Thursday, 4 February 2016

Early music hall in Liverpool

(From the Annual Report of the Rev.. Francis Bishop, the Minister to the Poor of the Liverpool Domestic Mission Society)

The youth mentioned in my last report as having ap plied to me when he left our borough prison, with a request that I would save him from a wicked home by helping him to obtain work, is, I rejoice to say, going on satisfactorily in America. And in this connexion I gladly avail myself of the opportunity of recording my deep obligations to the Rev. Dr. Bigelow, one of Dr. Tuckerman's successors in the ministry at large, in Boston, for the assistance he afforded me in this case. To his kindness is it owing, that, when every channel seemed closed against the penitent youth in this country, a way has been opened to him in America, enabling him to return to virtue and happiness. During the last year, also, I have availed myself of the same valuable co-operation, and in the case of a pupil teacher, who had been imprisoned for robbing the school in which he was employed, I have again found Dr. Bigelow ready to give judicious and effectual help to save the boy from the ruin that awaited him had he remained here, and afford him an opportunity of regaining a position of usefulness and respectability.
    It is remarkable that both the above youths were in the habit or attending the casinos and concert saloons that abound in Liverpool ; and since their arrival in America, though they have not the slightest knowledge of each other, and are living far apart, I have had letters from both, in which they rejoice that there are no such snares to entrap and corrupt the young in the towns where they are now living. Is it not wrong that such places should be permitted, and have the sanction of legal license? If it be not the duty of a government to make a people virtuous, it is surely its duty not to afford facilities for inducements to vice. That the dancing and singing rooms connected with spirit and beer shops are of this character, I cannot doubt. There is often, perhaps, much value talk and apprehension about popular amusement, originating in fear and suspicion, and not found on knowledge. From a sense of duty, I have been anxious to avoid this error, and, disagreeable as the task has been I have felt myself bound to ascertain, by personal and repeated observation, the character of the above places of popular resort. I have visited, from time to time, nearly the whole of them, and to some of them I have gone more than once. I sincerely wish I could give a favourable report of any of the number; but I cannot. With no desire to restrict popular amusements within austere or rigid limits, and no expectation that the rude and uneducated will show precisely the same taste in their choice of recreations as the refined and cultivated, I am compelled to regard the concert saloons as amongst the most powerful of the demoralising agencies at work in our town. They are not all equally bad. The largest are the least exceptionable. In them are sometimes to be seen and heard representations and music to which, in themselves, no objection can be made. But such performances are interspersed with others of a different character, in which, though there be no positive obscenity, only a flimsy veil is thrown over sensuality and vice to conceal their grossness; and the whole of these establishments may with truth be said to be schools of evil, sinking still lower the low tastes, and stimulating to greater activity and more decided supremacy the bad passions, of those who frequent them. They are not the resort of drunkards (to such persons the simple attraction of the drink is enough, and they will go where they can got the most for their money); but they are schools of intemperance, in which the young are unconsciously led on to the formation of the degrading habit. In their first visits to these places, ginger beer is a frequent drink of the juvenile portion of the audience; but they are soon induced to take what they consider the more wanly draught of porter or ale. Girls, too, who would not enter an ordinary public-house to drink, will go to the concert-room to hear the music; and to many of them the crossing of that threshold is the first step to disgrace and ruin. Whenever I ascertain that any of the scholars of our evening or Sunday schools frequent these rooms, I feel, from past experience, that all our efforts to do them good will be unavailing, if they are not speedily induced to withdraw themselves front such debasing scenes.
    Numerous expedients are resorted to by the proprietors of these establishments to overcome the objection of the scrupulous; and one of them impudently announced, a short time ago, that he had set apart an evening for the benefit of the Southern and Toxteth Hospital, on which occasion he promised his friends "a sterling (sic) and intellectual treat." I need not say that there was no truth in the announcement as far as the hospital was concerned and that it was evidently intended as a decoy. When visiting, on an evening in Christmas week, some of these resorts, I saw about two thousand people gathered together in one of them. Whilst I remained I observed a man so intoxicated that, in attempting to walk to a counter in the upper class refreshment-room attached to the place, he fell helplessly to the ground. Two little children—the eldest not more than five years old—were in the front seat of the gallery, looking down on the reeking and crowded scene beneath, with no one taking care of them but this drunken man, who, I was told, was their father. Many other persons were intoxicated; and one young man, near where I stood, to whose clouded vision there appeared to be two persons singing on the stage when there was only one, quarrelled with a man sitting next to him for attempting to set him right on the subject. A farcical dialogue was partly sung and partly recited before I left the place, full of double intendre, the impure meaning being significantly suggested by tone, gesture, or grimace. This is, I believe the least ill-conducted of all these places of entertainment in the town: the drunkenness I have mentioned is not usually observable there, and was probably owing on this occasion to its having been Christmas week.
