Good day. I've been reading 'Short works of Lord Dunsany' for this morning. Among the short stories I've read one. Fortunately I found it through internet. it follows below.

*George P. Landow created this formatted version of The Book of Wonder, which was first oublished in 1915, using the Project Gutenberg text produced by Anne Reshnyk, Suzanne L. Shell, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

Going down Piccadilly one day and nearing Grosvenor Place I saw, if my memory is not at fault, some workmen with their coats off--or so they seemed. They had pickaxes in their hands and wore corduroy trousers and that little leather band below the knee that goes by the astonishing name of "York-to-London." They seemed to be working with peculiar vehemence, so that I stopped and asked one what they were doing.

"We are taking up Piccadilly," he said to me.

"But at this time of year?" I said. "Is it usual in June?"

"We are not what we seem," said he.

"Oh, I see," I said, "you are doing it for a joke."

"Well, not exactly that," he answered me.

"For a bet?" I said.

"Not precisely," said he. And then I looked at the bit that they had already picked, and though it was broad daylight over my head it was darkness down there, all full of the southern stars.

"It was noisy and bad and we grew aweary of it," said he that wore corduroy trousers. "We are not what we appear." They were taking up Piccadilly altogether.*

Here is my question. I don't fully understand what 'taking up Picadilly' means. Is it idiom used in Britain? Please let me know the meaning of this.

  • 'Taking up Picadilly' is no idiom, it's literal. – Kris Jul 11 '14 at 5:32

Routine road maintenance at one time included 'taking up' the road: removing bricks or cobbles and re-laying them to lie more evenly. For instance, the New York City Record for Nov 17, 1905, includes this under the Division of Street Repairs

The work done by this force consisted of taking up, repairing and relaying the various kinds of street pavements and sidewalks as indicated in the following table of work done.

The narrator of this story assumes the workmen whom he encounters are municipal employees ‘taking up Piccadilly’—repairing the London street of that name. It is not until he examines the hole they have left and sees not the underlying earth but “darkness down there, all full of the southern stars” that he realizes that they are not merely taking up the cobbles, but

taking up Piccadilly altogether.

Here, from The Glasgow Herald of July 15, 1927, is what the narrator thought was going on:

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  • I am not sure what that has to do with the English language per se. – Kris Jul 11 '14 at 5:32
  • @Kris OP asks what the phrase taking up Piccadilly means in this story. – StoneyB Jul 11 '14 at 13:16

Piccadilly is a road in the fashionable west end of London. In the time at which the book was set, many such roads would have been made from cobble stones.

The men are taking up the cobble stones of Piccadilly. That is, lifting them from the ground.

By the nature of the conversation, the writer is trying to indicate that these men are stealing the cobbles.

The phrase is not an idiom, just descriptive within the narrative.

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