Category Archives: working life

Water, Water…

Some time ago I bought a charming book for children which unfortunately is missing its title page and front matter. I tracked it down from the introductory poem and found that it is a version of  Rural Scenes; or, A Peep Into the Country for Good Children, originally published in 1805 by Harvey, Darton & Company, Gracechurch Street, London. The authors were sisters Jane and Ann Taylor. Jane was the author of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’

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The only one I can find on sale is a first edition bound with the companion A Peep Into London… and that was $3,250! Mine has different and fewer images, although in exactly the same style, and was published in 1813. I think I paid £10 for it – but I have to admit, mine is rather more battered.

With the rain lashing down outside I thought the text accompanying a scene of a woman dipping water from a stream was rather apt. The book groups similar subjects together and this is from a set all to do with water.

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38: Dipping Water.

Morning and night, with cleanly pails,

Comes Mary to the spring,

And to her cottage never fails

The Cooling draught to bring.

With some she scours the dressers smart,

or mops the kitchen bricks; And in the kettle sings a part,

Above the crackling sticks.

The text following it reads, ‘Without water, man, woman, and child; birds, beasts, and fishes; trees, plants, and flowers, must all die! Do not let us be so angry, then, with a shower of rain, even if it should spoil our walk; for what should we do without it? We often overlook the comforts we possess, nor are we sensible of their great value, until we are deprived of them. For want of water and fresh air, many English people died in a dungeon, at Calcutta, in the East Indies. And how much to be valued is fresh water on shipboard; as all water in the sea is salt, and not fit for men to drink, except as a medicine, in some disorders, for people on shore.’

In a very few lines it packs in a lecture on housekeeping – clean pails required, daily scrubbing of the kitchen – a passing reference to history with the Black Hole of Calcutta, moralising on being aware of the blessings we possess and a mention of saline draughts in medicine!

The image above is a lecture on the value of the cows which John is taking to drink. Betty will make cheese, butter and cream and sells the butter milk ‘to the poor people’. But when the cows are killed they provide food, leather, fat for candles, hoofs for glue, horns to make lanterns and combs, bones for carving like ivory, ‘the blood makes a beautiful blue colour’ and ‘even the bowels are not thrown away.’ Luckily we aren’t informed what happens to those. No sentimentality about farm animals here!

As for the bottom image, that provides us with a neat little moral lesson:

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Jane Taylor, shown below, lived 1783 – 1824. She was born in London, lived for much of her childhood in Lavenham and died and is buried at Ongar in Essex. Jane Taylor

I may well return to this delightful book in the future – I’m eager to share the ingenious ‘Fish Machine’.

 

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Filed under Agriculture, Animals, Books, Domestic life, Education, Weather, working life

W H Pyne and a View into Rural England

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I collect original early 19th century prints – costume prints, London views and, whenever I can lay hands on them, the work of William Henry Pyne (1769–1843). Pyne is not a great artist, but he had the knack of catching the everyday lives of English people, especially the working classes, in a vivid and revealing way.

His The Costume of Great Britain, designed, engraved, and written by W. H. Pyne, was published in 1808 and fetches large sums of money these days – I’ve had to make do with a reprint of the whole book, but I do own a few of the individual plates. You can see two of these at my posts for 5th November 2015 (‘Pray Remember Guy Fawkes!’) and February 18th 2014 (recycling Georgian Style.)

But the work I enjoy the most are the sketches he made and published to help amateur artists populate the landscapes they made with suitable figures. With virtually everyone claiming any degree of gentility being expected to sketch creditably, this must have been a huge market. The first of these came out in Microcosm, or a Picturesque Delineation of the Arts, Agriculture, and Manufactures of Great Britain; in a Series of above a Thousand Groups of Small Figures for the embellishment of Landscape … the whole accurately drawn from Nature and etched by W. H. Pyne and aquatinted by J. Hill, to which are added Explanations of the Plates by C. Gray. That was published in 1803 and was followed by Etchings of Rustic Figures for the Embellishment of Landscape in 1815. I own a number of plates from the first (which I can’t scan at the moment as they are in store: the joys of building work!) and several from the second.

