Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Publican's Meetng

A PUBLICAN'S MEETING FOR "PUBLIC DISCUSSION."

ON Saturday last, it was announced by placards in the various public-houses in the Broadway, Westminster, that Mr. Rowbottom would lecture against tee-totalism in the Westminster Theatre on the following Monday, (Oct. 12,) that discussion would be allowed, and that the admittance would be free. I have since learnt that the theatre was engaged by a milkman, as was supposed by the proprietor for a masonic meeting; this milkman, however, was acting for a publican, named C—,, keeping a gin palace in the Broadway, so you may guess what the tee-totalers had to expect. The Theatre was crammed, the different tap-rooms in the neighbourhood being emptied for the purpose, and many of the audience being quite drunk. Mr. Rowbottom commenced, and during his lecture, he was several times interrupted, but the tee-totalers on the stage interfered with success, to obtain a fair hearing for him—what return they got for this, you will presently hear.

Mr. Rowbottom said, that it was asserted in `' Anti-Bacchus," that the only object of eating and drinking, was to nourish and strengthen the body, that alcoholic drinks, as wine, ale, and porter, contained no nutriment, [false : no such assertion made in " Anti-Bacchus;"] therefore such fluids were not capable of nourishing and strengthening the body. He denied this, for the greater portion of what we took into the body was water; three-fourths of potatoes consisted of water in a staid form, animal food the same, bread one-half, and fish a great deal more. The blood itself was principally formed of water. As to the alcohol contained in strong drinks, it was decomposed in the lungs, and went to strengthen and nourish the body [false.] Wine, &c., contained a great portion of solid matter, and in its best form! Fluids were capable of nourishing the body, and of being formed into solid matter. Mr. Rowbottom then went into a long rigmarole about strength, velocity, and momentum, and said, that the fluids of the body being put into more rapid motion by alcohol, of course, the individual had more strength! and therefore wine, ale, and porter, were strengthening! and he came to the comfortable conclusion, that he was right, and that the tee-totalers were wrong.

It was now suggested to the lecturer, that if there was to be a discussion, he ought to allow time for it, and it was now getting late. He agreed to conclude his lecture, and allow a quarter of an hour for a reply. The publican's mob, however, refused to hear any reply. Hissing, hooting, whistling, foul language, assailed every one who attempted to address them; they would not listen to their own lecturer, when he appealed to them to hear his opponents. Mr. C—, the publican, being roused by a word about traffickers in strong drink, made an amusing exhibition, by standing up in the boxes and holding out his hat, as if he required a few more fool's pence, from the poor drunkards assembled, and patted his immense corporation with astonishing self-complacency and laughable effect. After a quarter of an hour's battling with the mob, who were afraid to hear their lecturer's arguments overturned, his falsehoods exposed, and his sophisms demonstrated, some of the tee-totalers began to retire; a number of drunken fellows now got from the pit on to the stage, and one of them, a brewer's drayman, rolled about like a fish on dry land, or a pig in a kennel ; a scene of uproar and confusion, struggling and staggering, above which, rose the yells and screams of the drunkards, ensued, which beggars description. The tee-totalers, not wishing to take their chance of going to the station-house with these brutes, now retired, and the drunkards kept up their infernal saturnalia by a demolition of the benches, &c.

This was the public discussion promised! This is the way--the fair, open, honest way in which the publicans and their tools meet us ! There will be more tee-totalers made by last Monday's exhibition, than if it had been a tee-total meeting, for numbers of moderation men were disgusted by the gross conduct of the publicans party, and many more will be led to inquire into the subject. The damage done to the theatre, the proprietor expects C—, the publican to pay; and no doubt it was the strength afforded by his strong drink, that enabled his worthy followers to destroy the property they did.

Mr. Rowbottom promised a discussion on the following Friday, the admission to be by tickets, half to be taken by the tee-totalers and half by his party -- will he keep to this arrangement? nous verrons.

So much, Sir, for a public discussion under the auspices of publicans.

Oct. 13, 1840. H. FOSTER.