    On another occasion I visited a much smaller place than the above, situated in the same neighbourhood. About one hundred and fifty persons were present, and amongst the numbers many prostitutes. A little girl was dancing, and at the close of the performance coppers were thrown on the stage by the admiring audience. "Fire away, boys!" cried one of the people belonging to the room and a shower of halfpence was the response. Afterwards there came a musical dialogue; the characters being a silly drunken deformed countryman, and a pert shrewish young woman, to whom he made proposals of marriage. The figure and appearance of the former, in his attempts at drollery, were painfully disgusting. An intelligent working man, who was with me, viewed the exhibition with feelings of loathing, and yet it seemed to be enjoyed by most of the audience. After this dialogue there came a song and recitative, purporting to be from a discharged prisoner recently returned from Kirkdale. He mimicked the motion of stepping on the treadmill with great gusto, and carried on imaginary dialogues with the other prisoners supposed to be on the wheel with him in which their various offences were described in a burlesque manner, and the admonitions of the judge, and the sermons of the chaplain, made the subject of low buffoonery and coarse jokes. In connexion with the part referring to the chaplain, witticisms were attempted on events in the history of Moses, Elijah and Jonah, and the whole affair excited great mirth and applause amongst the listeners. between these performances there was waltzing in a cleared space at the top of the room, several girls who apparently belonged to the establishment, taking part in it.
    In another of these rooms, which I visited between eleven and twelve o'clock at night, there were assembled about two hundred and fifty or three hundred persons. Many of the women present were wretched street wanderers, and a large proportion of the men bore unmistakeable marks, in their bloated and sinister faces, of having sunk to a low stale of dissipation. A number of sailors and some apprentice lads were also there, together with a few respectable-looking mechanics and their wives. On the walls down the whole length of each  side of the room were painted large portraits of well-known prize-fighters. The amusement going on was a stupid and nonsensical performance of dogs and monkeys', followed by what was called a pantomime, without grace, ingenuity or wit; but all these qualities were more that compensated for in the estimation of the audience by a large supply of grossness. Several poor little boys, from ten to twelve or thirteen years of age, want and sin imprinted on their young faces, were on the top of the stairs at the door of the room, selling canes. As I went out one of those boys was on the stairs, stamping with pain and crying bitterly, some one having given him a severe blow in the eye. It was a boisterous night, and the rain was falling in torrents, and, in leaving the place, just upon the midnight hour well protected with overcoat and umbrella, I could not refrain from asking myself—Who and what are the parents of these shoeless and miserable children, and what kind of a home have they to go to on this wet and wintry night? Alas! what must their future be?
    In the early part of the winter placards were posted on the walls, by the keeper of a concert saloon (now happily closed) situated near the mission-house, slating that they wanted fifty children. This announcement crested quite an excitement amongst the little ones in the neighbourhood; and much was the competition for the privilege of being engaged that at the hour named for applications, I saw children of almost all ages and both sexes flocking to the place. A few weeks of afterwards it was announced that the "Liverpool Children" were to appear. I looked in towards the close of the evening announced. The audience consisted of about seven hundred persons. Whilst waiting for what was kept till the last, as the great attraction of the night, I had to endure an absurd pantomimic representation, in which robbery, and an attempt at abduction, were prevented by the sudden appearance of a brave sailor - the performance being plentifully interspersed with firing of pistols, and fighting with swords, with daring fights, and sudden seizures, and miraculous escapes —a large dog taking a leading part in the performance as the deliverer of his master. A song followed, of a very low character, descriptive of matrimonial quarrel: and then a parody on "Happy Land " in which prisons and workhouses, the oppressions of the rich and the miseries of the poor. were the salient points. When the grand scene of the evening came on, I was relieved to see that, instead of fifty children, there were only nine, all girls, varying from about ten to fourteen years of age. They were dressed in operatic style, and had been trained to sing and dance, and form what were intended to be pleasing and picturesque groupings. The large number had no doubt been named in the advertisement for the double purpose of exciting interest, and giving a wider scope for the selection of the best looking children. It was, however, a sufficiently melancholy sight to see those nine poor children dancing and singing on such an occasion, in an atmosphere of tobacco smoke and amid fumes of beer. One could almost see the seeds of evil falling visibly on their guileless hearts :-

