Monday, November 30, 2015

Begging a humble gratuity, sir

An American view on Tipping

It seems odd that tipping should have been so roundly despised by some Americans who made their way to England in the nineteenth century.  Nowadays, Americans treat it as a “way of life,” although for many travelling overseas, the intricacies of how much to give and under what circumstances is often a source of great confusion. However, for Americans in the nineteenth century, it was often seen as a means by which the English enforced a class structure; a class structure that they found repugnant to their republican sensibilities.

While tipping may have been frowned upon in nineteenth century America, and by Americans visiting the British Isles, it was very much a way of life in Victorian England. It seems apposite, therefore to question what it is that makes people tip.  Dr Ofer H Azar has suggested that the two main reasons for tipping are “conforming to social norms and avoiding embarrassment.” While this may be true, it fails to come to grips with the question of why different countries and different social classes have radically diverse views on the subject. This is clearly bound up with questions of class and the economics of employment.

Tipping is a peculiar phenomenon in that it usually follows the provision of a service for which the user (the tipper) has already paid and which he has enjoyed (or not, as the case may be).  Indeed, this seems to conflict with the view that the term “TIP” was an abbreviation for the words “To Insure Promptness.”  The person receiving the tip would appear to be hoping that by providing an exemplary service or through the general feeling that the potential tipper wants to avoid embarrassment he or she will receive this extra remuneration. Exemplary service may, of course, not just result in a tip, it may act as an incentive for the tipper to return to a particular restaurant or service; this rationale would, of course, only apply where the service is one which has a likelihood of repetition.

Although tipping is never compulsory, there is a strong social expectation that it will be given, especially in those economies where employees are working for low wages.  This is particularly true of service industries. More recently, in many places, a gratuity or a service charge is added to the bill, but that need not concern us in considering the Victorian Era.

What, then was the tipping situation in Great Britain in the 19th century, and why did visitors from the United States object to the practice? The practice of tipping during Victoria’s years extended from the greatest houses to the meanest streets.  Guests on hunting weekends expected to pay the servants who waited on them.  By the middle of the century, this had become such an expectation, that a poor guest who did not give a sufficient tip might find himself abused by members of the household staff. At the other extreme, there were those like the crossing-sweepers described by Henry Mayhew for whom tips totaling a shilling a day would have been considered a decent return.

William Powell Frith, The Crossing Sweeper (1858)
 Writing in the early 1830s, just a few years before Victoria ascended the throne, a visitor to London expressed his views on tipping and its extent.  Grant Thorburn noted that

            This custom of theirs [tipping] is a great annoyance to strangers; for in addition to all your other cares on the road, you have to carry a pocket full of change.  Better would it be to put every charge in the bill and make you pay at the bar.

Thorburn was born in Scotland in 1773 and migrated to American at the age of twenty-one.  In New York he worked as a nail-maker before becoming a grocer at which time he began to sell plants and seeds. He wrote extensively, if not well, and in October of 1833 visited England, by now a successful businessman.  During that time and shortly thereafter, he wrote Men and manners in Britain; or, A Bone to Gnaw for the Trollopes, Fidlers, &c. Being Notes from a Journal on Sea and on Land in 1833-4.

Catherine Kerrigan, in her biographical sketch of Thorburn in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,  describes him as a  “dedicated republican” and notes that his book was

a caustic response to Frances Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), in which he pronounces on the savagery of English history, the servility of English shopkeepers, and the profound ignorance of the British about America, but the work is also invaluable for Thorburn's more serious observations of British culture in that period

The Spectator of 21 December 1833, however, was far less kindly in its view of both the author and his work even suggesting that elements of it were written by others. But for us, the section on tipping and the frequency of the demands for gratuities is of particular interest.

In the hotels, besides paying your bill at the bar, you are called on by -- sir, remember the waiter,-- sir, remember the chambermaid ; and also by a slovenly looking fellow whom they call boots. In the stage, perhaps you are drove from London to Coventry, or any other direction, to a distance of fifty miles. There you change the driver and guard, when you are again subjected to the same beggarly impositions -- sir, I have drove from London -- sir, I have guarded you from London. You may give as much as you please, but not less than one shilling to each. In fifty miles more the same beggarly farce is acted over again. Between London and Liverpool, 200 miles, I paid twelve shillings sterling to guards and drivers, besides three sovereigns stage fare.

