Background.

That particular part of Snow Hill where omnibus horses going eastward seriously think of falling down on purpose.‘ is a quotation from Nicholas Nickleby (Chapter 4).

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, more commonly referred to as Nicholas Nickleby, is the third novel by Charles Dickens, originally serialised between 1838 and 1839.

 

Context.

Description of the slope up the Snow Hill area of London, where the noted coaching-inn, the Saracen’s Head Inn was situated The slope was a former bank down to the River Fleet and lead to horses and animals heading eastwards towards Newgate and Smithfield having to go down a bank at Holborn and then climb up at Snow Hill. Dickens is clearly describing that the slope was difficult to climb, using the humour of horses ‘seriously think of falling down on purpose‘.

This was written prior to the building of the Holborn Viaduct bridge, which alleviated the problem by allowing a straight path between the west and east banks of the old River Fleet. The A201 (Farringdon Street) now largely covers the course of the River Fleet in this part of London, but you can see the difference in topography on either side.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 4 of Nicholas Nickleby:

Near to the jail, and by consequence near to Smithfield also, and the Compter, and the bustle and noise of the city; and just on that particular part of Snow Hill where omnibus horses going eastward seriously think of falling down on purpose, and where horses in hackney cabriolets going westward not unfrequently fall by accident, is the coach-yard of the Saracen’s Head Inn; its portal guarded by two Saracens’ heads and shoulders, which it was once the pride and glory of the choice spirits of this metropolis to pull down at night, but which have for some time remained in undisturbed tranquillity; possibly because this species of humour is now confined to St James’s parish, where door knockers are preferred as being more portable, and bell-wires esteemed as convenient toothpicks. Whether this be the reason or not, there they are, frowning upon you from each side of the gateway. The inn itself garnished with another Saracen’s Head, frowns upon you from the top of the yard; while from the door of the hind boot of all the red coaches that are standing therein, there glares a small Saracen’s Head, with a twin expression to the large Saracens’ Heads below, so that the general appearance of the pile is decidedly of the Saracenic order.

 

 

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