Saturday 11 February 2012

London dust

Most of us know of the dreadful fogs that afflicted Victorian London, but the summer months brought a different atmosphere - 'dust'.

The coltsfoot, which is really the first flower of Spring, was all aglow along the railway banks,: and even in the waste spaces around the city, unmolested by our southern folk, who are not as familiar as more northern races with the rare virtues of this humble plant. There was no sound of the cuckoo, of course; but the fair skies, the warm air, the bright sunlight seemed to tell all the world that summer was a-coming in; and the happy- hearted Londoner started from Hampstead, or Hammersmith, or Highbury, or Clapham, with the determination that he would have a capital "breather" before getting into his office, or counting-house, or  chambers for the day. But very soon, indeed, a change came over the spirit of that pleasant dream. He had forgotten the vestries, or rather the contractors over whom the vestries are supposed to keep diligent watch. He began to get unpleasant whiffs of gritty material as the west wind came swooping along narrow lanes and over broad thoroughfares. His eyes began to smart. There was an unpleasant sensation about his teeth. Then the further he got into town the severer became his penance, until, it may be, the unhappy wretch had to cross one of the Thames bridges. Now the condition of a Thames bridge, on such a day as yesterday, is a thing that must be written about gently, so as not to provoke unnecessary wrath. The winds seem to have a merry time of it when they got clear of the streets, and play cantrips over the open apace above the stream ; and they come charged, as the awful river spirit did in "Undine," with : an element which they love to shower upon the luckless mortals whom they meet, only that it is dust and not water that they bring. If any modern Fuseli wanted to study the various phases of human. anger he could not do better than stand on London Bridge or Westminster Bridge on a windy day in March, just after the first fine weather has dried up the long-standing mud of adjacent thoroughfares. There are people who yield to the coffee-coloured sirocco, and turn their backs to let the worst go by; there are others who will not yield to compromise, but, urge on their wild career with head bent down, teeth clenched, and temper indescribable. At such a time the opinions that are formed, rather than expressed, of our system of London government are far too dreadful to be put into words. Dust, it is true, is not unknown in the City; but there it is seldom so. cloud-compelling as it is-in parts of Oxford-street, Parliament-street, or the Mall in St. James's Park. The City authorities do pay some attention to the cleansing of the thorough- fares (and they are aided by the prevalence of the new sorts of paving), while in dry weather the water-carts are kept busy. But can it be said that any real supervision is exercised over the outer municipal districts of London as regards the state of the streets? Attention has just been called to the condition of the foot-way and carriage-way fronting Buckingham Palace. During wet weather, it is not too much to say, this space of ground is in a state of mud such as could scarcely be found in any other of our great cities, such, as Manchester, Glasgow, or Edinburgh. Naturally, when the dry and windy weather comes in, this mud becomes pounded into dust, and is thrown about in all directions, to the infinite discomfort of the passers-by.
Daily News, 10 March 1875

The dust was, of course, for the most part, dried horse dung.

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