Seeing London :: 1912
By Enoch A. Bryan, President of Washington State College
Special Letter to the Pow Wow From President E.A. BRYAN
“One can see London best from the top of an omnibus,” said the great statesman, Gladstone, which was a very statesmanlike saying, since London is a world in itself, and seeing the world aright is a most excellent bit of statesmanship.
The one great means of surface transportation is the motor omnibus. Of course, there are a few suburban “tram” or street car lines—double decked always—and there is the wonderful “tube” system lying deep under the city—not so good as the New York subway but covering the entire city vastly better. But so far as surface movement, within the city, is concerned, it is either in the omnibus or the swifter and costlier taxi’s. A few years ago it was the horse omnibus, but there are only a few of them now left and they look like the tag end of something that is soon to disappear. The omnibuses are all two-story and hence the basis of Gladstone’s saying. A narrow spiral stairway at the rear enables you to climb to the top, if you are agile, and once up there you have all London under your eye, if you go far enough. There are seats for sixteen within, below, and for eighteen above, and no more are admitted than there are seats for, so there is no hanging up by straps or being pressed into a sardine as in Boston.
“Fairies, plize,” says the conductor, which being interpreted means “fares, please,” and when you have paid he says “Q.”
“What does ‘Q’ mean?” said the little one beside me.
“Oh, I suppose that is the end and very essence of ‘thank you’” I replied.
The fare? Anything from “ha’p’n’y” to “sixpence ha’p’n’y.” On this particular occasion it was “tuppence.” The conductor gives you a little check which is your receipt and which may be examined later at any unexpected corner by a “spotter.” The lines of busses run everywhere and the destination as well as intermediate points and the number of the line is conspicuously displayed. That line runs from Wormwood Scrubs in the fashionable West End to Shoreditch in the unfashionable East End. On the way it passes “Rotten Row,” the aristocratic roadway in Hyde Park for horseback riding, crosses Pall Mall, runs through Piccadilly Circus, the Strand, Cheapside, the Poultry, Threadneedle Street and crosses through innumerable other streets, lanes or circuses with euphonious and illuminating names.
London is an endless maze of streets, lanes and circuses, little and big, which at first are very confusing, as they run in every direction and to everywhere and nowhere, but thanks to the omnibus system, one can soon get the run of things so as not to be lost very badly. There are a few great thoroughfares running approximately east and west, or roughly speaking, parallel with the Thames, and having traversed these a few times, one may acquaint himself to them.
The first of these and one of the oldest is the Strand, and its connection, once perhaps the river bank. Beginning with Trafalgar Square, wherein in the Nelson monument and which is the very heart of hearts of London, the Strand runs easterly past the Charing Cross station, and along this busy, narrow street. From here the street is no longer called The Strand, but Fleet Street, then it is called Ludgate Circus and Ludgate Hill, then St. Paul’s Churchyard with its great and beautiful cathedral, then Cannon Street, etc., etc. Westward from Trafalgar Square the same artery parallels the Thames through White Hall and Victoria Street. Farther to the northward the next great artery is Oxford Street, with its westward extension of Bayswater Road and its eastern opening through Holborn viaduct and Cheapside.
And so the great arteries are for this world what the great transcontinental railways are to ours. As one from his perch on the roof of the omnibus watches the seething crowd beneath, moving—moving—ever hither and thither—now faster, now languidly, he thinks how well Shakespeare described it all as “life’s fitful fever.”
A night ride last night was particularly spectacular, as it always is. In certain quarters, the streets were filled with a madder rush than by day. Christmas shopping is on, and in this quarter the shops are still open and the throng, eager to buy something from the alluring displays, and in many cases perhaps feeling the cramping inability to do so, the loitering, sightseeing throng, the multitude rushing to places of amusement, the crush of busses, taxi’s, cabs, drays, push carts, the thousands of flashing lights, the low buzz arising from the whole movement is as picturesque a theatre as one could wish for. In other quarters the shops are all closed, the great stores have window blinds drawn and even this early the street is well nigh deserted. Oh what a world is this beneath us! Gay, frolicsome, fickle, feverish or brooding, plotting, doing evil, rushing madly forward to an inevitable destiny.
WSM Historical Coordinates Archive
One can see London best from the top on omnibus said Gladstone. The hustle and bustle of the busy city, the “endless maze of streets, lanes and circuses” come alive to Washington State College’s first president, in a letter to the alumni magazine The Pow Wow.
A first-hand account of an invasion of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, by General Pancho Villa, written by a 1907 graduate of Washington State College for his alumni magazine The Pow Wow.
Learn more about MapWith.Us—developed at WSU-Vancouver by students and faculty—in Washington State Magazine's Spring 2009 issue.