Saturday 27 February 2010

The Ways of Sin

Just been looking at a great piece of religious prostitution-reform literature, as you do, entitled rather marvellously "THE LONDON BY MOONLIGHT MISSION: Being an account of midnight cruises on the streets of London" (1869), describing a charity's efforts, under the leadership of one Lieutenant Blackmore, to get prostitutes off the streets. Unfortunately, not as racy as it sounds ... here's a sample of the dialogue:

    After asking the Divine blessing - in company with three Christian friends, I sallied forth down Gray's-inn-lane, about ten in the evening, each of us supplied with suitable tracts for distribution; which, in addition to religious instruction, had my address printed upon them, with an appeal to females, if they wished to quit the ways of sin, to call upon me. These were enclosed in envelopes, thus presenting the appearance of a letter, a form in which they are more readily accepted.
    The route proposed for the evening was Holborn-hill, Fleet-street, the Strand, Regent-street, Oxford-street and Tottenham-court-road. Each side of the street was to be occupied by two of our party, the whole meeting again at points agreed upon.
    The tracts and notes were well received in Gray's-inn-lane. I could not help pitying those whom, by their dress and manner, I knew to be fallen ones; and I earnestly asked my Heavenly Father that he would make us the honoured instruments in his hands to rescue some. On arriving in Holborn, I was accosted by many young women; one of them, with the affected gaiety of her unhappy class, asked me, as I gave her one of the notes, whether it was a love letter. I replied: "Yes: keep it and read it tomorrow."
    When we came to the bottom of Holborn-hill, I was accosted by an interesting your girl, dressed in a superior style. I gave her a note.
    "What is this for?" she said.
    "To invite you to a happy home, until you can get into a situation suited to your ability."
    On enquiry, I found that she had no father nor mother, nor any friend in London. Turning round to the gentleman who accompanied me, she asked "Is he come for the same purpose as yourself?"
    "Yes, and I am expecting two friends directly. We mean what we say. Our wish is to do you good."
    She was struck with astonishment. "Four gentlemen come to seek after poor friendless girls! It is very good of you: I will call, with thanks."
    Degraded as she was, I shook hands with her, and we parted.

The book is available on Google. In large part, it contains first person stories about 'seduction' (ie. being lured into having sex by a man, losing one's job or standing as a result, and being driven to prostitution). These seem rather clichéd but clichés are often true. One wonders, however, if every girl was quite the innocent victim of male lust as portrayed, or whether this was the moral framework in which girls had to present themselves if they wanted to be 'saved'. There is also an episode in which the author separates a dress-lodger from her chaperon by disguising her as a young man:

    "Come away from this degradation!" I said. "I will take you to a comfortable home this very night; where you can reflect quietly on the future, and I will see what can be done."
    "I cannot!" she replied. "Look at that woman there! I dare not come away; but I thank you very much."
    "I suppose they will bring a long bill against you if I ask for your release."
She only sighed. After reflecting a few moments, a thought suddenly occurred to me.
    "Would you mind adopting a disguise?" I said.
    "I will gladly do anything to effect my escape from that loathsome woman."
    "Well, then, I think I can manage it; I will go to a clothier's shop I know in Oxford-street, and purchase a suit, as if for myself. You are about my height. We will then go to the housa ; you shall put them on, and come away with me in disguise."
    Her faced seemed radiant with delight at the prospect of escape, which gave me courage. We then walked up to her "keeper."
    "It's getting late," I said. "Let's take a cab. But first of all I'll just go in to Oxford-street, to see if some clothes are ready for me ; and then we'll all go home together."
    In a few minutes we arrived at the shop. Leaving them in the cab, I went in and bought what I required, and returned. We then drove off to the house; on arriving at which I was ushered into the drawing-room, where I waited till the young lady had changed her attire. On her return the disguise proved excellent. I happened to have my Turkish cap in my pocket; this I placed on her head—the long tassel of which partly concealed her face; a cloak, with the collar turned up, completed the metamorphosis. The difficulty that now remained was to pass the street door without being detected. It was arranged, in case of necessity, that I should speak for both. But the Turkish cap and cloak gave her so much the appearance of a young foreigner, that the mother tongue could scarcely be expected of him. She took my arm; and we quickly descended the stairs, at the foot of which, however, we encountered the "keeper. My companion now trembled so much, that I was fearful lest she should faint.
    The critical moment had arrived, when discovery would have been fatal to the whole project. I was able, however, to preserve my self-possession; and knowing the cupidity of the inmates of these houses of iniquity, I gave the woman a considerable sum of money, explaining that the foreigner on my arm was a young friend I had just met with. The money, as I anticipated, blinded the eyes of the "keeper," who nodded in assent of what I said. As she turned up stairs, where discovery awaited her, we hurried along the hall, and reached the street without further obstruction. A few moments more, and we were in the cab I had ordered to be in waiting for us.
    "Drive to Portman-square with all your might! "
This smacks of a cheap novel. Perhaps I am being too skeptical, but I can't help but wonder if the Lieutenant sexed-up (ahem) his activities for an eager readership - he did, after all, need their money to continue his charity work. Unequivocally, however, it should be noted that widespread street-prostitution was a fact in mid-Victorian London, and that - despite the quaint language ("ways of sin" etc) - any attempt to bring girls to homes and 'reform' them (however you describe it) was something of a progressive step.

