Tuesday 29 May 2012

Dead Cats

Cat skins were rather prized by Victorian furriers. The following details are definitely not for the faint-hearted ...

An old woman named Elizabeth Rogerson was placed at the bar, with Elizabeth, her daughter and another female, named Margaret Dunn, for re-examination on the charge of having stolen and slaughtered an immense number of cats. From the evidence given on this and on the previous occasion, it appeared, that in consequence of almost daily complaints having been within the last five or six months made by ladies and others, who had in a most unaccountable manner been deprived of their feline animals, Inspector Evans, of the S Division, instructed Shayler, a constable, to keep a sharp look out for the prisoners (the persons supsected) and who dwelt at No.3, Weller's-place, Old St, Pancras-road. He did so, and a few nights ago saw the younger Rogerson and Dunn shoot from a sack into a cesspool in Red Lion-passage a number of cats; he secured the two prisoners in question, and on examining the cesspool found therein upwards of 50 cats of all sizes, the whole of them being divested of their skins; he next repaired to the prisoner's house, and on knocking at the door, it was opened by a man, who without much ceremony made his exit, leaving his hat behind. The constable, seeing the old woman come from the yard with an empty sack, took her in charge also, and ascertained that she had just before thrown down the water-closet eight cats terribly mutilated and which to all appearance had been skinned alive. He examined the apartments, the whole of the furniture in which consisted of an old deal table and two chairs, and found four French poodles tied up in different directions; they seemed in excellent condition, and were feeding upon the legs and shoulders of some cats placed in a dish before them; he also found a quantity of blood-stained shavings, and some sacks, together with a number of brass collars, eight or ten dead cats in a saucepan, and a quantity of their fat, which was, no doubt, intended for sale. Mr. J. Muggridge, a corn-dealer in Tottenham-court-road, identified one of the sacks produced as his property; and a lady named Newby, living in Mecklenburg-square, owned one of the collars, which she had affixed to the neck of a favourite cat lost by her some time ago. It further appeared that the elder prisoner was some time back charged at Union-hall, and that on searching her house, in Glasshouse-yard, Gravel-lane, Southwark, the carcass of upwards of 150 dogs and cats wre found in different parts of the premises. The old woman was committed by Mr. Hoskins for two months, and the others were discharged. The constable applied to know how he should act with regard to the furniture and the poodles left in the place. Ever since the capture of the prisoners, it had been deemed necessary, owning to the excitement caused in the neighbourhood, to keep an officer constantly in the house, for fear it should be pulled down by the mob. (Times, 5 April, 1839)