The countrywomen and children at the top of this post are from Etchings of Rustic Figures… as are the Gypsies below.

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My favorites are from On Rustic Figures in Imitation of Chalk, (1817) and I’m lucky enough to own the whole volume. It was published by Ackermann, of Repository fame and would have fitted in well with the artists’ supplies that they sold from the shop at 101, Strand. Below is the Woodcutter.

Woodcutter from W H Pyne's Rustic Figures

In the Introduction Pyne wrote:

“The study of drawing the characters of the peasantry, or rustic figures, although having its foundation in a certain knowledge of the proportions of the human figure, is nevertheless essentially different from the study of the elegant or classic figure, and, perhaps is as great a degree as the manners and habits of he peasantry differ from those of the most polished of the human race. Not that the rustic is always devoid of dignity; but his is a dignity of a peculiar order, existing in nature, without either the elegance or the affectedness which may be derived from education.”

He goes on to mock the “insipid…rustics of the elegant designer” and points out that “Nothing can be more absurd than to see a race of gods and goddesses, with scythes and hay-rakes, attired in waggoners’ frocks and mob caps.”

His drawings, even of the poorest, avoid any kind of attempt at caricature or ‘humour’ as so many other images of the day do. These charming children, for example, or the spinner at her wheel, seem to me to be genuine attempts to depict the subjects sympathetically, and realistically, in their setting.

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I love the detail in these drawings – the construction of a bucket, the way the spinning wheel works and, in the final example, the man sharpening his scythe. We can see the construction of his clothes but also the holder for the sharpening stone fixed to his belt in the small of his back.

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A Fishy Business – Billingsgate Market

The New Family Cookery or Town and Country Housekeepers’ Guide by Duncan MacDonald (1812) begins its General Directions for Marketing with fish and with Billingsgate Market:

The comment in the penultimate paragraph is ironic, considering Billingsgate’s colourful reputation! When I was researching for my book Regency Slang Revealed I discovered that to talk Billingsgate meant to use particularly coarse and foul language.

Billingsgate Market was sited at the foot of Lower Thames Street from at least the 10th century until it was moved to the new market site on the Isle of Dogs in 1982. The first set of toll regulations covering it dates from 1016 and by the time of Elizabeth I it was dealing in corn, malt, salt and vegetables, although fish was always the main reason for its existence at the highest point where fish could be unloaded straight from the boats before London Bridge. It can be seen in Horwood’s map of London (c1800) below with the deep indentation of the dock taking a bite out of the waterfront and London Bridge on the left. This dock vanished with the Victorian rebuilding of the market in 1850. That building proved inadequate and was replaced with the present handsome structure by Sir Horace Jones, opened in 1877. It was refurbished after the closure and is now used for various commercial purposes. During the 1988 work extensive remains of the late 12th century/early 13th century waterfront were revealed.

The engraving from a print of 1820 shows the view of the dock from the river. At this date there was no covered market building, simply stalls and tables set out around the dock. In the days before a ready supply of ice dealers would come into Billingsgate from places within about twenty five miles – an outer ring that included Windsor, St Albans and Romford – and fish was sold in lots by the Dutch auction method where the price falls until a buyer is found. Many of the fish were caught in the Thames and in 1828 a Parliamentary Committee took evidence that in 1798 there were 400 fishermen, each owning a boat and employing one boy, who made a good living between Deptford and London catching roach, plaice, smelts, flounders, shad, eels, dudgeon, dace and dabs. One witness stated that in 1810 3,000 Thames salmon were landed in the season. By the time of the Commission,eighteen years later, the fishery had been destroyed by the massive pollution of the river from water closets and  the waste from gas works and factories that went straight into the river.

It was the fishwives of Billingsgate who became its most notorious feature. They were tough women, as they needed to be to thrive in such a hard, competitive business, and they did not shrink from either physical violence or colourful language. In Bailey’s English Dictionary (1736) a “Billingsgate” is defined as “a scolding, impudent slut.” Addison referred to the “debate” that arose among “the ladies of the British fishery” and Ned Ward describes them scolding and chattering among their heaps of fish, “ready enough to knock down the auctioneer who did not knock down a lot to them.”

