Let me tell you about my home town whose reputation encouraged me to up stakes as a young man and move right across the world to London which for some mysterious reason had always seemed to be, well, my home town.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Overcrowding ... In the 1800s, life could be very tough for London's new arrivals, as this shot from the 1860s of slums in London shows. (Many thanks to Wikipedia.)
Yet as I look at the details related by, I realise suddenly that while this magic city, this metropolis, had beckoned me from so far off, I had never even visited the place.

As far as I can recall, not once.

I arrived in the world in Salisbury but was brought up in my earliest years in Southampton.

The family migrated

Crippling conditions after the war inspired my parents to migrate, and off the family went to New Zealand.

How did this metropolis reach out to me? I still wonder, but it’s quite possible that the greater proportion of my almost nine million neighbours couldn’t say either.

They aren't short of praise, though. Here's one of our earlier residents, for instance.

'London ... Immense. The richest town in the world, the biggest port, the greatest manufacturing town, the Imperial city, the centre of civilisation, the heart of the world. It's a wonderful place ... a whirlpool, a maelstrom! It whirls you up and it whirls you down.’

That was H G Wells 200 years ago.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Foggy old London ... Back in the 1800s and very much later, fog was a real negative for London. Thanks to Wikipedia for this contemporary view of the hazard.
It remains a magical place, which the excellent certainly emphasises in its excerpt from London: A Life in Maps, by Peter Whitfield, published by the British Library.


All contemporary observers ... agreed that there was something awe-inspiring about nineteenth-century London, Peter Whitfield writes.

‘By any objective standard, it was the largest city in the world ... but the central fact about the city was the growing awareness, on all sides, that it presented a series of urgent challenges ...

‘The first and most obvious was the population explosion, which in a sense underlay all the others.

‘In the year 1800, approximately one million people lived within ten miles of Westminster. By 1881, it was 4.5 million, and by 1911 it would be 7 million.

‘London's population was greater than that of Switzerland, or Greece, or Australia. There were more Irish in London than in Dublin, and more Roman Catholics than in Rome.’

Prostitution, drunkenness

The consequences, he reports, was overcrowding, squalid housing, relentless starvation wages, crime, disease, prostitution, drunkenness and disorder.

A second challenge was very different, the pursuit of wealth through new industries. ‘No matter your social origins, wealth was open to anyone with the energy and imagination to become an entrepreneur.’

Very strangely, as I stepped down from the train in London for the first time, I felt immediately at home.

I found work in my trade of journalism quite quickly. After a few years though, as rewarding as Fleet Street had been, a desire to sail and to become a singlehanded Cape Horner took over, and thanks to London, I was lucky enough to achieve the goal.

Thanks very much for visiting the mostly Tuesday and Thursday blogs for my adventure book, Sailing to Purgatory, which are introduced each time on Facebook Facebook dot com/Sailingtopurgatory and on Blogger,

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The blogs for Sailing to Purgatory are introduced on Facebook and Blogger.