4
CITY AND CLERK

In the mid-19th century London had hordes of clerical workers who commuted each day to the counting-houses of the City, the legal offices of Chancery Lane and the Government departments of Whitehall. Only with the coming of the railway and the suburban tram systems would people of this sort be able to live long distances from their place of work. Prior to that their homes would, of necessity, be within an hour’s walk or drive. The wealthy would travel to work in their own vehicles; the well-off would take an omnibus, perhaps perching back-to-back on the rooftop seats of a ‘knife board’. The remainder would walk, travelling (as contemporary slang put it) by the ‘marrowbone stage’.

On six mornings a week, Monday to Saturday, streams of men would trudge in from the suburbs beyond the edge of the city, crossing fields and skirting dust-heaps, brickworks or market gardens to reach the streets of London proper. It was an entirely male procession, for only with the invention (after Dickens’ time) of the telephone and the typewriter would women be added to the urban workforce. They might stroll or saunter but most men walked with purpose, as preoccupied as commuters are today, not glancing at their surroundings, for every detail of topography was imprinted on their minds by unending repetition. They would similarly ignore those around them; the need for privacy and ‘personal space’ that foreigners still notice in Londoners was equally evident in 1835, when Dickens wrote in an article for The Morning Chronicle this vivid description of the morning rush hour:

The early clerk population of Somers and Camden Towns, Islington
and Pentonville, are fast pouring into the City, or directing their

-95-

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Inside Dickens' London
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 6
  • 1 - The Place 13
  • 2 - The People 36
  • 3 - Shops and Shopping 66
  • 4 - City and Clerk 95
  • 5 - Transport and Travel 120
  • 6 - Entertainment 148
  • 7 - The Poor 216
  • 8 - Crime and Punishment 261
  • 9 - The Respectable 296
  • Gazetteer 335
  • Chronology 339
  • Index 341
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