Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
flowers of the ragwort and light parachutes detach themselves from the willowherb and
commence their invasion of Deptford backyards.
It was at Deptford that I once saw one of the most interesting of the remaining street
entertainments of London - a pearly suited pair, presumably man and wife, doing a sort
of clog dance in the street to the accompaniment of a concertina. Such entertainments are
worth watching in present-day London, for they are disappearing rapidly. This is unfor-
tunate, for those who get their living off the streets are essential to character and interest.
With them, we might group such vestigial remains of old customs and games as are still
carried on by children, handed down in some mysterious manner. I do not mean, of course,
such street games as marbles, hopscotch, or knucklebones which, although ancient (par-
ticularly knucklebones), are more well known and still, to a certain extent, played. I mean
such curious London survivals as 'Remember the Grotto' which I once had the luck to see
in the East End - Bermondsey, I think. The grotto is, or was, a pile of shells, oyster shells
in Victorian London when this delicacy was so cheap, together with a few leaves and bits
of coloured glass heaped up to form a sort of arbour, with a candle inside. 'A Penny to see
the Grotto' was a familiar sound in London streets up to the turn of the century. Quite pos-
sibly the grotto had originally some religious significance. Whip tops can still be bought in
little shops in the East End, though the game seems to be in a decline, and hoops have all
but disappeared, but street games involving chants (also mysteriously handed down from
one generation to another) are still popular. When I lived in Rotherhithe, the local kids
used to play an ancient ring game to these words:
The good ship sails from the alley alley O
The alley alley O, the alley alley O
The good ship sails from the alley alley O
On the twentieth of September.
Curiously enough, this folk chant survives in Ireland, though there the ship is a 'big ship'
which sails through not from the alley and the date is the fourteenth of December. I
wondered if the song originated in Rotherhithe and referred to the Mayflower , which was
built there; if so, a slight inaccuracy had crept in as to dates, for the Mayflower , after leav-
ing the Rotherhithe Yards, left Plymouth on 6 September 1620.
Most of these pleasures have to be searched for, though they make rewarding discov-
eries. As regards street vendors, I think my most pleasing encounter was the old woman
selling lavender whom I once saw in Holborn - a Phil May figure with basket and apron.
Lavender sellers are now very rare, having gone like the muffin men previously mentioned
and sellers of ginger beer and hot pies. But Cruikshank recorded a picturesque aspect of
London life in the shape of the seller of pot plants from a cart pulled by a donkey. These
men of the costermongering class used to ply their trade round the better-class neighbour-
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