Saturday 26 May 2012

Diary of a Girl Pickpocket

"I was born at Stockport; my father was a pensioner, and had one shilling per day; my father and mother were both sober and industrious, but my mother would have done anything to have got us meat. My father was more shy; he was a shoemaker. I went for nearly three years to a Roman Catholic School, at threepence a week. I went to the factory at 10 years old, and worked till I was 12. Then I went to service at Mosley, at a boarding school. I stayed there till I was 14. I then left on account of the small wages. I came home, and was sent by my father to learn to be a lad's cap maker; I was learning for three months, and then I came home again. .
     "When I came home, I saw that my brother Richard was dressed very fine, besides having a gold ring and a watch. My brother was not then living at home regularly, because he could not stand my father's reproaches. I used to say to my father, 'How well is Richard dressed!' and my father would say, 'But who thinks anything of it? he's a prig.' My mother was more unhappy about it than my father, and often followed him about the town, begging him to come home. When I was just fifteen, my mother gave me threepence to go to Knottmill Fair, and I met my brother there. He told me what to do, and I stood before him, so that nobody could see his hand, while he picked a woman's pocket of 7s. 6d. and a purse. He gave me a shilling. and then told me to go home. I went into a show and picked a young woman's pocket of 1s. 6d. I trembled very much when I did it; I met the young woman again in a short time, and she was crying; I heard her say the money was her mother's; I cried too, and would have given back the money, but was afraid of being took up. I dared not take the money home, so I took it to a stay shop, and paid it in advance towards a pair of stays. I remained at home three months without doing anything more. At the end of that time, my little brother Edward was taken up for picking pockets, and got three months. He had been taken up three times before, and had only been out three days. During twelve months, he had only been at liberty four days.
     "One of the witnesses against him was one or his own companions, and after he had been the means of convicting him, I leathered him just outside the court. I was taken up for the assault on this witness, and remained in the New Bailey a week. I was then bailed out by two navvies, (these two men were perfect strangers; this kind or security is very common.) My mother met me in the street, and we were treated to some rum by a companion of my brother Richard's, James O'B., who had £100, which he had stolen from a woman. My brother was then in Gloucestershire, picking pockets. O'B. gave me money to complete the purchase of my stays. I had been at a fair with another young woman only for a day, and we got £3 between us. When I got home again, my mother had a letter from Richard, saying that he was put back for trial at Gloucester for pocket-picking, and wanted money to pay for a counsellor. I went by the train to Oughton, and at the station picked a woman's pocket of 15s. which paid for my place to Kidderminster. I went from Kidderminster to Worcester, with five or six other females, and got 15s. more from them. I stopped all night at Worcester. I went in an omnibus to the Gloucester station next morning, and picked a lady's pocket in the omnibus of £1 2s. I got into Gloucester on Friday night; saw my brother next morning, told him that I would try to get some money for a counsellor, and went to the market; but it is a very poor market, and I only got 10s. 9d. I could not get money enough to fee my brother a counsel, and he received three months, having been recommended by the jury to mercy, on account of his being so young. I then went to Derby, and then to Sheffield, where I saw O'N., whom I had previously known in Manchester, through my brother. I went to Rotherham statute fair, and got about £4. I saw O'N. again, who said, 'I think you have done better than any of us!' for a great many pick-pockets were there. I then went to Bain statute fair, but got nothing, for it rained, and no people came. I returned to Sheffield, and then went to Hull. I went to all those places myself, having heard O'N. and his companions say they were going. It was the fair, and I got between £6 and £7. I seldom kept my money, for others travelling in the lodging houses used to say they were hard up, and borrowed it from me. O'N. wanted me to live with him without being married, but I would not. My eldest brother, John, was then in Hull, serving a month for picking pockets. I waited till he came out, and then he leathered me for coming away from home. I ran away from him and went to Leeds, there I met O'N. again, and the askings were put up for us to be married. I filled up the three weeks by going to Sheffield and York, and got about £10 or £11, at both places together. We were married at the old church. Up to this time I could only pick outside pockets, but O'N. taught me how to raise outside dresses, and to pick inside pockets. I was married on the Thursday, and on the Saturday I got 10s. in the market. On Monday my brother Edward came to Leeds. We all went out, and Edward picked a pocket of 13s, but he had been watched, and we were all took up, and we got three months.
     "After our liberation we went to Hull, and found Prince Albert was going to lay the foundation stone of Grimsby Docks. At Hull I got 17s. We went to Grimsby, and Edward and I got 30s. each. From Hull we went to Newark, where we got £7; then to Redford, £4; then to Sheffield, where I was took up for 30s. I had just taken from a woman. This brought me six weeks, and O'N. (my husband) two months in Wakefield. I travelled after I came out, until O'N. came out, and got in the fortnight about £15. Then we went to Selby, and got £4 in the market. Then to Hull, and got £5 at the station. Then to Manchester, when I and my husband went to live with my father. While I lived at Manchester, I went out with O'N. almost every day by the trains, six or seven miles out of Manchester, sometimes second sometimes first class, having very good clothes. The largest sum I ever got was £22, going from Manchester to Stockport. O'N. did nothing but shade me off. He was a great drunkard, and I had to pay from 20s. to 35s. every week to the beer shop for him. We carried on this way for about six months, making on the average about £10 a week. We lived at my father's all this time. He used to fret and cry, and tell us we should get into disgrace, but we took no heed. He was too good-natured with us. We then heard that Preston market was very throng on a Saturday, and for thirteen weeks we came over, O'N., Richard, and I, every Saturday. O'N. and I went together, and Richard and O'G.; at night we shared all equally. The largest sum I ever got at Preston was £17, and the smallest about £3. I used to call £4 and £5 nothing. It was owing to the wet day we went into the shop, few people being in the market, when the offence took place for which we were transported. Although I was three years at school, I never learned to read. Once when I was at Preston station, I got some money in a purse, (9s.) I took the purse, a red silk one, and put it in the water closet on the Manchester side of the station. It was put behind the pipe, over the seat. (This place was searched and the article found). This was about two months ago. When I got a purse in a crowd, I used to take the money out and put the purse into some man's pocket. I've done this eighteen or nineteen times. It was the best way of getting rid of the purse. J.O'N. lived with another young man in a furnished cellar. They dressed very well, and each kept a woman. They used to have beef stakes and beer regular to breakfast. I used to go out on Monday and get £2 and £3, which would satisfy me for two days, and then I would go again on Wednesday or Thursday, and again on Saturday, and generally got in the week about £20. I was never satisfied with less. O'G. did not do much, he used to be clammed. My brother Edward was very daring. He could pick a woman's pocket as she was running along the street. If he had seen a thing that he fancied, he would say, 'That's mine,' and watch his opportunity till he got it. John had no heart (energy) for thieving. He lived on a woman, who kept him. K. and McG. were guns - that is, they taught younger thieves and screened them when they were practising. K. kept a pick-up woman - that is, one who commits robberies in the street, K. coming up at the right moment to screen or rescue her."