The Journal of the New British & Foreign Temperance Society, 31 October 1840

Monday, 24 November 2014

Gin Palaces

"What," asks my reader, "is that immense looking house, the front of which displays, in all its architectural magnificence, pillars of the Corinthian order? It has, also, a large illuminated clock, and a lamp, of gigantic proportions, suspected over the entrance!" This, gentle reader, is a gin-shop; or, in more classically elegant language, a Gin Palace! While the rich man is sipping his claret in one of the splendid apartments of his princely club, the poor man is enjoying his gin in a room, the fittings-up of which, cost several thousand pounds. Refinement has made such rapid progress in every direction, that the beggar who sweeps the crossing thinks it vulgar to be seen in a common tap-room; and so he oes to the gin-palace and gets drunk in style, at the expense of three-halfpence farthing. I will tell my readers how these things are managed; and how it is that the proprietors of Gin Palaces make their immense fortune in three or four years: - In some obscure part of town, upon an unoccupied piece of ground, several houses of the smallest kind are built. One of these, the retailer of gin purchases as soon as it is erected, fits it up as a small distillery, and there secretly manufactures an immense quantity of illicit spirit, which is conveyed by his agents into the gin palace. By defrauding his majesty of the duties, he is enabled to undersell others in the trade!

Some gin-sellers, however, are more honest. The purchase the raw spirit from the distiller, paying all the duties; then they adulterate it more than one half with the most poisonous materials. They do not cheat the King's revenue, they only destroy the King's subjects! The profit arises from the extent to which they can adulterate the raw spirit, or procure an illicit distillation, and from the immense quantity drunk by the lower orders! With the money thus obtained, a 'Palace' is opened, and the liquid poison, being sold in twenty times greater quantities than before, makes the villainous proprietor a noble fortune. These places cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands annually.

Kidd's London Directory, Vol. 3 (1836)

Monday, 17 November 2014

Sherlock at Museum of London

The Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London (runs until 12 April 2015) is a masterful and marvellous piece of work. Anyone with an enthusiasm for Holmes or his late-Victorian/Edwardian milieu, will absolutely relish the experience. I've been round twice now; I've taken my parents. I almost bought a deerstalker.

I joke about the deerstalker (though they are on sale in the shop, naturally). 

The exhibition is divided into four main sections. The first (entered through an amusingly concealed doorway) contains banks of screens, showing highlights of numberless TV and film adaptations, from a John Barrymore 1922 silent to the work of Robert Downey Jnr. (and seemingly every major UK character actor in between). There's also a lovely 1903 film reel of traffic and scenes in Edwardian London, taking up an entire wall.

The video walls are, perhaps, a prelude to the exhibition proper. For the next section considers the origins of Holmes from Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue to Conan Doyle's faltering start, which almost saw his great detective christened Sherrinford. There's also a chance to hear a 1927 interview with Conan Doyle, and note his Scottish accent; see a rare original of A Study in Scarlet as it appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887 (only eleven copies survive) and see Holmes come to life in Paget's famous illustrations.

Sherinford Holmes in Conan Doyle's original MS (copyright Museum of London)
The next section explores Holmes' London, largely through maps, paintings and photographs. Video monitors show modern hi-speed dashes through routes taken in the stories. Nineteenth century maps, above the screens, place them in context. Small photographs of street scenes, on a wall nearby, are fascinating documents of the period (and include quite a few I have not seen before). The paintings are familiar from other exhibitions but gorgeous (Dollman's Les Miserables - showing a snowbound cab shelter, cabs and horses - is a real treat). Neat touches include a wall of random Edwardian postcards, showing Imperial London in all its grandeur (and a chance to read the messages on the back - including one in indecipherable shorthand).

(copyright Museum of London)
(copyright Museum of London)
Finally, you come to Sherlock himself - or, rather, the character and his world, broken down into material categories: clothing (from Edwardian evening wear to - gasp, ladies, contain yourselves - Benedict Cumberbatch's coat); technology (telephones, telegraphs, typewriters); detective equipment (police handcuffs, fingerprinting kits); and various everyday (and not so everyday) things that feature in the stories. Thus you can also see pipes and tobacco; a box of Victorian theatrical make-up (in honour of Sherlock as master of disguise); and guns and swordsticks (loved the swordsticks).