To Thorburn, it was “a system of organized beggary,” but one to which, if you did not submit, there were likely to be unpleasant consequences.  “Ten to one” he writes, “but your trunk would disappear before you where [sic] half through your journey.”

When Thorburn stopped on the road, the innkeeper

comes out to be sure ; his face as red as a northwest moon, corporation like a ten gallon keg, white apron, shoes, buckles and stockings, bowing and cringing like one of his well-whipped spaniels, but most roundly does he make you pay for all this servility ; and when you are going to leave his inhospitable roof, he sends after you a host of privileged beggars; and after you are seated in the coach, the windows on each side are beset with -- sir, I lashed your trunk  -- mam I brought out your bandbox, &c. I was informed by several gentlemen, that the servants in hotels and drivers on the road had no other compensation for their services, only what they could in this way extort from customers.

Clearly, this was an annoyance, not only to Thorburn, but to other travellers. Travel was difficult enough in the early days of Victoria’s reign, without the necessity of having to fend off those seeking gratuities for, all too often, dubious services.

It was not long, however, before the ubiquitous practice of tipping reached the United States and it was certainly well established there by the beginning of the twentieth century and the end of the Victorian Era.

To read or download a copy of Thorburn's book, click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Help sought

I received the following query and am posting it in the hope that the person who wrote the initial comment might follow up on it and contact Tony Gee.

Bruce Rosen

I am desirous of contacting 'Anonymous', who posted a comment about needing information on the black prize fighter called "Jem Wharton", following your 25th May 2010 blog, 'The Manly Art of Self Defence'. I am a prize ring historian and wish to inform him that there is a short chapter on Wharton in my recently republished book on the London prize ring, Up to Scratch. In addition I have information from newspapers which may interest him, and would also like to know more about the painting he mentioned.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Victoria on the Rails

The Royal Saloon, 1869
Although other members of the Royal family had travelled by rail, especially Prince Albert, it was not until 1842 that Queen Victoria recorded her first experience aboard a train.  This was quite a bold step for the reigning monarch considering the poor safety record of this form of transportation.  Hardly a week went by without some reference in the newspapers describing a railway accident and the death or injury of passengers.

Having been at Windsor, the Royal Party left the castle at 11:30 on 13 June 1842, driving to Slough where the Royal carriage was in preparation. Describing the experience in her journal, the Queen wrote
The saloon we travelled in, on the train was very large & beautifully fitted up.  It took us exactly 30 minutes going to Paddington, & the motion was very slight, & much easier than a carriage, also no dust or great heat, -- in fact, it was delightful, & so quick.  We were at Buckingham Palace by 20 m. to 1.
The train consisted of seven coaches, one of which was the Royal saloon. The locomotive  was driven by Daniel Gooch, the chief mechanical engineer of the Great Western Railway, who was accompanied by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the company's chief engineer. By 1842, Brunel had already designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Great Western, the first steamship to engage in transatlantic service and which had been launched five years earlier.

In a letter to her Uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, dated 14 June, Victoria described her feelings about the new experience of travel by train, concluding that she was "quite charmed with it."

As they left Windsor Castle, the Queen and Prince Albert were met by two boys from Eton College who presented the Queen with a congratulatory address  on surviving the attempt on her life by John Francis at the end of the previous month. As the Royal couple then headed for the station, the Eton boys ran alongside the carriage back to their school.

Only ten days later, the Queen and Prince Albert were once again on their way to the railway station at Paddington.  Here they boarded the same saloon carriage.  Both were happy to leave London where the weather had been uncomfortably hot and dry although the Queen did express some regret at having to forego "the privacy & convenience" of the Buckingham Palace garden.

The Royal Train, as would be expected, was carefully monitored and cared for.  Even so, it was not immune to mishap.  In the first week of September of 1855 it was on its way from London to Edinburgh when it developed a series of inexplicable problems. Notwithstanding the extraordinary precautions taken to prevent even the slightest casualty, it would seem that shortly after the Royal train left the metropolis it was found that some of the axles of the carriages, especially one of the last break-van, were not in a satisfactory state.

