Thursday 30 September 2010

The Cab-stand

Sarcastic Peeler. "GOING TO 'AVE A NEW 'ORSE THEN, CABBY?"
Cabby. "NEW OSS, 'OW D'YE MEAN?"

A marvellous piece from the Leisure Hour of 1860, on that topic of perennial fascination to Victorian reporters of low-life ... the cabbie and the humble cab-stand.


The cab-stand, as an institution long established in London and in other large towns, must be familiar to most of our readers, though, few of them, probably, regard it as an object of any peculiar interest. A string of cabs in single file, each with its "speculative" steed, drowsily resting his weary legs one at a time; a few drivers, some asleep on the box, others in straggling groups, exchanging rough compliments, or, with hands buried in their pockets, and coats buttoned to the chin, padding the sloppy ground, and peering wistfully about for customers; some fifty yards of macadam in solution, or of granite paving-stones ankle-deep in mud, on the surface of which lie fragmentary whisps of hay and patches of scattered chaff, with here and there a pewter pot and scraps of tobacco-pipe; such, and nothing more, is the cab-stand to the common eye. Perhaps, if we look at it it little nearer, we may see a little more. Let us try.
    The cab-stand which is the subject of our contemplation stands a little way in the suburbs — it matters not in what direction — and its site runs parallel, not with a row of shops, of private houses, or even with a brick wall, but with the wooden palings which divide the garden-grounds of a nursery-man from the public road, The vehicles, in close rank, touch the kerb, and the long narrow avenue between that and the palings is, to all intents and purposes, cabbie's private domain and park ; the "public in general" having by tacit consent made it over to him, and chosen the other side of the way for themselves. We have noticed, for years past, that this particular Stand is a favourite with the professors of the whip, and that, let the weather be what it will, and though the cabs may have vanished from all other Stands, you are pretty certain to meet with one there. There are, in truth, more reasons than one for this preference. In the first place, the spot is rural and pleasant; a the second place, it is situate at a point just over the mile from the two great railway stations, and therefore is hardly liable to the abomination of a sixpenny fare; in the third place, the beer at the neighbouring "public" is of the kind for which cabmen have a predilection ; and fourthly, the Stand is not plagued by a table of fares and distances stuck up on a board, which at other places is apt, by its gratuitous information, to mar the speculations of the members of the brotherhood. We might add, as another reason, that the site is almost clear of the omnibus routes, and thus the cab-drivers suffer little from the competition of conductors.
    The above reasons may perhaps account for the partiality of the cabmen for this particular Stand. At any rate, here you will find them in considerable force all the day long, and, for the matter of that, all the night too. What they do in the pauses—and they are very long pauses sometimes—between the fares, it is not easy to declare. There is a good deal of barter going on at times; we have seen exchanges of a rather singular kind. take place, which have quite puzzled. our powers of valuation; such as two capes from a many-caped coat, in compensation for a dog-collar — a catch-'em-alive rat-trap against a nose-bag — a pair of gaiters, rather shreddy from wear, for a curry-comb — and a razor, not by any means warranted to shave, in lieu of a tobacco-box, The occupations of an industrial kind are many, but are all pursued in an off-hand kind of way, as though it did not much matter if they were neglected in toto. There is polishing of plate harness, a little greasing of wheels, some dusting of cushions, ditto cleaning of panels and muddy spokes, with a show at least of sweeping out and ventilating their vehicles, which are, for the most part, sadly in want of renovation. Then there is the plaiting of whips, and the renewal of whip-ends, and much chaffering on the score of whip-handles. But the chief pastime of all is conversation, and exchange of; ideas on matters public and private. We are or opinion that it would be extremely difficult for any other than a cabman to come at the real sentiments of the fraternity, even if he were admitted to these open-air but private conclaves ; because the discussions are carried on in a phraseology so wonderfully abbreviated as to be intelligible only to themselves. Their utterances are the veriest samples of the multum in parvo ever met with. Take a specimen which we overheard accidentally the other day.
    "Seen Brimble, Ned ?"
    " Reyther !"
    "How about his old 'ooman?
    "All right four o'clock 's mornin."
    " Gal."
    "That makes five on 'em ?"
     "Wh-whew !"
    Thus is the narrative of Mr. Brimble's domestic felicity shorn of its fair proportions on the cab-stand, and thus curtly is expressed the brotherly sympathy in his paternal embarrassments. There s a valid ground, however, for this brevity of speech and it will be found in the peculiar circumstances of the man who drives a cab. He cannot dwell at any length upon details, or indulge in the luxury of exordium or peroration, for a very obvious reason: he is liable to be called off the Stand at any moment to take up a fare. The cry of "Cab— cab!" or the uplifted finger of a patron a furlong down the street, would cut short his argument, however long, and spoil his logic in an instant; so he steers clear of such contingencies by avoiding circumlocutions, and talking plump at the bull's eye. He deals much in monosyllables am in significant ejaculations, and will express himself at times in a kind of short-hand, which is partly speech and partly gesticulation, but all wonderfully comprehensive and perfectly intelligible to the initiated. When on duty at night, however, he can afford to relax a little, and wag his tongue at any length he likes. Truth to say, he is apt to do this rather too much on occasions, and to expatiate with a warmth inconvenient to the slumbering inmates of the genteel dwellings over the way; and the police have been more than once obliged to interfere to abate these nocturnal discussions.
    Part and parcel of the Stand is the waterman, who, however is anything but a fixture, and is given to sudden appearances and disappearances, and who has a scarecrow of a deputy in of an unkempt lad, who makes a show the shape of doing duty in his absence. Waterman, we suspect, is a pluralist, keeping this ragged curate as temporary locum tenens ; we happen to know that the man of tubs has a connection in the carpet-beating line, and have, further, caught him in the act both of putting up and pulling down shutters in the long business street round the corner, which runs at right angles with the road. Then he is not above sweeping the crossing, or making his deputy do it, when foul weather renders it impassable to clean boots, and there is a chance of remuneration for the job. If you do see our waterman at the Stand, it is because there is something to be done there, though he is often unaccountably absent even at a busy time.
    Far more of a fixture than the waterman is the Stand-dog, Smut. Smut is an ill-looking mongrel, close-haired, and of a black-brown hue, whom the refinements of civilization have deprived of the best part of his tail, while the chances of war have rent his flap ears into shreds. He belongs to the Stand in general, and to nobody in particular. How he became naturalized there originally, we cannot say; probably a born vagabond, doomed to wander the world without a master, he found among the scraps and leavings of the cabmen, who are of necessity often diners-out, a solace for his hunger, and beneath the shelter of their wheels a substitute for what he had never yet possessed — a home. Be that as it may, Smut has long been free of the Stand, and a privileged favourite of the drivers. In fine weather he roams the neighbourhood on foraging expeditions, or starts on a hunt or vermin over the palings and into the nursery-ground. When the season is inclement, he is given to leaping up to the foot-board beneath the driver's seat, where, pillowing his ugly head on a nose-bag, he will doze away as much of the dreary time as he may. One thing will rouse him from his lair, and bring him down like a tiger, and that is, the intrusion of any other vagabond dog on his peculiar domain: trim spaniels, genteel puppies, lapdogs, and promenading pets, he takes no notice of, knowing well enough that he needs expect no rivalry from them ; but should any stray mongrel or unmastered cur come prowling that way, woe betide him if he want either pluck or power to defend himself, for Smut will descend upon him like an avalanche, and he must either fight or run. If Smut happens to be asleep when the cab in which he has taken shelter rolls off with a fare, the motion wakes him up, and then no blandishments will induce him to retain his position ; down he leaps, and returns to the Stand, of which he has constituted himself the guardian.
    On a close tropical day in July or August, the picture of our Stand is one of almost still life. Look down the long avenue, and you see the drowsy cabbies, with the doors of their vehicles opened on the shady side, each sitting on the step, (if he does not happen to be curled up asleep inside,) smoking his short pipe and spelling over the columns of a cheap newspaper. The waterman is absent, perhaps thrashing away at some dusty carpet ; but there lies his tattered deputy, fast asleep and snoring, with his back against the rails. Smut, whose tongue has been hanging out to dry all day, comes lazily up to the water tubs, laps a mouthful or two, and, curling himself round, snores in his turn. But let that black cloud sail up from the horizon, and the big spattering thunder-drops come splashing on the pavement and lo! what a sudden change. Up leaps Smut, shaking his remnants of ears and barking in triplets; up jumps the deputy, and begins detaching the nose-bags from .the heads of the mumbling hacks; up jumps every cabman to his box, whip in hands; the whole rank is galvanized into sudden motion ; there is a clattering of hoofs, a jarring of rusty axles, a creaking of panels from one end of the rank to the other, and a slow progressive motion of the vehicles forward and forward, as one moves away after the other, and the whole site is clear ; the avenue has vanished, and all that is left of the Stand is three or four tubs of water, the ragged deputy counting his coppers over and over, and Smut wagging a forlorn stump of tail in the midst of his desolate home.
    There is no power so effectual in the clearance of a cab-stand as a sudden and drenching shower. Other causes, such as the break-up of a popular assembly, or the advent of its hour of meeting, may diminish its numbers more or less ; but a good tempest of rain is the grand blessing for the cabs man, who laughs at the wetting of his skin that comes with the silver lining for his pocket.
    Such are some of the aspects of our Stand. There are other aspects, however, presented by the Stand, wherever it may be, which may not be of so picturesque a character. When Brimble, for instance, with his " six young 'uns," dependent on his whip, "puts on" at the tail-end of the rank in the morning, only to move off after he has worked up to the head, the Stand can hardly appear so amusing to him as it does to us, What will Providence send to-day for him and his little ones ? After waiting an hour or two, when his time to move off does come, to what sort of a tune will he have to drive his cab? He may have to trot away for sixpence, or he may do business to the amount of as many shillings. Brimble, it is plain, must regard the Stand as very speculative ground and it need not be wondered at if with him and his congeners there should be prejudices and predilections in regard to lucky and unlucky Stands, as we have good reason to know there are ; nor need we marvel that, weary of the fortune of some unpropitious Stand, Brimble, recalling to mind his hungry family, dashes out of the Stand in despair, and, albeit it is contrary to the regulations, commences crawling the road for customers, and competing with the omnibuses along their routes.
    Meanwhile, it is time we should pull up, and come to a stand ourselves.

