Thursday, 23 April 2015

Attractions Offered in Liverpool

This appeared in the Morning Chronicle 2 September 1850, from 'Our Special Correspondent' under 'LABOUR AND THE POOR'. It is the work of Henry Mayhew, better known for his descriptions of London poverty, and describes early music halls (though the term used in 1850 was 'concert rooms').

The first I visited is one of the largest concert rooms in Liverpool. The advertised charge for admission was threepence, but on my tendering that sum to the money-taker at the door, he refused it, and informed me that the charge was sixpence. An explanation was asked and given, from which it appeared that the money-taker decided from the dress of the visitor whether he should pay the greater or the smaller sum. Threepence, he said, was the price to sailors and the working classes only; and sixpence was always charged to gentlemen. "But then," he added, "it comes to the same thing, as the full value of the ticket is returned in drink; and the 'gent' who pays his sixpence has a glass of spirits and water, or a bottle of porter for it; while the working man has no more than a glass of beer for his threepence."

The room was large and handsomely decorated. It was fitted up with a stage at the further end and with moveable scenery as at a theatre. There were about 400 people present. The audience were arranged on benches, in front of small tables, or rather ledges, with just sufficient room before each person to place a bottle and a glass. Men, women and children were mingled together. A dense cloud of tobacco-smoke filled the room. The greater portion of the auditors were evidently mechanics and labourers, with their families; but there was a considerable number of sailors, British, American, and foreign. There was also a large number of young boys, of from fourteen to sixteen years of age, of whom there was scarcely one without a pipe or a cigar in his mouth. The presence of these boys was the most melancholy part of the whole exhibition. Their applause rang loudest throughout the room - their commands to the waiters for drink were more frequent, obstreperous, and rude, than those of other persons - and their whole behaviour was unbecoming and offensive.

The performer in possession of the stage was a man dressed from chin to heel in flesh-colour cotton, fitting tight to the form, to represent nudity. He played the part of Lady Godiva riding through Coventry. In front of him projected the pasteboard figure of a pony's head, and behind were seen the posterior quarters of the animal. A long drapery concealed his legs, as he skipped about the stage, whilst a pair of stuffed legs, to represent the nude limbs of Lady Godiva, dangled over the saddle. He sang a comic song - a mixture of the old legend with modern allusions. The whole composition was not only vulgar and stupid, but indecent. He was greeted with loud applause, and called upon for an encore.

To him succeeded a genteel-looking young woman who sang a sentimental song with considerable taste and feeling. The curtain then fell and allowed a pause for a few minutes, during which the waiters zealously plied the guests to give their orders for liquor. An elderly woman seated on the bench before me called for ginger beer. She was very meanly dressed and altogether unprepossessing; and when the waiter brought the liquor, in exchange for her threepenny ticket, he neglected to bring a glass for it. He was about to pour it into the glass of a previous visitor, in which were some remains of porter, when she held back his hand and insisted upon a clean glass. The man told her that she was rather too particular, and that if she could not drink without a clean glass she might let it alone. She insisted that, having paid her money, she was as much entitled to a clean glass as anyone else, although perhaps she was not quite so well dressed as some others in the room. The waiter insolently told her to "hold her jaw; glasses were scarce; and if she did not like the glass before her she could drink out of the bottle."

The lowering of the gas-lights gave notice that the exhibition of the poses plastiques was about to commence. The room being reduced to semi-darkness, the curtain slowly rose, the whole blaze of the floodlights was thrown upon the stage, and a tableau vivant was exhibited. The performers were three females and one male. The tableau represented a classical subject; and the criticism of the spectators, though somewhat freely expressed, and not of the most delicate kind, as regarded the development of the female forms exposed to their gaze, was in the highest degree approbatory of the exhibition. As the curtain began to fall, there was a loud clapping of hands, and stamping of feet, a jingling of glasses and bottles, and a call for an encore. In the midst of the uproar of applause, and before the slowly descending curtain concealed the performers from sight, the elderly woman before mentioned directed my attention to the principal female figure in the group - a finely formed and handsome young woman. "The waiter treats me in this way," she said, "because I am old and badly dressed; but I'll ket him know that I am somebody, after all. That young woman, sir, is my daughter."

I sympathised in her grievance respecting the waiter, upon which she became very communicative, and gave a detail of the professional life of her daughter. She was, she said, one of the first that ever exhibited in England, in the poses plastiques, and learned the art under Madame Warton. Her salary was a pound a week, for which she performed four or five times every night. She had to provide her own flesh-coloured silks out of her earnings, and these articles were very expensive. Though the salary was not high, her daughter would have been contented with it; but the master of the establishment having determined to cut it down to 18s. a week, she had given him notice to quit, and the present was the last night of her performance in Liverpool. She had received another engagement in Manchester at 21s. a week, and was to leave on the following Monday to make her first appearance. "It is very hard work," said the old woman, "and is not sufficiently paid, considering the expense of the dress."