(copyright Museum of London)

(copyright Museum of London)
Throughout, there is a sense of perfect balance: between the demands of hardcore fans (several items in the exhibition are normally in the hands of private collectors and won't be seen again in a hurry) and the general public; between the broader 'world' of Sherlock Holmes, and the details of the character; and, not least, between the various competing TV/film adaptations and the original Victorian literary origins. There is not much at all of the present Benedict Cumberbatch version (I guess some people may find that surprising, but I was grateful for it); and I came away with two thoughts - that the Museum had really captured the essence of Sherlock; and that they'd had a whale of a time putting this together, an enthusiasm which will undoubtedly transfer to their visitors.

The curator hard at work (copyright Museum of London)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Food of the Poor

[note: my paragraph-isation, just to spread things out a bit, ed.]

It is a busy night in the market street. The street is in the midst of neighbourhood that boasts of a great many factories, a population of what might be termed "casual mechanics," poor labourers, and a large percentage of bad characters - these last, however, keeping "themselves to themselves" in their own particular courts and slums.

As we wedge our way though the stream of purchasers at the gutter stalls, we can see that the majority of the men are unskilled labourers, earning a somewhat precarious living, being occasionally out of work, and never being absolutely certain of getting the next week's pound to five-and-twenty-shillings. Most of those who are not eagerly making their way to the Blue Boar are busy marketing with their wives; and truly the market is a good market, with a plentiful supply of food sold at very moderate rates.

Watching a man who stands with his wife and little girl before a butcher's shop, let us see what they have to choose from in buying for the next day's dinner. On the shelves set out in front of the shop meat scraps are offered at 3½d the lb.; better scraps (or "block ornaments" as they are termed) at 4d.; somewhat shapeless small joints of beef from inferior parts at 5d.; one coarse shoulder of mutton at the same; tolerably good-looking meat at 6d.; mutton chops at 7d. and 8d., and rump steak at 10d. Our labourer is a decent and sober - well, not over-beery-looking fellow. In making up his mind at what he is going to buy he takes but little time - he instantly points to the rump steak, the dearest of all the food in the shop, and his wife asks for a pound and a half, producing her 1s. 3d. with a cheerful alacrity. 

Next, the family proceed to the greengrocer's. Potatoes there are sold at five, four, and three pounds for 2d. The good wife buys the best, at the same time taking, for a Sunday treat, a pound - at a penny the pound - of unpleasant-looking squashed-up dates. For her pound and a half of steak and three pounds of potatoes she gave then 1s. 5d., that is to say a possible third of her husband's daily earnings, presuming him to be at work. 

After the family have gone on their way, we ask the butcher what sort of meat men and women of that class generally buy. He answers promptly, and somewhat indignantly, "The best." And is a fact that a destitute man or woman who gets a shilling ticket for meat is hardly ever known to spend it on anything but prime steak. But let us look again at the butcher's shop and then at the gutter stalls, and see what sort of meal might be had for three people (father ,wife and one child, say), with something to leave over for the man to take with him to work the next day, the meal, of course, to cost less than 1s. 5d.

At any of the stalls onions are sold at a penny the pound, turnips and carrots at three pounds for twopence; mixed lots, too, of turnip, carrot and onion, weighing apparently over a pound, the lot for a penny. Now, with a pound and a half of meat at 5d.  for the block ornaments at 4d. and 3½d. it must be owned, do not look particularly tempting, and a penny lot of carrots and onions, a good haricot could be made for 8½d. This with 4lb. of potatoes at two pence, they being quite good at that price, would give the family a supply of food two pounds heavier in weight for 10½d. than with the rump steak and potatoes they paid 1s. 5d. for. 

But for what particular reason is it that stew is so little favoured? The answer is promptly given by the proprietor of a rough-and-tumble china and glass shop, who seems not to be on apparently good terms with the butchers. "For three reasons - first of all, the woman don't know anything at all about cooking; secondly, they're too lazy for it; and thirdly, they like to have everything to the last, and so haven't time to make stews." It is not, we are told that anyone has any objection to stews. On the contrary, cold Irish stew, if "oniony" and with lots of pepper, is always liked. Besides, there is no reason why the labourer should have his Irish stew cold. He works near by, and his wife or child could bring it to him in a basin hot. Our Saturnine shopman shakes his head somewhat mysteriously, and says that the wives can't abide the basin business - that is to say, they do not care to the take the trouble to warm up the cold food, and they do not care for the exertion of walking half a mile with it.