An Offer ...

It's a long-standing niggle of mine that people who contact me via, with enquiries about family history, rarely seem to know about the local archives / local history libraries / small museums of London's boroughs. I have, therefore, an offer ...

If you are a librarian/archivist/similar in the London boroughs, and would like to promote your holdings on (gratis, naturally; no advertising surrounding) then get in touch. Something like 'picture of the week', showing a rare photograph of Victorian London, with some written context, could be featured widely on the site (and this blog, I suppose) and my guess is that it would bring you to a far greater web audience than at present.

My site is the no.1 on all search engines for 'victorian london'  - I'd love to say this brings me great wealth and prosperity (it doesn't) but I have the lingering suspicion that said visibility could be put to better use, for all those interested in London history.

Possibly my worry that local libraries are missed by the online audience is quite wrong. Possibily this won't appeal; and there are copyright issues with images (I'm a reformed librarian myself) and mine is a private site, rather than something in the public sector.

But if it does - please get in touch...

Idle Chatter

I recently found this letter to the Daily Examiner (29 February 1897), which throws an interesting light on an obscure subject:

Dear Sir,

I write to question the utility of certain peculiar abbreviations, which have become increasingly common in the written discourse of our nation. I refer, of course to the prevalence of such grotesque admixture of vowels and consonants as IEMMIAAF and WTDDYMS. Such (ab)uses of the English tongue are both loose and vulgar; and have no place in a national newspaper. These terms are believed to have originated in the idle chatter of lady telegraphists. It is my earnest request that they remain in the province of the 'dot-and-dashes' and I enjoin you to refrain from repeating them, in an organ with a wide circulation, which is frequently exposed to both servants and unprotected females.
           ACC (A Concerned Citizen.)

The editor of the paper, however, clearly found this complaint a source of amusement. Immediately below the letters section, there appears 'A Ready Guide to Popular Abbreviations'. I reproduce some of the more interesting examples below.

IEMMIAAF - I express my mirth in an audible fashion.
WTDDYMS - What the Devil do you mean, sir?
IPUTDWEMMIAAF - I pivot upon the drugget whilst expressing my mirth in an audible fashion.
MWTIQE - My word! That is quite extraordinary!
IEMMSFTMPIIDOCL - I express my mirth so forcibly that my posterior is in danger of coming loose.
ISRP - I shall return presently.
IIWTPAO - If I were to proffer an opinion
AYOTAOMPTMLAAMOTFPOH  - Are you of the age of majority, proximate to my location, and a member of the fairer portion of humanity?

This all reminds me of something, but I can't quite think what.

Wednesday 29 September 2010


A nice little piece on keeping your shoes clean (Leisure Hour 1861). Warren's Blacking Warehouse, also mentioned in my recent graffiti piece for their guerilla advertising, was famously where Dickens, in his childhood, was obliged to work, putting together pots of blacking in a window, for the admiration of the viewing public - a source of shame which haunted him for the rest of his life (although some claim otherwise).


IT appears to have been customary to imbue shoes with an oily mixture before the time of Pliny, since it is stated by him, in the 15th book of his "Natural History," that Cato recommended the dregs of the olive (after the expression of the oil) to be used for anointing bridle-reins, leather thongs, and shoes, in order to render them supple. It must, however, be remarked, that a mixture somewhat similar to modern blacking is also described by the same author, in the 35th book. This mixture was used for ink, and it was composed of lampblack, gum, and vinegar, and only required, therefore, the addition of oil and honey to make it into a soluble blacking. This inference is rendered the more probable since the remains of leather, found in the Roman gravel-pit discovered in digging the foundation for the New Royal Exchange, appear to have been covered with a sort of blacking. They are thus described by Mr. Tite, the architect of that noble building, in his "Antiquities of the Royal Exchange :" "The fragments, in general, are of black leather; but there are some pieces which may possibly have been once of another colour. It is most probable that the upper surface was almost always shining and several instances may be noticed where it still retains a dull gloss, which appears usually to have protected that particular side."
    Modern blacking seems to have been originally composed chiefly of wax and tallow, and probably lampblack, and somewhat, similar, therefore, to harness-blacking. When and how the mixture now employed in this country was first discovered, have found impossible to decide ; but, according to a statement of Mr. W. C. Day, the recipe for its preparation was communicated to Mr. Richard Martin whilst he was travelling on the continent. Martin afterwards became associated with Mr. Charles Day, and in 1801 they commenced the manufacture of blacking. This firm has since acquired considerable celebrity, under the title of Day and Martin. Another important blacking manufactory was afterwards established by Mr. Robert Warren. Another was subsequently founded by Mr. Everett, who commenced business in King's Head Court, Holborn. All the parties connected in establishing these three firms acquired considerable fortunes. Each maker had, of course, proportions and methods of mixing peculiar to himself; but the chief materials, namely, a black colouring matter, and certain substances which acquire a gloss by friction, were the same in most cases. In England, they generally consist of bone-black, sugar, or molasses, sperm-oil, sulphuric acid, and strong vinegar. The bone-black, in the state of a very fine powder, and the sperm-oil, are first thoroughly incorporated ; the sugar or molasses, mixed with a small proportion of vinegar, is now added, and well stirred into the mass ; strong sulphuric acid is then gradually poured into the vessel. The mixture is then diluted with an additional quantity of vinegar. Paste blacking is now made in precisely the same way as liquid blacking, excepting that the last portion of vinegar is not added.
    Baron Liebig states that, in Germany, blacking is made in the following manner:—Powdered bone-black is mixed with half its weight of molasses, and one-eighth of its weight of olive-oil, to which are afterwards added one-eighth of its weight of muriatic acid and one-fourth of its weight of strong sulphuric acid. The whole is then mixed up with water to a sort of unctuous paste. To give some idea of the importance of this manufacture, it may be stated that on an average one hundred and fifty casks, containing a quantity of blacking equal to nine hundred dozen pint bottles, are sent out daily from one manufactory that of Day and Martin. The price of the stone-ware bottles for containing the blacking, varies with their size, the usual sizes costing 6s., 9s. and 12s. per gross, and the corks (bungs) costing 1s. 4d. per gross. There is also a large outlay for labels and sealing-wax.
    As one example of the means which have been employed to give notoriety to manufactured articles by means of advertisements, we copy the following from a number of the "Morning Advertiser" for 25th of November, 1807: it is an account of a burlesque company for making blacking. "Final Meeting of the Public Blacking Subscription Company, held at the 'Boot,' in Leather Lane, Anthony Varnish, Esq., in the chair, Sir John Blackwell, Knight, being indisposed. The chairman reported that Mr. Timothy Lightfoot, the treasurer, had brushed off with the old fund, and that the deputation who had waited on Mr. Fawcett (cunning Mr. Fawcett!) the proprietor of the Brilliant Fluid Blacking, at No. 76, Houndsditch, could not prevail on him to dispose of his right thereto in favour of this Company, although they had made him the, most liberal offers," etc. etc.
    The shoeblacks of the present day are only a re-appearance.  Some seventy or eighty years ago, shoeblacks were at the corner of almost every street, especially in great thoroughfares. As the pedestrians passed, the shoeblacks called out "Shoeblack, your honour! Black your shoes, sir!" They used an oleaginous, lustreless blacking. Some of them accommodated their patrons with an old pair of shoes to stand in, while they operated. Time came when their occupation was about to leave them. The first incursion against their business was by the makers of "patent cake-blacking," on sticks formed with a handle like a small battledore; they suffered a more fearful invasion from the makers of liquid blacking in bottles. Soon after this, Day and Martin commenced manufacturing their ne plus ultra of blacking, and private shoe-blacking became general, public shoeblacks rapidly disappeared, as became extinct for a time. The last shoeblack of "the old school" is said to have sat under the covered entrance of Red Lion Court, Fleet Street, in 1821.

Black Beetles

Readers may remember this recent post about The Mysteries of London. It contains one of the goriest passages in the penny dreadful, which details a mother proposing to blind her children. Reynolds took things from the press of the day, and I've just found the original of that very scene:

The Times of 30 June, quoting the Reading Mercury, has the following: “A Monster.—A day or two since, a gentleman travelling along the road near Colnbrook, had his attention attracted to the screams of a child in the care of a tramping woman, who had with her, two other children totally blind.  The cries of the child were so distressing, that he insisted on knowing the cause; but; not getting a satisfactory answer, he forcibly removed a bandage from its eyes, when, horrid to relate, he found these encased with two small perforated shells, in which were two live black beetles, for the purpose of destroying the sight.  The woman was instantly seized, and given into custody; and, at the magistrate’s meeting, at Eton, on Wednesday last, committed for trial.  There is too much reason to fear that the wretch produced the blindness of the other two children, by similar means.”  This was rendered into a street ballad.