A comic song from a young man dressed as a sailor interrupted her further confidences, and she soon afterwards left her seat, but not before bestowing a parting malediction upon the waiter. At the conclusion of the song, I left the place, and visited another concert-room of the same kind. This establishment is divided into two separate rooms; the one entitled the "House of Commons," and the other the "House of Lords." The "House of Commons" is open to all comers, male and female; the "House of Lords," where the liquors are sold at a price somewhat in advance, is reserved exclusively for the male sex. The Hall of the "House of Commons" was a large room, in which about three hundred persons, sailors and their wives and sweethearts, mechanics with their wives and children, and a number of young lads and girls were assembled. The place was filled with tobacco smoke. The walls were adorned with gigantic full-length portraits of celebrated prizefighters, all in boxing attitude, and painted apparently in fresco. As at the previously visited establishment, there was a stage with moveable scenery at the extremity. A man in the traditional stage garb of  a sailor sang a nautical song and danced a hornpipe. He was followed by a female performer in the sentimental line, who was twice encored. She was succeeded by a couple, representing a cobbler and his termagent wife. They performed a comic duet, abounding in double entendres, which elicited roars of laughter. The performances in the "House of Lords" were of a similar character, the principal difference being the exclusion of women and the superior attire of the guests, who seemed to be composed of clerks, shopmen and tradesmen.

I also visited other establishments of the kind. Their general characteristics were the same, except that the rooms were smaller, in some instances not being calculated for the accommodation of more than forty or fifty people. The performers were invariably on the best of terms with the company. The men smoked and drank with the auditory, and the woman drank with all who invited them, until they were summoned by a little bell to appear on the stage, and sing the songs set down for them in the programme in the evening. This done, they returned to the body of the room without the least ceremony, and again mingled with the guests, the whole performance and arrangements being of the simplest and most primitive kind.

I took the opportunity of asking one of these young women, whom I had seen drinking brandy and water, gin and water, and beer, with at least half a dozen people, whether she did not find it prejudicial to her health, to drink so many mixtures, and whether she drank as much every night? She replied that it sometimes made her very ill. "Ours is a very disagreeable life," she added. "We are obliged to drink with all sorts of people who ask us. It brings company to the house, and if we did not drink with the sailors and others who invite us, we should lose our situations. We are not told this, but we know what would happen if we did not. Singing in such houses is hard work, and altogether our kind of life is very disagreeable. I should be glad to exchange it for any other. But what can I do? I do not know a note of music. I sing altogether by ear, and if I left my present situation, I should either have to take in needlework or go into the streets. At needlework I could not earn 5s. a week, and I gain 18s. a week at this. So you see if it is good pay, and though disagreeable for some reasons, it is better than needlework, and more respectable than the streets."

Though no positive coarseness of language was used in the song and dialogues of the characters, the allusions were often broad and indecent enough, and we received with obstreperous merriment. The squabbles between husband and wife were frequently imitated, apparently to the immense delight of the company. The great majority of the auditors appeared in the garb of sailors, or mechanics; and as usual, the young boys, many of them prematurely old with dissipation, mustered in large numbers, and drank, smoked, and applauded with more vigour than the old portions of the company. It would be but a useless repetition to detail the various scenes of the kind of which I was a witness. The staple amusements were same, except that the nearer the concert-room was to the docks, the larger the proportion of sailors that attended. In one or two instances families of Irish emigrants were among the auditors. In some of the houses, dancing was a portion of the entertainment and included "nigger dances," the sailor's hornpipe, and the jig, and in one house a dance in pattens, by a women with her face blackened, to impersonate a negress, and in another an imitation of Boz's Juba. In no instance did I observe any quarrelling or disturbance.

Such are the attractions offered in Liverpool to amuse the people in their houses of leisure.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Resorts of Musical Entertainment

Canterbury Hall, Lambeth, is widely cited as the original of the 'music hall' in London. Here's an early description. I was surprised to see opera featuring so heavily (confirmed by many contemporary adverts for the Hall):

Canterbury Hall ... is one of those many resorts of musical entertainment which have of late spring up in such numbers in the metropolis, combining the attractions of the tavern with those of the concert-room. For the moderate entrance money of one sixpence, a spacious and brilliantly lighted saloon, a very interesting gallery of pictures, and four or five hours unceasing ‘entertainment’ is at the disposal of any one ‘out for the night’. The ‘entertainment’ originally consisted of the usual sestett of principal singers, and a very efficient chorus, who performed the principal music from favourite operas, such as ‘Norma’, ‘Lucrezia’, ‘Trovatore’, and others, in a most creditable manner. This ‘high art’ was also varied by the addition of comic songs of all nations, from the old established countryman in an ante-diluvian flowered waistcoat, and Paddy with half a coat and a shillelagh down to (and no lower depth could be sounded) “Sally, come up”, and “Sister to the Cure.” All this while the pleasure-seeker can comfort his inner man with almost any variety of eating and drinking which he is likely to fancy and pay for. Even the mysterious delights of tobacco are not denied him; and though pipes are prohibited in the ‘reserved seats’, and only the lordly cigar permitted in those aristocratic precincts, yet in any other part of the spacious building a twist of bird’s-eye and a yard of clay may be seen in the mouths of three quarters of the assemblage. It is but fair to add that nothing can exceed the good order with which everything is conducted at this establishment, and it is almost needless to say that the attractions which this and other such places of resort present to the humbler classes of society have interfered most seriously with the profits of the legitimate, or perhaps we should rather say the licensed theatres.

