Friday 21 August 2015

St George in the East

Ratcliff-highway is the Haymarket of the East-end, with filthy paint instead of gaudy gilding, with beershops instead of cafes, with calico and cheap finery instead of velvet and silk. Here congregate sailors from all parts of the world, to waste in squalid debauchery the hard earnings of long voyages; and here are to be seen such specimens of womanhood as appal to the eye and cast a blight on the imagination. One who knows it well, who has spent the best part of ten years in the midst of it, who has laboured as few could labour to do some good, temporal as well as spiritual, to its teeming thousands, tells a sad story of it. This gentleman, the Rev. C.F.Lowder, M.A., in his "Five Years in St. George's Mission" (and he has the same story to tell when he has nearly doubled those years) gives us a glimpse of what the parish of St. George-in-the-East was and is.

"Within the boundaries of this immense parish (of over 50,000 souls) lies the greater portion of the London Docks. Ratcliff-highway, so notorious for deeds of violence, scenes of debauchery, and flagrant vice, runs right through, and is chiefly contained within, it. Its population is for the most part connected with the docks or river; it abounds in lodging houses for sailors, public houses, dancing and concert rooms, and various low places of amusement; brothels swarm in it, and their wretched inmates are permitted to flaunt their sin and finery and ply their hateful trade openly by day and night without let or hindrance in the most public thoroughfares. There are also large sugar refineries which employ a great number of Germans, so that the population of St. George's is, perhaps, as mixed as any in the world. Foreign sialors from every country, Greeks, Malays, Chinese, Lascars, Dutch, Portuguese, French, Austrians, may be encountered everywhere; the Irish may be numbered by thousands. The mixture and recklessness of vice, the unblushing effrontery with which it is carried on, when the lowest of every country combine to add their quota to the already overflowing stock, can scarcely be conceived. Public opinion against it there is none, for the parochial authorities are themselves too much interested in its continuance to dare to suppress it; some are publicans, at whose houses these wretched girls congregate, and some of these publicans it must be remembered, actually employ such girls to entrap the sailors; in fact, to some houses, a staff of prostitutes is a necessary part of the stock in trade, and instances could be adduced in which brothels have been attached to the public houses or rented by their owners. Such is the publican interest, by far the strongest in the parish, so much so that for years one at least of the churchwardens was a publican, another parochial officer is notoriously living in incest, another vestryman was lately the owner of houses of ill fame ... At midnight when the public-houses are closed, the quarrels, fights and disturbances are such a matter of course that none can hope for a night's rest until they are inured by habit. There are frequent fights between foreign and English sailors about the girls with whom they are keeping company, and it is not uncommon to see desperate encounters between the girls themselves, kicking, tearing one another's hair, and biting, as they roll together in the streets, a crowd standing around, and instead of interfering, encouraging the combatants. ... Then again, the poverty of the parish is very great ... In the midst of such scenes of sin and misery, the children are brought up - the school of too many the streets, abounding in temptation, echoing with profane and disgusting language, and forming a very atmosphere of vice; their examples at home a drunken father and mother, with brothers and sisters already deep in sin, and abroad thieves and prostitutes a little older than themselves. thus they are early taught to thieve, to swear, to be bold and immodest in their manners and talk, and so to fall in with sins which they behold in others at the most precocious age. This is no exaggerated description of the whole of the parish, for it has no redeeming features.'

