Story Card, Fancy Fair


Royal Levée, Arcade and Carnival: Have you got a handkerchief?

The Thames Tunnel became a visitor destination and tourists flocked to see the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. On the opening in 1843 there were fifty thousand visitors on the first day! By the end of the fifteenth week, one million people – or half the population of London – had paid to walk the ‘shining avenue of light to Wapping’ .. and how often do you hear the words ‘shining’ and ‘Wapping’ in the same sentence? As a tourist attraction the Tunnel was a huge success.

The Thames Tunnel Company still struggled because the fare for crossing the river – by boat by bridge or by tunnel – was fixed at just one penny. With no cargo ramps there were no tolls from the East India Company or the other big shipping agents. So to try make money, the Company built an underwater shopping arcade. Later there were Fairs and Carnivals and people thronged the Thames Tunnel looking for souvenirs and entertainment.

On a cold, wet day in July 1843, Queen Victoria visited with Prince Albert and Lord Byron. One stall sold silk handkerchiefs, and the shopkeeper threw everything into the mud so that the Queen would not dirty her boots. A bit like Walter Raleigh, except this is a Bermondsey trader not an Elizabethan courtier. For the rest of his life, the trader made a fortune selling handkerchiefs as muddied by Queen Victoria.

He seemed to have an endless supply. At least he wasn’t selling ones she’d blown her nose on.
Some said the Queen could not have muddied that many handkerchiefs on a short visit.I say it was cold and she stamped her feet to keep warm.Some said the boot print was unfeasibly large for a small woman. I say you don’t have to be built like a wrestler to make a big impression. Brunel was a small man but he left a huge footprint. I’m just a slip of a girl from Brunel University, (we used to call it the Arthur Mullard of Further Education) but I manage to get noticed.
‘Stamp your feet and walk all over them’ works for me.


Jo Brand

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