The Song of Six Suburbs

(notes by Alastair Wilson)


This parody of Kipling’s ‘The Song of the Cities’ was published in Punch..

‘Punch’ was a humorous and satirical magazine first published, on a weekly basis, in 1841 – it finally died – a somewhat lingering death – in 1992.  It was resurrected for a short time, 1996-2002, but its final death was FINAL.

It was essentially aimed at the British middle classes, and could be found in every dentist’s and doctor’s waiting room throughout the land.  Its contributors included some of the best writers of light prose of its time (they included A A Milne), while the artists, particularly those who contributed the political cartoons, included John Leech, John Tenniel, L.Raven-Hill and Linley Sambourne, while the illustrators of the lighter cartoons included ‘Fougasse’ (Kenneth Bird) and Brockbank.  Up to WW2, most of the written contributions were unidentified, or marked by the author’s initials only.

My personal acquaintance with the magazine came at my preparatory school, public school, and Dartmouth Naval College, the libraries of which had long runs of bound copies of the magazine, some going back to 1841.  My personal library contains a more-or-less continuous run, 1902-1937, with one or two later up to 1961.  In my view, it was excellent material for middle-class social history, while if you wished to know how men, women, and children were dressed at any time, 1840-1970, Punch was the source to use.


Notes on the text

[Verse 1]

 Brixton Rise: was a row of four up-market large semidetached houses fronting onto Brixton Hill – built in 1880, and clearly something of an architectural cause-celebre.

 [Verse 2]

Tooting beckons:.  a play on words. Part of Tooting is known as Tooting Bec, from the Abbey at Bec in Normandy which held lands in what is now Tooting.

[Verse 3]

The heights of Hampstead Heath: the playground of cockney Londoners, especially at Bank Holidays – hence “‘Appy ‘Ampstead’”.

[Verse 4]

idyl:  This is so spelt, though the OED spells it “idyll”.  However, Kipling uses his own idiosyncratic version with the single ‘l’ elsewhere, as in the title of his 1884 poem, “Nursery Idyls”. 

A-comin’ through the rye: from a poem by Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, but here also a play on words, since Peckham Rye (an old English word for ‘brook’) is (or was) a feature of Peckham Rye Common, in the centre of Peckham.

[Verse 5]

the Chatham line:  The London Chatham and Dover Railway, possibly the least popular of London’s suburban railways, passed through Clapham borough, though not through the well-known Clapham Junction (which is actually in the next-door borough of Wandsworth).

[Verse 6]]

Civilian warriors from India:  The suggestion would seem to be that the borough of Ealing was particularly a place where members of the ICS (Indian Civil Service) lived in retirement.