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11 things we learned about London from a 116 year-old guidebook

Written by
David Clack

Time Out has been keeping you abreast of the best things to do in London since 1968. Back then, the city was swinging, (which is basically a nice way of saying that everyone was boning each other and listening to cool music) and our editorial team could barely keep up with all the great stuff going on. It’s been the same ever since (boning and all).

But people have been travelling to London for absolutely bloody ages, since long before apps and the internet and magazines. But with the London Eye decades away from being erected and selfie sticks still the stuff of science fiction, what exactly did the tourists of yester-century get up to?

To find out, we had a rifle through a knackered old edition of ‘Baedeker’s Handbook for London’ from 1900, which we found on a dusty old shelf. Here's what we gleaned from its musty-smelling pages.

It’s always been an expensive place to have fun

‘The cost of a visit to London depends, of course, on the habits and tastes of the traveller. If he lives in a first-class hotel, dines at the table-d’hôte, drinks wine, frequents the theatre and other places of amusement, and drives about in cabs or flys instead of using the economical train or omnibus, he must be prepared to spend 30-40s. a day or upwards.’

30-40 shillings a day? That’s £160–£220 in today’s money – and that's BEFORE the invention of craft beer.

The tube has come a long way

‘An important artery of ‘intramural’ traffic is afforded by the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways. These lines, which for the most part run under the houses and streets by means of tunnels, and partly also through cuttings between high walls, form a complete belt (the ‘inner circle’) around the whole of the inner part of London, while various branch-lines diverge to the outlying suburbs.
'Experiments in the use of electrical traction have been successfully made on a section of the line, and it is hoped that this method of haulage will soon supersede steam locomotive power on the ‘inner circle’.’

The Bakerloo line never ran on time back then, either, but in fairness that's because it was still under construction.

Madame Tussaud’s used to be a lot cheaper

‘MADAME TUSSAUD’S WAXWORK EXHIBITION, Marylebone Road, near Baker Street Station, a collection of wax figures of ancient and modern notabilities. The best time for visiting it is in the evening, by gaslight. Admission 1s. – At the back (6d. extra) are a room with various memorials of Napoleon I. and the ‘Chamber of Horrors’, containing the guillotine which decapitated Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, and other articles of a ghastly nature.’

One shilling is about £5.50 in today’s money – these days tickets start at £23.79. AND there are no actual implements of execution any more.

Buses used to have on-board libraries

‘Omnibuses, of which there are about 150 lines, cross the Metropolis in every direction from 8 a.m until midnight. The destination of each vehicle (familiarly known as a ’bus), and the names of some of the principal streets through which it passes, are usually painted on the outside. At first they were furnished with a supply of books for the use of the passengers.’

'Oyster card? What the bleedin' 'eck you talkin' about, sunshine?'

Londoners used to be weirdly polite

‘Like ’s’il vous plait’ in Paris, ‘if you please’ or ‘please’ is generally used in ordering refreshments at a café or restaurant, or in making any request. The English forms of politeness are, however, by no means so minute or ceremonious as the French. For example, the hat is raised to ladies only, and is worn in public spaces, such as shops, cafés, music-halls, and museums. It should, however, be removed in the presence of ladies in a lift (elevator).’

Come on gents, sort it out.

House parties used to kick off a little earlier

‘The fashionable hour for paying visits in London is between 4 and 6 p.m. The proper mode of delivering a letter or introduction is in person, along with the bearer’s visiting-card and address; but when this is rendered inconvenient by the greatness of distance or other cause, the letter may be sent by post, accompanied by a polite explanation.’

The old-timey equivalent of the old 'BoOZE Mash-up at my gaff 2NITE!!!1' Facebook invite.

Bus drivers used to be chattier

‘The outside of an omnibus affords a much better view than a cab, and, moreover, has the advantage of cheapness. If the driver, beside whom the stranger should sit, happens to be obliging (and a small gratuity will generally make him so), he will afford much useful information about the buildings, monuments and other sights on the route.’

We literally dare you to try this today.

Victoria Park has smartened itself up a bit

‘This park, covering 215 acres of ground, laid out at a cost of 130,000l., forms a place of recreation for the poorer (E.) quarters of London. The eastern and larger portion is unplanted, and is used for cricket and other games. The W. side is prettily laid out with walks, beds of flowers, and two sheets of water, on which swans may be seen disporting themselves, and pleasure-boats hired.’

A pair of Victorian chimney sweeps chilling in Victoria Park.

Oxford Street hasn’t changed much…

‘The E. portion of this imposing street contains a number of the most important shops in London and presents a scene of immense traffic and activity.’

…and neither has Soho

‘The district of Soho contains a large colony of Italian cooks, couriers, waiters, tailors, restaurant-keepers, servants, teachers, etc.’

They used to let kids ride elephants in London Zoo

‘Children may enjoy the delight of riding on elephants, camels, and so on for a small fee.’

The zoo, by the way, used to look a bit like this.

Home of the world's smallest hippo house.

For more delightful London history check out...

Tube stations then and now

Ideas for London that never took off

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