Tuesday 20 December 2011

Dreadful Accident


Yesterday morning a person accidentally dropped his watch into the water-closet of the King and Queen public-house, Duke-street, Manchester-square, on which he offered 10s. to any one who would go down after it. A man named James Watkins, a nightman, embraced the offer, and went down, but remaining a longer time than was necessary, another man nammed Challice went down after him, when he continued there the same way; and on calling, no answer being received from their of them, a man named Turner consented to go down to ascertain the cause. A rope was accordingly tied round his body, and he was let down half way, when he called out to pull him up; they did so, and he was in a state of insensibility, and all but dead, and he now remains in a very dangerous condition. The boards were torn up, and the bodies of the other two were taken out quite dead and congealed blood coming from their noses. Mr. DAVIES, Surgeon, of 198, Oxford-street, attended and it appeared that the strong vapour caused by the closeness of the place caused their instant death on being let down. A Coroner's Inquest was held on the bodies. Verdict: "Died by Suffocation"

Morning Post, 14 July 1820

Friday 16 December 2011

As Cold as a Frog

Wednesday, 2 January. Since midnight, snow had silently fallen, to the depth of 6 to 8 inches; by breakfast time it was all over except a slight flaky dropping, & the day was calm & very cold. Nothing could be more beautiful; no change more complete & charming. The trees around the fountain near Garden Court were loaded with snow: an exquisite tracery of white branches, relieved against the dark red housefronts. But in the streets the transformation was greatest. All traffic, except afoot, was stopped; no cabs, no omnibuses, no waggons. The snow lay in heaps in the road; men were scraping & shovelling the footways; & people in thick coats & wrappers stepped noiselessly along. The Strand was as quiet and empty as a village street at nightfall; even the footpassengers were far fewer than usual. Here in the heart of London, & at midday, there was absolute cleanliness & brightness, absolute silence: instead of the roar & rush of wheels, the selfish hurry, the dirt & the cloudy fog, we had the loveliness & utter purity of new- fallen snow. It fell without force or sound; & all things huge & hasty & noisy were paralyzed in a moment. I walked along enjoying the wondrous lovely scene, the long perspective of houses, all grown picturesque & antique; their gable roofs white against a clear sky, & every salient cornice & lintel in their outline picked out in brilliant white; and beneath them, the tumbled & tenantless pavement of snow. It was like the quaint still London of old; one might have been arm in arm with Mr. Pepys, or even Mr. W. Shakespeare. And this state of things lasted all day. There were many crossing sweepers about: I noticed one near S. Clement Danes, a girl of 17 or so, in ragged but warm shawl, & a bit of an old bonnet, whose dark rough hair was covered with snow, & hung in a tangled white mass, like the foam of a waterfall, over her brown bonny face, as she stood with her broom under her arm, stamping & blowing her fingers.

Friday, 4 January. The cold out of doors at ten this forenoon was more intense, to my apprehension, than I ever remember. My beard froze, the nape of the neck, & the heart, seemed paralyzed, headache came on, & at the end of the short walk from here to Whitehall I was almost helpless. At 4, I walked westward, thinking to call on the Thackerays. The Horseguards Parade & the Mall were one sheet of snow, with paths trodden but not swept: a thick brown fog brooded over it, deepening the twilight; muffled spectral figures hurried to & fro across the slippery ground. . . . In Victoria Street a girl begged of me: a ragged tall lusty girl of 19, by name Caroline Randall, by trade an ironer; who has no home; who slept last night on a step in a sheltered corner, & felt 'as cold as a frog', she said.

Arthur Munby, Diary, 2 & 4 January 1867

Wednesday 14 December 2011

From the Diary of Jacob Jones

Sunday, 15th December

   A black day.
   A little before noon, a nervous-looking boy, no more than fourteen years of age, called at the house. He informed me that he had ‘come directly from Mr. Willis’. I suddenly had a  presentiment that Mama Willis had unexpectedly died during the night – that she had been ill. And if Papa Willis lay prostrate with grief –
   I was wrong. It was news of a tragedy – the boy put in a cab and instructed to travel to sundry friends and relations with the dreadful information – but it came from another quarter entirely.
   Dear me! It is an evil thing to write it, but I suppose I must.
   Prince Albert has passed away.
   What news! Of course, the man was but flesh and blood; and we had heard all the reports concerning his health. Nonetheless, I felt a sense of profound amazement and great sorrow. A bulwark of our great Nation lost to us forever.
   I gave the boy a penny for his trouble and spent the afternoon in solitary reflection. D. suggested we close the shutters; I concurred.
   We went to evensong – though it is not our custom – and found the little church quite full. It would be uncharitable to suggest that the ladies wished to display their best black silk; but there was a good deal of that material in evidence. Dora, too, most fetching in her moirée.
   Dull service, awful choir. A dreadful intake of breath, from all present, when the customary prayers were said for the Queen and her family, and his name left absent.
   It is a salutary lesson that we all live on quicksand; nothing is sound or certain.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Girls and Boys and Work

This feels illuminating: some 1851 census data quoted from 'A brief statistical sketch of the child labour market in mid-nineteenth-century London' (Continuity and Change 20 (2), 2005, 229–245) which shows the use of child labour (10-14 year olds) in London in 1851, for boys and girls. The first figure is the total in the 1851 census, the smaller figure is the percentage of children in that occupation, as opposed to adults (eg. 5.3% of female servants were aged 10-14). It reminds me again how many boys were 'messengers' of one kind or another in Victorian London, a major source of employment.