Running repairs were unable to solve the problem.  In the end a man was stationed on the footboards in order to grease the axles as the train was running.  As the train approached Darlington, one of the men stationed on the footboards was knocked off by a girder at a culvert bridge.  "Badly crushed and mutilated" he died soon after.  The situation was considered serious enough for the Queen and Prince Albert to be moved to another carriage, one used by other members of the Royal entourage.

The Royals took to train travel like ducks to water.  Initially, it was a particularly fast, comfortable and efficient means of commuting between Buckingham Palace in London and Windsor Castle.  When, for example, Prince Albert needed to return to London on 5 November 1843, he took a special train from Slough to London. Royal visitors were among those who were ferried from London to Windsor by these special trains.

According to W. M. Acworth in The Railways of England, whenever the Queen travelled by train, special precautions were taken.  All work along the line was stopped, the points were locked, trains going in the opposite direction were halted and level crossings were closed and guarded.

Within 18 months of the Queen's first trip, the use of the Royal train by the monarch had become so common an event that it was being used for longer trips. The Times reported in detail on Her Majesty's  visit to Drayton, Chatsworth and Belvoir castle  in December of 1843, a visit that involved a train trip of approximately 100 miles each way. The Royal carriage was, according to Victoria, "most comfortable ... all lined & furnished in light blue satin." On the same trip, they travelled by train from Chesterfield to Nottingham via Derby.

Less than a year later, the Queen was on her way to visit the Marquis and Marchioness of Exeter at Burghley House, a distance of about 100 miles.  Approximately half the distance was to be covered in a special Royal carriage. By now the various rail companies were vying with one-another to present the most splendid facilities. In this instance the Queen was travelling with the Birmingham Railway Company and departing from Euston station.  An elegant suite had been constructed for the use of the Royal travellers, and, according to The Times, "everything was prepared to afford the greatest degree of comfort to Her Majesty."

The carriage in which she and Prince Albert were to travel had been "built and fitted up expressly for her use on this railway in the most splendid and tasteful manner." In fact, there were, over the years, numerous carriages built for members of the Royal family.

In 1848, the Royal family went by the Royal Yacht to Scotland where they spent a delightful holiday and fell in love with Balmoral castle.  However, when it came time to return to London the weather was so bad the decision was made to return South by train. Part of the trip back involved travelling on a Sunday.  The Queen clearly had strong opinions about this, writing in her journal, being Sunday we had decided to start at 6, in order to arrive in London before the Service as people are so very particular about travelling on a Sunday in England, in my opinion it is overdone.
Almost sixty years after her first trip by train the Queen was to ride, for the final time, in the Royal Train. She was being returned to Windsor from where she had departed on that first trip. Only this time it was for her interment.

Victoria's Funeral Train, 1901
In the last few years there has been speculation that the maintenance, refurbishment and continued operation of the Royal train is no longer economical.  That it makes more sense for members of the Royal family to travel by air.  While there are strong arguments, not to mention sentimental reasons, for continuing to have the Royal train available, it seems likely that before long it will, like Royal yacht, Britannia, be put into mothballs.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Full English Breakfast - Myth or Reality

The first time I went to England, in 1967, there were still many reminders of the great Victorian Era.  I remember the rag and bone man coming round and the milkman who still used a horse-drawn float.  But because I was staying in a flat, I was not to know the joy and comfort of that great Victorian institution, the Full English Breakfast.  I did not discover that until 1985 when, en-route to Enschede in Holland, I stopped for a week in London to do some research.

The hotel in which I stayed was a converted multi-storied private home.  My room was on the sixth floor and just under the roof.  Small and cramped though it was, it was comfortable and homey and I struggled up and down the narrow flights of stairs several times a day.  Breakfast was served from 7:00 in the morning, and I was usually down in the basement dining room early.

