Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Exeter 'Change in 1802

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Loretta reports:

One of my favorite sources, Robert Southey's Letters from England (links below), provides this lively picture of a slice of London early in the 19th century.
My way home from Charing Cross was varied, in as much as I took the other side of the street for the sake of the shop windows, and the variety was greater than I had expected. It took me through a place called Exeter Change, which is precisely a Bazar, a sort of street under cover, or large long room, with a row of shops on either hand, and a thoroughfare between them; the shops being furnished with such articles as might tempt an idler, or remind a passenger of his wants,—walking-sticks, implements for shaving, knives, scissars, watch-chains, purses, &c. At the further end was a man in splendid costume who proved to belong to a menagerie above stairs, to which he invited me to ascend; but I declined this for the present, being without a companion. A maccaw was swinging on a perch above him, and the outside of the building hung with enormous pictures of the animals which were there to be seen.

The oddest things which I saw in the whole walk were a pair of shoes in one window floating in a vessel of water, to show that they were water-proof; and a well-dressed leg in another, betokening that legs were made there to the life. One purchase I ventured to make, that of a travelling caissette;* there were many at the shop-door, with the prices marked upon them, so that I did not fear imposition. These things are admirably made and exceedingly convenient. I was shown some which contained the whole apparatus of a man's toilet, but this seemed an ill assortment, as when writing you do not want the shaving materials, and when shaving as little do you want the writing desk.

*A small case or box.
My cherished copy is the 1951 edition, edited by Jack Simmons
Or you can read it online: Volume 1 here and Volume 2 here.

Illustration; Exeter 'Change, from London in the 19th Century, Thomas Shepherd, 1829.


Keri@AWH said...

Very interesting! Definitely going to check that book out. One question—in the phrase "a well-dressed leg in another, betokening that legs were made there to the life", what does that mean, "legs were made there to the life"? Maybe it's a tailor shop that fits clothing to a person? Or do they make prostheses?? I'm dying to know ;D

Also, I was interested in the word caissette and whether it was the same word as "cassette" that was later used as in cassette tape, and it turns out it is:

"cassette (n.)
1793, "little box," from Fr. cassette, from M.Fr. casset, dim. of O.N.Fr. casse "box" (see case (n.2)). Meaning "magnetic tape recorder cartridge" is from 1960."

LorettaChase said...

Keri, prostheses was my interpretation. Re the "caissette":The item he describes was also called a "pocket toilet"—though I came across this phrase in 1830s advertising. The OED has an 1875 entry for "cassette," too, as a case for carrying photography plates. I think it was just a term for a small case.

Keri@AWH said...

Very interesting, thanks!

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