Domestic servant (General) 6424 5.3
Milliner 1021 2.3
Domestic servant (Nurse) 666 8.6
Seamstress 564 2.7
Artificial-flower-maker 501 18.4
Silk manufacture 420 5.1
Shoemaker 344 4.8
Tailor 260 3.1
Brush, broom-amker 230 19.1
Others engaged about publications 222 7.8
Washerwoman 203 0.6
Domestic servant (Inn servant) 157 2.8
Other paper workers 145 11.8
Domestic servant (Housemaid) 138 1.1
Other workers, dealers in silk 117 8.2
Cap-maker 107 8.4
Others providing dress 107 4.3
Others dealing in wood furniture 76 7.8
Embroiderer 76 5.4
Employed about messages 75 28.6


Messenger, porter, not govt. 10472 31.7
Domestic Servant, General 958 4.7
Shoemaker 932 3.0
Labourer 833 1.7
Printer 498 4.8
Commercial clerk 477 2.9
Butcher 414 4.3
Tailor 403 1.8
Silk Manufacture 340 4.5
Carpenter, Joiner 270 1.2
Domestic servant (Inn servant) 266 3.3
Paper-stainer 248 17.2
Baker 240 2.1
Others dealing in drinks, stimulants 238 5.0
Plasterer 231 5.3
Law Clerk 229 4.0
Painter, plumber, glazier 200 1.3
Draper 194 2.6
Ropemaker 168 11.4
Grocer 163 2.1

Sunday 11 December 2011

Christmas For Sale

In anticipation of the liberal expenditure of ready cash - the most interesting consideration of the season to a London trader - and which expenditure every shopkeeper is dutifully anxious to engross as far as possible to himseld; a thousand different persuasive devices are already placarded and profusely exhibited. "Christmas presents" forms a monster line in the posters on the walls and in the shop-windows. Infantine appeals in gigantic type cover the hoardings. "Do, Papa, Buy Me" so-and-so; so-and-so being blotted out in a few hours by "The New Patent Wig," so that the appeal remains a perplexing puzzle to affectionate parents, till both are in turn blotted out by a third poster, announcing the sacrifice of 120,000 gipsy cloaks and winter mantles at less than half the cost-price. Cheap Christmas books are a part of every bookseller's display; Christmas fashions fill the drapers' windows, and stand on full-dressed poles in the doorways. There are Christmas lamps, lustres, and candelabra; Christmas diamonds made of paste, and Brumagem jewellery for glittering show, as well as Christmas furniture for parties and routs, to be hired for the season-carving, gilding, hangings, beds; everything which, being wanted but once a year, it may be cheaper to hire than to purchase or to keep on hand.
    The slopsellers especially are in a state of prodigious activity, taking time by the forelock, and pushing their unwieldly advertising vans out in every direction, freighted with puffs of their appropriate Christmas garb - Hebrew harness for a Christian festival. These are a few of the broad palms thus early stretched forth to catch a share of the golden shower about to fall.
    But these and such as these are very minor and subordinate preparations. Eating and drinking, after all, are the chief and paramount obligations of the Christmas season. As the month grows older, the great gastronomic anniversary is heralded at every turn by signs more abundant and less equivocal. Among the dealers in eatables, one and all of whom are now putting in their sickles for the harvest, the grocer, who is independent of the weather, leads off the dance. Long before the holly and the mistletoe have come to town, he has received his stock of Christmas fruit, on the sale of which, it may be, the profit or loss of the whole year's trading is depending. For months past, he has been occupied at every leisure hour in breaking to pieces the rocky mass of conglomerate gravel, dirt, sticks, and fruit which, under the designation of currants, came to him from the docks; and it is not before lie has got rid of near half the gross weight, that the indispensable currants are fit to meet the eye of the public. This is one of the nuisances of his trade, and forms a ceremony which, as every housekeeper knows well enough, is but indifferently performed after all. The currants, tolerably cleaned and professionally moistened, occupy a conspicuous place in his window, along with the various sorts of raisins- Sultanas, Muscatels, and Valencias - dates, prunes, and preserves in pots, and candied lemons and spices, built up in the most attractive and gaudy piles and pyramids, edged round with boxes of foreign confections, adorned with admirable specimens of the lithographic art, and all ticketed in clean new figures at astonishingly low prices. The gin-shops, or, to speak more politely, the wine-vaults, now begin to brush up. They wash and varnish over their soiled paint, cleanse the out-sides and decorate the insides of their faded saloons; and concocting new combinations of fire-water, prepare for thirsty poverty new incentives to oblivious intemperance. Every third-rate inn and back-street public-house is the centre and focus of a goose-club, the announcement of which stares you in the face twenty times in the course of a day's walk. They owe their existence to the improvidence and want of economy of the labouring and lowest classes. A small weekly sum subscribed for thirteen weeks, entitles each subscriber to a goose; and by increasing his weekly dole, he may insure, besides the goose, a couple of bottles of spirits. The distribution of geese and gin takes place on Christmas-eve; and in large working establishments, where the goose-club is a favourite institution, and where, for the most part, the innkeeper is not allowed to meddle, the choice of the birds is decided by the throw of the dice, the thrower of the highest cast having the first choice. We will drop in at the hour of distribution, and witness the consummation of one of these affairs.
    But time rolls on, and the great cattle-show in Baker-street has come off. The pig of half a ton weight has held his last levee, and grunted a welcome to the lords and ladies of the aristocracy, and to hundreds of thousands of less distinguished visitors. The prize animals are all sold, and marched or carted off to their new owners. The periodical insanity of the butchers has been developed as strongly as ever. The love of fame glows beneath a blue apron as fiercely as beneath a diamond star; and determined to cut a respectable figure in the carnival which is approaching, Mr. Stickem does not hesitate to purchase a beast, which he knows well enough will hardly cut up for five-and-thirty pounds, at the cost of seventy. What of that? The bubble reputation outweighs the love of lucre, and if he is satisfied with his bargain, who shall complain? Happy is the butcher who has been enabled to purchase a prize-ox; he is not disposed to hide his candle under a bushel. If he have room in front of his shop, he will tether his dear bargain, during the short hours of daylight, to a post in front of his doorway-where, a good fat ox being a special favourite with the public, lie is patted and petted by them as they stop in groups to admire his vast proportions. The unwieldly beast, ornamented with ribbons and favours, gazes moodily around him, now plucks a mouthful of hay, and now utters a sonorous bellow - a lament for the pastures of his calf hood.
    Let us now transport ourselves to Covent-garden on the eve of Christmas-week. It is late on Friday night, and to-morrow is the last Saturday's market before Christmas-day. The market, which for the last two months has been redolent of the damp odour of the sere and yellow leaf, is now to blossom for a few short hours with renewed brilliancy. The bells of the city have not yet struck the hours of midnight, when from the various avenues which lead into Covent-garden, the sound of wheels is heard on all sides, and a continuous stream of carts and waggons pours into the open space, which, in less than an hour, is rendered impassable to any but adventurous foot passengers. At the first glance, the whole burden of the numberless wains appears one mass of evergreens; it looks as though Birnam Wood had actually come to Dunsinane. Immense quantities of holly and fir, with here and there a bough of laurel, show the demand of the Londoners for winter verdure. The mistletoe-bough, which has hung like an inverted goose-berry bush from the old apple-tree all the summer long, and a fine specimen of which is good at this nick of time for half-a- guinea, to say nothing of the kissing, which we don't presume to value, appears this year in quantities truly enormous, and, we should think, unprecedented. The market now presents a noisy and interesting spectacle. The bawling and roaring of drivers, the backing of wails to make room for privileged new-comers, the chaffering of dealers, who are not at all angry, passionate as they seem, the grappling feet of horses, and fifty minor sounds, perplex the ear, as much as the dim vision does the eye, of dark figures flitting rapidly about hither and thither, by the light of a hundred lanterns constantly dodging up and down, and the steady glare of the gas overhead. In the midst of all this apparent confusion, however, business is doing and done by wholesale. By three or four o'clock, a good half of the various wares, prickly as well as palatable, brought to market, are transferred to new proprietors, and are already off, most of them without breaking bulk, to different quarters of the town. Long before the dawn, the din has ceased altogether, and the cause of it has vanished. The traders of the market are mostly on the spot before four o'clock, and are now active in preparing the show of winter fruit, which is to adorn the tables of the wealthy in the coming festival. Before ten o'clock, the arcade is in trim for visitors and customers, and a tempting array of all that the depth of winter can produce is ranged in artistic order. There are apples of all hues and sizes, among which the brown russet, the golden bob, and the Ribston pippins, are pre-eminent. Among the pears are the huge winter-pear, the delicious Charmontel, and the bishop's-thumb. Then there are foreign and hot-house grapes, transparent and luscious; large English pine-apples, pomegranates, brown biffins from Norfolk, and baskets of soft medlars; Kent cob-nuts, filberts and foreign nuts of outlandish shapes, all gaily mingled and mixed up with flowers of all hues, natural and artificial, and both, and neither; bouquets of real grasses tinted to an unreal colour, immortelles that were never green, stained into evergreen; weeds and wayside flowers dried to death, and then dyed of various hues to live and blossom again, scented with delicious odours which nature never gave them; flowers cut from coloured paper, flowers modelled in wax, flowers of tinted cotton fabrics, flowers carved delicately from turnips and beet-root- all in bright and brilliant contrast with the dark-green holly and the sere and russet hue of the winter fruit. Notwithstanding this artificial attempt at colour, the show is, on the whole, much more suggestive to the palate than captivating to the eye. You cannot help noticing a prodigious number of sapling firs, some transplanted into pots, and trained, cropped, and clipped into regular shapes for Christmas-trees; most of these are sold naked as brought to market, but some few are loaded with fruit, oranges, lemons, and clustered grapes, and liberally adorned with imitative flowers and wreaths. The confectioners purchase these trees, and load the branches with choice delicacies under various disguises, and will present each member of a customer's family with an appropriate token of affectionate remembrance. This practice of plucking fruit from the Christmas tree, which is growing more and more prevalent in English families, is of German origin, and is said to owe its increasing popularity in England to the custom of the, royal family, whose Christmas-tree is pretty sure to be fully described in the fashionable journals.