On the subject of the laziness of women, which he evidently considers the key to the position, our informant waxes eloquent, and subsequent investigations go a long way to sustain his facts. It is a curious thing, he observes: but women seem to grow lazier and lazier with regard to cooking. In the corner of the china shop is one of those brown earthenware double baking dishes that are used for baking a joint, a batter pudding, and potatoes at the same time. The sale of these dishes has fallen off considerably. The batter took time to make, and the journey with it to the baker's was "too much of a good thing." Yet this was once almost the Sunday national meal with the London labouring classes. Lying about us here are a number of blocked tin articles of various sizes and uses. There cannot be possibly any objection to cooking at home on the score of the expense of the utensils. A quart saucepan can be had for fivepence, a two-quart for tenpence. It is mentioned, too, as an odd proof of the laziness of wives, that our informant sells a hundred teapots to one coffee-pot, and yet coffee is more drunk for breakfast than tea. The reason for this is that ready-made coffee of good quality with sugar and milk can be got from the coffee-houses, while ready-made tea loses its flavour by being kept boiling. In fact, the women buy the good ready-made coffee always, of course, at a profit to the maker, only to save the trouble of making good tea at home, although most of them prefer the taste of tea to coffee, as most women have done ever since tea has been brought into the country. Yet tea can be bought for 1s. 4d. a pound in the market and loaf sugar at 2½d. Looking in a grocer's shop window to take note of prices, we see that calico bags of table-salt are sold at 1½d. It occurs to us to ask the grocer's assistant whether the ready-ground table-salt is ever bought by the wives of labouring people. He answers, of course it is, and that it saves them the trouble of grinding and scraping at home, although of course it is dearer than buying in the lump.

One's attention is also directed to the great increase in the sale of cooked food. Brawn can be bought for 6d. a pound, and brisket is ever so much cheaper than it used to be. It is only laziness that makes the demand. An experienced police inspector, with whom we have some talk, tells us that he knows the case of a woman who often gives her children tinned lobster (7½d. the tin) and bread and butter for dinner because she does not care about the bother of cooking. Another thing noticeable is the great demand for, and supply of, cheap and certainly not always wholesome luxuries. Thousands of pots of jam at 3lb. for 7½d., sardines at 3½d., dried sprats a halfpenny a bundle, dates a penny the pound, chocolate (so-called) three ounces a penny, gill-and-a-half bottles of sauces at 1½d., mixed sweets four ounces a penny.

It is not always the fault of the wives that labourers feed extravagantly. Their husbands insist upon having the most expensive rump steak. In fact, from a sort of ludicrous spirit of snobbery, a labourer will term a fellow he dislikes a "beggar who eats a chuck," chuck being a low-priced part of the carcase. Still, this is by no means the general rule. Indeed, the wives are going from bad to worse from having less to do. Even the School Board, by taking their children from them, leaves more time on their hands than in the old days when the children hung round about the house and wanted more looking after, And the children do suffer terribly from being fed on so-called "handy snacks". The grocers shops are crammed with jars of pickles, sold at a sixth of the price they were twenty-five years ago. And no child dislikes a meal of saveloys and pickles, or coarse German sausage or brisket. Of course, such food must and does have an injurious effect. It trains their stomachs so that they care only for sweetstuff and savories. And the grocers seem specially to lay themselves out for children's caterers. At a grocer's shop near by, sweet rich cake can be had for 2½d. a pound, and damaged cake for 2d. and less, yet but a few years back it was thought quite a wonder when cake was offered for 4d. What will the future of the London poor be, as far as their digestions are concerned, is, indeed, a problem - fed on makeshift meals of prepared salted meats, cheap pickles, cheap sweetstuffs, and abominable cakes and pastry. 

