Love London History? Join our Facebook group, Londonist Memory Machine.
Here at Londonist, there's something that consistently grinds our gears.
It's the glut of 'London used to be brilliant, but now it's too busy so I'm leaving' articles that have flooded the media in the past few years. They're full of the same cliches, citing how much fun the author had in London when they were younger, 'but fun doesn't give my daughter a garden'.
Blah, blah, blah, we get the point already. Houses are cheaper outside London. There's less pollution out in the sticks. The view from the window is completely bucolic. We don't have anything against people who leave London. It's just these ruddy articles where those people demand validation for those life choices that drive us up the wall.
And now it turns out these people aren't even original. Because back in 1928 the original 'London's gone to shit' article was written, by none other than D.H. Lawrence. That's right, around the same time Lawrence was attempting to publish the highly controversial novel Lady Chatterly's Lover, he was also moaning about the Big Smoke. Maybe it was all his whinging that led to publishers unwillingness to touch his novel, rather than its sexual candour.
It was published in The Evening News in 1928, a time that holds a noteworthy parallel to our own era. The population had just hit eight million, a figure that the city only climbed back up to in the last ten years, following the post-war decline.
Lawrence's piece on London does have one key difference to all the imitators that would later follow him. He himself never lived in London. He was born in Nottinghamshire, but from about 1908 he visited London regularly, for both work and personal reasons, until 1926, when he swore off the city. However, even without living there, the writing strikes the same key tenets as any modern-day 'Why I'm Leaving London' article. Namely, London used to be the bee's knees. Observe below:
Twenty years ago, London was to me thrilling, thrilling, thrilling, the vast and roaring heart of all adventure. It was not only the heart of the world, it was the heart of the world's living adventure. How wonderful the Strand, the Bank, Charing Cross at night, Hyde Park in the morning!
That's standard fare for these anti-London lot — but Lawrence then gets lyrical, upping the ante in a way that only a talented author of his ilk can. He starts to praise the London of the past even further before brutally taking down the London of 1928:
The traffic of London used to roar with the mystery of a man's adventure on the seas of life, like a vast sea-shell, murmuring a thrilling, half-comprehensible story. Now it booms like monotonous, far-off guns, in a monotony of crushing something, crushing the earth, crushing out life, crushing everything dead.
Yes, this gets pretty bleak — and we'd like to say we disagree but we weren't around in the 1920s, so perhaps he's right. Maybe London did used to be that dismal. Whether or not he's right, it's excellently written, evocative stuff. If anything it puts today's efforts even further to shame — someone was doing this better than you are, over 80 years ago.
Not only is D.H. Lawrence's article superior, he also struck a deep truth when writing this piece. He joked that instead of being titled 'Why I Don't Like Living In London' it should have been 'Why London Doesn't Like Me'. That's true of anyone who writes a 'Why I'm Leaving London' article today. They just lack the self-awareness to see that.