From The Mouths Of Londoners


‘In the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.’

– ‘Mrs Dalloway’, Virginia Woolf

‘Garden-silks, ladies, Italian silks, very fine mantua silks, Geneva velvet, English velvet, velvet embossed? Fine thread satins both striped and plain, fine mohair silks, satinnets, burdets, Persianets, Norwich crapes, anterines, silks for hoods and scarves, hair camlets, druggets, sagathies, gentlemen’s nightgowns ready-made, shalloons, durances and right Scotch plaids!’

– Shop assistant calling to customers in ‘Shopping with the Ladies’, Thomas Baker


‘The cab-horse’s head comes nearly inside the bus, the bus-pole threatens to pike the hansom in front, the brougham must be careful, for varnish sake, but is wedged and must take its chance, van wheels catch omnibus hubs, hurry, scurry, whip and drive; slip, slide, bump, rattle, jar, jostle, an endless stream clattering on, in, out and around.’

– London traffic from ‘Catching an Omnibus’ – Richard Jefferies

‘The outline of the roof is very ugly, the side elevations are decorated to look like the Tote. But the interior of the Hall is amazing. Its decoration is rather self-consciously severe or modishly modernistic, but the scale, size and complete efficiency of the building make one realise that one is standing in what must be the finest concert hall in the world.’

– John Betjeman on the new Festival Hall.

‘A police sergeant knows the history of hundreds of criminals in his district. He knows how much ‘time’ they have behind them, the houses they use, and as a rule, where to lay his hand upon them at any hour of the night and day. When a young man was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the murder of an old couple in High Street, Deptford, the officer just looked into a public house and said, ‘Alf, I want you.’

– George Robert Sims

8 comments on “From The Mouths Of Londoners”

  1. John Howard says:

    I love them all but ‘Catching an Omnibus’ seems quite apt. Change a few words and it could be used today.

  2. Jo W says:

    I hadn’t read the description by Sir John Betjeman of the Festival Hall. Now I shall be looking out at the Tote board, whenever I’m on my way into Charing Cross. It might show the odds on getting a train home……..

  3. Ian Luck says:

    I love all those descriptions – The Omnibus one is a perfect pen picture of the congested streets of London, in the mid to late 19th century – and, apart from the horse manure (now incumbent in Ten Downing Street), the picture isn’t that different today.
    I’m a big fan of Sir John Betjeman, and always enjoyed his opinion on things. He was often very upset by what by some, was termed ‘progress’, and yet, seemed to be one of the rare breed of people, who as they get older, don’t think ‘old’. His joy at the unusual (like the man with a cinema organ in his house, in his film ‘Metroland’ is infectious, and sadly lacking in a great many folk, even today.

  4. Roger says:

    Saki’s short story Morlvera, which features an encounter between “Emmeline, aged ten, and Bert, aged seven, [who] had halted on the way from their obscure back street to the minnow-stocked water of St. James’s Park Emmeline, aged ten, and Bert, aged seven, [who] had halted on the way from their obscure back street to the minnow-stocked water of St. James’s Park” and “a large lady, with a penetrating and rather hurried manner of talking [and] a small boy, who had a very black scowl on his face and a very white sailor suit over the rest of him.”

  5. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Several generations of my family drove horse drawn cabs or looked after the horses. No doubt any damage resulting from collisions was deducted from their wages.

  6. SimonB says:

    Fairly sure I first learned about it through these very pages, but can recommend the book “Bus Fayre” for more of this sort of thing.

  7. SimonB says:


    Need an edit button!

  8. Ian Luck says:

    I have just found, and am enjoying, a copy of the 1973 book by Peter Aykroyd (not a misspelling, but another writer with a similar name) ‘Evil London’. It’s full of great, horrid details, and lots of quotes from Londoners from mediaeval times onward. It comes in a startling dust-jacket that part of me says would look good in a frame on my wall… I heartily recommend finding a copy if you can. It’s also a tome I can well imagine Arthur Bryant either owning, or being very familiar with.

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