Yesterday I was looking through one of my favourite old books, Black's Guide to London and Its Environs, 1905, thirteenth edition. I was wondering if one could still use parts of it today.
The top "essential" sights are all the same: the Tower, St Paul's, Wesminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, National Gallery, British Museum etc. You could visit the Tower for free on Mondays and Saturdays but sixpence to visit on other days. It was another sixpence to see the Crown Jewels. St Paul's was mostly free, you paid sixpence to visit the whispering gallery. Madame Tussaud's is there as the Tussaud's Waxworks, newly moved from its previous spot on Baker Street. Queen Mary's Garden in Regent's Park was called the Royal Botanic Garden (not to be confused with the Botanical Gardens). Tower Bridge was only opened in 1894. Pedestrians could "hold on by mounting to the upper galleries. They will be disappointed by the view which might be expected hence, as the sides are shut in so as to give only tantalising peeps of the scene below". However, Black's provides a photograph of London taken from the bridge. What is most striking is how low the height of the buildings and how many, twenty at least, church spires are to be seen sticking up high over the rooftops.
Hotels, they say, are too many to mention. There is a reference to the Russell Hotel in Bloomsbury, "one of the new monster hostelries". In the luxury class are the Savoy, the Cecil and the Carlton. "At such a place one must be prepared to spend at least one pound a day". (Oh, for a time machine!)
Thackeray's Temperance Hotel on Gt Russell Street advertises "passenger lifts, electric light throughout, heated throughout, bathrooms on every floor."
Travel in 1905 was obviously for the well-off. Sampson and Son made special shirts for travelling out of saratta with "soft fronts and stiff cuffs." If you sent Arthur Percy & Co of Argyll St "50 moleskins off your own estate" they would make you a moleskin waistcoat "ideal for motoring". No group tours or white tennis shoes were on the horizon.
There is much more in the book but this is getting too long. It seems that although London has changed so much over the years there is still, at its heart, some things which were familiar one hundred years ago, familiar now and, hopefully, will be familiar 100 years from now.