Nostalgia for times I never knew: Edwardian London

Lordship Lane

Lordship Lane

Considering yesterday how I’m for some reason immersing myself in sixteenth/seventeenth century London leads me to reflect how nostalgic I can get for places and times I’ve never been to or been in. I never think wistfully back to my days as a dungaree-clad toddler in the 1980s Hampshire countryside,  and I certainly don’t look fondly on the Britpop years: but then why would I? I was there, I can remember it with all its ups and downs.

No, I tend to go down the route of being dewy-eyed for period of time I’ve never known, well out beyond the realms of possibility. Most recently I’ve been reading up on my local history, and you know when looked good? The late Victorian, Edwardian years.

My house was built c.1905 – its first occupants, as far as we can tell, were the Page family, he an electric tram conductor born in Clerkenwell. It must have been great: a smart uniform, most likely with shiny buttons and a peaked cap; a stroll to walk in the Wood Green garage past the overflowing storefronts of Lordship Lane and Jolly Butchers Hill.

If I was Henry Page I could don my uniform before leaving my house then set off, cap under arm, trilby hat (or similar) on the head. I could doff it to the local ladies, rub the heads of the passing young scamps playing with their hoops and balls. On Lordship Lane, I’d pass shops with proud shopkeepers, and I’d nod to the newsagent, the butcher, the cobbler et al, beaming at me from behind big, well-stocked windows, wearing aprons and with shop boys running errands.

I’d walk to work feeling on top of the world because I am: not only have I a wonderful family but I’m British, and in 1905 there’s nothing better to be than a proud Brit. Close to its grandest, the British Empire spanned continents and ruled over millions of lives with, as I understand it, magnaminity and teaching British virtue.

Of course, I’d walk jauntily, unaware (or perhaps unthinking) of the stench of poverty close at hand (William Booth published In Darkest England & The Way Out in 1890, together with Charles Booth’s extensive surveys of the poverty and character of late Victorian London, it pulled a whole, vast, mostly-ignored subsection of city life into sharp focus for those in the more prosperous suburbs). I’d know nothing of the concentration camps of the Boer war or the suppression of entire races by the occupying British forces, but what would I care? On my tram, conveying the proud residents of London to their places of work, I’d be happy as larry, especially if I got to wear a hat.

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