Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Give us some figgy pudding"

As the festive season is upon us, I recently had contact with an old friend who told me she was in the midst of making her annual figgy puddings. She was using a recipe passed down through her family since the middle years of the 19th Century.  Of course, this brought to mind the wonderful English West Country Christmas carol, "We wish you a Merry Christmas" with its references to that seasonal treat. Like so many other songs and carols, we sing it without thought but there is, in this delightful piece, a lovely little story to tell.

The carolers have arrived on Christmas eve and are, in joyous song, wishing the people "a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." After "Good tidings we bring to you and your kin" and again wishing "a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year," they ask to be "paid" in the form of "some figgy pudding" and, depending upon the version of the carol, possibly "a cup of good cheer."

In a mood, which is clearly one of good fun, they sing, "we won't go until we've got some." In fact, they repeat this three times ending with "so bring some out here."

Although "fig" or "figgy" pudding probably dates back to at least the 16th Century, it was a popular seasonal dish in the nineteenth century and was often given to carolers. Despite numerous claims that this is the famous pudding made by Mrs Cratchit in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," there is no specific reference in the tale to the type of pudding presented. However, a correspondent to "Notes and Queries," Number 188 (June 4, 1853) does remind us that in Devon, it was common to refer to raisins as "figs" and to refer to plum pudding as "figgy pudding." He goes on to write, "So with plum-cake, as in the following rhymes:--"

"Rain, rain, go to Spain,
Never come again:
When I brew and when I bake,
I'll give you a figgy cake."

What we do know is that whatever the pudding, it was "like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top."  Whether the Christmas pudding at the Cratchit's table was a "figgy" pudding or not is really irrelevant to the tale.

Whatever the case then, let us leave the Cratchits to enjoy their Christmas meal and look at  Mrs Beeton's recipe for a "figgy" pudding. And while you are looking at it, you might wish to listen to the carol as sung by Enya.

1275. INGREDIENTS - 2 lbs. of figs, 1 lb. of suet, 1/2 lb. of flour, 1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, 2 eggs, milk.

Mode.—Cut the figs into small pieces, grate the bread finely, and chop the suet very small; mix these well together, add the flour, the eggs, which should be well beaten, and sufficient milk to form the whole into a stiff paste; butter a mould or basin, press the pudding into it very closely, tie it down with a cloth, and boil for 3 hours, or rather longer; turn it out of the mould, and serve with melted butter, wine-sauce, or cream.

Time.—3 hours, or longer. Average cost, 2s.
Sufficient for 7 or 8 persons.
Seasonable.—Suitable for a winter pudding.

Should you try this the best of luck to you. On the other hand, there are numerous more modern recipes for "figgy" pudding to be found on the Internet. Whatever the case, to all my readers, season's greetings and may you enjoy it all and have a wonderful New Year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Words, words, words

Reading Bob Nicholson's delightful article, "Racy Yankee slang has long invaded our language" which appeared in the Guardian got me thinking about a couple of words which have either been around a lot longer than people suspect or have changed their meanings.  Two words in particular came to mind; "pig" and "gay".
I think we have a tendency to view the first of these as an epithet applied to the police, particularly in America in the 1960s. Images of violence on the one hand and police brutality on the other conjure up visions of protestors screaming "Pigs" usually preceeded with another epithet beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet.

One of the earliest references to this usage is found in the Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, Unicversity Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811), where "Pig" is defined as "a police officer.  A China street pig; a Bow-street officer.  Floor the pig and bolt; knock down the officer and run away."  Another example, found under the definition of "Panney" is, "The pigs frisked my panney, and nailed my screws," which translates to "the officers searched my house, and seized my picklock keys."

So, the derogatory usage of the term to refer to a police officer appears to come from England, rather that the United States, and dates from at least the early decades of the nineteenth century rather than the 1960s.

The other interesting term I want to mention is "gay."  One of the definitions found in the Oxford English Dictionary is "Bright or lively-looking, esp. in colour; brilliant, showy."  It is not a huge leap from this to the use of the term to describe a prostitute.  Indeed, The Slang Dictionary (1869) defines it as meaning, "loose, dissipated; 'Gay Woman' or kept mistress or prostitute." In The New Cheats of London Exposed (1792) we find a description of the ways in which gay ladies (and their protectors) might seduce the gullible, and while this is pre-Victorian, the same methods would have been used even while the dear Queen reigned over Albion.

    Those bullies who live upon whores of fashion, affect the dress and airs of men of rank and fortune, and by strutting occasionally by the side of a gay lady, add a consequence to her and themselves, and induce the ignorant cully to think that miss confers her favours on gentlemen alone, and that he cannot therefore dream of a favour from her without an adequate return, which, in proportion to her splendid appearance, must be considerable.

While most definitions of "gay" focus on female prostitution, there is evidence that it was also applied to males.  In 1889, a male homosexual brothel was discovered by police at 19 Cleveland Street, London. John Saul, one of the prostitutes who had worked there referred to himself as "a professional 'Mary-ann.'"  This term usually referred to an effeminant man or a prostitute; either male or female.  According to Morris B. Kaplan's Sodom on the Thames,

The Criminal Law Amendment Act had targeted female prostitutes - "gay women" - and "gross indecency between men" - the defining activities of those who were to become "gay men."

Generally, of course, the term "gay" referring to prostitution, was used either for women or to describe a life of prostitution as in "gay life."  We can see some of this in a marvelous cartoon by John Leech which first appeared in Punch in 1857 and which specifically uses "gay" in this context.

While Thomas Hardy's poem, "The Ruined Maid," does not specifically use "gay" in this way, it does use the term to describe some elements of her dress, thus effecting the linguistic crossover between the two usages.

"O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
  Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
  And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?" —
  "O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.
  — "You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
  Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
  And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!" —
  "Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.
  — "At home in the barton you said `thee' and `thou,'
 And `thik oon,' and `theäs oon,' and `t'other'; but now
 Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!" —
 "Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.

 — "Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
 But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
 And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!" —
 "We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

 — "You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
 And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
 To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!" —
 "True. One's pretty lively when ruined," said she.

 — "I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
 And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!" —
 "My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,
 Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she.   

It does, somehow, give a whole new meaning to "having a gay old time!"

To read Bob Nicholson's article in the Guardian, click here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Victorian Children

Child Prostitute; year 1871; inscription at the back: Mary Simpson a common prostitute age 10 or 11 year. She has been known as Mrs. Berry for at least two years. She is four month with child.

In the final years of the 20th and the early years of the 21st centuries, child sexual abuse, which has always existed, came more clearly into the arena of public concern. Although less of a topic of conversation in the 19th century, it was, nonetheless, a problem of some disquiet. Yet, as in so many areas of life during the Victorian Era, concern was clearly bounded by class and class interests.

One of the great difficulties in approaching this topic is defining what actually constituted child sexual abuse in a particular period. The legal definition must, inevitably, revolve around questions of age and coercion.  As well, in a much murkier realm, it must be defined by attitudes towards both the "abused" and the "abuser." In approaching this problem, it is worth considering the concept of childhood.  Childhood, as we now think of it, was an idea which was emerging slowly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it was a concept more common amongst the middle and upper classes.  In the lower and labouring classes children were generally considered as a part of the work force and a source of cheap labour.  Quite aside from this being a form of exploitation and abuse, such young children were "street wise," knowing a great deal more about life and sex than either their counterparts in the higher classes or today's young children.  However, children of any class had no standing.  They were, like a man's wife, his chattel, and within very wide bounds he had the freedom to do with them as he desired.

A letter to The Times in 1849 reported on the attempt of "an old man dressed in the garb of a gentleman" to accost a young girl.  He apparently "asked her to go with him to a house in Oxenden-street", and, as the letter writer comments, "you can easily conjecture the object."  At the insistence of the writer, a Constable warned the girl and suggested she go home "but in a few moments afterwards we observed the hoary old sinner already referred to in hot chase after his prey."  The Police Constable, "behaved with exceeding propriety, and appeared to be quite alive to the grossness of the affair, but he said he had no right to interfere." 

