Thursday, September 22 – 1910
There’s nothing like a railway station for making a street famous. Quite a little multitude of proofs, from all over the country, will mob you at the mere mention of the fact. Our Lime-street is a formidable illustration. One-half the trams you meet, as you walk the city streets, have Lime-street on them. Why Lime-street?
No, its distinguished name has no relation to lime juice or the citron they squeeze the cooling beverage from. Nor does it derives it from a one-time or any time grove of lime trees, or linden trees, as they are sometimes called. The street didn’t get its name from anything botanical; the fact is, it got it from a mineral, lime, the oxide the builder uses so much of.
The first commercial vandal to smudge and blight the pastoral face of the daisied fields that carpeted the earth just over a century ago where Lime-street now stands was a lime-burner.
The authorities soon discovered he and his kilns were a nuisance, burning in such central spot, so they turned him out. He migrated north; the place that knew him – the new place – was called after him. Limekiln-lane. He left there long ago; he left his name behind him in both places; they kept that if they wouldn’t keep him.
What made the street famous, however, and took it out of the ordinary or garden commonplace among streets, put its name on the tramcars, and made it a household word to the ends of the earth (a small place now, when you can communicate through the air and under the sea with anywhere in a few minutes). I say what made it famous was the eventful coming of the railway and the selection of Lime-street for the location of its principal passenger station by the first big railway company, the London and Northwestern.
Lime-street is now famous for wind and steam. The steam is in the station, the wind outside in the Bay of Biscay, as the man in the street calls its big open space that is dignified by the finest architecture in the city.
The palatial hotel that fronts the station now is colossal, yet delicate and prettily symmetrical, in its architectural detail. The old station front, that I remember well, was commanding in its dignity, with its massive row of twenty huge fluted pillars.
Travelling by the old stage coaches has been idealised by the writers of the steam age, particularly in works of fiction. The hard roads, the hedgerows, the open landscape, the Sam Weller driver, the post-boy, the blowing of his horn, the clattering of the horses’ hoofs, the swishing of the whip, the roadside inn, the frenzied salutations of the children in the gardens of the cottages on the road have all been exploited over and over again.
As a lover of the primitive, of old times, and old things, I hope they’ll keep on idealising, for toys for our imaginations to play with are not too plentiful; they cheer and divert existence, and are antidotes to melancholy. But up our sleeves, for from our minds, thinkers can’t conceal the fact that under the rose there were some painful prickly briars.
If we were given the option now, I wonder how many of us would travel to London in a stage-coach which took three days to do the journey and rocked and jolted all the way. Inside you were nearly smothered, outside perished, and in mortal fear every minute of being thrown into a ditch.
The physical sufferings of our ancestors in wet and cold weather, in a 24, 48, or 80 hours’ journey, must have been excruciating, and many lives shortened by it. If one of the old bucks could board a train at Lime-street, find himself in a saloon, dining, or lounge, with corridors to walk in, warmed to a normal temperature in cold weather, and gleaming with a white, bright light; if he could sit down and eat a several course dinner, quaff his wine, and fancy he was in the dining-room of his club, what would he say, think you?
It is easy to imagine
“Zounds! Bon, my boy, this is all right, by my faith; better than being choked with dust or pelted with rain, eh? Lord! Look, Bob, at the rain outside, it’s coming down in sheets, and how snug we are here. Gad, sir, what we had to put up with in the old days Old England was a Siberia to travellers then to what it is now.”
“Egad, thou’rt right, Jack; only to think of it, we shall get to London in three hours instead of three days. Odds, comfort and light, the folk of these days don’t know the velvet they tread on; of we’d dreamt of the good thing in store for them, and realised the dog’s life we led by comparison, we’d have been born later, wouldn’t we? Ha, ha!”
Coaches are run still by members of the four-in-hand club, a millionaire runs a coach from London to Brighton for the sport of the thing, and here and there about the country a coach is to be found in which to ride and realise the travelling mode of our forefathers.
The railway station is an excellent observatory for the contemplation of the infinite variety in the human species. All sorts and conditions jostle. Figures in black, with agony and sorrow in their faces; figures in white and gay colours, with radiant faces, on which the sun of happiness is shining, that are living in a garden of roses, and think not (why should they?” of the ditches near, into which it may be their fate to tumble later on.
Bustle and excitement are the top notes in the scrambles. The arrivals and departures, the crisis. Heigho! a whistle, the waving of a flag, a waving of hands and handkerchiefs, a puff-puff, and off they go. The recurring tension is over for a few minutes until the next train starts. The friends who have seen the travellers off walk leisurely down the platform; the commercial who has done a good deal, smiling with satisfaction; wives, mothers, sons, and daughters who have parted with a light of their lives, a tributary (perhaps the main one) of their happiness, cover their quivering faces and wipe away the falling tears caused by the wrench, and the dismal forebodings that whisper fearful possibilities about the lost awhile.
I wouldn’t wonder if, while you’ve been reading my crusted reflections about Lime-street, you’ve asked yourself, “What’s taken the old chap there?” He gets into some queer places, and we never know where he’s going to bob up.” There is a cause, my good souls. I will reveal it, as there will be a consequence. The personal note is said to be the most effective in literature, so an eminent essayist has said.
I fell into it accidentally at the start of my weekly gossip, and have stuck to it. I was glad to find after many days (again by accident) that a recognised, respectable authority highly commended it. Like the Bandelero, I thought I was an outlaw, but it seems I’m not. Here I interpolate one of my periodic confessions. In her best room Phyllis has some pretty decorative objects, placatory offerings collected by her provoking husband. The ware and metal work of the wonderful Japs are represented by some pretty specimen from Kaga, Awata, Satsuma, and Imari.
Phyllis spends a deal of time in dusting them and me. She is fond of us, that’s why she dusts us. As soon as I saw there was to be a Jap Exhibition in London this year, I said: “Old gal, you shall see it; I will take you. You like London, you never tire of rhapsodising about our flying visits years ago. Thrifty chum, thou goest, I go, I go with thee.”
I write this the day before we go; both the elderly children and in high glee. Of course, I’ll have to tell you all about it when I come back, and, of course, we from Lime-street, so there you are.
(Liverpool Evening Express, 22-09-1910)