I am, to my shame, also reminded of a certain (not very) classic film. Michael Palin has a lot to answer for.

Thursday 25 February 2010

A Hundred Years Hence, Past

Victorian futurology always fascinates me. Just came across a great article from the popular magazine, the Leisure Hour, written in 1857, forseeing 'London: A Hundred Years Hence'.

Like many predictions about the future, it really dwells on the pre-occupations of the time. Hence, in London topography, the author foresees the Embankment (built within ten years of the article), the spread of London to "Kew and Hammersmith ... Lewisham and Blackheath ... Woolwich and Blackwall" (happened within the next few decades) and the widening of the Strand (achieved with the Aldwych developments in 1900).

The general tone of the article is utopian - improvements in technology and physical conditions lead to diminished crime and less class difference. But there's also a bit of technological prediction - based on the telegraph - which, as often the case with the telegraph, foreshadows the internet:

"I observed that from each of these district shops innumerable electric wires branched off in all directions, communicating with several houses in the district to which it belonged. Thus, no sooner did a house-keeper stand in need of any article than she could despatch the order instantaneously along the wire, and receive the goods by the very first railway carriage that happened to pass the store. Thus, she saved her time, and she lost no money, because all chaffering and cheapening, and that fencing between buyer and seller, which was once deemed a pleasure, had been long voted a disgraceful, demoralizing nuisance, and was done away with. The electric wires ran along the fronts of the houses near the upper stories, crossing the streets at an elevation at which they were scarcely visible from below; and I noticed that the dwellings of friends, kindred, and intimates were thus banded together, not only throughout the whole vast city, but even far out into the provinces, and, in cases where the parties were wealthy, to the uttermost limits of the realm. "
Read the full article here.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Some other ideas

Elsewhere, the author contemplates the value of giving literary advice ...

Monday 22 February 2010

To the Isle of Dogs

Just discovered a lovely piece of travel journalism by the writer Richard Rowe, from 1876 - a journey to the Isle of Dogs. It captures the grime of the East End and the isolated peculiarity of 'Isle' which remains to this day. Here's an excerpt on the East End seen from the railway (which now forms the Docklands Light Railway - you can still see elements of this panorama) and here's where you'll find it all online.

