Saturday 28 November 2009



I'm kicking myself that I forgot to mention the British Library's Points of View exhibition on 19th Century photography, which I visited a couple of weeks ago. There's a lot to see here - not so much on London, but it does include Fox Talbot's famous shot of Nelson's Column under construction from the 1840s. There's also a nice blog of the exhibition, including some videos of early photographic methods, in case you fancy trying your hand at the wet collodion process. My first book London Dust deals with early Victorian photography, as it happens ... along with a couple of murders, a pornographer and a music hall star ...

Thursday 26 November 2009



It's a little-known fact that vegetarianism was a Victorian 'lifestyle' with several vegetarian restaurants in London in the late century (I must admit I don't know the precise figures). Contemporary cartoonists were not always very understanding of the vegetarian (see above from Punch, one of my favourites from the magazine).

[This is also a cunning pointer to a new post on Some other ideas - yes, more bad poetry. But you don't have to read it.]

Wednesday 25 November 2009



Bloomeration (London, 1891). Illumination. First heard 9th November at Prince of Wales' illuminations.

Monday 23 November 2009



A couple more brief entries from 'Passing English of the Victorian Era':

Bellywengins (E. Anglian, chiefly Suffolk). A violent corruption of 'belly-vengeance', a cruel comment upon the sour village beer of those regions.

(Lond., 1883). Hanged; a ghastly word, referring to Bartholomew Binns, a hangman appointed in 1883.

Friday 20 November 2009

Bags of Mystery


More suspicious slang from 'Passing English of the Victorian Era', a dictionary which I suspect is not entirely to be trusted. The list of different types of Victorian beard is quite good, mind you:

Bags o' Mystery. (Peoples'). A satirical term for sausages, because no man but the maker knows what is in them.
     'If they're going to keep running-in polony fencers for putting rotten gee-gee into the bags of mystery, I hope they won't leave fried-fish-pushers alone.'
     This term took its rise about 1850, long before the present system of market-inspection was organised. But this term remained long after sausages were fairly wholesome. The 'bag' refers to the gut which contained the chopped meat.

irrelevant image
shamelessly snatched

(1856-60). A full beard, first seen upon the faces of the English army upon their return to England from Crimea. The new departure was instantly dubbed with the name of the most popular of the three great battles (Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann), the name probably being chosen by reason of the brilliancy of the charge of the Light Brigade. French writers who had visited the Great Exhibition of 1851, and who had been struck by the absolute absence of the moustache (except in the case of some military men), and the utter absence of the beard, without exception, were astonished upon return visits half-a-dozen years afterwards, to find Englishmen were bearded like the pard. Britons upon the principle of reaction always going the whole hog, grew all the hair they could, and the mere moustache of Frenchmen was nowhere in the fight. Interestingly enough, exactly as the wild, unkempt beard of 'The Terror ' dwindled into the moustache for the young, and the cotelette (mutton-chop) for the elderly, so the Balaclava (which abated the razor, as a daily protesting sacrifice to anti-gallicanism) toned down by '70, into the various beards of to-day the Peaked, the Spade, the Square, and other varieties of Tudor beards. These remained until the Flange, or Dundreary (see 1872-73),came in and cleared the chin, to be followed by the Scraper. To-day the 'York' prevails the short, pointed beard still worn by the Prince of Wales.

Banbury (London, 1894). One of the more recent shapes of 'jam', 'biscuit', 'cake', 'confectionery', 'tart' (qq.v.) a loose woman.
     Witness took several names and addresses, and some of the females described themselves as 'Banburys'; and said they got their living as best they could. — Raid on the Gardenia Club, The People, 4th February 1894.

Some Other Ideas


A new blog launched yesterday, containing random bits of stuff from my strangely uninteresting life ... some other ideas.

Saturday 14 November 2009



You've got to love any dictionary of slang that includes:

Alexandra Limp* (Soc., ab. 1872). An affected manner of walking seen for several years amongst women. Said to have been imitated from the temporary mode in which the then Princess of Wales walked after some trouble with a knee. (See Buxton Limp, Grecian Bend, Roman Fall.)

