The West End is no longer the west end

LONDON’S WEST END includes the part of the city that contains areas such as Chinatown, Theatreland, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Oxford Street, Mayfair, Soho, Fitrovia, and Bond Street. Before the 19th century, the western boundary of London was Park Lane, which runs along the west edge of the West End.

The west edge of London in about 1809: the dashed line that runs from north to south runs along Edgware Road and Park Lane. West of this libe was Hyde Park and open fields

Until the end of the 18th century and even during the early years of the 19th, west of Park Lane and the West End was the Middlesex countryside, which was dotted with villages such as (for example) Paddington, Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith, Fulham, Acton, Ealing, and Southall. In between these then separated places there were farms, heathlands, parks, stately homes (such as Chiswick House and Osterley Park), and highwaymen.

During the 19th century, several things happened. London expanded in all directions and spread into what had been countryside. The small villages in Middlesex grew in size. Some of them coalesced. Canals and railways were built, and along with them, building in areas that had previously been rural, caused them to become urban. In brief, London spread relentlessly westward. What was called the West End, and is still so-called today, was no longer the west end of the city of London.

Although many previously rustic settlements (such as Paddington and other places mentioned above) became engulfed in the metropolis, most of them have retained at least a few reminders of their pre-urban past. Currently, I am putting the finishing touches on a book about London west of the West End. In it, I hope to help readers discover more about London’s western spread and what has survived it (despite being surrounded by the city’s western expansion).

New York! New York!

Brooklyn Bdg_240

 

In 1992, I decided to visit New York City (‘NYC’). I had a week available and did not want to waste a minute of that precious time.

In order to make efficient use of my time in NYC, I bought several guidebooks. I spent several weeks studying them in my spare time. I wanted to make sure that I did not miss seeing anything that seemed likely to be of interest to me.

As I turned the pages of these books, something began to worry me and nearly made me want to cancel my trip. Each of the books had sections on dangers in the city including ‘mugging’. What worried me most was not that these books warned of the risks of being mugged, BUT what to do when you are mugged, rather than if you are unlucky enough to be mugged. The implication seemed to me to be that getting mugged was inevitable. That was what got me worried.

Well, I decided, if I was going to be mugged, I had better be prepared for it. Had the situation arrived, which (thank heavens) it did not, I was going to hand over my wallet politely without attempting a struggle. However, I was not prepared to hand over all my cash to any old criminal. To avoid this, I carried a useful nmber of US Dollars in my socks beneath the soles of my feet.

As it turned out, my week in NYC was not only free of unpleasant surprises but also highly enjoyable. 

The streets of NYC in 1992 were far more exciting and ‘edgy’ than when I returned for another visit in 2007. Between those two visits, Manhattan seemed to have been socially ‘sanitized’. The sense of excitement and uncertainty that I felt in 1992  had been replaced by an almost dull genteelness. Manhattan had been transformed from an electrifyingly live place to something like an urban theme park. No doubt, those who live there find it an improvement over what it was back in 1992, but I was a little disappointed.