The glimpses the Blackwall-bound traveller catches of Rosemary-lane, Cable-street, and the Back-road are dreary enough, but those sewer-like lanes running into them are inexpressibly dismal. It is impossible to believe that their stagnant atmosphere was ever stirred and purified by a hearty, innocent laugh. How can people be happy in such holes? As to being virtuous, it seems ridiculous to entertain the thought. The inhabitants crawl about like vermin, and if they prey like vermin, are they morally responsible for acting according to nature into which they have been born and bred? Of course, for its own protection, society is obliged to hold them legally responsible; but would not society's "selfishess" be more "enlightened" if it attacked the cause as well as the effect? Whilst such dwellings exist, it is natural that there should be crime as that there should be cholera. The squalid haul that the policeman drags into the police-dock from such districts affects one like the carcasses and skeletons nailed upon a gamekeeper's gable. It was necessary that the vermin should be punished, but still it seems hard that they should be punished for merely following the instincts of their kind. "Is not this great Babylon that I have built by the might of my power?" exclaimed Nebuchadnezzar, as he walked on the roof of his palace; and, for a punishment, he had to eat grass like an ox, and his nails were turned into talons. If any one man could be made accountable for the building of the greater part of our great Babylon that is seen from the Blackwall Railway, he would not be likely to boast of his achievement; but bestial appetites and rapacious claws would be fitly symbolical for the condition into which he had reduced his tenants. A tawny African desert strewn with bleaching bones would not be so depressing a spectacle as the grimy wilderness of jumbled roofs, staggering chimney-stacks, and blind or blinking windows, athwart which the Blackwall Railway cuts at the commencement of its career. The mortar in which the shattered chimney-pots stand awry is black and cracked like desiccated mud. A pall of soot is spread over the broken tiles and the crumbling rafters that peep out between. The small windows have the look of eyes clouded by cataract, or damaged in fight. Supplementary stories of slanting slate - not much bigger than middle-sized house-cisterns - have been added to tottering hovels, swarming with life, and those tanks are "family-homes!" That the trains at Stepney Junction, in a single week, should have made mangled corpses of two wretched suicides, weary of existence in Ratcliff, is a grim fact to call to mind when you roll over the rails splashed with their blood; but, save as to the mode of death selected, you can scarcely think the fact wonderful.

Friday 19 February 2010

East End Views

Just stumbled across some great East End photographs which have been made available by Tower Hamlets Local History Library (not all Victorian but many are fascinating) here.

Thursday 18 February 2010

London by Night

A nice piece of London journalism by Edmund Yates. Nothing exceptional but evocative of the period (1850s), all the same.