Is it true? I don't know; but it was reported in the press (Friday, Jun 30, 1843 in the Times). The book in which I discovered this gem is Gossip in the First Decade of Victoria's Reign and, although little more than a collection of news clippings compiled in 1903, not a bad read in itself.


See this link ...
(many thanks to the commenter below)

But is it a genuine case or a fantasy? ... still digging ... my guess is still urban myth, as I can't find a fuller account anywhere in the British Library newspaper databases; combined with the unknown place name in the ballad ... but I could yet be proved wrong.


The modern model of newspaper production arrived in the 1850s, with the abolishment of government taxes on the press. It's outlined in the Leisure Hour of 1858. They feared that penny papers would introduce "scurrility, blasphemy, sedition, and abuses of every kind among the common people" ... [well, no, it's taken about 150 years, but we finally got there] ... and now, with the advent of the internet, "large undertakings and fractional no profits" are what journalists are worrying about.


This is the age of large undertakings and fractional profits. Strange and paradoxical as it may appear, one of the commonest applications of capital in the present day is that in which tells of thousands are sunk, and tens of thousands more are set afloat, with the prospect of being recovered in farthings and fractions of farthings. Never was there a greater faith existing in the force of numbers and the accumulative results of "small profits and quick returns." This phase of the times is discernible in nearly all those departments of commerce which have to do with the necessaries and requisites of every-day life; but in none of then is it more patent and prominent than in the department of newspaper literature, which in our day is accounted as indispensable almost as food and raiment.
    Turn we to some of the illustrations of the principle above adverted to, which meet us in the highways and thoroughfares of the metropolis.
    "'Standard!' gentlemen, here you are! forty-eight columns for one penny—all the news of the day—arrival of the Bombay mail, storming of Lucknow, slaughter and flight of the bloody-minded Sepoys — hextrornary trial—horrid murder at Portsmouth! Coroner's inquest and verdict — Debates in Parliament, gentlemen, and all the foreign news—Only a penny—forty-eight columns for a penny!" Such is the cry which cascades in at the omnibus window as you stop at one of the intermediate stations. It is hardly at an end when a voice in a different key bursts in with—
    "'Telegraph!' Daily Telegraph, gentlemen! big as the 'Times' — all the news of the whole world for a penny! Four leaders, gentlemen, and city article — acquittal of Signor Bernhard — 'strornary scene in the court  — all for a penny, gentleMEN!"
    "'Hevening Star,' 'Hevening Star!' ge-entlemen," sings another shrill pipe. "Lord John's speech last night in the House—telegraphic despatches from Paris ! Arrival of the American mail at one o'clock to-day, and the last news from Jonathan and the loco-focos! One penny, gentlemen—only a penny!"
    In the midst of this rival clamour your omnibus drives off, bearing, perhaps, half a dozen of the penny papers along with it ; but it does not drive off till another, or it may be several others, have driven up, all of which are besieged in their turn by a heavy battering train of penny artillery — not without a breach made in the citadel of the pocket.
    The same thing takes place elsewhere. Wherever the current of population pours in full volume, there the cheap news-mongers mingle with the flow, and lift up their voices in praise of their wares, and they do all this the more actively that their profit is but a farthing, or the fraction of a farthing on the completion of each of their transactions. You would imagine that such a trade could never remunerate the vender that it would be impossible for him to earn even a crust; and so it would, were he to stand dumb-mouthed, and merely exhibit his broad sheets silently for sale. He knows better than that he knows that there are thousands who will buy a thing that is pushed into their hands, and puffed under their very noses, who, from one end of the year to the other, would never step out of their way to get it. Therefore, he pushes and puffs, and bawls and declaims incessantly, and brings that conviction home to them which they would never entertain if left to themselves. In the exercise of their difficult and sonorous function these cheap news-mongers manifest a remarkable variety of talent. We may regard them as a comparatively new race of industrials, seeing that their appearance in London streets was not even so early as that of the penny daily papers themselves, of no long standing, but is a phenomenon which has grown out of the exigencies of the cheap newspaper-press, which, it is presumable, owes much of its standing and prospects of permanency to the exertions of this class of advocates. A vast number of' them are boys of tender age ; some are mere infants ; but the most energetic and successful are lads in the predicaments of hobbledehoyhood, who have themselves to maintain, and perhaps others as well. Besides these, there are old men past work, cripples and maimed warriors, and craftsmen out of employ, anxious to turn a penny by any means in their power, Not very long ago, anything in the shape of a penny newspaper would have been regarded as trash — trash was, in fact, the mane for everything, published at a penny or twopence, and hence the origin of the term " trash-shops," which the small emporiums of cheap literature, and especially of cheap newspapers, still retain. But what is the character of the penny newspaper of to-day? Read it, examine it, and then decide. If you describe it candidly and fairly, you will have to use terms very different from the term "trash." The newspaper which is now hawked about for a penny, though as to material it be flimsy and shabby enough, is such a document as our fathers had no conception of possessing at any price. It is the result of labours so manifold, of investigation so extended, of communication so rapid, of intelligences so cultivated — all concentred to one purpose — as would have seemed to them a consummation to be dreamed of, perhaps, but never accomplished. How, then, does the penny newspaper pay, seeing that the expense of its production must necessarily be so great? The answer lies in the magical word "numbers." It circulates and sells by tens of thousands; its great circulation justifies the proprietors in demanding and receiving a liberal price for advertisements, the receipts of which go a long way towards defraying the entire expenditure. What is wanting is made up by the sale; for though but all infinitesimal profit, hardly expressible by figures, is realized on each copy, there is yet a remunerating profit in the sum total. The manufacture of newspapers may be looked on as a species of paper-staining by machinery : all the difference being that, in the publisher's process, the paper is stained with news and political essays and the current opinions of the hour.
    But we have not glanced at the cheapest news yet. The cheapest news of all appears in the form of our  "Parish Weekly Gazette." By the Friday afternoon of every week this gazette makes its appearance, and is hawked about the suburban streets at the charge of one half-penny. The hawkers in tins case are a countless troop of small boys, who would probably be doing nothing except mischief, unless they were thus employed. They are as clamorous at the omnibus stations and along the highways as their elder brethren of the broader street; and, what is more, they penetrate the shops and private dwellings of the parishioners, and thus establish a private connection, a sort of "paper walk," which they can nurse up into something worth retaining by the exercise of a little care and diligence. What profit they can derive by the sale of half-penny papers is more than we can tell ; but candidates are not wanting for the office, and during the two last days of the week they swarm along the thoroughfares of the Parish at all points. Again, looking at the character of the half-penny weekly, where is the trash? There is nothing that deserves the name. There is, on the contrary, much that is useful  — a summary of the week's news — of the Parliamentary debates of the doings in the parish vestry, and a mass of correspondence or notices on local matters of general or parochial interest. There is, is addition, a well-digested leader or two, on the political phases of the hour, and there are reports of the lectures, athenaeums, and mechanics' institutes, and other associations peculiar to the parish. And lastly, and by no means least, there are hundreds of advertisements from traders and shopkeepers in the neighbourhood, who find it to their advantage to publish their announcements in an organ of this kind, rather than in one whose larger circulation is scattered through different and distant localities. In point of moral tone, the parish halfpenny weeklies — and there are many of them in the metropolis — rank perhaps as high as any class of newspapers : there is, in fact, nothing in them to startle the sensibilities of the most fastidious ; they are intended, and they are adapted; to lie on every table.
    Another form of cheap news is one which, originating in London, is never circulated in London. Some few years ago, an enterprising genius conceived the idea of printing a newspaper in London, leaving the first page of it blank, for the reception of local news, and which might thus answer the purposes of the whole kingdom, or any part of it. He executed this plan, and for a time reaped the profit of it ; but his invention was not patentable ; the ruse was soon discovered ; others took the business in hand, and he lost his monopoly. At the present moment, some hundred or so of country newspapers are thus got up, and the majority of them are sold in the country towns and surrounding districts at a penny. The country publisher receives his sheets wet from the London press on Friday morning by rail, by which time he has prepared the single front page, with its local news and advertisements, and is in a condition to go to press at once, and bring out his weekly on Friday night or Saturday morning. The consequence is, that the small country printer, whose whole establishment, perhaps, consists of himself and a boy, is thus enabled to supply his neighbourhood with a newspaper superior in all respects to anything of the same kind that could be produced out of London. The paper is got up in a capital style — contains all the important and interesting news of the week —  has one or more political articles, well and ably written, together with reviews of books, literary sketches, and, in the absence of Parliamentary details, a continuous tale by some popular author. The small country printer can do all this at a minimum of cost, as be needs not to buy a single sheet beyond the number he can circulate or sell. By this ingenious plan numbers of small towns in out-of-the-way districts are supplied with an amusing local paper, and the means of local and district advertising.
    Before the stamp-duty was taken off  newspapers, and when Mr. Cobden, Mr. Milner Gibson, Mr. Charles Knight, and their co-operators in the cause of cheap knowledge, were advocating the interests of the pence-paying portion of the public, that which told with greatest force against them was the assertion that the cheapness of newspapers would lead to the demoralization of the press — that all sorts of scurrility, blasphemy, sedition, and abuses of every kind, would be current among the common people. Experience has shown a directly opposite result. The predictions of the prophets of evil were not verified ; and while we may congratulate the populace on their having' the "cheapest news" at command, we can do so without any misgivings on the score of declension in the morale of newspaper literature.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

