Episode 18: London Legends, Part 1: Visitors

“A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else”

This is the first of two episodes looking at some legends from that Heart of Darkness itself: London town.

This time round there are three stories of those who, like many throughout the centuries, travelled to the city from elsewhere. One is a genuine Elizabethan wonder woman, one an ancient train-buff and one a very big dreamer.

(And we manage not to cover Dick Whittington… sorry if that’s what you wanted)

I came to London. It had become the centre of my world and I had worked hard to come to it. And I was lost.

V. S. Naipaul
Stories in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)

The story in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.

If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…

There were seven of them on horseback, mostly women, travelling from the sleepy backwaters of Lancashire to start a new life in the great city.

At the time the journey was a long and difficult one, and making connections harder still, so the immigrants were led by the carrier, Willis, a type who made his living ferrying messages and goods between London and the rest of the country.

Amongst them was Meg, or Long Meg as she was already known in her district, on account of her notable stature.

She was looking forward to making her fortune in the great city and after many days travelling was delighted when the skyline came into view.

She was considerably less delighted when out of the blue, Willis demanded of the company that they now provide him with ten shilling each or else they’d go no further. “And if you ain’t got it I’ll have your jewels”.

Willis had offered his services freely, or at minimal charge as he was going that way anyway. This was robbery.

He was a large man with a cudgel to match. Most of the ladies – far from home, and with such a figure threatening them – saw their only option was to pay the outrageous sum.

Meg saw things differently. She casually swung herself off her horse, took her innocent looking walking staff from off the beast.

“A gallon of wine for ya, and if any of us become rich I’m sure we’ll come find you and pay you handsomely. That’s what we’ll do”. She stated factually.

Willis disagreed… raised his cudgel. And Meg moved fast.

There was a cacophony of onomatopoeic sounds that would be put in spiked balloons in a comic: “SMASH!” “CRASH!” “WALLOP!”.

And it wasn’t long before she had not only extracted a promise that all the women would be placed with good mistresses before Willis left the city but she had also taken from his possession coins of about ten shillings value for each of the women. Coins he offered up very willingly, after being informed that the alternative was a few more beatings with Meg’s stout staff.

Dear reader – Please be aware now that all of Meg’s so called ‘pranks’ follow this same worn track.

Good to his word the subjugated Willis took them to the Eagle Inn, where the landlady was seeking a maid. Willis introduced them, avoided discussion about this injuries and soon a selection process was beginning.

The owner of the Eagle was wild one herself, drinking in the afternoon with a Spanish Knight, a Dr Skelton and an upstanding English Gent by the name of Will Somers. And she enlisted their help in making her decision.

“What do you think guys?”

“The tall one, she’ll be a good worker” said Dr Skeleton in a thin reedy voice.

“What do you actually do?” asked Will of Meg.

“Well I can do your usual labour around the house and what not, but I suppose I specialise in taking quite good care of any ruffians I encounter when engaged upon my business.”

“Really?” said the landlady. “This is a London pub and I’ll have you know things get pretty hairy in here. Especially when our generous patrons decide to avail themselves of our fine fare but then leave without providing recompense. Which slips their mind quite often.”

“Oh I’d have no trouble with that Miss” said Meg.

And at that The Spanish Knight made the mistake of scoffing. To which Meg smiled and said the Elizabethan equivalent of “bring it”.

Quarter of an hour later or so a boxing match between Meg and the Knight was ending with him flying through the air before coming to rest on the ground several feet away from Meg.

“You’re hired” said the Landlady at once.

And from that day on Long Meg became Long Meg of Westminster.. and many more adventures awaited her. (They’re all the same, she beats people up, on an increasingly large scale, progressing to joining the army. I’m not going to tell it all here for fear of repetition.)

Just the beginning…

The second story on this podcast is a quick one about an unwilling visitor taking the tube. It’s quite short so I’ve not included it here to avoid compressing it too much. Give the podcast a listen if you want to hear it.

Swaffham is a small town in Norfolk, about a hundred miles from London. And it was home to a good and honest Peddler – a man who moved around the district selling what wares he could come by.

He was always accompanied by his little dog who loved him well and whom he loved in return. Often he would sleep by the road but he did have a little house and his landlord was forever taking his meagre earnings.

One night, after a particularly hard day, he found himself dreaming more vividly than ever he had before: a dream of a great bridge, busy with people, houses and shops lining its sides, spanning a mighty river.

