Tuesday 31 August 2010


A 1906 wholesale price list for Kearley & Tonge Ltd 'Tea Suppliers and Merchants' has been lingering on my shelf forever. Not sure it's worth digitising in its entirety (fairly sure not), but - looking for a random good bit -  if you wanted to know what table sauces could be found in the Edwardian cupboard, see below (click to enlarge):

Inside a Victorian Pub

A nice cartoon from Punch, 1860, in a temperance vein. Note the woman with a black eye; and the child drinking from the pot of beer she's been sent out to collect for her parents.


Another lost Victorian profession, just discovered - the professional shutter-man. All decent mid-Victorian shop windows had solid inflexible wooden shutters, which had to be removed at the start of the day, stored somewhere, and put back at night. The Punch cartoon below from 1860 (in which painted shutters are replaced in the wrong order, with hilarious consequences, ahem) shows the arrangement.

I had thought this was always done by the owner or shop-boy or whoever was available. But it turns out you could contract the work out ... an article from the Leisure Hour of 1855 is entitled 'Simon Shutters' and sketches the job out for us:

 ... yonder he goes, pacing placidly the broad pavement of Holborn, his arms folded beneath a mill:-white apron, and his sunburnt brows only half shaded by a little oval projection of leather appended to his blue cloth cap. Simon has done his morning's work, and now, with the air of a proprietor who feels that "the ground he treads on is his own," is patrolling his landed estate with an evident expression of satisfaction on his weather-beaten sexagenarian physiognomy.
    To be plain — for why should we confuse the reader? —Simon is a professor of the art of opening and shutting shops ; and if distinction were to be won in such a walk of life, we should say that he is a distinguished professor. His landed estate consists of a furlong or so of the southern side of Holborn, where the pavement is the cleanest, the roadway the broadest, the shops the most resplendent, the shopkeepers the most respectable and well-to-do — and where there is a cool and quiet court, in which a solitary tree rustles its green leaves in the summer breeze, and a convenient pump keeps its hospitable mouth continually open for the refreshment of thirsty lieges. Simon's especial function is to take down the shutters of his clients (or patrons, which you choose) in the morning, and to put them up again at night — in which operation he may with perfect truth be said to throw more light upon the respective developments and progress of the arts of commerce and manufacture than any other man in his parish.
    From long handling of shop-shutters, Simon has grown to regard them very much in the light that a shepherd does his sheep. He knows their ailments and infirmities, their individual constitutions and little stubborn ways ; and he will humour their caprices, and compassionate their maladies. He is aware that they have to put up with very equivocal accommodations in the day-time while off duty ; some he has to stack together under a little pent-house between their own and a neighbour's shop ; some have to be thrust into the cavernous recess beneath the show-board of the window ; some have to be carried into the back-yard in the rear of the house; and some are ignominiously shoved through a grating in the causeway into the coal-hole below. That they should at times prove a little refractory under such treatment, Simon regards as nothing more than natural, and he has patience with them accordingly. When, under the influence of the fogs and damps of winter, they swell, as they are apt to do sometimes, he will coax and humour them into their places; and when in the summer time they shrink, from the heat of the weather, he will judiciously ventilate their nocturnal position by allowing them to "inhabit lax," like Milton's celestials, while they sentinel the starry heavens.
    How Simon employs the long interval between the taking down and the putting up of his especial charge, the shutters, we are not in a condition to narrate. What we know is, that he is often seen polishing away with rotten-stone and chamois leather at the long fathoms of brass plate beneath the windows, and as often mounted on steps or a short ladder, armed with dusters and whitening, and rubbing briskly at the monster crystal panes which are the source at once of the shopkeeper's delight and apprehension. Again, we have seen him turn up suddenly from some undiscovered recess at the cry of "Shutters !" from one of his patrons, and incontinently take charge of a packet of goods to be carried home at the heels of a customer, or, it may be, only of a message of immediate importance. And more than once, of a summer's afternoon, have we encountered him in the cool court aforesaid, occupied in the cause of his wooden flocks  — now with a pocket plane, shearing off a shaving or two from the side of a refractory member ; now with a hammer and nails, or turn-screw and gimlet, adjusting or even renewing the iron sheathing at the corners of one aged veteran ; now with glue-pot and a rag or two of canvass, applying a breast plaster to a split panel. These kind offices he is at all times willing to perform of course not without a consideration. He is great, too, in the treatment of blisters — a disorder to which shop-shutters are as liable as sheep are to the foot-rot. This he cures by the application of pumice-stone vigorously administered, followed by a new coat of paint ; or, that being too expensive, of brown varnish, which for a time looks almost as well. When he has a family thus afflicted, be mounts his patients upon trestles, under the tree in the cool court aforesaid, and sets to work upon them with great deliberation.
    We know nothing of Simon's political principles ; but in practice he is strictly a conservative, and a stickler for the good old times. For more than thirty years he has obtained an honest livelihood by his present profession ; and be has been heard to remark, that during the whole of that period the hours of closing shop have, until very lately, been getting nearer midnight, to his increasing annoyance and discomfort. He is, therefore, on principle, a warm advocate of the early closing movement. He would like to see a return to the ancient fashion of putting up the shutters in summer at dusk, and in winter at six o'clock. He has a good word to say for the Saturday half - holiday, and would have no objection, if it could be managed, that a few more holidays should be scattered throughout the year.
    It is probable that the routine of Simon's daily life is as free from care as that of most men ; but we must not imagine, on this account, that he is exempt from troubles and anxieties. He has had in his time to do battle against rivals in trade, who would fain encroach upon his estate and underbid him in the market. He has at all times to fortify himself against the chances of the weather, and has grown so sensible to atmospheric changes, that, from various internal promptings, he can foretell a storm long before the black clouds rise in the horizon, or a dry season for days before it sets in. Then there is a bugbear constantly before his imagination, in the shape of that new invention which supersedes the use of shutters altogether to the shopkeeper, and which, if it comes into general acceptance, will most assuredly supersede the use of Simon. It is nothing less than a fatal contrivance for drawing up and letting down an effective yet flexible shutter concealed under the cornice above the window: it may be done by the shop- keeper's boy in a minute or less, and it reduces the whole art and mystery of Simon's profession to the simple act of turning a winch or pulling a rope. Simon affects the most sovereign contempt for a machine "that would go for to take the bread out of an honest man's mouth," and has no faith in its efficacy against burglars. Happily for him, John Bull is slow to adopt even the most palpable improvements, and he can console himself in perfect safety that the shutters will last his time. 
The ever-reliable Alfred Rosling Bennett, writing in 1924, reminisces of the 1850s/60s, "Flexible winding shop shutters were not much in evidence, although I will not say that the germ of the idea had not appeared in places. Even important premises were closed by upright wooden shutters which had to be fetched from a storage place, put in position one by one, and then secured by a locked iron bar."

But I don't know when 'flexible' roller-blind shutters generally came into play, given that they're mentioned in the 1855 article - any ideas?

Monday 30 August 2010

Librarians, Stewardesses and Paper Bags

There's a great section in Cassells Household Guide on occupations open to women here
in which I particularly like this advice (my italics):

"The next suggestion is also a valuable one; it is the opening of the situation of librarian to educated gentlewomen, either in public institutions or in private families of rank or wealth. From the reports of the recent Conference of Librarians we learn that the Americans have already set us an example here, and in the Public Library at Boston, U.S., seventy ladies are employed, a few men only being kept to lift the heaviest books on the high shelves. The ladies appear to have given the utmost satisfaction in this position, to which they appear thoroughly suited. The work is such that a lady of good attainments and education could undertake and enjoy. It requires no great physical exertion, no exposure to the weather, and no hardship which the most delicate would shrink from. The salaries in this profession are so limited that they are not sufficient for the support of married men with families, nor are they objects of ambition to the single man with any fairer chances in life; but they would nevertheless form a good provision for a single woman, who, upon even this small pittance, might manage, with economy, to keep herself in comfort and as a gentlewoman."

I find this fascinating because librarianship is now perceived broadly as a 'female' occupation, although - as an erstwhile librarian myself - I can vouch for a few gentlemen lurking in the background (I was never much help with those high shelves, mind). Also, the salary information holds true today, broadly speaking.

Anyway, I just came across a companion piece from 1854 in - regular readers will need no prompting - the Leisure Hour. You can read it all here, if you like. It includes one or two surprising details on women's employment, not least

"A few adventurous females are found bold enough to dare the terrors of the deep, as stewardesses and attendants in passenger vessels"

That actually surprises me. It also includes one odd historical detail that I've never noticed before (one of the joys of reading old Victoriana) ...

"Almost every article purchased in shops is now sent home in paper bags ; and often you receive your change neatly done up in one. The straw bonnet - that truly English and becoming article of attire - that has been platted and made up by a woman's hands, is forwarded to you in a green bag, also made by a woman. So great is the convenience afforded to shopkeepers and others by these bags, that the demand for them is enormous. Tons of paper are daily converted into them, with an economy that wastes not a visible strip."