Morning Post 7 March 1861

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Gruel-swollen paupers

GIN TEMPLES – The expense in fitting up gin-shop bars in London is almost incredible, everyone one vieing with his neighbour in convenient arrangements, general display, rich carving, bass work, finely-veined mahogany, gilding, and ornamental painting. The carving at one ornament alone in the Grapes gin-shop, Old-street-road, cost £100; the workmanship was by one of the first carvers in London. Three gin-shops have been lately fitted up in Red Lion-street, at an expense, for the bar alone, of upwards of 2000l. Times was when gin was only to be found in by-lanes and blind-allies – in dirty obscure holes, ‘ycleped dram-shops; but not gin is become a giant demi-god – a mighty spirit, dwelling in gaudy gold-bespattered temples, erected to his honour in every street, and worshipped by countless thousands, who daily sacrifice at his shrine their health, their strength, their money, their minds, their bodies, their wives, children, sacred home, and liberty. Juggernaut is but a fool to him, for the devotees of Juggernaut, though they put themselves into the way of being crushed to death beneath his chariot wheels, are put out of their misery at once; but the devotees of the great spirit Gin devote themselves to lingering misery; for his sake they are content to drag on a degraded nasty existence – to see their children pine, dwindle and famish, to steep themselves in poverty to the very lips, and die at last poor, sneaking, beadle-kicked, gruel-swollen paupers! In these temples of the great spirit Gin may be seen maudlin, unwashed multitudes, the ancient and the infant of a span long, old men and maidens, grandsires and grandams, fathers and mothers, husbands, wives and children, crowding, jostling, and sucking in the pardons of the spirit which the flaunting priestesses dole out to them in return for their copper offerings. – Sunday in London

The Times, 5 February 1834

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

'The Misrule of Material London'

NEWSPAPER readers who have leisure to give attention to matters of less moment than the Fiscal problem, ecclesiastical controversy, political schisms and international strife, can hardly fail to have noticed the protests which from time to time appear in the public Press against what may be called, for want of a more specific term, the municipal mismanagement of streets, buildings, and places of public resort in this Metropolis. The excess of wheel traffic in our thoroughfares, the unnecessary speed of motor-cars, the occasional filth of roadways and pavements (especially in wet weather), the clumsily discharged functions of the dustcart, the insufferable noise of loud piano-organs, and the yelling of costermongers in districts where there is no demand for stale vegetables or dubious fruit, with innumerable other nuisances, form in turn the subject of a complaint which is indignantly raised by some unfortunate citizen, is supported by half-a-dozen sympathetic correspondents, and perhaps furnishes the theme for a leading article. The guileless public rejoice that a grievance which they have long endured has at last met with well-deserved exposure. They fondly trust that steps will soon be taken for its removal. Occasionally, and when the intricacies of official responsibility are unravelled, the 'authorities' who have power to check or mitigate the evil wake up from their lethargy, make a feeble effort towards reform, but, after the question at issue is forgotten, relapse into indifference.

A general impression prevails that such matters are managed better across the Channel, and among Londoners who have spent any time in France or Germany there can be little doubt that the local administration of many continental towns will compare favourably with that of our own capital.

It is true that in making such comparisons people are apt to forget some important facts which differentiate the conditions of municipal government at home and abroad. For instance, the prompt attention which streets in Paris receive after a fall of snow excites our admiration, when we remember the mass of half-frozen slush through which horses and vehicles have sometimes to plough their way during a London winter. But Paris, though it occupies an area of some 20,000 acres, is of small size compared with our capital, which, including certain suburbs, covers at least 122 square miles, or four times as much.

In spite of recent changes which have tended to decentralise control, and give a sort of 'home rule' to individual boroughs, this represents in the aggregate an enormous district for supervision, even assuming that the system of organisation is always the best, which it certainly is not. The labour supply of scavengers, even if it were recruited from our metropolitan reserve of 100,000 paupers and sufficed to meet such emergencies as might arise from a sudden snowstorm, could not be secured at a day's notice. Res magna est! The aediles of Babylon may have grappled with such a difficulty, but modern county councils must not always be held to blame if they fail in the attempt. London seems to have outgrown the possibility of an ideal self-government, at least so far as the cleanliness of its streets is concerned.

But apart from practical impediments, another obstacle to reform in the material condition of English towns may be recognised in that popular but much-perverted phrase, the 'liberty of the subject.' It embodies a national sentiment which we all reverence in theory. No free-born Briton likes to he coerced more than lie can help. On my first visit to Dresden I remember walking over a bridge on the Elbe and meeting two or three people on the pavement who muttered words to me as they passed. I was in a hurry, and did not at first notice that their remarks were addressed to myself. At last a man confronted me and sternly pointed across the road. It then for the first time occurred to me that I was infringing a police rule which required all loot-passengers going in one direction to keep on the same side of the bridge. The trottoirs were of ample width, and at that moment did not happen to be traversed by more than a dozen pedestrians, 'all told.' But I was in Germany, and being a law-abiding person I at once crossed over the way.

It is difficult to imagine the possibility of such a regulation as this being enforced—or even proposed—for Londoners hurrying over the Thames at Westminster, Blackfriars, or Battersea. We should hear a great deal about 'grandmotherly legislation,' and I am far from suggesting that such petty restrictions should be imposed in this country. Yet there are surely many directions in which our own police (to whose injunctions the man in the street. generally submits) might exercise more authority in the cause of public convenience.

