Thursday 31 March 2011

A Modest Country Home

Here's a more modest home (well, relatively speaking) from Robert Kerr's The Gentleman's House:

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Pull the String!

How did you ask a Victorian cab-driver to stop the cab? You pulled the string that ran from inside the cab, through the roof, to ... the driver's arm.
    The journey seemed endless; street after street was entered and left behind; and still they went jolting on. At last Mr Squeers began to thrust his head out of the widow every half-minute, and to bawl a variety of directions to the coachman; and after passing, with some difficulty, through several mean streets which the appearance of the houses and the bad state of the road denoted to have been recently built, Mr Squeers suddenly tugged at the check string with all his might, and cried, 'Stop!'
    'What are you pulling a man's arm off for?' said the coachman looking angrily down.
    'That's the house,' replied Squeers.

Lady Flabella

One of the few occasions when Dickens parodies other literature is in Nicholas Nickleby, when Mrs. Witterly wants her companion, Kate, to amuse her. She reads her an extract from The Lady Flabella, a work that only existed in Dickens's imagination. Sadly, or mercifully, we have no more of this book than the extract below. My edition says this is a parody of 'silver fork' novels of the 1820s, which purported to give a detailed picture of the lives and manners of the aristocracy for a middle-class readership. It's also a cautionary piece for any novelist, about the dangers of too much description:

   It was four in the afternoon—that is, the vulgar afternoon of the sun and the clock—and Mrs Wititterly reclined, according to custom, on the drawing-room sofa, while Kate read aloud a new novel in three volumes, entitled 'The Lady Flabella,' which Alphonse the doubtful had procured from the library that very morning. And it was a production admirably suited to a lady labouring under Mrs Wititterly's complaint, seeing that there was not a line in it, from beginning to end, which could, by the most remote contingency, awaken the smallest excitement in any person breathing.
    Kate read on.

    '"Cherizette," said the Lady Flabella, inserting her mouse-like feet in the blue satin slippers, which had unwittingly occasioned the half-playful half-angry altercation between herself and the youthful Colonel Befillaire, in the Duke of Mincefenille's SALON DE DANSE on the previous night. "CHERIZETTE, MA CHERE, DONNEZ-MOI DE L'EAU-DE-COLOGNE, S'IL VOUS PLAIT, MON ENFANT."
    '"MERCIE—thank you," said the Lady Flabella, as the lively but devoted Cherizette plentifully besprinkled with the fragrant compound the Lady Flabella's MOUCHOIR of finest cambric, edged with richest lace, and emblazoned at the four corners with the Flabella crest, and gorgeous heraldic bearings of that noble family. "MERCIE—that will do."
    'At this instant, while the Lady Flabella yet inhaled that delicious fragrance by holding the MOUCHOIR to her exquisite, but thoughtfully-chiselled nose, the door of the BOUDOIR (artfully concealed by rich hangings of silken damask, the hue of Italy's firmament) was thrown open, and with noiseless tread two VALETS-DE-CHAMBRE, clad in sumptuous liveries of peach-blossom and gold, advanced into the room followed by a page in BAS DE SOIE—silk stockings—who, while they remained at some distance making the most graceful obeisances, advanced to the feet of his lovely mistress, and dropping on one knee presented, on a golden salver gorgeously chased, a scented BILLET.
     'The Lady Flabella, with an agitation she could not repress, hastily tore off the ENVELOPE and broke the scented seal. It WAS from Befillaire—the young, the slim, the low-voiced—HER OWN Befillaire.'

    'Oh, charming!' interrupted Kate's patroness, who was sometimes taken literary. 'Poetic, really. Read that description again, Miss Nickleby.'
     Kate complied.

Monday 28 March 2011

Lawyers' clerks

Scattered about, in various holes and corners of the Temple, are certain dark and dirty chambers, in and out of which, all the morning in vacation, and half the evening too in term time, there may be seen constantly hurrying with bundles of papers under their arms, and protruding from their pockets, an almost uninterrupted succession of lawyers' clerks. There are several grades of lawyers' clerks. There is the articled clerk, who has paid a premium, and is an attorney in perspective, who runs a tailor's bill, receives invitations to parties, knows a family in Gower Street, and another in Tavistock Square; who goes out of town every long vacation to see his father, who keeps live horses innumerable; and who is, in short, the very aristocrat of clerks. There is the salaried clerk—out of door, or in door, as the case may be—who devotes the major part of his thirty shillings a week to his Personal pleasure and adornments, repairs half-price to the Adelphi Theatre at least three times a week, dissipates majestically at the cider cellars afterwards, and is a dirty caricature of the fashion which expired six months ago. There is the middle-aged copying clerk, with a large family, who is always shabby, and often drunk. And there are the office lads in their first surtouts, who feel a befitting contempt for boys at day-schools, club as they go home at night, for saveloys and porter, and think there's nothing like 'life.' There are varieties of the genus, too numerous to recapitulate, but however numerous they may be, they are all to be seen, at certain regulated business hours, hurrying to and from the places we have just mentioned.
     These sequestered nooks are the public offices of the legal profession, where writs are issued, judgments signed, declarations filed, and numerous other ingenious machines put in motion for the torture and torment of His Majesty's liege subjects, and the comfort and emolument of the practitioners of the law. They are, for the most part, low-roofed, mouldy rooms, where innumerable rolls of parchment, which have been perspiring in secret for the last century, send forth an agreeable odour, which is mingled by day with the scent of the dry-rot, and by night with the various exhalations which arise from damp cloaks, festering umbrellas, and the coarsest tallow candles.
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836

Sunday 27 March 2011

Home Sweet Home

More from architect Robert Kerr's The Gentleman's House (1871) ... here's the styles you could choose for your stately home (slum chic not an option, sadly). Click to enlarge image ...

Friday 25 March 2011

A Very Big House in the Country

We did the London ideal home yesterday. Today, an example of a purpose-built Victorian country house, by the same architect, Robert Kerr - one for fans of Downton Abbey perhaps. Built in the 1860s for the proprietor of the Times newspaper, here are the plans for Bearwood - now 'Bearwood College' - in Berkshire. Click here for more about the house and a few pictures of the exterior. Click on the images below, to view the property in full ...

Thursday 24 March 2011

An Ideal Home

If you've ever wondered about the layout of grand town-houses in Belgravia, like the one in 'Upstairs Downstairs', then wonder no more ... here's a piece from Robert Kerr's The Gentleman's House (1871, 3ed.) - a guide to good design in the 1860s/70s  - which gives you an idea, because it contains a full floor-plan. I don't believe you will won't find many of these on the web, so enjoy ... [click image to enlarge].

IT is enough to say that London houses are generally very defective in respect of plan. Upon the strength chiefly of an intelligent commercial liberality, which led him to adopt spaciousness and substance as his maxims, one celebrated "speculating-builder" acquired such a good name for his houses, that Belgravian footmen have been known to intimate that they should respectfully decline to take  service in a house of any other man's building. Nevertheless, except in respect of the space and substance alluded to, it is difficult say - where the houses of this builder are better than others of their class. The common fault lies, in fact, not so much in anything else as in the difficulties of site,—the contracted width and disproportionate depth, for instance, the succession of stories all not equal in the area, but necessarily similar in structural partitionment, the want of side-light and side access, and, in the case of more important houses, the inadequacy of the Basement-story for the accommodation of Offices in complete form.
    The design represented by our plate is a recent attempt (at the invitation of the late Marquis of Westminster) to develop the in way which the principles of plan belonging to a Gentleman's House may be applied in London. The frontage is 32½ feet, and depth about 140 feet, inclusive of the space for Stables ; and the dimensions are the least that can be accepted for a really good house.
    On the Basement the entire depth of the site is covered; including the usual space between the House and the Stables, which is left open, however, from the ground-level upwards. There is the ordinary street-area in front; and similar areas are formed at the back wall and at the Stable-wall, for further lighting below. Then the are introduced two other areas, or more technically wells, necessarily as small in size as would be admissible, extending from bottom to top at the party-walls, whereby to obtain at least such as amount of side-light and air as can be thus had. These wells serve to give windows to the Back-stair throughout, the Scullery and Larders, the Bath-rooms and Water-closets, and various other small supplementaries; also to the Staircase-Hall (in addition to a skylight) and to an Ante-room on the First-Floor; so that, without rendering the ordinary Family-rooms in any way dependent upon so scant a supply, we are able to give to the multitude of little places, which go far so to make up the comfort of the house, that light and air without which they are of little service ;—in fact, no fewer than thirty such apartments (besides the Back-stair) obtain windows by means of these two wells.
    The Offices accommodated on the Basement are Kitchen, Scullery, Pantry, and Larder; Butler's Pantry, Bedroom, Safe, and Cleaning-room; Housekeeper's-room, Still-room, Store-room, and Servants'-Hall; a Wine-cellar and a Closet for beer; a small Laundry, a small Housemaid's-closet, and a Sleeping-room for two men-servants; besides the usual vaults in front, and similar ones in the extreme rear,—the latter of which, it is submitted, ought to relieve the former of coals and dust. The Back-stair has a Lift from bottom to top. If these Offices are sometimes of small dimensions, it must be remembered that the question in London is not of what spaciousness they can be had, but whether they can be had at all. To guard against the transmission of kitchen-vapours, the door of the Kitchen is placed in a Porch ; and the dinner-service would pass through a hatch within, and upwards by means of the Lift and Back-stair.
    On the Ground-floor we have a Dining-room at the back (as it ought to be, if possible), an Entrance-Hall which is not the mere Passage of common usage, a Cloak-room and Closet, a Library, which is necessarily small, but which has only yielded to still more important considerations, a spacious Staircase-Hall, and a Service-closet for the Dining-room. The Entrance-door opens in the middle of the Front, and is not pushed away to one side in the ordinarily unstately manner.
    On the first-floor we have two spacious Drawing-rooms and a connecting Ante-room. This is by some objected to. The L-shaped suite of two rooms with folding doors has become so thoroughly established in London houses, that people forget the fact that a similar arrangement in the country would be considered by themselves to be a gross vulgarity. The difficulty, however, is how to connect two rooms, if placed at back and front, with the Staircase between. This is resolvable into the question how to make an Ante-room wide enough to be other than a mere passageway. In the present plan, 10 feet is the width, which must certainly be held sufficient.
    On the Second-floor there are two complete Private Bedroom-Suites, one for the heads of the family and one for guests, with a Bath-room (for gentlemen) in addition. On the next Floor we have one inferior Private Suite, three ordinary Bedrooms, a second Bath-room (for ladies), Linen-room, Soiled-linen-room, and Housemaid's-closet. The story above accommodates a complete Nursery-suite and Bedrooms for the female-servants, one for the lady's-maid being specially adapted and furnished with a Wardrobe-closet attached. Still higher, in the roof, there would be Luggage and Lumber-rooms, and any further Servants'-rooms that might be required. The Lift in the Back-stair communicates with every story throughout.
    The Stable-building in the rear accommodates on the Ground-floor three Stalls and a Loose-box, and two Carriage-houses; and in one of these there is provision for harness, including a fireplace. On the Upper floor there are the necessary small Loft, and a Living-room, three Bedrooms, and Closets, for the coachman.
    The blank corner of the plate offers an occasion for representing the manner in which such houses can be grouped in a row, on the principle that every one shall be distinguished from its neighbours by a projection in the Facade, and not by a mere boundary-line between two shades of paint on one flat surface; but this is rather beyond our province.