 "O Irreverent world,
ls't not enough that ye profane all else,
But must you steal the little ones also,
From the good Shepherd  those whom He has blessed,
And warned you. it were better, in the sea
With millstones round your necks, you made your beds,
Than to offend these chosen ones of His!"

It was impossible to forget the almost certain destiny of these little children thus ensnared. I felt that they were doomed, that they were being hurried along on the corrupting stream to the cataract's edge, and the fatal gulf beneath.
    What do we oppose to these polluting streams? Education would do much; but something more direct is required. To preach down all amusements is vain. The poor will have them as well as the rich; and if recreations pure and good are not within their reach, they will crowd to the debasing and the evil. Does not the action of religious men bound itself within too narrow a range? Would not a wise and far-seeing regard for the spiritual interests of society lead to the provision of amusements enlivening and cheerful, but free from the taint of corruption? It would be a delightful and blessed effort and, as it appears to me, a fitting outflow of the spirit of pure religion, if all denominations of Christians in the town were to form an alliance to supply this want, and so put down the agencies of evil, and prepare a highway through our moral deserts for the progress and triumph of Christian reformation. The promoters of the Saturday evening concerts are doing a good, I had almost said a holy, work. They have been successful public benefactors, and are entitled to the gratitude of the town. Many a congregation of devout worshippers has, I doubt not, been augmented on the Sunday morning by the healthful recreations thus afforded to the people on the Saturday evening. But more of such places and opportunities are needed. And, in the absence of such an effort as I have indicated would it not be a wise and appropriate expenditure of public money, if the town council were to build a hall at the north end of the town, and one at the south, where, under proper regulations, cheap concerts, and other innocent amusements, might be brought within the reach of the working population! (St. George's-hall and its magnificent organ will, it is to be hoped, be made promotive of the enjoyment and moral welfare of the people in this way.) Sure I am that the provision of such or similar recreations is a very essential work, in connexion with the moral elevation of the dense masses of people in the crowded towns and districts of our country.