For example, why should idle `loafers' be allowed to lounge about outside the doors of a gin-palace, obstructing foot-traffic and fouling the air with their cheap and nasty cigarettes?

Why should impudent little urchins, let loose from Board or parish schools (where they seem to learn everything but good manners), be suffered to run riot through adjacent thoroughfares, screeching, getting in everybody's way, and sometimes rushing along the pavement on roller-skates?

These are nuisances from which, sooner or later, Hooliganism is sure to spring. For ' liberty of the subject' we may here read 'licence of the street cad.' I have visited most continental cities, but for unchecked mischief and rowdyism among children of the poorer class, I have never seen anything equal to what prevails in London, and it has unquestionably increased within the last decade.

The presence of beggars and street hawkers, not only in the humbler quarters of town, but in streets lined with fashionable shops, is suggestive alike of misrule and mystery. And the mystery consists in the limitation of misrule. Here is an irregularity which is only tolerated because it has been allowed to become in particular instances monopolised. We may be quite certain that if all the mendicants and itinerant salesmen in London were permitted to do so, they would soon fringe the footways of Regent Street and Oxford Street from end to end. Why. then, is this privilege accorded to a few score of them denied to others? Pedestrians whose daily business or pleasure has made them familiar with those thoroughfares must recognise certain beggars, boot-lace vendors, &c &c., who have haunted thye neighbourhood for years. How do they come by a right from which their comrades are excluded?

An explanation, which discretion forbids me to repeat, is occasionally offered by cynics. Without believing idle gossip, we must all agree that the police would do well to discharge their duties impartially. If street begging and street hawking are to be allowed at all, there should be a fair field, and no favour, to all who follow those occupations. But if they are legally condemned as nuisances, they ought to be suppressed altogether.

In strictly residential neighbourhoods, the barbarous howling too frequently practised by vagrants under the name of street singing has long been defined by magisterial decision as a form of mendicancy disallowed by law; and if a constable is at hand, the offender can be moved on forthwith. But the police are not ubiquitous, and occasionally this sort of annoyance has to be endured for half an hour or more before any interference can be effected. Within the last twelve months or so these noisy intruders have taken to go about in gangs accompanied by a piano-organ, and, posing as specimens of 'the unemployed,' levy contributions from the slender purses of servant-girls and other simple women who, all unwittingly, give their pence to support an impudent fraud.

Not. long ago, through the mistaken lenience of our Government, lengthy processions processions of such men were allowed to parade the streets of London, rattling money-boxes in the faces of the public, and actually escorted by police on foot and horseback. It was only after many of them had been recognised as habitual idlers, and regarded with contumely by genuine workmen, that this unprecedented and highly inconvenient mode of soliciting alms was—with general assent—prohibited.

It has been repeatedly asserted, on conmpetent authority, that although there is unfortunately great distress arising from poverty in London and other English cities, the cases most deserving of relief are never those which are individually represented by street beggars. Most well-to-do persons subscribe to public charities; those who cannot afford to do so spare at least a shilling a week in casual almsgiving. Now if those coins were dropped into a carefully secured poor-box which could be set up here and there at street corners, the money under proper administration might be far more judiciously applied than for the support of habitual beggars, who, when once recognised as such, should be at once consigned to the workhouse.

The question of pauperism is, however, far too wide a one to be discussed in an article intended only to indicate urban irregularities which have long existed, which are wholly unjustifiable, and which might be speedily removed under proper legislation.

There is a spice of grim humour in the fact that London householders tolerate German street hands which would he execrated in Germany, and are plagued by Italian organ-grinders whom one rarely sees south of the Alps. Why are these aliens allowed to practise in this country a form of public annoyance which would not be endured in their own? The national taste for good music in England is no doubt exceeded by that which prevails in Rhineland or Italy. But there are cultivated ears at home to which the noise of ill-tuned brazen instruments and the barbarous strains of a hurdy-gurdy must be simple torture. Men engaged in literary or scientific pursuits, invalids lying restless on their beds, nervous patients for whom quiet is enjoined, are one and all disregarded, in order that perhaps a few children and nursery-maids may listen to a popular jig.

There is even less excuse for the intrusion about our area railings of the idle Italian boy with his unfortunate monkey and an accordion, on which he can only play a few dismal notes. This is a nuisance demanding repression on every ground. It is well-known that these boys are hirelings, sent into the streets by some disreputable impresario who lives upon their earnings. They are, perhaps, more to be pitied than the monkeys in their charge, but the whole business is a scandal. It means vicarious mendicancy of the worst kind, which has greatly increased of late years, but which, under proper police regulations, ought never to have been permitted to exist. We have beggars enough of our own nationality, without allowing their ranks to he supplemented by pauper immigrants.

An artificial and absolutely fallacious sentiment protects the itinerant costermonger, whose raucous yells are a disgrace to civilised London, from suppression. Cheap philanthropy fosters the idea that to put any limit to the exercise of his legs and lungs would he to interfere with the rights of industry, and so forth. The plea is absolute nonsense. By all means let the trade be plied where there is most demand for it, in the humbler streets of our Metropolis. But it is monstrous that householders who don't buy cheap fruit and vegetables at their doors should be daily annoyed, for hours together, in order that costers may pick up a stray customer among kitchen-maids and caretakers.