[As an aside, I'd like to thank those who have donated to my site in the last year or two - it was your generosity which enabled me to buy this book ... more to follow!]

Monday 21 March 2011


I've pointed out before that the Victorians 'recycled' with a vengeance. Here's what they did with their rubbish, all done by 'sifters' (generally women) who worked the mounds of 'dust':
The principal ingredient of all these Dust-heaps is fine cinders and ashes; but as they are accumulated from the contents of all the dust-holes and bins of the vicinity, and as many more as possible, the fresh arrivals in their original state present very heterogeneous materials. We cannot better describe them than by presenting a brief sketch of the different departments of the Searchers and Sorters, who are assembled below to busy themselves upon the mass of original matters which are shot out from the carts of the dustmen.
    The bits of coal, the pretty numerous results of accident and servants' carelessness, are picked out, to be sold forthwith; the largest and best of the cinders are also selected, by another party, who sell them to laundresses, or to braziers (for whose purposes coke would do as well;) and the next sort of cinders, called the breeze, because it is left after the wind has blown the finer cinders through an upright sieve, is sold to the brick-makers.
    Two other departments, called the "soft-ware" and the "hard-ware," are very important. The former includes all vegetable and animal matters--everything that will decompose. These are selected and bagged at once, and carried off as soon as possible, to be sold as manure for plowed land, wheat, barley, &c. Under this head, also, the dead cats are comprised. They are generally the perquisites of the women searchers. Dealers come to the wharf, or dust-field, every evening; they give sixpence for a white cat, fourpence for a colored cat, and for a black one according to her quality. The "hard-ware" includes all broken pottery pans, crockery, earthenware, oyster-shells, &c., which are sold to make new roads.
    The bones are selected with care, and sold to the soap-boiler. He boils out the fat and marrow first, for special use, and the bones are then crushed and sold for manure.
    Of rags, the woollen rags are bagged and sent off for hop-manure; the white linen rags are washed, and sold to make paper, &c.
    The "tin things" are collected and put into an oven with a grating at the bottom, so that the solder which unites the parts melts, and runs through into a receiver. This is sold separately; the detached pieces of tin are then sold to be melted up with old iron, &c.
    Bits of old brass, lead, &c., are sold to be molted up separately, or in the mixture of ores.
    All broken glass vessels, as cruets, mustard-pots, tumblers, wine-glasses, bottles, &c., are sold to the old-glass shops.
    As for any articles of jewelry, silver spoons, forks, thimbles, or other plate and valuables, they are pocketed off-hand by the first finder. Coins of gold and silver are often found, and many "coppers."
    Meantime, everybody is hard at work near the base of the great Dust-heap. A certain number of cart-loads having been raked and searched for all the different things just described, the whole of it now undergoes the process of sifting. The men throw up the stuff, and the women sift it.
Household Words, 1850

Sunday 20 March 2011

Shot in Lambeth

The South Bank once boasted a shot-tower (for the manufacture of bullets), which was demolished and replaced with the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the 1960s. It's the big tower on the right, here (a snapshot of Waterloo Bridge, c. 1890s):