NOT from the gloomy gallery of the now hermetically sealed Coliseum — not from the highest pinnacle of St. Paul's, where stood Mr. Dickens and Dean Milman during the recent illuminations — do I propose oh, reader of mine! to show you London by night. From these heights we should indeed be able to trace the glittering lines of the broad streets, to catch occasional twinkles of variegated colours in chemists' windows, to see the reflection of the bridge lamps shimmering in the thick water below; but of the actual life carried on beneath us we should learn nothing. It is not our purpose to-night to find sermons in stones, but rather to glean an amusing lesson from animate objects. Let us, then, quietly stroll through the streets, jotting down our observations as we go. I, for the nonce, have renounced the ordinary paletot of domestic life, and have that magic garment, conferring invisibility on the wearer, which was given to me by my fairy godmother: cling you tightly to its skirts, and thus unseen, yet all-seeing, we will pass through the streets together.
It is the height of the season, and eight o'clock is just pealed from the extinguisher-steepled church in Langham-place. Coming down Portland-place we have seen at many mansions undeniable tokens of festivity; through open dining-room windows we could just catch glimpses of glittering epergnes and brilliant chandeliers, of airy dresses and pearly shoulders, of stiff white chokers and stiffened moustaches. Borne upon the dusty wind carne an odour of French cookery which tingled deliciously in our nostrils, mingled at some of the houses with the sharp pungent smell of Eastern condiments, for Portland-place is the stronghold of the great Anglo-Indian fraternity, of returned nabobs and ex-collectors; and in the basement floors of many of these residences do Meer Ali and hi fraternity, bright-eyed and agile-fingered, compound such pilaffs and cutcherry and curries as delight the stomachs of their masters, and cause the envy of the Oriental Club Committee. In Portland-place itself there is little enough traffic just now, for the population is of one rank and is engaged exclusively at present in that one great occupation, dining. Turning through the Regent-circus into Oxford-street, we come at once upon a very different scene, where the whole hive is awake and stirring. The street is thronged with business men detained late in the City now wending their way to their snuggeries at burglar-haunted Bayswater, or nightly-ransacked Notting Hill; shop-girls attached to early-closing establishments, escorted by the trimmest of shop-boys with the shiniest of hats, the all-roundest of collars, and the stiffest of boots, wending their way to those establishments which call themselves dancing academies, and are simply casinos on a lower scale. Now and then, too, we pass a seedy-looking man with a very blue-shaven face, a jaunty air, and a thick stick; this is an actor who does not play until the second piece; and occasionally we come across the stout well-to-do sub-editor of a daily newspaper, hurrying down to his nightly avocation. We may, perchance, see something more of the inner life of both these gentlemen, but at present our business is in the street. Passing through Oxford-street and glancing through the large windows of the linendraper's shop where the white-chokered gentlemen are lazily putting away the things and hurrying off to the joys of the Varsoviana, we come into Holborn, and, as nine o'clock is now close at hand, find the shops generally closed, and the wayfarers few in number. Little noise is here heard save from the costermongers, who, standing by their barrows at the corner of the kerb, shout the excellence of their goods, and from the boys, who preternaturally wide-awake, still keep up a volley of slang and "chaff" against each other and all the passers-by. Some establishments, however, are still open; oyster shops, glaring with gas, radiant with lobsters, and trimly arranged oysters laid flat in circular basins, green and tempting with fennel and cold salads arranged in glistening glass, bright with gilt affiches of dried salmon, and haddocks and Yarmouth bloaters. Taverns are here, too, of all kinds, from the old-fashioned public-house with its one open bar, its capital old and mild ales and cooling porter, with its trim old-fashioned landlord and landlady, its hairy-capped pot-boy and time-honoured "parlour" frequenters to the rattling staring gin-palace, with mahogany and plate-glass, with its enormous vats, and glistening gaseliers, and pewter bars, and wired cakebasket ; with its "max" and "old tom" and "blue-ruin," its "dew off Ben Nevis", its "regular stunning and no mistake." Looking through the always-open swing door of this house we see a sight which would fill our esteemed friend Mr. George Cruikshank with horror and dismay. There, in the large space in front of the bar, is wedged together a crowd of men, women, aye and children. There are costermongers in the orthodox fustian coat and knee-breeches, with dirty cotton stockings and ankle jack boots, who have left their basket of wares piled up behind the doors, but who keep looking sharply round occasionally to see that the laws of meum, and tuum are duly respected; seedy men in rusty suits like mechanics out of work or broken down tradesmen, "colloguing" together over little glasses of spirits, which have been filled from the battered noggin on the counter; their conversation harping principally upon "parties that