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is considerably older than Rome; and that it was, by the same Trojan author, built by Brute, after the likeness of great Troy, before that built by Romulus and Remus. Whence to this day it useth and enjoyeth the ancient city Troy's liberties, rights, and customs.” This is dealing with a legend in a business-like manner, worthy of grave aldermen and sheriffs. Between Brute and Richard II. there is a long interval; and the chroniclers have filled it up with many pleasant stories, and the antiquarians have embellished it with many ingenious theories. We must leap over all these. One ancient writer, however, who speaks from his own knowledge,_William Fitz-Stephen, who died in 1191,–has left us a record in his ‘Description of London,’ which will take us back a few hundred years further. The original is in Latin. “The wall of the city is high and great, continued with seven gates, which are made double, and on the north distinguished with turrets by spaces: likewise on the south London hath been enclosed with walls and towers, but the large river of Thames, well stored with fish, and in which the tide ebbs and flows, by continuance of time hath washed, worn away, and cast down those walls.” Here, then, six hundred and fifty years ago, we find the river-bank of London in the same state as described by Sir Thomas More in his imaginary capital of Amaurote:– “The city is compassed about with a high and thick stone wall, full of turrets and bulwarks. A dry ditch, but deep and broad, and overgrown with bushes, briers, and thorns, goeth about three sides or quarters of the city. To the fourth side the river itself serveth as a ditch.”f The Saxon chronicle tells us that in the year 1052 Earl Godwin, with his navy, passed along the southern side of the river, and so assailed the walls. A hundred and fifty years after, in the time of Fitz-Stephen, the walls were gone. About the same period arose the stone bridge of London; but that has perished before the eyes of our own generation. There is another passage in Fitz-Stephen which takes us, as do most of his descriptions, into the every-day life of the ancient Londoners—their schools, their feasting, and their sports:– “In Easter holidays they fight battles on the water. A shield is hanged on a pole, fixed in the midst of the stream; a boat is prepared without oars, to be carried by violence of the water, and in the forepart thereof standeth a young man, ready to give charge upon the shield with his lance. If so be he break his lance against the shield and doth not fall, he is thought to have performed a worthy deed. If so be, without breaking his lance, he runneth strongly against the shield, down he falleth into the water, for the boat is violently forced with the tide; but on each side of the shield ride two boats, furnished with two young men, which recover him that falleth as soon as they may. Upon the bridge, wharfs, and houses by the river-side, stand great numbers to see and laugh thereat.” The sport, which may be still seen amongst the watermen of the Seine, and of the Rhine, was the delight of the bold youth of London in the days of Henry II. FitzStephen tells us of this amongst the sports of the people generally; and the circumstance shows that they were accustomed to exercise themselves upon their noble river. Four centuries afterwards Stow saw a somewhat similar game:– “I have seen also in the summer season, upon the river of Thames, some rowed in wherries, with staves in their hands, flat at the fore-end, running one against another, and,
* Stow, book i. + Utopia, b. ii. c. ii. 1 We give the translation of Stow, but he appears here to have taken a little licence with the original:— “Supra pontem et in solariis supra fluvium.”
for the most part, one or both of them were overthrown and well ducked.” Of the antiquity of these customs we have evidence in two drawings of a beautiful illuminated ‘History of the Old Testament,’ &c., of the fourteenth century, in the British Museum. Howel says, “There was in former times a sport used upon the Thames, which is now discontinued: it was for two wherries to row, and run one
against the other, with staves in their hands, flat at the fore-end; which kind of
recreation is much practised amongst the gondolas of Venice.” From the time of Fitz-Stephen to that of Gower we may readily conceive that
the water-communication between one part of London and another, and between London and Westminster, was constantly increasing. A portion of London Bridge was moveable, which enabled vessels of burden to pass up the river to unload at Queenhithe and other wharfs. Stairs (called bridges) and Water-gates studded the shores of both cities. Palaces arose, such as the Savoy, where the powerful nobles kept almost regal state. The Courts of Law were fixed at Westminster; and thither the citizens and strangers from the country daily resorted, preferring the easy highway of the Thames to the almost impassable road that led from Westminster to the village of Charing, and onward to London. John Lydgate, who wrote in the time of Henry V., has left us a very curious poem, which we shall often have occasion to refer to, entitled ‘London Lyckpeny.’ He gives us a picture of his coming to London to obtain legal redress of some grievance, but without money to pursue his suit. Upon quitting Westminster Hall, he says, “Then to Westminster Gate I presently went.” This is undoubtedly the Water-gate; and, without describing anything beyond the cooks, whom he found busy with their bread and beef at the gate, “when the sun was at high prime,” he adds, “Then unto London I did me hie.”