Here's a description of its workings which I found recently, from 1860:
IT is the fortune of war to be honoured with monuments. Not always dignified statues standing on short pedestals - not always marble horsemen sitting jauntily upon marble steeds - not always blood and fury relievi, which, with their attendant tablets, adorn the peaceful, dim, religious aisles of the National Cathedral - not always iron dukes, who, in the hats of beadles, and with the batons of the ghosts in Hamlet and Don Giovanni, point for a bronze eternity, to some London stableyard or skittle-ground - but sometimes it is a more ambitious monument - a column that towers upward into the outer coating of the metropolitan smoke, looking at a distance like a high constable's staff of office, or the ornamental pillar of a lamp for patent candles. Two such columns as these are among the architectural features of our city, - the monument to Lord Nelson, and the pillar of the Duke of York.
    Standing in the iron cage that crowns the summit of this latter structure, and directing your eyes in a south-easterly direction to the banks of the river, you may yet see another circular column of greater altitude, but of more homely exterior, built, in fact, of unpretending brick, and surmounted by nothing more ornamental than a bare flag-staff. This is also a building dedicated to war, but it bears the same relation to the Duke of York's column as the private soldier does to the commander-in-.chief, - the same relation to the Nelson column, as the able seaman does to the lord high admiral. It is the Lambeth shot-tower, and if poetical justice had been consulted, instead of the adornment of the metropolis, the statues of those distinguished fighting men whom England delights to honour should have been placed upon the summit, and in niches round the interior of this working monument. There the stream of deadly shot, pouring from roof to basement, with a leaden roar, would have gladdened their marble eyes and ears, and hearts, making a worthy Walhalla for their mighty marble souls, even amongst the Bankside wharves and timber-yards. As it is, the Lambeth shot-tower is in the peaceful possession of Messrs. Walker, Parker, and Company (by whose kind permission I have been allowed to go over the works), and the constant manufacture of the small, globular, insidious instruments of death does not seem to have had an unamiable effect either upon masters, overlookers, or labourers.
    Those who are curious in speculations on the effect of certain employments upon the mental and moral character of man, will probably be glad to learn that the labourer who is occupied for ten hours every day in sharpening daggers and bayonets, or giving the finishing edge to the chine-splitting sabre, is a mild and inoffensive creature in the intervals of business; an affectionate husband; and an indulgent father of a family. Deadly revolvers are not put together in all their fatal beauty by cynics who have become weary of, or spiteful to the world, but by hard-handed workmen, who laugh, sing songs, and whistle tunes as they follow their employment, and claim a fair day's wages for what they consider a fair day's work. The motley ingredients that go to make up those engines of war that are known by the titles of bomb-shells and hand-grenades, are not mixed by crook-backed, grinning dwarfs with grinding teeth, and aged, mumbling crones with withered arms. Oh no, my Christian brethren, for these things - like all things else - obey the universal law of supply and demand. Machinery may intervene, and remove the workman to a decent distance from his labour, but grant the necessary stipend, and pay it punctually, and yon shall never want for jovial, full-blooded men to obey your bidding. And while one mass of fools are determined to march against another mass of fools for the avowed purpose of fire and slaughter, who can grumble that they have materials put into their hands with which to kill each other in an artistic and expeditious manner? Therefore, if any enthusiastic and hot-headed members of the Peace Society should ever think of marching bodily against my friends of the shot-tower, I will be one of the first to defend them and their stronghold with all the physical power at my command.
   If ever I am to be sent suddenly into the lap of eternity, let it be with my body nicely beplumbed with the smooth, round, glossy shot that I have seen manufactured at Lambeth, and not - like some of my ancestors - with my head split in two, like a water-melon, by a. clumsy battle-axe, or one of my eyes knocked into my brain with a cloth yard shaft. Let me - like Julius Cresar in the forum - die decently; let me - unlike Julius Caesar - have all the advantages of civilization assisting at my death, as developed in the improvement of the engines of destruction.
    A most deceptive place is the shot-department of this Lambeth workshop. If the emblem of peace is plenty - as the poets put it - and the image of plenty, as the painters put it, is a female scattering, right and left, the seeds of golden corn, then must the shot-tower and its warehouses be the very temple of peace, for never did a place that was not a granary, put on such a natural granarial appearance. If any member of that Society that I have before alluded to was brought here blindfolded, and the bandage taken off when he was in the midst of the sifters and the troughs of shot, he would immediately fancy himself, without any stretch of imagination, in the corn-market of Mark Lane, handling his specimens of the finest agricultural produce. Canvas bags open at the top, and full of the smooth, black, deadly grain, are lying about, to aid in the illusion, which is further assisted by the general cleanliness of this department of the place.
    Led by a steady, rushing noise, like the sound of a great waterfall, I take the arm of my imaginary friend from the Peace Society, and in a few minutes we are standing inside the base of the shot-tower. It is a few feet higher than the monument on Fish Street Hill, and about three times its diameter. It is circular in form, built all the way up with solid brickwork, and lighted at intervals with small, arched, cavernous, glazed windows, the recesses of which serve to show the thickness of the wall. Winding up the side is a narrow staircase, plentifully lined with dirt, coaldust, and blacklead, and protected by a thin iron railing. The cost of this tower is estimated at thirty thousand pounds. On the floor are several bars of prepared lead - the material from which the shot is cast -and a kind of copper with a fire burning underneath it. In the centre are two short, broad tubs - like washingtubs - filled with a thick, muddy-looking water. One is perfectly tranquil on the surface, but the other is bubbling and foaming up like a water-plug that has been opened in the streets, for a stream of lead is pouring into it from the roof of the tower, at the rate of a ton of shot in every five-and-forty minutes, causing the ceaseless, deafening roar that first excited our attention. Casting our eyes upwards along this stream, and tracing it to its source, we find it coming from a few silvery drops that fall through a small square trap in a wooden platform erected across the top of the building. These drops increase in force and density as they fall lower, until, about the centre of the column, they unite in a straight, thick, slate-coloured stream, lighted up by the sunbeams as it passes the windows in the wall. Looking through the open trap at the top, watching the descent of his handiwork, is the man who is superintending the casting, dressed in a dirty canvas smock shirt and a brown paper cap; presenting the appearance of a small, quaint picture set in a square frame. He has a counterpart in a mild-looking fellow-workman below, who stands calmly by, while the cataract of death is hurrying down to the waters of oblivion. Anxious to examine more closely the source of the cataract, we toil laboriously up the winding stairs, passing the roaring, rushing stream at every turn, until, after a time, we reach the summit. There we find a simmering cauldron full of molten lead, set in a frame of brickwork on a furnace; while by its side stands over the open trap a metal pan, or shallow basin, set upon four thin iron legs. The bottom of this pan is made of paste, and as the man in the paper cap keeps ladling it full of the red-hot liquid metal from the copper, small, bright, silvery drops keep oozing through, like quicksilver globules, and falling down the open trap like harp strings into the gulf beneath. I look on, perhaps, with culpable indifference, equal to that of the placid workman who goes through his allotted task like a workhouse master serving out the dinner soup; but my shadowy companion of the Peace Society shudders as he feels that in that small, insignificant hand-basin, lies the source of the great stream of death that thunders down into the waters beneath. As we wind slowly down the stairs, we stay to reflect that in the perfectly globular form which the liquid metal assumes as it descends the pit, is contained a beautiful, although minute exemplification of that great law of physics which gave the spherical shape to every planet that rolls above our heads. The object of preparing the water below to receive the metal drops is to preserve the globular form, which would be destroyed by coming in contact with an unyielding substance.
    When the white shot is taken out of the tubs of water, it is removed to that part of the building which I term the granary; where it undergoes a simple process of drying. After this, it is found necessary that it should be carefully sifted, to separate the different sizes of shot. The machinery provided for this is a long, hollow, copper cylinder, perforated with holes like a nutmeg-grater, or the barrel of a musical box, when all the pegs are taken out. These holes are of different sizes, divided into several stages down the cylinder, the smallest coming first, and progressing gradually to the largest, which come last. The cylinder is slightly inclined towards the large perforations, and is made to revolve slowly by steam-power; the shot is then poured in through a funnel at the upper end, and the operation is then left to work itself out. The baby shots, the youthful shots, and the full-grown shots, as they roll into and are worked round the cylinder, find the holes themselves through which they can comfortably squeeze their forms, falling into the different troughs that are waiting to receive them. This is altogether so much like an agricultural operation connected with the seed trade, that my shadowy, peace-loving friend forgets where he is, and, for a time, is happy.    
    When the deadly grain is collected from the troughs, it is placed within another small, revolving cylinder (not perforated), where its leaden whiteness is changed, by the agency of blacklead, to a bright, polished sable. It is then found that amongst the mass are a number of imperfect globular shot, so much flattened at the pole or poles, as to be utterly unfit for a place in the hearts of men, or birds, or beasts, and only worthy of a tomb in the waste-box. These false ones are detected by a simple, but very ingenious process. A small, smooth, wooden, fan-shaped platform is fitted up, edged in, and inclining slightly towards two troughs, one placed immediately under the edge of the board, the other at a little distance from it. The polished shot is then poured gently, and with equal . force, down a perpendicular funnel that discharges itself upon the inclined platform. The shot that is perfect rolls with sufficient impetus down the board, to carry it over into the further trough; while the imperfect shot either sticks fast with its flattened surface upon the platform, or drops lamely into the nearest waste-trough waiting to receive it. With this mild, playful, infantine, toy-like process the terrible business of shot-making ends. That which began in the tempest of the roaring shot-tower, is finished calmly in the quiet of the granary of death. We walk out into the street once more, and into the middle of the nineteenth century-I and my shadowy, peace-loving friend; and though those who pass us by can hear no voice, there are certain questions that he pours into my ear which I cannot answer, though I have the will.

John Hollingshead, Odd Journeys In and Out of London, 1860

Friday 18 March 2011


Good corners for crossing-sweeping were kept in the family:

We might point to one whom we have encountered almost daily for the last ten years. In 1841, she was left a widow with three small children, the eldest under four, and the youngest in arms. Clad in deep mourning, she took up a position at an angular crossing of a square, and was allowed to accommodate the two elder children upon some matting spread upon the steps of a door. With the infant in one arm, she plied her broom with the other, and held out a small white hand for the reception of such charity as the passers-by might choose to bestow. The children grew up strong and hearty, in spite of their exposure to the weather at all seasons. All three of them are at the present moment sweepers in the same line of route, at no great distance from the mother, who, during the whole period, has scarcely abandoned her post for a single day. Ten years' companionship with sun and wind, and frost and rain, have doubled her apparent age, hut her figure still shows the outline of gentility, and her face yet wears the aspect and expression of better days. We have frequently met the four returning home together in the deepening twilight, the elder boy carrying the four brooms strapped together on his shoulder.
Charles Manby Smith, Curiosities of London Life, 1853

Thursday 17 March 2011

When Pubs Delivered

"ANOTHER member of our little world who has no counterpart in these later times was the perambulating potman. Public-houses in the 1850s were allowed to deliver liquor at customers' premises, and nearly every tavern did so, employing potmen for the purpose who carried wooden frames divided longitudinally into two compartments in which cans of ale, porter and stout were deposited, together with a measure or two; a parallel bar above affording the necessary carrying handle. On weekdays the supper hour was the principal time of activity for these potmen, but they appeared to better advantage on Sundays, when, as soon as the clock had struck one, they issued from their bars clad in spotless white aprons and, in warm weather, in equally immaculate shirt-sleeves, intent on serving the Londoner with his dinner beer. Staggering under the weight of a couple of frames they went the round of their customers, measuring what was required from the cans into gaping expectant jugs. I am not sure whether they were entitled to serve any pedestrian who wanted drink, but I think they could be called to a house by a chance customer."

Alfred Rosling Bennett, London and Londoners, 1924

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Life, Legend, Landscape

A visit today to an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, entitled Life, Legend, Landscape: Victorian Drawings and Watercolours (closes 15 May 2011). The gallery was kind enough to provide me a ticket, so I went to explore, and ruthlessly exploit their generosity. I am not an expert art critic (or even an art critic) but I have to be honest and say that I found the exhibition itself too small - worth noting that many of the pictures are studies, not finished work - probably of technical interest to art historians &c. but not likely to appeal to the general public. There are, however, a couple of gems that might interest the average fan of Victorian art like myself: not least the sketch of a lion by Landseer, done in preparation for those in Trafalgar Square; likewise, a piece called 'Chaffinch Nest and May Blossom' by William Henry Hunt, which is beautiful for its detail.
    Is  it, therefore, worth a visit? Well, yes, for two reasons.
    Firstly,  there's a great room next door entitled Character & Caricatures : Late Victorian Illustration, which has a lovely series of watercolour illustrations for a telling of the fairytale of 'The Elves and the Shoemaker' and a couple of hand-coloured woodcuts by William Nicholson (after the style of Toulouse-Lautrec). The Nicholson woodcut of Queen Victoria (drawn for the New Review of 1897) is a great piece.
    Secondly, the Courtauld itself is worth a visit: the ornate interior of the historic Somerset house; the Impressionist collection has some nice works (including Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere); and there's other stuff too, including a Bacon on loan, Untitled: Crouching Figures. 
    In short, if you've never been to the Courtauld before (guilty!) this exhibition is not life-changing, but might just provide you with a great excuse to visit.