One of the most aggravating sources of offence to law-abiding citizens is ineffective legislation. We learn to endure evils which are called irremediable, or fly from those which we can avoid elsewhere. But when reform is promised and the agencies devised to secure it fail in their object, or are systematically defied, public patience is apt to give way. The highly dangerous and wholly unnecessary speed at which motor-ears and motor-bicycles have been driven through streets and roads for two or three years past evoked at length a storm of indignation in the Press, and after long and needless delay an Act of Parliament was passed which promised to deal with this pestilent mischief. But what has it really done? Owing to the lenience or apathy of local authorities the evil, so far as London is concerned, has scarcely been mitigated. The objectionable vehicles are indeed conspicuously numbered, but they career about much in their original fashion. Within the last few weeks I myself have seen scores of there dashing along frequented thoroughfares at a rate of fifteen or twenty miles an hour, to the terror of foot-passengers who happened to be crossing the road at the time, and at the imminent risk of colliding with any cart or carriage that chanced to be coming down a by-street.

In the name of common sense, what excuse can be offered for this perilous practice ? A cab driven furiously along Piccadilly would certainly be stopped by the police, although the  'fare' inside might be anxious to catch a train. A glance at the ordinary occupants of a motor-car will generally suffice to show that they have no such object in view. They are simply indulging in the vulgar amusement of 'going-ahead,'  like the ` galloping snob ' who formerly used to invade Rotten Row. His pastime was cut short by general execration. Why should greater licence be extended to the motoring cad ? [It is hardly necessary to state that these remarks do not apply to motor-broughams, which do not exceed the pace of any other private carriage, and are therefore under complete control.]

Notwithstanding the introduction of tramways and the 'Twopenny Tube,' omnibus traffic in London seems to be as busy as ever. The companies who provide this form of conveyance for the public have certainly done much to improve the comfort and appearance of the vehicles employed. They are cleaner and better ventilated than they used to be. Their roof-seats are far more convenient and accessible than the 'knife-board' of earlier days, though it must be confessed that their weight and that of the iron staircase leading to them, in addition to twenty-eight passengers, must sorely tax the strength of two horses. Paris omnibuses have often three stout well-groomed animals, which seem better fitted for their work than those seen in London streets, where, owing to a want of system, our hard-worked beasts are subjected to a constant and unnecessary strain. It is in vain that printed notices are posted inside, begging passengers not to stop  the omnibus oftener than can be helped. Ladies will insist on being set down at particular shops, even though they may he only twenty yards apart; and whenever there is a fresh start the poor horses suffer in lungs, heart, and sinew.

All this might be avoided if, along the line of route, halting- places were fixed at reasonable intervals, where passengers might be taken up or set down; and this should form the subject of a police regulation.

The omnibus companies themselves might remove one form of annoyance to the public by prohibiting conductors from shouting out the utterly unintelligible jargon which is absurdly supposed to indicate the destination of the 'bus. All Londoners know quite well, from the colour of the vehicle and the inscriptions on it, where it is going. But if a stranger were doubtful on this point it is certain that he could not possibly be enlightened by such ejaculations as 'Obun,' 'Stee-benk,' and 'Loophole'st Rarway' uttered in tones of angry remonstrance.

Conductors should be further instructed to use the bell-cord provided for communication with the driver instead of the abominably shrill whistle now commonly blown whenever the 'bus is stopped or restarted; as well as to refrain from the offensive habit of holding tickets and silver change iu their mouths before handing them—still wet—to the passengers. These may seem trivial irregularities, but they are unknown on the Continent. Why should we tolerate them at home?

It is satisfactory to find attention called in Parliament to the street danger involved by covered vans being driven by men who, from their position inside the vehicles, cannot look to right or left. But no attempt has yet been made to limit the hours during which heavy cartloads of timber, hay, straw, building-materials and even huge bales of dirty rags, may pass through the streets of London already overcrowded with lighter traffic. The manner in which carcases of beef and mutton are conveyed from market to butchers' shops is a standing disgrace to this Metropolis. It is not unusual to see them piled up and uncovered even by a cloth, in a carrier's van, while the driver is actually sitting on joints of meat which are to be served at table and eaten in respectable households. So far as I know, this disgusting practice is an exclusively English one. Many European capitals are familiar to me, but I have never observed in either of them anything approaching such indecency.

Not long ago the late Sir Henry Thompson, in an excellent letter to the Times, pointed out the sanitary dangers likely to ensue from the present objectionable mode in which dust and kitchen refuse are removed from London houses, and he made some useful suggestions as to the best means of remedying this evil. Here, again, we might take a lesson from foreign cities where—as in Paris, for instance—such refuse is removed not only more frequently, but under conditions which prevent the infliction of it needless and noxious nuisance.

