This week in Mash History: Londoner discovers places other than London, 1699

MODERN Londoners understand, in theory, there are cities outside London. Some intrepid explorers even visit them and return with wild tales of affordable housing and pints. 

But this was only discovered in the late 17th century when the capital’s wealthiest and most mediocre progeny created the Grand Tour, which is also where ‘having travel stories in place of a personality’ originated.

While the voyages of Columbus and Marco Polo are celebrated, many overlook these adventuring, unemployed young men who discovered the lost world known as Provincial Britain.

A letter from one of these pioneers reads: “Father. I am so very glad to have taken this year out from my studies to travel and find mine own self, for I have also found the most wondrous thing: ‘Northern England’.

“You warned one could only fare as far as Watford before the ground ended and your carriage toppled into the vastness of God’s creation. It would seem, however, there is not only land but creatures that seem almost human.

“O, I wish I had sense enough to draw meaning from their gutteral growls! I have not heard a word of English since entering the dwelling they call York but I have made progress loudening my voice and pointing commandingly, which they enjoy.

“Based on their dwelling and ordure-daubed maps, I have speculated that there may be one, even two more places that are crude, childlike imitations of London inhabited by troglodytes beyond the Lord’s grace.

“I long to learn if the legends of a mythical Scotland are true, though I think they are mere fairytales, like the legends of King Arthur or claims of a woman’s autonomy.

“Calm your worries. I shall return home soon with sketches and mayhap even a captive to be exhibited for the edification of gentlemen. I send my soiled linens that you may have cleaned and mended to distract yourself. I will be back beneath your roof, free of rent, in a mere two months.”

And so, were it not for these young travellers’ wanderings, Londoners might never have known that a ‘Birmingham’ existed, much as they do not today.

Next week: to 1851, when Isambard Kingdom Brunel invented severe delays due to planned engineering works.

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