Next down you're down the shops, demand your change in a paper bag ...

Sunday 29 August 2010

Not a square half-inch of original skin

Smallpox was one of the few contagious diseases (the only one?) against which the Victorians had some defence, and legislation was introduced to enforce vaccination, which would, in turn, spark an anti-vaccination movement.

Here's a good BBC programme about the subject here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003c19q

The article below (which sparked this post) is a response to the 1853 Vaccination Act:


This "act, further to extend and make compulsory the practice of vaccination," has been in operation since August last. Under its provisions, the parents or guardians of every child are required to have it vaccinated within three months from the date of its birth, and afterwards inspected by a medical officer, so as to receive from him a certificate of the success of the operation. We propose briefly to narrate some of the interesting facts which have rendered such an enactment necessary.
    The title of the act implies two things: first, that the safeguard against smallpox has been too little used; and, secondly, that it is thought by the government no longer advisable to leave the use or neglect of vaccination to the discretion of the great body of the people. The want of education makes itself felt in this direction also. Vaccination is practised wherever individuals recognise the full value of health, and know how it may be most effectually conserved; but it is neglected to a lamentable extent among the uninstructed poor. In some countries, where education is more generally diffused than in England, it has been compulsory for a long period; and these localities have been comparatively free from smallpox in consequence. If we have suffered from the disease to a larger extent, however, we may ascribe it, perhaps truly, to the slight abuse of agreat good the wholesome fear our rulers have of legislating upon matters which admit of being settled by the force of public conscience and judgment. But, in this instance, abundant evidence might be adduced to prove the wisdom of interference on the part of the legislature. The private law of parental affection and prudence has not been found strong enough to render unnecessary the help of the external public enactment. We propose now to glance rapidly at some of the evidence on this subject which was laid not long since before the House.
   It is now fifty-five years ago since Dr. Jenner published the result of his investigations into the nature of the vaccine disease, and introduced the practice of vaccination into the world. To estimate duly the value of his discovery, we must remember the fact, that one out of every four or five persons attacked by small -pox, in its unmitigated form, used to perish ; and that if death were escaped, the victims of the disease were liable to disfigurement, deformity, and other physical ills, to an amount frightful to contemplate. When lady Wortley Montague found the practice of innoculation in Turkey, she rejoiced at the mitigation of evil its introduction into her own country promised. She wrote from Constantinople, in 1718, as follows :- " The French ambassador says, pleasantly, that they take the small-pox here by, way of diversion, as they take the waters in other countries. There is no example of any one that has died of it, and you may believe I am well satisfied of the safety of this experiment since I intend to try it on my dear little son. I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England, and I would not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a con- siderable branch of their revenue for the good of mankind. But that distemper is too beneficial to them, not to expose to all their resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it. Perhaps, if I live to return, I may, however, have courage to war with them. Upon this occasion, admire the heroism in the heart of your friend."
    When Lady Mary returned, in 1721, and put in practice this determination, she was sorely tempted to repent it. Torrents of abuse assailed her : she was denounced from the pulpits, and upbraided as an unnatural mother by the ignorant ; and so virulent was the feeling of the faculty against her, that when her daughter was inoculated, and four eminent physicians appointed to watch the progress of the experiment, she says she feared to leave her child a moment alone with them, lest they should in some way mar its success, and injure her. The court and people found out, at length, however, the value of lady Mary's knowledge and courage, and the practice of inoculation spread through England and many parts of the world. It was a very imperfect mitigation of the original evil : it took for granted that every individual must have the disease ; and though, when produced thus artificially, it appeared in a milder form, and ended fatally very much less frequently, it spread the infection, and left behind the saute liability to other illnesses and disfigurement, though in diminished severity. But it turned the attention of medical science towards the discovery of further remedies, and this perhaps was its moat valuable result.
    It was a happy thing that Dr. Jenner resisted the allurements of a partnership in London, and settled down quietly to a country practice in his native town. Had he accepted John Hunter's offer, the dairymaids in Gloucestershire might probably have enjoyed immunity from smallpox for no one knows how many years, without the world at large gaining by it. But Dr. Jenner had a love for country things ; and at Berkeley, it seems, possessed a large power of patient observation and research ; he studied the vaccine disease for twenty-three years, and then announced to the community that he had discovered a safeguard against small-pox. Inoculation had paved the way for the new wonder, and it was received with less opposition than falls to the lot of many fresh discoveries. The duke of York introduced the practice of vaccination into the army : it spread through England, was welcomed on the continent, in South America, the United States, and China ; and its beneficent influence has been extending ever since, more and more generally.
   To mark its appreciation of Dr. Jenner's services, parliament voted him a sum of 10,000l., in 1802, and an addition of 20,000l. five years afterwards, and the national vaccine establishment was instituted to promote the knowledge and extension of them. And so, at length, poison met poison, and the virulence of the most destructive was abated. The pestilence, that had been generated under the fierce sun of Africa, and had stalked through the nations to lay them waste, met its antidote in the peaceful meadows of Gloucestershire.
    So simple and so efficacious is the remedy thus introduced, that it may well excite our wonder that it has not long since been universally used. That many of our poor people were not fully aware of the value of vaccination, or that they neglected to avail themselves of it, is clearly shown in the disproportion between the vaccinations and births, exhibited in "Returns, made by the Guardians of the Poor relative to the progress of Vaccination in 1851-2 in England and Wales." In the former year, 592,347 births were registered, while the number of vaccinations was only 349,091; in 1852, the births amounted to 601,839, the vaccinations to 397,128, Of the children vaccinated, a very large proportion indeed were registered as being above one year old.. This is a somewhat serious matter, for diseases are most likely to seize infants under that age, who accordingly ought to be guarded against smallpox as early as possible after birth.
     In 1850, the board of the vaccine establishment, after regretting "that the protective power of vaccination was still so much neglected as to permit a frightful amount of mortality from smallpox in the united kingdom," reminded the government that the progress of vaccination was more rapid in countries where it was promoted by legislative enactments, and expressed their conviction that the legislature alone could effectually help to extinguish the pestilence. In that year a bill carrying out the views of the board was introduced into the house; a variety of valuable information relative to small-pox and compulsory vaccination was collected and arranged by the committee of the Epidemiological Society; and in the results set forth in their report, the act now in operation has been framed. This report contains much that is interesting. We find from its tables, for instance, that mortality from small-pox exists everywhere in proportion to the greater or lesseg lest of vaccination ; wherever the latter is compulsory there are fewer victims to the disease. Thus, in England and Wales, while the average number of deaths from small-pox, compared with the total mortality during eight years ending 1850 or 1851, was 21.9 per 1000, that in Saxony (the highest of the averages returned), was 8.33 per 1000 ; while in Bohemia Lombardy, and Sweden, it was little above 2 per 1000. The continental states have various methods of enforcing vaccination : some, as Prussia Bavaria, and Hanover, by fines or imprisonment others, by requiring the production of a certificat testifying the success of the operation, from apprentices, servants, candidates for admission into public schools, alms-houses, etc. Zealous public vaccinators are rewarded with gold and silver medals in France and Belgium. In Austria, no child is allowed to attend either public or private schools, and no person is permitted to seek relief from the charity boards, without having been vaccinated. In Denmark, we find it stated, on the highest medical authority, that variola had at one time disappeared before the defensive influence of compelled vaccination, though, it is added, "that chance, and a careless security engendered by the absence of the pest, have led to its re-introduction there."
   Dr. Cannon, of Simla, states, "that in June, 1850, small-pox broke out along the left bank of the Sutlej. Dr. C. immediately set his vaccinators to work along the right bank. The results were, that the disease along the left bank, where there was no attempt made to arrest it, destroyed from fifty to sixty per cent., but along the right bank from five to six per cent. only ; and in many of these cases the proper performance of vaccination was doubtful."
    All the facts in the report from which we have quoted have one tendency—to prove to any who yet entertain any doubt of it, the efficacy of vaccination, and the necessity of enforcing the use of the safeguard upon those who, from carelessness or ignorance, neglect to avail themselves of its protection. "If it admit of doubt," write the committee, " how far it is justifiable in this free country to compel a person to take care of his own life and that of his offspring, it can scarcely be disputed that no one has a right to put in jeopardy the lives of his fellow-subjects. The principle of using one's own so as not to injure another's is one which has always been acted upon in our legislation as regards property and personal nuisances, and we submit that it is but an extension of this principle to apply it to the questions of life and health."
    Yes, legislation must step in while education grows! When the latter spreads through our land with its enlightening and elevating influence, such enactments as the one under consideration may, we trust, become obsolete. The parents who have knowledge as their handmaiden, an enlightened conscience as their guide, and duty as their watchword, will need them little. Let present educators take heed that they be training such!