Monday 14 March 2011


An absolutely essential read for anyone interested in how the lower-middle classes managed to live in Victorian London:-


IN asking me to deal with the proper expenditure of a yearly income of from 1501. to 2001. per annum the editor has set me a task of some difficulty. This difficulty will be appreciated by all who have ever plunged into the dialectics of a subject which in its nature depends so largely on the personal equation.
    For in the first place we propose to legislate for a class which includes all those sorts and conditions of men which range between the skilled mechanic and the curate in priest's orders. In the second place we have to counsel those who have fallen from affluence to the penury of 1501. per annum, as well as those who have risen from penury to the affluence of the same income.
    To those who have never had so much, life on 1501. to 2001. a year will look ridiculously easy, and, like old Eccles when he was asked whether with a pound a week and cheap liquor he could manage to kill himself in three months, they will look forward with pleasure to the chance of trying it. To those who have hitherto had twice as much the task may well appear almost beyond the bounds of possibility. So true it is, as Bishop Fraser has it, that 'living in comfort is a phrase entirely depending for its meaning on the ideas of him who uses it.'
    With these two groups, which are, after all, the fringes of the matter, it will not be possible to deal particularly in the space at our disposal. We must rather concern ourselves with the bulk of the class which looks upon such an income as neither poverty nor riches, and which regards it as an amount upon which a prudent-minded man may properly marry. With the gay bachelor who has no domestic leanings we shall not concern ourselves.
    That the subject is one of the highest importance to the nation as well as to the individual will be at once apparent when we remember that domestic economy (by which I do not mean mere domestic economicalness) is the unit of political economy, just as the family is the primordial unit of society; and that the lower middle class of which we write is the backbone of the commonwealth.
    Let us take a moment to consider some of the elements of which this great class is composed. Amongst the earners of a yearly wage of from 150l. to 2001. we find certain skilled mechanics ; bank clerks; managing clerks to solicitors ; teachers in the London Board Schools (in 1895 there were about 800 male teachers receiving from 1501. to 1651. per annum);* [*Under the voluntary system the general rate of remuneration is much lower] the younger reporters on the best metropolitan papers ; the senior reporters on the best local papers ; second division clerks in the Colonial, Home, and India Offices ; second-class examining officers in the Customs ; senior telegraphists ; first-class overseers in the General Post Office ; Government office-keepers ; sanitary inspectors ; relieving officers ; many vestry officials ; clerks under the County Councils ; police inspectors; chief warders of prisons ; barristers' clerks; photographers employed in the manufacture of process blocks ; assistant painters in the leading theatres ; organists, and curates in priest's orders. This is but naming a few of the diverse elements of the class with which we are concerned. So that it will be seen at once that anything like generalisation or hard and fast rules of life are wholly out of the question.
    I have therefore thought it best to take a typical example of this financial section of society and show how life can be, and is, lived in many hundreds of homes on a minimum income of 1501. a year, from which it will follow as a corollary that a somewhat easier life on the same lines can be lived on any sum between that and a maximum of 200l.
    The case that I am fortunately enabled to take as my text is that of a cashier in a solicitor's office—a man of high character, good education, and high ideals, who, from his fourteenth to his fortieth year, has earned his living in his chosen profession. For ten years he has been married to the daughter of a once well-to-do farmer, who for some time before her marriage had found it necessary, in consequence of agricultural depression, to go out into the world and earn her own living in a house of business. In her father's house she had learned the domestic arts. In her independent life she had learned the value of money. And here we must remember that the value of a man's earnings will vary with the value of his wife's qualities and capabilities. A wife may be the very best investment that a man ever made, or she may be the very worst. 'Better a fortune in a wife than with a wife,' says the proverb, for with the former no evil can come which a man cannot bear. And, in choosing a wife, let a man with a limited income incidentally remember (if indeed a man ever does or ought to remember anything so practical at such a moment) the advice of the Talmud to descend rather than ascend a step, or it will be found the harder to make both ends meet.
    Our typical couple are fortunate in having but two children fortunate not merely because there will be fewer mouths to feed but because the wage-earner's mobility will not be unduly checked. The size of his family is of peculiar importance when a man is young and coming to find out his powers and capabilities. It is only with a small one that he will be able to make a favourable disposition of his labour. With an increasing family he will find it harder and harder to move about in search of his best market.* [* For more on this subject vide Walker's The Wages Question, p. 354.]
    Granted then that we have a family, the question at once arises, how that family shall be housed ; and it is in the proportion of his income that must be expended on the item 'Rent' that a man of small means is more particularly handicapped. What should we think of a man with 1,0001. a year spending 2001. on rent? We should be justified in regarding hint as almost madly extravagant. And yet this is proportionately what the married man with 1501. a year is forced to do, and will continue to be forced to do, until a great advance has been made in the practice of co-operation.
    Personally I am sanguine enough to look forward to the time when, not only in the matter of rent but in the whole circle of living, the cares of management shall be taken off the shoulders of the wage-earner and his wife ; and when a man will find a phalanstery suited to his means, where everything will be arranged for at an inclusive charge, as certainly as now he finds that he must provide everything for himself at ruinous retail prices. But this is dreaming dreams, and the paradise in which 'you press the button and we do the rest' is only coming. That there are signs of its approach we learn quite lately from Mr. Leonard Snell's speech to the `Auctioneers' Institute,' in which he tells of a block of mansions where the table d'hote meals are served at twelve shillings a week, as well as from the co-operative kitchen movement which is now showing signs of renewed vitality. In the meantime we must deal with immediate possibilities, for, as at present advised, every Englishman prefers to have his own castle, however unmachicolated it may be.
    To the worker in the City of London, where, as a matter of fact, our solicitor's clerk worked for twenty years, or in Westminster, where he worked for four, one of three courses is practically open. Either he must live within easy distance in lodgings in some such locality as Trinity Square, S.E., or Vincent Square, S.W., or in one of those huge blocks of flats to be found in the neighbourhood of London's heart in such districts as Finsbury, Lambeth, or Southwark ; or he must go further afield and find an inexpensive house in one of the cheaper suburbs, Clapham, Forest Gate, Wandsworth, Walthamstow, Kilburn, Peckham, or Finsbury Park. That he will be well advised in adopting the latter course there can, I think, be no possible doubt, and this although he will have to add to his rent the cost of travelling to and fro.
    In the first place he will be able to house himself at a lower rental ; in the second place his surroundings will be far more healthy ; in the third place his neighbours will be of his own class, a matter of chiefest importance to his wife and children, the greater part of whose lives must be spent in these surroundings. There are thousands of snug little suburban six-roomed houses which can be had for a weekly rental of from 10s. to 12s. 6d. a week, and it is in these that the vast majority of London Benedicts who earn from 150l. to 200l. a year are to be run to earth. Those who live in lodgings or flats near by their work pay a higher rent for two or three small rooms. And when we get into what we may call essentially the clerks' suburbs - Leytonstone, Forest Gate, Walthamstow, and such like—it is astonishing what a difference an extra shilling or two a week will make in the general character of our surroundings.
    Our specimen couple were fortunate in being enabled to live in a twelve-and-sixpenny house, in a very different road from the road of ten-shilling houses, by the fact that a relative rented one of their rooms. A parallel arrangement is of course open to any couple who care to take in a lodger.
    In the budget at the end of this article, however, I have put down 10s. as the weekly rent, as a lodger's accounts would in various ways complicate matters. The result is that we have, with rates and taxes at 5l. 3s. 5d., the sum of 31l. 3s. 5d. gone in housing our family, a terribly large but necessary slice out of an income of 1501. a year. Just compare this with the proportion of one-tenth of income generally set aside for that purpose amongst the so-called 'Upper Middles.'
    Having then decided upon a home in the suburbs, the next expenditure which has to be faced is the wage-earner's railway fare to and from his work. In all probability the distance will be from four to six miles. This would mean at least sixpence a day spent in travelling, were it not that all the railway companies issue season tickets at reduced rates. Some of them, however, do not offer these facilities to third-class passengers. We must, therefore, in a typical case put down at least 7l. a year for a second-class 'season.' A ticket of this sort has of course the further advantage of covering the expense of extra journeys to town for churches, picture galleries, or Albert Hall concerts on Sundays, or for evening lectures or amusements on weekdays; and this to a man who cannot spend much on luxuries, but who is hungry for religious or intellectual refreshment, is a matter of no little importance.
    So much for the housing problem with its immediate corollary of a sufficiently convenient access to work. Our wage-earner has now to face the very considerable expenditure which, in the budget at the end of this article, comes under the three headings dealing with Dress. And in approaching this matter we must remember that not only has dress 'a moral effect upon the conduct of mankind,' but, so far as the individual is concerned, has very often a determining effect upon his success as a wage-earner. And in this particular the unit of the class with which we are concerning ourselves is in a very different position from the skilled mechanic who may be earning a like income. It is more and more recognised as an axiom in those businesses and professions which are in immediate touch with the client, that the employees, whether they be salesmen in shops or clerks in banks or offices, must be habited in what may be called a decent professional garb. The bank-clerk: who is content to ignore the fact and looks needy, or the solicitor's clerk who is out-at-elbows, will find that he has little chance of retaining his position. Here he is clearly at a disadvantage compared with the man who works with his hands and who only has to keep a black coat for high days and holidays. Thus, through the action of certain economic laws, the average 'lower-middle' bread-winner is forced into an extravagance in the matter of clothes out of all proportion to his income. He may well exclaim with Teufelsdrockh: 'Clothes which began in foolishest love of ornament, what have they not become!'
    Nor is it his own clothes alone that will be a matter of anxiety, for whatever may be said of false pride and suchlike, a man is most properly not content to see his wife and children dressed in a manner unbecoming their station. He recognises, too, that there is truth in Jean Paul's sententious saying, that
'the only medicine that does a woman more good than harm is dress.' And here we are back again at the question whether we have a fortune in the wife or a fortune with her. If the former, things will go well in this matter of dress as in all others. If she is neither slovenly nor extravagant here, she will not be slovenly nor extravagant in other respects. She must of course be her own and her children's dressmaker, for it is a fact that hardly needs stating that 'making up' is out of all proportion to the cost of material. This applies more particularly to the children's clothing. To take an example—the material for an excellent boy's cloth suit can easily be obtained for ten shillings. Made up by a tailor it will cost at least a guinea. Or take a flannel blouse, for which excellent material may be obtained for four shillings. The charge for making it up will not cost a penny less than three shillings and sixpence. Then, too, a clever mother will cut down and alter her old skirts into serviceable frocks for the girls ; and the father's discarded waistcoats and trousers will be metamorphosed by her deft fingers into second-best suits for the boys. She will take care in buying dress materials for herself to wait for the drapery sales at the end of the summer and winter seasons and obtain them at half the price paid by her less thoughtful neighbour. But the wise woman will not be tempted by the offers of cheap made-up millinery at these times, knowing well that they will have become hopelessly out of the mode by the time that the season for wearing them has come round again; and mind you, the lower-middle' is as mindful of the fashion as is her richer sister.
    However, it is a parlous matter for a mere man to speak of these things. Let him only add that he respectfully salutes the Madonna of the knitting needles, for she will not only make less costly and more durable socks and stockings for the family, but will he a constant reminder to those around her that 'Sloth makes all things difficult but industry all things easy.'
    This matter of hosiery brings us by a natural transition to that of boots, an expensive and important item which will run away with at least four per cent. of our income, and more if we try in the outset to be unwisely economical. The far-seeing housewife will take care that each of her family has at least two, and more wisely three, good strong pairs in use at the same time. She will thus not only materially reduce the doctor's bill, for the children will be able to be out and about in all weathers and so rarely take cold, but she will also effect a final saving in the boots themselves, which will last half as long again if the leather is given proper time to dry. I am aware that these matters may appear too self-evident to need stating, and that the scoffer will cry out, 'It needs no ghost to tell us that.' But let me tell you that it is just in these matters of small moment that reminders are wanted. It is the larger things that are too obvious to be overlooked.
    So much then as regards the shelter, covering, and adornment of the outer man. We must now consider the largest and most essential item in our little budget. And it is here in the matter of food more than ever that the capability and skill of the wife are of the first importance. It was, I think, a German who advised an ambitious youth to live rather above his income in dress, up to his income in lodging, and below it in food. Now this may be all very well where the individual has only himself to consider. He is at liberty to be foolish enough to tighten his belt and stay the cravings of hunger with tobacco. But no wise woman would ever allow her husband to do this, and so imperil his health and his hardly-earned income with it. Indeed he would soon be in the condition of Carlyle, who used to say : 'I can wish the devil nothing worse than that he may have to digest with my stomach to all eternity; there will be no need of fire and brimstone then.' She will rather bear in mind the Dutch proverb, 'God gives birds their food, but they must fly for it,' realising at the same time the completion of the circle, that unless the bird ate the food when he got it lie would not be able to fly for more.
    Plain living will be a matter of course on an income of 150l. a year, but this does not necessarily connote cheap food, for as Ruskin says in another connection: 'What is cheapest to you now is likely to prove dearest in the end.' Not only is good food more palatable and more nourishing but it is cheaper in the upshot because there is less waste. This particularly applies to the classes with which we are dealing, for their occupations are mainly sedentary and their appetites and digestions as a consequence less active. Manual labourers will get nourishment out of food which will not do for the brain worker.
    Take, for example, half a leg of mutton at tenpence a pound (quoting for the moment the local butcher's price). The first day it will be served hot with vegetables, the second day cold with salad, the third day tastily hashed, and there will he no appreciable waste. Compare with this a neck of mutton of the same weight costing something less per pound. Not only will a large proportion of its weight be made up of fat and bone, but it will make a far less appetising and far less nourishing dish.
    But there is another question for the housewife to consider besides 'What shall I buy?' and that is, 'Where shall I buy it ?' And on this subject alone a treatise might be written. It will be only possible here to point out that in this, as in everything else, the housewife must use her best wits and not merely follow the lead of her neighbours. I. will indicate what I mean by an example or two. To return to the mutton. The local butcher will charge about tenpence a pound for a prime leg, but the thoughtful housekeeper will instruct her husband to call in before leaving town at some such market as Leadenhall, where he will get the very best 'New Zealand' at sixpence—a saving of nearly three shillings on an eight-pound joint ! The same in the matter of groceries. Here, again, the wise woman will get her husband to do her marketing for her at one of the great central stores where he will pay cash, and because of the rapid sale get goods of the best quality and of the freshest at prices well worth comparing with those of the small local dealer, who will he only too anxious to book orders and deliver goods. The same will apply in the matter of fish.
This is, of course, calculating on the complaisancy of the husband. If he is too proud to carry the fish-basket or parcel of tea home with him she must do the best she can near at hand. In some districts she will find large local stores only second to those to be found in the City. There is not, however, much room for false pride on 150l. a year. Indeed, it is the most expensive of all luxuries to indulge in. If you have it and can't get rid of it, at least make an inner pocket in your coat for it and sew that pocket up.
    One other point is worth mentioning before setting out the weekly schedule of food of our typical couple and their two children. It has somehow come to be an axiom, and it looks plausible enough at first sight, that it is an extravagant habit to purchase in small quantities what we in England call
'dry goods.' I say 'in England,' for in America the term has a totally different meaning. Many practical housekeepers, however, will tell you that the extra cost of buying in small quantities is more than counterbalanced by the fact that the presence of considerable stores in the house leads, especially in the case of luxuries, to a very much larger consumption, thus again emphasising the fact that what is cheapest now is like to prove dearest in the end.
    Here, then, is the suns of 47l. 9s. which will he found set down in our annual budget for food. reduced to weekly terms
Meat anal fish . . 7s 0d
Greengrocery . . 1s 3d
Milk 2s 6d
Bread  1s 6d
Grocery 6s od
Total: 18s. 3d.