It's from Passing English of the Victorian Era by J. Redding Ware which I'm thinking about digitising properly (as the pdf is fine, but the text version is a mess).

I've only done the 'A' section so far. I also like:

Academic Nudity* (Oxford). Appearance in public without cap or gown.

[*not pictured ;-) ]

Mord Em'ly


Pardon? you may well say. Well, Mord Em'ly (Maud Emily as she is known to the authorities) is one of the great unsung heroines (anti-heroines?) of Victorian fiction [and also the answer to the question I set in the previous post]. She appears in the novel Mord Em'ly by William Pett Ridge (1901) - a writer who rather specialised in teenage slum characters at the end of the 1890s.

A street-girl from Walworth (Elephant and Castle), we first see her involved in a girl-gang fight. She is both sarcastic, resourceful, aggressive, argumentative, a victim of her upbringing and yet a marvellous product of the slums ... ok, I'll stop the list, but she's a brilliant character. If you think that snappy witty females are a modern innovation, or possibly go back to the screwball comedies of the 1930s, then think again. This one's thoroughly Victorian. In fact, I think I'm in love. Here's how she deals with a young policeman who looks like he's going to arrest her:

    "Never merried that gel, did you?" asked Mord Em'ly loudly. The young constable was new to the L Division, and she had not seen him before. "I s'pose, as a matter of fact, she couldn't stand your fice. 'Tain't what you'd call 'andsome, is it now?"
    A few people stopped and listened. One man advised Mord Em'ly, with great relish, to continue.
    "She told me," said the small girl to the now scarlet-faced young constable—"of course, I don't know—but she told me that the sight of you used to turn the milk sour. That's what she said, mind. But, as I said, we're none of us perfect, and no doubt it was all the result of an accident. I s'pose when you was a lad you fell down and trod on your fice, and--"

Or, alternatively, here's the first proper meeting with the future love of her life

    "Know this feller, don't you?" asked Miss Gilliken, jerking her head in the direction of the youth.
    "Seen his mug before," said Mord Em'ly, looking at him casually. "Can't say I know his name."
    "Name of 'Enery Barden," said the youth, in a deep, hoarse voice, stepping forward, and introducing himself awkwardly. "Got a job at the Willer Walk Station; also to be met with, Saturday evenings, at the boxing-saloon of the Green Man."
    "Where did ye find it?" asked Mord Emily of Miss Gilliken, with a satirical accent.
    "Who are you calling 'it'? " demanded Mr. Barden aggressively. "P'r'aps you'll kindly call me "im ' and not 'it' "
    "P'r'aps I shall do jest as I like," replied Mord Em'ly. She turned to Miss Gilliken. "Did you win it in a raffle? "
    "I'll tell you presently," said Miss Gilliken.
    "Sometimes they give 'em away," said Mord Em'ly thoughtfully, "with a packet of sweets. I 'ave seen 'em offered instead of a coker-nut or a cigar at one of these Aunt Sally—"
    "Look 'ere!" interrupted Mr. Barden crossly. "You think you're jolly clever, no doubt."
    "Think? " repeated Mord Em'ly. "Don't I know it?"

Her creative origins, I think, are not literary but in the strong female characters of music-hall. She has a lot to contend with - a drunken mother; a vicious father, returned from the dead, a rabble-rousing 'socialist' who wants to exploit her naivety, and her only chance of a decent life emigrates to Australia. Well, now she's finally on the internet ...

Read the full story here!

On the topic of Australia


Working on a brilliant digitisation at the moment (more to follow, in due course) but here's a teaser of the witty writing:

"Do you mind doing me a favour, miss? Do you mind—if you get a chance to-day—cracking up foreign places as much as possible? Do you mind mentioning, in a off'and way, that you've 'eard Australia spoke of as a good deal like South London, only better?"

"A good deal like South London, only better"

... it's the tourist slogan that the Antipodes have been waiting for, no?

Kudos to anyone who can name the book ... [too late - answered my own question in next post!]

