Saturday, November 17, 2018

DAY 66: Victorian London

Big Ben through the London Fog
London in the 1880s was a modern capital, compared to the city Queen Victoria knew when she ascended the throne in 1838. Her late husband, Albert, was a scientist and modernist who spearheaded profound changes to London's infrastructure, the most important being the creation of the paved Embankment along the Thames and simultaneously, the massive modern sewer system that replaced the medieval cesspools that had lurked beneath the ancient houses of London for centuries. Albert understood that the cesspools fouled the water of London, leading to diseases such as typhus and cholera spread through waterborne bacteria. He engineered the submergence of London's ancient streams and rivers to a vast underground pipe system that collected waste, and poured it into pumping stations that eventually carried it out to sea, far from the teeming metropolis.

Construction of the Underground

1880s London slum
Albert simultaneously oversaw the construction of the London Underground Railway, the Tube we take for granted now as an essential feature of British life. The city during his time must have been a vast open construction site. 

Both the sewer system and the Underground were ridiculed as dangerous follies by Albert's political opponents. His final, uncompleted hope was for the destruction of London's slums, to be replaced with enlightened tenement housing; he died before that project was fully realized.  

Regent Street and the Carriage Trade

Although Jennie lived in a city that offered gorgeous avenues like Regent Street, her husband Randolph spent his time at the Carlton Club in Pall Mall, and they traveled in steamships around the world, history jostled the modern all over London. It remained old-fashioned through the final decades of Victoria's rule: gas lighting only slowly gave way two decades after Albert's death to electric light, and the use of soft brown coal for fires made the city's air impenetrable with smog. Denizens of London nicknamed the city "The Smoke" as a result. 
Gentlemen's Clubs in St. James Street, Pall Mall

This image of the London docks from the 1880s is startling--it might be from a hundred years earlier.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.