The London Law Courts

More from the Leisure Hour, 1858 - a tour of legal London:


WHEN we, who are non-litigants and non-expectants, who are interested in no devised estates, and are parties to no suits in law, chance, in cursorily glancing at the almanac, to come upon such expressions as "Easter Term begins," "Michaelmas Term ends," and so on, we are apt to pass them without a thought, heedless of the tremendous import of these simple of our fellow countrymen. In this case it is emphatically true that ignorance is bliss; and he may count himself happy indeed, in comparison with the victims of the law's uncertainty an delay, to whom the opening and the shutting of the temples of judicature is a matter of personal indifference.
    But to lawyers and litigants the advent of term time is the opening of an active and adventurous campaign, in which honour and emolument are to be won, and in which all who are qualified for the strife are eager and anxious to take a share. The outward and visible phenomena of term-time in London are various, and will hardly escape altogether the notice of the dullest observer. If a reading man, he will mark the appearance of the law reports in the columns of the morning paper on his breakfast-table, which will be continued during the whole of the sittings of the several courts, and put him in possession, if he likes, of the facts and special peculiarities of each individual case. And if he avoid the newspapers, and be but the idlest peripatetic upon town, he shall not walk far with out coming in contact with evidence of another kind, which is always most liberally bestowed in the high-ways and bye-ways bordering on the arenas of justice. This evidetice appears in the shape of a tall figure enveloped in a flowing black gown, whose head is crowned, and enlarged to three times its natural size, by curly spoils ravished from the tail of the Banbury horse; whose feet are cased in the neatest of shining pumps, And on whose breast depend a couple of clerical looking bands of the finest cambric. During "term," this apparition meets you in the oddest places; now it is seen in a state of calm dignity, munching consecutive buns and sandwiches at the counter of the confectioner ; now it is hastily lunching at the bar of a neighbouring tavern; and anon it is seen, in a bath of perspiration, under that nightmare of a wig, plunging desperately through the ocean of wheels and rampant horses that flanks the embouchure of Chancery Lane, and diving headlong out of sight into the gaping maw of the Temple over the way. Wait patiently for a little while, and you will see it emerge again, bearing this time a ponderous violet-coloured bag, crammed to bursting, in one hand, and a bundle of sealed parchments in the other, and followed closely in the rear by a distracted clerk, or perhaps two, loaded with foolscap documents tied with red tape. But this apparition is by no means a solitary one; you see him as often in groups as in the individual, and oftener if you look in the right place; a whole cataract of them will pour from a side-door in one of the tall building's of "the Inn;" or, in the pleasant shady walks that characterise and adorn the legal enclosures of London, you will find them in strolling bands, discussing, it may be, some moot point in equity, and enlightening each other by the exchange of mutual sagacity. For these men are the incarnations of legal wisdom and experience, who are destined to handle the machinery of the law, and to expedite (or to frustrate, as it may happen), the decrees of even-handed justice.
    The plenteous presence of legal functionaries in their professional costume being always an indication that the courts are sitting, we shall amuse ourselves with a stroll into one or two of them, just to see what is going on. The oldest of the English law courts is entitled to the preference and therefore we betake ourselves to Westminster Hall. The oldest case upon record was tried in Westminster about eight hundred years ago, when the Abbot of Peterborough was cited before the Conqueror, in the year 1069. For the next two centuries the law courts were held wherever the sovereign happened to be resident, but in the reign of Henry III they were permanently fixed at Westminster. For details of some of the remarkable trials and events of which this spot has been the scene, we refer the reader to a series of papers, entitled "Echoes of Westminster Hall," in Vol. V. of the "Leisure Hour."
    As we enter Palace Yard, a few of the white wigged gownsmen are straggling into the huge hall, followed here and there by an inky satellite or an anxious client; others, bag-laden and busy, are coming forth and driving hastily off to town. We find Westminster Hall quiet, and compara tively deserted, save by a band of policemen drawn up in a double rank. The House of Commons is prorogued, and the customary crowd of constituents and expectants has disappeared. Almost every person who comes in, disappears also at one of the doors on the right. We follow the general example, and mounting a few steps, and pushing open a couple of doors, one within the other, and which are made to move noiselessly on their hinges, find ourselves in the presence of an old woman sitting at an apple-stall, supplemented with a collection of stale gingerbread and sweet-stuff, and close by the side of a roaring fire large enough to roast it baron of beef. This is the lobby of the Queen's Bench Court, and the huge fire, it is plain, is for the purpose of warming the court itself, which, by a proper disposition of the doors and drapery, can be made to receive as much of the heat as is desirable. The apple and bun-stall, which is probably welcome enough to the exhausted litigants and listeners, is at the present day all that is left of the famous array of shops which at a former period formed one of the chef attractions of Westminster Hall, and made it a fashionable promenade.
    Passing through the ventilating lobby, which is just now at a temperature of about eighty degrees, and feeling our way through the screening drapery, we are in the Court of Queen's Bench, so called from the ancient custom of holding courts before the monarch in person. The court is a single chamber, some forty feet square, and about as many in height. On this gloomy wintry day, it appears but dimly lighted from a domed circular lantern in the roof. It is crowded with people to an inconvenient extent, and it is no easy matter to obtain even a glimpse ; but, after a little waiting, a sudden vacancy elevates us to a high seat in the rear, which is the best point of view. Notwithstanding the crowd, the nearest possible approach to silence prevails; and if at any time there be heard a hum of voices or a shuffling of feet, it is quelled in a moment by an admonitory " hush --sh--sh," which, :passing rapidly round, subsides into stillness. It would seem that when annoyances of this hind do occur, they originate much more frequently among the professionals in wigs and gowns than among the spectators.
    Under a carved canopy, and in front of the royal arms, raised upon, a kind of dais, sit four judges. Their costume differs materially from that of the legal brotherhood already described ; and though a foreigner might fairly stigmatie it as barbarous, it is yet imposing, striking, and . in a degree dig nified. It consists of the white wig aforementioned, but considerably amplified by two side appendages that rest upon the shoulders—and of a scarlet gown most redundant in material, and disposed in ample folds, the whole being bounteously broidered with ermine. The judge who speaks most frequently, and with a deliberate kind of hesitation which seems about to falter, but never does, is Lord Campbell; the one at his right is Chief Justice Coleridge, and the two at his left are Chief Justices Wigfitman and Erie. Each of the judges has a small separate writing-desk before him. Below them are seated a number of professionals, in official costume, taking notes at a long table. Again below them, in a kind of pit, are a rank of non-professionals on a bench, whom we take to be clients, witnesses, or persons interested in the causes expected to come on. In front of these is another long table, well supplied with writing materials, over which a round number of large white heads are stooping and peering on the documents which grow into existence beneath their fingers. In front of them, and facing the judges, are several consecutive rows of seats filled with the lawyers, advocates, barristers, and so on, who are concerned, or supposed to be concerned, in the several questions which have to be adjudicated. Behind these, in rows rising one above another, are the seats allotted to the public ; and these, as well as those set apart for the legal gentlemen, are all crammed to overflowing.
    The spectators manifest, by the attention they bestow, the interest they really take in the case which is going forward. It is a libel case, and the counsel for the plaintiff, who interlards every period with "mylud," and " yerludship," is zealously endeavouring to impress the bench with a sense of the profound injury his client has received at the hands, or rather the lips, of the libeller. But his lordship is not very penetrable to the counsel's arguments. He interrupts him in the middle of a rather windy piece of rhetoric, and questions him as to certain admissions which the plaintiff had made to a witness who is present on his own side. These cannot be denied, and they constitute, in his lordship's opinion, a justification of the terms complained of as libellous; and in two or three words, which we fail to catch, the case is dismissed; the counsel bags his papers and vanishes, while the next case is called on.
    Whatever takes place, there is not the slightest demonstration on the part of the spectators. Their singular gravity strikes us, and we cannot help speculating on the somewhat peculiar expression which characterises the majority of the faces present. Were we disposed to theorise on the matter, we should set down the greater part of the audience as old litigants, who in days past had won or lost some cause whose decision has determined the course of their destiny, and who, from having at a former period lived so long in an atmosphere of excitement, cannot now live without it. How else is the fact explainable that there are men, in no way interested in the causes tried, whose punctuality in attendance exceeds that of the judge himself, and who are never known to be absent during a single day or a single hour while the court is open?
    It is not difficult to discriminate those persons interested in the question at issue from these old stagers. The latter form a class who, for the most part, have never in their lives before been in a court of justice at all. They cannot settle down comfortably in a seat ; or, if they do so for a moment, they are up and off at a tangent, as some sudden thought strikes them, either to cool their fever with a bout at the apple-stall, or to write a note at one of the desks in the rear, of which there is always one or more available, and thus to inform their counsel as to some vital point forgotten till that very moment, or perhaps then for the first time imagined. Then they are seen tiptoeing out under some sudden and secret impetus, and bustling in again in a breathless state ; and not unfrequently will they be found pale, exhausted, and resigned as martyrs in some retired corner, ready to accept either fate - to rejoice in success, or to submit to defeat, so that they be only released from the pangs of suspense.
    Leaving the Court of Queen's Bench, and elbowing through a throng of customers blockading the apple-stall, we enter at the second side door in Westminster Hall, and find ourselves in the Exchequer Court. The Exchequer Court exercises functions extra-judicial, and keeps up the observance of certain traditionary customs and rites which are worth mention in this place. Thus, it regulates the election of Sheriffs. On the morrow of St. Martin's, November 12, a privy Council is held to receive the report of the judges, of the persons eligible in the several counties to serve as sheriff. On the bench sits the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his figured silk gown trimmed with gold ; next are the members of the Privy Council, the Lord Chancellor, and Judges of the Queen's Bench and Common Pleas ; below sit the Judges and Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and on the left the Remembrancer of the Court. The judges report the names of three persons eligible for sheriff in each county, when excuses for exemption may be pleaded. The list being considered by the Privy Council, the names are finally determined on the approval of her Majesty in council, which is done by her Majesty pricking through the names approved on a long sheet of paper called the Sheriffs' Roll. The Sheriffs of London and Middlesex are, however, chosen by the Livery, but are presented on the morrow of the Feast of St. Michael, in the Court of Exchequer, accompanied by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, when the Recorder introduces the Sheriffs and details their family history, and the Cursitor Baron signifies the sovereign's approval; the writs and appearances are read, recorded, and filed, and the sheriffs and senior under-sheriffs take the oaths, and the late sheriffs present their accounts. The Crier of the Court then makes proclamation for one who does homage for the Sheriffs of London to "stand forth and do his duty;" then the senior alderman below the chair rises, the usher of the court hands him a bill-hook, and holds in both hands a small bundle of sticks, which the alderman cuts asunder, and then cuts another bundle with a hatchet. Similar proclamation is then made for the Sheriff of Middlesex, when the alderman counts six horse shoes lying upon the table, and sixty one horse-shoes lying upon the table, and sixty one hob-nails handed in a tray; and the numbers are declared twice. The sticks are thin peeled twigs, tied in a bundle at each end (of course with red tape); the horse-shoes are of large size, and very old ; the hob-nails are supplied fresh every year. By the first ceremony the alderman does suit and service for the tenants of a manor in Shropshire, the chopping of sticks betokening the custom of the tenants supplying their lord with fuel. The counting of the horse-shoes and nails is another suit and service of the owners of a forge in St. Cement Danes, Strand, which formerly belonged to the City, but no longer exists; while, as to the manor in Shropshire, even a century ago no one knew where the lands were situated, nor did the city receive any rents or profits from them. It is in the Court of Exchequer that, on the 9th of November, the oaths are administered to the new Lord Mayor : at the same time the late Lord Mayor renders his accounts, and the Recorder invites the Barons to the banquet at Guildhall.
    The chamber in which the Exchequer Court sits differs very little from that of the Queen's Bench, save that it wants the refectory antechamber and its shrivelled Pomona, and that, though of equal size, its interior is less pretentious on the score of architectural display. It is equally thronged with professionals and spectators, and the same resspectful silence is in keeping with the same obscurity that pervades the place. Baron South is to-day the deciding judge, and the case which the counsel at the moment is elaborately explaining is one of considertible interest to the tax-paying community. The plaintiff is lessee of a brick-field, which he rents for the purpose of digging the clay and burning the bricks. The assessors of the income-tax have levied upon him the full tax upon the land and the produce of his industry in working it, and he claims a deduction against his landlord in respect of the tax he has paid, on the ground that the landlord derives not only rent, but a royalty on the bricks, and sundry other advantages. The question is a complicated one, is mixed up with a good many stiff covenants and a deal of stiffer clay, and even after all the arguments are gone through, pro and con, the decision, like the plaintiff's instruments of trade, sticks in the mud. The judge, who is wisely given to deliberation, will not pronounce without carefully weighing the matter, and therefore he informs the parties to the suit that he will "take time to consider."
    From the Exchequer Court we pass to the next, which is the Court of Common Pleas. This is held in a smaller apartment, and one of much more humble appearance. The lawyers monopolise the whole of the sitting accommodation there is, and the public, who want to see and hear, have to crawl over the high wainscotting in the rear, and catch what they can of the proceedings. The case which is going on is of no great importance, being simply a question of railway charges for the carriage of goods, and consequently the auditors not immediately interested are few ; and of those who stroll in, the major part soon stroll out again in search of more exciting entertainment elsewhere.
    We may as well state here, that the Court of Exchequer, of Queen's Bench, and of Common Pleas, are also, for the convenience of citizens, held at the Guildhall, in the city, during four specified days of each term.
    The above are all the courts of law which we find sitting at Westminster to-day ; so we transfer ourselves to Lincoln's Inn, and to the Court of Chancery, which sits in a chamber under that picturesque little cupola that peeps out among the trees, and forms such a pleasant object in the view from Lincoln's Inn Fields. The Court of Chancery and its puzzling maze of professional purlieus have been with us a favourite lounge any time these twenty years. It is the best locality for observing the physiology of legal life, from the acts and deeds of the Lord Chancellor himself, down to the mad doings of the law students, and of the grand army of quill-drivers enlisted under the inky banners of the law stationers. Here, in times past, we have watched the. restless face of Brougham, and listened to his terse and vigorous language, while day after day, and week after week, he got through an amount of work that startled the lawyers out of their old routine.
    But to return to the Court. The present Lord Chancellor is on the bench as we enter, and a case of almost general importance is under debate. The villanies of a wholesale swindler, who at this moment is on his way to exile, have defrauded a railway company to the amount of nearly a quarter of a million. The holders of preference shares, conceiving themselves secured by their guarantee, have refused to bear any proportion of the loss, and, suing the company for their dividends, have obtained from the Vice-Chancellor a verdict in their favour. From that decision the company have appealed, and the merits of the question are again under discussion. How the decision will finally rest is not at this moment apparent ; there are a good many anxious faces visible in the ranks of spectators ; and it is by no means improbable that among them are persons whose income for the next year is dependent upon the fiat of the judge, and who may be hurled into poverty and want by the reversal of the late decree. On the other hand, if the decree is established, the suffering, though individually less, will be more widely diffused, and a still greater number will be stinted in their means and embarrassed in circumstances. Such are the contingencies of one man's villany.
    We leave this matter in debate, and proceeding down Chancery Lane, and entering a quiet close on the left-hand side, find admission to the Rolls Court. Here the attendance is small, there being but little accommodation beyond a bare bench for the public. The Master of the Rolls sits alone without any state, and the Attorney-General is also present, engaged in the cause. The question is one concerning the validity of a will; and as we enter, the depositions of certain witnesses, bearing upon the sanity or non-sanity of the testator, are being read over. The matter will not come to a decision today. Already the shades of evening are beginning to close upon the proceedings ; it is too dark to make out the identity of the statue which stands in a niche in the wall over the head of the Master. The white wigs of the counsel below bob up and down in the gloom, while the faces beneath them have resolved into shadow; we hear the monotonous voice of the advocate as he reads doggedly on ; and then there is a low murmur of voices, a rustling of garments, a crunching of legal paper, and the iterated " thud" of the swinging door, as, one after another, the audience depart in silence from the spot. We take these demonstrations as warnings of dismissal, and, thinking we have had enough of the law courts for one day, make our escape before the general break-up.
    We shall return to the subject, however, and pay another visit to other quarters before long.