Although the writer's intentions were of the best, and he goes on to ask that the Police be allowed to "address parties" who were engaged in such practices, he goes no further and reflects his own class values and his committment to his view of the family when he tells readers, "I could very accurately describe the personal appearance and dress of this person, so as to lead to his identification, if I did not fear that the superannuated scoundrel might have a wife or child whom the relation of his misconduct might shock."  So, rather than place his emphasis on protecting children from abuse, he puts a higher value on protecting middle-class matrons and their children from exposure to an unpleasant reality.

That hoary old reprobate known to us only as "Walter" who chronicled his sexual exploits for over more than half a century, commented, probably some time in the 1860s, that in his view, and probably in the view of other mid-Victorian gentlemen, "a girl of twelve years is competent to judge of her own fitness for f-----g, and many not a month over that age are plugged daily in London." And, certainly, he was well and truly into child abuse, relating how he had sexual relations with girls under the age of ten!

Unfortunately, laws to protect children from abuse - either sexual or physical - whether through intent or neglect, were weak or non-existant.  On the sexual front, it was not until 1861, with the Offences against the Person Act (24 & 25 Vict. c. 100) that even a minimal degree of protection against sexual predators was placed into law.  There were three relevant paragraphs; all of which dealt with girls.  The idea that a boy could be abused seems to be more than British lawmakers were capable of comprehending.

Procuring the Defilement of Girl under Age.

49. Whosoever shall, by false Pretences, false Representations, or other fraudulent Means, procure any Woman or Girl under the Age of Twenty-one Years to have illicit carnal Connexion with any Man, shall be guilty of a Misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be imprisoned for any Term not exceeding Two Years, with or without Hard Labour.

Carnally knowing a Girl under Ten Years of Age.

50. Whosoever shall unlawfully and carnally know and abuse any Girl under the Age of Ten Years shall be guilty of Felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be kept in Penal Servitude for Life or for any Term not less than Three Years, or to be imprisoned for any Term not exceeding Two Years, with or without Hard Labour.

Carnally knowing a Girl between the Ages of Ten and Twelve.

51. Whosoever shall unlawfully and carnally know and abuse any Girl being above the Age of Ten Years and under the Age of Twelve Years shall be guilty of a Misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be kept in Penal Servitude for the Term of Three Years, or to be imprisoned for any Term not exceeding Two Years, with or without Hard Labour.

Only the act of abuse of a child under the age of ten years was considered worthy of being a felony.  This allowed a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life with hard labour, but it also permitted a sentence as light as two years imprisonment without hard labour!  Procuring carried with it a sentence of only two years with or without hard labour, and abuse of a child between the ages of ten and twelve years might carry with it a maximum sentence of three years with hard labour or one as light as two years without servitude.

When three Wellington schoolboys were expelled in 1872 by headmaster Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury, for ostensibly seducing a fourteen years-old servant during their Christmas holidays, two of the boys were reinstated by order of the Governors after their parents complained about such summary justice.  The third, and oldest of the boys, had contracted venereal disease which obviously made his misdemeanour greater and he was not allowed to return.

The Board of Governors, which included the second Duke of Wellington, the Duke of Richmond, Earl Stanhope and Lord Eversley, was described by an assistant master as having “acted like a pack of cynical, hoary old sinners, who looked upon youthful immorality … as a sort of childish complaint, like measles!”   The immorality complained about was, however, sexual.  There seems to have been little concern, at any level with the immorality involved in the abuse of position and power.  David Newsome, in his History of Willington College, described the Governors’ lack of concern over the matter as “a nice indication that the oppressive moral code of the Victorian middle-class had not penetrated the ranks of the aristocracy.”   It might equally be argued that with the growth of the middle-class and the development of schools modelled on the Great Public Schools, the worst aspects of the attitudes of the aristocracy towards the lower and labouring classes found their way downwards.

In 1875, sections 50 and 51 of the Act of 1861 were repealed and in their place the Offences against the Person Act 0f 1875 (38 & 39 Vict. c.94) substituted paragraphs which made it a felony to "unlawfully and carnally know and abuse any girl under the age of twelve years."  To do so carried a sentence only marginally dissimilar from that of the 1861 Act for abuse of a girl under ten.  If the offense was committed against a girl between the ages of twelve and thirteen, it was merely a misdemeanor carrying with it a maximum sentence of two years with our without hard labour.

It was not until 1885, and then after a mighty struggle in Parliament, that the age of consent was raised to sixteen years.

Among the lowest classes, sexual abuse appears to have been endemic.  The writers who explored the social underworld frequently made mention of the early age at which sexual activity took place.  The over-crowded and unsanitary conditions which defined the life of the lower classes; the complete disregard, if not ignorance, of the niceties of marriage, all conspired to create a 'loose'sexual environment.  It was an environment in which sex among the pre-pubescent and between the mature and the very young was no more uncommon than the prostitution and violence that surrounded the lower class and was an integral part of life.  And while the twenty-five years of progress saw changes in the laws, it was not until these had filtered down into changes of attitudes, especially when viewed in class terms, that real progress could be seen to have been made.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Georgian London

Yesterday I came across what I think has to be, for those of us who enjoy 18th and 19th Century English history, one of the premier blogs on the subject.  I could, of course, rave on and on about it, but suggest that you have a look for yourselves.

The keeper of the blog (blog mistress?) is Lucy Inglis and the blog is all about Georgian London.  It is gossipy, well-written and historically accurate.  Georgian London was voted 'History Website of 2009' by the online readers of History Today Magazine, and also won the 2009 Cliopatria Award for 'Best Individual Blog' and 'Best New Blog'.

I have to say I am in awe both of the website and of Lucy.  You can find this remarkable blog at:


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ladies on High; Victorian Women Mountaineers

Meta Brevoort, the aunt of W. A. B.Coolidge who himself made over 1,700 ascents and systematically explored the Alps, was a redoubtable climber in her own right and one of a small band of women who blazed a trail for women in the Alps. On the whole, while women were accepted, if not welcomed, by the best climbers, who recognised in them kindred spirits, albeit in skirts, there remained, through the Victorian Age much prejudice against them. One guide book disposed of the whole question in a short acerbic note. “Touching the much vexed question as to whether ladies should climb, we do not hesitate to say, ‘no’.” Yet when this was written, in the 1880s, not only had women been climbing actively for more than two decades, they had made some notable first ascents.

Among the most outstanding of the early Englishwomen in the Alps was Lucy Walker. A natural climber, she was on the nineteenth ascent of the Matterhorn with her father and a friend of the family, Frederick Gardiner, and was the first woman to climb the peak. Yet she made the climb only a month before Meta Brevoort, with her nephew, made the fourth traverse from Zermatt to Breuil, and the first by a woman. In fact, had the great guide, Melchior Anderegg, not told the Walkers of the plans for Miss Brevoort’s attempt, the honour of being the first woman to reach the peak of the Matterhorn might well have been Meta’s.

In a climbing career which included most of the principal Alpine peaks, Lucy Walker failed to reach the summit only three times in ninety-eight ascents. Yet she was, in many respects, a typical mid-Victorian, middle-class woman. Whymper’s engraving of The Club Room at Zermatt in 1864 shows her, bespectacled, arms folded into her long-sleeved dress, standing somewhat apart from the men in the doorway of the Monte Rosa hotel. Since the plate was not done from life, her inclusion is indicative of he high esteem in which she was already held by her fellow Alpinists.

For climbing, Lucy wore an ankle-length dress which could hardly have assisted her in some of the more dangerous ascents. After a climb, she would carefully smooth down the white print dress before returning to the inn. That such clothing could be dangerous is evident in the case of Kathleen Richardson who was nearly killed when her climbing companion’s skirts dislodged a rock which crashed down of Richardson’s head.
When she was not climbing, Lucy took little exercise more strenuous than croquet. She entertained, embroidered, or engaged in socially acceptable and useful work. Yet she, with her brother and father, made the fourth ascent of the Eiger and, with them in 1864, made the ascent of the Balmhorn, becoming he first woman to take part in a major first climb.