There is one other thing which must be touched upon before leaving the matter of food. The Italians say that 'God sends meat and the devil sends cooks,' and the proverb will find not a few to echo it in this country. The devil, however, has not got it all his own way here, unless, indeed, he runs the London County Council, the London School Board, and the City Guilds, for, thanks to their technical classes, opportunities of learning scientific, and thus wholesome and inextravagant, cooking are brought within reach of every one who has the wisdom to take advantage of them.
    It will be noticed that the budget, given at the end of this article, makes no mention of beer or other strong drinks. This is because my typical couple happen to be teetotallers, and. what they can do without others can too. Tobacco, on the other hand, is included, because the wage-earner happens to be a smoker—though a very moderate one at that.
    Another item is omitted which the middle-class householder is apt to look upon as inevitable. But the householder with whom we are dealing has nothing to fear from that terrible bug-bear, Dilapidations. The fact is that he is in the majority of cases a Man of Straw, and the landlord, being in most instances the owner of a street or streets, has taken care so to calculate the rent as to cover the average deterioration, thus avoiding the worry and expense of what would generally prove unfruitful litigation. The item house expenses' covers the necessary renewals of crockery, kitchen utensils, carpentering requisites, &c., besides the occasional employment of a charwoman, and such little washing as has to go to the laundry—the bulk, of course, being done at home.
    The item 4l. 8s. 3d. for 'Insurance and Benefit Club ' represents an annual premium of 2l. 1s. 3d. for a life policy of the value of 100l., effected at the age of twenty-five; 4s. for another 100l. in the case of death being by accident ; 3s. for insurance of furniture against fire ; and 2l. paid to a Friendly Society as provision against sickness. This last entitles the member to 18s. a week for twenty-six weeks, 9s. a week for, a further twenty-six, besides 20l. payable at death to his widow,  or, in the event of the wife predeceasing, 10l. to the member The item 5l. for a Summer Holiday' will seem to many ridiculously small, but when we add to it what would have been the cost of living at home, it will be found enough to cover the necessary travelling, lodging, and extra board for a fortnight's holiday. 'Newspapers, books, &c. 4l. 10s.' should not represent all the reading done in the family, for the man of intellectual tastes and high aims will have provided himself in his days of bachelorhood with something in the shape of a library ; besides which he will, unless his neighbourhood is scandalously behind the times, live within easy distance of a Free Library.
    Education for the children, it will be noticed, has no place in our budget. This is because our typical pair are wise enough to know that the teaching to be got for nothing under the Elementary Education Acts is incomparably better than any private teaching within their means. And they are not inclined to balance the advantage (save the mark!) of a little 'gentility' against their children's intellectual welfare.
    The budget is no imaginary one. It is the outcome of actual experience, and has the special advantage of being applicable to all incomes between 1501. and 200l. It would be totally irrelevant to a man earning 50l. a year less, but the Man' with 50l. a year more will find no difficulty in expanding the items, especially if his quiver is unduly filled. As it stands, it is a budget of strict necessity, and every extra 5l. available may spell a certain degree of affluence. One thing, however, must not be forgotten, and that
is that immediately 1601. a year is exceeded we shall become liable to the payment of a modified Income Tax, but this will not prove a very serious matter even to the earner of 200l. a year, for the first 1601. in his case, as indeed in the case of anyone with a less income than 4001. a year, is totally exempt.