Quoted in Ragged School Union Magazine, 1854

Wednesday 23 May 2012

I rose slowly, like Venus, from the waves

Two quotes from Francis Wey, a Frenchman, on 'English Prudery' in the 1850s. The first details a peculiarly embarrassing dilemma on Brighton beach, the second the toilet habits of the aristrocracy at Ascot. Why not?


In fine weather, bathing takes place in full view of the front, swarming with idlers of both sexes. Men go into the water stark naked, which surprised me, knowing how easily shocked English people are. Never shall I forget my bathe at Brighton! It was on a Sunday, at the time at which worshippers return from church. I had been assigned a cabin in which to undress. It was a wooden construction on wheels placed at the water's edge, with stepshalf-submerged by the waves. Getting into the sea was easy enough, as my cabin screened me from view. Unfortunately, I went for rather a long swim, as I wanted to get a good view of Brighton from afar. The tide was going out, which made my return journey a lengthy one, and when at last I regained my depth, I found that my cabin, which I had left with water lapping the hub of the wheels, was now high and dry at fifteen paces from the sea. To put a finishing touch to my discomfort, three ladies, a mother with her daughters, had settled themselves on camp stools in my direct line of approach! They seemed very respectable females, and the girls were both pretty. There was no possibility of reaching my cabin without passing in front of them. They each held a prayer-book and they watched me swimming about with serene unconcern. To give them a hint without offending their modesty, I advanced cautiously on all fours, raising myself by degrees as much as decency permitted. I had not, like the wise Ulysses emerging on the island of the Phoenicians, the resource of draping myself in foliage. There was no seaweed even on this too tidy beach! As the ladies did not move, I concluded they had not understood my dilemma, so, crawling back, started to swim again. But one cannot swim for ever, while one can sit without fatigue for hours. The ladies seemed unlikely to weary of their repose. The situation was all the more perplexing as my host, Sir Walter G., was awaiting me on the front, and kept giving unmistakable signs of impatience, pointing at his watch and striding impatiently about. What was I to do? Remain in the water and inconvenience my host, or emerge from it and affront the ladies? I determined on the latter course. After all, why had they settled just there? I rose slowly, like Venus, from the waves. Striving to adopt a bearing both modest and unconcerned, reminiscent of the lost traditions of innocence of a younger world, I stepped briskly past the three ladies who made no pretence of looking away. I felt the blood rushing to my face which, I fear, must have belied my pose of guilelessness, especially as Anglican virtue is always pale. When at last we got home, Sir Walter teased me good-naturedly about my misadventure, and his wife told me that she knew the ladies, who were very puritanical! They disapproved of bathing on Sundays and had adopted that unexpected method of discouraging Sabbath-breakers. Could one conceive a stranger mode of teaching a transgressor to be virtuous or of performing an act of religious fervour?