Long after she retired from active climbing, she would return to the Alps to visit friends and to take long walks among the peaks with her friend, the great guide, Melchior Anderegg. She was the second President of the Ladies’ Alpine Club, succeeding to that office in 1912 after Elizabeth Le Blond, a remarkable climber in the 1880s and ‘90s. Le Blond scandalised society by climbing in trousers although she wore a skirt over them, removing it only on the higher slopes.

Lucy never lost her interest in climbing and in 1913, although an invalid, she travelled to London from Liverpool for the general meeting and dinner of the Ladies’ Alpine Club where she gave a spirited and racy after dinner speech. She died in 1916, at the age of eighty-one, having seen women take their place on the slopes with men; a victory in no small part due to her efforts.

In the 1870s, several women’s names appear among the Alpinists, but it was not until the 1890s that a climber to equal, and possibly surpass, Lucy Walker was seen in the Alps. Lily Bristow was a close friend of A. F. Mummery and his wife, Mary. Mummery was considered by many to be the greatest climber of the Victorian Age. In 1892, along with Mummery and three other men and a Miss Pasteur, Lily climbed the Charmoz and, in the next several years, participated in a number of major climbs including the first descent of the Zmutt Ridge of the Matterhorn. This was to be her last great climb.

Bristow was a woman of strength and conviction, and it was she who taught Mummery “that in mountaineering, as in all the other varied affairs of life, ‘l’homme propose mais femme dispose’.” When she decided to climb the Zinal Rothorn, considered a difficult climb, Mummery went with her despite the long walk to the mountain. Although a superb climber, he hated walking and tried, all the way to the peak, to get Lily to turn back. Victorian social convention forbade his just saying no, or turning back without her, but he must have enjoyed it when, on their return to the hotel, the guests told Lily she was mistaken, she must have climbed some small hillock, it could not have been the Rothorn.

When she traversed the Grepon--it had only been done once, the previous year, and by Mummery--she managed to carry with her a heavy plate camera to photograph the expedition. Mummery’s description makes it clear that she was courageous, competent and willing to do her share and more. At one point the camera was lowered to a particularly precarious perch. “Miss Bristow promptly followed, scorning the proffered rope.”

On this aerial perch we then proceeded to set up the camera, and the lady of the party, surrounded on three sides by nothing and blocked in front with the camera, made ready to seize the moment when an unfortunate climber should be in his least elegant attitude and transfix him for ever.

Her skill in rock climbing, on that same assault, was sufficient to lead Mummery to remark that she “showed the representatives of the Alpine Club the way in which steep rocks should be climbed,” and when the other members of the party stopped to recover their wind, Lily took photographs. It was hardly “an easy day for a lady,” in fact, Mummery ranked it amongst the hardest climbs he had made.

With the death of Mummery in the Himalayas in August of 1895, Lily Bristow lost all incentive to climb and faded from the list of notable Alpinists.

There are several interesting references to Lily Bristow in Mummery's book, My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus which can be downloaded by clicking here.  Additionally, there are pictures of these women at the photolibrary of the Alpine Club. The article, "A Real Snorker" which is in David Mazel's Mountaineering Women includes copies of letters written by Lily Bristow which give a wonderful insight into this delightful woman.  The pages can be viewed at Google Books by clicking here. The article will be found on pages 78-83.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Isabella Beeton; Domestic Goddess Extraordinaire

Amost anyone who has ever stepped into a kitchen has heard of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management and, everyone who has heard of the book probably has an image of Mrs. Beeton.  So, what does her name conjure up?  For many she is a plump matronly woman of indefinable age, but somewhere between 40 and 65.  She is wearing an apron and has flour both on it and on a few places on her face.  "Jolly", one might think, would be a useful word to describe her.

Well, prepare to be disillusioned.  Isabella Beeton (nee Mayson was born on 12 March 1836, the first of four children.  When her father died her mother remarried a widower with four children of his own.  The pair went on to have an additional thirteen children. Isabella was the oldest girl amongst the twenty-one children.

On a visit to London, Isabella met the publisher, Samuel Beeton, whom she married in July of 1856.  She was twenty and he was five years older.  Four years earlier, Sam had set up as a publisher and in 1852 he published Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.  It was an immediate success and Sam's publishing career was made.

Margaret Beetham has noted that Sam showed a "combination of energy, financial shrewdness, and faith in popular print as a medium for social improvement;" elements which were to "characterize his career."  In 1852, he started publication of the English Woman's Domestic Magazine a monthly journal costing twopence which was to become the progenitor of the middle-class woman's magazine.

In the year following their marriage, the couple lost their first child.  Born in May of 1857, he died at the age of three months.  Just over two years later a second son was born and was christened Samuel Orchart - after his father and with the same name as the first child.  This child was to die on New Years eve, 1861, at the age of two years. The couple were to have two additional sons, Orchart who was born exactly two years after the death of the second child, on New Years Eve 1863 and Mayson two years later in January 1865. Isabella contracted the great scourge of childbirth, puerperal fever and died a week later, aged 28.

How was it, then, that Isabella Beeton was to become the original "Domestic Goddess"?  With a publisher husband responsible for the English Woman's Domestic Magazine, it would have been strange indeed, if an intelligent wife would not have been interested in her husband's business.  Whatever else Isabella may have been, she was not a fool.  For her and for Sam, business was an important part of their life together.  Kathryn Hughes, writing in The Times in 2005, described Mrs Beeton as "no domestic expert but a canny women’s magazine journalist who saw 'domesticity' as a subject ripe for repackaging."

It was not long before Mrs Beeton was writing on domestic matters for Sam's magazines.  Although she made significant contributions to the business, she is best remembered for her Book of Household Management.  The book itself is not merely a cookbook or a book of recipes. It is, as well, a book of exactly what the title claims, "Household Management." Between 1859 and 1861 it was published as a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine and In October 1861, it appeared as a single, illustrated volume of 1,112 pages.

Open the book to the first page of text and you will find, quite clearly, that the book is addressed to the mistress of a house. 

I. AS WITH THE COMMANDER OF AN ARMY, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well-being of a family. In this opinion we are borne out by the author of "The Vicar of Wakefield," who says: "The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains up the other to virtue, is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver, or their eyes."

The last 150 pages of Isabella's Magnum Opus  are concerned with matters relating to the house, including chapters on "Domestic Servants," "Rearing, Management, and Diseases of Infancy and Childhood," "The Doctor" and "Legal Memoranda."  But despite all of the very good advice, today the Book of Household Management is probably best known as a cookbook.  In its day it was quite innovative.  It set out the ingredients required in recipes and actually gave detailed instructions as to the cooking procedures and times.  Many of the recipes were not original having been taken from other works, but for the first time they were presented in an easy to understand format. And while it will undoubtedly come as something of a dissapointment to those who have been convinced that the phrase "first catch your hare" came from Mrs Beeton's recipe for Jugged Hare, such was not the case.  Here is the recipe of "Jugged Hare."

There are numerous copies and transcriptions of the book on the internet, but if you would like to see what the original looked like, click here. Unfortunately this is an incomplete and badly digitized copy.  A good transcription can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The West End Club

“The Diogenes Club,” if we are to believe Sherlock Holmes, was “the queerest club in London.”  Such a claim was remarkable indeed; for Victorian men of the middle and upper classes were the most “clubbable” the world has ever known.  Although the social club was not a Victorian invention--Samuel Johnson, in 1783, had remarked of his amanuensis, “Boswell is a very clubbable man”-- it reached its apotheosis in the middle years of Victoria’s reign and even at the end of the period it was considered by many to be the most important social phenomenon of the day.

