If London Were Like New York – IanVisits

As published by The London Magazine, February 1902.

A Peek At The Metropolis After The American Invasion

Note: For the purposes of this article the gentle reader of the “London Magazine” will kindly consider himself or herself living in the year of grace 1907. The American invaders, having captured the tobacco trade, the railways, the boot and shoe market, the match factories and most other industries worth winning, found themselves feeling homesick occasionally, but rather than return to the United States they adapted London to their liking – EDITOR.

It seems odd in these days to find a man of education who is really alarmed at the rush and noise of London streets, and I was almost upon the point of calling my cousin Dave a poseur, when he arrived at Victoria Depot, and pretended to be upset by the way the porter grabbed his bag and made off before you could say “Jack Robinson.” Yet I soon remembered that Dave had been in Africa since ’01 and that great changes had come about since then. So I explained that the man had asked where he was going to put up, and was probably now half way there; and that by the time he got to my flat the Trades’ Union Trust valet would have his clothes properly unpacked, brushed and put away.

“But,” said Dave, “wouldn’t it have done just as well to have taken the stuff with us in a cab?”

“A cab,” I replied, “why my dear boy, only back-number people do that sort of thing now-a-days. Here you are, home from an all-night journey, hungry and wanting a bath, and yet you talk of cabs. What you really want is a toilet and a breakfast, if you are anything like the old Dave of ‘Varsity days.”

“Oh, well, go ahead,” he sighed, “shew me your Yankeefied London, if you like, only get me out of this before we are mobbed.”

“Very well, come along,” said I, and led the way through the crowd of yelling porters and touts, each crying the virtues of his own particular method of transmitting baggage, or extolling the merits of the hotel for which he had been sent to solicit patrons. Outside, Dave seemed surprised, but said nothing. Evidently he was wondering what had become of the cabs and omnibuses that used to fill the open space in front of the station, before the new street cars had killed their trade. But it seemed best not to explain matters, so we had reached the electric car-track before the temptation proved too strong, and I remarked, quite casually, that Buckingham Palace Road had been renamed Fifth Avenue, and that the thoroughfare once known as Piccadilly had suffered a similar fate. Dave said never a word.

“All aboard,” screamed the conductor.

I jumped on where there was a small space along the narrow outside foot board, grasped the strap, and turned for my companion. There he stood, thirty yards behind, looking as indignant as possible. The only thing to do was to go back; so, at the risk of life and limb I made the jump from the rapidly-moving vehicle and rejoined Dave.

“What’s wrong, forgotten something?” I asked.

“Nothing particular,” said Dave, “only I like more room when I ride.”

“Then you’ll have to go to the Crystal Palace, where the line begins. You see, this is seven o’clock in the morning, and there is never a seat from here before eight.”

“Why in the name of common sense are people out at this unearthly hour?” he cried angrily.

“Only going to business,” I said. “You see, we start early since the Yankees came. Come now, get on here while there is a chance.”

With much labour Dave fought his way to standing room on the side platform of the car, hanging out over the sidewalk in a manner now familiar to us all but which certainly would once have made the best of us shiver.

Clang! Clang! Clang! went the bell, and with a sudden jerk which sent him quite off his feet, my poor cousin began his first journey in a modern, rapid-fire, street railway. For just a moment it looked as though he might let go and meet his end in the street, but a good-natured chap put out a foot and drew his legs in; so he regained his place, and was as safe as one can expect to be in these days. With that capacity for taking things philosophically which the French in their song call “Le Phlegme Britannique,” he looked wise and said nothing, even maintaining a dignified silence when we turned so sharply at Hyde Park Corner that he was thrown violently into the arms of a portly old lady who had the outside seat nearest to his standing-place. She was as used to it, however, as a New York typist, and never even looked his way.

As we whisked past the Great Sherry Hotel, where Walsingham House once stood, I caught the suspicion of a look of surprise in his eye, but he stared calmly back at the high building, and held his peace.

“Madison Square!” yelled the conductor a minute later.

“Come on,” I called, jumping off before the sudden jerk to stop had sent all the passengers in a heap.

“But I want to go to Piccadilly Circus,” cried Dave, anxiously.

“Piccadilly Grandmother,” shouted the conductor. “Th’ain’t no Piccadilly Circus. Look here, young’un, you pass up five cents, and stop trying to ring in yer innercence on me.”

Before Dave had time to lose his temper I paid the fare, yanked him down, and the car was scooting like mad for the City.

“Step lively there! No blocking the way,” commanded the Irish policeman, giving the boy no gentle rap on the shoulder before he could be dragged to the pavement. Once there, the jam of pedestrians had to be navigated, but in a few seconds he was inside the new Criterion Restaurant, where I asked the porter to let him get his breath in the entry way, explaining that he was a stranger from the country.