While he had never been there he knew that only in London could so many people, so great a number of houses and so large a bridge be found. 

Though nothing much happened the dream stayed with him when he woke. The next night he had it again. This time he got the distinct sense it was calling to him.

After he had the dream the third night.. well, he was no fool and if destiny was calling him then he would damn well listen.

So he took all his meagre savings, and used them to make the trip. After some days of travelling he found himself on that very bridge. It was just like he’d seen in his dream and filled with maybe more people than he’d seen in his entire life to that point.

But now he was here… What to do? He walked up and down the bridge, admired the sights and sounds and (some of) the smells of the great city. But nothing particular happened.

Yet he was a patient man and he hadn’t come all that distance for nothing. The second day spent on the bridge he was getting used to it. Unlike those who lived in the city, rushing from one place to or another or selling goods and services to the rushers he had the luxury of looking out over the river and city and just thinking, his dog very pleasant company as he did.

His very limited means would run out soon he knew. But just one more day he thought, three times like the dream.

And it was on the third day that one of the hawkers who populated the bridge approached him.

The man had resisted the temptation much of the first day and all of the second, but the guy was here again! Doing nothing? This would not do!!

“So are you selling something then?” he demanded.

“Oh no Sir”, said the Peddler.

“Then what you doing here just standing around, what, pray, is the point of that? Not honest work that, lazy some’d call it” said the hawker rudely.

But the Peddler was not offended, he was a friendly sort, and welcome of some conversation after days alone. So he simply explained about his dreams and how they brought him here.

When he was done his companion openly scoffed.

“A dream, a dream??? You stand here idly because of a dream. If we all acted on our dreams….” the man shook his head condescendingly “look I had a dream just last night that I was in some place I’d never heard of.. Swaffham, what a name! And in an orchard behind some ramshackle old house I dreamt myself digging up a great treasure beneath the single oak tree there and becoming mighty rich.”

“Do you see me trekking to find this fanciful oak, wasting my life on a dream? Of course not! I’m a practical man, whereas you sir, if you don’t mind me saying, are a fool to believe such nonsense….”

Inwardly the Peddler celebrated. An orchard backed on to his house. An orchard with a single oak. Outwardly he feigned obsequiousness. “Oh, you know what you’re quite right. What a fool I am! You’ve convinced me! I’ll head straight back to the place I’ve come from and forget chasing dreams in London! Cheerio!”

“Quite right too” said the Hawker, and returned to his selling.

There was of course treasure buried beneath the oak, and the Peddler dug it up.

The Peddler would go to London many more times in his life.. but in the future he would go not by foot but in the best carriage that money could buy.

Now although he grew wealthy he never forgot his roots and remained humble and generous with his money, for he gave much to the poor and granted funds to rebuild the church.

So many years later, when the former-pedlar passed away he had many friends and fans in Swaffham, and in his memory they erected a statue of him in that Church, with the pack on his back, and his dog by his side.

And I don’t really think the moral needs stating here – but just in case it does.

Follow your dreams. Your literal dreams. Not your desires. Even if they’re very dull indeed.

The End

Long Meg of Westminster Chapbook

Not this one

(Long Meg – not to be confused with the Stone Circle Long Meg)

I think the collection of chapbook images below tells the tale of Long Meg better than I do, and covers the whole story. They are just missing those *crash*, bang, *wallop” speech bubbles.

If you want the rest of the story not told in the episode it’s basically all here. No need to read the original source (though that is linked at the bottom of the page if for some odd reason this isn’t enough for you).

I mean that said the title of the chapbook does a fairly good job of telling the story all on its own.

Spoilers galore… *deep breath* “The life of Long Meg of Westminster: containing the mad merry pranks she played in her life time, not onely in performing sundry quarrels with divers ruffians about London, but also how valiantly she behaued her selfe in the warres of Bolloingne

The other legends…

Enjoy this small medley of images from the other two stories.

Pedlar of Swaffham (top left): David Dixon, CC: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Selected Sources

Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music

Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:

Main Square
Roads that burned our boots

Damiano Baldni

Lionel Schmitt
Lumina land

Hot October

Kevin Macleod (incompotech.com)
Crossing the cavern

Doctor Turtle
Ladies take me With You

A weird mechanism

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Welcome to Tales of Britain & Ireland: A podcast telling folktales, myths and legends from across Britain and Ireland. Hosted by Graeme Cooke.

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