At he beginning of the century there were probably fewer than a dozen clubs of any significance but, in the years immediately following Waterloo, there was to be a period of rapid growth and expansion.  The club, all during the Victorian period, was essentially an urban phenomenon.  Clubs did develop in the counties, but they were, with rare exceptions, never to attain the status of the London clubs.  Even so, such clubs did much to set the social tone and were “the cradle of sound public opinion in matters appertaining to manners, if not to morals.”   In part, at least, the urban nature of the clubs can be attributed to the growth of the professions and the lack of clubs other than those serving the aristocracy, the military or those in politics.
The Reform Club in the 1840s

By the time of Victoria’s ascension to the throne, there were just over two dozen clubs in London and these still excluded all but noblemen, gentlemen, the services and the professional classes.  To be a member of “society” entailed being a member of at least one, and probably more, of the clubs.  No person engaged in trade, from the lowest shopkeeper to the greatest merchant could hope for admission to these bastions of privilege and exclusivicity.  By the time of the old Queen’s death, almost sixty-four years later, there were approximately one hundred and fifty clubs of which only seven had celebrated their centenary.  The wide range of clubs by 1900 included those for both sexes or for women alone and represented a range of common interests from automobiles through mountaineering to travel.
Dining at the Empress, "the most luxurious ladies club in London" 

The impetus for women’s clubs, which developed during and after the ‘80s, appears to have come largely from two sources; shopping and politics.  A woman’s club was frequently seen as a temporary home for the city shopper.  As such, they were usually more “homey” than the men’s clubs.    At a meeting in 1899 of The International Congress of Women, the Social Section discussed the Women’s Club movement at some length.  According to Mrs Wynford Philipps, the proprietor of the Grosvenor Crescent Club and founder of the Women’s Institute (Great Britain),

They fulfilled a modern need in women’s life; some joined them to obtain creature comforts, others for intellectual food; some for aesthetic reasons, to get airy rooms and dainty surroundings, others for ethical, philanthropic and social purpose.

During the more than sixty years of the Victorian Era, much of the exclusiveness of the clubs broke down and this, along with the increase in the number of clubs, made them available for those who, before the ‘50s, would never have even considered membership a possibility.  Yet while the doors opened wider, there was “together with the increase of men eligible for clubs, an ever-increasing desire for separation and exclusion.”   The listing in Clubs of the World suggests that the period of greatest growth was in the 1860s and ‘70s.  It was in these decades that most of the clubs in the counties were established although the Union, in Manchester, dated from 1825 and the exclusive Liverpool club, the Palatine, was founded in 1836.

Theodore Hook once wrote of clubs,

If a man loves comfort and has little cash to buy it, he
Should get into a crowded Club--a most select society. 

The clubs often served different groups or were identified with particular social sets.  For many, the name tells the story; Travellers, United Service, University, Turf and Yacht.  The Garrick was the club for those with theatrical interests and the Athenaeum had associations with the Church and literature.

For country squires the only Club in London now is Boodle’s sirs,
The Crockford Club for playful men, the Alfred Club for noodles, sirs.

Boodle’s, as indicated drew its membership from country gentlemen while Crockford’s was a gambling club.  Known for its excellent cuisine, it did not survive the mid-century.  It was “a place of most unenviable celebrity … whose walls--if walls could speak--would be able to disclose not a few transactions of very nefarious character.”   Stakes were high and it was not uncommon for fortunes to be made, or lost, on the turn of a card.  Both the Duke of Wellington and Talleyrand were members of this prestigious “hell” of the early Victorian years, despite its illegality.  Hazard, a dice-game for high stakes, was the most popular game and Crockford was reported to spend £2,000 a year on dice to see that the game was honest.   The Alfred Club, on the other hand, was noted for its dullness having been described as “the asylum of doting tories and drivelling quidnuncs.”

The Oriental Club, founded in 1824, was composed

of noblemen and gentlemen who have travelled or resided in Asia, at St. Helena, in Egypt, at the Cape of Good Hope, the Mauritius, or at Constantinople; or whose official situations connect them with the administration of our Eastern government abroad or at home.

The club was well known for its excellent “eastern” cuisine and its wines.  Composed, in the main, of retired Indian officers, it was commonly referred to by hackney-coachmen as “the Horizontal Club.”  It was said of the club that the smell of curry powder pervaded the establishment. 

Among the political clubs of the Victorian Age were the Reform, the Conservative and the Carlton.  The Athenaeum, on which Mycroft Holmes’s Diogenes was modelled, was considered the “mental” club.  It was founded because

the fashionable and military Clubs not only absorb a great portion of society, but have spoiled all the Coffee Houses and Taverns so that the artist, or mere literary man neither of whom are members of the established Clubs, are in a much worse situation, both comparatively and positively than they were.

There’s first the Athenaeum Club; so wise, there’s not a man of it
That has not sense enough for six (in fact that is the plan of it);
The very waiters answer you with eloquence Socratical,
And always place the knives and forks in order mathematical.

Although the great majority of clubs, and certainly those having the greatest influence in the latter half of the nineteenth century were for men, by 1899 there were more than three dozen clubs either for women alone or admitting both sexes to membership.   Of those clubs which were strictly for women, some welcomed male visitors while by the last decade of the century some of the men’s clubs even had a few female members including the Cobden, Bachelors, Cavalry, New Vagabonds and even the Savages.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Marking Criminals - Photographing Felons

The 1830s and '40s saw the rapid development of a range of photographic processes.  In France, in 1838, Louis Daguerre took the first known picture containing a person, a man having his shoes polished on the Boulevard du Temple.  At about the same time, Robert Cornelius, took a self-portrait which has written on the back, "The first light picture ever taken."  In England, William Henry Fox Talbot was working on a process which became the calotype and laid the basis for most of the processes which were developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

By the 1850s and '60s, photography had developed rapidly and become widespread.  Pictures were taken during the Crimean War although, admittedly, they showed no action, and the American Civil war was thoroughly documented.  Families and individuals were increasingly having their pictures taken and while one might have to sit still for an extended period of time, there was usually a head-brace to restrain the subject from motion and the whole process took far less time and was far less expensive than the alternative; a painting.

As photography became more popular, its social uses became equally evident.  Thus it was that from the mid-1850s onward the notion that it might be an effective way of identifying criminals began to come into increasing focus. Various ways of identifying criminals have been practiced throughout history.  Dr. Anil Aggrawal, professor of Forensic Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, has noted that

Identification of persons especially criminals has always been a problem with the police. In ancient Egypt, detailed descriptions of criminals were maintained by the police. In many societies, the problem of identifying wrongdoers was solved by branding and mutilating them. This made the work of the police that much easier. With this system, if a person was apprehended picking a pocket, the police would have no problem knowing whether he was the first offender or not. If he was already branded, it would be clear that he had already committed an offence, and he would receive a much more severe sentence.

Although not widely practiced, branding was a form of indentifying certain criminals in Great Britain and its colonies even into the second half of the nineteenth century. J. I. Ikin, at the time a Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology in the School of Medicine at Leeds, writing in the British Medical Journal (10 January 1857) tells us that the branding of deserters with the letter "D" was still practiced although the "branding" was done, not with a hot iron, as had once been the practice, but "with three or four needles tied together, and the letter D is pricked out in the skin under the left arm; a little gunpowder rubbed in, which does better than caustic; in fact, it is the same as tattooing."

The purpose, of course, was to provide a means of identification and Ikin goes on to discuss ways in which deserters would try to hide the D on attempting to rejoin the forces. All of the various methods of identification were gradually replaced with photographs and even after the advent of finger-printing as a tool for identification, photographs remained of great importance.

For much of the nineteenth century, identification of criminals was largely dependent upon detectives being able to recognize criminals with whom they had been in contact.  There were even paid officers whose primary task appears to have been the recognition of criminals.  Unfortunately, as John Dawson pointed out "as matters at present stand, the detectives ... are better known to the criminals than the criminals are to the detectives."  Thus it was that photographs seemed such a useful tool, especially when combined with a detailed description. Initially the photographs that were used by the police and by the gaol administrators were taken by amateurs or photographic studios more experienced in finding a "good" pose.  The police or prison puctires were commonly face on and were posed in a variety of different ways.  Even so, it is quite remarkable that in the mid-1850s, less than two decades after Daguerre's important picture, Richard Monckton Milnes in evidence before the House of Commons' Transportation Committee,could state that

Mr. Gardner, the ingenious and excellent governor of the Bristol gaol, has possessed himself of a photographic apparatus, with which he takes the likeness of every one of his prisoners who he has reason to believe is a person really embarked in crime as a calling.  New. he says he can produce copies for 6d. each.  it is believed by the police that, with the exception of London, 14 copies would be all that would be required, to send them to the great resorts of criminals, namely, to towns which are likely to be visited by old offenders, who desire to hide themselves, and to go where they are not known.