they've knowed " who were" bad lots," and "made no bones about sellin' a feller up root and branch:" little old women in wonderfully wretched clothes and smashed bonnets — old women with moist eyes and red noses, and hands with crinkled shining skin and black nails, who address each other first as "Mum," and then, under juniperial influence, broaden into "my dear;" gaunt, wretched, slammerkin girls, with pallid faces, half defiant half death-like in their expression, dressed in faded finery, with tattered shawls drawn tightly round their thin frames, who do not wait to talk but hurry in, toss of their "go," and are off at once. Screened off from the general assemblage by a wooden partition is the private bar or "Jug and Bottle Entrance," where are three or four young men of a better stamp who are drinking pale ale and talking about the" governor" and the "jolly sheave o' last night," and flirting with the many ribboned girl who is serving them, and imagining themselves the greatest rakes in Europe. The hands are rapidly creeping round the dial, and we shall not have time to go further into the City, nor should we indeed find much there to repay our journey. We should see large warehouses and vast mercantile establishments sleeping quietly in the moonlight, the masters of which are now nodding over the last number of the" Quarterly Review," or playing with the children, or smoking a quiet cigar on the lawn far far away from these hot and stifling thoroughfares. In detached and semi-detached villas, in "parks" and "retreats" and "lodges," ay, by my troth, and even in "hermitages" live they, away by the side of silver Thames or on the breezy downs of Surrey, or among the verdant woods of Sussex: and Berkshire, whither they fly and whence they are borne, steam-rattled by the train each night and morning. We should see little congregation-less churches frowned upon and almost hidden by the erections of Manchester and Glasgow enterprise, large tumble-down inns and coaching houses, whose custom has departed but whose name still remains, "London's tall column pointing to the skies," the Bank, the Exchange, the Post Office, all the great monuments of commerce, but we should come upon very few animate beings, and so at once "westward ho! " Stay! I said we would have one more look at our friend the subeditor whom we met in Oxford-street. It is but a short way from Holborn to the Strand, and in the latter region we shall find him. That large building with the dull beacon lamp burning over the door, and with the brilliant light streaming through the windows of the two upper stories through which the compositors can be seen busily at work, that large building, on nearing which the thumping and clashing of the steam-engine is at once audible, is the Intelligencer office, and here from 9 P.M. till 3 A.M., except on Saturday nights or on the occasion of a month's holiday, is Mr. Sifter, the sub-editor, invariably to be found. A cab has just rattled up to the door, and from it has alighted Mr. O'Shane, one of the "gallery-men" of the Intelligencer. Availing ourselves of our invisibility, we follow him through the door, and up a well-worn staircase, to a large bare room on the second floor. The room js pretty well filled; five or six reporters being seated at the desks, which run round the wall — gallery-men who were first at "the House," a gentleman who has just returned from a public-dinner, and another who is copying from his notes the lengthy speech of the President at the opening of the Bolton-le-Moors Cattle Show. Mr. Sifter is not here; to find him, we must go down to the first flight, and here he is boring over an absurd manuscript account of a military inspection, and endeavouring, hopeless task as it seems, to cut out three parts of the reporter's verbose description, and neatly to join the disconnected fragments. In his room, by special licence, is seated a lively-looking young man in evening dress, with a playbill before him, at which he casts occasional glances, as his quick pen flies over the paper. This is the theatrical critic, whose Gillott has become a creese — whose inkstand is filled with gall — who, in plain speaking, is flaying Mr. Haresfoot for having the presumption to think he can play Hamlet, and for having had the presumption to disappoint the theatrical critic of that great organ, the Intelligencer, by compelling him to give up a pleasant artistic dinner at Greenwich, and to attend to his critical duties at the Theatre Royal Drury Garden. Doubtless, you would like a glance at the chief editorial sanctum; but, as we are pressed for time, you must accept a catalogue raisonnée of its contents. Here it is:- A bald-headed gentleman; a large desk; piles of manuscript; a heap of "leaders" in proof letters (opened and unopened) from an parts of the world; a framed statement of the current work of the night; a bowl full of cards for theatres, exhibitions, &c.; a mass of books for review lying on the floor; a file of the journal, with hieroglyphics intelligible only to editorial senses, inscribed thereon; a hat, great-coat, and stick; two or three bookshelves, full of works of useful information — cyclopaedias, dictionaries, and such like; gutta-percha speaking tubes, communicating with all parts of the establishment, jutting from the wall, and falling snake-like round the devoted editor; a tea service; and a washing-stand. Now, adieu, Intelligencer-office, and, once more, " westward, ho."
Edmund Yates,Train: a first-class magazine, 1856