But in their behaviour also they are unaccountable. For instance, at the Ascot races, where one has to remain five or six hours in public on a space of ground where no cover can be found, tents have been erected by private enterprise for a purpose which is easy to surmise. Instead of screening them from view as much as possible, these "conveniences" are placed in the very midst of everything, among the dancing tents, drinking booths, etc. We saw a bevy of fashionable ladies rush from their elegant carriages, laughing and talking as if to attract attention, and disappear all together into one of those shelters. The wind shook the canvas which, being both too short and too narrow, gave the onlookers a good view of what was going on inside. The utter indifference of these highborn beauties was an encouragement to the impertinent curiosity of the spectators. When English people are not icicles, they are apt to become shameless.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

How to Complain about Cutlery (1839)


    I am sorry to have been at the trouble of giving instructions which have not been attended to and which have been fruitless. I feel disappointed that the goods must be sent back again, and that we have been delayed so long, and must have further delay and further risks. But my new experience in household matters has brought so much annoyance from the carelessness of workmen of every class, locks not made as they ought to be nor fixed as they ought to be, paper not put on as it was directed to be, all resulting from inattention. I quite see and must hold that to pass over these things from the inconvenience to oneself in having them altered is to give a bounty on indolence and bad workmanship.
    I hope you will not pay for them yourself but if you don't choose to impose the proper penalty on the workman, it is hardly fair that it should be imposed on me and one cannot allow ones eye to be offended with bad shapes all one's life out of courtesy to the careless workman. But not only is the threading comparatively coarse, but the shape is still worse—certainly contrary to express direction not to let the sides be tucked in as these are. This makes the shape of the larger spoons heavy looking and vulgar and as bad in shape and appearance as if they had been made in lead or common metal and therefore give me the greatest dissatisfaction all excepting the smaller forks which are upon the whole, neat. I must however send the whole of them back. I had hoped the handle of the fish knife would not have had the same defective shape as the rest but it is not ... 
    I intend to make these experiences of the indolence and inattention of workmen the subject of some remarks on popular education.—

Yours faithfully,


Thursday 17 May 2012

Pavement Advertisements

Here's a new one on me - pavement advertising in the West End, 1856 (as recounted by French visitor Francis Wey, 'A Frenchman sees the English in the Fifties', transl. 1932). What is he talking about? Could be pavement chalking, but that would hardly work after wet weather. Anyone heard of anything similar?

'Publicity invades even the asphalt pavement. It relies on the frequent rain and the habit the people have over here of looking down as they walk. When the weather is fine, dust dulls the surface and nothing much is visible. But as soon as a shower has washed it clean the characters appear, letters blossom under your feet and you find yourself walking on gigantic posters. In this way, the stone flags of London are made as productive as fields of wheat.'

Sunday 6 May 2012

Books being delicate

More from Grant Richards' biography. This letter from Oscar Wilde, refusing to supply a review copy of his Poems:

16 Tite Street

Dear Sir,
    The new edition of my poems is limited to 200 copies, and these are meant not for reviewers, but merely for lovers of poetry, a small and quite unimportant sect of perfect people - so I fear I cannot bid my book wander towards Mowbray House - its rainment, gold smeared on tired purple, might attract attention in the Strand, and that would annoy it, books being delicate and most sensitive things, and, if they are books worth reading, having a strong dislike of the public.
    So, you see I must perforce refuse your request.
    Yours truly,
        Oscar Wilde.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Improperly Behaving Lovers

A lovely boyhood memory of the Crystal Palace, from Grant Richards' Memories of a Misspent Youth. The 'safety bicycle' which looked so funny was essentially the modern bike - ie. not a penny farthing:

'Our leisure, or at least my leisure, was spent at the Crystal Palace, in the winter looking at such shows as we could get into by luck or cunning, and, in the good weather, in the grounds, where the shrubberies were full of birds' nests - and sometimes improperly behaving lovers, where occasionally on Sundays we could manage to get hold of a boat and row across to the islands in the lake and pentrate into the very interiors of the prehistoric animals, where there were certain places in which we could help ourselves to coloured-fire laid out ready for the Firework Thursdays, and where there were on the race-track races between men on horseback and men on bicycles, and the cycle-races and so on. I remember now the roar of laughter that went round the grassy slopes of the area when the first safety bicycle made its appearance! And it was in the roller-skating hall of the Crystal Palace that I first fell in love with a girl of much my own age ...'