£ s d
Rent (26l.) rates and taxes (5l. 3s. 5d.) 31 3 5
Railway travelling 7 0 0
Life insurance and benefit club 4 8 3
Newspapers, books, &c. 4 10 0
Gas, coal, coke, oil, wood, matches 9 17 0
Summer Holiday 5 0 0
Tobacco 2 5 0
Birthday and Christmas presents 1 10 0
Stamps and stationery 12 0
Food 47 9 0
House expenses 5 4 0
Boots 6 0 0
Tailor 6 0 0
Dress for wife and children 13 0 0
Balance to cover doctor, chemist, charities &c. 6 1 4
Total 150 0 0
It may be interesting to compare with Mr. Layard's model budget the following statement of the manner in which an annual income of about 2501. is expended by a family consisting of two adults and two children (aged six and three respectively), with servant. The family reside in a south-west suburb of London noted for its shopping facilities, and the household is run on temperance principles. For the facts and figures the Editor is indebted to one of the greatest living authorities on domestic social economy.

£ s d
Rent, including rates and taxes (half share of 52l. house) 33 0 0
Housekeeping expenses 90 0 0
Breadwinner's lunches and frequently teas in town 30 0 0
Clothing (this is low as sewing-machine is much in evidence in this household) 17 10 0
Servant's wages 12 0 0
Coal and gas (gas cooking stove) 7 10 0
Life and fire insurance premiums 10 5 0
Church-sittings and small  subscriptions 3 5 0
Season ticket (third class) 4 10 0
Holidays 12 0 0
Doctors, about 3 0 0
Repairs and additions to furniture 4 0 0
Sundries; amusements, bus fares, garden, newspapers, magazines, books, postages, presents, volunteering, &c.; &c. 10 0 0
237 0 0

Cornhill Magazine, May 1901

Sunday 13 March 2011


A very typical advert offering advice for men on what we would call "sexual health." I suspect they didn't get much for their money.




Remarks on the subject of how to preserve the health when in possession of it, and how to regain it when lost. The best means of restoring brain fag, impaired memory, capacity for study or business, general debility of the system, and all wasting of the tissues. This little work will be found void of Latin phrases and fancy words, and will be found brief, precise and void of unnecessary reading. Fiften minutes spent in its perusal will teach the reader more than five days' reading. If you think IT CONCERNS YOU, it will be sent you in plain envelope and SEALED for Five Penny Stamps.

Address:- GOULD LABORATORY, Bradford, Yorkshire.


Mention this paper

advertisement from Reynolds's Newspaper, 1894

Friday 11 March 2011

A lurid fact which invests matrimony with fresh terrors!

The undesirability of women smokers:

The habit of smoking in the dining-room has invaded all classes. Directly the ladies have left the dining-room, the silver cigarette-box and the dainty spirit lamp wherewith to light it are passed round. Ladies encourage and imitate the habit, and, being always anxious to please, willingly learn to take a puff at the odorous weed themselves. This condescension on their part has insensibly resulted in an acquired taste that bids fair to rival the habits of men. A lurid fact which invests matrimony with fresh terrors! Only think of the expense of smoking for a couple! Think of the disadvantage under which a poor woman will lie, who can no longer reproach her spouse with his abominable extravagance in cigars! Think of the disappointment of the ardent lover when, pressing the lips of his adored one, he finds upon them the flavour of an inferior quality of tobacco! Ladies will surely not stop short at cigarettes; they will require shilling cigars, until eventually, perhaps, they may, from motives of economy, even take to the 'churchwarden'. The mysteries of back-hair-brushing conclaves in the silence and seclusion of the night will be aggravated by the smell of tobacco issuing through the keyhole and under the door, while the dear girls themselves gravely discuss the respective merits of 'Bird's-eye', 'Cavendish', 'Turkish Latakia', and 'Irish Twist'. A man will hand his partner a cigarette as naturally as an ice, and the first present of the happy bridegroom must consist of a cigarette-case and a match-box!

Lady Greville, The Gentlewoman in Society, 1892

A Plumber and Family

A study of a typical working class family in the 1890s, from Family budgets: being the income and expenses of twenty-eight British households. 1891-1894 (1896) ...

Jobbing Plumber, age 30.
Wife age 29.
Children : Boys, ages 8 and 5. 
Girl, age 3.


History of the Family. — The man's parents were Londoners, but his father's mother was born in France. His home was unhappy, owing to the drinking habits of his father, and, as the eldest child, he was kept much at home to help his mother and look after the children, with the result that his education was much neglected. Nominally at school for four or five years, he was absent more than half the time. At the age of twelve he was glad to leave school, and start work as an errand boy. In this capacity he served 2 months with a greengrocer, 8 months with a linendraper, and 12 months at a china shop, returning next to the greengrocer. His mother now died, and he went to live with an aunt, and engaged himself at a low wage to a plumber. Having a natural liking for this work, and thinking his want of education would not seriously impede him in it, he deliberately chose it as his trade, soon picked it up, was entrusted with skilled work, and stayed with the same employer nearly 7 years. At this time his aunt died. Though he paid her for his lodging, he was "not too comfortable" with her ; but, when he removed to other lodgings, he found them much more uncomfortable. He was now thrown out of work, through a quarrel with his foreman, and could get nothing to do for a fortnight. Having, however, saved £10 or £11, he married during this fortnight within a few weeks of his aunt's death.
    The wife was born in London. She lost her father (a cabman) when she was very young, and went to the King Edward's Schools for destitute children at Southwark, a charitable institution, whence she was drafted at the age of 15 into domestic service as a general servant. This situation was so uncomfortable, that she left it at once for another. In all, she tried five places, remaining 3 years as nursemaid in one of them, and marrying from the last. The numbers correspond with those in Tablet A, B, C, D. t See Note (a), page aa. B 1 8 Notes on the Families:
    Since his marriage, the man's employment has been marked by extreme irregularity and uncertainty. When her first-born was 6 months old, the wife fell ill of bronchitis and required more nourishing food. To obtain this, her husband, who had no work at the time, allowed the rent to fall in arrear us., when their home (worth about £5 to them) was distrained upon, and broken up. Since then, they have not been able to get on their legs again. On one occasion, when he lay ill for a month in St. Thomas's Hospital, his wife was forced to apply for out- door relief, having absolutely no resources. The necessary steps of appearing before the Guardians, receiving the Overseer's visit, &c, were not surmounted for nearly a fortnight, when they were " almost starving." They were allowed 2s. 6d. a week, and received this for two weeks. Directly the husband came home convalescent, the relief stopped. It has not been applied for except this once. The misfortune of the time, the tardiness of the relief, and the surliness of the Overseer, are looked back upon with some bitterness of recollection by the man, who is devoted to his wife and children. Some months ago their fourth child, a boy of two months, died of inflammation of the lungs, on a cold day, when the last penny had run out, and there was no fire in the room. The loss of the child is keenly felt : they repine too, that the funeral was necessarily of the cheapest (30s.) and plainest. As the man puts it ; " We could not have the little fall-things, wot shows respect." Neither trials in the past nor fears for the future have, however, broken down their honesty, cheerfulness, or self- respect. The wife extorts the maximum of utility from their slender resources. Her husband has no further aspiration than the hope of permanent and regular employment. A good week, when it comes, clears off the debts and shadows of the bad, and provides for the time some satisfaction of the more urgent needs of clothing or substantial food which have been forced into abeyance. Comfort arising from neatness of home and person is relatively high ; but the standard of this precarious living is so low, that it is difficult to conceive of a lower, apart from actual starvation.
    Moral circumstances. — On Sunday afternoons the children are sent to a Wesleyan Sunday School. In the evening they are put to bed early, and their parents go to the Wesleyan Chapel "to pass away an hour." They incur no expenses in these respects. The man does not smoke ; neither he nor his wife drinks. The family is orderly, truthful and honest ; but offers no soil for the cultivation of foresight in the direction of saving. Earnings are spent within the week. The eldest boy is sent to the Board School at a cost of 3d. per week levied for each week during which he is at least once present. Last winter he was ill for 11 weeks and rarely attended; the fees were then remitted after his mother had been before the Local Managers.
    Hygiene. — The man is of strong constitution. His only illness since marriage arose from lead poisoning, due to the inhalation of ingredients of colour on a day when he resumed work with an empty stomach after two weeks enforced idleness. This was the occasion of his transfer to the hospital. The demand for beds led, as he asserts, to his premature discharge. Having no money to pay his fare, he walked home (3 miles), and the same night had two fits — his first and last attacks — attributed to weakness and fatigue. The wife was strong until after the birth of her first child, when, endeavouring too soon to get about her work in the house, she caught cold, which brought on a lung trouble, never since got rid of. Her mother came to nurse her ; but the eviction of the family (see p. 18) happening at the time, she was, through the kind offices of her doctor's sister, sent the same day to a convalescent home at Kilburn, and there kept for four weeks at 8/6 a week, her husband ultimately bearing half the expense. The oldest boy is consumptive. The family often lacks the warmth and nutrition necessary for the preservation of health. In case of illness application is made to a charitable dispensary which provides medical advice, medicine, bandages, &c, to accepted patients, who must pay 1d. on each visit on application, and find their own bottles. The doctor now attending the wife, spoke to a charitable lady of her want of coal during a severe illness, and the want was supplied. A previous (charitable) doctor, as already stated, interested his sister in this poor patient.
    The children play in their school-yard, and sometimes in a neighbouring park, but this is restricted by the fear of their parents that they might get into bad company.