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Jill the Ripper?

A fan of this blog alerts me to a new book they've written on the infamous Mary Pearcey case. Here's a guest post from Sarah Beth Hopton that explains all:

A 7.10 pm on a cold Friday night in London, 1890, a clerk named Somerlea Macdonald stepped around what looked like a drunk woman passed out on the sidewalk. He ignored the woman and kept walking toward his home in Belsize Park, but a few steps later, he stopped, compassion forcing him to turn on his heels and see if the woman was all right. He reached down to shake her shoulder, but her body replied stiffly.

Sensing something was terribly wrong, Somerlea made for Swiss Cottage railway station and found the first officer on duty, summoning him to the site. When the officer approached the body, he knelt, shown his bull’s-eye lantern down the length of her body and then pulled back a cardigan jacket covering her face to reveal a ghastly site.

The woman’s neck had been cut from ear to ear, cut so severely her head was nearly severed from her body. The constable blew into his whistle, calling for help, while the clerk dashed off to fetch a neighborhood doctor.

Meanwhile, in another neighborhood two miles away, a perambulator was found leaning against the front gate at No. 34 Hamilton Terrace. A constable walking his beat found the pram and investigated. On top of the bassinet was a bloody apron and inside a bloodied butterscotch candy still wrapped in paper. Two days later, a child is found dead, apparently suffocated and left for dead in a field off Finchley Road.

The woman and child are eventually connected. A coroner’s inquest is called, the verdict of which leads to a magisterial hearing and then a sensational trial at the Central Criminal Court where 24-year old Mary Pearcey will be found guilty and sentenced to hang.

But did Mary Eleanor act alone? Was the murder premeditated or the impulse of a diseased mind? And why did she murder a woman and child whom she’d befriended and treated with the sincerest forms of kindness? Should she have stood alone in the dock or did she commit the crime in collaboration with a lover who, in her words, “had more power over [her] than anyone on earth?”

Did Mary Eleanor receive a fair trial, or was she sentenced to hang because she was ruled by an “ungovernable passion,” and represented all that was wrong with the “modern woman”?

Was her insistence of innocence the fantasy of a deluded mind, or a clue to unraveling her final request? As her effigy was being cast in wax for a display in M. Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors that would run until the 1970s, Mary Eleanor was giving her solicitor explicit instructions to place an advertisement in a Madrid newspaper, which read:

M.E.C.P. “Did not betray.” M.E.W.

She went to her death with the answer to that riddle on her lips.

To learn more about Mary Eleanor’s life, loves, crimes, and execution, visit the Mary Pearcey blog at: and sign up for the newsletter detailing information about the forthcoming book chronicling Mary Pearcey’s life, “Woman at the Devil’s Door.”

You can also listen to a podcast about Mary Eleanor’s life and explore the theory that she was “Jill the Ripper,” here.

Visit Facebook and become a fan of “Woman at the Devil’s Door,” where you can download photos and video of the crime scene and the characters.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

How Much?!

In another of my occasional, random posts drawing on archives, here's an early Victorian (ok, very late Georgian) undertaker's bill, from Dion Clayton Calthrop, I Will be Good!, 1929.

Most Victorians considered a good funeral, full of pomp and ceremony, to be essential. This example below is certainly a rather well-fitted-out affair. I would guess it was for a middle-class household, given the cost of £50. If you want a comparison, this was the annual salary of many a working-class labourer. A decent clerk, on the other hand, might earn £300 pa.

November 1836

£ s d
For the Funeral of Wm. Beech, Esqr. a 6 foot 21 inch lid strong elm coffin lined and ruffled with fine cambric and pitched cambric and wool bed mattress 2 6 0
Mattress 0 10 0
Superfine cambric Shroud, Sheet, Cap and Pillow 2 2 0
Four men taking in do. 0 4 0
One outside strong elm case made to receive the above, covered with black cloth, nailed with best black nails, ornamented with japaned drops, double metal plate gloria turns, four pair of shield handles with wrought grips and finished in the best manner 6 15 0
Four men taking in do. 0 4 0
Cementing in the body and moving do. downstairs 0 7 6
Church fees 0 10 0
Moving ledger and extra depth 0 5 0
Early dues 0 7 6
Ringing the bell 0 5 0
2 Porters at the door in gowns, staves, silk covers, halberds and gloves 1 6 0
Hearse and four horses 2 16 0
2 Coaches and pairs 2 16 0
To fetching and taking home company 0 11 0
Use of a lid of best black feathers 0 18 0
To 15 plumes for hearse and horses 1 10 0
Do. for 4 coach horses 0 10 0
To Best Pall 0 10 0
To a set of Velvets for Hearse and four horses 1 2 0
Do. 3 Velvet Hamm cloths 0 10 6
Do. for four coach horses 0 10 0
Use of seven superfine cloaks 0 10 6
Do. for coachman 0 3 0
4 wands and 4 truncheons 0 2 0
8 Bearers to bear the body and attend the hearses and coaches 1 0 0
10 silk hat-bands for the company 4 0 0
11 pairs of Gents' best kid gloves 2 2 9
14 pairs of ladies' do. do. 1 5 0
1 crepe hatband 0 2 6
Full fittings for the Minister 1 11 6
Common fittings for the clerk and sexton 1 1 0
8 silk hatbands and gloves for the bearers 2 2 0
3 do. do. for coachman 1 10 0
3 men with the coaches and turnpikes in fetching company 0 3 0
8 Funeral letters, postage and delivery 0 4 0
Allowance for men at different times 0 6 6
Self-attending the funeral, hatband and gloves and man to assist 0 15 0
Packing case and carriage 0 2 6
Raising the stones in the churchyard 0 3 0
Inscription in ledger 0 10 6
Receipt stamp 3 13 7

