Speed dating greenwich london


21-May-2015 08:02

Dickens plainly adored the multitudinous spectacle that seized Greenwich every Easter and Whitsun.

In Sketches by Boz (1836), he declares “we were a constant frequenter of Greenwich Fair, for years” - and confesses that if the memory of the high times enjoyed in earlier, youthful years is cloudy, that has much to do with the befuddling effect of late nights and too much drink.

“It’s really important for us to have an idea of where we came from,” says the festival director Bradley Hemming, who, to the tune of several hundred thousand pounds, is filling the centre of Greenwich with free outdoor acts in what he’s describing as a modern-day response to this bygone facet of London life.

“I’m after that sense of being able to feel the different layers of the past - and engage with the ghosts of the 19th-century,” he continues.

“Can we remember it and can we do something that’s as exciting for the 21st century?I want to create an atmosphere of there being more on offer than you can possibly see.” What he can’t do is wave a wand, undo “progress”, and allow today’s youth to go hurtling downhill from the top of Observatory Hill en masse, endangering life and limb – “We can’t risk-assess that,” he jokes.But, of course, his memory isn’t cloudy; distilling into 3,000 words or so the essence of all the fun and frolics, which he likens to “a sort of spring-rash: a three days’ fever, which cools the blood for six months afterwards”, his article is packed with keenly observed details.He describes the unruly mass migration across London by every mode of transport - “Cabs, hackney-coaches, 'shay’ carts, coal-waggons, stages, omnibuses, sociables, gigs, donkey-chaises”.

And then he pitches us into the fray, conjuring the hawkers and sharps who haunted the park and its surrounding area by day.

He also relays the most eagerly indulged pastime in the park - that of “tumbling”: “The principal amusement is to drag young ladies up the steep hill which leads to the Observatory, and then drag them down again, at the very top of their speed, greatly to the derangement of their curls and bonnet-caps, and much to the edification of lookers-on from below.” Such barely respectable daytime pleasures gave way in the evening to the full licentious, thrill-seeking glory of the fair itself.



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