Sunday 30 October 2011

From the archives: London advice to sightseers

If you ever feel nostalgia for simpler times, when there were fewer distractions and less crime, then this century-old advice to tourists will sweep it away. Apparently, London was nothing but a series of traps for the unwary; only Enquire Within Upon Everything stood between them and ruin.

The Victorians had a book which enabled them to'Enquire Within Upon Everything' from recipes for opium-rich home remedies to the language of flowers; from addressing dukes to getting rid of your local accent; and from choosing furniture to choosing your baby's name. My copy is a fairly late one (the 110th edition!), so articles on the desirability of owning a motor car and a wife's right to keep her own earnings have also crept in. Another innovation is 'Advice to Sightseers', a selection of tips on visiting London:

1. Before starting on your holiday spend two hours in studying a good guide-book and mapping out a programme for each day of your stay in London. Note that some institutions, as the British Museum, are open free every day; some, as the National Gallery, are open free on certain days and for a fee on others; some, as the Mint and Woolwich Arsenal, are open on specified days and under stringent conditions. These things should be ascertained from the guide-book before leaving home, and your programme modified accordingly.
['Enquire' is never afraid to be prescriptive - take two hours precisely! - or to state the obvious.]

2. Group the sights so as to economize your time. For example, avoid such a programme for a day's doings as this - the Tower; Tate Gallery; Madame Tussaud's; Greenwich Hospital; Hyde Park. To "do" these sights in a day would put a great deal of time to waste.
[To do these sights in a day would require you to sprint non-stop and skip lunch! Perhaps you should have spent more than two hours with the guide book.]

3. Ask your way of a policeman, postman, telegraph boy, or shopkeeper. If you are in a residential quarter, you will be compelled to resort to the courtesy of the casual wayfarer; but in that case take the direction from him and then pass on.
[This is the start of an obsession with not chatting to Londoners, but you might rebel and pause to say thank you.]

4. If you feel that you are taking the wrong road, do not proceed farther until you have ascertained whether you are right or wrong. You have a civil tongue; do not hesitate to use it.
[But only in accordance with (3) - remember not to stand around chatting. A pity you weren't advised to get a map.]

5. If a stranger get into conversation with you in a gallery, or church, or the street, make himself particularly affable, claim that he thinks he has met you before or that he comes from the same town or district as yourself, be on your guard instantly. If further he be joined, apparently by chance, by a friend or two and propose to adjourn for a drink or a meal, and then talk of his prospects and the money he has, and ask you to lend him, for a short while, your purse, or an article of value, merely to show your confidence in him - he having already shown his confidence in them by handing some article to his confederates - be sure you are in the company of "confidence trick" rogues and leave them at once. If you happen on a policeman near by, describe the men to him and tell him where you left them. The information may be useful to him. Avoid all talk with undesirable or promiscuous folk whose appearance and manner you do not care for on acquaintance.
[Londoners will apparently only talk to you in order to rob you, while non-Londoners are incredibly gullible; more surprising to the modern reader is the idea that you might expect to happen on a policeman.]

6. As to tips, at many establishments where only a light repast is served "no gratuities" is the rule. Otherwise the custom is to tip the waiter on the scale of 1dfor every shilling of your bill. Thus if your dinner cost 2s. 6d., the waiter's tip would be 2d. or 3d., whichever you please.
[And how do you solve the twopence/threepence dilemma? After so many precise instructions, 'Enquire' has suddenly left us high and dry!]

7. For a short stay it will answer your convenience and save time to put up at a comfortable central hotel rather than lodge in a suburb.
[But if you couldn't work that out for yourself, you're probably still pondering the twopence/threepence quandary.]

8. Arrange your programme so as to leave the evenings free for the theatre, or music hall, or concert, or the fireworks at the Crystal Palace.
[Assuming you are not just too tired and penniless having sprinted from one end of London to the other, handed your wallet to a new 'friend' for no obvious reason, offended the waiter with your mean tip and then had to travel back to your hotel in the outer suburbs...]

Related post: London sightseeing, when did it get so slow?


HughB said...

Ha! Ha! The Victorians loved to be instructive, didn't they? I'm surprised they didn't say the correct tip would be tuppence hapenny, though maybe they would advise against trying to gallop around London weighed down by hapennies and farthings?

Sebastien Ardouin said...

I love it! Some friends of mine from Argentina are arriving in a couple of hours for their first visit to London. I'll have to translate them these good pieces of advice.