£49 5 10

As you can see, undertakers capitalised on the desire for show. Here's a nice quote from journalist James Payn (anthologised in Lights and Shadows of London Life, 1867) recalling the lengths to which some went in the provision of mutes (and a passing insight into Victorian ideas of race/colour, while we're at it):-

    I remember being present at a certain funeral in those days-a "first class interment," it was called, in the jargon of the undertaker - where all the outward respect that could be provided for the sad occasion had been purchased without regard to expense. Gentlemen in dusky pairs, and overcome with costly emotion, preceded the long procession, each furnished with what looked like a folded telescope, as though they would have followed with their bodily eyes the supposed direction of the late flight of the fashionable spirit. Then a dusky gentleman alone, bearing a board upon his head with ostrich feathers on it, exactly as the Italian image-boys carry their frail wares. Then another group of telescope-bearers. Then a sort of (muffled) drum-major in the deepest mourning and despondency. After him the hearse itself, with a gentleman more than dusky - for he was a genuine black man - sitting beside the driver. The appearance of this person was calculated to excite sympathy even from the most callous spectator. He was bowed no less with years than with grief, and his short hair - which still retained the curl peculiar to his race - was as white as wool.
    I inquired of a relative of the deceased person who this individual was, for I did not remember ever to have seen him in that gentleman's household.
    "I dare say not," returned he; "for the fact is, I never set eyes on him myself before to-day. Mr. Mole, however, assured us that it would be the correct thing to engage him. 'An ancient and valued retainer of the family,' said he, 'is indispensable on such occasions as these, and a black man for this purpose is invaluable.' He is set down in the estimate at £3 16s., exclusive of the cambric handkerchief - which, to do him justice, he applies to his eyes as continuously as is consistent with exhibiting his complexion to the general public.

Saturday 13 February 2010

My Offensive Valentine

Not every Victorian was a fan of Valentine's day:


Sir - If Mercury condescends to help Cupid for one day in the year, I think Mercury should not do so at the expense of regular customers. On this morning of St. Valentine, as usual, the postman has delivered at my house a dozen more or less silly and offensive letters. As usual, also, on this Saint's day, he has not delivered my copy of The Times which, sent from Printing-house-square itself, arrives by the first post on all other days in the year with delightful regularity. Now, what is breakfast without one's newspaper. Even a genial mind is soured by such a void; but on this of all days throughout the year, when one was hungering to know what Ministers proposed to do for the advancement of learning in Ireland and for suitors in England delay was a refined cruelty, and one went into town in helpless ignorance, an object of mingled pity and wonder. I ask the Postmaster-General, on grounds of justice and of mercy, whether daily newspapers should be delayed in the post for the sake of this stupendous annual folly - these maudlin, impertinent love-letters, which might be kept back for a week, or, still better, pitched in the Thames by cartloads without hurt to anybody?
I am, Sir, yours,

The Times, 15 February, 1873

My Funny Valentine

Courtesy of George Cruikshank ...

Thursday 11 February 2010

Gangs of Roughs

I've commented before on hooliganism, a topic which will feature in my next novel, but it's fascinating to note how vicious behaviour and teen gangs are not a modern phenomenon, whatever the media would have you believe (whether we have more incidents of such things, I genuinely don't know). Here's some examples ... I challenge you to read the articles below and not feel just a little bit less paranoid about modern London life.

