Wednesday 20 May 2009

The (Victorian) Office


An addition from the worthy Edmund Yates
on the rather easy-going life of a government office clerk. The clerks of the 1850s were, according to one voice in this piece, a degraded set of youths, 'a set of book-reading young thieves, whose sole pleasure consists in attending lectures or going to humbugging dancing-parties'. Preserve us from such disgusting creatures!

Obscure Victorian Hobbies .2


Would you like to make a 'feather-screen'? Sounds harmless enough? Cassells Household Guide thought such activity 'not beyond ordinary skill, and we have seen some very good ones made by ladies, though the sight of raw flesh, and the necessity of getting over scruples about touching it with the fingers, often deters them from attempting the necessary operations'.
Preparation is everything. First you need 'a good strong penknife, very sharp at the point, a quill pen, a small quantity of flowers of sulphur, arsenical soap, wadding, or cotton wool, or tow, a smooth board, some twine, a darning- needle, some strong pins, a hammer, and some copper bell-wire' and ... well, let's not beat around the bush (ahem) a dead bird.
I wonder how many game (ahem) readers of Cassells gave it a go.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Dog Carts


I've finished what I'm digitising by James Grant - the first few chapters of his Lights and Shadows of London Life from 1842 (not to be confused with James Payn's book of the same title). It's incomplete, because I can't lay my hands on the second volume at present, and the last chapter of the first book looks a little boring. Nonetheless, there are some interesting snippets, not least on the 'dog-cart'. In general Victorian parlance, this was a small trap for quick journeys, as pictured above. But, there was a much more literal predecessor ...

These latter observations lead me to say a word or two about another class of vehicles, which until the beginning of 1840, were quite common in the streets of the metropolis. I mean the very small carts which were drawn entirely by dogs. These lilliputian carts were used for a variety of purposes, and were sometimes drawn by one dog, although occasionally by as many as three. The dogs were duly harnessed as if they were horses, and were trained to their duties as drawers of these vehicles in a wonderful way. In many cases the persons, mostly boys or young men, charged with them, or to whom. they belonged, sat in the carts themselves, and drove the tractable creatures whip in hand, just as if they were horses. They proceeded at an amazing celerity through the streets; frequently exceeding hackney coaches and cabs in the rapidity of their movements. The only thing to be regretted was, that they were not only often overburdened, but very cruelly used by those who had the charge of them.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Old Clo!


The secondhand clothes trade was of considerable fascination to many of the 'social investigators' who documented London low-life. There were the secondhand clothes-sellers who padded the streets, with the cry of 'old clo!' and the shops and streets devoted to clothing of differing degrees of secondhanded-ness. One reason for this writerly fascination was the social significance of secondhand clothing. In the gradual decline of a piece of clothing from bran new to second-hand, to decrepit, there was a nice parallel for social decline - what clothes you wore marked your position in Society - and writers could summon forth images of the former owners of the clothes, in their different conditions in life, and their increasing social degradation. Dickens covers Monmouth Street in Sketches by Boz and others followed suit (as it were). One of these was James Grant in Lights and Shadows of London Life, who, amongst other things, documents the decline in fortune of 'a very intelligent surtout' in, ahem, its own words. More of Mr. Grant's book will follow in the next week or two.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Home Improvements


Did you think TV shows like 'Changing Rooms' et al. invented the popular interior design advice format?

Think again and refer to the wisdom of Mrs. Talbot Coke (surely a pseudonym? if not, it is too Victorian a name for words!) in the pages of Hearth and Home. Victorian women's magazines are endlessly fascinating ... here is just a snippet of Mrs. Coke's sage advice ...

Addendum ... Mrs. Talbot Coke was the name, as a reader informs me below ... see this link.