Sources of Income. — The man describes himself as a three-branch man. His main business is that of a jobbing plumber. The usual wages of a London plumber are said to be 9d. an hour, and the weekly hours of labour 56½ generally, in the suburbs, 53 in the "City," and large suburban firms. This plumber trusts to his local connexion, and the information supplied by comrades, for his jobs. When out of work he applies to firms, and sometimes to likely householders. Other resources failing he tries to earn a trifle as a porter at auction rooms, or wherever he can get a job for the time. He is not deft at paper-hanging, and it took him 14 hours to hang 9 pieces at 6d. a piece, with his own paste (costing 2¾d.) His tools, worth about 5s., would cost 30s. to replace. He is often unable to do a job because his tools have been pawned. There is nothing else upon which he can raise a loan. The interest charged is ½d. in the is. for each month, and ½d. for the pawn-ticket.
    The wife is too delicate to do charing, or take in work. To oblige an unmarried brother "who is rather particular," she washes and mends his linen, but the 6d. a week which he sends in payment does not cover the expense of mangling and washing materials. She would like, she says, to do the work for nothing. She makes the children's stockings and all their garments, except the girl's dresses. She has a small sewing machine. But her main contribution to the economy of the family is her very skilful house-keeping, which circumvents poverty by the most ingenious expedients.
    The children are not old enough to earn money. The boy of eight is, however, sent to do the small errands. He is found to receive sympathetic attention when he has a farthing, or half-penny to lay out ; while his father or mother would often be told that orders of such small value could not be executed. When there is no definite measure for a "ha'porth" his parents think he " gets the benefit of the doubt." He is also useful about the house, and, for his mother's health, lights the fire before she gets up; but complaint is made that he burns more wood in the process than a grown person would do.
    The family has no credit, nor can it count upon the aid of relatives, except that at rare intervals it gets a cast garment, which the wife makes up. When they lost their baby, the man's brother, though actually out of work, "made" 30s. (i.e., by pledging) and lent it to them to pay the funeral expenses. And the wife's mother, now dead, took in the man and his children when they were homeless. Last Christmas they received a 4lb. joint of beef and ¼lb. of tea from a lady at the chapel, who observed that they "used the place regular." The pleasures of memory as to this feast are still very vivid. The wife was recently discovered by an old fellow-servant, whose mistress now gives the man an occasional job, and his wife a few odd things, surplus food, a remnant of linen and the like. But the family receives no visits and conceals its privations ; so that this spasmodic help does not always come at the best time.
    Their last lines of defence are (i.) to fall back upon cheaper and scantier food ; (ii.) to pawn. Neither resource will bear much strain.


Meals. — Breakfast 8.0 a.m. Tea, bread and margarine or fat bacon.
Dinner 12.45. Bread and margarine. Two or three days a week, meat and vegetables, or fish. On Sunday, when possible, suet pudding is added.
Tea 5 p.m. Tea, bread and margarine.

    There is never supper. The man takes a tin flask of tea with him in the morning, and warms it where he is working ; he carries his bread and butter. His dinner, bread and cheese, or bread and a rasher of bacon, at an eating house costs 2d. or 4d. When he is working within easy distance he comes home to dinner. He complains that the children are given food between meals when they sometimes cry for it out of mere whim, though at other times they suffer real hunger.
    The fat bacon, used instead of  butter," is melted in a frying- pan, and a slice of bread put into the pan to absorb the fat. The children are fond of this economic dish, which is nutritive and a change from " butter."
    The eldest boy is sent before 7 a.m. to a neighbouring baker's, to buy bread baked two days earlier, and sold at a very low price, five twopenny loaves for 2d. The baker's supply is, however, too small to be counted upon daily. Syrup is found to be cheaper than treacle because it is thinner and spreads further.
    The only commodity in which the wife thinks much loss is incurred through her want of means is coal. This is bought at 14lb. for 2d, though the price per ton is19s., and per cwt. 1s. 2d. Block fuel is bought in emergencies, but it provokes her cough and is no saving. Asked whether Indian tea at 1s. 10d. would not yield more cups than dust at 1s. 2d., she replies that she is fanciful about her cup of tea, and finds the Indian tea too rough. When times are good a tin of Swiss milk is bought (3½d.) This is ample for a whole week ; and on Sunday the children have suet pudding with Swiss milk spread upon it. Loaf sugar is never bought, the children would want pieces to eat.
    Dwelling, Furniture, and Clothing. — The house is situated near Loughboro' Junction in the S.E. of London, in a neighbourhood thickly peopled by the lower middle class, by artisans of small regular earnings, railway servants, etc. This family occupies the top or second floor. Its two rooms are well-lighted and ventilated. The front room, looking upon a street of considerable width, is the living room of the family and the bed-room of the parents. The boys sleep in the back room, the girl on a bed-chair in the large room. There is no attachment to a particular dwelling. They have removed seven times in all. Their furniture is too trifling to make this process expensive or dangerous. They are anxious to remain here because the rent 4s. a week, is 6d. lower than their last lodging, and they could not expect to find equally good rooms elsewhere at the same rent. They find that householders object to poor families with young children as tenants. Their last residence was an undertenancy of a workman, who, himself, got into arrears and was evicted. They were obliged by the superior landlord to leave at the same time. They have a good water supply and sanitary accommodation. Trains run very near the top of the house. The immediate vicinity is cheerless and depressing.
    The furniture and clothing are very scanty, but kept fairly (not perfectly) clean. The best room has a rough carpet, a few cheap prints, a chest of drawers, and a little American clock, which they have owned (if not possessed) ever since their marriage. Out of doors the man wears an overcoat, which is warm and conceals deficiency of other clothing. Indoors, or at work, the overcoat is removed, and reveals him in shirt sleeves. The bed- clothes, in like manner, are a thin counterpane, and little more.
    Recreation. — The man plays a little upon the flute, mainly to amuse the children, in whom he finds his chief pleasure. Sitting, coatless, before the fire of an evening a boy on one knee and a girl on the other, he sings or whistles, and, as he says, "as a game with 'em in my way." At 7.30 p.m. (having arisen at 7 a.m.) the children go to bed ; and the man goes to his brother's to have a game of dominoes. These visits are not returned. The brother,  " being a single man and a little better off, he thinks as my place ain't quite good enough for him." Expenses are scarcely ever incurred for recreation, but last Bank-holiday they all went for a country walk towards Dulwich, and hired a mail cart for the children, three hours at 1d. an hour. The man himself has never been into a Museum, although born in London. He is sensitive to the feeling that, in any public building, he or his children might be looked down upon as having "no right to be there " because they are not smartly dressed. Neither he nor his wife has been to a theatre or entertainment since marriage. "We have pantomine enough at home," they say. The children play with each other, and with the neighbour's children in the street. They have never been on a steamboat, taken part in an excursion, nor visited any place of special interest.