Liverpool Mercury 16 March 1852

Manchester's early music hall

Sir, a few days ago, having been most earnestly requested by a foreign friend of mine, I accompanied him on a visit to one or two of the singing rooms or music saloons in Manchester, for the purpose of learning the real nature of the entertainments, and whence their popularity amongst the working classes. Having selected a Saturday evening as the most favourable—I may also say the most fashionable—one we sallied from home about seven O'clock; add paying our 3d each, as the price of admission, we found ourselves seated in the ———— saloon. When we first took our seats, there would probably be Some 40 persons only in the room, and it was evident we were early comers; but in a short time afterwards, the number had swelled to somewhere about 300 of both sexes. sitting in a position where I had a full view of the door, I took particular notice of the company an they entered, and to my surprise, I found that by far the great majority were young boys and girls, considerably under 20 years of age. with one or two exceptions, you might at once see they were parties who had been working hard all the week, and had smartened-up for their Saturday evening relaxation and enjoyment, and in what that enjoyment consisted I wilt endeavour to show In most cases the females came sidling into the room as if conscious of some impropriety; but once seated, their male friends took prompt means to remove their bashfulness. The waiter was called for - a glass of smoking hot spirits ordered "for this ere girl," and a "segar (or 'bacco' and pipes) and a glass of ale for me" - and then the happy couple sat down to enjoy themselves, and to be comfortable for the evening. During all this time (I mean the preliminary of charging the glasses of the customers) a talented artiste (?) executed all manner of ad libitum airs on the pianoforte, until the tinkling of a bell announced that a song was about to be given. Up to this moment, the leading female vocalists (three or four in number) had been seated at a table near the stage, but in the body of the room surrounded by an admiring group of young men, whom I suppose I must rank as the aristocracy of the room (as they were not mechanics, but shopmen), and who were paying their court to the ladies most devotedly. The bell I have mentioned was a signal for one of these females to throw off a large shawl, in which she had sat enveloped, and she stepped on to the stage In full dress, or rather undress, to favour the company with a song. Habited In a stylish-coloured dress, with a low-body—and it was low indeed (exhibiting nearly all the bust), she commenced to sing what I suppose I must call a love song, being a description of the multitude of beaux she had had, and how she had served them out! It is needless, perhaps, to say that all the young girls in the room sipped their hot punch and looked at their swains as much as to say "that's the way I'll serve you," and the singer was rewarded with thunders of applause. Some playing on the pianoforte ensued, followed by an interval in which more punch, ale, and pipes, were ordered and supplied, and then another lady made her appearance on the stage. Like the preceding one she wore a dress with a low body, but in her case the indelicacy of such a costume was more glaring. When I state that she attempts such songs as "All's Well," the " Standard Bearer,"—in fact sings none but songs written for a male voice—the exhibition she made will be readily imagined. In another house we visited, the same scenes were enacted over again. Young couples were drinking freely and listening to songs, if not positively indelicate, of the most lascivious and immoral tendency, some of them given by females dressed in Bloomer costume, others enunciated by Nigger melodists, but all opposed to good morals, and pernicious in the extreme. I will not, however, be guilty of offending public decency by attempting too close a description of all I heard and witnessed, but will ask what must be the impression produced on the minds of those young persons who nightly visit these temples ? The best answer I have as yet met with to such a question, has, I think, been furnished by the Chaplain of the Preston Gaol, the Rev. Mr. Clay, who says-
"From all I have seen of the criminality of young persons, I have reason to believe that the singing rooms and concert rooms, in which the sale of liquors is the chief source of profit, furnish the first temptations and stimulants to their criminality."
That this conclusion is a correct one, I fully believe, from an experience, the result of my own personal inquiries. A taste for the amusements provided being once acquired, must be gratified — by youths, at the sacrifice of their weekly earnings, how treat themselves and their sweethearts—and by the latter, at the expense of their virtue. How the evil is to be fairly coped with—whether by the efforts of the "Society for the Regulation of Public-houses," &c., or by legislative enactment. I know not, but it strikes me that our own local authorities might do something in the matter, If they would only bestir themselves. I see by our local police act, 7 and 8 Vic, C. 40, sec. 204, "That That every person licensed to deal in excisable liquors who shall knowingly supply any sort of distilled exciseable liquor to any boy or girl apparently under the age of 16 years to be drunk upon the premises shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding 2s." - with increased penalties for subsequent convictions. Armed with such power, then, why not send a policeman or two nightly to visit these pest-houses? Only let it be made public to these young people that they themselves were liable to be picked out by a policeman, and to be called upon to come into a public court as witnesses against the very landlords who harboured them, and I will engage many of them would never be seen in such houses again. Young servant girls, sent on errands, often contrive to spend half an hour in such places, unknown to their mistresses, as do other young people unknown to their parents; and once assured that a policeman had the power to make known their stolen visits they would be "far and few between" indeed. Apologising for the length I have trespassed on your space, I am, &c,