On all sides the story is that "It's all the fault of the mothers and the cooked-food shops only encourage them in their laziness. What with the penn'orths of stewed eels and ha'porths of fried fish, and saveloys and brawn and sausage, it will be a miracle to make them go in for honest food."

Doubtless the drink has a good deal to do with all this. Bad drink and bad food are alternately cause and effect in a dozen ways. A man gives his wife, say, ten pence to find food for the day. The woman has four pennyworth of gin out of it; she has lost her time gossiping in the public-house, and then, meal times coming on before she notices them, she dashes to the cookshop with the money that she has left.

As to any talk as to the expense of fuel for cooking purposes, that is altogether absurd. Loose wood can be bought at the shed for 3 lb. a penny, coke at 5d. the bushel, and coal at 1s. a cwt. And a woman if she cooked properly, even if she had but a few pence in hand, could still have plenty of variety. Rice can be got at 1d. a pound, oatmeal at 2d., fish is to be bought at less than 4d. a pound, and surely out of all this there need be no lack of change. It is worth noticing also that although rice is so cheap, the London poor do not seem to take to curries, despite their taste for savoury foods. As to a woman thinking of making fish curry at a time when there is a glut of fish in the market, such a thing has never been dreamt of. Even, too, when fresh herrings are sold from the barrel for five a penny, as they were during the season last year, it was quite common to see working men's wives buying the soused herrings from low-class fish shops. The trouble of pickling herrings in the Dutch fashion, so as to have a cheap relish for the Winter would be looked upon as gratuitous martyrdom.

The idea of taking advantage of a glut of anything in the market seems to be beyond the comprehension of the London poor. Even the increased popularity of tomatoes arises a great deal from idleness. Last year tomatoes could be bought at twopence a pound; yet they were very rarely cooked, being nearly always eaten as a "handy" relish, sliced, with vinegar. If they had required cooking of the simplest kind the run on them would have been ever so much less. Still, the number of tasty dishes that could be made from the "love apple," at a very low price indeed, is well known to everyone having the least knowledge of cookery.

When we inquire where the thriftless wives come from, a little more light is let on the matter. But few of the mothers, we are told, have ever been in any domestic service. They have been bookbinders, boot closers, label pasters, and such like. In fact, they have been girls who have been used to "their liberty," and flimsy finery. They are deep readers of novelettes and cheap penny awful literature. That is, they are as unfitted as they well can be, to be frugal wives and careful mothers. They never had any home training before they were married.and they are not any more likely to learn it afterwards. And, of course they have never had the chance of knowing how to cook. They have not oven got so far as to know that it would be of any advantage to them. It is only the rich who go to schools of cookery, whereas it is a great deal more important that the poor should.

Walking further down the market our ears are greeted with "Observe the price before going elsewhere. Now, buyers, come along, do. Don't be down-hearted, observe the prices! " And really the prices are very low. But how as to cheap drinks? We walk into a gin palace of the latest fashion: that is to say, of the fashion which England has been so busily importing from Scotland during the last few years. The bar is divided into a number of small compartments, so that the good wives can do their drinking on the sly much more conveniently. This compartment fashion, one need not be told, is helping on drunkenness admirably, especially among many women who like drink, but are afraid of drinking openly. Overhearing the talk outside the gin palace, we catch one woman saving to another, "Have a drink; I've got four soup tickets." In this case the economy of the household is evidently very little affected by outside charity. While the mother may have a little more money for drink, the children will in all probability have only soup and bread for dinner instead of cold brisket or saveloys and bread.

And now as to the quality of the drink. Being in Rome, we do as Rome does, and try it. The glass of stout is comparatively harmless, but a "nip" of Scotch whisky is apparently compounded of  "silent" spirit and paraffin. Zeal in the good cause of inquiry should tempt to a trial of the gin beloved by slattern wives, but there are limits to self-sacrifice even in the public service. Seated on a table in the open space at the end of the passage, into which the drink-boxes open, is a young fellow of about twenty. He is singing, "If I were in a colony I'd live like a lord." Looking at him admiringly is a decent-looking girl of seventeen. In the next compartment a pair of ladies are engaged in a noisy quarrel over a social quartern. That quartern will cost a husband an unwholesome dinner, and dyspepsia probably send him here for Scotch whisky, which will send him home mad to beat his wife, who will console herself with more gin tomorrow. Such is the merry-go-round.