IT is this court, which stands in the Old Bailey, and is only separated from the gloomy prison of Newgate by a broad court called the Press Yard, which presents from time to time subjects of profoundest interest to the Londoner. The court-house was destroyed by fire at the time of the No Popery riots, instigated by Lord George Gordon, in the year 1780, but was rebuilt and enlarged at the begin ning of the present century. It now contains several separate judicial chambers, and under its roof, in times of pressure of business, as many as six trials are sometimes proceeding at once. It is to the Old Court, however, situated to the left of' the entrance from the street, that the greatest interest attaches, because it is here that those memorable trials have taken place which have made the annals of the Old Bailey famous in the classics of crime. This Old Court is a hall of no architectural pretensions, about forty feet square, and tolerably well lighted and ventilated. Opposite the entrance is the raised seat of the judges, extending along one whole side of the apartment. Near the centre is the chief seat, with a canopy overhead, surmounted by the royal arms, and showing beneath it a gilded sword upon the crimson draped wall. Fronting the bench, and close to the entrance, is the dock for the prisoners, in which they stand on a raised platform with wainscoted bulwarks. The prisoners are not brought to this dock from the street and through the assembled crowds, but pass into it through an underground stone passage which connects the Old Court with the prison of Newgate. In front of the prisoner, on the broad hand-rail on which he leans, are scattered a number of sprigs of the rue plant - not to remind him, as simple people have supposed, of his rueful condition, but as an antidote to the danger of infection which the court is supposed to incur from his presence after confinement in unwholesome cells. This practice is about a century old, and owes its origin to the deadly jail-fever which, in 1750, killed Baron Clarke, Sir Thomas Abney, Sir S. Pennant, then Lord Mayor of London, and a number of the mem hers both of the bar and the jury.
    To the left of the dock is the witness-box, and to the left of that the jury-box - an arrangement which enables the jury, as well as the judges on the bench, to see at one glance the faces both of the witnesses and the prisoners. The counsel have their seats round a table in the centre below, and to the right of the table are rows of raised seats for the accommodation of spectators, and a few benches, supposed by a fiction of the law to be free to the public, though in practice the reverse is the case. The accommodation: really provided for the public is a gallery with rows of benches above the head of the prisoner, and in front of the bench of judges, admission to which is obtainable only on payment of a fee.
    We will look in now upon this Old Court while a trial is going on. The crowd around the outer portals, and the pushing and struggling for entrance, would warn us, if we did not know it al ready, that an affair of more than usual interest is going forward. We elbow through the crowd and make for the lower door, but there the policemen in attendance only shake their heads at all demands for admission, and refuse to, pass a single additional person who cannot show that his presence is required within. We mount the stairs leading to the gallery, where numbers more are clustered round the doom, waiting their time to take the places of such of those within, who, under the pressure of the heat or that of hunger and thirst, shall choose to vacate them. Half an hour's patience, and an oblation of current coin, at length procure us the privilege of attempting to force a way in. We happen to arrive at the fag end of a long life-and-death trial, which has lasted two days, and at the moment when the doom of the prisoner, which no man doubts, is already impending. There he stands in the dock a young man, almost a boy, in the morning of life, who has deliberately premeditated and in cold blood committed the foulest murder, for the mere mercenary profit of the bloody deed. You would think, as he gazes round the court with an air of apparent unconcern upon the dense mass of faces all turned towards him, that he imagined himself the subject of sympathy, or even of admiration, rather than of disgust and horror, so buoyant and self-confident is the expression of his face. But a closer scrutiny shows you that he is acting a part - that that nonchalant bearing is put on - that dismay is gathering at his heart - and that the moment is not far distant when all that futile and assumed bravado will suddenly collapse and disappear. Already, though his glance is still defiant, the muscles of his mouth are not under his control, but are seen to twitch and quiver convulsively ; his hand wanders mechanically among the twigs of rue, and, without his volition or consciousness, his fingers are rending then into fragments ; and the restlessness of his whole frame testifies to that of his perturbed spirit. He is a foreigner, and ignorant of our laws ; and to the last moment he buoys himself up with some latent hope, which perhaps may be the secret of his seeming audacity. At the -very last minute, when all other pleas have failed him, he claims exemption from capital punishment on the ground that he is a minor and cannot be executed. The judge calmly tells him that such a plea, however it might tell in his own country, is of no avail in an English court of justice ; and in that response the unhappy man appears for the first time to recognise the certainty of his fate. We need not dwell upon the scene ; the sentence is pronounced by the judge amidst a deathlike stillness, and the prisoner is withdrawn, disappearing from the world of men, to look upon it but once more at that last hour, in the presence of ten thousand witnesses.
    The disappearance of the doomed prisoner operates as a signal for the clearance of the gallery, and that proceeding, in this instance at least, is accompanied with very little ceremony. Everybody is thirsting for a breath of air, and the rush down stairs of the whole mass in a body, carries us along with it.
     In the New Court, trials of less importance - robberies, felonies, forgeries, and misdemeanors - are going on, and, lists of these being exhibited on placards in the hall, the crowds are gathering round them to see what else, in the shape of excitement, offers for their choice. The Criminal Court, as may be easily conceived, is a source of constant interest and attraction to a certain class of the population, and therefore the public, so far as they represent it, are never absent from the trials. As the court sits every month, these lovers of justice doing judgment are sometimes gratified with the spectacle of very summary work. Thus, it has been known that a criminal, who has committed an offence one day, has been apprehended the next day, committed the third day, and tried and sen tenced on the fourth day. Such examples of despatch of business are, of course, but rare :things; and we cannot help thinking that if they were the rule, instead of the exception; such despatch would tend greatly to the decrease of crime.
    Connected with the old Bailey trials are the Old Bailey dinners. These take place every day the court sits, and in.the room above that in which we have seen the murderer condemned to death. The dinners are given by the sheriffs to the judges and aldermen, the recorder, common sergeant, city pleaders, and a few visitors. Marrow puddings and rump steaks are invariably part of the fare. Two dinners, each a duplicate of the other, are served each day—one at three, the other at five o'clock. Thus, the judges can relieve each other, and there is no truth in the ghastly sarcasm which says that wretches are hanged in a hurry lest the dinner should grow cold. The cost of these daily dinners, which is something considerable, is defrayed by the sheriffs.