Charles Manby Smith, Curiosities of London Life, 1853

Thursday 8 December 2011

Visiting Dickens' London

The much anticipated Dickens and London exhibition opens tomorrow, and I was lucky enough to have a sneak peak today - solo! - accompanied by Andrew Marcus from the Museum's publicity team, and Alex Werner, Head of History Collections, the exhibition's curator. My especial thanks to Alex - it was incredibly generous of him to spare me the time, the day before the big event. Cheers!

Here's my review ... with some comments on layout and design, multimedia, and that crucial element, the actual content; then some final thoughts.

Layout and Design

The layout of the exhibition is straightforward and easy to follow, themed into sections which relate to Dickens's life and his works. These include areas devoted to death, the Victorian worship of house and home, and Dickens enduring passion for the theatre (as a young man, he famously considered becoming an actor;  later in life, he would form his own highly regimented 'amateur' productions, both for pleasure and charitable purposes; and he spent his final years giving bravura 'readings' of dramatic scenes from his work to packed theatres and halls) . There are pieces of biography and Dickens's personal memorabilia scattered throughout, but the exhibition is more about showing the London which Dickens knew, through objects, printed material, art and video.



There are three video elements, none of which I had time to see at any length, but looked good:

1. giant projector screens at the entrance, showing 'dissolving views' (to use a Victorianism) of nineteenth century London photographs - ragged street sellers, London Bridge in rush hour &c.

2. an animation, using Buss's famous 'Dickens's Dream' as its source and inspiration

Dickens's Dream, by Robert William Buss, 1875
3. A film, The Houseless Shadow, tracing the paths of Dickens's famous Night Walks  essay, taking us through modern London in his footsteps.


The contents of the exhibition are simply fabulous, to be honest. I particularly enjoyed the larger objects taken from the museum's collections. For example, various London street signs taken from coaching inns and the like. These decorative '3D' signs were peculiar antiquarian oddities in Dickens's time, but you will find them frequently referenced in his works. You can still see some in the wild, too, albeit reproductions: the goldbeater's arm  referenced in A Tale of Two Cities, whose replica can  be spotted on Manette Street in Soho (I believe the original is in the Dickens Museum); or the signs of Lombard Street, (re)erected for the coronation of George V in 1910 (see this grasshopper, for instance).

An original sign at the exhibition, from the Bull and Mouth Coaching Inn, St. Martin's-le-Grand.
More gloomily, how about a door from Newgate Gaol?

A cell-door from Newgate.

Or this watchman's box from Furnival's Inn where Dickens had rooms in the 1830s?