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser

29 November 1851

Thursday, 7 January 2016


While upon the subject of the amusements of the people of Liverpool, I cannot omit a description of a penny wax-work exhibition which I visited. The middle and upper classes of London have their shilling wax-work, where portraits of notorious criminals and murderers form the great attraction to the crowd of the well-dressed vulgar. The ill-dressed vulgar have their penny exhibition of a similar kind, and it is not at all surprising, considering the example set them, that they should encourage speculators of a still lower class than the renowned entrepreneurs in London, in providing them with waxen portraits of scoundrels and murderers. I never visited the fashionable "Chamber of Horrors" in London, and consequently cannot compare it with the penny wax-work of Liverpool, or state which is the worse and more demoralizing of the two; but as they appeal by similar agencies to the same classes of minds, I should imagine that there cannot be any very great difference in the results produced. Over the door of a wretched-looking house, in a dirty and narrow street leading from Whitechapel, was exhibited, on the day of my visit, a large and wretchedly executed painting of John Gleeson Wilson, leaving the house of Captain Henrichson, in Liverpool, after murdering Mrs. Henrichson, her servant, and her two children. It was set forth in a placard underneath, that the figure of this murderer had been recently added to the others in this "celebrated collection," and that the ad- mission was only one penny. An Italian organ boy, hired for the purpose, and sole musician at this establishment, was stationed inside of the doorway, and was turning the handle of his organ very slowly, grinding most fitful music. I noticed that he was asleep over his work. His hand moved without being directed by his will. The money-taker, seeing me smile, looked at the boy, and discovering his condition, gave him a sudden and rather rough shaking, and swore if he caught him in that state again, "the idle, young wagaboue," he would "sarve him out for it." I was ushered upstairs to a small rooms by a man who acted as guide to the exhibition, and who gave the following account of the various articles and portraits in the rooms which I reproduce in his own words. There were about twenty other visitors at the same time, including some women of the labouring classes, and four boys, or lads, of fifteen or sixteen years of age. The remainder were mechanics, or labouring. people, with the exception of one well dressed man, a foreigner, and apparently either the captain: or the mate of a ship. "These here chains," said the guide, " as you see against the wall, are the hidentical chains worn by John Gleeson Wilson. who committed the brutal and hawfal murder of Mrs. Henrichson, her servant, and her two hinnocent children, and for which he was hung, as he properly desarved to be, and sarved him right, as every hindividual in this Christian country will acknowledge. This is the correct likeness of Mr. and Mrs. Manning, who was hexecuted for the murder of Mr. Patrick O'Connor. You will please to take notice of the beautiful long hair of Mrs. Manning, which everybody as knowed her did greatly admire. This is the true likeness of Reid, the Mirfield murderer. Everybody as sees it confesses it to be a fust- rate portrait. This," he said, pointing to the best executed figure in the room, "is a unfortunate sailor who went on shore front a ship in Greenland, and was left behind by the captain. He was found frozen to death nine years afterwards, sitting hex-actly in the hattitude as he now appears in, with his back covered with snow, and his hands upon his. knees, as if the hunfortunate hindividnal was taking a nap. These two are the likenesses of Bishop and Williams, the Burkers, whose hawful and hodious performances are known to everybody as reads the newspapers. This is Guy Faux, as attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and who was discovered in the coal cellar by the Dook of Wellington and other noblemen and gentlemen, and afterwards hanged at Newgate. This. is the unfortunate Jane Shore, walking about the streets of London, with a white