The first time I came down for breakfast I was greeted with “Good Morning, full English?”  Not quite sure at the time just what this implied, I agreed and it was thus that I was introduced to that amazing institution, The Full English Breakfast.  I capitalise the words purposely as the title of something of such importance should be. Heather Arndt Anderson, in Breakfast: A History, refers to it as “Britain’s greatest . . . culinary achievement.”

There are many different interpretations and opinions about what constitutes this gift to the civilized early diner.  For me, it will always consist of one or two eggs cooked so the yolk remained runny, bacon (less well done than Americans like it – not crisp), sausage (I later discovered Wall’s sausages – pink, bland and absolutely unbeatable when dipped into the yolk of your egg before popping it into your mouth), cooked tomato, baked beans, mushrooms and fried bread. 

According to Jamie Oliver, “Some things are too good to mess about with,” and he is right!1This is one of the great English culinary triumphs, ranked right up there with Fish and Chips.

Back in 1985 British food could well have won awards for its unpalatable awfulness.  Now, of course, all that has changed and foodies and celebrity chefs abound on that small island. But what is the connection between the Victorian Era and the Full English Breakfast? More to the point, perhaps, is the question “is there a connection?”

According to the English Breakfast Society,
The full English breakfast is a centuries old British tradition which dates back to the early 1800's, when the Victorians first perfected the art of eating breakfast and elevated the most important meal of the day into an art form.
The Society goes on to argue that the notion of the English Breakfast as we know it today was developed by the “gentry” and was later taken up by the emergent middle-class.

Even a cursory glance at the many cookbooks of the Victorian period suggest that the English breakfast was not what we know it to be today.  A far greater variety of comestibles were likely to find their way to the table or the sideboard in private homes. Although bacon and eggs were always popular, they were certainly not a prerequisite for an English breakfast in the nineteenth century.2

Mrs Beeton, in her Book of Household Management (1861), despite noting that it was unnecessary to provide her readers with "a long bill of fare of cold joints, &c., which may be placed on the side-board, and do duty at the breakfast-table," goes on to suggest garnished cold meat and "collared and potted meats or fish, cold game or poultry, veal-and-ham pies, game-and-Rump-steak pies" as food appropriate to the breakfast table as well as "cold ham, tongue, &c. &c."

She then turns her attention to hot dishes "for the comfortable meal called breakfast." 

Broiled fish, such as mackerel, whiting, herrings, dried haddocks, &c.; mutton chops and rump-steaks, broiled sheep’s kidneys, kidneys à la maître d’hôtel, sausages, plain rashers of bacon, bacon and poached eggs, ham and poached eggs, omelets, plain boiled eggs, oeufs-au-plat, poached eggs on toast, muffins, toast, marmalade, butter, &c. &c.

In her list one can find at least some of the elements that make up the Full English Breakfast, but clearly there is a much greater variety and a number of elements are still missing. Perhaps what distinguishes the British breakfast is that it has traditionally offered hot dishes.  Its centrepiece has been and remains, bacon and eggs.

George Sala, in Twice Round the Clock (1859)3 talks of fried and poached eggs, bread and butter and bacon.  But in addition he mentions smoked haddock and bloaters as items that "grace our morning repast."  Preserved tongue, and anchovy paste, both from Crosse and Blackwell are included in Sala's list of breakfast foods.

It can be argued that in this passage, Sala is describing the breakfast of the better working and middle class.  Mrs Beeton is, of course, writing for the middle-class. The kind of breakfast she suggests (or at least the comestibles she lists) are appropriate to both that class and its betters.  What then of the lower and labouring classes?  What did their breakfasts consist of?

Sala describes the breakfast available to the workers in Covent Garden, a breakfast that would have been replicated at any of the great markets in London.
There are public-houses in the market itself, where they give you hot shoulder of mutton for breakfast at seven o'clock in the morning! Hot coffee and gigantic piles of bread-and-butter disappear with astounding rapidity. Foaming tankards are quaffed, "nips" of alcohol "to keep the cold out" (though it is May) are tossed off...
Clearly, bacon, eggs and bread were mainstays of the breakfast that many consumed in England.  But the variety was far greater and it seems unlikely that there was anything in the nineteenth century that truly resembled the Full English Breakfast as we now know it.
1To see Jamie Oliver’s Full English Breakfast, click here 

2A number of nineteenth century British cookbooks can be downloaded (or read online) by clicking on the following links:

Breakfast and Lunch Dishes(1904) 

3To read or download George Sala, Twice Round the Clock, click here.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Victorian Vision, London and Manchester at the End of the Era

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, who can decide the value of a moving picture?  In this blog, I want to look at some moving images from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Some of these are definitely Victorian (in the sense that they were made before the death of the Queen), while others are a few years later.  But, even those made before and immediately after the Great War are images of a long gone time and there is little to differentiate those that are truly Victorian from those that are Edwardian.