"The Poor at Market", The Standard, 20 January 1888

Leicester, England

The Victorians were wont to transport small groups of 'natives' to England and, often, exhibit them in mock-ups of their 'natural habitat' as instructive entertainment. The people in question - from China, Japan, Africa, Australia, New Zealand et al. - were not confined in these spaces; but these were, in effect, human zoos. The interactions of the 'exhibits' with the locals remains a source of queasy fascination. Here's a piece from The Standard 31 January 1851, which contrasts the 'South African' (presented as something of an innocent 'noble savage') with the hooting mobs of English ...

SCENE IN A CATHEDRAL. In the Worcestershire Journal of Wednesday last appeared the following announcement:-- "South Africans. - An interesting physiological fact occurred at Leicester on Saturday, December 21st, at which place the South Africans were being exhibited, the Amaponda woman, wife of the Zoolu chief, having given birth to a female infant, the only instance of a child of these African tribes being born in Europe. We understand that their conductor intends introducing the party to a Worcester audience, and that the infant will be baptised in our cathedral on Monday, the Lord Bishop having promised to administer the sacred rite in person."

Just before the afternoon service on Monday a carriage, which was followed by hundreds of women and children, drove up to the cathedral. It contained the African woman, whose name is said to be Macomba Faku, the godfather, and two godmothers, one of whom carried the infant. They were conducted to seats between the pulpit and chancel, had they were no sooner seated there than the cathedral began to fill, while two or three hundred persons crowded themselves into that confined part of the choir where the attraction presented itself -- squeezed themselves in heaps on the seat mounted each other's shoulders, bestrid the chancel rails, and got into every position which commanded a view of the poor, wondering, half-frightened woman. Presently the bishop arrived, also Canons Benson, Wood, and Cocks, and occupied their usual stalls. When the service commenced, as also when the organ struck out, Macomba evinced some surprise, but on the whole her conduct and demeanour were decidedly a pattern for those by whom she was surrounded. Neither the solemnity of the service nor the, sacredness of the place produced any effect, in checking the: disgraceful extravagancies of the mob, who were walking about, laughing and talking loud all the time, some men in their shirt sleeves, women and girls without bonnets, &c. Meanwhile, a large party had taken possesion of Jesus Chapel, in the nave where the font is placed, and which of course was to be the scene of the principal part of the ceremony. Here were men and women of the lowest character, using language which would have disgraced a gin palace, and all struggling to obtain the most advantageous positions. By and bye the services in the choir were concluded, and as by this time upwards of 2000 persons were assembled, the rush towards the font was terrific. With great difficulty the bishop arrived at the spot, accompanied by Canons Cocks and Benson, Macomba Fako, and her friends with the baby, the choristers and vergers, &c. The pressure was now terrific; children were knocked down, the shouts. and catcalls became deafening, and boys who had climbed on the tops of the monuments in the chapel screamed with delight as though they were the genii of the anarchy around them. The canons and Lord Sandys (the latter of whom was obliged to do battle with the multitude) were nearly taken off their legs, and at one time we thought that the font itself would have been upset by a coup de main. The lay clerks also were compelled to act as special constables to  ward off the multitude. The bishop, however, proceeded with the rite, which, it is needless to add, was a dumb show to all who were not close to the spot. The woman, who stood resting against the font, behaved in the most exemplary manner, eyeing the bishop at times with some curiosity; the infant also (which was dressed in a long white robe, that contested curiously with its little black limbs) proved itself to belong to a well-bred race by preserving the utmost decorum, and not allowing even a whimper to escape its lips ; indeed, the poor thing had been so kissed and pulled about that mere fatigue might account for its quietude. On its being sprinkled with the water the mother looked with great surprise and concern and held an eager conversation with her guardian and the women; his lordship hastened this part of the ceremony, as though fearful of the consequences, and soon put down the child, which had the effect of restoring confidence to the poor woman. The name given to the child, we are told, was "Leicester, England,"