“Bress him heart,” cooed that individual, who was of course a negro, sympathetically, ” nobody ain’t gwine hurt him. Dess stan’ ahind me and be as comfy as you like.”

This familiarity nearly precipitated a race war, but calmer counsels prevailed.

The barber’s shop in the basement was easily reached, and there, while Dave was being shaved, a pretty girl manicured his finger-nails, and a darky polished his boots until they shone like mirrors.

Now for a bath. Great glass doors opened into the Turkish department, and there we went. No sooner was Dave undressed than all his clothes were taken from the room, the owner, having recovered his calm, offering no remonstrance.

Even an American Turkish bath takes nearly an hour, so it was close on half-past eight when Dave emerged, looking fresh and happy, but wondering where his clothes were. Just at that moment the man appeared and lo! there was the suit, cleaned and pressed; there was the linen, white from the laundry and the flannels all folded as neatly as when they first came out of the shop.

“Is this magic?” asked Dave wonderingly.

“No,”I laughed. “It’s years old in America, though the Yankees did not originate it. The inventor was a man named Cheiro, an Italian, who made a fortune in the laundry business, and then started a Turkish bath on what he called proper principles. The thing was a success, and spread; that’s all.”

During the bath I had ordered breakfast, and nearly laughed aloud when the elevator (they used to be called lifts) started for the top, landing us eighteen stories up in as many seconds, and leaving Dave gasping. Again, however, his nerves held good, and he stepped out without a word.

The meal began in the usual American way with fruit; followed by oatmeal and cream, and ending with pumpkin pie. But what seemed most to fluster Dave was the way it was served, practically all at once, and his plate jerked away the moment he took his fingers off it.

“I must telegraph the governor,” he said between the courses.

“Certainly,” put in the waiter before I had a chance to speak. “Here is a blank” (they used to be called forms).

“Then I suppose I must write to Billy,” he continued thoughtfully, after the message had been despatched.

“Certainly,” again spoke the waiter, handing him pen, ink and paper.

“Ah–h–m,” murmured Dave with studied indifference, after scribbling a few lines, “must let Uncle Tom know I am here; wonder if there is a telephone about the place.”

Almost instantly a funnel was adjusted in front of him, an insulated wire taken from the wall, dropped along the floor and attached to the apparatus, and — well, to make a long story short, Dave finished all his business before half-past nine.

“What shall we do until tea-time?” he wanted to know.

“‘Sh! somebody might hear you.”

“Well, what if they did? Is it a crime to drink tea in Americanised London?”

“Well, you couldn’t exactly call it a crime, but a fellow gets talked about doing these effeminate things. Why, only the other day, at the Club, someone asked about a chap who had just come up from Oxford. ‘Oh, he appears alright,’ said a fellow who knew him slightly, ‘but they do say he takes tea in the afternoon,’ whereupon everyone shrugged their shoulders and the subject was changed. The thing for us to do at five o’clock is just to drop into the nearest saloon and there have a cocktail and a free lunch of pickled pigs’ feet, dried herrings, baked beans, saurkraut and other queer dishes. Pay for your drink and eat all you like, don’t you know. I should say we had better go to Coney Island first.”

“Coney what?”

“Coney Island, you know, where the Casino is. Used to be Southend before they dug the canal round it. We can get there in half-an-hour by the fast steamer, have luncheon, and return for cocktails by the ‘L.’”

“Now what on earth is an ‘L’?”

“Don’t bother me, you’ll see later on. Waiter, what time does the luncheon boat leave Blackfriars for Coney Island ? Eleven thirty-five? That’s good. We can take in a Vaudeville show till then. Bring us two parquet tickets.”

“Two what?” cried Dave.

“Parquet tickets. Parquet! Parquet! Don’t you know that the stalls have been superseded by the parquet, and that there is no longer a pit? Well, you are back in the nineteenth century! What used to be the pit is now the parquet circle.”

“Then, where do the pit people sit ? “

“Oh, anywhere.”

“But the price?”

“That’s easy. It’s all the American plan, don’t you see ? Best seats, one dollar (that used to be called four shillings in your time); first two rows in the parquet circle seventy-five cents (three shillings in old time money) all the rest on the ground half-a-dollar.”

“Then one may sit next his butler?”

“One frequently does, or his barber, or his groom.”

“Oh, well, all right. But we can’t go to the theatre in the morning.”

