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The Naming Of Streets
by [?]

‘The Rebuilding of London’ proceeds ruthlessly apace. The humble old houses that dare not scrape the sky are being duly punished for their timidity. Down they come; and in their place are shot up new tenements, quick and high as rockets. And the little old streets, so narrow and exclusive, so shy and crooked–we are making an example of them, too. We lose our way in them, do we?–we whose time is money. Our omnibuses can’t trundle through them, can’t they? Very well, then. Down with them! We have no use for them. This is the age of `noble arteries.’

`The Rebuilding of London’ is a source of much pride and pleasure to most of London’s citizens, especially to them who are county councillors, builders, contractors, navvies, glaziers, decorators, and so forth. There is but a tiny residue of persons who do not swell and sparkle. And of these glum bystanders at the carnival I am one. Our aloofness is mainly irrational, I suppose. It is due mainly to temperamental Toryism. We say `The old is better.’ This we say to ourselves, every one of us feeling himself thereby justified in his attitude. But we are quite aware that such a postulate would not be accepted by time majority. For the majority, then, let us make some show of ratiocination. Let us argue that, forasmuch as London is an historic city, with many phases and periods behind her, and forasmuch as many of these phases and periods are enshrined in the aspect of her buildings, the constant rasure of these buildings is a disservice to the historian not less than to the mere sentimentalist, and that it will moreover (this is a more telling argument) filch from Englishmen the pleasant power of crowing over Americans, and from Americans the unpleasant necessity of balancing their pity for our present with envy of our past. After all, our past is our point d’appui. Our present is merely a bad imitation of what the Americans can do much better.

Ignoring as mere scurrility this criticism of London’s present, but touched by my appeal to his pride in its history, the average citizen will reply, reasonably enough, to this effect: `By all means let us have architectural evidence of our epochs–Caroline, Georgian, Victorian, what you will. But why should the Edvardian be ruled out? London is packed full of architecture already. Only by rasing much of its present architecture can we find room for commemorating duly the glorious epoch which we have just entered. To this reply there are two rejoinders: (1) let special suburbs be founded for Edvardian buildings; (2) there are no really Edvardian buildings, and there won’t be any. Long before the close of the Victorian Era our architects had ceased to be creative. They could not express in their work the spirit of their time. They could but evolve a medley of old styles, some foreign, some native, all inappropriate. Take the case of Mayfair. Mayfair has for some years been in a state of transition. The old Mayfair, grim and sombre, with its air of selfish privacy and hauteur and leisure, its plain bricked fa�ades, so disdainful of show- -was it not redolent of the century in which it came to being? Its wide pavements and narrow roads between–could not one see in them the time when by day gentlemen and ladies went out afoot, needing no vehicle to whisk them to a destination, and walked to and fro amply, needing elbow-room for their dignity and their finery, and by night were borne in chairs, singly? And those queer little places of worship, those stucco chapels, with their very secular little columns, their ample pews, and their negligible altars over which one saw the Lion and the Unicorn fighting, as who should say, for the Cross–did they not breathe all the inimitable Erastianism of their period? In qua te qaero proseucha, my Lady Powderbox? Alas! every one of your tabernacles is dust now–dust turned to mud by the tears of the ghost of the Rev. Charles Honeyman, and by my own tears…. I have strayed again into sentiment. Back to the point–which is that the new houses and streets in Mayfair mean nothing. Let me show you Mount Street. Let me show you that airy stretch of sham antiquity, and defy you to say that it symbolises, how remotely soever, the spirit of its time. Mount Street is typical of the new Mayfair. And the new Mayfair is typical of the new London. In the height of these new houses, in the width of these new roads, future students will find, doubtless, something characteristic of this pressing and bustling age. But from the style of the houses he will learn nothing at all. The style might mean anything; and means, therefore, nothing. Original architecture is a lost art in England; and an art that is once lost is never found again. The Edvardian Era cannot be commemorated in its architecture.