sheet, and a candle in her hand, because she was no better than she should be; and this is a unhappy baker, who was hanged and beheaded for giving her a halfpenny roll, when she was dying of hunger in a ditch in Cheapside. This is John Gleeson Wilson, the most celebrated and notorious murderer as ever lived, who murdered four hinnocent people in the town of. Liverpool, and was justly hung for the same. And this last is a correct portrait of John Gleeson Wilson's father." This last figure was in reality a full-length figure of Punch—the hook nose and then hump on the back being very marked and distinct. It had probably done duty as a sign. for a coffee-shop or eating-house. This concluded the exhibition in the first room, and we were then ushered into a second,, where the only figures were two groups, wretchedly executed in wax. The one represented a drunken family, and the other a sober family. In the first the husband was beating his wife about the head with an empty bottle, the idea being taken. from George Cruikshank's well-known design. In the second, the husband with his wife and children were represented in a comfortable room enjoying their dinner. The faces of the children in both groups were black. Underneath was written " Look upon this picture, and on that," "You have now seen the whole of our hexhibition," said our guide ; "but if any lady or gentleman wishes to see the Chamber of Horrors, which belongs to another proper-ietor, and not to the proper-ietor of these rooms, the charge is twopence hextra." I expressed my willingness to pay the twopence, and five or six more did the same. We stopped opposite a door where the words "Chamber of Horrors" were painted, our guide assuring us that it was altogether a distinct exhibition belonging to a different party, but which they had takers temporary charge of in the unavoidable absence of the real "proper-ietor." We were then ushered up another flight of stairs into a small room, across which a rope was drawn breast high, upon the outer side of which we took our places. The inner part was covered with an old and dirty carpet. A pair of moleskin trowsers hung against the wall, and a child's cot, a small wooden horse, a fender, with fire-irons, and a wash-hand stand and basin completed the list of articles in this room. "YOU will please look at those trowsers on the wall," said the guide. "They are the hidentical trowsers that John Gleesen Wilson had on when he murdered Mrs. Henrichson, her children and her servant.You may see the spots of blood on them at this moment. They have the mark of Mr. Dowling, the commissioner of police, upon them, to prove that.they are the hidentical trowsers  of the hassassin, as anybody that doubts my word may find out to be correct by axin' of that gentleman. That fender is the werry fender which the unfortunate servant was cleaning, when John Gleeson Wilson came behind her and murdered her. You may also see the spots of blood upon it. That is the hidentical cot of one of the hinuocent little children, the werry cot it slept in before it was murdered. That ere horse is a toy as was bought for the other child by its unfortunate mother. You see the paper pinned on the carpet; pay particular attention to the blood all around it. On that werry spot Mrs. Henrichson was murdered by the bloody-minded villain; and at that werry wash hand-stand, which you see standing under the window, and in that werry basin he washed his hands after committing his four murders. All these harticles cost the proper-ietor a great deal of money, and they are here exhibited at a werry low charge, for which hope every lady and gentleman is satisfied." Such, without exaggeration, was the wax-work exhibition provided for the people in Liverpool. The guide discovered me making, on the back of a letter, a memorandum of what, I saw, and exclaimed somewhat angrily, " What, you're a takin' on it down, are you? I s'pose you're a lobster or a informer; but this is a legal hexhibition, this is, and you can't stop it anyhow." I explained that I had nothing to do with the law or the police, and made my exit as expeditiously as I could, not without observing, however, that the organ boy was still in the doorway, grinding at his organ, and nodding over it in his sleep.