“Why not? La Belle Manhattan comes on at ten o’clock; then come the San Francisco sisters in their new stunt (stunt being the American for turn), and after that we shall have just time for the Staide boys in their killing stunt, ‘Britons once were called quite slow.’ You see it’s what the invaders call the ‘Continuous.’ Begins in the morning and runs all day. Every theatre in London is managed by the Syndicate, and when a star has finished at one place, he or she goes on to the others. It pays so enormously that all the old legitimate actors have gone into it — George Alexander, the Kendals, Ellen Terry, Fay Davis, Julia Neilson, and the rest of them.”

“Heaven save the mark! Does anyone ever see a whole show?”

“Bless you, no. No one ever has time for that. Well, here are the tickets, and there are the dollars, so come along,” and I piloted him to the elevator.

The car stopped at each of the first six floors, so that the pace was nothing very wonderful, but at that point the man pressed a lever, threw off all connection with the machinery, and we dropped twelve stories as neatly as it could be done in Chicago. When we stopped suddenly, Dave went down on his knees and was white with that sort of startled feeling we all have at times, even yet, and I had to help him up.

The performance, though just what we see every day, was most interesting to Dave, who was, however, quite amazed at the number of respectable-looking girls who were there without chaperons, and who either chewed gum or ate candy all the time. He had not heard of the new and independent English girl who has joined her Transatlantic sister in setting all conventions aside.

At eleven o’clock we started for Blackfriars by way of Washington Square, where he naively railed against the tall buildings, and at first refused to believe that the Nelson statue had been changed for one of George Washington, and that the decorations were in honour of that worthy’s birthday.

He was frankly delighted, however, with the clean, white look of everything; and when I told him how Sir Richard Croker, “The Boss,” had brought that about only last winter, by making it a penal offence to burn any but anthracite coal, which gives no smoke, he agreed to go to “The Boss’s” weekly public reception next Friday.

It seemed a bit odd to him that when New York threw Mr. Croker out, he should immediately have come here and taken over the London County Council — lock, stock and barrel; but I explained that this had happened four years ago, at the time he dismissed the mayors and aldermen, as well as all the police and the judges, appointing in their places others of his own selection, all of whom were directly answerable to him; and that the expense of government had been thereby somewhat decreased, there being only one mayor and one board of aldermen, and that the apparent result was most gratifying.

To prove this I took him in an automobile along the Riverside Drive (late the Embankment), which has been improved, like its namesake in New York, with one path for fast driving, one for automobiles, and the one nearest the river for ordinary carriage traffic; but with no heavy vehicles, cabs, or omnibuses allowed. Of this Dave could not but approve, and he also liked the idea of continuing it on to the Lincoln Memorial (late London Monument).

The beautiful American steamer touched at Blackfriars Wharf exactly on time; and although Dave again objected to the big Irish policeman, who used his heavy club rather freely in pushing us aboard, he was rather pleased with the speed at which we swung out into the stream, and steamed away at twenty-four miles an hour.

The docks he did not find much changed, but of course the Brooklyn Bridge Junior (late Tower Bridge) was strange to him, with the elevated railway trains rushing across it. Then, too, it seemed sacrilegious to turn the old Tower itself into a second Castle Garden, where all immigrants are detained and examined. But when he learned that no foreigner was allowed to enter who had less than fifty dollars in cash on his person, he saw the advantage.

At Coney Island the boat was met, as usual, by a brass band, and we got on the moving side-walk and took three-quarters of an hour making an entire circuit of the resort along the sea-wall. The awful noise and confusion seemed to amuse Dave immensely, and he entered into the situation sufficiently to try all of the different games in the booths we passed. After that we went to the roof-garden and had the usual hurry-up luncheon, served by obsequious, but very friendly, negroes. During this meal, of course, there were the customary music and dancing and sleight-of-hand performances which go so well with our modern civilisation, and Dave was charmed with the idea of having news from all over the world given out from a phonograph between courses.

At half-past one we were shot to the mainland on the aerial railway, and Dave had his first experience on the Elevated. Everybody knows the terrific speed at which this route brings one back to town, so we were soon at Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan’s office, and Dave wanted to get down. “This Bank of England is a wonderful place,” he murmured, half to himself, “not even elevated railways have entirely spoiled its beauty.”

“Yes,” I admitted, “it is a fine building, but you ought to know by this time that the Bank itself has only the far corner of the place, the rest being needed by Mr. Morgan.”

“Take me home!” cried the boy, piteously, “take me away from this nightmare ! Is there nothing left of our own ? Does–does the L–Lord Mayor retain any part of the Mansion House?”

“Well, rather, he has very comfortable quarters at the back. Of course, ‘the Boss’ has the front. But it isn’t called the Mansion House any more. It is now generally known as Tammany Hall.”

“And the Royal Exchange?”

“It’s called Wall Street House now. You must come in one day and see how they do things. Recently there was a ‘corner’ in pork, and everybody acted just as they do in New York. It is what the Yankees call the ‘real thing.’ They smashed each other’s hats, tore each other’s clothes, punched each other’s eyes, and got generally ‘done up;’ but no one shewed the slightest temper. Just a bit of fun, don’t you know.”

