Sketches by Boz HTML version

12. Greenwich Fair
If the Parks be 'the lungs of London,' we wonder what Greenwich Fair is - a periodical
breaking out, we suppose, a sort of spring- rash: a three days' fever, which cools the
blood for six months afterwards, and at the expiration of which London is restored to its
old habits of plodding industry, as suddenly and completely as if nothing had ever
happened to disturb them.
In our earlier days, we were a constant frequenter of Greenwich Fair, for years. We
have proceeded to, and returned from it, in almost every description of vehicle. We
cannot conscientiously deny the charge of having once made the passage in a spring-
van, accompanied by thirteen gentlemen, fourteen ladies, an unlimited number of
children, and a barrel of beer; and we have a vague recollection of having, in later days,
found ourself the eighth outside, on the top of a hackney-coach, at something past four
o'clock in the morning, with a rather confused idea of our own name, or place of
residence. We have grown older since then, and quiet, and steady: liking nothing better
than to spend our Easter, and all our other holidays, in some quiet nook, with people of
whom we shall never tire; but we think we still remember something of Greenwich Fair,
and of those who resort to it. At all events we will try.
The road to Greenwich during the whole of Easter Monday, is in a state of perpetual
bustle and noise. Cabs, hackney-coaches, 'shay' carts, coal-waggons, stages,
omnibuses, sociables, gigs, donkey- chaises - all crammed with people (for the question
never is, what the horse can draw, but what the vehicle will hold), roll along at their
utmost speed; the dust flies in clouds, ginger-beer corks go off in volleys, the balcony of
every public-house is crowded with people, smoking and drinking, half the private
houses are turned into tea-shops, fiddles are in great request, every little fruit- shop
displays its stall of gilt gingerbread and penny toys; turnpike men are in despair; horses
won't go on, and wheels will come off; ladies in 'carawans' scream with fright at every
fresh concussion, and their admirers find it necessary to sit remarkably close to them,
by way of encouragement; servants-of-all-work, who are not allowed to have followers,
and have got a holiday for the day, make the most of their time with the faithful admirer
who waits for a stolen interview at the corner of the street every night, when they go to
fetch the beer - apprentices grow sentimental, and straw-bonnet makers kind.
Everybody is anxious to get on, and actuated by the common wish to be at the fair, or in
the park, as soon as possible.
Pedestrians linger in groups at the roadside, unable to resist the allurements of the stout
proprietress of the 'Jack-in-the-box, three shies a penny,' or the more splendid offers of
the man with three thimbles and a pea on a little round board, who astonishes the