I came across this personal reminiscence from Alfred Rosling Bennett's superb 1924 biography, a little while back:

A recrudescence of smallpox at Gloucester and elsewhere has recently caused alarm, which would have been no smaller had it been possible to throw on the screen some of the sights I knew when a boy. Persons badly pitted by the disease were too numerous to excite remark, while those blinded by it were many. At a butcher's in Camberwell there was a shopman whose face and neck were so covered with marks that certainly not a square half-inch of original skin remained; and there were others within my purview nearly as bad. An insect undertaking a voyage over such a countenance would have been like an Arctic sledge party in the presence of very hummocky ice. Persistent vaccination - then much less satisfactory than now, for lymph was taken from one person for use on another, and mothers were wont to be cheered by the family doctor saying that he knew a splendidly healthy baby "coming on" and she might depend on her own darling getting a supply from it - so improved matters, however, that, had it not been for the forgetfulness and carelessness inherent in British human nature, the disease would probably have entirely disappeared. And conscientious objections - a phrase more blessed than even Mesopotamia to shirkers of every class -  helped not a little in keeping it alive.

'Not a square half-inch of original skin remained' ... now, let's count our 21st century blessings again, eh?

For the Good of Your Health

Some health tips from the Lancet of 1854 (via the Leisure Hour):


  • Children should be taught to use the left hand as well as the right.
  • Coarse bread is much better for children than fine.
  • Children should sleep in separate beds, and should not wear night-caps.
  • Children under seven years of age should not be confined over six or seven hours in the house, and that time should be broken by frequent recesses.
  • Children and young people must be made to hold their heads up and their shoulders back while sitting, standing, or walking.
  • The best beds for children are of hair, or, in winter, of hair and cotton.
  • From one to one pound and a half of solid food is sufficient for a person in the ordinary vocations of business.
  • Persons in sedentary employments should drop one-third of their food, and they will escape indigestion.
  • Young persons should walk at least two hours a day in the open air.
  • Young ladies should be prevented from bandaging the chest.
  • We have known the worst diseases, terminating in death, which began in this practice.
  • Every person, great and small, should wash all over in cold water every morning.
  • Reading aloud is conducive to health.
  • The more clothing we wear, other things being equal, the less food we need.
  • Sleeping-rooms should have a fire-place, or some mode of ventilation besides the windows.
  • Young people and others cannot study much by lamp-light with impunity.
  • The best remedy for eyes weakened by night use, is a fine stream of cold water frequently applied to them.
The Lancet.

Friday 27 August 2010

Have you seen the Industrious Fleas?

Continuing the theme of advertising, I said yesterday that adverts were ubiquitous. If you have any doubts, see the example of fly-posting below, from James Orlando Parry's 'A London Street Scene' (1835).

You can also see the same on the barriers surrounding the building of Nelson's Column here. George Sala would later recall of this very period:

"Trafalgar Square was then being laid out, and the area was surrounded by an immense hoarding, which, notwithstanding minatory notices of "Stick no Bills," and "Bill-Stickers, Beware," was continually plastered over with placards relating to all kinds of things, theatrical and commercial, and at election time with political squibs. There were in those days no bill poster advertising-contractors. The bill-stickers were an independent race, whose main objects in life were first, to get a sufficient number of bills to stick up, and next, to cover over the placards pasted on the hoardings by their rivals. Thus the perpetually superposed bills led to a most amusing confusion of incongruities. If you tried to read, say, six square yards of posters, the information was conveyed to your mind that Madam Malibran was about to appear in the opera of Cockle's Pills; that the leader for Westminster was the only cure for rheumatism that Mr. Van Amburg and his lions would be present at the ball of the Royal Caledonian Asylum; and that the Sun evening newspaper would contain Rowland's Maccassar Oil, two hundred bricks to be sold at a bargain; and the band of the Second Life Guards would be sure to ask for Dunn's penny chocolate at the Philharmonic Concert, with Mademoiselle Duvernay in the Cachuca."

My impression is that such flyposting was cracked-down upon later in the period (note the Sala piece mentions a system of legitimate contractors). I have this, however, from Dickens Dictionary of London in 1879:

Bill-posting —The ordinary charge for hoardings is from a penny to twopence per sheet of “double crown” or “ double demy,” but very great judgment is required both in selecting stations and composing the bill itself. One chief point to bear in mind is to have as little in your bill as possible. Another is to have something novel and striking to the eye. All the best stations are in private hands, and must be treated for in detail. Be careful in all cases to have a written agreement. “Fly posting” – ie. Bills placed broadcast on unprotected stations – may be done very cheaply.

which contrasts 'bill-posting' and 'fly posting' and perhaps suggests that the trade still flourished. The Parry painting is marvellous, regardless, as a piece of social history ... does anyone know of anything similar from later in the century?

Thursday 26 August 2010

How We Advertise Now

Advertsing was everywhere in Victorian London - from hoardings, to giant signs around the city, inside and outside buses, to covering the front of newspapers. Check out this giant lettering on Ludgate Hill:

It was a boom industry in the 1880s and some saw it as a pernicious influence. George Gissing's In the Year of Jubilee (1894) - a marvellous novel, by the way - tackles it in typically pessimistic fashion:-

"Sitting opposite to Samuel, she avoided his persistent glances by reading the rows of advertisements above his head. Somebody's 'Blue;' somebody's 'Soap;' somebody's 'High-class Jams;' and behold, inserted between the Soap and the Jam--'God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoso believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' Nancy perused the passage without perception of incongruity, without emotion of any kind. Her religion had long since fallen to pieces, and universal defilement of Scriptural phrase by the associations of the market-place had in this respect blunted her sensibilities."

My favourite Victorian advert is this one from 1879 or thereabouts:
Apart from the fact that the Victorians had 'washing-machines', it's the endorsements - always a feature of serious Victorian adverts - that amaze and astonish.

'In a few hours yesterday, two boys worked off the washing of the whole institution, containing nearly two hundred inmates.'

In other words, Buy the Bradford Washing-Machine - as tested by orphans!


'My servants wash more clothes and much better in one day with your Machine than they used to do in three days without it.'

That one line tells you more about Victorian domestic life than many a book.

Newspaper adverts often filled columns with similar appeals to the casual reader. I was thinking about adverts today because I came across this in Punch from 1881, entitled 'How We Advertise Now' ... a parody of the form, but quite accurate:

Possibly it's not that funny today - how many people are familiar with Victorian small ads, after all? - but I like some of the sheer silliness here, a vein in English humour which still persists to the modern day ...

'ESSENCE OF JINGOE. - Is the remedy for Archbishops.
ESSENCE OF JINGOE. - Is a of great assistance to Amateur Actors.
ESSENCE OF JINGOE. - Is a necessity for Acrobats.'

"I have been a martyr to Nervous Irritability for upwards of seventeen years. The slightest contradiction at dinner caused me to throw a soup-plate at the head of anybody I could see. I have got through whole services, and was nearly ruining myself when I sent for a double-sized quantity of your ESSENCE, and gave the whole of it in a cup of coffee to my mother-in-law. The effect was marvellous. We buried her last Tuesday, and I am an altered man. I find myself singing without knowing why. You are at liberty to make what use you like of this, witholding my real name for fear of the Police. - X. The Swallows, Herts."
Les Dawson would have been proud.*

(*Younger viewers should refer to Wikipedia and Youtube for that - thoroughly Victorian - comedian of the 1970s and 80s. Sample joke, although not great without his delivery, "I can always tell when the mother in law's coming to stay; the mice throw themselves on the traps.")

Tuesday 24 August 2010

A Telegraph in Every Home

Sometimes things conspire to make you ponder a topic. I read this a few days ago (about internet distractions) and this has been on my radar for a while (about mapping happiness via the iphone).

I can't imagine anything more useless than checking whether iphone users consider themselves happy at any given moment. Apart from the obvious jokes , the idea that the self-reported 'happiness level' of self-selected iphone users can tell you anything about human happiness in general seems dubious. There is potential for happiness in lots of things, and lots of different types of happiness, garnered from different types of human experience; and happiness can linger or be transitory. Well, I won't go on about it; but it seems a petty and reductive exercise to me - you'd be better off reading a novel or poem; or - dare I say it - just talking to a few people. You would probably learn a lot more.

What connected the two articles in my mind was the modus operandi of the LSE survey ... "We beep you once (or more) a day to ask how you're feeling". (Of course, they don't want to ask  you about how you're feeling, that would involve talking to you - they just want a simplified measure of your well-being which can be converted into a binary format, tagged with a geo-location, and stored in a database - ah, isn't social science cuddly?).

What struck me is how we're coming to accept such digital intrusion as normal. The idea that such a beep might itself be a horrible intrusion on our happiness is not considered.

Now, I love the internet; and I'm even enjoying twitter (which, used constructively, is a marvellous way of finding information and connecting with people) but does no-one cherish their privacy any more? The answer, increasingly, is no; we are moving into a culture where digital exhibitionism and (fairly bogus) 'interactivity' in one form or another, is the norm. This blog, of course, is one symptom of that; and I don't have dogmatic opinions on whether it will end well or badly.