A watchman's box - of the sort which 18th and 19th C. rakes loved to topple over.
You can also see two of Dickens's writing desks (one from Gad's Hill, and one - I think - from Doughty Street, although I may have got that wrong); several pages of original manuscript, replete with crossings-out and additions - in particular, the magnficent first page of Bleak House, with its unforgettable description of the London fog and dinosaurs on Holborn Hill.

The choice of artwork has great range and depth - from the grand but familiar Applicants for Admission to a casual ward, by Luke Fildes to the weird garish colours and distorted faces of Arthur Boyd Houghton's Itinerant Singers (try zooming on the image below, for a scare), as well as some rare London scenes relating to Dickens's life and work ...

Itinerant Singers, by Arthur Boyd Houghton
Hungerford Stairs, by John Harley, 1830, the site of the infamous blacking factory
in which the young author had to labour; now the site of Embankment Station.

A rare view of Buckingham Street, by John Niemann, 1854, where Dickens lived briefly in 1834. David Copperfield lived here too. Note the York Water Gate in the background, still visible today.
What else? Well, let's think - copies of the novels in the original part-work format in which they appeared - a great idea, given this was how most readers first consumed Dickens's works. You may also notice a lovely - original - penny theatre depicting The Miller and His Men, the childhood story beloved by the great author. Copies of the playbills for rip-offs of Dickens's works (often performed before the ending of the book was published); cartes de visites of his friends and colleagues, and his mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan ... it's a long list, I promise you.

Final Thoughts

Was there anything that let the exhibition down? Well, I'm not sure about the giant video screens ... they seemed a bit wasted on showing blown up photos; and I wondered if more could be done. I'm not sure I saw everything that will appear on them, but I yearned to see Dickens represented in modern film or theatre - for instance, the 1920s silent version of Oliver Twist (which is marvellous) or the early eighties RSC Nicholas Nickleby. On the other hand, I'll lay odds you will be able to catch those at the BFI or similar at some point. Equally, on the tour, Alex mentioned how a copy of one of Dickens's books, pirated into Russian, was found on a dead Russian soldier at Sebastopol in 1857 - and I wondered if we'd see anything about Dickens translated into other languages, in other cultures. This is, however, the purest nit-picking on my part; and - looking at the catalogue, having come home - I find there were two dozen fascinating things that totally escaped me on today's whirlwind tour. In short, I must go back; and I would heartily recommend you make the effort to pay this exhibition a visit - it's a brilliant, intriguing display of industry, ingenuity and affection on the part of the museum and its staff.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Poor Married Man

A very instructive popular music-hall ditty, c. 1870 (although it probably goes back further than that)  for those planning to get married (found in full in A Book of Scattered Leaves by James G. Hepburn, on Google Books).

Poor Married Man

Oh, what sorrow a poor man's life is.
     Poor married man,
It full of trouble grief and strife is,
     Poor married man.
Soon as he's wed things sure to frown will.
Trades sure to go in country and town ill.
It's all up and down, down, down hill,
     Poor married man.

He goes to church brisk as a vulter.
     Poor married man.
With a "H" they ought to spell that Altar.
     Poor married man,
When wed the fair have fairly trick'd him,
Even the beadle grins to see how they nick'd him,
Cries there goes another Hymen's victim,
     Poor married man.

When single, he thought the parlour a slap room;
      Poor married man,
When married he smokes a short pipe in a tap room.
     Poor married man,
When he goes home, they're sure to bore him.
Tease and snarl, nag and jaw him,
And his eldest boy is good to floor him.
     Poor married man.

Visions of the workhouse landlord and broker.
     Poor married man.

Haunt his mind till he is nearly a croker,
     Poor married man,
Three children down with the scarlatina,
The measles seizes poor Georgina.
And a black man steps it with Angelina.
     Poor married man.

Soon after marriage he's sure to be hard up,
     Poor married man,
He begins to accumulate his uncle's cards up.
     Poor married man,
The feathers go pound by pound till the last one.
A brown sugar basin instead of a glass one,
The wedding ring gives place to a brass one,
     Poor married man.

Trousers wet and cradle rocking,
     Poor married man,
Buttonless shirt and feetless stockings,
    Poor married man,
He has no shirt, especially on one day,
When he lays at home without it on Sunday,
While the old gal rubs it out for Monday,
     Poor married man.

He lives on sodgers, rashers. faggots,
     Poor married man.
When in luck, block ornaments and chances the maggots,
     Poor married man,
Dreams of blow outs, kitchen clearings.
Fancies he's Lord Mayor, when eating tongue parings,
And longs for the time of cheap fresh herrings,
     Poor married man.

Last scene that ends the poor man's history,
     Poor married man,
He dies, how he liv'd had been a mystery,
     Poor married man,
Grim death comes kindly to relieve him,
Friends so poor, no time to grieve him,
And a parish egg chest perhaps may receive him,
     Poor married man.

