Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



DAVID DUFFEY: In 1887 the first Sherlock Holmes story was published.

Stainer wrote "The Crucifixion", which in UK at least has been performed far more times than all Sullivan's oratorio output put together.

There was a failed coup d'etat attempt in Paris, but the French were more successful in organising the Union Indo-Chinoise. Had they not done that there might have been no Vietnam war.

Verdi produced Otello and Borodin died.

1887 was Golden Jubilee year: that is Queen Victoria celebrated 50 years on the throne. The town was illuminated, a good mroyal salutes fired, triumphal arches erected and the bells set ringing. But there was a tremendous rush to be ready in time for the grand ceremonial, especially as for five years previously the streets of central London had been in chaos while a sewerage system was laid.

WSG, in newly built and spacious Kensington, could luxuriate with bathrooms galore: main drainage was laid at the time of building. D'Oyly Carte could build the Savoy Hotel off The Strand with multiple bathrooms only because of the work done between 1881 and 1887, designed and superintended by the greatest but most unsung civil engineer of the age: Sir Joseph Bazelgette.

Before main drainage, raw sewage ran in open channels at right angles to The Strand and thence into The Thames. Today the streets to the North slope down towards The Stand. Prior to 1887 The Strand stood above those streets, forming a bridgeway over them; the streets to the North joined those to the South at the level the Southern streets are at now, with The Strand over them. (I hope I make myself clear, Lady.) Thus Conduit Street is well named: it conducted the effluence from North London directly into The Thames. The Thames Embankment was being constructed as part of these works. The cellars and footings of The Savoy Theatre (including the lower dressing-rooms) were liable to flooding until that work was complete. The acumen of RDOC in buying freehold property on that site only really became fully apparent in 1887.

Although main drainage was laid at that time, there were numerous complaints about the charge for connection to them. There was also opposition from the contractors who employed the "night soil" men. Public conveniences began to appear. Before that time it was common for people to relieve themselves directly in the street, and many did see a reason to use the new facilities.

There was great public and political pressure to have all work completed in time for the Jubilee celebrations. The disruption of the streets continually being dug up added to the gridlock of central London. Huge traffic jams were commonplace, but with horse traffic instead of automobiles. The pollution from horses is more wholesome than from the internal combustion engine, but more inconvenient to pedestrians. Crossing sweepers maintained causeways across streets, creating large heaps in consequence, and expecting a couple of copper coins from everyone using their path. Failure to pay often resulted in the sweeper hurling at the crosser the substance they had used the crossing to avoid.

Road accidents were as common then as now. But with horses being injured as well as people. Horses frequently had to be destroyed on the spot. A Metropolitan Policeman's training included how to despatch a horse using a spike and hammer. There was fierce competition over the disposal of the carcass. To be profitable the knacker's yard had to be as close as possible to the point of collection, and many such businesses had their premises just off main thoroughfares. The smell from them mingled with the sulphurous fog created by five million coal-burning fires.

For Sullivan to get to the Savoy from his home it would be quickest to walk, although to make the journey without some distress to his clothing would have been difficult, so most likely he took a horse-drawn cab of some kind; particularly so in the rain, as the fabrics of the time took a deal of drying.

Gilbert, when living at The Boltons, would have used South Kensington Station, passing through Sloane Square Station before arriving at Charing Cross, from whence The Savoy was but a very short walk, although he is unlikely to have used what is now John Adam Street, which was then a far from savoury place. In 1887, of course WSG was living in Harrington Gardens and would have used Gloucester Road Station - one stop further along the line, but a shorter walk from home to train.

What would we notice, given our wish to journey back through time to visit the first night of Ruddygore? The roads dug up, the suffocating fog, the smell of live and dead horses, the ankle-to knee-deep manure, the rivers of human waste and the smell of a people who did not too frequently bathe. It would require a great effort of will on our part to remain objective enough to appreciate the performance.

Page created 4 October 1997