The women of Billingsgate were an inevitable attraction to young bucks and gentlemen slumming, as the two prints below show. The top one is a drawing by Henry Alken for the Tom and Jerry series – “Billingsgate: Tom and Bob taking a Survey after a Night’s Spree.”  Below that is “A Frolic: High Life or a Visit to Billingsgate” from The London Spy.

Here two sporting gentlemen stand out in the crowd of working people as they watch a fight that has broken out between two bare-breasted fishwives. Another has just been knocked to the ground. Amongst the details note the woman sitting on a basket smoking a clay pipe, another (far left) taking a swig from a bottle and the porter’s hat on the man in the centre foreground with its long ‘skirt’ to protect the neck.

This print below is not dated, but as there is the funnel of a steam boat in the background amongst the masts it is probably 1820s.

Here a determined-looking lady in a riding habit, her veil thrown back and her whip under her arm, is negotiating the sale of a large fish head. Behind her is a smartly-dressed woman, perhaps a merchant’s wife, and an elderly gentleman in spectacles is talking to another fish seller on the far right. There are two men in livery, perhaps accompanying the lady in the riding habit. The man standing behind the seated fishwife is a sailor, judging by his tarred pigtail, and the porter walking towards us is wearing one of the black hats whose ‘tail’ can just be glimpsed over his shoulders. It is all fairly orderly and respectable, despite the crowd (and the smell, no doubt) but a hint to the other activities in the area may be the couple in the window!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Buildings, Food & drink, Rivers, Shopping, Street life, Women, working life

The Tower From the River

Just a short post today – but recently I went to see the exhibition about Emma Hamilton at the National Maritime Museum (stunning, by the way) and travelled by water bus between Greenwich and Westminster. We passed the Tower of London, of course, and it was interesting to compare the view today with this one of 1797.

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The biggest difference is the presence of the Embankment and the disappearance of the open space with the cannon to the right- presumably they belonged to the Board of Ordnance who were in the Tower. Now the approach road to London Bridge crosses close to this spot. The water gate, the entrance to Traitor’s Gate can be seen in the print as a crescent shape just to the left of the White Tower.

There are no crowds of tourists taking selfies in this image, but the amount of river traffic is surprisingly close – now it is tourist boats, river buses, the River Police and still quite a few barges and tugs. I wish I’d had this print with me!

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Pray Remember Guy Fawkes!

 

Pyne Guy Fawkes

 

The 5th November is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 when a group attempted to blow up the House of Lords, along with King James I, during the State Opening of Parliament. The aim was to install James’s nine year old daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic head of state, but the conspirators were betrayed and Guy Fawkes, who had been guarding the thirty six barrels of gunpowder stacked in the cellars under the Lords’ Chamber, was captured.

Most of the conspirators managed to get out of London but were found and, after a fight, some were killed and the others captured. At their trial in January 1606 the eight survivors, including Guy Fawkes, were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. With the popular feeling so strong against Roman Catholics at the time, celebrations on the  anniversary of the discovery of the plot rapidly became a fixed part of the calendar and persisted nationally. Bishop Robert Sanderson (d.1663) preached, “God grant that we nor ours ever live to see November 5th forgotten, or the solemnity of it silenced.” By 1677 Poor Robin’s Almanac had the verse:

“Now boys with

Squibs and crackers play.

And bonfires blaze

Turns night to day.”

By the early 19th century the visible elements of the celebration – the bonfire, the effigy of the “guy” with small boys parading their own homemade versions and begging for “A penny for the guy” and the setting-off of fire crackers – were still as popular as ever. The idea of a bonfire, fireworks and the opportunity for a party was doubtless as appealing then as it is now and perhaps few people thought about what was being represented and the horrors of either the planned explosion or the hideous end of the conspirators.