“I see, just a bit of fun.”

In this pleasant converse we wandered about until five o’clock, taking short rides on the Elevated, coming back by the street cars beneath.

Then we went along Broadway (late Cheapside, Holborn, and Oxford Street) and took another Elevated over through Madison Avenue (late Shaftesbury) and so down to the Knickerbocker Club, where only Americans, or people with American blood or relations, are allowed. It seemed best to get Dave into rather an exclusive place, as he was getting a bit knocked up, else we might have gone to Delmonico’s, where one sees everybody worth knowing. It really is amazing how hotel and cafe life have killed the old club and home idea; but, after all, one must have excitement. Two or three cocktails made my companion hungry, and it was funny to see him move about from one buffet to another, devouring made up dishes of every kind and description. After that he suddenly remembered that one must dine, and was afraid his appetite would he spoiled; but I only laughed and told him of plenty of concoctions that would make any fairly healthy man hungry in a trice.

So we went over to my flat and got into evening dress after a swim in the sunken tub, which does for all the men on my floor. Dave liked the gorgeous bath fittings, and was particularly pleased with the heating arrangements.

“I used to think that all warm air must necessarily be stale air,” he admitted, after seeing how the thing worked; “but now I understand how it is, and just to think that you can keep the room or rooms at any desired temperature by simply setting the automatic indicator at the degree wanted! But, I say, I should like a messenger to carry a note for me.”

“Well, there’s the call.”


“Why, on the wall.”

“What, that thing that looks like a clock?”

“Certainly. Just turn the index round to what you want. It’s all printed on the dial where the hour marks would be. Everything a man could want is there.”

“And if I call a messenger?”

“You’ll probably get a pitcher of ice water, or a tailor, or a fire in the grate.”

“How stupid you are! What is the good of the thing, then?”

“Why, it’s American!”

“Is that a fetish? Must a thing be paid for, and liked, whether it’s good or not, just because it happens to be American?”

“W–w–well, if you put it that way — don’t you see, it’s the rage.”

“Well, hang it all, I don’t care—-“

“Now, old man, please do try to remember that this isn’t 1901. It will all come easy in time. For the present, let us dine. What do you say to the Fifth Avenue Hotel and then the theatre?”

“As you like.”

So we went to the hotel, and began the meal with the usual oysters, soup and fish and then began to wonder what we had better take in the way of joints. Dave left the selection to me, and I ordered roast beef, roast lamb, a bit of turkey and some quail, with frozen punch and the vegetables. In about five minutes a grinning negro appeared, carrying over his head a huge tray, so loaded with dishes that only a sleight-of-hand performer could have balanced it. Putting plates of the ordinary size in front of us, he proceeded to range all the eatables in a semi-circle, so that the whole substantial portion of the meal was there at once, all separately served in little bowls or platters.

Dave scowled, but sat firm. He watched me bolt one thing after another, and then bravely sailed in and followed suit. After that we had apple pie, cherry pie, plum pudding and ice-cream; but, of course, there was no wine with the meal, only large quantities of iced water.

In twenty-five minutes from the time we began it was over, and I suggested that we should start for the theatre.

“Dear boy,” said Dave, dismally, ” do you think I look quite right?”

“A little wild,” I responded; “but you’ll buck up after a while. What you need is excitement. That’s what makes a man forget his cares.”

“I don’t think I have any cares,” he sighed. “I feel miserable. Everything inside me seems going wrong, and the room’s turning round.”

I promptly dosed him with a quinine tabloid from the miniature drug-store which, like every other man who values his health, I, of course, carry in my vest pocket.

“Perhaps you’re nervous,” I said, soothingly. “Somehow people do get nervous these days.”

“Do you think they go mad?” he asked, glaring wildly about him.

“It isn’t called madness any more. We say nervous prostration. All of our prominent men have it more or less. I suppose it is because we live so much in such a short time.”

“What do they do for it?”

“Go to Germany for the baths, generally.”

“Waiter,” he yelled, striking the table with his fist and making the glasses and dishes ring again, “get me a ticket for Germany, and be quick about it!”

Grasping his shoulders, I tried to hold him in a chair, but with yells and curses he threw me off, and it took the combined efforts of half the waiters to capture him and carry him to the Prostration Shute, whence he was conveyed to my flat, where he collapsed entirely.

At the time of writing I understand he is slowly recovering, but until his mental balance is quite restored I am forbidden to hold any communication with him, as the sight of me might cause a relapse. Still, I did my duty.

Source : https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2018/02/18/if-london-were-like-new-york/