Gardner himself, in a circular distributed in 1854, discusses the advantages to be gained through photographing offenders.  He describes how he sent a photograph around when he thought one of his prisoners might be a habitual criminal and the image was recognized as that of a man "convicted at Wells; the necessary witness was subpoenaed, his former conviction proved, and he was sentenced to four years' penal servitude."
A 12 Years Old Prisoner in Wandworth Gaol

Photography as a means of identification was not greeted with unalloyed enthusiasm.  There were still those in the criminal justice system, both amongst the police and in the prison system who advocated more drastic forms of marking.  Not surprisingly, with the harsher attitudes implied in the Canarvon Committee (1863), the views of those like the Governor of Huntingdon were at least heard, if not acceded to. Governor Shepherd of that prison advocated marking prisoners in the same way deserters were marked albeit with India Ink rather than gunpowder.  But this may simply have been a reaction to his lack of faith in photography.

In Birmingham, as early as 1858, the police were arranging for photographs of those arrested to be taken in a private studio. The number of photographs rapidly increased and soon there was an archive of photographs, a rogues' gallery. With each photograph was listed comprehensive data including details of the supposed crime. and the sentence eventually handed down. By the 1890s there was much talk of the Bertillon system for criminal identification.  Originally known as "anthropometry," it was later called "Bertillonage" after its creator, Alphonse Bertillon.  Although the method, which was based on a series of formal and extensive measurements never became popular in Great Britain which preferred fingerprinting, Bertillon's insistance on a formal structure carried over into the creation of a standard "mug shot" which involved two views; one full face and one profile, a technique which is still employed world-wide. Nonetheless, "Bertillonage" was well enough known in England by the 1890s, for that greatest of consulting detectives, Sherlock Holmes, to express his admiration of the system in "The Naval Treaty."

within a few years, photographs of prisoners were being taken on their entering prison and on their release. And this, along with a detailed physical description was to be the primary means of identification until the beginning of the twentieth century and the gradual introduction of fingerprinting.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Victorian Middle Class

It is never easy to define, let alone identify the key traits, of a particular class.  In the case of the Victorian middle-class it is especially difficult.  For one thing, the long period of time from the ascent of Victoria to the throne to her death covered more than six decades.  During those long years, Great Britain went from being a rural, almost medieval, society to one which stood on the cusp of modernism.  As well, all of the changes during that time impacted not only on the classes themselves, but on the structure and relations between classes.

Writing not long after the end of that era, R. H. Gretton noted that there were “few subjects … in which definition is more difficult.”  Almost 100 years later, his words still ring true. As he goes on to note, the term, “middle-class”

has...an inherent vagueness; the very name “Middle Class” suggests a stratum of society which, though obviously in existence, and calling for a descriptive label, was so lacking in marked characteristics or qualities that it could only be described as lying between two other classes.

The problem, he continues, is that the term “middle” can be read as “transitional.”  This means that at one end the middle-class merges with a higher class and at the other, with a lower class.  In the former, it is, in all probability, intentional and desirable, an admission of successful upward striving.  At the other, it may well be “a confession of failure.”  Of course, over time not only does the middle-class itself shift its ground, the lines at which it merges with other classes are fluid and change as well.  Even within the middle-class there were distinctions which determined the behaviour of individuals.  One might, for example, be a professional man and that might mean that one was a "gentleman" since a lawyer would undoubtedly be privy to much information about the gentry.  Those of the middle-class who interacted either professionally or socially would have been considered as "gentlefolk."  On the other hand, there were those whose fortunes could not buy them entry into the gentry.  Nobody would have considered them as "gentlefolk," although they were certainly middle-class.  At the other extreme were those whom, today, we would describe as "white-collar" workers.  Clerks, managers and civil servants amongst others, earning between 100 and 200 pounds per annum might well be considered middle-class, but would certainly not have ranked as gentlemen.

A number of factors conspired during the nineteenth century to focus attention on the middle-class.  Not least among these were industrialization and education.  The former acted as a two-edged sword.  For many Britons it increased their wealth, expanding and consolidating new markets and confirming the new middle-class.  And with the growth of this class, so too grew consumerism.  One of the features of the emergent middle-class was what the Norwegian economist and sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, referred to as "conspicuous consumption." But for others the Industrial Revolution rather than offering hope, dragged them down.  Life was changed dramatically for the working class when a bare subsistence wage was considered adequate recompense for a working day that might extend from the early hours of the morning until well after dark six days a week.  The thousands of agricultural labourers who left the land rarely found their lives bettered in the cities under the factory system.

Consumerism by the middle-classes was contributed to by greater leisure and the development of department stores.  These stores were  bright and spacious, with gas-lights and plate-glass windows.  They offered an opportunity for the newly well-off middle-class, particularly the middle-class matrons, to spend their money on all the new and wonderful products that were constantly being made available to the market.  There were, of course, all sorts of other products including travel which was becoming increasingly popular in the Victorian years.  As Lawrence James, in his history of the middle-class comments, the "middle class expended as much time, energy and ingenuity on spending money as they did earning it."

Education, or rather lack of it, was a problem for the middle-class, particularly those who were just clawing their way up from the working classes.  Thomas Arnold, in the mid-1860s, was asking why it was that secondary education was reserved for an elite rather than being available to “the children of our middle and professional classes.” And while the newspapers advertised all sorts of wonderful educational opportunities aimed at the middle-class, it was, as Arnold comments, that  “no one who knows anything of the subject , will venture to affirm that … [they] give, or can give, that which they 'conscientiously offer.'”  It was not until the following decade and beyond, beginning with the 1870 Education Act, that a form of public education began to provide the weapon of widespread literacy for the working classes, thereby offering them a tool for upward mobility.

If there was one word to describe the Victorian middle-class, it would undoubtedly be “respectability.”  And if there was one outstanding virtue, it would have to be the work ethic.  Through hard work one could become, if one was not already, one of the middle-class.  There were self-help books in a-plenty, with perhaps the best known of these being Self Help by the aptly named Samuel Smiles.  While it is easy to make fun of this book, it is important as a marker of the best characteristics of the middle-class; a class which during Victoria's long reign changed the face of Great Britain.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette

That marvelous creation of Thackeray's, George Fitz-Boodle, Esquire, Member of the Omnium Club and the third-best whist-player in Europe tells us that he is

 . . . not, in the first place, what is called a ladies' man, having contracted an irrepressible habit of smoking after dinner, which has obliged me to give up a great deal of the dear creatures' society; nor can I go much to country-houses for the same reason. Say what they will,ladies do not like you to smoke in their bedrooms: their silly little noses scent out the odor upon the chintz, weeks after you have left them.

Certainly, amongst men, smoking was a serious social rite.  Special clothing was worn by men who engaged in the practice when ladies were not present or had retired.  Lady Constance Howard, in Etiquette: What to Do, and How to Do it, published in 1885 tells us that

In country houses in the evening gentlemen usually don a smoking suit, which suits are composed of velvet, satin, Indian silk, cloth braided,etc., according to the wearers' tastes and finances.  Slippers are worn instead of boots; but on no account what is called a 'smoking cap' -- that is an article of male attire happily consigned to oblivion.

Interestingly, although opposed to the practice of smoking, it appears that the dictates of fashion, when applied to the men who were so engaged, were still very much "observed" if not "dictated" by women.

Etiquette books generally seem to have agreed that smoking was not a desirable habit.  One work published in the mid '50s, described it as "at best, an ungentlemanly and dirty habit," while Cassell's Hand-book of Etiquette for 1860 warns gentlemen that

If you smoke or take snuff, you will find it difficult to observe that constant personal cleanliness so essential in a gentleman.  Before mixing with ladies take off your coat in which you have been smoking, and rinse your mouth, lest your breath should be tainted with the 'weed'.

By the 1890s, Lady Gertrude Elizaberth Campbell could write, in Etiquette of Good Society, that

A gentleman ... will never smoke in the presence of a lady without first obtaining her permission, and if, when smoking out of doors, he meets any lady, be she friend or foe, he will take his cigar out of his mouth while passing her.