The first piece of film consists of street scenes recorded around 1903. Most of it is simply traffic, but as one watches a second or third time, there are things, too easily missed, that warrant thought.  Consider , for example, the horse-drawn omnibuses. Just the number of them is overwhelming.  And, in the Victorian Era they often drove without due care, even, from time to time, racing through the London streets.  In 1853, the driver of the Chelsea and Islington Omnibus, driving too quickly and trying to overtake another bus from the inside, killed an elderly oyster-stall owner in Mortimer Street. The driver was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six months confinement.

Another interesting thing to look out for is the advertising on the horse-drawn vehicles, particularly the omnibuses.  Many of the names are still very familiar more than a hundred years later.  There are Liptons, Pears, Nestles, Bovril, and even American products like Kodak and Quaker Oats.

Watch, too, for the faces of people staring at the camera, sometimes with interest and occasionally with suspicion or hostility.

Click here to see the film.

Manchester in the nineteenth century was the key part of the industrial heartland of Great Britain.  At the beginning of the century it had a population of 89,000, a nine-fold increase over what it had been at the beginning of the eighteenth century. By the middle of the nineteenth century the population had increased to 400,000 and at the end of that century, Britain's second city had a population of 700,000.

William Wylde, Manchester from Kersal Moor (1857)
Manchester's growth relied on cotton.  The great factories and mills stood in the foreground of this rapidly expanding city, so dependent on that fibre that it was sometimes referred to as "Cottonopolis.".

By the end of the nineteenth century, the city had a vibrant cultural life and the newly created Manchester Ship Canal made Salford, a metropolitan borough of Greater Manchester, the third busiest port in Britain.

Click here to see life in the centre of Manchester in the year of Queen Victoria's death.

 The following piece of film is a general compilation of late Victorian and early Edwardian footage. It is interesting because of the quality which is unusually good.  The film includes images of an automobile leaving a garage and scenes of mills and factories. I found the faces of the people quite fascinating with expressions ranging from joy to boredom and distress. It is worth looking at the clothing of the time.  Seeing it on people leading their lives gives a much better sense of it than seeing it in museums on dummies or in still images.

Click here to see the footage.

The final footage in this blog is a compilation. Much of the film is drawn from the other pieces to which this blog has linked.  The strength of this particular video is that many of the scenes are juxtaposed with modern scenes of the same locations.  There are also maps which indicate where in London the filming took place.  While you may find the sound intrusive, it is worth listening to it if only to hear the first recording ever made of Big Ben from 16 July 1890.

Click here for the more detailed film.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Faster, Lower, Deeper - The First Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable

Map of the 1858 trans-Atlantic cable route

On the 16th of August, 1858, Queen Victoria sent a telegram to the President of the United States, James Buchanan.  For more than a week the telegraphic cable across the Atlantic had been undergoing tests but this was the first official message.  Prior to the laying of the cable, messages from the United Kingdom to the United States were limited by the speed at which a ship could cross the ocean. This would routinely take ten days (presuming a clear run in good weather), but now the speed with which a message could be sent was reduced to minutes -- or was it?

There had, of course, been earlier attempts to lay a trans-Atlantic cable. The first cable was laid across the floor of the Atlantic from Telegraph Field, Foilhommerum Bay, Valentia Island in western Ireland to Heart's Content in eastern Newfoundland. But the laying of the cable met with problem after problem.  On the American side, an attempt to lay cable across the Cabot Strait in 1855 failed when a gale forced the cutting of the cable to avoid the sinking of the boat laying it. In the following year, in better weather, a steamboat completed the link from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia.