Monday 9 November 2009



It seems to be the month of 'traditional' Victorian subjects on this blog ... first Jack the Ripper, then fog ... only because I had an interesting email from a reader whose ancestor died in a terrible fog of 1873. A quote from a newspaper which my correspondent uncovered:-

On Friday afternoon, the deputy coroner for Middlesex, held an inquiry at the Spotted Dog Tavern, High Street, Poplar, respecting the deaths of Robert Bryant 52, Thomas Ford 53, James Price 63, William Everett 38, Henry Carol 20 , Fitzroy Waters 17 and Thomas Cleman 44, all of whom perished through falling into the waters of the West India Docks during the intense fog of Tuesday evening last. . . . The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and requested the coroner to write to the Company urging them to have iron stands erected so that in the event of fogs occurring ropes or chains could be at once attached to avoid a recurrence of such a melancholy catastrophe . . . The following accidental deaths are reported to have taken place during the fog: - On Wednesday night Catherine Brookes 50 walked into the Regents Canal and was drowned. Tuesday William Farinth 28 fell off a boat into the Regents Canal at Limehouse. Patrick Reardon 38 fell into the London Docks. Bartholomew Donovan 57 dock labourer found drowned on Wednesday. Edward Fisher a cooper in the London Docks fell into the dock on Wednesday night 10th December. A dock constable was found in Millwall Docks. Joseph Reynolds fell off his barge while parking on the Thames and drowned.”

Eastern Post 20 December 1873

Punch was happy to weigh in on the topic:-


FIRST. - Should the fog be very dense, withdraw half the Police from the thoroughfares. Remember their lives are valuable to the community at large.
Secondly. - Let none of the Street Lamps be lighted, until the usual time (if then); they are of very little use, and the shops must have more blaze than usual. Never do for yourself what you can get some one else to do for you.
Thirdly. - In the neighbourhood of St. Paul's and the Banks, where the traffic, like the Fog, is at its thickest, let care be taken to secure the absence of all light and all Police. Surely everyone who is out on such a day ought to be old enough and wise enough to take care of himself. As to omnibuses, waggons, carts, cabs and carriages, they ought all to have lamps, and, when they haven't lights, they have lungs, and can ward off danger by continuous shouting.
Fourthly. - No extra Gas must be used at Railway stations, and great care should be taken that all the carriages may be left without the usual lamps. When the Fog has entirely cleared off, the Lamps may be lighted, and the Police may resume their duties.

Punch, December 20, 1873

It seems 1873 was a particularly bad year - see here for a brief mention - and it's always worth remembering that Victorian fog wasn't just 'atmosphere' in the theatrical sense; it made London dangerous for Londoners - sometimes fatal.

Friday 6 November 2009

Jack the Ripper


I have no interest in who was Jack the Ripper. We'll never know; and I find certain people's fascination with serial killers a bit disgusting. That said, I am fascinated by how early the murders were exploited for commercial interests. I just came across this:-

WHITECHAPEL NUISANCES. - Thos. Barry surrendered to take his trial for creating a nuisance by carrying on a show in the Whitechapel-road, and thereby causing large numbers of disorderly people to assemble and obstruct the public highway. This was a prosecution instituted by the Highway board of Whitechapel. - The defendant was the occupier of two houses in the Whitechapel-road, and it was alleged on the part of the prosecution that, finding his ordinary attractions had entirely failed to arouse public interest he took advantage of the excitement which had been caused by the murders in Whitechapel to exhibit ghastly and disgusting representations of the victims. It was stated that the public exhibited disgust at this feature of the exhibition, and that it was modified to some extent, but the horrible crimes that had taken place in the neighbourhood were still sought to be made objects of attraction to the public. - Mr. Purcell, for the defence, argued that the accused had a right to carry on the business of a showman if he pleased, and the only question for the consideration of the jury was whether he carried on his business in such a manner as to create a nuisance to the public. He calld witnesses to show that exhibitions of all kinds - rifle galleries, fortune telling, cocoanut shying - took place in the same neighbourhood, and that a great deal of the noise and obstruction was caused by these exhibitions, rather than by the defendant's show. - The jury found the defendant "Guilty." - There was a similar charge against another defendant named Lindley, for a nuisance in the same locality, and the accused pleased "Guilty." - The defendants were liberated, on their undertaking to abate the nuisance, and come up for judgment if called upon.

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 10 February 1889