Although there is a considerable body of information on smoking during the Victorian period, much of it is found in contemporary etiquette books or novels.  Thus, it generally relates to the upper classes and particularly "club" men.  There is also a reasonable amount of information on the middle classes, but as in all things, the information about smoking in the lower and labouring classes is limited.  Nonetheless, some information can be derived from observers of the lower classes and the "explorers" of "darkest" England. 

While smoking in England has a long history, dating back to the sixteenth century, tobacco was primarily smoked in pipes and by men.  To this, over the years, was added both snuff taking and cigar smoking with the latter taking hold after the Napoleonic wars.  But it was only after the Crimean war that cigarette smoking became popular.  By the middle of the 1860s, cigarette shops were appearing and with the industrialization of cigarette manufacture by W. D. and H. O. Wills the cigarette had come to Great Britain to stay.  The machinery employed by the company could produce 200 cigarettes a minute and undoubtedly contributed to the growing consumption of tobacco. By the '80s Wild Woodbine had become one of the most popular cigarettes in the country and the price of cigarettes had dropped to as low as a penny.  Through the last four decades of the nineteenth century, as a result of cheap and readily available cigarettes, the rate of tobacco consumption increased by 5 per cent per year!

Because cigarettes were sold in paper packets, it was common practice to insert a piece of cardboard in order to keep the cigarettes from being crushed.  This led to the practice of putting pictures on the cards and, of course, as any good entrepreneur would know, sets of cards (one card from the set to each packet) would encourage the smoker to buy the same brand each time he wanted more cigarettes. A set of these, from the last years of the nineteenth century, can be seen at the top of the page.

A Smoker
Although it was not until the middle years of the 20th Century that scientific evidence was used to establish the dangers of smoking,  the debate over the risks it entailed was already being engaged in 100 years earlier. Dr George Sigmond writing in The Lancet as early as 1837, described at some length, the consequences of smoking. He did, however, suggest, as what not uncommon, that there were medicinal benefits to be found in tobacco, including the relief of asthma.  A sketch of a "typical" smoker in the mid 1840s, as seen in the Illustrated London News, can be seen on the left.

By the middle of the century, it was commonly accepted that smoking was likely to be injurious to one's health.  But the main concern of the medical profession continued to be excessive smoking.  As Dr J. C. Bucknill wrote to The Lancet in 1857,

There can be no doubt of the fact, that the excessive use of tobacco, in any of its forms, is highly pernicious.  the excessive use of snuff is liable to occasion unmanageable forms of indigestion; that of chewing and smoking weakens the energy of the nervous syste, impairs the digesting force of the stomach, and the secreting force of the liver; and, in extreme cases, produces an affection of the muscular system not unlike paralysis agitans.

The Illustrated London News, in its "Metropolitan News" for 11 April 1863, reported the death of a forty-eight year old Italian confectioner as a result of what his medical advisor claimed was "excessive smoking" which had "unquestionably produced disease or nervous paralysis of the heart."  The Duke of Wellington was strongly opposed to smoking and as a result of the growth of cigar smoking, particularly among military officers, he asked that

The Officers commanding Regiments ... prevent smoking in the Mess Roomns of their several Regiments ... and to discourage the practice among the Officers of Junior Rank in their Regiments.

Such discussions were, in the main, the province of the middle and upper classes.  The lower and labouring classes smoked and undoubtedly enjoyed it.  While women of the better classes generally eschewed tobacco, at least until the latter years of the century, poorer women enjoyed smoking.  They commonly smoked "cutties" or short pipes which were often referred to as "nose warmers."  G. L. Apperson, in his Social History of Smoking, notes

The old Irishwomen who were once a familiar feature of London street-life as sellers of apples and other small wares at street corners, were often hardened smokers; and so were, and doubtless still are, many of the gipsy women who tramp the country.

If a woman from the "better" classes smoked, in the middle-years of Victoria's reign, it was an indication that she was "fast." But as time moved on, so too did the attitudes toward smoking. Although, as late as 1891, a report appeared in Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper of a row which erupted in a café when a woman tried to light her cigarette and was told women were not allowed to smoke there. She was requested to desists, but refused. When her companion threw a bottle at the waiter's head and broke a panel behind his target, the police were called in. Obviously the court was somewhat sympathetic since the defendant was fined 1 shilling with 5 pounds costs for the broken panel.

Certainly such ceremonious smoking behaviour as that we have seen from the "better" classes was not to be met with in the lower and labouring classes; and while fights within these social groups were frequent, they were unlikely to be over smoking.  Richard Rowe in Life in the London Streets (1881) wrote of

two or three score of thick-necked, low-browed young men and hobbydehoys, in greasy cords or threadbare pea-jackets, and a sprinkling of ugly, shabbily-dressed women, sprawling their elbows on porter-slopped tables in rough wooden boxes, smoking rank tobacco, drinking adulterated beer, and listening, in moping, unsocial silence, to the wiry jangle of a worn-out little square piano in a corner...

Clearly smoking was a "hot" issue and the acceptance or rejection of it as a social rite appears to have had more to do with class than with other forms of behaviour.  What was acceptable for the poorer classes was distinctly unacceptable or barely acceptable for their betters although the modes of engaging in the activity differed from class to class.
A copy of the full report of the incident where a woman was asked to stop smoking appears below.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Aristocracy

 The Duke and Duchess of York at
the Duchess of Devonshire's Ball

In any analysis of England it is important to have some idea of the structure of the society.  In the Victorian years, although there was an ever-increasing fluidity to society, it still retained a great deal of the pattern that had emerged over the previous centuries. The upper-most classes consisted largely of the aristocracy and what is sometimes referred to as the "squirearchy."  Although "Squire" was not an official title, it was commonly used to identify the wealthy landowners who were not part of the Aristocracy.  The Aristocracy was made up of the royal family and the lords temporal and ecclesiastical. At the very top of the "Beehive" was the Queen and her Consort. 

Following on from the excesses of her predecessors, Victoria made the Court and the Royal Family more respectable than it had ever been before.  Her entire style was such as to define her as a "middle-class" monarch. It was, however, not so much that she was middle-class; clearly she was not, but that she appealed to the constantly growing middle-classes; reflecting their values and morality. Despite the middle-class virtues reflected by the Royal Family, the aristocracy still held sway throughout the nineteenth century.  Few, if any, in the upper-class worked and  Income came from inherited land and investments.

As late as the 1880s, more than half the members of the House of Commons came from the upper classes and, of course, the entire House of Lords.  Many owned multiple establishments and while the Duke of Devonshire (the Harty-Tarty who had been involved with the lovely Skittles) was certainly at the top of the social tree with his wife, the double Duchess (Duchess of Manchester in her first marriage and Duchess of Devonshire in her second), they were not unusual.  For them, the year revolved around a number of locations. The extravagance of their lives is difficult to appreciate.

According to the younger sister of the present Duke,

Each year they spent time in at least five different houses.  From the middle of July until 12 August they stayed at their seaside home, Compton Place in Eastbourne.  Then they moved up to Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire for the grouse shooting, where they remained until the middle of September.  The winter months were spent at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, where they entertained for shooting parties and for Christmas.  The extravagance of these entertainments was, even for those days, great.  Turtles, destined for soup, were sent up from London three times a week at a cost of 24 pounds each, sometimes only to be thrown away unused.  A Derbyshire farmer on being told the price of these reptiles exclaimed, "I'm darned if that dead shell fish isn't worth as much as my dead cow!" Because there was always so much food left over, anyone who worked at Chatsworth by the day was allowed to take away enough food for his supper.  This practice eventually had to be stopped, as non-workers from far and wide came for a free meal, and one man was seen removing wheelbarrows full of food.

In the early spring the Devonshires went to Lismore Castle in County Waterford, where their time was spent salmon fishing on the Blackwater River.  By the middle of April it was time to pack up and move to Devonshire House in London for the season, which got under way at the beginning of May.