Monday 5 December 2011


SINGULAR MODE OF LIFE.—In a recent assault case brought before the Clerkenwell Police-court, a most extraordinary character appeared as a witness. This individual, whose name is Smith, is notorious about the purlieus of Field-lane and Saffron-hill as "The Jumper." The man is by profession a thorough subterranean rat-catcher, for tlae supply of those who keep sporting dogs. One half of Jumper's life is spent in quest of prey from the whole range of the sewerage of London. Furnished with a bull's-eye lanthorn, a good-sized folding trap, and a short rake, he enters the main sewer at the foot of Blackfriars Bridge, and pursues his dangerous avocation, waist deep in mud and filth of every description. The sewers literally swarm with rats, which he catches by hand, and places them in his cage as easy as if they were young kittens. His under-ground journeys extend for miles. He has been under Newgate, and along Cheapside to the Mansion House. He has traversed from Holborn to Islington, closely inspecting all the divergent passages or fragrant tributaries that fall into the "Cloacina maxima" of the mighty metropolis. In fact he would make an excellent chairman for the Board of Commissioners in Greek-street, under whose premises he has rambled in his pursuit of game. On one occasion an obstruction occurred to a drain at the foot of Holborn-hill, and "Jumper" being known in the neighbourhood, was applied to. Terms were speedily agreed upon; Jumper started off to the foot of Blackfriars Bridge, and in half an hour his voice was heard down the gully-hole; he speedily cleared away the obstruction, and received his reward, thus saving the expense of breaking up the roadway. It is not, however, to the rats alone that Jumper pays his attention: he frequently falls in with a rich prize, particularly in the City sewers. On one occasion he found a silk purse, containing gold and silver; on another a gold watch and seals, numbers of silver spoons, rings, and other articles of value. A few months since Jumper took on a pupil for the profession a person named Harris, one bred up to the horse-slaughtering business - but after a month's trial he gave it up, observing that he could stand a tidy bit, but he could'nt stand "that are," and so Jumper remains the "monarch of all he surveys." His right, however, has been disputed by one Lord Mayor, who threatened him with imprisonment on the ground of trespassing; Jumper, however, still pursues his fragrant calling. He has been three times attacked with typhus fever, but rapidly recovered on each occasion.—"Jumper" may be seen on Sundays, well dressed, and generally with a watch in his pocket, and, in short, he would make a very worthy and practical "commissioner of sewers." It may be added, that the rats bring him in from one shilling to eighteen-pence a dozen, and so conversant is he with their haunts or burrows, that he requires but a couple of hours' notice to produce any given quantity from a dozen to a hundred. Strange to say, this most extraordinary character is at present in good health, and follows his vocation with the greatest assiduity.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Packet, and General Advertiser, October 3 1851

Sunday 4 December 2011

To the Editur of the Times Paper

This appeared in the Times of July 5 1849 - is it real? The names attached suggest so - if so, then it's a rare instance of the voices of the poor entirely in their own, carefully considered, but mispelt, words. On the other hand, well - decide for yourself:-


Sur, May we beg and beseech your proteckshion and power, We are Sur, as it may be, livin in a Willderniss, so far as the rest of London knows anything of us, or as the rich and great people care about. We live in much and filthe. We aint go no privix, no dust bins, no drains, no water-splies, and no drain or suer in the hole place. The Suer Company, in Greek St., Soho Square, all great, rich and powerfool men, take no notice watsomedever of our cumplaints. The Stenche of a Gully-hole is disgustin. We all of us suffur, and numbers are ill, and if the Colera comes Lord help us.
    Some gentlemans comed yesterday, and we thought they was comishoners from the Suer Company, but they was complaining of the noosance and stenchs our lanes and corts was to them in New Oxforde Street. they was much surprized to see the seller in No.12, Carrier St., in our lane, where a child was dyin from fever, and would not beleave that Sixty persons sleep in it every night. This here seller you couldent swing a cat in, and the rent is five shilling a week; but theare are greate many sich deare sellars. Sur, we hope you will let us have our cumplaints put into your influenshall paper, and make these landlords of our houses and these comishoners (the friends we spose of the landlords) make our houses decent for Christions to live in.
    Preaye Sir, com and see us, for we are livin like piggs, and it aint faire we shoulde be so ill treted.
    We are your respeckfull servents in Church Lane, Carrier St., and the other corts.
    Tuesday Juley 3, 1849
    John Scott; Emen Scott; Joseph Crosbie; Hanna Crosbie; Edward Copeman; Richard Harmer; John Barnes; William Austin; Elen Fitzgerald; William Whut; Ann Saundersen; Mark Manning; John Turner; William Dwyne; Mary Aiers; Donald Connell; Timothy Driscoll; Timothe Murphy; John O'Grady; John Dencey; John Crowley; Margret Steward; Bridget Towley; John Towley; Timothy Crowley; John Brown; ...  [etc]

Saturday 3 December 2011

London's Lost Museums

I'm always fascinated by London's lost Victorian museums, which have either disappeared entirely or been snaffled up by the gaping maws of the V&A and Science Museum, or other big beasts. Coming across the 'Parkes Museum of Hygiene' which once dwelt at UCL (ok, not very interesting - might even still be there, for all I know), I then stumbled upon this article from the Times of March 11, 1936:-


Since his appointment as Organizer of Museum Services to the L.C.C. Dr. L. W. G. Malcolm has been engaged in making a survey of these institutions, as well as of the art galleries, and has prepared a report, which should be a revelation to Londoners of their numbers, variety, and value as educative factors, supplementary to class and book work in the schools.
    In a foreword to the report Mr. E. M. Rich, the Education Officer, states that while the contents of the museums of London, apart front their intrinsic worth, are of immense value as potential teaching material, a teacher, who wishes to make the be use of the exhibits for teaching purposes is at present faced with certain difficulties. It was with a realization of these difficulties that the L.C.C., which already has a system of educational visits to museums, recently set up a Museums Advisory Committee on which teachers of all types are serving; and at the same time appointed Dr. Malcolm as organizer. It is hoped that, by these measures, the difficulties confronting teachers will be solved.


