The website archive.org brings together collections of scanned books from universities, etc. It is a fantastic resource, and includes some unpublished manuscripts. One such manuscript, from the University of Toronto, is titled Excursion to Scotland, 1832.
The author is unknown. In an interesting departure from most 19th Century travel journals, this was not a man travelling abroad, but somebody who had decided to travel around Britain, his own country, and record his observations.
Obviously we are dealing with something here that was never prepared for publication, so the standard of writing is lower than we would normally expect. I have taken the liberty, in order to create a coherent reading experience, of editing quotes used very slightly. I have kept this to a strict minimum, adding a little punctuation and the occasional change of verb tense, added connective, etc, just to aid readability.
There is a hand-drawn route at the start of the journal, listing the itinerary as follows: London, Royston, Buntingford, Huntingdon, Stamford, Newark, East Retford, Doncaster, York, Carlisle, Glasgow, Dumbarton, Loch Lomond, Edinburgh, Jedburgh, Newcastle, Durham, Darlington, Stockton, London.
The journal begins on Tuesday 31st July, 1832, with the author leaving London in the evening to travel along the Thames by the James Watt Steamer. Steamboat services on the Thames had been around for less than 20 years at this stage. This was the heyday of steamboat transport but it would not be many more years before train travel became the standard mode of transport and steamboats were consigned to the realms of pleasure boats rather than getting from A to B as such.
A drunken waterman, bringing his fare to the vessel, capsized and nearly drowned and the gentleman, much frightened, drifted away in the boat by himself.
There was of course no law against being drunk while in charge of a boat in 1832, nor is there really to this day. The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 was the only attempt to date to outlaw being drunk in charge of a boat for non-professional mariners, but that provision has never been enforced.
Two years before Excursion to Scotland, the first intercity railway line was opened between London and Manchester. Rail travel was still a very new technology. Horse-drawn rail travel had been around for a lot longer, but was still relatively recent, with the first horse-drawn public railway opening in 1803. Despite being in existence for nearly thirty years, this was an interesting novelty to our anonymous traveller.
Friday 3rd August. Left for Darlington by the railway coach, a heavy, lumbering carriage, carrying from 15 to 20 passengers and drawn with ease by one horse. Not having previously seen the mode of travelling on the railway, I was much struck with its singularity. Very many coal ones are linked together and drawn by one horse; others are propelled by a steam engine to which 20 to 30 are attached, and away they go in one long, continued line at the rate of five or six miles an hour. I have often heard the expression ‘putting the cart before the horse’, but little thought I should ever see it realised. Such however is here literally the case.
Arriving in Durham, the writer was greeted with a macabre sight. In 1816, some gallows had been constructed outside the prison, for the purpose of displayed executed criminals. The bodies were sometimes covered in tar, to prolong the spectacle.
The assizes had just terminated here and folks’ attentions were much occupied by the sentence of a man hung for the murder of a magistrate who was, after being cut down, tarred and gibbeted. A considerable military force was in the town, as it was feared some of his fellow workmen, the pitmen, would attempt a rescue.
The body would have been that of William Jobling, who was convicted of murdering local magistrate Nicholas Fairles. There had been protests earlier in the year against conditions in the South Shields workhouse, and the miners had turned out in support. The murder was in retaliation for the crackdown by the authorities on the strikers, with soldiers even attempting to evict miners from their homes. Surprisingly, Jobling was himself innocent of the murder, which had been committed by one of his friends, but as he had been present at the murder he was judged equally culpable. The final public execution in Durham took place in 1865, and were made illegal across the whole country in 1868, after which executions had to take place behind closed doors.
Durham proved unimpressive in general for the author, with ‘little to attract the notice of the traveller apart from its cathedral, the streets being narrow, the market place mean, and being very destitute of public buildings. It appears, like ancient Rome, to be built upon hills.’ This is quite correct, and in fact Durham is built on seven hills, just like Rome.
Next stop on the tour was Newcastle, which ‘presents a very bustling appearance and has some very handsome public buildings: town hall, market place, etc.’ and then on to Scotland, where the landscape changed, becoming noticeably more cultivated. There was much of interest in Edinburgh, and one structure in particular caught the writer’s attention.