However, if this blog has a point, it is to show you contrasts and connections between past and present. So here's a fantasy from Punch (1858) based on the dreadful idea of an interactive, 24/7, digital culture. The medium considered is the telegraph ('The Victorian Internet') but the principle is the same:


    A Telegraph all over London? The wires brought to within 100 yards of every man's door? A Company established to carry it out?
    Well - I don't know. There's a good deal to be said on both side.
    It certainly would be pleasant to be within five minutes of such a message as "Dine at the Club with me at seven;" or "SQUATTLEBOROUGH JUNCTIONS" at six premium; I've sold your hundred, and paid in the cash to your account;" or "Little stranger arrived safe this morning at twelve; mamma and baby doing well;" and one might occasionally be grateful for such a warning as "KITE and POUNCE took out a writ against you this morning - Look alive;" or "JAWKINS coming to call on you; make yourself scarce."
    But think on the other hand of being within five minutes of every noodle who wants to ask you a question, of every dun with a "little account;" of every acquaintance who has a favour to beg, or a disagreeable thing to communicate. With the post one secures at least the three or four hours betwixt writing the letter and its delivery. When I leave my suburban retreat at Brompton, at nine A.M., for the City, I am insured against MRS. P.'s anxieties, and tribulations, and consultings, on the subject of our little family, or our little bills, the servants' shortcomings, or the tradesmen's delinquencies, at least till my return to dinner. But with a House Telegraph, it would be a perpetual tete-a-tete. We should be always in company, as it were, with all our acquaintance. Good gracious, we should go far to outvie SIR BOYLE ROCHE's famous bird, and be not in two places only, but in every place within the whole range of the House-Telegraph at once. Solitude would become impossible. The bliss of ignorance would be at an end. We should come near that most miserable of all conceivable conditions, of being able to oversee and overhear all that is being done or said concerning us all over London! Every bore's finger would be always on one's button; every intruder's hand on one's knocker; every good-natured friend's lips in one's ear.
    No - all things considered, I don't think society is quite ripe for the House-Telegraph yet. If it is established I shall put up a plate on my door with "No House-Telegrams need apply."
Ridiculous piece of fantasy, of course. It could never happen.

Friday 20 August 2010

Women's Rights


[PUNCH, 1886]

The first Victorian superhero?

Ok, I confess, not quite. But where does this come from? I'll give you the full information later today ... but I don't have all the facts ... does anyone happen to have access to a copy of The Daily Chronicle (of London, I guess) from February 15, 1886? If so, please get in touch ...


As you may have guessed, this is a supremely well-armed policeman - from Punch of 1886 (below, click to read caption). What I don't know if what inspired this comical vision. Debates about policeman's use of weaponry, uniform etc were commonplace (and, the remarkable thing is, to my mind, how much this does resemble a modern policeman's miniature arsenal of gadgets) but the cartoon references The Daily Chronicle, as mentioned above ... if anyone ever comes across that letter, I'd be interested to know what it says.

Thursday 19 August 2010

The Perils of Over Indulgence

Just reading a great book on my shelf, The Conjugal Relationships at to Health  (1894), which includes chapters such as 'Is Continence Physically Injurious?' and 'Personal Pollution.' I must digitise it all, but here's a couple of good bits ... on the dangers of the polka ... (and, to be fair, the genuinely dangerous tight-lacing):

The muscular dances of the present day, the polka, galop, etc., are entered into by young girls, irrespective of their condition. The parent exercises no restraint, and the thoughtless giddy girl has never been taught any physiological reason for care. She has never been taught that at these periods the internal organs are praeternaturally gorged with blood, consequently unusually heavy, that the tissues are lax, that dresses tight round the waist must force these expanded organs into abnormal positions and places, and displacements and diseases are very likely to be the permanent result.

In the chapter on 'The Injurious Results of Physical Excess' the author warns of too readily entering into repeated intimacy with a new wife or husband - a practice, we are told, common in young clergymen ('imaginative men, of highly nervous temperaments, [who] thoughtlessly anticipate a repayment for all past restraints, in unlimited physical gratification'). In the husband, the resulting exhaustion may be treated by 'rest', whereas in the female, 'not unfrequently more permanent disorganisations have been effected. The integrity of her more delicate apparatus has been marred ...'

Ouch. Sorry, but they're not doing it right.

In advising restraint, the author (one Augustus K. Gardner) gives the following paragraph to help you visualise what he's getting at:

'The same laws hold good here that are recognised in every other action of life. The pedestrian undertaking a journey is moderate in the walk of the first days. The woodchopper in the forest, as well as the girl who sweeps the parlour, finds the instrument blisters the unaccustomed hand, and works gently till time has gradually hardened the palm for the occupation.'

I think I know what he's getting at; but I just need to give Mr. Freud another call ...

London History

Just an idea ... but creating http://bit.ly/cyLcSn was a lot of fun and I just wondered ...

Would anyone be interested an creating an issue of a web magazine about London / London History with me?

Not articles culled from the past (as above) but original content, about particular London-related topics, probably with a historical slant.

There are lots of great London bloggers out there, and it always occurs to me that a central location where people could read stuff about different periods of London life, or obscure aspects of London, would be a good idea. It would work, I think, if a dozen talented people got involved ...

I'd be happy to design the look of it; do basic editing; and write the odd thing, if anyone else was interested? I'm aware that there are lots of individual blogs covering London and its quirks; but how about combining our interests?

Of course, no remuneration; and no ads. Just for fun and kudos ... ?

If anyone likes the idea, email me on lee@victorianlondon.org ...


Some great people interested (no, I'm not just saying that) ... if you know your London history, please consider getting in touch ... especially if you have an existing history blog ... would be great to get people reading and heading off in different directions ...!

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Awkward Situations No.2

Awkward Situations No.1

[With copious apologies to George Du Maurier.]

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Answers to Correspondents

'Answers to Correspondents' was a page which appeared in the dying months of the Leisure Hour (finished publication in 1905). It featured answers to a diverse range of queries from readers - an advice column, in essence.  The readers' queries themselves were unpublished; but generally could be inferred from the answer.

I haven't read back that many years but it looks like this column was, originally, for the most part devoted to suggesting places women could seek employment; and also to critiquing pieces of fiction and poetry sent to the magazine. This latter strand contains a response which many a modern literary agent would probably sympathise with:

C.F.G. - Your story has no merit, and your MS. was the most soiled I have ever seen. I returned it to you, but would have preferred to burn it as a more sanitary proceeding.

The remainder isn't quite that amusing, but it does offer a fascinating insight into what worried the magazine's readers, with condition of teeth and hair being rather prominent. But there were increasingly digressions into other areas, too. Here's a selection:

Heather  - Prematurely grey hair is constitutional with some people and runs in some families. the general health affects the hair in most cases, and serenity of temperament and freedom from mental strain conduces to keep the hair long of a youthful colour. No hair tonic would be as likely to restore the colour as would a course of iron taken medicinally. After such an illness or an accident, the hair may turn grey and ultimately resume its colour, but generally when it becomes grey it remain grey unless external treatment is applied. Walnut pomade is a harmless application in the earlier stages of the trouble, when there are only grey hairs here and there; quite grey hair is one of the most beautiful adornments in the world, and never more beautiful than when it crowns a young face. A young woman with dark eyes and white hair is distinguished above her fellows. I know a woman whose hair has been grey since she was twenty-eight (she is not yet forty) and wherever she goes she is the cynosure of all eyes.

Maggie S. - Fabrics may be rendered incombustible by being saturated in a mixture consisting of two parts borax, two and a half of sulphate of magnesia, and twenty parts water. Saturate the article thoroughly in the mixture, wring out, dry, and then wash in the usual way. So treated, fabrics thrown on the fire or held close to it will smoulder, but will not burst into flames.

Homebird - (1) Where the family income is £200 per annum, I think the food bills should not exceed £1 per week for three people. (2) In the country young servants can be found for £10 or £12 wages; a servant's food will amount to about 6s. per week in a modest household. In a country place the servant should be willing to do a considerable portion of the washing; in more pretentious establishments the washing is usually sent out, or a special laundrymaid is kept. Most town servants do not learn laundry work owing to the general lack of facilities for the work in town houses.

Fay - There is no remedy for decay of the teeth other than the attention of a dentist. No mouthwash will arrest decay once it has set in; the hole must be drilled out and filled, preferably with gold. Have this done at once, as the operation will be more difficult and expensive the longer it is delayed.
M.C.S. - Melanyl is a very good marking ink. I know of none better, and it is easy to use.

Agnes - For stone floors or verandah floors there is no better covering than cocoanut matting, either plain red, or in the bold design and colour of Mung matting. This can be had at most carpet houses, certainly at Treloar's, in Ludgate Hill. For bedrooms the cork carpets that look like felt are excellent. These also make pretty and cleanly carpet-surrounds, where the carpet is made in a bordered square.
K.S. - (1) People in deep mourning would not be expected to attend a wedding even when invited. No guest should go wearing mourning, though there is not the same superstitious objection to black that formerly prevailed. (2) If the bride-groom is your personal friend it would be quite correct to address your present to him, though presents intended for dual use are generally addressed to the bride even by the bridegroom's friends.
Pibroch - (1) Messrs. Dean and Son, Fleet Street, publish books on the management of domestic pets. That on Cats is by Dr Gordon Stables. (2) Messrs. Hopwood and Crew and Messrs. Francis and Day issue books of songs set to music for the banjo, price 1s. and 1s. 6d. each. It is not usually the highest class of verse that is intended for this instrument.