THE Bankruptcy Court is a large and handsome building in Basinghall Street. The court-rooms, of which there are five, are situated on the first floor, and are reached by flights of stairs ranged round a central quadrangle. The spectacles one meets with in this court are not of the most exhilarating kind. The place is a sort of purgatory, through which a number of unfortunate victims victims as often to their own folly and extravagance as to un foreseen calamities have to be hoisted, shoved, squeezed, ground, or propelled by some means or other, in order that they may be liberated from the bondage of debt, and left free to begin the world again. But for some such revivifying machinery as is here available to those who stand in need of it, multitudes of men of business, whose worst faults have been those of heedlessness and inexperience, would be consigned by failure to permanent and irretrievable ruin. On the other hand, there can be no question but that this court is often much and grossly abused, and that many a cunning knave has succeeded in making it the instrument of his own roguery. The most stringent application of the law will not prevent this, in the cases of men of abandoned character.
    On entering the court while business is pending, you are in the region of long faces, and glum, scowling looks. The only exceptions are the white wigged lawyers, who show a matter-of-fact, don't care style of face, and who, up to their eyes in documents of various sorts, take the business remarkably easy, as though impressed with the comfortable fact, that even though the estate may not pay sixpence in the pound for the creditors, it will at any rate pay them. Their coolness offers a contrast to that of the irritated opposing creditor, who is at this moment holding forth, and who cannot help exploding now and then. There, or the other side, stands the bankrupt, who has come up for his certificate if he can get it, and is trembling in his shoes for fear of being check-mated. The creditor, in his wrath, impugns the balance-sheet, declares the best part of it a hoax and half insinuates that the bankrupt has been making a purse. His uncourtly heat and vehennence only serve to damage his cause: the presiding commissioner does not see the force of his argument, or the truth of his charge, and mildly calls him to order. In the end the charge is found unsupported by evidence; what appeared suspicious on the part of the bankrupt is cleared up or explained away and finally, he is awarded a certificate of the first class, to the immense disgust of the hostile creditor, and to his own ardent rejoicing, and also, as at least it appears to us, to his surprise.
    In another room we find the bankrupt in a different predicament. He has been in a large way of business, employing hundreds of men under him, and having suddenly failed at a critical period when discounts were high, had avowedly consigned his affairs into the hands of his assignees for the benefit of a rather numerous list of creditors. The white washizhg process was going on swimmingly, with every prospect of a first-class certificate in quick time, when all at once a scrutinizing creditor makes the discovery that the bankrupt has omitted from his account some considerable amount of debts due to him in a neighbouring country, and has, since his last examination, been secretly collecting them for his private behoof. This fatal discovery bursts on the guilty man at the moment when his triumph is all but complete ; and you may see, by his perturbed and livid countenance, that the charge it involves is but too well founded, and that he has nothing to urge in his vindication. There will be no further talk of a certificate ; the falsifier will be sent back, and in all probability will be drained to the last farthing, and deserted by his last friend if he do not escape and seek refuge from the reproach of his fellows in the fate of an exile.
    The number of bankrupts whose cases come under consideration in this court is considerably over a thousand in the course of a year. A report of any number of such cases, it is to be feared, would furnish but a melancholy picture. It would be unfair, however, to form an estimate of the commercial morality of the country from evidence derived solely from such a source ; as well might a man fudge of the fruit of a garden from the unsound and worm-eaten blights which the summer-wind scatters from the boughs. Commerce is seen here inn the predicament of a patient under the surgeon's knife. The sound and healthy trader keeps aloof from this hospital of financial cripples, with whom, to say the truth, he is rarely much given to sympathize, though he has no objection to see them once more sound upon their legs. It is to effect this thorough restoration that the Bankruptcy Court exists - a discharge from this court being a discharge, not only as only to person, but as to future acquired property.
    The Insolvent Debtors Court, which, to a peculiar but not the most select class, is one of the pet lions of London, is situated in Portugal Street, close to Lincoln's Inn Fields. All sorts of jocular legends and sarcasms are current concerning this central spot—the barristers who plead here, the attorneys who crowd here, and the luckless tribe who are brought up for exhibition here, in pursuance of their own request, yet against their wills. The court itself, which is, for the debtor in the grasp of the law, what the Bankruptcy Court is for the defalcating trader, is said to be the refuge of destitute "swells." What we note on entering the court while business is doing, is a lack of every thing agreeing with one's ideas of the dignity and majesty of justice, and a general aspect of wear and tear, not to say shabbiness, about the denizens of the place, and also of the place itself. The court room is small and inconveniently crowded, and it is with difficulty that we are able to edge in side ways and take post against the wall.
    The object of general interest at the moment is a tall fellow, of middle age, in semi-rural garb, who, trickling with perspiration, and nearly dumb foundered with cross-questioning, bears on his face the expression of a wild animal at bay. He has claimed release from the debtor's prison, where he has been confined ; but he cannot account, or he will not account, for fifteen hundred pounds, of which he stood possessed nine months ago, and which, of course, his creditors are anxious to get sight of. He has had complicated doings with some small landed property down in the south ; he has bought and sold, mortgaged and redeemed, leased and released, borrowed and paid, and lent moneys, and has mingled together his transactions in such an inexplicable way, that neither he nor the lawyers can unravel the web. Then, there is, an aunt in the business, who is bedridden and unproduceable, and only speechable at rare intervals she is at the bottom of all the mystery, but she cannot throw any light upon it until she gets well, which won't be, according to appearances, until the nephew is safe out of prison, be that when it may. Meanwhile, the badgered debtor struggles in the, toils, and we, willing to escape from the spectacle of his shifts and doubles, and from the suffocation,. leave him to make the best he can of it.
     In another apartment is another species of entertainment. The performer here is a young would-be gentleman, brought up from Whitecross Street on his own petition. Unlike the countryman, he is cool and self-possessed as a judge ; he evidently con siders himself an injured individual, suffering from the prejudices of society. What has he done that he should be incarcerated and deprived of the sweets of liberty? He has only contracted some few thousands of debt, without the prospect of liquidation. It is true that, out of his fifteen creditors, nine of them are tailors ; but what of that? how can a gentleman about town do without his tailor? and why should he incur rebuke, because he chose to distribute his patronage? If he has not paid/ their bills, he has at least paid the penalty of' default, by the detention he has already undergone. Such, so far as we can make it out, is the gist and essence of the plea on his behalf; but, unfortunately for him, it does not seem to have much weight with the commissioner, and he, in the end, sides with the creditors, who are in no hurry to let him out of their clutches. The Insolvent Court would furnish us with pictures of deeper shade and fair fouler hue than these ; but neither we nor our readers would derive any pleasure from contemplating them. We drop the subject; with the reminder, that a discharge from this court is only a discharge as to person, and not as to future acquired property.

