparently, London was the largest city in the world and had a population of 1,500,000.

The book takes us on 25 walks around London and reinforces my feeling that I am a Londoner even though I haven’t lived there for more than 50 years.  It appears that the book was published in 1957.  I still lived in London then and that was the year that I married my Dashing Young Scotsman. Nostalgia is alive and well in Wellington, New Zealand today.  So I shall go away and revel in it.

And the second book is Mayhew’s London, one of two books of this title that I hold. The book was first published in 1861 and cost 25 shillings. At the time there were 12 pennies to a shilling and twenty shillings to a pound, so I guess that was a pretty expensive book that time.

This is a fascinating book, filled with illustrations detailing how many made their living at that time.

Sarah the hurdy curdy player; a mudlark; the Jew Old Clothes Man; London costermongers (note costermonger is a street seller of vegetables, fruit etc and were everywhere in Victorian London and other towns. In fact when I was growing up, costers were everywhere, and maybe they still are.

So another busy day comes to an end. Lunch with a fairly new friend, a visit to the doctor to get certificate to renew my driver’s licence, writing a piece for the local paper and then this post. Who said life got easier and less rushed after you retire?

JB February 15, 2022
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