Vanity. - The most comfortable and useful aids to sight are spectacles, but they are certainly not decorative. The pince-nez is more popular with the young and smart, while the long-hanlded double eye-glasses are nice for occasional use. I have never seen a lady wear a single eye-glass. Where there is any irregularity of vision it will be necessary to consult an oculist, as unsuitable glasses would do more harm than good.

Dressmaker. - A first class dressmaker charges as much as £200 for training an amateur. That would ensure a guarantee that the pupil would be rendered proficient in every department. Apprentices entering to give their services till fully trained would pay about £20 usually. A good dressmaker can make a very good living anywhere.
Mater, S.A. - You cannot force the confidence of the young. Where a girl is out of sympathy with those at home, two or three years at a boarding--school may have a very beneficial effect. Temporary separation is generally of service where people have grown out of touch with each other. In the case of the young the change betwen home and school life is so great that the vexations of home become forgotten. Under good influence, and in the comparatively inconspicuous position of a member of a class, a girl often becomes like a new creature, to be deal with in a new way on her return home. It must be remembered then that she is a woman, to share both a woman's pleasures and her responsibilities. I think the young are glad to confide in parents who are kind and wise; it is human to want advice from those whom we think likely to know. But, as I have already said, confidence cannot be forced, and nothing will bring it but the consciousness of a receptive mind, of a mind that will understand. A measure of reserve is advantageous, we have more natural reverence for the reserved than for the too intimate. Tact is the best guide in our dealings with all our kind, but not every one has tact.
Gwenny. - The lady's social position would depend on her husband's income and her individuality. There is nothing dignified in the occupation, but now-a-days all occupations seem acceptable that bring fortune. A nice woman, whose husband can give her all the requisites of a pleasant life, can attain to very good society provided that she shows no particular eagerness to make acquaintance with all and sundry.
Poor Peggy. - No, I am not going to scold you, depression is not a matter of will, but it is in great measure a matter of surroundings. I imagine you live in an ugly house, with ugly wall-papers, dull paint and furniture covered with patterns. Then you have many ornaments that are horrors - china dogs, wool mats, and things under glass shades (I am only guessing). Your dining-room is sombre and your drawing-room is crowded with depressing and useless things, milking stools with flower-pots on them, cotton spiders hanging to the lace curtains, and stuffy frills round the mantelpiece. If you would turn all these things out of doors and give two or three weeks' work yourself to renovation, I feel sure you would think the world a different place. Take all the carpets off the floors, see that the boards are smooth and that there are no nails standing up, if there are cracks fill them with papier mache made of soft paper and paste, press in with the back of a knife, when hard stain the whole surface, and when it is of the right colour, varnish or paint with a combined varnish-stain. Colour the walls with Hall's Sanitary Distemper, yellow for dark rooms, green for a sunny room, pink, blue or cream for bedrooms, make the paint all over the house ivory-white, and then when you have all these plain fresh surfaces, look round you, and see if the world is not beginning to take on a new aspect. Plain unoccupied spaces and bright, soft colours, rest the nerves. Anything that soothes and cheers, inspires hope, and hope is the beginning of victory. There is a gospel of gladness, but the alphabet of that gospel will be found among extraneous things.
Forget-me-not. - I fear your friend is only rehearsing the stale tricks of the male flirt. There is no such disparity between your social position and his as would lead him to think he dare not aspire to your hand. His telling you that you are too good for him is an impertinence, he does not think it, this is a common mode of expression with men who want to pay non-committal attentions; you had better receive his overtures with perfect indifference, they are not seriously intended.

Sister Anne. - For the first flights in fiction provincial story papers offer the easiest opening. There are so many periodicals now-a-days that good writing will certainly find acceptance. A good deal of bad writing does the same. Has it ever occurred to your that an immensity of pleasure may be found in reading, without thought of how to write? Unless people have such taste for writing that the mere drudgery of it is interesting, it is inadvisable to contemplate it as a career.
County Clare. - Clubs and associations of work-people often combine together to pay individually a small weekly sum that they may retain the services of a medical doctor in case of sickness, so that the expense of this may be distributed and that the members may all help to bear this individual burdne, but only once before have I heard of a lady writing from a pretentious address who desired to economise by paying club prices for medical attendance. There is no other class in the community that sacrifices individual interest to the welfare of the race as doctors do, there is no man save the scientist who gives to the community discoveries that have cost him years of toil. Other men protect their discoveries and inventions and make some individual profit out of them - and I see no reason why they should not do so - the doctor's discovery is made free to the humblest brother in the profession; by the study of preventive medicine they are striving to choke the source of their own income for the good of the community; the services they give to the poor in hospitals are trespassed upon shamelessly by the well-to-do, while many a doctor in a poor district not only attends cases of distress gratis, but helps from his own pocket many an impoverished patient. And you think it would be good management to pay men like these, for their care of your physical condition, twenty-five shillings a year, if you could get a few other families to join you in such a noble enterprise. You make me ashamed! If you are a pauper they will attend you for nothing; if you are not a pauper try not to have such mean ideas.
Careful. - Chivers's Carpet Soap costs sixpence per ball, and is made at Westmoreland Wharf, Bath. It cleanses carpets to perfection.
Clara. - Full particulars of asylum nursing as an occupation for women appeared in the February, and a subsequent issue of The Girls' Own Paper. Pay begins at £20, and may rise with promotion to £85 with board and residence. The work is in many respects less arduous than that of sick nurses. Prison wardresses are also well paid, and the calling is not overcrowded. Neither position is attractive at first sight, but both offer opportunities of very useful and helpful work, with fair remuneration.
A.Z. - The incident meant nothing but a civility. The tendency on the part of some girls to read deep significance into the passing if the salt-cellar from the hand of a youth bears on the habit I have already referred to,  that imagines sentimental intercourse to be the pivot on which existence turns. Not at all, it is a feature of life, not the whole face of life. Try to feel kindly towards all men, ascribing kindness to them in return; deeper feelings are special, and neither to be met nor thought of at every turn.

Elder Sister - The Arachne Club is at 60 Russell Square, London, W. Its object is the training of ladies for domestic service. The time of training is from eight weeks to nine months, according to the position aimed at; and engagements are a certainty when the certificate of proficiency has been gained. It would be a great advantage to many girls who contemplate not service, but wedlock, to be trained at the Arachne.
M.M.M. - Electrolysis is the only remedy for hirsutes, the only permanent remedy, that is to say, but it should not be resorted to unless the growth is definite. The treatment costs 10s. per sitting usually, and the number of sittings depends on the extent of the trouble. The malady seems to be somewhat general. I know two practitioners of electrolysis, and they make a great deal of money. You know women will pay more readily for vanity than for anything else. But a desire to remove an unsightliness is legitimate vanity. I can send you the address of a practitioner of electrolysis if you wish.
Elise. - Deep breathing does more to improve the complexion than any cosmetic or artifice. Put on a warm wrapper, open the window widely in dry weather. Put the shoulders back so that the arms hanging down straight are parallel with the lower limbs. Then draw a deep breath through the nostrils, hold it a second, draw another short breath above it, hold another second, and then let the air all exhale slowly. Repeat about twenty times. This cleanses the lungs, freshens the blood, improves the circulation, and consequently the health and appearance. Sufferers from anaemia will be found to be all shallow breathers, with restricted chest movements.
S.E.J. - Stammering is successfully treated by Mrs. Behnke, 18 Earl's Court Square, London, S.W. Mrs. Behnke takes boarders, or gives daily lessons to adults. Her terms might be considered high, but her method is genuine and successful. I know one professional "curer" whose own wife stammers very badly; that is an irrefragable testimony regarding his claims.

Sunday 15 August 2010

The London Aggregate

A new London newspaper for you ... well, no, not really ... I thought I'd put some of http://www.victorianlondon.org's site content in newspaper format, to allow people to 'sample' the site in a user-friendly format ... hope you enjoy it ...

