Ludgate Hill on a Snowy Day

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“London in 1891”

William John Loftie was quite a prolific writer of books on London. Some of them carried illustrations drawn by William Luker (Junior). One of Luker’s drawings is shown at the top of this article. It is taken from a book called ‘London City’ published in 1891. The viewpoint is about a quarter of the way down Ludgate, from St Paul’s Cathedral. If it had been any further down the hill we would see the church of St Martin, Ludgate, on the far left hand side.

The scene shows a bitterly cold day with snow shovelled into heaps lying on the pavement and snow still resting on most of the roof-tops, including the dome of St Paul’s. The elegant terrace, in the distance on the left, has long since disappeared, being replaced by modern offices but, essentially, the view remains very much the same today. There must have been quite an important building on the extreme right, with a large lamp — also covered in snow — protruding out from the building over the pavement. At the time of the picture, many of the buildings lining Ludgate Hill were the main offices of large publishers and the lamp may be hanging over the imposing doorway of one of them. It looks rather like the lamp that often hangs over a Police Station but there was no such building in Ludgate Hill.

A well-dressed lady, complete with walking-stick or fine umbrella, is holding her skirt up slightly so that it does not get wet from the slush on the pavement as she walks purposefully up Ludgate Hill. Coming towards her is a well-dressed man, wearing a thick overcoat and a top hat — definitely a ‘City gent’. A group of three men are standing near the kerb, engaged in conversation and all wearing bowler hats.

Coming towards us, on the road, is a horse-drawn bus whose driver is also wearing a bowler hat and who has a large rug over his knees. Over the rug was very often a waterproof canvas to prevent the rug from getting wet — which would add to the driver’s discomfort. He needs all the skill he can muster because, if the road is slippery from the ice, the horses could easily slip and fall over. In such conditions, once a horse has fallen over, it is very difficult for the animal to get back on its feet without considerable help. Such horse-buses carried passengers ‘inside’ — meaning inside the vehicle — and ‘outside’ — meaning on its roof. Usually the seating ‘inside’ consisted of two bench seats along each side of the vehicle. On top of the vehicle there were four or six pairs of seats, each seating two people. There was a perilous curved ladder at the rear of the vehicle allowing access for those who sat ‘outside’. Needless to say they were mainly men.

Further up the hill a covered horse-drawn cart — known as a ‘van’ — is proceeding away from our viewpoint. Other traffic can be seen in the distance.

Although the whole picture is simply drawn, there is a great atmosphere about the scene. You can almost feel the cold from the way in which the people are drawn.


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