* Londinopolis: 1657.
By water he no doubt went, for through Charing he would have made a day's journey. Wanting money, he has no choice but to return to the country; and having to go “into Kent,” he applies to the watermen at Billingsgate:–
“Then hied I me to Billingsgate,
We have a corroboration of the accuracy of this picture in Lambarde’s ‘Perambulation of Kent.’ The old topographer informs us that in the time of Richard II. the inhabitants of Milton and Gravesend agreed to carry in their boats, from London to Gravesend, a passenger, with his truss or farthell, for two-pence. The poor Kentish suitor, without two-pence in his pocket to pay the Gravesend bargemen, takes his solitary way on foot homeward. The gate where he was welcomed with the cry of hoo—ho, ahoy—was the great landing-place of the coasting-vessels; and the king here anciently took his toll upon imports and exports. The Kentishman comes to Billingsgate from Cornhill; but it was not an uncommon thing for boats, even in those times, to accomplish the feat of passing through the fall occasioned by the narrowness of the arches of London Bridge; and the loss of life in these adventures was not an unfrequent occurrence. Gifford, in a note upon a passage in Ben Jonson's Staple of News,' says somewhat pettishly of the old bridge, “had an alderman or a turtle been lost there, the nuisance would have been long since removed.” A greater man than an alderman-John Mowbray, the second Duke of Norfolk—nearly perished there in 1428. This companion of the glories of Henry V. took his barge at St. Mary Overies, with many a gentleman, squire, and yeoman, “and prepared to pass through London Brigg. Whereof the foresaid barge, through misgovernment of steering, fell upon the piles and overwhelmed. The which was cause of spilling many a gentle man, and other; the more ruth was . But as God would, the Duke himself, and two or three other gentle men, seeing that mischief, leaped up on the piles, and so were saved through help of them that were above the brigg, with casting down of ropes.” But there were landing-places in abundance between Westminster and London Bridge, so that a danger such as this was not necessary to be incurred. When the unfortunate Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, was condemned to do penance in London, in three open places, on three several days, she was brought by water from Westminster; and on the 13th November, 1440, was put on shore at the Temple bridge; on the 15th, at the Old Swan; and, on the 17th, at Queenhithe. Here, exactly four centuries ago, we have the same stairs described by the same names as we find at the present day. The Old Swan (close to London Bridge) was the Old Swan in the time of Henry VI., as it continued to be in the time of Elizabeth. If we turn to the earliest maps of London we find, in the same way, Broken Wharf, and Paul's Wharf, and Essex Stairs, and Whitehall Stairs. The abiding-places of the watermen appear to have been as unchanging as their thoroughfare—the same river ever gliding, and the same inlets from that broad and cheerful highway to the narrow and gloomy streets. The watermen of London, like every other class of the people, were once musical; and their “ oars kept time" to many a harmony, which, if not so poetical as the song of the gondoliers, was full of the heart of merry England. The old city chronicler, Fabyan, tells us that John Norman, Mayor of London (he held this dignity in 1454), was “the first of all mayors who brake that ancient and oldcontinued custom of riding to Westminster upon the morrow of Simon and Jude's day.” John Norman “was rowed thither by water, for the which the watermen made of him a roundel, or song, to his great praise, the which began, ‘Row the boat, Norman, row to thy leman.’” The watermen's ancient chorus, as we collect from old ballads, was
and their burden was still the same in the time of Henry VIII., not forgetting, “Row the boat, Norman.”f Well might the first mayor who carried the pomp of the city to the great Thames, and made “The barge he sat in, like a burnish'd throne, Burn on the water,”
deserve the praises of watermen in all time! We could willingly spare many more intrinsically valuable things than the city water-pageant; for it takes us even now into the old forms of life; and if it shows us more than all other pageants something of the perishableness of power and dignity, it has a fine, antique grandeur about it, and tells us that London, and what belongs to London, are not of yesterday.
