Thursday 2 October 2014

An Application for Shares

A written application for shares, from 1852, resides in the archives of the 1851 Commission for the Great Exhibition. The dates means it was an application intended for the Crystal Palace Company, who were rebuilding the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. Here it is in full;

Paxton with Fox and Henderson
Did raise a spacious Palace
But Vandalism and her son
Condemned it to the gallows;
A deed so rude, so base, so vile,
And cannot be forgiven,
But science art and beauty will
Soon be revenged (by heaven).

Paxton will make a garden and a grove,
Through all the seasons, and where all may rove
Mongst natures fairest flowers, to elevate
The lower classes, and amuse the great.

For Joseph Paxton.

I presume to ask of you to look with a favourable eye upon my letter of application for 25 shares and you will greatly obliged your admirer and a lover of that grand Institution which in my humble opinion will be a boon and a blessing to many thousands born and yet unborn and will amuse, recreate and improve the masses.

I am your obt. sert.

Charles Mott

12 Flask Walk, Hampstead
May 25 1852

The Alcohol-Free Great Exhibition

The following letter shows the advice received by the Commissioners of the Great Exhibition on the subject of drink  (preserved in their minutes) ...

21 Regent Street, July, 1850


I have just been told upon what must be good authority, that a part of the plan of the 1851 Exhibition consists in proving a Kitchen and Refreshments of all kinds for the visitors. As I have some personal experience in this sort of operation, where English crowds collected, you will perhaps allow me to tell you what it amounts to.

When the great meetings of the Horticultural Society were first organised, it was part of the plan to supply Wine, &c., with Cold Meat, Poultry, &c., to those who would pay for such articles; but we found that many of our visitors thought more of eating and drinking than of the objects of the Exhibition, and that the garden was converted into an eating-house - with just such consequences as might have been anticipated from the presence of Wine, &c.

We were, therefore, compelled to abandon that part of our plan, and to limit the refreshments to Ices, Cakes, Lemonade, Orangeabe, and Iced Water. We do not suffer any Meat, or Wine, or Spiritous Liquors to pass our gates, and the consequence has been that the serious inconveniences formerly felt have disappeared. It is true that our visitors were a much mixed class, yet certainly not more mixed than those to be expected in 1851 must necessarily be.

I would, therefore, very strongly advice you to draw the attention of the Executive to this point, upon which much of the comfort and respectability of the Exhibition will depend. It is no doubt desirable that something should be provided; but the Articles usually to be found in a Confectioner's Shop, Liqueurs, &c., excepted, are all that can be required. To those who want more substantial enjoyment there will, no doubt, be abundant accommodation on the outside of the Park.

Pray believe me to be,
Yours very truly,

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Toilets at the Great Exhibition

Regular readers will know that I have a long-standing interest in Victorian public toilets ... indeed, public loos are a crucial chapter in my forthcoming book Dirty Old London (look right, if you want to order a copy).

It's often said that the public toilet originated at the Great Exhibition, which is something of a myth (a point I'll be addressing in a blog over at Yale Books next week) but there were toilets there - and many of the 'shilling day' people may not have seen one before. I've always wondered what the experience was like.

So, a little belatedly, I went today to the archive of the 1851 Commission that ran the Exhibition, which still resides in 'Albertopolis' - within Imperial College. There wasn't much on the toilets themselves (the official 1852 government report on the Exhibition does, at least, contain a whole page on the subject) but there were some very detailed plans of the building.

The toilets (aka 'Retiring Rooms') were located at the three 'Refreshment Rooms' - this much I knew.

The Refreshment Rooms were basically snack bars where it was intended (according to the Commission's tender for the food and drinks contract) you might buy the following:

Area No.1 (in the centre of the building): For Ices, Pastry, Sandwiches, Patties, Fruit, Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, Cocoa, Lemonade, Seltzer and Soda Water

Area no.2 & 3 For Bread, Butter and Cheese, Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, Cocoa, Ginger Beer, Spruce Beer, and similar drinks 

[click here for a full list of what was actually sold at the Exhibition]

The idea was that there would be no cooking (not least for danger of fire); no alcohol (for danger of rowdiness); and no seats (to keep people circulating within the building).

It's always said that toilets were an afterthought, prompted by the inquiries of the Royal Society of Arts (if anyone has detailed citations for correspondence between the RSA and the Commission, let me know - there were, certainly, some letters in the newspapers which suggest this; but I think I may be missing some other source).

Here's how they related to the refreshment areas:

image courtesy of Royal Commission for the Exhibition

image courtesy of Royal Commission for the Exhibition

image courtesy of Royal Commission for the Exhibition

There was one toilet superintendent, presumably responsible for good order in all three places, and 25 attendants, who - if this was like other Victorian toilets - ensured good conduct, cleaned seats after each flush and offered toiletries and towels for freshening up (although, note, handwashing was not seen as a hygienic necessity in this period; no-one knew about bacteria).

The curved lines in the refreshment rooms are presumably the bar areas, and you can see the dimensions of the spaces quite well - the ladies' retiring room in the Central Refreshment Room was about 24x24 feet or thereabouts; the men had lots of space devoted to urinals.

Some small facts gleaned, then - nothing world-shattering, but interesting enough?