I love the detail in the picture at the top of this post. It is from Pyne’s The Costumes of Great Britain, 1805 and shows urchins parading their guy. He is dressed in old clothes with a handful of firecrackers pushed into his coat front. in the background another guy has been hung over the bonfire with his hands full of firecrackers. In the right foreground are a group of tradespeople. A man carries a joint of meat in a wooden hod on his shoulder, too preoccupied to look up, but a girl selling something from her basket, a cooper with barrel hoops over his shoulder and his tools tucked into the front of his apron and a woman blacking boots look on in amusement. The shoe-black is wearing a soldier’s uniform jacket, two scarves over a white cap and a voluminous black skirt. Her pot of blacking is on the stool beside her and she is rubbing it into a boot with a small brush.

My copy of Observations on Popular Antiquities: chiefly illustrating the origin of our Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions by John Brand has the following for November 5th: “It is still customary in London and its vicinity for the boys to dress up an image of the infamous conspirator Guy Fawkes, holding in one hand a dark lanthorn, and in the other a bundle of matches, and to carry it about the streets begging money in these words, “Pray remember Guy Fawkes!” In the evening there are bon-fires , and these frightful figures are burnt in the midst of them.” The original edition was 1795, but the editor of the 1813 edition has added “Mr Brand was mistaken in supposing the celebration of the fifth of November to have been confined to London and its neighbourhood. The celebration of it was general.”

Cruickshank guy

Almost thirty years after the print by Pyne was published Cruickshank’s little image for November in London shows a very similar guy, although this one has a clay pipe in his mouth. Another guy is being carried in the distance on the right and he is wearing a tall white dunce’s cap which may be intended to represent the hats worn by heretics burnt at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition.

It is obviously November – fog is swirling in the street, the figure in the centre has his nose and mouth muffled and the advertisements pasted to the boarded-up window are for cloaks, greatcoats and furs. There is also an advert for fireworks.

 

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The Road to Waterloo Week Two – Londoners Riot & The News Arrives

With the government in London, and the Allies at the Congress in Vienna, still unaware that anything was amiss, Napoleon continued his march northwards. On Sunday 5th he arrived at Sisteron, where he was not greeted with any great enthusiasm, but he pushed on to Gap where he arrived on Monday and was joined by the 7th Regiment of Infantry under its colonel, Charles de la Bédoyère.
By Tuesday 8th Napoleon reached Laffrey, 77 kilometres from the coast and 26 kilometres south of the significant city of Grenoble. The road was barred by a battalion of the 5th Regiment of the Line. Napoleon rode out in front, within pistol range, dismounted, walked forward, threw back his greatcoat to show his uniform and challenged the soldiers to shoot their Emperor. Instead they cheered and surged forward to surround him – it was a significant moment.
That day news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reached the Congress in Vienna – but without any information about where he was.
Meanwhile Londoners had violence of quite a different kind to be concerned about – the Corn Law Riots. With the end of war there was a drop in demand for wheat for the army. At the same time the removal of the danger to merchant shipping allowed grain imporPic010ts to flow in unimpeded and the price of wheat fell. This was a serious threat to landowners, just as it was a great relief for the poor, for whom bread constituted a major part of the diet, especially in the industrial towns.
The Corn Importation Bill was put before parliament in February and prohibited the import of foreign wheat at under 80 shillings a quarter, and also set minimum prices for other grains. It proved to be the start of one of the most furious political debates in British history and one that continued to divide opinion for thirty years.
Landowners argued that low wheat prices would prevent farmers from making a profit, they would have to cut labourers’ wages and the whole economy would suffer from a decline in purchasing power. It would also put the country at the mercy of foreigners. The cartoon below shows landowners refusing foreign wheat. The women and children harvesters are from a bat-print dish of about 1820.

