London. Civitas Londinum. My home. A sprawling city with a bustling population. Shall I describe my immediate environs? We must begin with St. Paul’s. It sits upon a hill, rising above the city. Its steeple pierces the sky like a finger pointed towards God, sharp and slim and rigid. Her bells resonate and cut the days into small portions: First it is Prime and then Terce and then Sext until Vespers soothes the day toward the horizon and settles it into the cloak of evening. Within its stone nave, scribes seek business with merchants and officials. Law clerks and serving men alike pace the tiled floors, seeking employment. I, too, wore away the tiles in search of coin many years ago before I found the vocation that suited me best.
That is the commerce of St. Paul’s, and would Jesus not weep to see it. But a church is a public place, like a tavern, and if men must meet, then what greater roof has he than the arches of God?
To the north crossing at an angle from east to west is Paternoster Row, were the cluster of shops of paternosterers congregates in St. Paul’s shadow. But I rarely wile away my time there amongst the beaders. It is further north, and the corner of Paternoster and Cheapside that I traverse with frequency. For up the road is the turn to Gutter Lane, my second home and the place where the Boar’s Tusk can be found. Pissing alleys tear off this main road and the vulgar men of London find their way to the Boar’s Tusk or worse in this part of the parish. When I stagger home at nightfall before the Watch can delay and fine me, I journey west up Cheapside where it becomes the Shambles.
The butcher stalls reek the streets with the smells of butchering, but a man can grow accustomed to anything as long as he has a roof over his head. My roof lies somewhere in the middle of the row, in a room above a tinker shop wedged between a butcher and a poulterer. The lane narrows at the tinker shop and curves away from view as he heads farther west. The houses and stalls lean against one another, as if sharing a secret amongst old gossips. Their second and third floors are jettied out over the streets, leaving the muddy lane often in shadow. My lodgings have a private entrance with a stairwell that slants upward in the shadow of the buildings on either side. It was one of the reasons I chose this location. The other was my purse. It was all I could afford. But my landlord—the tinker Martin Kemp—is a kindly man, if not a bit uxorious of his pig-faced wife Alice. It is bearable.
Should I travel west on the Shambles I encounter Newgate Market with its many stalls and burgesses before the avenue opens wide for Newgate itself, tall, proud, frightening. Its heavy oak gates banded with iron and crenellated towers giving no quarter. I was imprisoned there myself. I do not care for its walls, but I must do business within with the sheriff.
Mmm. I wish to forget Newgate for a time and picture the better scenery of London. The Thames, glittering in the sun, boasts of sleek skiffs and pointed sails skimming through its waters. It cuts the city in half. The northern shores are bright with commerce and churches and cathedrals, but in Southwark—the southern banks—Cock Lane and the stews of London can be found where a man can slack a thirst of another kind. He can traverse across London Bridge if he keeps to daylight hours, for the Bridge is a city within a city with its gates and shops. If a man does not wish to pay the toll, he might offer a halpen to a ferryman to get him across. And in the dead of night, there are such ferrymen who risk fines to take men across while others sleep.
There have been occasions where I have made use of these men as well.
There is much about the city to disparage, but London is alive as no other city in England, and I have been to many. I would not trade London for the richest empires nor others who claim their streets are lined with gold. It is not gold London is lined with, but it serves a place in my heart that cannot be measured on a scale. I am London raised, and I have no doubt, that in London I shall someday die. But as long as I draw breath, I shall do my utmost to keep her safe and sound. If not the jewel of England, it is at least her crown.