Friday 13 August 2010

Lady Cyclists

Ladies cycling (often rather aristocratic ladies, as well as their social inferiors) was a hot topic in the summer of 1896, when a craze for women's cycling swept London. I've just uncovered a lovely article by an ardent proponent of the woman cyclist, one Susan, Countess of Malmesbury; and it makes me think we should have more countesses writing in popular magazines. It begins, in Saki-esque style (before Saki, thus showing how his prose is not too far from the wry stylings of many a Victorian aristocrat) thus:

A new sport has lately been devised by the drivers of hansom cabs. It consists of chasing the lady who rides her bicycle in the streets of the metropolis. If not so athletic a pastime as polo, the pursuit on wheels of alien wheels surmounted by a petticoat which 'half conceals, yet half reveals' the motive power within, appears to afford these ingeuous persons exactly that exhilirating and entrancing sensation without which no Englishman finds life worth living, and which apparently is to the heart of the cabby what salmon-fishing, golf, shooting, the rocketting pheasant, hunting the fox, or, in fine, what war, that highest expression of sport, can be to those who are usually called 'the leisured classes.'
    I am given to understand that so far the scoring is altogether on the side of the pursuer. He has bagged, we are told, many ladies whose mutilated or decapitated forms have been hurried into silent and secret graves at the instance of the great Bicycle Boom. Their relatives, we hear, have laid them to rest quietly in back gardens until such time as they can realise what shares they possess in cycling companies.
I find it fascinating because the article establishes the rancorous relationship between taxi-drivers and cyclists (which exists in London to this day) started from the very first cyclists on the roads. Unlike many a modern cyclist, however, Susan reveals that she learnt to cycle in the grounds of the exclusive Queen's Club 'where I was taught, until I could turn easily, cut figures of eight, get on and off quickly on either side, and stop without charging into unwelcome obstacles.'

 Much of what she says is still valid today:

To my mind the great accomplishment for the cyclist in traffic is to be able to ride steadily, without too much wavering of his front wheel, at a very slow pace, so as to avoid getting off, and then with quick eye and judgment to make a dash where he sees his opportunity, never forgetting to look some distance ahead so as to avoid stoppages. In these cases, like all others, prevention is better than cure.
I encourage all London cyclists to read the full article 'On a Bicycle in the Streets of London'  here (half way down the page).

Thursday 12 August 2010

Love in the Time of Victoria

Dipping into the ICAs new online archives of lectures, not many dealing with Victorian history, but an interesting handful. Just listened to "Ruth Rendell discusses with author Francoise Barret-Ducrocq the themes explored in her book Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality, Class and Gender in Nineteenth-Century London (Verso, 1991)."

Quite fascinating and makes me want to read the book. I hadn't realised it was about records garnered from women who abandoned their children at the Founding Hospital. The lecture is only spoilt by the rather querelous tone of the first questioner at the end. Why do people feel the need to be so combative when asking questions? Bizarre.

Anyway, step back in time to a lecture from 1991 ... click here if you'd like to listen to it.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Fearing everyone and everything

This blog is normally about history, so apologies for the interruption in service. But I came across a news story today that made me feel angry.

[There are, of course, many things in this world to get upset about. China and Pakistan are currently suffering vast human tragedies, caused by natural disasters. When I've finished writing this blog, I will donate something to www.dec.org.uk, in the hope that it helps. All the same, I'm still angry.]

I'm feeling angry about a radio advertisement.You can read the news story it's generated here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/aug/11/asa-anti-terror-hotline-advert and here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10929203

In short, it's a public information broadcast, that has been playing on the popular radio channel 'Talk Sport':

"The following message is brought to you by Talk Sport and the Anti-Terrorist Hotline. The man at the end of the street doesn't talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself. He pays with cash because he doesn't have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route. This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious, call the confidential, Anti-Terrorist Hotline ... if you suspect it, report it."

The Advertising Standard Authority have banned this advert, but they have allowed the following advert to go ahead: 

"The man two desks down from you at work looks at online aerial photos, because he’s thinking of moving house, he rents three lock-ups, full of his mother's things he just can't throw out, he paid for a flight with cash, but that's because he's a spontaneous kind of guy. This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions ..."

Ok, full marks to the ASA for banning the first advert. They had complaints. Good. Thank God for that. The second one is obviously detailing much more suspicious behaviour; and it is much more reasonable.

Except, of course, it isn't.

Ever looked at aerial photos at work? I sometimes look at Google Maps because, well, frankly, it's just quite cool to see London from the air, isn't it?

Have a lock-up? No, not personally. My next-door neighbour does, though. I wonder if she ever looks at aerial-photos? Why three lock-ups? Would two of them be ok?

Ever paid for things in cash? Not often, but my dad used to pay for everything in cash. He owned a cash-based business and mistrusted computers. Fortunately, he doesn't have a lock-up, so he's safe. And he's my dad.

So that's ok then, right?

No, it's not.

In fact, if you look at the Met Police site, you'll see that some if their 'spot a terrorist' things are quite reasonable ... weird purchases of chemicals in bulk etc. Some, however, are quite barmy:

Suitcase - Terrorists need to travel. Meetings training and planning can take place anywhere. Do you know someone who travels but is vague about where they are going?

Now, I suspect a significant proportion of the married men in this country are vague about their 'business trips'. But - I've got news for you, MI5 - they're not visiting that seedy motel on the A1 with Keisha from Accounts to ferment global terror.

You might argue, of course, that I'm being frivolous here. We have been bombed and attacked, after all. None of these individual things are sufficient grounds for 'suspicion', but the public must use its judgment. The Anti-Terrorist Hotline is there to provide clues and hints for the interested and vigilant member of civil society, no?

I disagree. I think we have a security service that is paid to track terrorism; that the clear and tangible signs of someone being a terrorist (if such signs do exist) are the ones that can be traced - frequent visits to extremist websites; frequent, unusual or large purchases of chemicals; contacts with known terrorists. All these things might be grounds for suspicion. Anything else, the 'vigilance' demanded of the public, is both impossible to comply with, and highly corrosive, generating an atmosphere of fear and distrust.

If I took all the advice above, and applied it to my neighbours, I'd guess that 50% of Hackney would be 'suspicious' - should I get on the phone immediately?

Some will argue that those adverts - adverts which encourage me to spy on my neighbours, to constantly view normal examples of behavior through a lens of suspicion - are justified if one terrorist is caught. I'm not convinced by that.  I can understand why a policeman or member of the security services might view people that way; but that's their job.

I don't want to spy for the state; and I don't want my neighbours to spy on me. Not because I have anything to hide; not because I have entrenched political views; but because I want to live in a society where I am not fearful of everyone and everything.

If the people who put together these adverts can't understand that - if they can't understand the consequences of fermenting such suspicion among everyone in our society - if we have to rely on the Advertising Standards Agency to safeguard us against collective paranoia - then we are lost.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Street Orderlies

Another Victorian trade I've never heard about, in the professionalised late-Victorian world of rubbish collection - the street orderly ...

That the city is so clean - and it is by far the cleanest part of the huge territory of London - is in a large measure due to the "street-orderlies," officially so called - the "city collectors" of the commercial humorists. The horse-waste is by them cleared off at once; were it allowed to remain the enormous traffic would squeeze it into "grease," which it would almost take scrubbing with soap and water to get off. A more seemingly dangerous occupation than that of a street-orderly boy it would be difficult to find. With his handbrush and peculiar scoop - invented by Mr. Swale, the superintendent - in which the handle bends forwards instead of backwards, so as to bring the weight when full or empty always under the centre of the hand, the boy glides about under the horses' heads and among the crowding wheels in a way that is nothing less than miraculous to the timid on the footway. From his "bin" by the kerb as his centre, he works right and left and across the street, his object being to remove every atom of dirt within the area assigned to him before it has been run over by a wheel. That is his object, but in the throng of London vehicles he is lucky if he manages to clean the road before the dirt has been run over twice or thrice.
    Every morning these boys, about a hundred and fifty in number, muster at Stoney Lane for breakfast. The yard is not a large one. On the left is the office; on the right is what looks like a school-room; on the outer walls of each range in the central yard the numbered racks on which the boys keep their tools. After breakfast the boys file off to work, armed generally with brush and scoop, but sometimes with scraper or squeegee; and from the main thoroughfares they break off into the crossing roads, and thence into the minor streets and courts, each boy with a definite task allotted to him, and most of them anxious to have done with the task as early as possible, and return to the risky work on the main thoroughfares. To control all these boys, scattered off in all ways like rabbits in a warren, is not an easy task, but it is rarely that they give trouble, and a good worker is sure of recognition. The best boy is the one who needs least looking after, and the inspector, very naturally, soon discovers him, and puts him on the list for increased wages. He begins with six shillings a week; he soon gets seven shillings and sixpence a week; he may pass through the hobbledyhoyhood into manhood, and thence into old age, by turns handling scraper and broom, and sorting in the yard, and driving a van, and making himself useful about the wharf, and in some few cases may work through to the end, and retire on a pension of fifteen shillings a week. For there is a " career" open even in the city dust yard, nearly all in the service having entered it as boys, and worked up to fair wages step by step. It is not a career in which refinement or high educational qualifications are in demand, and of this the boys are well aware, to judge by the ill-success which has attended every effort to school them after hours. The day is long, the work requires constant alertness, and when evening comes the street-orderlies are only too glad to hurry home and get to bed.
    Scavengers do not belong so often to a class by themselves as formerly. Not so very long ago scavenging and sorting in the dust yards was a hereditary occupation, whose secrets were transmitted from father to son and from mother to daughter. But now that the municipalities are withdrawing their work from contractors and doing it themselves, they take their labourers from a wider area. One result of this is that woman's work is discouraged, and the woman on the dustheap is yearly becoming rarer.