Dr_ Malcolm gives a list of 60 museums and galleries, some of which must be unknown to Londoners, even by name. There is, for instance, the Institute of Hygiene at 28, Portland Place; Dr_ Malcolm thus describes its contents:" Exhibits connected with food,clothing, and the house. In the clothing section are cases of Victorian and Egyptian clothing, pieces of cloth found during excavations in London, and a chart of historical clothing." A similar institulion, the Parkes Museum of the Royal Sanitary Institute, is also on Dr. Malcolm's list. It is at 90, Buckingham Palace Road, and its exhibits' are summarized as " A great variety of approved forms of apparatus and appliances relating to health."
    Another little-known institution is St. George's Nature Study Museum, in Cable Street, Stepney, which is open from noon to dusk and on Sundays from 3 p.m. to dusk in the summer. Dr. Malcolm describes the exhibits as "Living specimens, consisting of birds, mammals (chiefly British), reptiles, fishes, batrachians, molluscs, and insects, both terrestrial and fresh water; an observatory bee-hive, aquaria, a collection of living tropical fresh-water fish; and special seasonal exhibits."
    Perhaps London's smallest museum is Battersea Museum and Art Gallery, in the Central Library, Lavender Hill- The exhibits are housed in one room on the first floor, and consist of  Battersea enamels, prints, and engravings of Battersea and the locality, china, carvings of  local interest, and curios. 
    Relics relating to the Crusades are to be seen in the Museum of the Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St. John, at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell; and at the Rotunda Museum, on Woolwich Common, there is a collection of artillery exhibits, representative types of armour, firearms, swords, native weapons, and models of bridges.
    A different type or museum is the Horniman, at Forest Hill, where there is an unrivalled collection of ethnological exhibits, including sections and series illustrating the ancestry of man and the classification of human races.
    An institution that occupies a place by itself is the Museum of Blindiana, Armitage Hall, Great Portland Street. "It contains," says Dr. Malcolm, " a comprehensive collection of books in raised types, apparatus and appliances for teaching the blind and for meeting their recreational, social, and industrial needs." Then there  is the Donaldson Museum of the Royal College of Music, in Prince Consort Road, which houses a small collection of rare musical instruments. The Geffrye Museum, in Kingsland Road,  Shoreditch, is well known to the general public. it was designed to assist the local furniture and wood-working industries, and among its treasures is the Wren Room from the Pewterers' Hall in the City.
    The Home Office has its own Industrial Museum in Horseferry Road, Westminster, where  may be seen a permanent exhibition of safety, health, and social welfare methods and  appliances. In the Jewish Museum, Upper Woburn Place, there is a collection of antiquities, illustrating Jewish religious practice, family Iife, and history, among which Anglo-Jewish objects predominate.
    Museums with personal associations are Carlyle's House, 24, Cheyne Row, Chelxca, in which the exhibits occupy 10 rooms; Dickens's House, Doughty Street, with many interesting  relics of the famous Victorian novelist; Hogarth's House, Hogarth Lane, Chiswick, in which there :ire numerous prints and other objects relating to the artist; Johnson's House in Gough Square, with many relics of Dr. Johnson and his circle; the Keats Memorial House and Museum, Wentworth Place, Keats Grove, Hampstead, which has been organized on the same lines as the others ; Wesley's House in City Road, which was built by John Wesley in 1779, and in which he lived till his death 12 years later. This house has recently been restored to its eighteenth-century condition, and it contains, among other exhibits, old furniture of the period.  . . . . The report may be purchased, price 4d., through any bookseller.

Has anyone ever come across this LCC report? What were the 60 museums listed?

Friday 2 December 2011


In case you missed them on my site or my twitter feed ...

Thursday 1 December 2011


 Just came across some great figures, which, having been rearranged, show your chances of getting cholera in the 1832 epidemic, depending on your location in London .... [doubtless available elsewhere, but still] ... sorted by deaths as a percentage of population ...

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Belle Isle

More on the lovely air of Belle Isle (the area just north of King Cross station) in the mid-Victorian period ... you can find more about it, including a map, here.


Sir,- I have read the letter of "Clericus" in your journal of to-day, and I could not conceive that any, excepting either a proprietor of the horse slaughter-house, or one of the Patent Manure Company, would maintain for a moment that these nuisances could be otherwise than injurious to health. I can only meet his statements with facts within my own experience.
    I have resided in Stanmore-street, Caledonian-road, for the last three years, and I must stay another twelvemonth, if I should survive so long in this filthy and offensive atmosphere. The evil has gradually increased until the effect is clearly showing itself by the desertion of the inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood, and if it is possible (which I do not believe) that no actual disease arisen, it produces nausea and vomiting to many people, of whom I am one, for on four recent occasions on my return home in the evening from the city, when the stench has been more suffocating than usual, I have positively vomitted in the gutter in the Caledonian-road. On several occasions two of my children, aged respectively 4 and 6, while playing in the back garden, have come indoors and complained about these smells, which often produced retching, and their health, as well as my own, has ben materially affected by those nuisances; and, without pretending to any medical knowledge, it strikes me that an atmosphere which causes nausea and sickness must be prejudicial to health, and that Nature herself indicates that one cannot breathe it with impunity, and it is a positive fact, as stated by one of the correspondent on this subject, that "It has a most deleterious effect upon the health of those who live within the area of its malign influence, rendering their very food unwholesome." Apologizing for the length of my letter,
I have the honours be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
THOMAS WATERS. 30, Stanmore-street, Caledonian-road, Sept. 28, 1855

Titles available in commercial/academic newspaper databases

Here's a comparison I've just knocked up of what's available in the new British Newspaper Archive vs. the Thomson Gale produced databases that have been available to academics for some years. This is not exact, and I haven't checked year coverage (although one randomly selected title on the new database did seem to go back much further than Thomson Gale). The result is quite clear - the new BNA all but replaces the Thomson Gale database and add lots of new local titles. How interesting these new titles are, I don't know - my guess is that the Manchester Evening News, for example, is a major addition - are there any proper scholars able to comment?

This, found by Sharon Howard (ta, Sharon), explains the background to this change ... http://digitisation.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2011/11/29/1966/ ... hopefully universities will gain access to the new database shortly ...

Plain = Thomson Gale 19th Cent. Newspapers
Blue = Thomson Gale Periodicals
Red = British Newspaper Archive