The discharge of coal into our street cellars is effected in a way which leaves much room for improvement. The coal-cart is allowed to come at any hour of the day—often to the inconvenience alike of foot passengers and carriage folk; to empty its load, sack by sack, down the cellar-hole, and then to drive off, leaving the pavement for several yards round black with grit which adheres to the boots of everyone who comes into the house. The capacious wooden funnel—a usual appendage to every coal-cart in France or Germany—which might prevent this mess, is never seen here. But until it is introduced, householders who cannot rely on their servants to do the needful should at least spend a few pence in getting the coal-heavers, before they go away, to sweep up and wash down the flagstones of the footway outside. Yet this is rarely done except in 'smart' neighbourhoods. The average Londoner seems to care little for cleanliness out of doors.

The question of street-crossings offers it daily problem to most citizens. Whose business is it to keep them swept? The duty is at present undertaken by an army of irresponsible men and boys who, picketed at innumerable corners all over the town, stand holding their brooms and touching their hats to any pedestrian who is likely to spare a 'copper.' In wet and muddy weather they certainly render some service, and no conscientious foot-passenger likes to ignore it if he has a penny at hand. Now, supposing such it person in the course of it stroll goes over fifteen crossings and conies the same way back, his walk, if he is a liberal man, will have cost him half a crown! Of course no one actually incurs this expense. But as it matter of principle one crossing- sweeper deserves his fee as well as another. If they are paid at all, they ought to be paid uniformly. Sometimes an unsophisticated ratepayer asks why the parochial or metropolitan borough authorities who are supposed to keep our roadways clean do not extend that duty to street-crossings. The taxes levied for these and kindred purposes have increased enormously of late years, but if they do not suffice for their object, few householders would object to an additional charge of a few shillings if it would relieve them from an irregular and troublesome demand for daily gratuities.

Recent changes in the municipal government of London make it difficult for those who are unversed in such matters to understand which local bodies are responsible for the administration of certain districts, and why variations occur in its practical result. For instance, one would think that, after many years of experience qualified contractors might by this time have arrived at some definite conclusion respecting the best mode of paving urban roadways. Yet we find some laid with wood, others with asphalte, and others macadamised. On one point, indeed, there seems to be unanimity of opinion—viz., that, whichever plan is adopted, the roads and even footways may he broken up at inconvenient seasons for repair, or for the introduction of gas or electric light service whenever required, and whatever confusion it may entail. All this indicates a divided control and a general want of system.

Another mystery is presented by the remarkable disparity which exists in the roof levels of new structures often erected side by side in the same thoroughfare. No one wants exact uniformity of sky-line. But that one tenement should be allowed to tower two or more storeys above its fellows seems on every ground undesirable. Under the provisions of a former Building Act, the height of London houses was required to bear a certain proportion to the width of the street in which they were erected. Whether such provisions still exist I do not know, but if the colossal blocks of brick and masonry used as hotels and residential flats are to he multiplied, it is obvious that in course of time our capital will be covered with Brobdingnag lanes, or rather alleys, in which the distribution of light and air must be materially curtailed and effective sanitation rendered more difficult.

This is to be regretted all the more because in the busiest quarters of London considerations of expense. prevent the thoroughfares from being widened. To adopt such a course, for example, in Bond Street, where shop-rents are very high, might involve an outlay of millions. Yet through this generally congested carriage-way omnibuses and lumbering carts are permitted to run from Oxford Street to Piccadilly in the height of the season, with as much freedom as if they were rolling along a capacious boulevard.

The breadth of footways available for shopping-purposes would be none too great if they were occupied alone by pedestrians. But since the introduction of 'perambulators,' innumerable specimens of that domestic machine are wheeled up and down the trottoirs, apparently for the benefit of nursemaids who combine with their tender care of infant life a natural appreciation of attractive 'window-dressing.'

One may avoid some of these irregularities by turning from the streets of London into its pleasure-grounds. But even in the latter may be noticed much that requires strict supervision and careful reform. It depends, of course, to some extent on the direction in which we walk. I have often been puzzled to guess why, for instance, the south side of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens should receive so much more attention from their respective custodians than the north. It is to be presumed that the inhabitants of Lancaster Gate and Tyburnia are as regular in the payment of their rates as the denizens of Belgravia and Mayfair. But they don't get so much for their money. At Hyde Park Corner and along Rotten Row order and decorum prevail. But the Bayswater portion of Kensington Gardens presents a different appearance. It is enclosed by a dwarf brick well and coping-stone mouldy with age and damp. Dirty children are allowed to climb about the seats and railings, to pluck up grass by the roots and scatter it over the paths, to sweep up gravel from the paths and strew it. over the grass. On a summer's afternoon they leave the ground defaced with scraps of newspaper and dirty rags. In spring they pluck all the hawthorn blossom within their reach. In autumn they fling up bludgeons into trees to bring the horse chestnuts down. On one occasion I saw, not far from the Round Pond, a circular trench being dug out by boys who were indulging on the greensward in a pastime usually confined to the sea-shore.

In pleasant shady spots under the trees rounders' and peddling football have reduced the turf to the condition of a dry skittle-ground.

No doubt it will be urged that the children of the poor are entitled to recreation. But recreation of this kind means mischief, and it seems hardly desirable that the beautiful sylvan retreat afforded by Kensington Gardens, close to a Royal Palace and rich in historical associations, should be turned into a public playground for future 'Hooligans.'

