Hyde Park Corner, Leeds

Hotel 600

We have our Hyde Park also in the north, as in the south — in Yorkshire, as where the great Duke holds his marshal’s baton, pointing down Piccadilly, overlooking our world of tall chimneys, as the Duke sternly surveys the streams of carriages and omnibuses, of lolling rich and noble, and bustling chafferers, and ignoble ranks of the ragged. Why, there are Regent Streets in every county of England; there is a Portland Place in tumble down Sheerness — a Portland Place, it is true, of one-storied, three windowed houses, where weathercocks and figure-heads represent all the local activities. There, in the capital of Yorkshire, in thriving Leeds, which boasts the solidity of her merchants — the fineness of her woollens — the graces of her Briggate — the tall white columns of her town hall — the red-brick suburban villages, where she toils and spins, and pours out solid clouds of smoke, and feathers the scene with jets of snowy steam; in the great city by the black river, blackened by the invisible greens and indigo blues, which cockney Piccadilly sports with pomp and pride, why not a Hyde Park Corner? Competition, unrestricted, is the dear law of commercial England, by which she will rise or fall — by which it is her giant will to rise. To rise, and load her brave fleets of ships, and show the prosperous pink faces of her Saxon children amid sallow Frenchmen, swarthy Hindoos, chattering Chinamen — aye, and simple, kindly Japanese. Then why not a competition in Regent Streets, and Hyde Park Corners, in the county capitals? At least, Leeds will be forward in the matter.

We have been to the Hyde Park Corner of Yorkshire – we have lounged there — we have dined there. From Briggate went we forth: past the poetic tailor who gives a copy of his poems with every pair of Sydenham trousers purchased by his customers; past windows without number, with “Woollens” worked in their blinds; through throngs of sickly factory girls, with their gaudy shawls over their heads, in Swedish fashion; past crowds of dapper clerks, hieing home in one direction; and past Yorkshire agriculturists, sharp-eyed and broad-shouldered; through winding roads; against palings behind which houses were to be presently built — new houses with blinds in the windows, to present to us “Woollens,” “Woollens,” again, and still again. Houses building, where broadcloth shall be carried to cover backs of children still puling in their nurses’ arms; to cover backs that as yet are not covered with swaddling clothes, backs of babes whose parents have not met yet. This Leeds is to be a very vast place presently.

There are fine trees in the neighbourhood, under the graceful shades of which we have walked, that shall be presently sprawling upon the earth, to make way for new chimneys; there are larks singing above that must shortly wander hence, and find nestroom some miles off, away from the clang of hammers and the vats of active dyers. The houses now stand here and there apart upon the winding road — like isolated teeth in the mouths of babes — that shall presently find themselves packed densely by the side of new neighbours. We are marching out of the capital of Yorkshire, upon the black roads, leaving cosy villas and red-bricked houses, of pretentious but incongruous architecture, behind us. The ascent steep, but the trees are looming in the distance. Perhaps we are trudging to the very spot whence aerial Turner took his poetic view of this most practical centre of industry.

And now we burst upon a “moor;” — it was a moor. A broad, uneven, open space is before us. On our left, a white roll of steam speeds through the smoky landscape far beneath us; speeds towards London, it may be, bearing thither broadcloth for that very coat we ordered before leaving, and which we shall survey with no feigned admiration when we reach home. Let us turn off the road, even upon the patchy moor, with its coarse oases of grass, and its broad deserts of timber land between. Chimneys stretch towards the sky out of the cloudy valley around us, stretch in hundreds; some boldly unfolding fumes as black as coffin cloth, to defy any Smoke Prevention Act; others timidly emitting thin, grey feathers of carbon, in fear evidently of magisterial vigour. Hither come factory workers, to tread this mangy grass, and to taste a little pure air above the smoke of the busy valley; it may be to taste mugs of ale in the white house, which looks so uncomfortably white in the middle of the sombre moor, and standing in relief against the blurred sky.

But we are not bound for the white house; it forms no part our plan to loiter upon the damp benches that obtrude themselves upon our attention at every turn. We have made up our mind, and fortified our legs, to reach Hyde Park Corner. It is in this direction, and to the farther corner of the ragged moor, that we shall at once proceed.

We are looking about us too inquisitively not to be known as cockneys, by the streams of clerks and woollen merchants, who are also striding towards Hyde Park Corner (they live beyond, as becomes the woollen aristocracy). It is to be feared that our Cockneyism is no recommendation to us in their esteem. They are inclined to believe that we are insolently comparing their woollen capital with our universal capital. But we lift our hats to them, and assure them, on our honour, that we are grateful to them for their hard work, especially grateful when see the backs of our poorer brethren wholesomely covered by them, which, but for their skill and economy in manufacture, must have remained bare; all good men must be grateful to all ingenious and persevering workers, who have helped to give the mechanic of this present day many comforts which were beyond the reach of monarchs of the good old times.

