Day Six: In which I wish I could make a trip to York
I have a moment of doubt, when I set out this morning without so mch as glancing at a map — but my direction sense holds, and I find my way to Covent Garden without a single misstep.
(The Covent Garden area is nigh-impossible to miss, what with all the theatre marquees; the actual square itself is rather more thoroughly buried.)
I spend a little over three hours digging through the archives of the London Transport Museum, making liberal use of twenty-first-century photocopying techniques, i.e. taking pictures with my camera. At least this stuff is all printed, unlike the Royal Society minutes from last year. Sadly, though, what I’m really after isn’t here: I need some kind of week-by-week report on the completion of the Inner Circle in 1884. As in, “dug up X stretch of Cannon Street on Monday,” “laid rails from Mark Lane to Eastcheap over the weekend,” “ran a test train between stations yesterday,” etc. Okay, I don’t so much need it as want it; I could make this stuff up and nobody would call me on it. But it’s so often true that real history provides quirks and twists that make the story more interesting; I’d like to find it if I can. Fortunately, I do get some solid tidbits (like the running of inspection trains on 17 September), and — more importantly – -the titles of a few primary sources that might have more. The real challenge will be getting hold of those sources. (If anybody reading this lives in York, ping me; the National Railway Museum archives would be the place to go, if only I’d known soon enough to plan for it.)
Lunchtime, which I eat at the café where Boswell first met Johnson. It’s two doors down from a Starbucks, and I take pleasure in giving my money to history rather than a modern chain.Then it’s off to the London Transport Museum itself, which (perversely) has more to say about omnibuses than the early Underground. I guess they figure the Tube gets enough love elsewhere in the museum? I’m slightly annoyed at their presentation of the trains, actually; the one original locomotive still in existence is good, but I take a bunch of notes on the car behind it before encountering a screen that tells me it dates to some time post-1898. Dear Museum Designers: don’t you think that info should go up front somewhere? Still, it’s closer to my time than anything else they’ve got, so the notes have at least a bit of value. (Most of the visual depictions of the time focus on the locomotives, not the passenger cars, which are the part I’m most likely to spend time describing.)
That takes little enough time that when it’s done, I feel like my feet maybe still have a bit of walking in them. Or maybe more than a bit. I have a brief wander up Bow Street, marveling at the fact that I don’t see a blue plaque anywhere commemorating the Fieldings and their Bow Street Runners — though there is a police station and a magistrate’s court, so it isn’t like they’ve been forgotten — then head home, scarf down an early dinner of Wasabi’s yakisoba on the steps of St. Paul’s, and then go do the thing I was afraid the Ankle Incident might scotch entirely: I go on a Jack the Ripper walking tour.
No, the Ripper won’t be making an appearance in this book. I’m four years too early for that, and not about to pull some kind of foreshadowing stunt just for the sake of working him in. But I might very well write an Onyx Court short story on the topic; and besides, it’s still a bit of gritty late-Victorian London history, which means that if nothing else, it serves an atmospheric purpose.
Which it might have done slightly better had it not rained through the entire tour, preventing me from taking many photos and causing our guide to stop us in sheltered areas, rather than in front of interesting landmarks. Despite being a legitimate historian (Donald Rumbelow), he doesn’t tell me much I don’t already know, but that’s to be expected; a two-hour storll designed for tourists (and by the way, it feels weird to be in an honest-to-god tour group in London) will necessarily spend most of its time on the basic facts. I do learn that whores generally wore men’s boots (better for long walking, and for kicking people when necessary), and that St. Botolph’s Aldgate was a “prostitute roundabout” — if they stood still, the police would run them in for soliciting, so they walked circles around the church in quest of customers. And I see Hawksmoor’s church, the one Alan Moore went on about in From Hell, which I wanted to do only I’d forgotten the name of it and didn’t know where it was.
That makes for a fairly late night, but I don’t mind. I feel a bit more like myself today — got a good night’s sleep last night, the first since I arrived here, and had a full day that didn’t involve being gimpy. So that’s pleasing. Now bedtime, and tomorrow, the police!