Proper vigilance on the part of park-keepers might no doubt impose some restraint. But unfortunately those functionaries are not vigilant. During a long residence in the neighbourhood I do not remember a single occasion on which I have seen one of there voluntarily interfere to prevent such irregularities as I have described. Probably they take their cue from the laissez-aller principle which seems to distinguish their official superiors. For many years the picturesque old Orangery (supposed to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren) in the immediate vicinity of Kensington Palace was used as a potting-house for plants, and but for the remonstrance of a well-known artist would still have remained devoted to that ignoble use.

Early in October last a score or more of the old trees in the Gardens were blown down by a severe gale which wrought destruction in many parts of this country. The trees were torn up by the roots, presenting a dismal and unsightly appearance. it is almost incredible, but it is nevertheless a fact, that for a period of five months they were allowed to remain lying where they fell, the heavy timber, gradually saturated by the fall of recent rain, damaging the turf on which it lay, and affording a gymnasium for noisy urchins. Without inquiring who was to blame for this neglect, most travelled Englishmen must feel assured that it would not have occurred in any other European capital.

Within a bow-shot from the Marble Arch there stands a handsome Gothic drinking-fountain erected in 1867 at the expense of a generous Oriental potentate, the Sooltan Bahadoor of Vijianagram. Its base occupies an area some four yards square. A richly decorated canopy and spire rise above it to a height of forty feet. It possesses scarcely an ornamental feature within reach which has not been damaged. Stone finials have been knocked off, carved work chipped, and mouldings defaced. That this is the result of wanton mischief there can he no doubt, for the injuries are entirely confined to the lower portion of the monument. Youthful ragamuffins may often be seen sitting in the basins, tampering with the taps and drinking-vessels, splashing water down on the steps, and climbing over accessible parts of the structure. And all this disorder occurs at it few dozen yards distance from the park-keeper's lodge, where policemen are constantly stationed.

But this neighbourhood is notoriously selected for another objectionable practice. Every Sunday crowds of persons assemble there to receive open-air lectures on politics, theology, and what not, from fanatical dunces whose folly is only equalled by their assurance. Now, without discussing the moral effect of these diatribes upon that popular philosopher, the 'man in the street,' it is obvious that the place and the mode of their utterance must largely interfere with the comfort of the public. The parks are intended for physical recreation, not for the use of noisy demagogues who, in these days of cheap journalism and working men's clubs, can find ample opportunity for expressing their opinions elsewhere.

It would not be difficult to cite numerous other instances of neglect or indifference shown in various quarters of this capital respecting nuisances which might easily be repressed by a little firmness of municipal administration. It is strange that more irregularities and rowdyism should exist in Royal England than would be tolerated for a day in Republican France.

In order to disclose and deal effectively with such evils it is evident that the powers of our police force should be extended, or that the maintenance of order and the suppression of irregularities should be delegated to a small but vigilant body of men vested with special authority for that purpose. They might be responsible in each district to a chief inspector who could discharge many of his duties on horseback.

Such an expedient might suffice to ensure adequate supervision and to remove some of the grievances above mentioned. With respect to others in which structural questions are concerned, the problem to be solved assumes, no doubt, a more complex form. Where is the responsibility to lie ? The rights once exercised by the Metropolitan Board of Works have become absorbed in the powers of the County Council, but it is difficult to define their limit or to distinguish between borough administration and parochial rule.

Under ancient Roman law sometimes the AEdile and sometimes the Proctor Urbanus was supreme. But they were both, practically, magistrates, and in our day the functions of a magistrate are devoted to the consideration of moral and personal rather than local wrongs. In London we seem to require the more direct services of a modern 'Curator Viarum.'


Longman's Magazine, 1 July 1904

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Architecture of Drinking Fountains

A contemporary article complaining about the architecture and location of the metropolitan drinking fountain, often installed as a charitable bequest ... 