Samuel Scott, The 'American Diver'

The melancholy tale of Samuel Scott, the 'American Diver' (Times, January 1841), from which you will learn 1. how not to bungee jump. 2. how not to resuscitate your patient. (although, allegedly, the 'galvanic process'  - batteries! - could work ... see here for an American example worthy of Dr. Frankenstein).

Yesterday afternoon, shortly after 2 o'clock, great excitement pervaded the western portion of the metropolis by a rumour that Scott, "the American diver," who had of late become so notorious by his extraordinary feats, had met with his death during the performance of his customary evolutions prior to taking his dive from the summit of Waterloo-bridge into the Thames. It appears that in the morning a placard, of which the following is a copy, had been posted throughout the metropolis:-
     "Challenge to the world for 100 guineas! Monday next, Jan.11th, 1841, and during the week, Samuel Scott, the American Diver, will run from Godfrey's, White Lion, Drury-lane, to Waterloo-bridge, and leap into the water, 40 feet high from the bridge, and return back within the hour every day during the week, between 1 and 2 o'clock. S. Scott will be in attendance every day at the above house, open to any wager."
     This notice drew, long before the time appointed, thousands of persons to Waterloo-bridge, and at five minutes past 2 o'clock Scott, accompanied by several persons, arrived on the bridge. He was merely attired in a blue striped shirt and white canvass trowsers, and had on neither shoes nor stockings. On his arrival there could not have been less than from 8,000 to 10,000 persons assembled upon the bridge and along the banks of the river to witness his extraordinary performance. Immediately over the second arch on the Middlesex side and nearest to Somerset-house, was erected a species of scaffolding, composed for two upright poles, and three others crossing them at intervals of about four or five feet, the entire height of which above the balustrades being about 10 feet. Scott appeared as usual, firm and undaunted, and made several jocular remarks to those around him. Having ascended the scaffolding, he attached the rope he carried with him, which was about 10 feet long, to the uppermost cross pole, and after placing some tin boxes round the necks of several of his friends who were to collect money for him, proceeded to commence his performance, observing, "Why you all appear to be cranky."
    He first put his head into a noose of the rope, and suspended himself for a minute or two; after which he placed his feet in a similar position, and swung with his head downwards. He again mounted the top beam of the scaffold, and, taking a handkerchief off his head, placed it on the top of one of the perpendicular poles. He then seized the rope, and placing it round his neck, exclaimed at the top of his voice, "Now I'll show you once more how to dance upon air before I dive."
    The unfortunate man again let himself down to the extremity of the rope with his head in the noose, but had scarcely hung more than three or four minutes when a person named Brown observed that he much feared the man had hung himself in reality, as animation appeared suspended. To this one of Scott's friends replied, "Oh, he has not hung half his time yet." In two or three minutes after, however, shouts were heard in all directions of "Cut him down." Mr. Brown immediately ascended and raised the poor fellow's arm, which on being let go fell heavily back to its original position by his side. This gave convincing proof of the suspension of animation, and renewed cries were raised from all quarters of "Cut him down, cut him down." Some time elapsed before a knife could be procured, and then two persons ascended the ladder, and with the aid of some of the F division of police, succeeded in cutting the man down.
    Mr. Havers, surgeon of the York-road, and another medical gentleman who happened to be upon the spot, immediately stepped forward and opened the jugular vein, and also a vein in the arm, but only a few drops of blood followed; and to all appearances Scott was lifeless. A cart was then procured, in which he was conveyed with all possible speed, followed by hundreds of persons, to Charing-cross Hospital. On his admission, it was ascertained by Dr. Golding, the senior physician of the institution, that life was not quite extinct. Under that gentleman's direction, the unfortunate man was, in the first place, subject to the galvanic process; secondly, cupped between the shoulders; and then, lastly, placed into a warm bath, in which he had been but a few seconds when it was ascertained that the vital spark had fled.
    Scott was a remarkably fine young man, about 30 years of age, and, although he called himself an American, was supposed to be a native of Deptford, where, he, together with his wife, was residing. She was not, as was her usual custom, with him on the present occasion; but information, however, of the melancholy affair was immediately despatched to her on its result becoming known.
    The cause of the occurrence is not to be attributed, as it was generally rumoured, to the unfortunate man having indulged in drinking prior to his undertaking his perilous exhibition, but to the mere accidental circumstances of the knot in the noose having slipped from under his chin in such a manner as to produce suffocation. It will be remembered, that a similar accident occurred to the celebrated Blackmore, and which almost terminated fatally, a few years since, whilst performing his evolutions at Vauxhall-gardens.
    The body awaits a coroner's inquest.

Monday 27 September 2010

Incendiary Mice

It's rodent day, apparently, on the Cat's Meat Shop, courtesy of the Leisure Hour from 1860.

Did you know that mid-Victorian mice, like their modern counterparts with a fondness for electric cables, were a fire hazard? (can anyone forget the classic BBC headline - sometimes I really admire their copywriters - Mice Suspected in Deadly Cat Fire?)

But surely they did not manage to nibble through gas-pipes? No, it's marginally more plausible, but only just ..

Mice . . . are usually considered as being merely mischievous nuisances, whose sole descrtructive propensities are directed against candle-ends, cheese, and corn, nibbling through skirting-board, cupboards and boxes, and other trivial predations. We shall find, however, by a further investigation of facts, that mice, powerless as they may seem to be of producing evil on a large scale, may nevertheless cause a large and destructive loss of property, and even of life. . . . .
    A fire is discovered: how did it originate? What the green fat of the turtle is to the alderman . . . such is phosphorus to the mouse - a decided luxury, an epicurean morceau. Advantage of this well-known partiality is taken by the commonly used vermin poison, now extensivelyy sold under the name of "vermin-destroying paste," the basis and active principle of which is phosphorus. This is self-evident from its smell, its being luminous in the dark, the manner in which it burns, and the phosphoric acid produced by its combustion. A thin layer of this, spread upon bread-and-butter, and put in the neighbourhood of its holes, will lure the unsuspecting mouse from his ordinary cheese or candle diet to the poisoned and invariably fatal bait. We have watched its effects: at first it appears to act as a narcotic, or stupifying agent; the mouse walks and stumbles about, unheeding the presence of man; it seems intoxicated. Death, however, soon follows; and upon examining their bodies a few minutes afterwards, evidence of extensive inflammation of the bowels is to be found. . . .     
    Some few years ago, a fire originated in a cupboard, very mysteriously. Satisfactory and conclusive evidence was given at the time, that no lighted candle or fire had been in the room for months. The shelves of the cupboard, the floor, and the ceiling of the room underneath were burnt, when, fortunately discovery took place, and the ravages of the flames were stopped. . . . . All that was found were the remains of a lucifer match-box, and the ends of a few burnt matches. Evidence of the existence of numbers of mice was apparent, from the great quantity of the droppings of these little animals.
    It is hardly necessary to state that the power of ready ignition possessed by lucifers is derived, amongst other things, principally from phosphorus. In all probability, the mice endeavoured to get at the contents of thge box, attracted by the smell of the phosphorus; the friction caused by their continued nibbling was sufficient to ignite the matches; the box, the shelf, the floor would follow; and hence the catastrophe.
    This explanation appears to us to be more credible than that of wilful incendiarism, or spontaneous combustion ...

The phenomenon of spontaneous combustion solved, perhaps? Crime writers fond of the locked-room mystery, take note.

How to Keep Pet Squirrels

Yes, you get it all here, my friends. On attempting to digitise an article on the notorious Seven Dials slum, and its menageries, I find it actually contains a (penny-a-word?) digression on keeping squirrels as pets. It seems an ill-advised idea to me, but ....

