[A]s we decide which way we vote this week, and reminding ourselves on how our political masters have been found to be without principles, don’t blame them for their venality and greed for it was always the way of English political life.
If you chance across Craig’s Court, a small alleyway off Whitehall near Trafalgar Square you will come across the façade of Harrington House, now a secret telephone exchange, but once a mansion bearing the name of its builder, the Earl who built it.
When Whitehall Palace burnt down, Harrington was convinced that the Palace, the centre of power and privilege in the mid 18th Century, would be rebuilt on its original site. Living next to the King meant Harrington could visit the Court every day and seek patronage. Patronage like today meant a title or a job needing little or no work or skills, but an income. Known as Old Corruption it was the way of the world for a corrupt government. Unfortunately for Harrington he was wrong the palace wasn’t built and Parliament was located half-a-mile away from his huge home at the other end of Whitehall.
Nowadays with better transport means these self-serving bunch of chancers don’t need to be looking into the Monarch’s back garden to further their careers, but they have in the past have gone some way to improve their journey should they choose to walk the length of Whitehall for their own selfish motives.
Another example of politicians using their influence again can be found in Craig’s Court with its pavement, like me you probably thought those pavements were, with the exception of Exhibition Road, for the benefit of pedestrians.
Until 1761 London’s streets had no pavements, no delineation from that part of the roadway where wheeled vehicles travelled and where pedestrians walked, so when a carriage driver wanted, he would simply drive along the street as near to the walls of the houses as he liked.
This meant that going for walk was a hazardous business as London at that time had far fewer wide streets than it does today, it also meant that in particularly narrow streets, carriages occasionally got stuck, literally between the houses.
It is for this reason why the City of London has no thoroughfares called road, as a road in early London meant that it was capable of taking two carts side by side, clearly impossible in medieval London.
Kerbstones and pavements began to appear after the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr Speaker Onslow, got stuck in Craig’s Court after a visit to Harrington’s House. Parliament had long debated what to do about the narrow, dirty, dangerous streets of London, but they could never reach agreement about who should pay for improvements.
Then one day early in the 1760s Onslow drove in his massive, stately carriage up Whitehall and into Craig’s Court. At the narrowest part of the alleyway where it opens into the courtyard his carriage got stuck fast between the walls of the houses on either side. If there had been kerbstones and pavements the driver would have been stopped before he got stuck. After fruitless attempts to extricate the carriage, a red-faced and by all accounts extremely angry Mr Speaker Onslow had to be extricated through a hole cut in the roof of the carriage, now wouldn’t you like to see that in today papers?.
He returned to Parliament on foot and when the next debate on the state of the streets was held he helped vote through a bill that compelled each householder in London to pay for a row of kerbstones in front of his or her house, not you note paid by Parliament.