A week in London
Monday 8 July 1901 - Sunday 14 July 1901
With River Days two weekends ago I was too busy last week to write a blog entry. Thus I am feverishly chasing Mr. Hatch through England, but it seems as though he will continue to escape us. This entry details his writings from July 8th to the 14th -- we are now officially more than one full month behind William's journal entries. No matter, however; the beauty of history is that it stays put as long as its sources do, and ours is not going anywhere soon!
We pick up our chase of Mr. Hatch as he begins his description of Lincoln Cathedral. Through much of the Medieval Period Lincoln Cathedral was purported to be the tallest structure on earth. In 1549, however, an incredibly strong storm blew the lead-covered spire down and it was never rebuilt. Lincoln Cathedral is today the third largest in England and remains one of the most highly regarded by visitors and scholars alike. Indeed, William Hatch seems to have liked it very much:
While visiting the cathedral, Hatch and his party encountered something very strange to them. The separation of church and state which we have here in the United States was not something of much importance in English society at the turn of the 20th century. In fact, it was often the case that Members of Parliament and other political and government figures used religion and churches as a source of revenue as well as an audience for their opinions. Such a display was what Hatch witnessed that day on 8th July 1901.
As Hatch wrote these words, he sat in the comfort of a London hotel after a busy day exploring the city. If you have ever traveled to new cities, especially large cities such as London, you understand the idea that all big cities tend to feel the same. This is true only for a short visit, however; the longer one spends in a large city, the more and more one discovers the small communities throughout that make great cities great. As we will see throughout his extended stay in London, William Hatch spends enough time exploring to find the small communities and hidden gems of England's capital city. He also tightly links the city he discovers to the city he already knows from Dickens and other descriptions in literature. This overlay creates a much more vibrant environment for William to experience as he tromps down dim streets or past elegant architecture.
His first day in London is not spent idle. As usual, Hatch inquires at the post office which was prearranged for him to receive mail from the United States, mainly items sent by his wife Nellie (Florida) Hatch. After spending some time to read his letters (in the course of ready his journal these seem to be some of his favorite moments) Hatch set out to visit the Tower of London. This iconic castle was founded in 1066 and has stood on the site since the time of William the Conqueror. Throughout its history the castle has become renowned as the site of many famous executions including Anne Boleyn, most famous of the eight wives of King Henry VIII. In addition to its original purpose as a royal residence the Tower also served as a prison, a torture and interrogation chamber, and an armory. Today it is an extremely popular tourist destination with almost 2.5 million visitors each year. Below is what Mr. Hatch had to say on the subject:
Hatch next visited St. Paul's Cathedral which at the time of his visit (and until 1962) was the tallest building in London. It remains one of the highest domes in the world and is the seat of the Anglican Church. Hatch describes his climb to the top of this dome where he "had a good view of the city. It is not so smoky as Chicago and [there was] no fog at the time. I could see Crystal Palace eight miles away." His comment that London was not so smoky as Chicago is remarkable; air pollution was so bad that London was known for severe smog which was sardonically called 'pea soup fog.'
The excerpt from Hatch's travel journal pictured above is an amazing example of just how small the world is, even 115 years ago. The connections which William made throughout his incredibly full life followed him across the Atlantic and turned an ordinary trip into one filled with comfort and friendship that many people do not experience at home on a regular basis. This is a prime example of just the sort of person William Hatch was - not just a Civil War veteran, not just a school teacher. He was someone who captivated those around him and created an environment in which they could excel at whatever it was they were good at. Those relationships resulted in William running into friends both across the street and across oceans. Relationships such as this are the reason many people - myself included - love travelling.
Hatch describes Charles T. Fox - who is mentioned in the excerpt above - as having "charge of all the business of the Pillsbury Flour in Europe. [He] lived several years in Minneapolis, the best city in the world to live in." As a born and bred Minnesotan, it is always exciting to see when someone praises the state I live in or cities found here. It is also extremely interesting to note the incredible success of the milling companies based out of Minnesota. The Pillsbury Company at that time was one of the largest and most respected producers of flour in the industry. Coupled with the well-known brand of General Mills, the mills of Minneapolis supplied incredible amounts of food to the world and illustrated that Minnesota companies could be hugely successful even on an international scale. The roller-mills in Rockford, MN were a part of this tradition as well.
Hatch's exploration of London continued with a trip to Westminster Abby. Much as with St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London, Hatch was fascinated with the long history of this iconic London landmark. Of special interest to him are those famous individuals laid to rest there:
As I read his journal I notice just how many varieties of transportation was used in turn-of-the-century London. Buses, taxicabs, cars, the Underground, horse carriages and even boats were used regularly to move the millions of people living in London throughout the city. On July 10th 1901 William Hatch made use of the River Thames and traveled by boat four and a half miles downriver from Tower Bridge to Greenwich. You may have heard of this place a few different times; Greenwich Village in New York City and Greenwich Mean Time are both named after this part of South-East London. Greenwich Mean Time, in particular, is of great interest as it was formerly the international civil time standard, as the site is located at zero degrees longitude. At the height of the British Empire, most of the world literally set their watches to the time observed in Greenwich. William Hatch for one would not be left out:
One interesting anecdote regarding the ball that dropped above the Greenwich observatory is that it the reason we watch the ball drop at New Years. Prior to universal time recording and dissemination, the ball drop was used to signal the time of day - and time of year - to citizens across the developed world.
William spent the next few days - July 11th to the 13th - exploring the outer reaches of London. Of special interest were the Kensington Gardens and the Kew Botanical Gardens. These two spots offered Hatch a brief but much enjoyed respite from the bustle of the most populous city in the world. The time spent in relative solitude allowed Hatch to review and revise plans to visit Devonshire in southwest England, for which he planned to depart London on July 15th.
With him soon leaving London, we will pick up the William's story as he makes his way once again into the countryside.
Until next time, cheers!
Director, Rockford Area Historical Society