    (a) When London workmen are spoken to on the unwisdom of marrying before due provision is made to avoid distress, they not unusually reply that they are led into precipitate marriage owing to the discomfort and swindling experienced in lodgings. It is worthy of consideration whether the economies of community might not be utilized to combine for unmarried workmen some of the comforts of a well managed home with some of the advantages of club life. Compare what is (with special advantages, no doubt) done at the Students' Residences at Wadham House, and Balliol House, close by Toynbee Hall, for the class from which junior clerks are drawn.
    (b) The superstitious extravagance of the poor in funeral expenses is well known. One of the attractions of the Salvation Army is said to be the quasi-military funeral promised to those who enlist. A brother of this plumber's wife quarrelled with his mother and went to Australia, where he succeeded well. Learning of his mother's illness, he sent home £50 to a comrade, to be applied only to funeral expenses in case of death, and refusing personal correspondence. £16 of the £30 was laid out in the event.
    (c) On the abolition of school fees the family ceased to trouble to send early to the baker's for cheap stale bread. See further details of this family in the Royal Statistical Society's Journal, June, 1893, page 284.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Penny Pastimes

An article from the Leisure Hour of July 1867, which gives a great insight into the sideshows and cheap entertainment available to the lower classes:


In the days of our boyhood, which were the days of the chap books, of the wandering mummers and field mountebanks, of the crippled parish constables and the septuagenarian London "Charleys"—in those days the only species of penny pastime which we can recall to mind was that which was popularly denominated "threesticks-a-penny." Unlike some other venerable institutions of an analogous nature, that popular diversion still retains its hold and its fascination upon the pence-paying public. At present it is not, as it formerly was, in the exclusive possession of the gipsies: other innovators have asserted and established their claim to share in its profits; and, though the gipsies have materially diminished in number since the time referred to, their peculiar and profitable pastime has suffered no declension, but is sure to be found in favour with boys and lads at all fairs and festal gatherings, either rural or suburban. We need hardly describe the game. Everybody knows that it consists of throwing stout sticks at three slender ones stuck in deep holes in the ground, and surmounted each with a tin tobacco-box or other bauble, which becomes the prize of the player whenever it is knocked off and does not fall into the hole beneath; a consummation which looks the easiest thing possible to achieve, but which in practice very rarely happens. We suspect that the real charm of the game is in some way connected with the combative instincts of the players, whose earnestness, as we have remarked again and again, invariably rises with their ill-luck; so that, by the time their coppers run low, their muscular vigour mounts high, and the truncheons are apt to fly about in a manner perilous to the limbs of lookers-on. Of late years, be it observed, this spirited game has not been allowed to be monopolized by the penny-paying class, but, first having undergone some modification, and been submitted to a change of name, is pursued with characteristic eagerness by the ladies and gentlemen of the fashionable world—the only essential difference being, that instead of "shying " their truncheons at tin tobacco-boxes, the players launch them at the head of "Aunt Sally," with the amiable intention of knocking off her nose.
    Among the novel pastimes which have sprung up with the present generation is that of being weighed for a penny, and receiving from the weigh-master a document, duly worded and signed, setting forth your weight at a given day and hour. A philosopher might perhaps wonder what possible pastime there can be in sitting in a chair in counterbalance to so many pounds avoirdupois; but the pence-paying public are not philosophers, and their ideas on the subject of their weight of flesh do not agree precisely with those of Mr. Banting. As a rule, they have no liking for the unfattening art, but are apt to compliment themselves and one another, as the Chinese do, upon any very palpable and ponderable increase in bodily substance. They do not like to lose flesh; with them stoutness and sturdiness are the symbols of health, and the idea of going back or falling away from any maximum they may have attained is an unwelcome one. We confess, however, that the prevalence of these notions seems hardly sufficient to account for the popularity of the weighing business, and does not sufficiently explain the fact that these weighing-machines are found in all places of cheap recreation, and maintain their ground year after year.
    There is no mystery at all about the pastime that comes next, which is so essentially British in its nature as to be intelligible to every one. It is embodied in an image of rather robust proportions, and clad in coarse canvas, which stands opposed to you on a fair stage, and propped in the rear by an upright beam. The image presents his broad breast to your blows: you pay your penny, and you "pitch into" him with your fist as hard as you like, or as hard as you can. The proof of your manly vigour is immediately visible in the countenance of your adversary—not in grins or contortions of pain, for the much-enduring monster preserves a uniformly apathetic expression, but by the motion of a kind of minute-hand in the centre of his forehead, which, set in action by the force of your blow, runs round a graduated dial and stops at the figure which corresponds with the momentum of your blow, in pounds. The fact is, the thorax of the monster (we notice that aspiring experimenters usually call it the " bread-basket") is furnished with viscera of elastic steel and clock-work, ingeniously contrived to register the assaulting force. The experiment is quite safe—the foe having his breast thoroughly well padded to save your knuckles, and he is never known to return the compliments paid him. Of all possible pugilistic encounters this is certainly the most justifiable and satisfactory—nobody is hurt by it, while the assailant gains a little self-knowledge at a mere nominal cost.
    Somewhat similar to the above, at least in principle, is a new invention which we discovered but the other day while observantly perambulating one of the Saturday-night markets of a London suburb. There, at the corner of a lane, amidst a throng of vegetable stalls, fish-barrows, piles of crockery, heaps of hardware, and collections of kitchen wares, arose a gorgeous-looking temple, in which the architect seemed to have blended together the forms of an Italian basilica and a Chinese pagoda, crowding it over with finials and filigree work in most lavish profusion, and adorning the salient points and angles with abundance of polish and gilding. From the lower part of the edifice proceeded a long flexible tube, the extremity of which the proprietor held in his hand, while he looked round inquiringly among the crowd, encouraging them from time to time with "Now, gentlemen, don't be backward in coming forward! You don't know what you can do till you try." We were wondering what might be the nature of the exhibition got up with such elaborate splendour, when a lad of sixteen or seventeen, in a paper cap and fustian jacket, elbowed his way rather demonstratively through the crowd, and, throwing down a copper, laid hold of the proffered tube, and, clapping the end in his mouth, inflated his buccinator muscles, and began one long and forcible expiration through it. His pale face became red, the red grew crimson, the crimson waxed purple, and still the young fellow blew and blew, while his eyes seemed starting from their sockets. And lo! as he blew all eyes were directed to a white clock-face, over the portico of the temple, on which the arrow-headed index was moving slowly from figure to figure, and showing by its progress the amount of the blast from the experimenter's lungs. Ere long the slow movement of the index changed to a sort of convulsive quivering, which showed that the performer had exhausted his powers, and the next instant flew back to zero, as the lad relinquished the blow-pipe with a portentous gasping inhalation. From the fact that this operator was followed by a number of others, who strove in vain to puff themselves up to his mark, and that he, evidently with much relish, renewed his endeavours as soon as he had recovered breath, we came to the conclusion that there is no emulative contest of any imaginable kind open to the populace which would fail to find countenance and encouragement among them.
    A pastime that is not only cheap, but is at the same time scientific, especially if it is incomprehensible by the mass, is sure to meet with more than ordinary favour. Hence it is that what is sometimes termed the "galvanic grip" is an acceptable amusement to the million. The instrument used is a small magnetic battery, somewhat more powerful than those in domestic use, and the intensity of which the proprietor can increase or diminish at his pleasure. He is usually pretty liberal in the force he turns on, and that for an obvious reason ; as it would not pay him to be administering galvanism for any length of time at a penny or a half-penny the dose, by laying on a powerful stream he gives the experimenter enough of it in a short time, and is ready for a new-comer. You pay your copper, and are presented with two handles, forming the terminations of the electric wire; you grasp these as tight as you can, one in either palm, and you hold on as long as you choose, while the proprietor grinds away at the machine and sends the galvanic current into you. The longer you hold on, the greater the return you get for your money. Of course, on the principle of getting a good pennyworth, a man must be a booby to relinquish his grasp so long as he can possibly retain it; because, if he lets go his hold, he must pay again before he can resume the experiment! It is amusing at times to witness the effect of this economical consideration, as shown in the conduct of the experimenters, some of whom, intending only to retain their hold until satisfied that they have bad a fair return for their investment, are held fast against their will, till they sorely rue their bargain. The most regular customers to the street galvanist are working people troubled with rheumatism, some of whom, from long practice, can withstand the force of prolonged and powerful shocks, from which they profess to derive, and it may he do really derive, some relief from rheumatic pains.
    A common pastime, but which is far from being commonly appreciated, is that of shooting with a rifle at a target. There is no gunpowder used. What the weapon is charged with is not apparent, but there is something sufficient to propel a small arrowy pellet towards the mark. The marksman who, first paying his copper, hits the bull's-eve, wins a small prize, generally fruit of some kind; but the bull's-eye is rarely struck, the riffle being ingeniously contrived so that the better the aim the worse shall be the shot. It is true that, by repeated firing, a marksman may succeed at length in discovering the course his shot is likely to take; but, long before he has made the discovery, he will have expended far more than it is likely to be worth to him. Shooting at a target with a feathered dart, propelled by the breath through a blow-tube, is an analogous kind of pastime, but does not seem to be very generally practised.
   The last of these odd pastimes we shall notice is the practice which prevails in certain English counties, of taking physic in public. In the course of our wanderings through the mining and manufacturing districts of the north, we have come, again and again, upon open-air medicinal booths or standings, at which medicine is dispensed for the cure of all kinds of ailments, at the low charge, so far as our observation serves us, of a penny a dose. Properly speaking, taking physic is, of course, not a pastime; but when those who swallow it in public choose to make it so, and show, by the evident relish and gusto with which they gulp down the most nauseous compounds that the exercise is a real pleasure to them, we feel ourselves justified in ranking this recreation in the same category with the others. The medicaments thus consumed are for the most part not such as will be found in the pharmacopoeia; they are rather simples, or distillations from, or infusions of, herbs and plants, the virtues of which have passed by tradition from one generation to another, and which are gathered, prepared, and dispensed by professors of either sex, unburthened with license or diploma. The pleasure which the swallowers seem to derive from imbibing them may be assumed for aught we know, or, being real, must spring from some secondary source; it may perhaps be referred to the compensating principle in the human mind, by the action of which small trials are more than repaid by the inward satisfaction one feels in the capacity of ignoring them.