Finally though, by August of 1858, everything was in place.

The first official message (from Queen Victoria) read,


The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work, in which the Queen has taken the deepest interest.

The Queen is convinced that the President will join with her in fervently hoping that the electric cable, which now connects Great Britain with the United States, will prove an additional link between the nations, whose friendship is founded upon their common interest and reciprocal esteem.

The Queen has much pleasure in thus communicating with the President, and renewing to him her wishes for the prosperity of the United States.

The message was, of course, sent in Morse code, but because of the primitive nature of the cable, lacking, as it did, repeaters to strengthen the signal, reception was bad and it could take as much as two minutes to transmit a single character. This equates to one word every ten minutes! The Queen's entire message took over 16 hours to transmit and, even as late as 1866 with a new cable laid in that year, transmission speed was only eight words per minute - 80 times faster than Victoria's message, but still painfully slow by today's standards; even at the higher speed it would have taken more than ten minutes to convey the Queen’s message.

Responding to QueenVictoria, President Buchanan declared the cable “a triumph more glorious, because far more useful to mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle.” He then went on to invoke “Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty, and law throughout the world.” 
In this view will not all nations of Christendom spontaneously unite in the declaration that it shall be for ever neutral, and that its communications shall be held sacred in passing to the places of their destination, even in the midst of hostilities.
Clearly, news of the success of the cable and the exchange of messages between the Queen and the President seemed to offer hope of a bright future.  A week after the messages were exchanged The Times waxed rhapsodic (or at least as rhapsodic as the staid old Thunderer could wax). "We fully believe" it pronounced in an editorial,
that the effect of bringing the three Kingdoms and the United States into instantaneous communication with each other will be to render hostilities between the two nations almost impossible for the future.
"The two great Anglo-Saxon States," it went on, "remain firmly united--fused together ..."

Speed, that's what it was about.  Speed and more speed.  How fast could one get from A to B by train, how fast could a letter be sent and now, how fast could a message be sent across the Atlantic Ocean.  It was the era of steam and the Great Clipper ships were reaching the end of their days.  Now the question became not "if" a message could be transmitted by telegraph over the Atlantic, but "how quickly."

The New York Tribune exultantly proclaimed, in mid-1855, "there can ... be no difficulty in sending electricity across the Atlantic." Two years later, on the other side of the Atlantic, John Watkins Brett was telling the Royal Institute,

The ultimate union of America with Europe by electricity may now be considered a certainty. Providence has placed this object within our reach; there are no practical impossibilities in the way of its accomplishment; and those united with us in the undertaking do not regard the means required in comparison to the good to be accomplished.

Such optimism was misplaced. The first successful telegraph cable, despite the Queen's optimism, survived for a period of only three weeks.  In the following nine years, five separate attempts were made to establish a telegraphic link between Great Britain and the United States but it was not until 1866 that telegraphic communication between the two countries was established on a reliable basis.

The Great Eastern

 Even the achievement of laying a successful cable started with less than propitious omens.  The Great Eastern, the largest ship ever built, a record she was to hold until 1899, was chartered to lay the new cable in 1865.  Because of its great size and speed, it was planned that only the one ship would be used.  This would solve the problem of two ships meeting at sea, splicing the cable, and then dropping it into the depths of the Atlantic. Once again the project met with failure when the cable snapped after 1,200 miles had been laid. 

Interior of The Great Eastern with Cable

But with bulldog tenacity, the project went ahead.   In 1866 The Great Eastern succeeded, not only in laying a new cable across the Atlantic Ocean, but in repairing the snapped cable from the previous year.  Two working cables now spanned the Atlantic Ocean.

And what an amazing advance it was. Barely more than a quarter of a century had elapsed since the first working telegraph had been introduced and only ten years since the first attempt to lay a transatlantic telegraph cable had been undertaken. But the telegraph system, in its earliest years was far too expensive for anything other than commercial and governmental use.  In 1866 it would have cost ten dollars a word or $US 100 to send the minimum of ten words.  In today’s terms, this would be about US$1,340.