Corn LawSamuel Whitbread, the brewer, pointed out that by this argument, the recent war had been a good thing as it had prevented the French exporting their wheat and that on those grounds, “it would be better to set Boney up again.” He was about to get his wish.
In the industrial towns, which were virtually unrepresented in parliament, there was furious opposition to the Bill. Petitions flooded in – for example one from Bristol signed by 40,000, and the petition from the City of London speaking of “unexampled distress and privation.” The newspapers were full of column after column detailing the petitions. Parliament panicked and the Bill was hurried through – within three weeks it was already receiving its third reading.
On Monday 6th the chanting of the mob outside Parliament could be heard in the Chamber “No Corn Bill! No Corn Bill!”
Although the mob was dispersed, violence broke out that night, supporters of the Bill had their houses attacked and violent disorder continued through the nights of Wednesday and Thursday. The army was called in, mob rule and revolution was feared and the Society pages noted that the Marchioness of Camden’s rout & card party at the family town house in Arlington Street was thin of company because of the unrest in the streets. Even the bad news of the retreat of British forces on 18th Jan, after an initially successful attack on New Orleans on 23 December, was lost in the furore over the riots and the Bill.
Then on Friday Napoleon entered Lyons in triumph and the garrison, in the process of being reviewed by King Louis XVIII’s brother, the Comte d’Artois, changed sides, pulling faces at the helpless prince. The same day the news of his escape finally reached London. The Corn Law Bill was pushed out of the headlines.Nathan_Mayer_Rothschild
In the words of the next day’s Morning Chronicle, “An extraordinary sensation was yesterday produced by the intelligence from France, of the landing of BONAPARTE at Frejus… the first notice of this most memorable event was announced by Mr Rosschild  [Nathan Mayer Rothschild, shown left], the Exchange Broker, who sold stock to the amount of 600,000l. on the receipt of the news by express from France.”
At the same time as the Rothschilds’ efficient intelligence network delivered the news, the British government received dispatches from Lord Fitzroy Somerset in Paris and the confirmation that Napoleon was in France reached Vienna.
Thanks to the stage and mail coach network the news spread across the country with incredible speed. James Oakes of Bury St Edmunds wrote in his diary on the 10th, “This morning by mail the acct came of Bonaparte’s making good his landing in France with 10 or 20,000 men.”
That day, the 10th March, the Corn Law was passed by 245 votes to 75 – without any disturbances on the street whatsoever.

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Filed under Agriculture, Employment, Food & drink, Napoleon, Regency caricatures, Riots, Waterloo, working life

The Perils of the Pavement – Winter in Georgian London

February always seems to bring muddier, messier weather than January, perhaps because the ground is already so sodden. Negotiating the slushy snow, puddles and potholes as I crossed the street in my local market town this morning made me think about what London streets were like at this time of year in the early 19th century.Snowfall
The first print is from Richard Deighton’s London Nuisances series – A Heavy Fall of Snow – with the unfortunate gentleman getting a load of snow on his hat from the men clearing the ledge above the shop he is passing.
Rather appropriately the establishment belongs to Mr Careless, a skate maker, and pairs of skates are hanging in the window. The engraving shows very clearly the flagstones of the pavement, as opposed to the much rougher cobbled street surface which is just visible above the caption.
For all the accident with the snow, this seems a very clean and tidy street. For a rather more likely pair of images I’ve copied two of a monthly series of prints of London street scenes by George Cruikshank (thanks to Stephen Barker for the identification!). They were cut out and pasted in an album, hence the clipped corners. Except for the style of the women’s dresses and the gas lamp they could be any time from about 1800.

Street JanIn the first, January, the town is experiencing a hard frost. The men in the carts are breaking up ice and taking it away, while three chilly individuals are marching under a placard reading “Poor Froze Out Gardeners” – presumably with no work because the ground is frozen solid. Behind their placard is the ship of W. Winter, Furrier and the shop window on the left is advertising “Soups”. A gang of boys seems to have fallen to the ground while sliding on the ice.Street Feb
The second scene is February and shows the effects of the thaw. Men are shoveling snow off the high roofs in the background onto unwary passers-by and the cobbled street surface is a potholed mess. The lady in the middle with her skirts lifted almost to her knees is wearing iron pattens on her shoes to raise her out of the mire and street cleaners are shoveling mud into a cart behind her. The housewife on the corner is obviously doing her bit to sweep at least a section of the pavement clean. On the right the postman is doing his rounds. Here is one of a pair of late 18th century pattens like the ones being worn.

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