We every now and then turn up in the old Chronicles, and Memoirs, and Letters that have been rescued from mice and mildew, some graphic description of the use of the river as the common highway of London. These old writers were noble hands at scene-painting. What a picture Hall gives us of the populousness of the Thames —the perfect contrast to Wordsworth's
“The river glideth at his own sweet will”—
in the story which he tells us of the Archbishop of York, after leaving the widow of Edward IV. in the sanctuary of Westminster, sitting “alone below on the rushes, all desolate and dismayed,” returning home to York Place in the dawning of the day; “and when he opened his windows and looked on the Thames, he might see the river full of boats of the Duke of Gloucester his servants, watching that no person should go to sanctuary, nor none should pass unsearched.” Cavendish, in his ‘Life of Wolsey,' furnishes as graphic a description of the great Cardinal hurrying to and fro on the highway of the Thames, between his imperious master and the injured Katharine, when Henry had become impatient of the tedious conferences of the Court at Blackfriars sitting on the question of his divorce, and desired to throw down with the strong hand the barriers that kept him from the Lady Anne —“Thus this court passed from session to session, and day to day, in so much that a certain day the king sent for my lord at the breaking up one day of the court to come to him into Bridewell. And to accomplish his commandment he went unto him, and being there with him in communication in his grace's privy chamber from eleven until twelve of the clock and past at noon, my lord came out and departed from the king, and took his barge at the Black Friars, and so went to his house at Westminster. The Bishop of Carlisle, being with him in his barge, said unto him, (wiping the sweat from his face,) Sir," quoth he, “it is a very hot day.’ ‘Yea, quoth my Lord Cardinal, “if ye had been as well chafed as I have been within this hour, ye would say it were very hot.’” Between Westminster and the Tower, and the Tower and Greenwich, the Thames was especially the royal road. When Henry VII. willed the coronation of his Queen Elizabeth, she came from Greenwich attended by “barges freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk.” When Henry VIII. avowed his marriage with Anne Boleyn, she was brought by “all the crafts of London” from Greenwich to the Tower, “trumpets, shawms, and other divers instruments, all the way playing and making great melody.” The river was not only the festival highway, but the more convenient one, for kings as well as subjects. Hall tells us, “This year (1536), in December, was the Thames of London all frozen over, wherefore the king's majesty, with his beautiful spouse Queen Jane, rode throughout the city of London to Greenwich.” The interesting volume of the ‘ Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VIII.' contains item upon item of sums paid to watermen for waiting with barge and boat. The barge was evidently always in attendance upon the king; and the great boat was ever busy, moving household stuff and servants from Westminster to Greenwich or to Richmond. In 1531 we have a curious evidence of the king being deep in his polemical studies, in a record of payment “to John, the king's bargeman, for coming twice from Greenwich to York Place with a great boat with books for the king.” We see the “great Eliza” on the Thames, in all her pomp, as Raleigh saw her out of his prison-window in the Tower, in 1592, as described in a letter from Arthur Gorges to Cecil:—“Upon a report of her majesty's being at Sir George Carew's, Sir W. Raleigh, having gazed and sighed a long time at his study-window, from whence he might discern the barges and boats about the Blackfriars stairs, suddenly he brake out into a great distemper, and sware that his enemies had on purpose brought her majesty thither to break his gall in sunder with Tantalus' torment, that when she went away he might see death before his eyes; with many such-like conceits. And, as a man transported with passion, he swore
* Harl. MS., No. 565, quoted in “Chronicles of London Bridge.’ # Skelton.