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The New York Times, April 11, 1897:|
SAFELY HOUSED IN LONDONImpressions of an American
on His First Trip to Great Britain's Capital
Customs Inspectors and the Ubiquitous Porters
LONDON, April 2.--To steam through the English Channel from the Scilly Islands eastward along the coast and through the Straits of Dover into the Thames is a strong reminder of seeing a Shakespearean play for the first time. Scenes long familiar in print come to the front at every turn, though at a conservative English distance...
Slowly the familiar places appear, all partly enveloped in a haze that is not called a fog here, only "a trifle thick." The English pilot is on board and in charge of the bridge, and we have some late English papers. We are in the world again, after a separation of more than two weeks, and it is consoling to learn that the storms have made every transatlantic steamer late, even the great ocean liners... Here is Portland Point looming up, then St. Alban's Head, then the Isle of Wight, with its tall Catherine's Hills.
...By next morning our course was a progress through one of Clark Russell's works. It was surprising to see how thoroughly he and his kind have "worked up" the English coast. Brighton, Beachy Head, Hastings, and by that time we were entering the Straits of Dover, with the Downs just in front of us, and South Foreland and North Foreland close by, and the French coast, in the neighborhood of Boulogne, a dim line far to the eastward...
By afternoon of that day, the sixteenth from New York, we were in the Thames, and the river was gradually narrowing, and we began to see the real soil of England, some of it in tilled fields, some covered with the greenest of grass...
A Run Up the Thames.
Now for landing arrangements. Passengers are busy packing, and the stewards become so extra attentive that there can be no doubt of the approaching end of the voyage. Up come the big trunks from the hold. We are really in England, but we do not know yet just what part of England is first to be honored by our presence. Our normal landing place is the Albert Dock, in London, but this delay may make a difference, and even the Captain cannot tell where he is to land his passengers, biped or quadruped, till he gets orders from the shore.
What is the Thames between London and the sea even an experienced English traveler may easily ask; for Americans go up the Thames in Summer, but seldom go far down it. Well, there is not much inducement for going down the Thames beyond the precincts of the city. Broad, almost as broad as our New York Bay, it soon narrows into a stream smaller than the East River, running through an utterly flat country, marshy in spots, but well tilled whenever dry enough. Few dwelling houses are in sight; scarcely any, in fact; an indication, perhaps, of the unhealthiness of the marshes.
This town on the left is Gravesend; on the right is Tilbury, a much smaller place, consisting principally of a fort--one of the defenses of London. We appreciate the fact that we must learn to say right and left again, it will not do to be saying port and starboard on shore. Here, between the two towns, the ship slows down, down, till at length she comes to a stop--the first full stop since she left New York Bay.
Customs Inspectors and Porters.
And here are our friends come to meet us, in a strange-shaped tug with the British jack flying at the stern. The motion is not quite stopped before the tug steams alongside, and our friends swarm up the rope ladder we lower for them. They are the faithful ones! Let us land in any civilized port in the world, and they are sure to be on hand to welcome us. They would feel disgraced if they were to let us land without proper attention. On this occasion they wear blue uniforms with brass buttons, and the importance of their work is duly depicted in their faces. One, two, ten, twelve, fifteen of these Custom House officers to look after our twenty passengers! We are fairly captured.
"You'll not have a bit of trouble," one of the ship's officers said to me. "They are always very accommodating. Liquor and tobacco are the only things they pay much attention to. They look imposing, but they are not dangerous."
When the actual handling of baggage began it proved that the entier London Customs House had not been sent out to watch for our ship. Only about half of the men were inspectors, the remainder being porters in uniform, anxious to earn the nimble sixpence by carrying trunks. My satchel and my single trunk having been placed in an imposing heap, I fell in due course into the hands of the British customs service.
"Have you any liquors or tobacco?" asked the inspector.
"No liquors," said I, "and a broken pound package of smoking tobacco."
He opened the satchel, (instead of inviting me to open it, as our American custom is,) and a rare collection of curiousities he immediately came upon. A tempestuous voyage of sixteen days is not conducive to neatness in the satchel of a gentleman traveling alone. Pipes hobnobbed with soiled collars, and razors with felt slippers. I was frightened myself when I saw the terrible confusion, but the Inspector did not seem to mind. He shut the satchel up again, and gave it an artistic mark with blue chalk, and without opening the trunk, put the same mark upon that also.
Naturally, I know by this time that the word "satchel" is a barbarism; that the true name of that thing which shuts with a snap and is always in confusion is "portmanteau," or "valise." But, up to this point, I am writing as if I knew no more about the proprieties than when I left New York. Presently I shall try to explain to my benighted countrymen that a trunk is not a trunk but a "box." We learn many little refinements over here.
On Shore at Tilbury.
"I'll carry your luggage down, Sir," said one of the porters, touching his cap so politely that I thought he must have mistaken me for one of the royal family. "I'll hattend to it, Sir."
Very good, but where was he to carry it down to? The revenue tug had gone on, and nothing had taken its place. But another tug was coming alongside, and in a few moments a man out of uniform climbed aboard and had a brief conversation with the Captain. This man was connected with the line, and the news soon spread that we were to be landed immediately at Tilbury, and taken up by train to London--about twenty-five miles.
Down went the anchor that had been at rest since we left New York Bay sixteen days before, and presently along came another vessel that was not a tug, and that in our waters would hardly be called a steamboat. There was plenty of room on the open deck, and a companion-way far aft was said to lead to a little cabin, but nobody ventured down there, the weather being pleasant and the sight of land good for sea-worn eyes.
There was hardly time to wonder why they kept the pilot in an open cockpit forward instead of in a pilothouse before we were landed at Tilbury, just across the river, every passenger having been provided with a first-class ticket for Fenchchurch Street Station, London.
Then my uniformed porter came out strong. Up went the trunk upon his shoulder, up he took the satchel, and away we went down a long shed to the station and throught the gates to the train shed, where the train stood waiting.
"I'll put the trunk in the luggage van, Sir," said the porter, "and the portmanteau in the compartment with you, Sir. Will you 'ave it that way, Sir?"
"Very good," said I. "Any way you like," and when he returned from the front of the train, having attended to everything, and I handed him a sixpence, my conscience smote me. I had not been in England long enough yet to let a man carry my trunk and satchel nearly a quarter of a mile for a sixpence, so I hunted up two or three big copper pennies to add to it.
"Thank you, kindly, Sir!" said the man, touching the rim of his cap, and I saw by his expression that he thought me a fool for giving him such a princely fee, though he did not stop to say so.
Off for London.
A little, shrill whistle from the engine, a banging of doors by the guards, and we were off for London, without any guards or conductors whatever on the train, as far as I could see, barring the two or three men who shut themselves up in the last compartment of the last car, which was labeled "Guards' Van." Several of our passengers from the Mobile were in my compartment.
"How do you manage about your baggage in London?" I asked one of them, a Londoner of experience. "Have you any system of baggage transfer there?"
"Oh, no," said he, (in such a tone that I know he would have liked to add: "Thank Heaven, we have no such modern innovations there!") "but it's very simple. You just hold up your finger for a porter when you get out, and tell him to get you a four-wheeler. Then he'll get your luggage and carry it down to the coach, and you're all right."
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