The Standard, 26 December 1865

Monday 3 August 2015

The Illuminated Public Indicator Company


The desideratum of a general public indicator, or pillar directory, calculated to afford a correct guide to the ever-moving masses of the metropolis, was practically realised on Thursday night by the establishment at Hyde Park-corner, Piccadilly, of an elegantly illuminated column or pharos in the centre of the thoroughfare, called by the enterprising company who have projected it, a general public indicator, the first of a series of similar district columns or obelisks, of sexagonal form, and which the author of the design, Mr T. A. Pouteau, of Belgrave House, Hampstead, has obtained permission to erect in the leading thoroughfares. These columns will form not only a highly elegant and ornamental, but a practically useful feature in all the central routes of the metropolis. The one at Hyde Park is some twenty-seven feet high by seventeen feet six inches round, and forms a refuge for pedestrians in the centre of that dangerous debouchement of vehicles from the Park. The column is richly gilt, by Mr Dickenson, of Cumberland-market, Regent's Park. Plate glass is let in down the entire shaft, which at night is illuminated down the centre, displaying on all sides advertisements and other transparencies of public information, which will go to pay the cost of the construction. The tout ensemble is surmounted with a very handsomely and richly ornamented lantern light, containing a much larger amount of gas-burners than any at present in operation. The primary and public uses of the indicator will be that in each locality where erected there will be found within them a post-office, and upon them instructions on the following points, viz. :—Indication of the nearest branch post-office—fire-engine station—fire escape—police station—alms box for poor—measured distances and cabriolet fares—all the squares, bridges, and public buildings, and all such parochial and public information as maybe generally useful.

Caledonian Mercury 27 June 1859


Sir,—Exactly opposite to Apsley-house a Small circular harbour of refuge for pedestrians has lately boon constructed in the middle of the street, into which they may scud when overpressed by stress of omnibuses and hack cabs, I do not know by whose authority this has been done, nor does it much matter; it has been well done, and the little haven is a great protection and comfort to everybody, especially to old people, cripples, and children.
    It would, perhaps, be more exact if I were to say that it would have been a great protection to such helpless ones had not some idiot (I use the mildest term applicable to this case) bethought him of establishing in its centre a gaudy glass column, obscenely splendid by day with gilding and the lowest class of advertisements, and by night a pillar of fire, such as of old led the chosen people through the desert, and such as will now frighten any decent cab horse out of its wits.
   Strong recommendations to hurry to the Casino and to Cremorne are thereupon intermingled with the manifestoes of anti-bilious pill-makers and with the mysterious suggestions of the Silent Friend, the place of honour on the western front being conceded to the questionable merits of Dr. Kahn's Venereal Museum. On the top of this frightful edifice are denoted by letters the four points of the compass; underneath is a small clock, superfluous from the fact that a much larger one (that over the Hyde Park Lodge) is in sight within 50 yards ; then we have the days of the week and month, then the various trashy advertisements to which I have alluded.
    Below are given the hackney carriage fares; the names and times of the omnibuses which ply along Piccadilly ; the addresses of the various parochial dignitaries, and of the police offices and stations. In short, the column is evidently intended to supply to bystanders much of the information usually found in a local almanac and to be a source of revenue to somebody through its advertising powers.
    Many of these details are given in very small print, and only the upper portion of the pillar—the advertising portion—is lighted up at night. The inevitable consequence is that the entire apace
intended for the protection of the old, the infirm, and the young, while crossing Piccadilly, is permanently occupied by persons consulting the hackney coach fares—looking for the day of the week or month, seeking the address of the beadle or the tax-gatherer, or pondering whether they had better have their families' likenesses taken at Messrs. Chisle'em's studio for a shilling a-head—take them to dance at Cremorne—hear Dr. Kahn's full. flavoured lecture—dose them with anti-bilious pills, or blow them out with Revalenta Arabica.
    Pedestrians, instead of being benefited by the arrangement, are thus forced far out of their reckoning into the chaos of Piccadilly to escape the crowd which the idiot who put up this ignoble contrivance has succeeded in establishing there and unless the higher powers of the parish or of the
State will at once interfere many days cannot possibly elapse before some deplorable accident is occasioned by it.
    I respectfully seek to know who directed this trumpery affair to be put up, who conceived and executed it, and on what pecuniary terms it has been erected?
    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,


The Times 27 June 1859


Sir,—Since I had the honour of addressing you on the subject of the astounding advertising post
erected opposite Apsley-house, a printed circular has been placed in my hands, signed by a person named Ponsonby, who styles himself "Manager of the Illuminated Public Indicator Company," and dated from their offices, 17., Southampton-street, Strand.
    This gentleman announces that his principals, have made arrangements with the authorities of the city of London, and also with the leading metropolitan parishes for the erection of indicators similar to that which has attracted so much animadversion in Piccadilly, in the principal thoroughfares of London.
   He states that they will afford instructions to the public on the following points:

"Indication of the nearest branch post office — fire-engine station — fire escape  — police station —alms-box for poor — measured distances and cabriolet fares — all the squares, bridges, and public buildings (?) — and all such parochial and public information as may be generally useful."