Here's the full article, from 1889's Leisure Hour.

Monday 9 August 2010

Food Miles

The Victorians invented most things, including truly global trade. Here's a quote from an article entitled 'The Feeding of London' in the Leisure Hour of 1889:

Though all the cattle come into Deptford alive, nothing alive ever leaves it. All round the lairs are long streets of slaughter-houses, wherein the killing goes on as required. But a slaughter-house is at its best but a chamber of horrors, and we need but glance at the last scene, in which oxen and sheep become beef and mutton under the hands of the brawny, half-naked, pole-axing men. A wonderful sight is the long avenue of huge sides of beef, being trimmed and divided to hang here for half a dozen hour before they are distributed; and even more remarkable is the display of the carcasses of the sheep, skinned and cleaned, and thrown smoking into the carts, to be carried away immediately. In these economical days nothing is wasted that can be saved. A stroller round Deptford Market discovers this under many fragrant conditions. In one place he will come upon a wholesale manufacture of tripe, in another a gigantic boiling of offal, in another a peculiarly unattractive conversion of alimentary canals into sausage-skins. Curious are the intricacies of trade. The ox of the Wild West is borne by railway to New York, and crosses the ocean to Deptford; he dies, and his interior, cleaned and made ready, is exported to Germany, and as the covering of the humble sausage that interior finds its way back again to London, where so many things end.
London was the centre of everything; and it reaped the benefits of empire The writer continues:

Our country has to be fed from its rivals or its dependencies. In 1887 there were imported into the United Kingdom 55,784,685 cwt. of wheat, and 18,056,545 cwt. of wheat meal and flour; of barley we received 14,277,180 cwt.; of oats, 14,468,733 cwt.; of peas, 2,990,296 cwt.; of beans, 2,477,293 cwt.; of Indian com or maize and Indian corn meal we had 31,128,923 cwt. Of the eighteen million hundredweights of flour, nearly fifteen came from the United States, a million and a third from Austria, a million from Canada, and half a million from Germany. Of the fifty-five million hundredweights of wheat twenty millions and a half came from the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, and ten millions from the Pacific seaboard, eight millions and a half came from India, five millions and a half from Russia, four millions from Canada, two millions and a quarter from Chili, a million and a half from Germany, a little less from Australasia, over half a million from Roumania, and nearly two hundred thousand from Egypt. The other grain supplies we need not trace; sufficient has been said to show how dependent we are for our existence on our keeping clear the highways of the ocean.
Food miles? You bet.

[nb. the full article is available here, although it's mostly statistics]

