Today’s blog, about an Edwardian-era journey from Paris to London, once more involves the travels of my grandfather Charlie Payne (see for example his night-time rovings in Genoa).
Charlie left England in March 1907 to work at the Genoa office of the American Express Company. However, by August 1907, he and the Company had fallen out, for reasons that he did not divulge to his diary, leaving him without a job. After trying to obtain another position in Italy, without success, and now running out of money, he headed for Paris and for a meeting with senior American Express staff to complain about his treatment. Once again he did not expand on the details in his diary. However, he finally decided to accept their settlement offer – payment of his return ticket to the UK. Having planned to stay in Paris for a few days, the lodgings in which he was staying did not meet his expectations, as he informs us in his diary:…..”I arrived about midnight. I was thoroughly tired and just going to sleep when I made to me the alarming discovery that there were mice in the room. They kept me awake for some time but at last I fell asleep.” His decision to return to the UK, and to his sweetheart Ida, was suddenly brought forward!
“Thursday 19 September 1907: Grand afternoon, so after lunch walked to the Bois de Boulogne (very similar to Hyde Park), also visited the Trocadero, where are some famous old ruins of architecture etc. Sat smoking and watching the fashionable crowd that frequent the Bois de Boulogne until dusk, when I returned to dinner at the Hotel de L’Unione Nationale. During dinner I decided I would not spend another night with the mice and, so as to be on the spot to catch the train in the morning (it leaves at 10-30 a.m.), I decided to get to my room and fetch the luggage to the Hotel which is right opposite the St Lazare Station.
Arriving at my humble abode, I made the excuse that I had met a friend and was going to his hotel for the night. My hostess seemed rather surprised, as well she might be, seeing it was 11 o’clock at night. However, I settled my bill and had a glass of good brandy; got the porter to get my box and hire a cab and soon I was comfortably seated in a rather shake-down kind of a cab with an equally venerable old “growler”. It was a fine night and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride through Paris. It was rather slow work, but I did not mind as it enabled me better to look at the buildings and I passed several including the Palais Royale. The streets were well lighted and thronged with people even at that late hour.
Well, all went well until near my destination when my cabby evidently lost his way and got a bit excited. I was unable to make him understand altho’ I knew the way, so I gave up trying, lit a cigarette and sat back in the seat waiting for “something to turn up”, which did in the shape of a girl who spoke a little English. She directed cabby and I thanked her and I eventually arrived at the Hotel de L’Unione Nationale about 12 o’clock. After a supper of cold meat, cheese and wine I retired to my room and spent a very comfortable night undisturbed by mice or dreams, but longing for the morning when I should start the last piece before reaching home and Ida.
Friday 20 September 1907: Awoke at 6 to find it a lovely sunny morning. I felt very happy and was soon shaved and dressed. After a breakfast of coffee, rolls and butter I went for a last look round the streets. I bought a red rose first of all and then watched first of all the workmen and factory girls on their way to work and later the clerks and business men. It was very much like London, only the people seemed to me more lively and happy. I suppose the French are a trifle gayer than the English.
At 9-30 I returned to the hotel, settled up and got the porter to carry my box to the train. I secured a comfortable corner seat and soon after 10 o’clock we steamed out of St Lazare Station and soon left Paris in the rear. The train travelled very well and the country was looking at its best. The windings of the River Seine are very beautiful. The first and only stop was at Rouen for about 20 mins. So I did not have time to visit the famous cathedral there, but I saw it well from the Platform.
Soon after noon we steamed into Dieppe. I was so much struck with its quaintness that I determined to thoroughly explore it, so I sent my luggage on board and decided to cross myself by the night boat. It was very windy and the water was rough. I walked to the Pier Head and watched the day boat go out, and I felt very happy that in a few short hours I should again be in Dear Old London.
There was not much to see in Dieppe after 2 fine old churches, arches, etc., but there was a certain quaintness about its streets and people which I liked. The people are generally fisher folk and rather simple and poor but very nice. There are some good hotels along the front and a Casino – the latter was not open however. I climbed to the top of the cliffs and strained my eyes to see if I could catch a glimpse of England but it was hazy and therefore impossible. Well, I walked about till about 7 o’clock, when I decided to dine at the Henri IV Restaurant where I had a swell 4-course dinner and to celebrate the occasion I called for a bottle of the best wine and sat smoking drinking and thinking till about 8 o’clock.Falling into conversation with a young Englishman who was returning that night with his Guv’nor’s Motor Car, we decided to spend the evening together. Also met a German and we all three repaired to a kind of Café Chantant where we spent a very jolly time. At midnight we left our German friend, climbed on board another boat to see the Motor Car and then got on board the ‘Sussex’. The night was fine and the sea moderate as we sailed out of Dieppe about 1 a.m. My friend went down to sleep, but I remained smoking cigars (which I bought at a shop in Dieppe) until the lights of Dieppe faded away and we ran into a fog. Things were rather uncomfortable now so we went down below for a time; but what with a pack of dirty Italians etc. on board it was rather stuffy so that I returned on deck and remained chatting with one of the sailors until it began to get light and soon after I caught my first glimpse of England – Beachy Head showing through the fog. The dawn was very sickly and foggy so much so that we could distinctly hear the Newhaven fog horn. Beachy Head loomed larger and larger, people came up from below, and about 6 o’clock we steamed into Newhaven. Home again after 7 months absence. I was soon off the boat, through the Customs and in the train. Said good-bye to my friend the Chauffeur as he was not coming on to London. Soon we were whirling along at 50 miles an hour towards London and I must say I felt supremely happy. The weather cleared and the sun came out. At Croydon we stopped for a few minutes, caught a sight of Balham High Road and then Victoria. Ida was there to meet me. I caught my first glimpse of her as the carriage passed the top of the platform, before she saw me. We were soon talking to each other and in my happiness I forgot I was one of the Unemployed. She looked fine but a trifle thinner I thought but what a loving kiss she gave me and how pleased she was to have me back.”
Charlie and Ida got married at Tooting Parish Church on 18 April 1909. Charlie’s next visit to France was in a more official capacity. On 2 August 1917 he arrived as a Private in the British Expeditionary Force and was transferred into the 2/5th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment with whom he served on the Western Front during the remainder of the First World War. On that prolonged visit he had more to worry about than mice, as will be revealed in the next book that I am writing, which has the working title, “Charlie’s War“.