Tales from London

So I’ve decided to cheat a little bit and repost an entry from one of my other blogs. I’ve been extremely busy lately, and thus unable to update my blog as often as I’d like. I’ve recently been hired by a mortgage company, and the starting date is Monday. Hooray for employment! In any case, this was a blog I wrote while I was in London. Enjoy!

Written Feb. 17th, 2012 in London, England

Hey everyone! Today I’m going to write about something a little different. Instead of detailing what I’ve been up to, I’m going to blog about something I’ve learned.

I’ll go over what I’ve been doing briefly. I’ve spent the majority of my time studying for school, of course. This term seems to be going by so much faster than the last one! I’m already almost halfway through! This next week is Reading Week, which means that I won’t have classes. I’ve only had two outings these past few weeks that are of interest. I went with my friend Raney to see “The Importance of Being Ernest” at the Royal Haymarket Theatre. It was an amusing play — most Oscar Wilde plays are. The director made some interesting staging choices, combining a modern set design with Victorian costumes. I also went with my friend Esmond to a place called Merton Abbey Mills, a very small and extremely old market town on the outskirts of London. There is an old building, formerly a water mill, situated on the banks of a small river. Its old water wheel is still intact, and spins flawlessly! It is now used as a pottery store, and the plain wood interior (complete with noisy spinning water wheel) is very quaint. Esmond and I had lunch at a rustic cafe, strolled passed the unique little shops, walked across the river to observe the animals at a local farm, and then had drinks at the local pub, which is also right next to the river. I had a lot of fun!

This afternoon I decided to explore the South Bank of the Thames. I already live on the South Bank, but I’ve spent the majority of my time exploring the North Bank of the Thames. The North Bank is where my school is located, as well as many of London’s most well-known monuments (St. Paul’s, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc.) It turns out that the South Bank has many interesting place to explore that I had never even noticed before. There are many shops – some of them tiny art galleries – and restaurants. There is a weekend carnival that has multi-colored children’s rides and carousels located directly underneath the London Eye. There is a cool concrete area, completely covered in graffiti, that young boys use to skateboard. There is also a small book fair where they sell used books. It is here that I made a very interesting discovery. While rummaging through the piles of books, I came across a section that had some vintage collections. And when I say vintage, I mean very old books, published more than one hundred years ago. I found a book full of old journal articles called the “Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal,” which had originally been published in 1853. It smelled musty and had yellowing pages, but the black cover and spine were still surprisingly strong, so I bought it. It was only £10 – a deal you could only find in Europe, where hundred-year-old antiques are commonplace. I wanted to learn more about the book I had just bought, so I did some research. Here’s what I found out:

The Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal was founded by brothers William and Robert Chambers in 1832. It’s basically an old newspaper/magazine that was originally published in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then later moved to publish in London. The journal ended up lasting for over one hundred years, from 1832 to 1956. Much like newspapers today, the Edinburgh Journals were published on a weekly basis — every Saturday, to be exact — and would probably have been purchased at a newsstand or stall. Each journal is sixteen pages long and contains an eclectic mix of articles — art reviews, book reviews, moral essays, travel writing, popular science, short stories, and poetry. There is even an index at the beginning of the book that lists all the articles by subject. If I had to give the modern equivalent, I would say that the Edinburgh Journals is a cross between a newspaper and a magazine, as it provides both entertainment and information for its readers. The book I bought contains all the journals that were published from July to December of 1852. The pages are yellow and the binding is a bit ratty, but it is otherwise in fantastic condition and is very easy to read. I love history and literature, so I am ecstatic about my new purchase! I’ve already starting reading the first journal (published Saturday, July 3, 1852). The first article is a review of several art galleries in London, and the review is called “The Art Season”. You can imagine my surprise when I happened to read the title of the second article: “Bill Williams: A Story of California.” How awesome is that! This was a piece of travel writing about a group of men from Manchester who sailed to California in search of gold. They at first landed in San Francisco, then sailed down to Sacramento, where they were planning on digging for gold. Among other things, it gives a description of what Sacramento looked like in 1852:

“…at length, we reached the new town, the golden city, which takes its name from the river, christened in old times of Spanish voyaging by some discoverer for his Catholic majesty…When I first saw it, it consisted of some hundred huts and tents, a large frame-house, in which an advertising board informed us there was an ordinary, a gaming-table, and all manner of spirits. And there was a timber wharf, somewhat temporarily put together, at which we landed. Yet the city was rising, as cities rise only in the western hemisphere: broad streets and squares were marked out; building was going forward on all sides; while bullock-wagons, canoes, and steamers brought materials by land and water. The enterprise and vagrancy of all nations were there, as we had seen them at San Francisco; and those not engaged in building the town, were going off in caravans to the gold-gathering.”  

Isn’t that amazing! I’m so glad that I bought this journal. It’s incredibly fascinating. The book has “Volume 18″ written on the cover, which means that it is only one in a whole series of Edinburgh Journals. I wonder if all the journals (1832-1956) are still around? If so, I’m very tempted to start collecting them. In fact, it makes me want to collect lots of old periodicals. The improvement of print technology in the 18th and 19th Centuries created an explosion of publications, of which the Edinburgh Journals would have only been one.  In any case, the volume I have is a piece of history – an ancestor to modern newspapers and magazines. I’m absolutely delighted with it, and I can’t wait to read more!