Tuesday 3 August 2010

The Christmas Face of London

An unseasonal look at London at Christmas time:-

OF all the coming events which mark the succession of the London season, there is none which is so generally and so agreeably foreshadowed as the advent of merry Christmas. To the common observer the earliest indication of the festive era are visible in the shopwindows; and he may remark that it is not the highest order of tradesmen who take the lead in the universal display made on all sides; but a rat.her humble class, who take time by the forelock, and hasten to produce a sensation if they can, before they are eclipsed, as they know they will be, by the men of capital. The first insinuating feelers are put forth in second-rate thoroughfares, in crowded courts and back streets, and  rather more obtrusively in the windows of public-houses. They are the written or printed announcements referring to clubs of various kinds, but all tending to a convivial consummation. The poulterer has his goose-club; the publican, on the plea that the Latin for goose is brandy has his goose-and-brandy club; the poor man's butcher has his roast-beef club; and the popular grocer has his plum-pudding club. All these clubs are on the simplest plan: You pay sixpence or a shilling a week for thirteen weeks before Christmas, and when Christmas comes you get your· poultry or plums, your beef or your pudding at a good bargain, and have the materials of a feast without feeling that it has cost you much. That, at least, is the popular appreciation of clubs of this kind; and on the whole they are good, so far as having  a tendency to teach people forethought. and to impress them, ·in a pleasant way, with the advantages of a little self-denial. Now, though these clubs all begin about Michaelmas day, they are mostly behind the scenes for the first month or so: people intending to be members being in no hurry to deposit their subscriptions; but about the half-quarter, these reminders appearing in the shop windows, bring the matter home to them, and they hasten to inroll themselves and pay up the arrears. It is never too late to join these clubs, and in practice, multitudes of working men do join them even in the last month.
     It is not until December is in his teens that those who cater for the material enjoyments of  Christmas time begin seriously to set about their seductive demonstrations. The grocer, for the reason that he deals in provisions which will suffer least by keeping. invariably leads off the game. His preparations are all on the grand scale; the raisins, the currants, the sultanas, the muscatels, are heaped in mountainous slopes, as though they had comedown by a landslip, and are scattered over with spices, as though it had hailed nutmegs and snowed cinnamon and mace. His conserves and sugared sweets flank the fruit in delicate envelopes; boulders of delicious candy, bursting trom the frosted sugar, have drifted on to the black mass of currants; jars and vases of jams and jellies,.marshalled in ranks, take up commanding positions, keeping ward over files of luxurious sweets, and bonbons, charged with the flavour of the pine, the peach, the apricot, and of every exquisite fruit that grows. Solid.walls are built up of sardines, and potted meats, and drummed figs, and bottled pickles, and preserved ginger "hot i' the mouth." There are dense strata of fancy biscuits, cases of dates and French plums, shelves of British wines, from cowslip to the ruddy elder, and, thanks to the new tariff, bottles of French claret and champagne; while the congou and the hyson, the bohea and the gunpowder teas, with the clayed, muscovado, aud.
refined sugars, form a general background. Arching over all is an artificial bower of glazed canvas leafage, from which hang thumping clusters of red, black and white grapes, from Hamburgh and the Rhine, and the shores of the Mediterranean. Thus the institutional pudding, with all its appetizing accessories, is cared for by the grocer, and all you have to do is to walk into the shop and give your orders liberally.
     As to that other institution, the roast-beef, if it is not so forward with its demonstrations, as indeed it never  can be, it is equally well looked after. Christmas beer, at least that which is so par excellence, it must be remembered, comes from the dismemberment of the prize cattle and exhibition cattle, which are all alive at the Agricultural Hall long after the grocer has received his consignments and displayed them to the public. The butcher's display must necessarily begin much later, and will depend much on the state of the weather; warm damp days tending to spoil the meat, which can be kept an indefinite time if the air is clear and frosty. Sometimes the butcher will exhibit his beef while it is yet alive, tethering the huge oxen to the kerb in front of his door, and decking them with flowers and -ribbons like a heathen sacrifice: at others he will have them stalled for a few days in the rear of his dwelling, and admit his customer to a private view, allowing them to choose their joints before they are killed. However this may be, he will kill as soon as he dares before Christmas day, and make as striking a show as he can. And indeed there are few more startling spectacles among London shops, than the shop of the butcher during the Christmas week. The ponderous carcases of oxen, the scientifically fatted calves, the huge broad-backed sheep - all appear like creatures of other races than we know them to be; their natural outlines are destroyed by their overgrown bulk, and at first sight one hardly knows what to make of them. They are spotlessly clean, and the masses of fat bear sprigs of holly and evergreen, while green boughs depend from the ceiling and overshadow the entrance. At night the whole is powerfully lighted up with gas; and it is now that the admiring crowds gather round to speculate upon their "breed and feed," and rejoice the heart of the enterprising tradesman with unsolicited applause. The quartering and cutting-up comes later, being deferred as long as it can be; and the several joints when severed are ticketed with the names and addresses of the purchasers, in pretty large characters, that the whole neighbourhood may see what a highly respectable connection Mr. Carnifex has the honour to serve. Unfortunately for the butcher, the honour and reputation derived from his sales at this season, are not unfrequently the only profit he makes upon his outlay: exhibition cattle have, unluckily for him, the habit of selling for much more alive than they will fetch when dead; alive they are prodigies of breeding and feeding - a credit to the country, and reflecting credit upon everybody who has to do with them; but when killed an alarming proportion of their bulk is but material for the tallow-chandler; and hence the loss to the butcher, who has to buy at the higher estimate.
    The consumption of poultry in London always reaches its climax at Christmas time; and if one can judge by appearances, there must be ten times as much devoured in the Christmas week as in any other week of the year, with the exception of Michaelmas week, so fatal to the geese. As the festive time draws near, the shop of the poulterer - and not only his shop. but his entire housefront - undergoes a striking transformation; by degrees it envelopes itself in plumage up to the fourth story, if it happen to be so high, as though it were preparing to fly away. The geese, turkeys, and barn-door fowls may be reckoned the staple of his store; but besides these, there is every species of British game, from grouse to larks, with no small collection of foreign birds from France, Belgium and Holland. More than this - the poulterer, in the pride of his profession, will exhibit anything rare or curious that has wings to fly, independent of its adaptation to English appetites; a plump seagull, a sprawling stork, a brilliant peacock, a heron, a bittern, a bustard, a huge jack raven - any or all of them he will hang out to view, and would only be too glad of an adjutant, or an ostrich, or a pelican, if he could get one. Some years back, a fortunate tradesman actually displayed an albatross, or rather the skin and plumage of one, measuring over ten feet between the tips of the extended wings. Such displays gratify the tradesman, who thus hints to the public that the whole domain of earth and air is his warren, and feels his own dignity dilate as that impression gets abroad.
    The poultry supply is a very complex and rather puzzling subject. Of the turkeys, an immense number come from Norfolk, which county has a high reputation for breeding them; but other counties send their quota. As a rule, they come ready plucked; and they may be compared to diamonds in one respect, inasmuch as their value increases in a geometrical ratio with their weight - a bird of nine pounds being purchaseable at about seven shillings, while three guineas will be asked for one of twenty-five pounds. The monster specimens are exhibited with much pride, and hang as it were in a kind of honoarable state for many days, while their repute gets abroad and people make expeditions to see them. The gooae, being a more savoury relish, is much more popular than the turkey, as is evidenced by the enormous numbers of them which find their way to London at this crisis. They are borne by steam and rail from France and Ireland; they come by truck-load from near and distant counties : one sees them unpacking from boxes and hampers, ready plucked; while at the same time and place they are pitching by hundreds, with their feathers on, out of wnggons and carts, into underground cellars, where fifty women aud girls are plucking away at them day and night; they hang, heads downwards, in dense battalions, on bulks and window-boards, not only in poulterers' shops, but at grocers', at milkshops, and dairies, at the pork-butcher's, at the greengrocer's, at the fishmonger's, and even occasionally at the publican's. In no inconsiderable proportion they flank the thronged thoroughfares, go where you will so that you cannot get rid of the idea of goose and. anticipatory stuffing. In the eastern approaches to London, we have before now met large flocks of them waddling in their own funeral procession, under the charge of the goose-herd - forlorn hopes, we may call them, coming up to meet the sage and onions which are to consummate their career. A wretched figure they cut, their sleek plumage matted and clotted with mire, and their hungry throats agape, after a march without rations from the neighbourhood of Epping Forest. If, however, they are not in the best condition on arrival, they can be fattened
before killing; and as they are killed only when wanted, they thus subserve the exigency of the market. In the bye-ways of Whitechapel we have occasionally seen groups of them in charge of a countryman, who drove a brisk trade by selling them to the lieges by a species of Dutch auction.
    While strolling the streets about this time, one is apt to be deliciously arrested by the exquisite odour of sweets, provokingly stimulating the salivary glands: it may be the mingled aroma of raapberry jelly and caviare, with the ghost of a flavour of mince-meat; by which we understand that we are under the influence of the confectioner. A busy man is the confectioner at this holiday period; for he has not only to provide for impending Christmas, but to meet the demands of Master Tom and Harry, and Miss Bell and Kate, who are home for their holidays, and have no intention of waiting for Christmas day before going in for the pies and tarts. There are numerous orders to be executed, in pastry for bachelors' banquets, in cakes, tartlets, and blanc-manges for bewildered housekeepers, who have more than they can do, and in preparing solid dinners for clubs and cliques, and social dining parties, who, taking their Christmas feast together, have no one else to prepare it for them. Then there will be a cart-load or two of bonbons  and minute paper-clad mysteries, wanted to stick on the Christmas trees, all of which will be expected to bear honied fruit, whatever else they may carry. It is true the confectioner does not make the mass of these, but gets them sent in from the wholesale manufacturer, along with the comfits and jujubes, and candies and sweeties, and fruity conserves, all which are made by machinery, and by the ton.
    An ally of the confectioner - though in a humble way - is the ice-raker, who may make his appearance about this time in the streets, or who may not, as the weather shall determine. In the case of a sharp frost or two coming before Christmas, he is sure to be seen. He knows that the first ice of the season is always readily bought up, since it may happen that it shall prove the only ice that is to be got, save from the importers. Consequently, when he gets up in the morning after a night of frost, instead of driving his cart to Covent Garden for vegetables, or to Billingsgate for fish, he runs off with it to the ponds and pools in the outlying suburbs, which his experience has taught him are the soonest frozen. Armed with a long rake, he skims the surface of the pool of its crystal coating, even though it be not half on inch thick, and conveys it to the confectioner's ice-cellar. So long as the frost continues, the raker will make a prey of the ice, and tum it to his profit. The business seems one of great hardship and doubtless is so; but to a certain class it has a double fascination - not only is it more profitable than casual costermongering, bt it incurs no risk of capital, and can entail no loss - an important consideration to a poor man. This industry always continues as long as the frost endures, as it would take a very long time to glut the London ice-market. As for the rakers and the rakeresses (for the women co-operate eagerly in this sloppy work), their appetite seems to grow with what it feeds on; they are more numerous and more active as the frost intensifies, and would skin the Serpentine or the Grand Junction itself if they were allowed to do so.
    Some one has remarked that London never looks so cheerful, so prosperous, and so satisfied as in the clear dry days before Christmas. This is perfectly true when the days are dry and clear; and there are few pleasanter ways of passing an hour than by walking abroad at such seasons to see what is to be seen. Shops of every description are now in their best trim, and are making their gaudiest show, while the streets are crowded with holiday people. The children are home for the vacation, and have lugged papa and mamma out with them for a shopping expedition. One recognises the girls by the rosy cheeks they ha.ve brought from the country, and the boys by their loud playground voices, and rollicking disregard of promenading etiquette. These young people make holiday with characteristic vigour and independence; they perform astonishing feats at the confectioner's; regiments of them storm the toy-shops in the Arcade. They are clamorous for the appearance of the ghost at the Polytechnic, hailing his apparition with shuddering delight, which dissolves by degrees into saucy familiarity; and are in ecstacies at the marvellous juvenile memoirs of Herr Whistler, and his imitations - not a whit less marvellous - of the singing-birds. They beseige the Cosmorama; they take the Zoological Gardens by storm; and they get lost and found a dozen times in the interminable galleries of the Museum. They clamber to the top of St. Paul's; they dive to the bottom of the Thames Tunnel; they "do" the Tower, and the Monument. One meets them at the nursery-man's choosing their Christmas trees; one jostles them in the crowd, staring at the prize capon or fat rabbit suspended as a spectacle in the dairyman's window and one meets them again at the photographer's, getting themselves done in groups, where some of them are apt to appear without their heads, because they are too excited to keep them still. At the fruiterer's - whose shop at this season is the "mellow shrine of Pomona" herself - you catch them cracking walnuts, or sucking oranges, or doing both at once, while their bright eyes are glancing round to see what shall come next; and, find them where you will, in whatever varied or motley scene, they are shedding the sunshine of our long-vanished days around them, and reviving the cherished associations of our childhood. Going into the bookseller's shop. one is sure to meet them there, and puzzled enough they are sometimes, in that storehouse of riches, by the difficulties of the choice which papa has allowed them to make; and not a few of them. we are naturally gratified to remark, are of opinion that libe bonniest bargain they can buy is the annual volume of "The Leisure Hour," with its coloured cartoons, its hundred and fifty choice wood engravings, and containing pleasant reading enough, as the schoolhoys word it, "for a whole half," and profitable reading too.
    Another addition to the ordinary London crowds which one sees in the streets at Christmas time, are the children of a larger growth - the groups, often whole families, of country people, who arrive here in time to spend the Christmas holiday with their city relaaives. Their visits have been long in prospect, and they are sure to arrive furnished with a rather long programme of the exploits they intend to perform. Country-people now-a-days don't come up to town, as their forefathers did, merely to get dazed with the din and mystery of the great Babylon, and go back again no wiser than they came. Farmer Glebe and his wife and daughters now know what's what; the cheap journals and the pictured newspapers have banished the old ignorance and wonderment: now, if the farmer brings his family to town, he takes care that they see its  lions, and reap a little knowledge as well as pleasurable excitement from the trip. And our country cousins are not only sight-seers - they are moreover persistent shoppers, and one might wonder how they can afford to spend so much cash, were we not aware that they boy on these occasions for friends at home, and spend other money than their own. They are always exceedingly welcome to the shopkeepers, who, knowing that they will not ask for credit, spare neither pains nor politeness in helping them to settle their choice. The omnibus is the country people's coach and pair, and they are ever ready to patronize it; and you may observe that one of them seldom gets in without attempting to get up a hearty conversation with his neighbours - in which attempt we need hardly say he does not succeed. On the whole, however, the provincial of the present day takes much better care of himself than his forefather could do; and though he is given to lose himself by confounding the points of thc compass, and going north when his way lies south, and so on, yet, thanks to the ever-present police, he is sure to be put right again. The police also befriend him in another way, by keeping at this season a sharp look-out after the light-fingered gentry, who are too apt to make free with the countryman's pockets. The visitors whom Christmas-tide bring to London from the provinces, are said to be at the present time fifty times as many, relatively to the population, as they were fifty years ago.
Leisure Hour, 1863