By the death of Queen Victoria, there were more than half-a-dozen cables linking the old world and the new. Progress continued with the establishment in 1955/56, ninety years after the first successful trans-Atlantic telegraph lines, of a telephone cable from Scotland to Newfoundland. Today's trans-Atlantic cables use fibre optic transmission. Because of their low cost, high capacity and speed they have increasingly replaced satellite communication and with the use of modern technology it is now possible to place calls around the world for a few cents a minute and even, from computer to computer, free of charge.
A free copy of W. H. Russell, The Atlantic Telegraph  (1865) is available via Amazon Kindle (without illustrations) or with black and white illustrations for $.99. A free copy with illustrations can be found here

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The "Sewer" or the early days of the London Underground

     To understand the development of the London Underground, or “Tube,” one has to look at both the growth and sprawl of the metropolis and the existing modes of transport in the middle years of the nineteenth century. As the population of London expanded from one million in 1800 to more than 2,350,000 by mid-century modes of transport became increasingly mechanised and the movement of the population from the country to the city accelerated.
London Traffic 1871
     With the expansion of the Great Metropolis, both in the number of its residents and the extension of its boundaries, many areas which had been outlying rural districts became part of the growing suburbs of the city. “There was,” as Eric Lampard opined, “a certain myopic quality to the later Victorian belief in the Suburbs.” In addition, I think that for many of the “movers and shakers” of London, their sense of the continuing progress, at least for their class, reinforced their belief in infinite progress.

     But progress always comes at a price and in the second half of the nineteenth century that price, among others, meant creating the means for a mobile workforce, a workforce that could be easily and speedily conveyed from their places of habitation to their places of employment. Attempts to expedite this process had been made through the century. The horse-drawn cabs were far too expensive for the working class and the horse-drawn omnibuses, an early attempt at mass transit were first seen on London streets in 1829. The earliest of these was the Paddington to the City omnibuses established by George Shillibeer; by the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851, there were almost 1,500 omnibuses covering 150 routes. Even so, the cost to passengers was comparatively high and, as a result, the omnibuses were used largely by the middle classes. Nor were the omnibuses able to move the large numbers of passengers. The earliest fares were from sixpence to a shilling, but by the latter years of the century these had fallen to three halfpence in order to compete with the Underground. Forty years later, there were, according to W. J. Gordon, in The Horse World of London, “ten thousand horses working a thousand omnibuses, travelling twenty million miles in a year, and carrying one hundred and ten million passengers.”

A London Omnibus 1860s
     Despite their growth, their increasing affordability and being “the most characteristic feature of London, the omnibuses were not up to the task of moving the vast hordes of the labouring classes to, from and through the Great Wen.
     By the middle of the century, the city was reachable, at least to its outskirts, by rail-lines. Once, however, the passengers alighted, whether at Paddington, Waterloo, Victoria or one of the other terminuses, a trip into the City itself or to the West End, became dependent on other means of transport. The traveller was thrown back on the hackney cab, the omnibus or shanks’s pony.

     Mary Higgs, at the beginning of the twentieth century, in Glimpses into the Abyss commented, “the feature of the life of most men is daily migration. By train, tram, or road, tides of humanity move to toil.” It was “the daily migration of labour, the tide morning and night ebbs and flows.” It is this, she describes as “the modern problem of the Fluidity of labour!”

     Ironically, the growth of the suburbs with the need for increased transportation options contributed to the congestion of already overcrowded London. For example, when horse drawn trams, on steel tracks, were introduced in the 1860s, they were opposed, not surprisingly, by omnibus operators, but also by inner-London on the grounds they would increase rather than reduce traffic congestion.