   Mr. Ponsonby then goes on to expatiate on the elegance and utility of these tawdry erections for advertising. For  a very small sum (24s. per pane for four weeks) he undertakes to advertise anything and everything, from ginger beer to commissions in the cavalry, day and night, in all the most
prominent positions about the metropolis.
    Now, Sir, if the proprietors of the Illuminated Public Indicator choose to hire houses in any of
our streets, there can be no objection to their advertising whatever they please in the windows of those houses, and charging what they please for such advertisements; but it is surely intolerable that they should be permitted to collect crowds in the precise places where crowds are exposed to most danger when so collected—as at the crossing in Piccadilly— simply with the view of making a profit at  the risk and at the expense of the public.
    The information which they propose to impart is merely put forward as a peg on which to hang their money speculations ; I don't deny that it may be very useful information ; but the middle of a dangerously crowded thoroughfare is decidedly not the proper spot in which to impart it ; any more than it is to acquaint the lieges with the geography of Northern Italy, or the state of the poll at the Oxford election.
   I do hone, Sir, that you will use all your influence to extinguish these abominable illuminated indicators as soon as may be.

Your obedient servant,

The Times 29 June 1859
During the ensuing week, TWO INDICATORS will be placed respectively - ONE at CORNHILL and ONE at WHITEHALL - For particulars and information, apply at the offices. 11, Southampton-street, Strand, W.C. THOMAS T. PONSONBY, Manager

Daily News 1 July 1859

The good people to the out of Temple-bar have displayed greater spirit as respects the so-called Public Indicators than their western fellow-townsmen. The other day preparations were made for erecting one of these monstrosities. at Exchange-buildings but the workmen employed were compelled to desist from their operations. The  company were then served with notices by the parish of St. Michael, Cornhill, with threats of an appeal to the Court of Chancery, if the notices were not found sufficient. They have not, however, ventured to push matters to extremity, and the pavement has boon restored to its original state. It seems a pity that the inhabitants at the western extremity of London will not employ similar moans to got rid of the deformity opposite Apsley-house. Of course, we are not recommending a breach of the peace, but simply that lawful and proper means should be
taken to compel the parochial authorities to rescind their contract with the company, if a contract exists, or, at any rate, to recall the licence under which this public nuisance has been erected. Surely the roads and streetways of the metropolis an encumbered enough in all conscience without any endeavour gratuitously to diminish the space, already far too narrow, set aside for the public accommodation! There really is no reason why by night as well as by day we should have one of Mr. ALBERT SMITH'S China plates, or an image of the Talking Fish standing upon its tail and holding a dialogue with a mariner, kept continually before our eyes. The inhabitants of London do not want at all hours between sunset and sunrise to be asked "if they have bought six Eureka shirts," or, "Do they bruise their oats yet?" Will any one seriously pretend that the announcements made on these Indicators are of any use or moment to the public? The whole process is just that of illuminated billsticking for the profit of the bill-stickers—nothing more.

The Times 15 December 1859

ILLUMINATED PUBLIC INDICATOR - Notice is hereby given that unless the PUBLIC INDICATOR which has been removed from the Borough-road be TAKEN AWAY on or before the 31st July inst. and the expense to which the hereafter mentioned Vestry has been put be duly paid, the said indicator will be SOLD to pay the expenses incurred.
By Order of the Vestry of the Parish of St. George-the-Martyr, Southwark

The Times 10 July 1861