National Geographic : 1937 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE houses. At its Butler Street building I was shown 70 rooms full of Oriental carpets enough to cover a farm of 120 acres! "People buy most carpets in June, for wedding presents," said a man looking for moths. There were electric ovens, too, for conditioning raw silk, a mountain of Ha vana cigars, and leaf tobacco enough to last one man, say, 500,000 years! Here is a furtive horde of lean black cats, to help out the official human ratcatchers. Musty wine vaults use 28 miles of under ground track on which to roll barrels that hold the 12,000,000 gallons of wine brought to London each year. "Most of it is port and sherry," said an old gauger who has worked there 41 years. "Some of the oldest was here when I came." AN IVORY AND TOOTH MARKET This is the world's ivory and tooth mar ket (page 9). It takes 16,000,000 artifi cial teeth from the United States every year-and some 2,000 elephant tusks from Africa and Asia. "Not many tusks are from newly slain elephants," said a warehouse guard. "Most of them come from mudholes, left by ani mals long dead. Sometimes we get the ice preserved tusks of Siberian mammoths, as well as narwhal tusks and hippopotamus teeth. "That pile there is rhino horns; they're not ivory-just compressed hair. Chinese usually buy them for medicine, but when the Italians were invading Ethiopia, agents came from Emperor Haile Selassie to buy these rhino horns; they wanted them to make 'courage-giving' medicine for their warriors. They bid the price up so high that the Chinese dropped out of the market. But apparently the 'medicine' wouldn't work in Abyssinia!" Wool was England's chief export in the Middle Ages. Today it is one of London's main imports. It takes the fleeces from about fifty million sheep to meet London's annual demands! Tea trade has centered here for 300 years. In Mincing Lane you can see brokers bid ding on lots which have been expertly sampled by PLA's own teatasters (page 13). I went in bareheaded, slipped into an empty seat, and watched bidding which absorbs 500,000,000 pounds of tea a year. When they "bulk" tea, or mix it, on some warehouse floors you may see it heaped up in mounds higher than men's heads. Still in business, in London, is the succes sor of the firm that shipped tea to Boston for that historic "party" of long ago (p. 53). Spice rooms on the docks smell of Singa pore pepper, Ceylon cinnamon, and cloves. Here experts "garble" or sort nutmegs, ker nels of a fruit of which mace is the husk; perfume makers come here for tonka beans from Panama, and civet cat serum packed in sealed cowhorns from Djibouti. I saw one chunk of ambergris worth $5,000! From the Matto Grosso (Brazil) come vanilla beans, ipecac, and sarsaparilla roots wound in balls that look like brown twine; also aloes from Aden packed in dried mon key skins, for the pill makers; from Mexico dried flies and lizard eggs as food for pet fish (page 28). There was dragon's blood gum from Ma laya, used in dyes, and 90 tons of African ostrich feathers worth $25 a pound. In one big vault were stacked 60 tons of small opium cubes, wrapped in red paper; police guard it, to see that none of the drug slips into unlawful channels. "Plenty of happy dreams in that pile," someone remarked. "I'm tired of the smell of it," said the guard. Even a taciturn customs chemist, boring little holes to take samples, admitted that some fresh air might do him good. I, too, felt relieved to get out of the "hop room," and up where men were weighing dried turtle meat from Panama. Think of all the "liquid history" that has been packed into this ancient water front since Roman galleys traded here; since Danes and Vikings came to plunder; since the great companies of merchant adven turers launched their tiny ships for daring trade and colonizing far over then little known seas. Think of the 60,000 ships a year that now form smoke lanes from London to every nook of the world where goods can be bought or sold, and you begin to see why this 70-mile stretch of "London River" is, incomparably, the world's busiest water front. LONDON'S BIGGEST BUILDING BOOM Not even London's growth after the Great Fire can compare with today's swift, significant changes. More than 600,000 new homes, besides square miles of flats, have been built in recent years to house people taken from slums, crowded sections, and from areas cleared for parks, factories, or new streets.