Aberdeen Journal |  Aberdeen Journal
Aberdeen Weekly Journal
Aldershot Military Gazette
Alexandra Magazine and Woman’s Social and Industrial Advocate
Aunt Judy’s Magazine
Ayr Advertiser
Bailey’s Monthly Magazine of Sports and Pastimes and Racing Register
Baner Cymru | Baner ac Amserau Cymru
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
Belfast News-Letter | Belfast News-Letter
Bell’s Life in London
Berrow’s Worcester Journal
Berwickshire News and General Advertiser
Big Budget
Birmingham Daily Post | Birmingham Daily Post
Birmingham Gazette
Blackburn Standard |  Blackburn Standard
Boy’s Own Magazine
Boys of England
Boy’s Own Paper
Bradford Observer | Bradford Observer
Bright Eyes
Brighton Patriot | Brighton Patriot
Bristol Mercury
British Mothers’ Magazine
British Women’s Temperance Journal
Bucks Herald
Burnley Advertiser
Burnley Express
Burnley Gazette
Bury and Norwich Post | Bury and Norwich Post
Bury Times
Caledonian Mercury | Caledonian Mercury
Cambridge Chronicle and Journal
Captain: A Magazine for Boy and Old Boys
Carlisle Journal
Champion | Champion
Charter | Charter
Chartist | Chartist
Chartist Circular| Chartist Circular
Chelmsford Chronicle
Cheltenham Chronicle
Cheltenham Looker-On
Cheshire Observer | Cheshire Observer
Chester Chronicle
Chester Courant
Child’s Companion
Children’s Friend
Chums: An Illustrated Paper for Boys
Cleave’s London Satirist and Gazette of Variety
Cobbett's Weekly Political Register | Cobbett's Weekly Political Register
Cork Examiner
Coventry Evening Telegraph
Cycling: An Illustrated Weekly
Daily Gazette for Middlesborough | Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough
Daily News
Dart : A Journal of Sense and Satire
Derby Mercury | Derby Mercury
Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald
Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette
Dorset County Chronicle
Dumfries and Galloway Standard
Dundee Advertiser
Dundee Courier | Dundee Courier
Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser
Dunfermline Press
Edinburgh Evening News
Elgin Courant, and Morayshire Advertiser
Elgin Courier
Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine
Englishwoman’s Review
Era | Era
Essex Newsman
Essex Standard | Essex Standard
Evening Telegraph
Every Boy’s Magazine
Examiner | Examiner
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams
Exeter Flying Post
Falkirk Herald
Fancy, or True Sportsman’s Guide
Father william’s Stories
Figaro in London
Fife Herald
Fishing Gazette
Freeman's Journal | Freeman's Journal
Friendly Companion and Illustrated Instructor
Funny Folks
Genedl | Genedl
Girls Own Paper
Glasgow Herald | Glasgow Herald
Gloucester Citizen
Goleuad | Goleuad
Good Words for the Young
Graphic | Graphic
Halfpenny Marvel Library
Hampshire Advertiser
Hampshire Chronicle
Hampshire/Portsmouth Telegraph |  Hampshire Telegraph
Hastings and St Leonards Observer
Hearth and Home
Hereford Journal
Hereford Times
Hertford Mercury and Reformer
Herts Guardian, Agricultural Journal, and General Advertiser
Horse and Hound
Huddersfield Chronicle | Huddersfield Chronicle
Hull Packet | Hull Packet
Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette
Illustrated Chips
Illustrated Police News | Illustrated Police News
Ipswich Journal | Ipswich Journal
Isle of Man Times | Isle of Man Times
Isle of Wight Observer | Isle of Wight Observer
Jackson's Oxford Journal
John Bull
Journal of the Women’s Education Union
Juvenile Companion and Sunday School Hive
Kate Greenaway’s Almanack
Kendal Mercury
Kentish Chronicle
Kentish Gazette
Kind Words for Boys and Girls
Ladies Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance
Ladies Fashionable Repository
Ladies Treasury
Lady’s Monthly Museum
Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times
La Belle Assemblee
Lancaster Gazetteer | Lancaster Gazette
Leamington Spa Courier
Le Follet
Leeds Intelligencer
Leeds Mercury | Leeds Mercury
Leeds Patriot and Yorkshire Advertiser
Leeds Times
Leicester Chronicle | Leicester Chronicle
Leicester Journal
Leicestershire Mercury
Licensed Victuallers Mirror
Lichfield Mercury
Lincolnshire Chronicle
Little Folks
Little Wide Awake: A Story Book for Children
Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Mercury | Liverpool Mercury
Lloyd's Illustrated Newspaper | Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper
London Daily News
London Dispatch | London Dispatch
London Standard
Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser
Luton Times and Advertiser (1856 - 1876)
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser
Manchester Evening News
Manchester Mercury
Manchester Times | Manchester Times
Merry and wise
Monrthly Pack of Evening Readers for Younger Members of the English Church
Morning Chronicle | Morning Chronicle
Morning Post | Morning Post
Morpeth Herald
Motherwell Times
Myra’s Journal of Dress and Fashion
Newcastle Courant | Newcastle Courant
Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury
Newcastle Journal
Norfolk Chronicle
North Devon Journal
North Wales Chronicle | North Wales Chronicle
Northampton Mercury
Northants Evening Telegraph
Northern Echo | Northern Echo
Northern Liberator | Northern Liberator
Northern Star | Northern Star
Nottingham Evening Post
Nottinghamshire Guardian | Nottinghamshire Guardian
Odd Fellow | Odd Fellow
Operative | Operative
Our Little Dots
Our Young Folks Weekly Budget
Oxford Journal
Pall Mall Gazette | Pall Mall Gazette
Passing Events at Home and Abroad
Penny Illustrated Paper
Penny Satirist
Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette
Peter Parley’s Annual
Pick Me Up
Picture Politics
Pierce Egan’s Book of Sports
Pierce Egan’s Weekly Courier
Poor Law Unions’ Gazette
Poor Man's Guardian | Poor Man's Guardian
Portsmouth Evening News
Preston Chronicle | Preston Chronicle
Racing Illustrated
Racing Times
Reading Mercury
Reynolds's Newspaper | Reynolds's Newspaper
Rochdale Observer
Routledge’s Every Girls Annual
Royal Cornwall Gazette | Royal Cornwall Gazette
Salisbury and Winchester Journal
Salopian Journal
Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Sheffield Evening Telegraph
Sheffield Independent | Sheffield Independent
Sherborne Mercury
Shield: The Anti-Contagious Diseases Acts Association’s Weekly Circular
Shields Daily Gazette
Southampton Herald
Southern Star
South London Press
Southern Star
Sporting Gazette
Sporting Times
Sportsman’s Annual
St. Nicolas Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys
Staffordshire Advertiser
Staffordshire Gazette and County Standard
Staffordshire Sentinel
Staffordshire Sentinel and Commercial & General Advertiser
Stamford Mercury
Star | Star
Stirling Observer
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette
Sussex Advertiser
Tamworth Herald
Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser
Tiny Tots
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post
Union Jack
Walter’s Theatrical and Sporting Directory
Wells Journal
West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser
West Kent Guardian
West Middlesex Advertiser and Family Journal
Western Daily Press
Western Gazette
Western Mail | Western Mail
Western Times
Westmorland Gazette
Woman at Home
Woman’s Advocate
Woman and Wort
Women’s Penny Paper
Women’s Union Journal
Worcester Journal
Worcestershire Chronicle
World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons
Wrexham Weekly Advertiser | Wrexham Advertiser
York Herald | York Herald
Yorkshire Gazette