The social life of the upper classes revolved, very much, around itself and a rather predictable set of activities.  There was, first and foremost of course, "The Season."  While the upper class often had a full and active social life in the country, it was in the three months that they generally spent in London that the most splendid and expensive entertainment was available. "The Season" was a period of conspicuous consumption and something that only the wealthy or well-placed could afford.  For the men it might be a time of work or an opportunity to retreat to their city clubs, but for the women it was the highpoint of the social year.  And the highest point of "The Season," was a young woman's "coming out."  It was this presentation at Court that provided the passport to all of the activities of "The Season."

Preparation for presentation was hectic and strenuous.  All of the details as to what one could and could not wear, what one was to do and not do, learning the deep court curtsy and how to back gracefully out of the monarch's presence were all skills to be acquired before one's "coming out."

And then there were the balls.  Costume balls were a feature of "The Season," and there were none as elaborate as that given by the Duchess of Devonshire on 2 July 1897.  It was the Jubilee year; the sixtieth year of Victoria's reign.  In that Indian Summer, Victoria ruled over almost one-quarter of the world and its population.  One of those attending the great ball wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette  on 6 July in rather effusive terms to describe the event.

 Looking back on the glories of a short, thougfh exceptionally brilliant, season, the one ineffaceable memory where social functions are concertned will be magnificent fancy dress ball given by the Duchess of Devonshire.  Gracious Royalties, lovely women, handsome men were there and, best of all, an entente cordiale that caused the whole entertainment to be a complete and unparalled success.
Lady Violet Greville noted that in "a scene of unvarying gaiety and brilliance," everybody who was anybody, "jostled and moved."
 But the golden years were drawing to a close.  New powers were beginning to flex their muscles and there may have been a certain hectic excitement a hint, perhaps of hysteria, which heralded the years to come.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Manly Art of Self Defence

 Heenan v. Sayers for the World Championship, April 1860.

Paralleling the efforts to remove executions from the public view were the attempts to make the staging of prize-fights more difficult.  During Victoria’s years on the throne, the ring undoubtedly claimed more lives than public executions, for it was not until the last decade or two of her reign that glove-fighting replaced bare-knuckles pugilism.

Unlike the main participant at a public hanging, for whom death was inevitable, for the pugilist it was only a possibility, an occupational hazard, and the supposed benefits which might be derived from success were often seen as outweighing the risks.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, fighting was a common sport.  Like most village sports, it was rough-and-tumble and could be practiced in a variety of forms.  Jem Mace, who was generally recognized as the World Heavyweight Champion in the early 1870s, in recalling his youth, pointed out that

 neither cricket nor football existed then, in the sense they do now, nor had the gentlefolks taken up with polo or golf.  Consequently all the interest that is now spread over these, and other sports, was concentrated on boxing.
As well, the thin line between amateur and professional was virtually non-existent.

Everybody learned to use his fists in those days. … Every little village possessed its ‘champion,’ and these used to meet one another, usually on Sunday, and fight to the finish with naked fists.
Frequently such village matches consisted of nothing more than two young pugilists hammering away at each other until one was knocked insensible or was either unable or unwilling to continue.
More formal fights took place in a ring erected for the occasion with the full contingent of seconds, referees, umpires and others on hand.  But even such formal arrangements in no way detracted from the brutality of the spectacle.  The very fact that the participants might be better trained and capable of standing up to greater punishment often made professional fights bloodier than those between amateurs.
The skin of professional fighters was toughened with vigorous rough towellings and rubdowns with horsehair gloves.  Their hands were soaked daily with brine or some other concoction to toughen them and the mixtures were often applied to the face, chest and ribs as well.  Jem Mace’s hands were soaked in a brine composed in part of the green vitriol, copperas, mixed with whisky, gunpowder and horseradish, “until by degrees they were made as hard as iron and nearly as black.” His face received the same treatment and when he entered the ring the contrast between his blackened face and hands and the rest of his body was clearly visible.

Despite this toughening process, blood (commonly referred to by the cognoscenti as “claret”) was usually drawn early in the fight and, not infrequently, the match would degenerate into a virtual bloodbath. In the championship fight between John Camel Heenan, the American challenger, and Tom Sayers, in April of 1860, the latter drew blood in the first round and went on to so batter the American’s face that by the time the fight ended, Heenan, unable to see his opponent, hit one of the seconds in the face, knocking him down. Sayers, in the early rounds, had also been injured by a blow to his right arm and although the fight lasted a full thirty-seven rounds before the ring was broken, and an additional five thereafter, he never regained its use during the match.

After the Sayers-Heenan bout, the championship was declared open and the first successful claimant was Sam Hurst, a six foot, two inch, fifteen stone, Lancashire wrestler described by The Times as being of “almost superhuman strength, but perhaps the most unskilful boxer that ever entered the prize ring.” In June of 1861, he met Jem Mace who stood only five foot, eight inches and weighed ten and a half stone but was, in his day, considered “the most scientific pugilist alive.” By the end of the first round, which lasted almost twelve minutes, Hurst was bleeding freely and by the end of the fight, which lasted eight rounds and 50 minutes, both men were covered in Hurst’s blood and Mace’s blows had a “splashing sound like striking raw meat.”

The brutality of the prize ring appealed to that same type of person who attended public hangings. The Cornhill Magazine, in 1864, rather facetiously noted that

Hangings now occur so rarely, and at such irregular intervals, that they can no longer be depended upon as a source of amusement, and perhaps we are to some extent bound to make up for the deficiency by an enlightened policy with regard to prize-fights.
Certainly, many of those who expressed objections to prize fighting did so because it was expected of them and though the number of fights declined as the century wore on and the middle and upper classes began to abandon the sport, certain “distinguished spectators,” according to All the Year Round, “ … gave the Ring the sanction of their presence, but not the sanction of their names.”  But by the last decades of the Queen's reign, pugilism was in a parlous state.
However, as glove boxing increased in popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s, more spectators were again seen from the better social classes and, it was not uncommon at a match to see “rows upon rows of spectators, all arrayed ‘in faultless evening garb.’”

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Certain Grim Pleasure

One of the great events in the early years of Victoria's reign was a public hanging. While figures vary dramatically, there is no reason to doubt that the number of spectators might range anywhere from 20,000 up to 100,000, the number, according to The Times, attending Kirkdale Gaol in Liverpool for the mutiple hanging of four men on 11 September 1863.

In amongst the mob one found many of the labouring classes; mill-hands, factory girls and women, bricklayer’s labourers and dock workmen, either hoping for some entertainment on their way to work or enjoying St. Monday. Women and children were frequent spectators and at the last public execution in England, The Times commented on the “blue velvet hats and huge white feathers [which] lined the great beams which kept the mass from crushing each other in their eagerness to see a man put to death.” At any execution one might see ragged children darting to and fro to “play their usual pranks at the foot of the gallows.”

Charles Dickens, who, somewhat against his better judgment, had gone to the double hanging of Frederick George Manning and his wife, Maria, on a Tuesday morning, the 13th of November 1849 outside of Horsemonger Lane Gaol was horrified at midnight, before the execution, by "the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places.” It made, he wrote to The Times, “my blood run cold."

Most, but not all, of those in attendance at hangings were drawn from the lower and labouring classes. Certainly the better class of artisans and their families attended; sometimes making the trip to a public execution an excursion or the opportunity for a picnic. In September of 1853, a train with thirty carriages of sightseers travelled from Bradford to Liverpool for a multiple hanging at Kirkdale Gaol.  “The majority of the ‘excursionists,’” The Times reported, “were respectably dressed persons--decent looking mechanics, women in silk dresses with expanded crinolines, and youths from 12 to 20 years of age.” The huge crowd estimated at over 100,000 spectators was swelled by excursionists from Huddersfield and Blackburn as well.

On Monday, the 5th of January 1846, Nathaniel Bryceson, a 19 year-old wharf clerk in Pimlico recorded two public hangings.

