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  • ros connelly

Crossing the Thames by the Tower 2: Dickens and Mayhew

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

In the course of researching the locations for our literary walks, we have come across hidden stories, interesting observations, literary and geographical conundrums (some of which we are still seeking answers to) and some interesting asides to share with you.

These first blogs relate to our Dickens and the Thames walk. They also include extra information from Dickens’ novels and other writings. We are starting with stories from the East End and docklands area of our London Dickens walk.

Henry Mayhew described the same scene as that I quoted in Crossing by the Tower 1 from The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41) in ‘The Pool of London’ (The Great World of London 1857) and it’s really interesting to compare the two. While Dickens describes the barges lazily and haphazardly bumping and crunching into other craft and their oars ‘like some lumbering fish in pain’, Mayhew describes them as ‘tide-borne, floated sideways, with their long slim oars projecting from their sides like the fins of a flying fish...’ Mayhew is watching from the Custom House on the north bank between London Bridge and the Tower, and takes in the river up and downstream, across both banks, with the ‘trail of white steam’ from the railway engines over the tops of the houses, and the traffic on London Bridge. He also notices the wherries, like the one taking Quilp across the river: ‘From the neighbouring stairs boats pushed off continually, while men standing in the stern wriggled themselves along by working a scull behind, after the fashion of a fish’s tail.’ It’s a really full and very lively and vivid depiction of the scene. Dickens' and Mayhew's work is usually compared in relation to their depictions of the poor, particularly in Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, so it's great to find this companion piece to a scene they both clearly enjoyed. Penguin have handily reprinted 'The Pool of London' in Of Street Piemen in their Little Black Classics series.

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