Friday 9 December 2011

Those places Thursday - Collins Illustrated Guide to London

This is one of my favourite books, and one of my best bargains - it cost me £4.50 more than ten years ago. It contains some good illustrations, which I always like to see, and some gems of information for the tourist in the 1890s (the book isn't dated, but from the contents I have inferred that it must have been published around then).

Descriptions of the main tourist attractions make up most of the book, but there are sections on transport, including fares, suggestions for daily itineraries, and numerous appendices. These list hotels, lodgings, restaurants, picture galleries, theatres, music halls, concert rooms, billiard rooms, chess rooms and other places of interest.

There is also a long list of public baths, and the addresses of the embassies and consulates of various foreign countries, and the rates of exchange between their currencies and the £ Sterling. A dollar was worth 4s 2d, the equivalent of nearly $5 to the £ (if only!). The dollar in question could be from the US, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Chile, Peru or the West Indies, they were all worth the same.

The frontispiece is this general view of Westminster, showing the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, but most of the illustrations inside are of individual buildings or monuments. Most of the attractions listed are still popular with visitors today, like the British Museum, Kew Gardens the National Gallery and the great cathedrals. Others have disappeared, notably the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, destroyed by fire in the 1930s, while others still exist, but no longer fulfil their original function, such as Covent Garden market and the Record Office. This last is one of two entries that may be of interest to the genealogist:

'The search rooms are open from 10 to 4, on Saturday from 10 to 2, every week-day, except Christmas-day to New Years-day inclusive, Good Friday and the following day, Easter Monday and Tuesday, Whit Monday and Tuesday, the Queen's Birthday and Coronation-day, and days appointed for public fasts and thanksgivings. Every visitor must write his name and address in a book kept for that purpose.'
The other place of interest is Somerset House:
'In Somerset House are several Government Offices, among which is the Registrar-General's department, where are recorded all the births, deaths and marriages that occur in the kingdom. These may be searched over any period not exceeding five years on payment of a fee of 1s, and a certified copy of any entry supplied for an extra fee of 2s 7d. The collection of wills has been removed hither from Doctors' Commons any one of which may be perused on payment of a fee of 1s.'
Smithfield Market


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