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This Is Jimmy’s London

September 17, 2020
by the gentle author

Excerpts from ‘This is London‘ produced as a guide for servicemen & women in 1944

In these war-time days, when official guide books are not obtainable, a quiet perusal of ‘This is London’ will be of inestimable service to visitors, making a ‘leave in London’ something memorable and, as Jimmy says, well worth keeping a diary of.

“ the Bank..”

I don’t know anything about London and the sooner I set out to learn the better and the quicker I’ll know it. There’s only one way to learn about any town and that is to walk as much as you can. It’ll knock some of the strangeness out of you. You won’t feel you’re a stranger in the place. You won’t feel as if everyone is looking at you and telling themselves that you are a stranger. Believe me, it’ll help you feel a lot better.

The Green Park

I wanted to walk along the pavements, to watch the people, to visit places whose names were so familiar to everyone in the world. Talk about walking the paths of history, I was tickled pink.

“…Charing Cross Rd as a Free Library…”

Whether you are a reader on no, it is well worth spending a few minutes, few hours for that matter, watching the various types of people who stand, hour after hour, at the bookshops, browsing. I’m firmly convinced that very many Londoners regard Charing Cross Rd as a Free Library, and I’m equally certain that booksellers look benignly on these non-profitable customers.

“…down Wapping Way..”

To find funny little pubs with funny little bars and mix with all kinds of people, I think it’s the wisest thing anyone could do and it’s what I’ve always longed to try. There are no tough spots. Go to the poorest quarter in the East End and you’ll meet with politeness. Go into a pub down by the docks. It may not be luxurious, but you’ll find that everyone is nice there. You’ll hear the occasional ‘damn’ and, if there’s no women in the place, you’ll hear much worse.

Dirty Dick’s I won’t forget in a hurry. A unique place if ever there was one. I think the story of the original landlord who allowed everything to get into such a disgusting state of dirt and cobwebs is more or less fictitious. It’s quite close to Liverpool St Station and, although it, like many other place, received some damage during the blitz, the landlord still carries on, just as do all other Londoners.

In Hyde Park, some of the orators take their job very seriously, others look upon it as a kind of rag, entering into cross-talk with their audiences with such obvious pleasure. I don’t think I would like to be an earnest speaker there for occasionally the heckling is terrific. How these speakers can possibly hope to make themselves heard, speaking as they do one against the other, is more than I can understand.

I went to Covent Garden Market and tried to understand what it was all about, tried to make sense of what the salesmen were saying. They have a jargon all their own while the porters astonished me by throwing enormous weights about with a nonchalance that is truly amazing.

In St James’ Park

Where else but in London could one see the unexpected glimpse of a State trumpeter, his tunic, the scarlet and gold of medieval pageantry, glinting in the sun – and the inscrutable eyes of an aged Chelsea Pensioner who watched him fixedly?

Of course, I’ve read my Pepys and that gives a very fair picture, but while I’m fond of seeing historical buildings, links with the past so to speak, I much prefer the present.

A fellow would have to be dead from the neck up if he couldn’t enjoy the London Zoo. The Zoo is obviously a Londoner’s playground, everyone is eager to see as much as possible and the groups around each cage or enclosure become, for the moment, a band of friends.

The Embankment where artists in chalk ply their trade and pray for fair weather …

… and schoolboys read ‘penny dreadfuls’ in the shadow of mysterious Egypt.

Thankyou London, for all those memories. Thankyou London!

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Jan permalink
    September 17, 2020

    Official guidebooks from past times are a fascinating insight. Unless I missed one, not a female in sight in 1944 London!

  2. James Patmore permalink
    September 17, 2020

    This is my London!
    What memories this has envoked.
    Is it possible to discover what else is in the book? I’d love to know.

  3. September 17, 2020

    Thankyou G.A., for all those pictures. Thankyou G.A.!

  4. September 17, 2020

    thank you. I thoroughly enjoyed my London

  5. jenni jepson permalink
    September 17, 2020

    Wonderful! If only sheep still grazed in Green Park…

  6. Cecil Gomez permalink
    September 17, 2020

    Never got to London till the middle sixties but there were still some of the places that had the same feel. Charing Cross Road books, Covent Garden, Soap Box oratory at Hyde Park and the docks.
    Since then I have been there year in, year out. First as a tourist, then as a student an after as a lover of London (and great friends I still have ther, that has seen great changes some for good and some for ill but at the moment feel the longing that circumstances prevent my being able to satisfy.
    We’ll meet again!
    Cecil W Gomez- Gibraltar.

  7. paul loften permalink
    September 17, 2020

    In those days before TV, Speakers Corner was a massive draw on a Sunday morning. The photo of the speaker and crowd brought back memories . I sometimes would take a trip down there on the Central Line on an occasional Sunday in the 60’s and recall some of the speakers. Lord Soper always amusing, The Tattooed man, covered in tatoos from head to toe. Was it Mcaguinness , it was Mc’somthing , the tramp, who held court there? He was a good speaker when sober and drew a large crowd . I think that he would talk about the the other speakers and there was a lot of laughter . The BUF , the crowd nearly always on the verge of a punch up but somehow avoiding it . The Zionists whose audience was in the same volatile state I didn’t witness fights . There was the ever present , Marxist purists SPGB , who had very good speakers but had few listeners A strange World Hebrew Congetation sect who did not appear to be ethnically Jewish comprised of a group of men all with long beards that spoke amongst themselves very quietly,almost in whispers. The whispers disapeared into their beard , . You could never hear what the main speaker had to say .It still remains a mystery to me what they stood for . A young hippy man , Martin that read poetry and was very amusing . The insults and heckling that flew from the crowd were legendary and sometimes some great pieces of wit . However that was the Speakers corner in the 60’s . From what I saw ,the police rarely had to intervene. I haven’t been there since. It must have been even more entertaining in 1944. Thank you for the photos of Jimmy’s London

  8. Jane Godden permalink
    September 17, 2020

    The scenes of London are at once familiar yet shrouded in mists of time. I love the sheep in Green Park, perhaps they should be reintroduced as natural grass mowers.

  9. September 17, 2020

    I really enjoyed these photographs, thank you for sharing them, they brightened my day!

  10. Akkers permalink
    September 17, 2020

    Another fascinating article – would be great to have a copy of the book and look back over all the old photos.

  11. Rose T permalink
    September 17, 2020

    Fabulous pictures. I love to see what London was like in the past. Sheep in London, too funny. The Chelsea Pensioner is in dire need of his eyebrows, at least, being trimmed. It’s a wonder he doesn’t set himself on fire with his pipe. I like the expression on the Sphinx, babysitting the kids.
    The Thames was so much busier with trade then. Busy enough now, but all those boats. And nice to see the Prospect of Whitby regarded as a local, not as a tourist sight.
    From Canada, born in London

  12. September 17, 2020

    I love the sheep too, but wouldn’t guarantee my dogs. Love Jimmy’s tenderness and humanity.

  13. September 17, 2020

    Now that is a rare gem. I think only four library copies including two is St Pancras and the one in Bishopsgate. I can’t imagine when I might next make it to a library

  14. September 18, 2020

    Thank You forJimmy’s Londons picture. They are So Wonderful.????????

  15. September 18, 2020

    I just love his jaunty writing style!

  16. September 26, 2020

    Photos are brilliant, and comments perfect – short and concise. This was still my London growing up just before and throughout the 50s, in both SW1 and SW3 but always in walking distance of the Thames. Thank you.

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