The movement for supplying the people with a pure and refreshing draught of water must be received with unmixed approval. The philanthropic spirit which introduced drinking-fountains has spread, and the metropolis is now dotted with numerous little structures, from which all classes who need may allay their thirst, principally through the efforts of the "Association" that originated the movement here, aided and extended by benevolent individuals who, at their own cost, have added to the numbers scattered over the town. We are not sanguine enough to believe that it will do much for the repression of drunkenness, or that those who habitually indulge in stimulating drinks will fly the glaring dens of vice that choke up our public ways. Still it is an immense advantage for those "who labour and are heavy laden," not of necessity to be driven into the polluted atmosphere of the gin-palace and the public house to satisfy the cravings of nature, elbowed and jostled by the depraved and miserable beings who put an enemy into their months to steal away their brains, but may slake their parched throats with a liquid that neither destroys the body nor brings ruin to the purse. In this way we trust many will shun the plague-spots, and escape infection. The experiment was well worth trying, and only good can result from it ; but whilst we seek to raise the moral condition of those whom the drinking fountains are intended to benefit, it is worth while to consider whether the fountains at the same time may not be made, in the eye of taste, an ornament to the metropolis, instead of a blur. There is, perhaps, no class of objects open to so free and varied an expression in design, so completely under the control of the designer, so capable of adding a grace to our streets, and beautifying our thoroughfares, as fountains. Yet in those erected we vainly look for elegance of form or successful artistic adaptation. Some of them are elaborate enough, and no doubt rather costly structures, such as that recently opened in front of St. Mary-le-Strand, representing a miniature temple, with a little gilt figure of a boy at the top, reminding us of those ingenious devices which confectioners exhibit in their windows as the wonders of the sugar art. This temple seems to be a favourite with the fountain makers, for we observe the idea repeated in others of still more toy-like proportions.
      In several the utmost skill of the designer has never got beyond the general appearance of a monumental tablet, which, but for the feeble stream emitted from the centre might serve as appropriately to record the virtues of the dead within the sacred edifice as they do now the living honours of the donors against the churchyard-rails—witness that at St. Dunstan's upon which is set forth, in large obtrusive letters, the grandeur of a city knight, alderman of the ward—how he was Lord Mayor one year, and elected M.P. another —with the gaudily emblazoned arms at the top, to astonish the vagrant eye of the Fleet-street wanderer. We fear the grace of the gift is somewhat disparaged by this show of self-glorification. "Verily they have their reward." To do good by stealth is not the virtue suggested by the drinking-fountains. For the most part the donors seem to forget that the stream of benevolence never runs so sweetly as when flowing with modesty. In others, added to the meanness of the design, is the utter unfitness of the symbols employed in the way of ornament—fresh water running from salt sea-shells, or pouring from the mouths of marine monsters and heads of grotesque animals, such as we find at the waste-water spouts of medieval buildings: apart from the complete absurdity of streams flowing through animals, it does not accord with our notions of purity to drink from the mouths of beasts. The idea is simply disgusting, and should never be resorted to for fountains intended to supply water exclusively for drinking. As an example of the objectionable introduction of such ornaments, we may cite the fountains under the portico of the British Museum, which, in other respects, are extremely beautiful, formed of white marble," to which are appended elegant classical cups, "silvered o'er," that may well tempt the visitor to partake of the cooling draught. Yet in these the water flows from gasping mouths, and is given off from the protruded tongues of lions. In the wide range of nature, there are surely objects enough of beauty to supply emblems appropriate to the subject, and befitting the occasion—the graceful plants and flowers that that fringe our running streams, offer an endless variety for illustration and ornament. In less expensive structures simple rock-work might be adapted with advantage ; the water gushing from a crevice, as it is seen in the hill countries, forming natural basins in the stone. For more elaborate works, nymphs pouring the liquid current from elegantly formed vessels, or the great law-giver Moses, striking the rock, from which burst forth the living stream to slake the parched tongues of the children of Israel —the fittest and most suggestive, perhaps, of all for a fountain dedicated to the poor; but whatever class of subject is adopted, let us be rid of those puerile animal conceits that are scarcely less offensive to all delicacy of taste than the filthy sputterings of the notorious "mannikin" at Brussels.

      Another important consideration, which appears to have been entirely overlooked, is locality. We cannot think the skirts of hospitals and graveyards proper places for the erection of drinking fountains. The water flowing from the little Norman structure, the first drinking-fountain erected in London, by Mr. Samuel Gurney, within the rails of St. Sepulchre's, appears to come from the mouldering graves, by which it is closely backed; and the pump in St. Paul's Churchyard, to which has been added a drinking-cup, is similarly situated and equally objectionable; whilst the miserable contrivance at the railway termini of London Bridge, attached to gas-lamp, is in such close proximity to a repulsive structure, that the wonder is any degree of thirst can induce the passers-by to drink from such a source. Though it may not always be possible a in overcrowded neighbourhoods to surround the fountains with pure air, there can be little difficulty in placing them apart from offensive matters or offending associations. The enjoyment of a draught of water is increased by the brightness of the cup and its isolation from proximate impurities. The moral condition of the poor is not a little influenced by that which meets the eye. We desire them to drink, then let them do so under the most refreshing circumstances of sweetness and cleanliness, that they may be lured again and again to partake of the blessing that is offered them.
      The position of the fountain at the Oxford-street circus is better chosen, and offers an example for the placing of others in similar situations, where they might be erected under a covering that would afford shelter from the rain, as well as a place of refuge in the centre of thronged crossings. In our variable climate, shelter is so often needed, that it is surprising no attempt has been made to meet this deficiency. Light elegant structures, in ornamental iron, open at the sides, with a glass roof, would afford some protection from the weather, and be a boon to the public, who have so often to abide the peltings of the pitiless storm whilst waiting for a conveyance. In skilful hands, the combined requirements of a fountain, a place of refuge, and shelter, might be made a work of utility and beauty, and contribute to the adornment of the town. There is so little of ornamental attraction in London streets, that the opportunity of introducing and encouraging it should not be lost. Our public statues can scarcely be said to decorate our highways and squares, but are for the most part a disgrace and a laughing-stock. Unsightly indicators have got possession of our lamp-posts, advertising their supreme ugliness to the passers-by; and ungainly and tasteless structures greet us at every turn. We can understand that, in the early stage of the fountain movement, its promoters would be more solicitous to set the fountains going than regardful of architectural excellence or fitness of site. Now that the good work is in active operation, we would earnestly impress upon the estimable gentlemen forming the "Association for the Erection of Public Drinking-Fountains," the necessity of paying, in future, a little more attention to the choice of situation, propriety of ornament, and beauty of design.

The London Review, 1 December 1860