The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 3 St. James's and Green Parks

Foreign tourists and The Mall

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All foreign visitors to London naturally went to see the Mall. Here is the account of a German baron, describing the man of the world: "He rises late, dresses himself in a frock (close-fitting garment, without pockets, and with narrow sleeves), leaves his sword at home, takes his cane, and goes where he likes. Generally he takes his promenade in the Park, for that is the exchange for the men of quality. 'Tis such another place as the Garden of the Tuileries in Paris, only the Park has a certain beauty of simplicity which cannot be described. The grand walk is called the Mall. It is full of people at all hours of the day, but especially in the morning and evening, when their Majesties often walk there, with the royal family, who are attended only by half-a-dozen Yeomen of the Guard, and permit all persons to walk at the same time with them." A writer in 1727, waxing eloquent on the charms of the Park, gives up the task of describing it, as "the beauty of the Mall in summer is almost past description." "What can be more glorious than to view the body of the nobility of our three kingdoms in so short a compass, especially when freed from mixed crowds of saucy fops and city gentry ?" But more often the company was very mixed, and manners peculiar. This brilliant and motley assembly indulged in all kinds of amusements. Even the grandest frequenters afforded diversion sometimes to the "saucy fops." Wrestling matches between various courtiers attracted crowds, or a race such as one between the Duke of Grafton and Dr. Garth, of 200 yards, was the excitement of the day. There were odd and original races got up, and wagers freely staked. Some inhuman parents backed their baby of eighteen months old to walk the whole length of the Mall (half a mile) in thirty minutes, and the poor little mite performed the feat in twenty-three minutes. What comments would modern philanthropic societies have made on such a performance! A race between a fat cook and a lean footman caused great merriment, but as the footman was handicapped by carrying 110 lbs., the fat cook won. Another time it was a hopping-race which engrossed attention-a man undertook to hop one hundred yards in fifty hops, and succeeded in doing it in forty-six-and endless variety of similar follies. The crowds who assembled indulged in every sort of gaiety; "in short, no freedoms that can be taken here are reckoned indecent; all passes for raillery and harmless gallantry."