Just down the road from Bishopsgate Institute is a branch of Boots the Chemist with a perfume section at the front. In fact, chemists and department stores often put their most fragrant products by the near nearest the main street. Why is that?
Bishopsgate Institute tutor Caryle Webb-Ingall tells us that back in 1900, London was a city of horses. There were 11,000 horse-powered cabs, thousands of horse-drawn buses requiring 12 horses a day as well as countless carts, drays and other equine industry making deliveries around the ever-growing city. Over half a million horses worked in early-twentieth century London which meant an unfeasible amount of horse manure gathering on the streets. The average horse produces between fifteen to thirty-five pounds of manure a day; presumably this goes from ponies to drays, producing an organic and fragrant pollution.
London’s newly opening department stores were aware of this, in fact everyone with a sense of smell would have been aware of this, so their sweetest smelling section, the perfume counter, was placed at the front to provide olfactory relief for their customers. And once in, perhaps they would take an interest in some charming Bakelite figurines?
Apocryphal or not this is one of the many insights into late nineteenth century London our tutor Caryle provides in our afternoon London after Dickens course. Caryle promises that students will “start noticing the streets around them more - they might look up above the old shop fronts or look more closely at the meaning of street names or make some links through a television programme or book.”
As well as horse poop, other topics covered on the course include other modes of transport, the London County Council, police and crime, markets and shops, the East End, Victorian ways of death, London’s Docks, civil unrest and much more. Come and learn about the era that was fertiliser to our own.
London after Dickens begins on Tuesday 6 November at Bishopsgate Institute at 2.30pm. It runs for 6 weeks. Please see our website for more details.