Category Archives: 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.

tower

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.

54.61.127a-b 0004

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Recycling Georgian Style

I was sorting out the recycling the other day and began to wonder just how the average Georgian dealt with their waste and rubbish.

To get the most unpleasant waste out of the way first – a privy and cess pit serving a home where a well-built facility was regularly emptied was one thing, the shared privies in a back slum, quite another. At least in Jane Austen’s day most human waste was dealt with via a cess pit and was not flushed straight into the drains that had been designed only to take the rainwater to the rivers.  The privies were emptied by the ‘night-men’ or ‘night-soil men’ who carried out their smelly task after dark, tipping the contents into great vats on the back of carts that then trundled off to the market gardens that surrounded London where raw waste was used to fertilise the crops.

Tottenham Court RoadAnimal waste was another vast problem. There were thousands of horses in London and added to that were the great herds of animals driven right into the centre of town daily to small local slaughterhouses. The print is from Ackermann’s Repository March 1812 and shows the Tottenham Court Road turnpike with St James’s chapel on the right. Today the burying ground behind the chapel is lost under Euston station. A flock of sheep and a cow are herded past on their way to London, a routine part of the day.

All the animal waste ended up on the streets to mix with dust, household sweepings and rainwater to create a disgusting muddy slurry. At least within central London the roads were cobbled – being ‘on the stones’ marked the limits of the hackney carriages – and the pavements were, as their name suggests, paved. In the better areas the parish officials would employ road sweepers to clear the worst of the mud and muck. This print by Richard Deighton is from his London Nuisances series and is entitled Passing a Mud Cart. The smartly-dressed gentleman is dry-shod on the pavement, but that does not save him.

Mud cart

Crossing sweepers, often young boys or elderly men, made their living by clearing a path through the worst of the muck whenever someone wanted to cross the road.

Adding to the mess on the streets were industries and markets. Tanneries, breweries, metal working all created foul waste water to be flushed away to the river. Beggars, scavengers and stray animals dealt with much of what fell to the ground in markets. Very little was wasted – even the most unpromising meat scraps could be sold to feed pets, guard dogs and the kitchen mouser. This print shows a cat and dog meat seller outside Bethlem Hospital.Cat meat

In the home recycling was a way of life. The mistress drank expensive tea but the used tea leaves were a perk of the housekeeper who would dry them and resell them. The left-overs from the family table were eaten by the servants or given to the poor. Carcasses and scraps were boiled for stock and soup, bones could be resold for various industrial purposes.

Packaging was paper-based, so could be reused until it fell apart or was put on the fire. Clothing was re-cut and reused and gradually descended through the social orders from lady to lady’s maid, to second-hand clothes shop to rag man and finally paper manufacturer. In this detail from William Pyne’s ‘Guy Fawkes’ the woman applying blacking to boots is wearing an old army jacket while the coat on the guy has reached the end of its life.Guy Fawkes

The market for second hand goods ranged from the elegant antique shop or a sale at a major auction house to a market stall. Repairing worn or damaged goods was commonplace and gave employment to a range of craftsmen such as chair seat repairers, tinsmiths and cobblers.

In the household candle stubs were reused in the servants’ quarters, or if they were good quality wax, formed part of the housekeeper’s perks and were sold. Ashes were used in the privy or on the garden or, if thrown out would be picked over to remove every re-burnable scrap. The chimney sweep would remove the soot and resell it as fertiliser.

In 1805 William H Pyne produced the series of prints known as Pyne’s British Costumes, showing everyone from a highland shepherd to an admiral by way of bakers, knife grinders and aldermen. A detail from ‘Guy Fawkes’ is shown above and this is a detail of  ‘Dustman’ showing the protective leather attached to the back of his hat so he can shoulder the baskets of waste.

Dustmen 2The accompanying text explains that to prevent plague and pestilence the cities of London and Westminster had appointed ‘a regular body of scavengers, and dustmen, the former to sweep the open streets, and cart away the filth, and stagnant dirt; and the latter, to collect from door to door such waste materials as composed the dunghills.’ An Act of Parliament in 1670 required householders to ensure that ‘the dirt, ashes, or soils, of their houses should be in readiness for the Carmen, by setting out the same overnight in tubs, boxes, baskets, or other vessels…’

Pyne states that the dustmen ring a bell to announce their arrival and collect rubbish to ‘the dust hills in the environs of the town…time has brought to light, that industry, aided by experiment, can turn everything to advantage; and that rubbish and filth, the former pests of the city, are now become a source of utility and wealth.’ The rubbish had become so valuable that scavengers and dustmen had to pay for permission to cart it away. ‘It furnishes the means of an honest livelihood for a great number of men and women, of the lowest order, who are employed in separating the different materials, which are heaped together upon the dust hills.’

It seems that recycling in some form or another was a way of life for the Georgians and one that provided a living for virtually every strata of society below the wealthy.

 

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