Monday 28 November 2011

Soho Drains

You wouldn't necessarily want an attic room in Soho in the 1850s:

"The number of houses inspected has been 207, in which are situate 218 waterclosets, most of them fixed over cesspools, 20 open privies, 88 dustbins in yards, 78 ditto in vaults or areas, and 25 in kitchens under the stairs; these dustbins are kept in a comparatively clean state. 
    Throughout the neighbourhood it is important to observe that the houses are for the most part let out in lodgings; a separate family, and in some cases even two, are living in one floor, whereas but one watercloset or privy in the yard or area exists for the use of the whole house; consequently, in the rooms above the ground floor, portable cesspools or slop-pails are kept, into which night soil and dirty water and all refuse are thrown, and these are emptied about once a-day, either down a sink or into the watercloset or privy, and not unfrequently into a gully in the street. On the top or attic floor the occupants generally make use of the gutter for the emptying of these accumulations, which find their way down the rain water pipe into the paving in the yard at the back of the house, and sometimes into the footway in the street in front. It is a fact worthy of notice, that the greatest mortality has taken place in the upper floors of nearly all the houses. "

Report on Cholera in Westminster, 1854

Thursday 17 November 2011

Ten Years


My compendious website of Victoriana www.victorianlondon.org is officially ten years old this week. So here's some not-so-fascinating facts about the site, and (not really) a competition for the artistically inclined ...

  1. I started the site because I was writing a historical novel, and wanted to compile all the fascinating snippets of Victorian stuff I was finding in books. My original idea was simply to create a meta-index of all the indexes in my non-fiction reading. But that was tedious. So I began scanning the full text of Victorian documents. That was tedious too, but I'm a librarian by training, so I stuck with it. At some point between 2001 and 2011, it started to get out of hand. I will leave you to decide when.

  2. I have written six or seven novels using the site as my electronic brain, but many more successful authors have found it rather handy. For example, it's credited in Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night and, most recently, Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk. I do not receive their royalties. Boo.

  3. The site was originally hosted on stokenewington.junglelink.co.uk for a few months in 2001 ... sites like this http://www.maberly.name/links.htm may need updating.

  4. My best random connection was when a reader, searching the web, noticed an article on the site. It mentioned in passing a Victorian worthy who kept two inkstands made from the hooves of his favourite horses (as you do) engraved with the horses' names, in his office. The reader in question was the man's grandson and recalled the inkstands very welll from his grandfather's house; but, until then, he had never before understood why his grandfather treasured them, or what the names meant. You perhaps had to be there. Of course, now, I cannot find the article in question. I have the nagging doubt that I may have made this up.

  5. My worst recollection related to www.victorianlondon.org is being persuaded to give what I thought was an informal chat to a class of history students at Dulwich College. It turned out to be the entire lower sixth, although, being Dulwich College, the year was called something antique and intimidating, like 'The Relieve'. More accurate would have been 'The Nose-Picking, Living-Dead-Eyed-Is-it-Lunch-Yet-Who-is-this-schmuck-Hormonal Teens'. I blame the parents. I still cannot pass Dulwich without a brief shudder. Not my finest hour.

  6. The best thing that www.victorianlondon.org has obtained for me, apart from an enormous sense of spiritual peace and physical well-being [*WARNING: Site does not contain an enormous sense of spiritual peace and physical well-being] is two weeks in Perth, Australia, giving lectures to retireees and wandering around the Antipodes. I enjoyed both the lectures and the trip to a guilty degree.

  7. The site currently averages 1,612 visitors a day.

  8. Some recent questions asked of Google that led people to the site:

    • why was victorian london smelly?
    • who was queen in victorian london?
    • what would a victorian maid call her master?
    • what were the toilet habits of the victorians?

    Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

  9. I am pretty sure that site usage peaked in about 2005. I have some stats here http://www.victorianlondon.org/stats.htm which show a clear dip, although the current visitor numbers are not remotely comparable, as Webalizer is infinitely less reliable than Google Analytics, which I now use, and has always seemed to return about x3 what Google tells you. The reason for my certainty is more the numbers of emails which I receive, which is much fewer - my guess is that people spend less time 'browsing' the web at random for interesting and cool stuff, and more time on social media.

  10. That said, site visitors still come from all over the world ... here's a map from the last month ...

    As you can see, Mongolia needs to make more of an effort.

I hope you've enjoyed www.victiorianlondon.org as much as me these last ten years, although that's hardly likely.

Would I do it all again, knowing what I know now? Tragically, I fear I would.


This is not really a competition, so don't get excited. It just occurred to me that it would be nice to have a picture of a cake on the site.

Would any of you fabulous artistic people out there be able to draw me a Victorian-themed cake?

The prize will be that it appears on front page of my website. This is not really a prize; but that does not matter.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Soot and Shelter

The "Mall" and "Bird Cage Walk" although much altered are still in their general effect, such as you must remember them, with their long rows of elsm which are now in the first freshness of their young green leaves, and which look particularly beautiful contrasted with the stems and branches, that town smoke has made completely black. The leaves, I grieve to say, will soon feel the same influence, and then woe to the inexperienced wight who takes refuge from a pelting shower beneath their branches, for each leaf, as it is struck by a heavy drop, flings out a little sprinke of soot in its rebound, and this descending with the drop that had disturbed it, daubs, with most inhospitable smuts, the shelteree beneath. But even six weeks of London atmosphere, though it does much to spoil the daylight freshness of those trees, does not prevent them from being very beautiful on a moonlight night.

Familiar Epistles from London, Dublin University Magazine, June 1833