Islington - always been a bit rough, innit?
At CLERKENWELL, JOHN GARVEY, 19, a rough-looking youth, was charged with feloniously cutting and wounding his father by stabbing him in the head and shoulder with a pocket knife. The father, William Garvey, living in Adelaide-square, New North-road, said that his son lived with him, but was very unruly. On Sunday night he was with a number of other lads outside the house, and witness, who was in bed, was disturbed by their whistling and singing. he called from the window of his bedroom to his son, telling him to be quiet or go away. Within a few minutes afterwards the prisoner rushed into his bedroom with an open knife in his hand and began abusing him for calling out of the window, and called him many bad names. Witness tried to put him out of the room. The prisoner then struck him, and witness felt the knife enter his left shoulder. A second blow was given, and the knife entered his head on the left side. They struggling for the knife, and witness got his hand cut, and lost so much blood that he became insensible. A constable was fetched, and the prisoner charged; witness afterwards finding him at the station, where his own wounds were dressed. Mr. F.J.Bucknell, M.D., of Upper-street, Islington, divisional surgeon, deposed to attending the prosecutor, who had received a stab in the left shoulder and a severe cut on the head, partially dividing the left ear. The prisoner, who when charged made no statement in defence, now said that he had nothing to say, and was fully committed for trial at the Middlesex Sessions.
The Times, 7th June, 1881
THE ISLINGTON ROUGHS. - Joseph Bonner, 19, labourer of Beaconsfield-buildings, York-road; and William Richards, 19, labourer, were charged with assaulting Constable Ross, 147 Y, while in the execution of his duty. It was stated by the police that the two prisoners belonged to a gang of roughs who were in the habit of parading the streets armed with sticks, stones, and knotted ropes, creating a disturbance by fighting among themselves, and molesting every person they met. On Sunday afternoon Police-constable Ross met a gang of about forty youths, behaving in this manner described in Charlotte-street, Islington, the two prisoners being among them. He took Richards, who was armed with a thick stick, into custody, and Bonner then struck him on the head with a knotted rope, damaging his helmet. He took the stick from Richards, but Bonner wrested it from him and struck him several violent blows on the back with it. Richards also struck him and kicked him in endeavouring to escape from custody. He let Richards go and took Bonner into custody, and Richards was apprehended on the following morning. Mr. Hosack sentenced Bonner to two months' and Richard to one month's hard labour.
Reynolds Newspaper, October 2, 1881
AT CLERKENWELL, WILLIAM BROWN, 16, schoolboy, of St. John's-square, Clerkenwell, and HENRY FOXCROFT, 18, of Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell, were charged with having been concerned with others not in custody in discharging a loaded revolver at Arthur Hobbs with intent to do him grievous bodily harm. The prisoners were further charged with having been concerned in wounding James Page, of Milton-place, Holloway, by shooting him on the 31st ult., and also, in conjunction with others, in cutting and wounding John Agnes, by stabbing him with a knife on Sunday last. The first prosecutor, Hobbs, a sawyer, living at Southampton-street, Pentonville, stated that he was talking to a friend in Upper-street, Islington, on the evening of the 31st. ult. ,when Foxcroft assaulted him by giving him a blow on the face, knocking him down. Brown then, it was alleged, came up, stood over the prosecutor and drawing a revolver from his pocket fired one shot at the prosecutor's head. The shot appeared to have struck a man named Page, who was standing near, and who was wounded in the thigh. The injured man was attended by Dr. White, divisional surgeon, who extracted a bullet. The prisoners, after the shot was fired, ran away in the direction of Pentonville, and were not seen by the police until yesterday. The evidence of witnesses as to the first two charges was taken; but a remand was asked for to complete the cases, and for the medical evidence as to the condition of the wounded men. The prisoners were remanded for a week.
The Times, June 23rd, 1885

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Spring cleaning

A new cleaner look for the blog ... hope you like it!

London Traffic 1903

Another nice turn-of-the-century BFI film of London traffic, in 1903. Spot the solitary motor car; admire the advertisements on buses (soaps predominate?) and wonder what it all sounded like (erm, probably quite noisy!).