 This morning at 8 o’clock the woman Martha Browning expiated her crime on the scaffold in the Old Bailey, for the murder of Elizabeth Mundell on the 1st of December last.  The culprit showed great presence of mind on the occasion and ascended the gallows with a firm and steady step, and without any assistance.  The body was cut down at 9 o’clock and Calcraft, the executioner, took his departure from Newgate to Horsemonger Lane County Gaol to offer his services for a similar occasion, namely to put in force the sentence of the law against Samuel Quennell for the murder of a shipmate, by shooting him in Kennington Lane.  The execution took place on the top of the Prison over the front gates precisely at 10 o’clock.  The culprit behaved himself becomingly on so solemn an occasion and ascended the scaffold without assistance. ‘Remarks: this is the first execution of a female that I ever recollect in my time, also the first at Horsemonger Lane, and likewise the first time that two executions took place in the one day, to my recollection.

William Calcraft began his career as a hangman in 1828. He had been employed at Newgate Gaol to flog juvenile offenders when, in an emergency, he was sent to Lincoln to execute two men. In 1829, on the death of John Foxton (or Foxen), the City of London executioner, Calcraft was appointed to fill the office. As official hangman he received a guinea per week from the city and another guinea for each execution performed. For acting as hangman for Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Southwark, Surrey, just across the Thames in what is now South London, Calcraft was paid a retaining fee of five guineas annually as well as the usual guinea per execution.

That Calcraft was paid in guineas is, in itself, an interesting point. The value of the guinea is one pound plus one shilling. Generally tradesmen were paid in pounds and gentlemen in guineas. For example, barristers were paid in guineas, but kept only the pound; the extra shillings going to their clerks. Perhaps Calcraft was paid in guineas because his work was considered an element of the legal profession.

Dickens accused Calcraft. At the Mannings' execution, of being guilty at times of “unseemly briskness, ... jokes, … oaths, and … brandy.” At the hanging of Franz Muller, outside Newgate Prison in 1864, when Calcraft went to cut the dead man down, he was greeted with “hisses and sneering inquiries of what he had had to drink that morning.” The choice of language in describing Calcraft also reflects the attitudes toward his role.  In April of 1851, fore example, one newspaper referred to him as “the public strangler.”  This may also have reflected on the fact that many of those who were hanged died in agony as the rope was too short for the fall to effectively snap the neck, leading to death by slow strangulation.

Virtually all accounts suggest that the bulk of those attending public executions formed a volatile mob. When Franz Muller was hanged in 1864, according to the Annual Register for that year,

the most conspicuous element in the mob was the lowest refuse of metropolitan life--the combined force of ruffianism and thieving.  The behaviour of the densely packed mob was in some places not indecent; but in the vicinity of the drop it was the reverse.  Fights and hustlings for the purpose of robbery were incessant as the hour of the execution drew nigh, and were actually in operation when the bell was tolling, and when the cry of “hats off” had commenced.
The fascination with executions extended well beyond those able or willing to attend the actual hanging. Sellers of street literature worked their way up and down the countryside selling papers and pamphlets, usually prepared well in advance, purporting the have been either the written or spoken words of the condemned man (albeit they were likely to be neither). One seller of such literature who had gone down from London to Norwich expressly to sell his wares at an execution described the process:

I worked my way down there with "a sorrowful lamentation" of his own composing which I'd got written by a blind man expressly for the occasion. On the morning of the execution we beat all the regular newspapers out the field; for we had the full, true, and particular account down, you see, by our own express, and that can beat anything that ever they can publish; for we get it printed several days afore it comes off, and goes and stands with it right under the drop.
After the hanging, of course, the pamphlet or broadsheet seller could do a brisk trade by going from county to county. When Francis Benjamin Courvoisier was hanged in 1840, over 1,666,000 broadsheets were sold detailing the execution. Nine years later, when the Mannings were hanged, 2,500,000 were sold.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Penny Post

If the Victorian era is sometimes referred to as "the age of steam," it might equally well be called "the age of mail."  It was during Victoria's long reign that the transportation of correspondence was simplified and costs were reduced to such an extent that almost anyone could afford to send a letter within Great Britain while the cost of a letter to the colonies was within the reach of  many.  William Lewins, writing in 1864, makes the point that

In the Post-Office, towards 1838 and 1839, the influence of railways promised soon to be paramount, and it was now that Acts were passed in Parliament “to provide for the conveyance of mails by railways.”
In August 1838, shortly after Victoria came to the throne, the existing charge for a letter going less than eight miles was 2d., having only recently been halved from 4d.   Other than that, the rates for postage had not changed since 1812 in Great Britain and since 1814 in Ireland.

They advanced from 2d. For 8 miles and 4d. For 15 miles, by steps to 1s. For 300 miles, and 1d. For every additional 100 miles or part of 100 miles.
The cost of correspondence was generally borne by the recipients and this could prove a significant impost.  Tradesmen in the latter years of the eighteenth and the early years of the nineteenth century sent out their pamphlets even as they do today, but the difference was that once again it was the addressee who paid for the privilege of receiving the advertisements.  Rowland Hill, the man responsible for the Penny Post tells us that

... every day that brought post-letters brought also a demand for payment, the postman waiting at the door till he had received his money.  … when we were most straitened in means, his rap was not always welcome; the demand being certain and sometimes inconvenient; the recompense, in the way of news, doubtful.  Tradesmen's circulars, in particular, which sometimes came from a considerable distance, and always unpaid, were great causes of disappointment and irritation.
Before the introduction of the Penny Post, a one page letter from London to Birmingham would cost 9d.  An enclosure – even of an additional page – would double the cost and a three page letter would bring the charge to two shillings threepence. Clearly it was to the advantage of many businesses to evade the high price of postage and this was a common practice despite both its illegality and the substantial fines that it might attract.  Avoidance was costly to the Post Office.  According to Lewins, “Penal laws were set at defiance, and the number of contraband letters became enormous.”

Matthew Devonport Hill, the brother of Rowland Hill tells how,

On one occasion the agents of the Post-Office made a seizure, ... of eleven hundred ... letters, which were found in a single bag in the warehouse of certain eminent London carriers.  The head of the firm hastened to seek an interview with the Postmaster-General, and proffered instant payment of 500l. by way of composition for the penalties incurred and if proceedings against the firm might not be instituted.  The money was taken, and the letters were all passed through the Post-Office the same night.
The postal service, like any organism, grew and changed over time.  But the greatest change was undoubtedly the introduction of the Penny Post, which made the mail service cheaper and, as a result of increased volume, more efficient.  While there was always talk of reform, it was Rowland Hill’s pamphlet of 1837, Post Office Reform; Its Importance and Practicability, that provided the impetus for change. In the pamphlet he proposed that letters should be paid for by the sender at a uniform rate and

that the postage might be collected in advance, if reduced to the rate proposed; viz., one penny for each packet not exceeding half an ounce in weight, with an additional penny for each additional half ounce.

Three years after he first proposed changes to a governmental commission Parliament passed an Act which enabled many of the reforms Hill had proposed including the use of stamps as we know them today.  While the first of these was neither preforated or gummed, the Penny Black is unmistakable as a postage stamp. 

 The Penny Black

As a result of the 1840 reforms, not only was the delivery of mail faster, more frequent and more reliable than it had been in earlier times, the care which was exercised could have stood as a sterling example of British thoroughness.  When, for example, Mr David Clarke of Liverpool, complained to the Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey, that letters he had sent to his family in Melbourne had not been received, Grey immediately sent a dispatch along with copies of the correspondence from Clarke to Governor Sir Charles Fitzroy in Sydney.  Fitzroy, in turn, requested that the Superintendent of Port Phillip, soon to become the Colony of Victoria,  investigate the matter.  This was done and La Trobe wrote back to Deas Thomson, the Colonial Secretary, that he had

caused enquiry to be made into this complaint, and beg to state that the Chief Postmaster reports that, search having been made, three letters have been found in the Post Office Melbourne addressed to Miss Clarke … directed to be left at the Post Office Melbourne until called for;- that no one having called for them, they were advertised in the usual course as unclaimed letters. - Had Mr. Clark in the first instance directed these letters to the care of Dr. Martin, in whose family he was aware his daughter was residing, there would have been no difficulty in delivering them. … Miss Clarke's address being now known steps will be immediately taken to deliver them to her.
Of course, it is worth noting that the whole process took a year but that was a function of the “tyranny of distance,” rather than any lack of zeal on the part of the authorities.  It would certainly be fair to say that by the middle years of the century, the Royal Mail had come of age!