Well, we are at our Hyde Park Corner. The corner of the moor marked by the homely hostelry, over which the familiar Red Lion swings, inviting passers-by to try the hospitality of Mr. Mould, landlord. A friend at our elbow has a partiality for Red Lions. At Red Lions, in out of-the-way places, he authoritatively assures us, you are certain to find that old-fashioned, solid, wholesome hospitality, which is refreshing to townsfolk. Cleanly sanded floors, a broad range, hams and bacon swinging overhead, thick, black rafters, diamond window panes, black-handled knives and forks, exquisite butter and milk, nut-brown ale in horns, and a fresh coloured buxom landlady’s daughter for a Hebe. There will be the stale fumes of yesterday’s smoking in the place possibly, but the air is too fresh and searching, the house too open, to leave even this faint odour intolerable. Near remarkable ruins or forests, sacred to picnics; against marvelous caverns, or healing springs; wherever, indeed, deep, natural solitudes, excursionists have set their restless feet; and where, consequently, prim new hostelries have been set up, if there be a battered Red Lion at hand, rampant or couchant, with Tom Thumb geraniums smiling through the window panes, and a miller’s horse (let us throw this in, to complete the picture) laden with sacks, and dusty with sweet smelling flour, at the door, let the artificial creature, who is sweetening the cares of the year with the freshening influences of green fields and blue skies, patronise this rural inn, as we shall most assuredly patronize Mr. Mould today, although a very fashionable and elaborately decorated hotel lifts its high, broad front, inviting us, at no great distance.

We may be served silver there, by deferential waiters in white neckcloth. Maitre de Hotel, Soubise, and Tartare, are within our grasp to tempt us hence; but we are in search of the homely, of the rough. It is by no means certain that, before we return to list the sound of Bow bells, we shall not have eaten dinner of fat bacon and black bread by the help of a clasp knife, swinging easily and cheerily upon a gate. Mr. Mould may be at rest, and set his chops to hiss and spit over his clear fire, for we shall be with him before he has cut a salad from his garden for us.

To sharpen the already fine edge of our appetite, we shall have our own little review in our Hyde Park, whereof the Red Lion is the Apsley House. The road broad enough; and the houses ! there are seven on our right, boasting five rooms each, we dare assert. Number One of our Hyde Park Corner is the residence of a greengrocer, whose window glows with ruddy rhubarb, golden oranges, relieved by the neutral tints of the Brazilian nut, dear to childhood, which we cracked in the hinges of our nursery door many, very many years since. In round baskets like gipsy hats (with the broad brim taken off; lies the pungent mustard and refreshing cress, also dear to our childhood, when we planted them in our garden (three feet by six), and dug them up on the morrow to see whether the germs had burst through the seed-shells. We may linger here, and look down the shadowy vista of the years that have gone from us, back boldly to the time when the ” Bonaparte’s ribs” in dusty bottles before us would have cheered our hearts, and contented our innocent palates, when the parliament (fashioned into brown monsters and edible castles) was more to us than Her Majesty’s Parliament, with all its gilding, its maces, black rods, and swords of state !

Confidently too, in our gingerbread parliament days, we should have confided our figure to the measurement and skill of the little tailor, next door to the greengrocer. His fly-blown fashions, his little dusty window, would have contented our judgment: so that he had given buttons for our straps, he might have wandered at his own wild will into any cut that caught his fancy. What cared we about the crease across our jacket, the pockets in front were capacious enough for our conqueror peg top, and our polished agate marbles? We pass the tailor’s next door neighbour, the pale staymaker; yonder crippled boy, hopping awkwardly in the mud, may possibly look with the wistful expression of the deformed, into this window, with its steel and whalebone citadels, wherein women are tortured and imprisoned by the vulgar tyrant Fashion. The child might bring a charge of assault and maiming against the builders of these whalebone citadels, with better reason than the careless will see at once.

And here is our Hyde Park post-office — not much larger than a Punch and Judy show — and we are at the end of Hyde Park Corner. Two or three houses are opposite us; but they cannot tempt us to cross the road. Beyond, the view is closed by a turnpike, hardly larger than a tea-chest, with a window cut in it, about circumference of a wren’s eye. Children, like “troutlets in a pool,” knuckle down here, and play at “taw,” there women peer over blinds to look at us, and wonder why we are so inquisitive; and still merchants and clerks trudge past us; home we trust, to dining-rooms closely curtained, and where waits a hearty welcome. Our host of the Red Lion expects us to do the honours of our Hyde Park Corner. In his painted sitting-room a snowy cloth is spread; but the painted walls dazzle us. May we always eat peas green as these trees; our castle (when we bring it down from the air) stand with a better regard for the perpendicular, than the vast building from which a lady has just emerged upon her prancing palfrey (the prancing has a rheumatic air about it), reined in by two streaks of pure vermillion, which reach from the lady’s hand to the horse’s mouth. The lady is saluting a cavalier with clearly false moustaches; and the bellrope which we pull dangles by the knight’s nose. The low ceiling is a sky of schirrous clouds yellowed by smoke. But the arm-chairs are roomy the chops as chops should be; the potatoes, balls of flour. And we eat with a better appetite than we gather as a rule, from any stroll of ours, under the nose of the Great Duke, at our London Hyde Park Corner.— Blanchard Jerrold, — Welcome Guest.

Leeds Intelligencer – Saturday 24 November 1860

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