Squirrels there are, by dozens too: I wonder people don't make pets of squirrels more frequently. To be successful with these little animals, and tame them completely, they should be procured very young directly from the nest, when possible. Once, when a boy, I had a squirrel so very tame that it would run after me and caper about me, never more happy than when on my shoulder. In cold weather it would like to creep between my boot and the trouser, and there go to sleep. A felonious cat killed my pet at last. Here, indeed, lies one difficulty. With uncaged squirrels they fall a prey to cats. I have had many squirrel pets since, but never one quite so tame; and when they bite, they do it with a purpose. Their teeth, like those of other rodent or gnawing animals, are chisel-like. Through the thickest leather they go with a clean cut, so that gloves are no protection. Nay, it is surprising to see how easily a squirrel can bite through a thick plank of wood, or even a thin piece of metal, if only it can get a small edge into its mouth to begin upon. That is an indispensable condition ; a squirrel cannot gnaw on a perfectly flat surface: hence the philosophy of binding the edges of a squirrel-cage with metal.
    I once had two squirrels, Dick and Peter by name. They had a round-about cage, into which they might go for their amusement when they pleased, but in which they were never confined. On the contrary, they used to run about my bed-room, just wherever they pleased; so what I am going to relate must have been done for sheer amusement. One morning, waking from my night's rest, I heard a strange grating noise, like that of a rat working on timber. Directing my eyes to the cage of Dick and Peter, I saw the table on which it rested covered with small wood chips, and a hole established in the wooden side of the cage, through which the two squirrels were briskly skipping. Having found out a rough surface on the timber, convenient to begin working upon, they had improved on the occasion, and perforated a hole. Here I may remark, that to be gnawing away hard substances is occasionally more than amusement or mischief either to a rodent animal. Unlike the teeth of you or me, their teeth are continually growing, and if not proportionately worn away by contact with hard bodies, the consequences would be injurious to the animal, perhaps fatal. In the anatomical museum of the Royal College of Surgeons there is a curious specimen, illustrative of what I write. The skull of a rodent animal is seen, in which, owing to the loss of an upper tooth, the corresponding lower tooth has grown, out of all proportion, long, having turned circularly over the animal's upper lip, and (if I truly remember) even begun to perforate the skull. Moral. Let your pet squirrels crack their own nuts, my young squirrel fanciers, and don't, out of any presumed kindness, offer them the kernels. Nut-cracking does them good : their teeth would grow too long else. Give them a fig or a date now and then; they like that sort of food ; but what is strange, they don't like any of the out-of-the-way sort of kernels, such as those of Brazil nuts, almonds, and so forth. Tea leaves they have a great partiality to. My poor Dick was clever enough to lift up the lid of a tea-pot with his paws, and help himself.

Sunday 26 September 2010

The South Kensington Museum

Another Leisure Hour article, this time on the new museum at South Kensington in 1859, now the V&A. Check out the picture below, to see how it's changed (it was, of course, entirely rebuilt in the late 1890s). The principal building, known without affection, as the 'Brompton Boilers', is clearly visible on the right ('B') - this whole structure was reconstructed as the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green (click here for the whole story).


A: Entrance; B: Museum; C,D,E, Galleries for the Sheepshanks, Vernon and Turner Pictures; F,G: Schools of Art; H,J,L: Central Hall, Library, Offices and Stores; K: Lecture Theatre; M: Entrance to Museum for Patents; P: Museum for Patents; R: Refreshment Rooms
GREEN lanes! green lanes! how I regret to see you improved into fine streets, with big mansions all up and down. It must be, I suppose. The woodman's axe, little heeding my rural tastes, will sharply fall on the trunk of many a tall elm-tree, endeared to my memory by old association. London expands, and must still go on expanding. It is its fate and fortune so to do; and if former residence, with its train of old associations, has endeared to me the umbrageous network of paths leading from Brompton to Kensington in times that were, my perhaps too selfish self must not repine and grumble at the destruction of their sylvan beauty, wrought out for the public good. Old Brompton may be said, to exist no .more. It is New Kensington now. Big mansions stud the way where once grew tall elm-trees. Cabby points his knowing finger, and wags his saucy tongue, on the very spot where I remember well to have gone collecting wildsflowers in times that were; and a certain pretty villa, with its velvet lawns and gay flower-beds, that I well remember in the year 1842 coveting for my own, is now swept away, demolished to make room for an edifice - fantastic somewhat, but pretty in the main - to wit, the South Kensington Museum.
    It is, in the widest sense, an educational establishment, and no person who goes through it with moderate attention will go through it in vain. Should you wish to learn what to eat, drink, and avoid, pay a visit to the South Kensington Museum. Should you desire to know the philosophy of china or crockery, from Samian vases or Etrurian coffins, down to Wedgwood, Parian, and encaustic tiles, a ramble through the museum will bring you au courant. Venetian mirrors may be your weakness, perheaps, or the tapestry of Gobelins; or, haply, antique Flemish wood carvings may be what your heart desires to linger upon. Well, there they are all—there, in the- museum. The two Siamese kings awhile ago presented to her Majesty the Queen certain curious articles of luxury—a state-chair to sit upon, a golden canopy to loll under, and vestments of peculiar golden tissue, only made in Siam. Would you like to see them? Ay. Then go to the museum; for there they are, properly laid out, and labelled to please and instruct the visitor. Multifarious the contributions are — an omnium gatherum, reminding one of the cabinet of the virtuoso. I bethink myself of the cabinet of curiosities described by. the poet Burns as appertaining to Captain Grose, of antiquarian renown, and fancy this must be like it. Even in the matter of house adornments, such as buhl and marqueterie, glass, ornamented . metals, porcelain, carpets, and so forth, a long succession of pretty things meets the eye of the visitor. A lady might linger over them lovingly for hours, and sometimes, I fear, she would depart with notions of the elegant in art manufacture, sorely trying to her powers of endurance under temptation to the cash in her purse. A visitor, in short, to the South Kensington Museum may come away all the better for the visit having enlightened his understanding on a vast number of useful matters. But before asking you, my reader, to accompany me in an ideal ramble through the rooms and galleries, I must crave your patience while I describe very briefly the history and the purpose of the museum—very important matters to be clearly understood.
    The origin of the institution can be set forth in few words. The close of the Great Exhibition in 1851 was attended with the pleasing result of surplus cash in the money-box. The question then arose, what was to become of it? Some advocated one thing, some another. There were many differences of opinion, as, indeed, usually happens when money has to be disposed of. Eventually the South Kensington Museum sprang out of that money, and sure I am no reasonable person will grieve at the result. The ground, at least, was bought with the money in the hands of the Commissioners, and a good investment the purchase has been. It is a noble estate, with soil, site, and aspect all that could be desired, and, from the proximity to Kensington Gardens, safe from being surrounded by buildings. The present structures and arrangements can only be regarded as provisional and temporary, until suitable permanent edifices can be erected. By successive additions to the buildings that were on the estate when bought, the structure has gradually assumed its present form and dimensions. The old brick houses, formerly tenanted by Judge Gresswell and Lord Talbot,. supplied the nucleus of the group of buildings now occupying the south-east corner of the estate, and known as "The South Kensington Museum." Now offices were erected by the Board of Works ; the wooden sheds used by the pupils of the Schools of Design were moved from Marlborough House; a commodious, if not elegant, iron structure was raised by the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1851; and brick galleries have been since constructed for the reception of Mr. Sheepshanks' munificent gift of pictures and drawings. More recently, extensive new galleries have been added for the pictures from the Vernon and Turner collections. There have also been erected refreshment rooms, storehouses, and various other structures, all of a temporary and economical kind, yet, in the internal fittings and arrangements, admirably adapted for every object in view. What if the buildings are not very symmetrical, and the business transacted in them of a miscellaneous character the museum is in this respect a true off- shoot of the British constitution itself, in its gradual and irregular growth, but its sure and practical usefulness.
    The nominal suzerain of the establishment is the President of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education. The business of that important committee is twofold, the primary division having reference to government aid of the education of the poor, and the secondary division is represented by the "Science and Art Department," the object of which is to diffuse among all classes of the community those principles of science and art which are calculated to advance the industrial interests of the country. At the South Kensington Museum this science and art department has its head-quarters, with corresponding schools of art in the provinces. The central training institute for artists, with its schools, lectures, models, and library, is here located, and good work it is now doing, the influence of which is felt throughout the kingdom, both by diffusing knowledge of art, and by encouraging rising talent pupils being sent up from provincial schools as the reward of merit and industry, as tested by competitive examination.
    Under the shelter of this Science and Art Departrnent, sundry other institutions have found a temporary home. The Commissioners of Patents have transferred their collection of models and drawings to South Kensington, and a part of the museum has been assigned for their exhibition. The Architectural Museum, formerly in Cannon Row, has been removed to this place. The Institute of British Sculptors have contributed their collection, and other societies, as well as liberal individuals, have helped to enrich the museum. We hope yet to see a range of buildings worthy of the nation, erected on the South Kensington estate, rich in objects for exhibition, and furnished with every appliance for popular instruction. Although the annual display of paintings by the Royal Academy, or the exhibition of a National Gallery of pictures by old masters, may be elsewhere, it is here that there ought to be the People's Palace of Art, with its galleries, collections, schools, libraries, and all accompanying. arrangements.
     Already, even in the infancy of the museum, its popularity and usefulness are apparent. There are upwards of forty thousand visitors monthly on the free days of admission, and on the students' days a goodly number are also in attendance. The museum has not yet been open two years, and, when it is better known, it will be one of the most favourite places of resort. One thing will be admitted by every visitor, that there is no public institution in the kingdom where the convenience and comfort, as well as the amusement and instruction of the people, are more efficiently provided for. The directors and officials of all the departments are zealous and attentive, and the civilian staff is ably reinforced by a detachment of the Royal Engineers, whose useful services at the Exhibition of 1851 will be always remembered with satisfaction.
      Next week we shall commence our ramble through the Museum.