     The idea of an underground system linking the termini and offering safe and speedy means of getting around London had first been mooted in the 1830s, but for a variety of reasons, including the expense of such construction, lack of interest from the established railways and the Crimean War, it was not until the mid-1850s that permission was granted for the Metropolitan Railway to begin construction of the first line at a cost of one million pounds. Construction began in 1860 and was completed three years later. The line was built using the “cut and cover” method. Aside from the great disruption this caused to those whose properties were demolished and the effect it had on trade in the immediate vicinity, it allowed construction close to the surface and this, in turn, helped mitigate some of the unpleasantness of travelling underground.
Cut-and-cover caused massive disruption
     In May of 1862 the directors and engineers of the project inspected the line from Paddington to the City. Among the passengers travelling in open carts was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and future Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. 
Inspecting the Line in May 1862
     When the line was finally completed all of the stakeholders joined in celebration. On January 9, 1863, a party of 600 Parliamentarians, railway officials and executives as well as the rich, famous and important of London progressed by train from Paddington to a banquet at the Farringdon Street Station. There were speeches made and music provided by the Metropolitan Police Band.
Farringdon Street Station Banquet

     The line officially opened the next day. Steam locomotives pulled gas-lit carriages through the dark tunnels from Paddington to the City over a distance of six kilometres. 
The Original Metropolitan Underground Line
    On the first day of operation the line carried 38,000 passengers and in the first week, 225,000. By the end of its first year of operation there had been more than nine million riders.

     Although the horse-drawn omnibuses and trams were to survive into the twentieth century only to be replaced by more modern above-ground modes of transport, the underground railway had clearly arrived. Within days, the newspapers were reporting that passenger numbers were down for omnibuses and fares had been reduced from Paddington to Whitechapel Church as well as from Paddington to London Bridge or the Bank. Less than a fortnight after the line opened, the following description of a trip appeared in “London Letter,” in the John o’ Groat Journal for 22 January:
Taking out a first-class ticket, we enter the large and spacious carriages, and observe at once that, different from any other railway, the carriages are lighted with gas. The line, being of the broad gauge, admits of large and handsome carriages, most comfortably and elegantly seated for five on each side, and fitted up with cozy cushions and elbows. The gas is contained in a vessel attached to the roof of each carriage, holding a sufficient quantity to last a journey. The introduction of this system of lighting enables one to read his novel or newspaper with perfect ease, and, indeed, combined with the smooth travelling on the broad gage [sic], almost makes one forget that he is in a train, and not in a drawing-room. A certain closeness of atmosphere can scarcely be avoided, but owing to the peculiar construction of the engines by which they consume their own smoke, no sulphurous fumes are added, and the travelling, if properly managed, must be perfectly safe.
     This view was certainly shared by Sir William Hardman who, with his wife, made a trip down the “drain” on the 26th of January. Their first-class trip from Edgeware Road to King’s Cross cost them 6d each and they rode in a ten-person carriage with divided seats. First class carriages were lit by two gas lights and were high enough that “a six footer may stand erect with his hat on.”

     Not everyone was thrilled with the new underground railway, especially those who were forced to ride in third class. Only one day after the “London Letter” appeared, The Morning Post was objecting to the foul smelling, mephitic odour which pervaded the stations in the form of “a misty vapour irresistibly combining the idea of a laundry and a limekiln.” It was, according to The Post, “enough to produce a headache in five minutes, and five minutes more would be sufficient for the heaviest of colds.”
Workmen waiting for the 3rd Class Train, 1872
But by the end of the month in which the Metropolitan Railway opened for business, The Times could say, in judgement,
It has worked with success and found unexpected favour.  The threats of steam and smoke, of chokedamp and sewerage, of rats and banditti, with which it has been hailed in some quarters, have been dispelled by the result.
     If Sir William Hardman is to be trusted, the Underground was used by the highest as well as the lowest of the land, including the Prince of Wales.
The other day, just before his marriage [10 March 1863] he was smoking in a first-class railway carriage (ordinary train) and the porter, not recognising him, asked him to show his ticket. A lady residing at Windsor told a friend of ours she was sure the Prince was a person of no mind at all, as he had gone up to the bookstall and bought a copy of Punch and actually paid for it himself. Perhaps you will agree with us that an unaffected young fellow who hates nonsensical dignity, smokes in the railway, and reads Punch, may turn out not so badly after all.
And while there may be much debate as to whether or not the Prince of Wales actually turned out “not so badly,” there is no question that the London Underground, the Tube, which grew out of the Metropolitan Underground Railway did turn out well indeed.

Today, the London Tube carries over a billion and a quarter passengers per year over 402  kilometers of track at an average speed of thirty-three kilometers an hour.