Going to Work in London;13 August 1913

In this historical blog I’ve decided to write about the day-to-day lives of a couple of my ancestors who have left records of various aspects of their working lives in Edwardian and Victorian times.  Today’s offering is an account written by my grandfather, Charlie Payne, about his journey to work in London. At that time he was employed as a clerk by the music publishers Joseph Williams, based at 32 Great Portland Street, London.  Charlie, who had been born in Westminster, was 29 years old and married with 2 children. He was a grandson of the subject of my recent book ‘The Chieftain’, Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard.

Going to Work”

Charlie Payne, 1913

“I live at Tooting, and the place where I earn my daily bread is situated near Oxford Circus.  That is the worst of this vast London of ours, – it takes such a long time to get to and from one’s work.  If the weather is bad, this travelling is to say the least of it irksome and expensive, but on a bright summer’s morning and provided you have allowed plenty of time the journey to work may be made pleasant and interesting.

This morning, for instance, I boarded a workman’s car at Tooting Broadway soon after 7 a.m. and forty minutes later found myself at Victoria Station.  It is a beautiful morning as I join the crowds hurrying along the Buckingham Palace Road.  Hundreds of workgirls, for the most part smartly and neatly dressed with a sprinkling of male clerks not quite so well attired, diminutive office boys, etc.  But I myself am in no hurry as I am not due at work until 9-15 a.m.  Therefore, I leave the crowd to make its way through the Green Park into Piccadilly and Bond Street, and turning into St.  James’s Park, looking gloriously green and fresh this lovely morning, although it is the middle of August.  Turning to the left after entering the Park I pass the Boat-house and seat myself opposite the lake to smoke a pipe and to read the newspaper.  And sitting there in the cool shade, watching the ducks at their morning toilets and play, and a black swan who angrily chases away a meddlesome young gosling who dares to approach too near, scenes of my early boyhood arise before my eyes, and it seems as if it were only yesterday that I sat on this selfsame seat with a well-loved brother (alas! no longer with me for we lived in Westminster then and played in this grand old Park) to discuss the doing of our hour of leisure.  The cry of a water-hen rouses me from my reverie, and by this time there is a stream of well-dressed, sleek-looking Government clerks making their way from Victoria to the Admiralty, War Office, and other Government Departments.  There is no mistaking them, they look so prosperous and show no trace of the slightest worry.  So I get on over the quaint low bridge and linger for a while gazing into the clear fresh water below, and at the group of Government Buildings & the Horse Guards seen through the trees, which visitors to our great City have often referred to as being one of its finest sights.  And so into the Mall,

The Mall, late Victorian times

which with its so-called improvements is not nearly so picturesque as it was about 18 years ago when it was an avenue of noble trees whose branches met overhead forming a mass of foliage in summer through which the morning sun glinted reminding one of a walk in some Surrey wood. Now, alas! All this is changed; Gone are a great number of the noble trees, the old milk and sweet stalls with the two solitary cows; and so through the Square of the historic Palace of St. James’s, somewhat smoke-begrimed it is true, but to me full of memories of grand marches with the Bandsmen of the Foot Guards from Wellington Barracks.  Up the hill in St.  James’s Street, and then through Bond Street (not at this hour seen at its best), and then the end of my journey (Oxford Circus) is reached about 9-15.

Oxford Circus early 1900s

These two early morning hours spent in the open air seem “to open one’s chest” and to enable one to get through a hard day’s work in an office in much better style not to mention the savings in fares (2d instead of 5d).  Besides all this it is much better for the health and nerves than always being like the great majority of Clerks (myself included) behind time.  But in cold and inclement weather of course these “rambles” are impossible.”

I wonder what Charlie would have made of the Olympic Beach Volley Ball at Horseguards Parade if he had been writing today!

More details of Charlie’s life and times will feature in my next book which has the working title ‘Charlie’s War’ and will concentrate on his military service during the First World War.



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2 Responses to Going to Work in London;13 August 1913

  1. George Thorburn says:

    It really brings home a London of yesteryear. I know the parks well as they were part of my domain at Glendale and I can just imagine him walking through the streets then without any traffic except the odd horse cab.

    Very descriptive and thought provoking.

  2. admin says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, George. It was an individual piece rather than a diary entry, so I have wondered why he sat down and wrote it. However, I knew that he used to read the popular magazine ‘Titbits’ which often included articles by readers, so he may have written it with a view to its possible publication. By the way, the brother that he refers to was Edward Arthur Payne, who died from heart failure in 1896 aged 14. Charlie (2 years younger) was clearly very fond of him as he eventually named his first son ‘Edward Arthur’.

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