The portico of a large building, after the model of the Parthenon, intended as a national gallery or museum, but of which the portico alone is furnished (for want of funds), is highly ornamental, particularly when viewed at a distance.
This refers to the National Monument of Scotland, which was indeed intended to be an exact copy of the Parthenon, and was designed by Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair in the early 1820s. Construction halted in 1829 when the money ran out, giving the monument its unusual appearance and leading to its nickname ‘The Pride and Poverty of Scotland’. There have been frequent proposals for its completion, but it remains unfinished to this day. There was something of an obsession with Greek architecture during the early 19th Century, the Greek Revival period of neoclassicism, leading to the construction of buildings in the Greek style such as the British Museum, the Theatre Royal and the National Gallery. Edinburgh in particular embraced the Greek Revival to such an extent that it is occasionally referred to as ‘The Athens of the North’.
Some older architecture caught the attention of the writer, when he visited St Giles’ Cathedral, with its ‘singular spire, resembling an imperial crown’. The spire is a magnificent example of medieval architecture, and was added to the cathedral in 1495, with significant repairs in 1648. The general impression made by Edinburgh was that of mixed fortunes:
The shops in the leading streets make a very handsome display, quite in the Regent Street style, and it is very common to have two shops to a house, one on the level with the street and the other in the area. The old town forms a sad contrast to the splendour of the new: extremely lofty houses of ten or even twelve stories high, one common staircase with no door, and approached from the street. There are innumerable narrow, dirty lanes and alleys leading into the main streets, which are none of the cleanest, and teeming with a dense and dirty population
‘The other in the area’ refers to an enclosed courtyard, offering a secondary retail location for each building. The difference in the quality of life between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ town was originally as a result of the population wishing to live within the safety of city walls, leading to overcrowding and the first tower blocks in the country, with locals having no option but to build upwards. Poor sanitary conditions led to an outbreak of cholera in the year of this Excursion to Scotland.
As you approach Glasgow it presents all the appearance of a great manufacturing town: such innumerable clouds of smoke from the high chimney shafts, where steam engines are at work, and the dirty looks of the crowds you meet on entering the city. It was my ill fortune to visit it at a very melancholy time, the deaths from cholera being about 80 a day. As if to confirm the gloomy intelligence on passing up the high street to the inn, we met several funeral cars, which make a far more melancholy appearance than our hearses, the tops greatly projecting over the body of the carriage. They are profusely covered with ostrich feathers, and the sides with paintings of the interior of a church, much resembling the funeral cars employed at Lord Nelson’s death. The mourners, instead of following two by two, all march abreast and nearly take up the width of the street.
The ostrich feathers were a sure indication of wealth. The more feathers, the wealthier the family of the deceased. A document in the National Archives details the cost of Nelson’s funeral in January 1806, with six large plumes of ostrich feathers at a cost of three pounds, three shillings, equivalent to about £250 today. The total cost of the funeral car was just over £486, about £35,000 today.
Later on the tour, the writer also noticed the effects of cholera in Carlisle, and saw there a poster advocating the ‘hygeian system’, invented by James Morison, a physician in the loosest sense of the word. He believed that all diseases where caused by impurities in the blood, which could be cured by vegetables. His vegetable pills sold in enormous numbers, helped by the veneer of academia he created for himself, by setting up the ‘British College of Health’. At the time of Excursion to Scotland he was selling around £100,000 worth of his pills, a staggering nine million pounds in today’s terms. Two years after this journal, Morison left for Paris after a series of deaths from overdoses (the pills contained the poison henbane), but his pills continued to sell, with nearly a billion pills sold during the 1840s. Morison himself died in Paris in 1840 at the age of 70, but the company survived into the early 20th Century.
Cholera seems to excite considerable alarm here. Several Boards of Health have been formed for different parishes. I observed a letter placarded on the walls, written by a Mr Hudson, an advocate for Dr. Morison’s Hygeian System, justifying his practice by the success that had attended it in opposition to that of the Medical Practitioners, and rather pointedly addressed:
‘To the Gentlemen (not the medical men) of Carlisle.’
We will continue looking at this unpublished journal in a few days. In the meantime, don’t forget to add Windows into History to your favourites, and keep checking back for more ‘snippet’ articles, journal essays and guest posts.