[Henry Mayhew] 'Labour and the Poor', Morning Chronicle, 2 September 1850

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Archery Rooms

A garbled and verbose description of the 'Archery Rooms', which appears to be hosting a masquerade ball of a middling sort, patronised by shop-assistants and the like (and ladies of easy virtue). All I can find on the internet is that this venue was at 26 Bath Place, New Road, and also used for chartist lectures and meetings. If you know any more, please do let me know. 

There is a place of amusement professedly of this description, located in the New-road, not far from Tottenham-court-road. Those who wish to visit it cannot fail to identify it - being blessed with those very necessary articles vulgarly called eyes, but scientifically known by the name of organs of vision - by observing the exterior adorned in various places with bulls' eyes, with straw retinas.
    Now any one in his every-day senses would imagine that he might have his "dozen o'arrows" for his threepence, and shoot all round the target with perfect satisfaction to himself and to the proprietor; but he may be satisfied it is all moonshine. Not that there is not a deal of archery going on too, but the targets being animated, and fixed upon locomotive crutches, why they may naturally be allowed to put in a negative as to being shot at indiscriminately; and there can be little doubt that steel-pointed shafts would be not altogether so congenial as those of softer construction and tipped with gold.
    The visitor having discovered the whereabouts, walks up-stairs to door No.1, and after making the proprietor aware of his presence by ringing an alarm, he is ushered into the passage, and if he be fortunate enough to possess a ticket, he is suffered to progress on payment of a sixpence; but if he has no ticket, there are no hopes of his further advance unless he advance a shilling. He is then asked whether he will leave his hat, which, if he be green, he will do, and will retire with an exchange, of course, not for the better. He then walks to door No.2, which a little imp of vagabondism unlocks, and, immediately on his left, he finds himself at the approach of the "Archery Rooms;" he walks down three steps, and he is in the very vortex of -----— Instead of archery, what does he see? Servant girls, who serve more masters than one, dressed a la Grecque; French girls, rather furrowed by time, however, with short petticoats, barely reaching below the knee, and too much shrunk above to prevent the display of the bust; in fact, fig-leaves in a state of expansion - flesh-coloured stockings, and white Adelaides, unlaced at the top; married ladies, who occasionally make and keep appointments with unmarried gentlemen; and unmarried maidens who are perfectly indifferent to the ceremonies of the church, and who please according to the favors received; lawyers' clerks; linen-drapers' shopmen and handicraftsmen, transformed into poor imitations of something above their own comprehension, and that of every body else; automaton sailors, frightened at the popping of a soda-water bottle! fighting gladiators, who never touched anything more ponderous than a bodkin; Bedouin Arabs, stiffer than a stretched rope; opera-dancers, whose utmost art is to double shuffle; ostrich feathers in extreme lassitude; velvet bonnets; ravens' wings; dirty stockings; straw cigars! hot water and sugar, mystified with gin; strong smells; sweat and filth; - all these he will meet with at the Archery Rooms - and more. 
    The masquerade, it is said, would take it as a great boon if the proprietor would convert one of his little dark rooms into a dressing-room; for who, with common decency, which no doubt encumbers them, can like to disrobe in the aforesaid passage, through which only ingress and egress is maintained. This is strictly true, and many a ragged shirt has fluttered in the breeze of the two doors, to the admiration of the comers-in and goers-out. Very few persons like to make a public exhibition of dirty flesh and raggedness, and the proprietor knowing this, ought to have a little regard to the delicate and complicated nerves of his supporters. It is not pleasant to see a youth with begrimed legs walk into a pair of loosely-woven blue-striped stockings, and know that, by his exertion in the coming dance, the perspiration will ooze out, dirt and all, and be disseminated in a very attenuated, though palpable, form, into the olfactory nerve of the bystanders. Besides, those ladies who have had the pleasure of witnessing his little innocent preliminaries, will not allow the fact to remain with themselves, and the poor fellow, instead of sporting his twelve inches of foot, will have a chance after all his anxiety to sit alone ingloriously in his dirt, with his yard of clay before him.
    Every one is free to visit the Archery Rooms, in masquerade or not, as fancy or necessity may advise; and, doubtless, nudity might be accommodated if impudence would push him on, but things having been, in the long course of ages, tortured from their natural shapes, art steps into the place of native innocence and simplicity, and Monmouth-street finery covers the dirt of the back settlements.
    The well-dressed young gentlemen who may always be seen at the "Archery" are the young would-be Waterfords of the day, had they the means; and had they, no doubt they would be terrible fellows - terrible in the extreme - there would be no withstanding them; the days of the Mohawks would be revived; but, on second thoughts, it may be questionable whether dare-devilism would expend itself on any other than inanimate objects. Fortunately where the money of a marquis can screen him from the more severe penalties of the law, these droll young men about Town, not having that panacea, are subjected to its visits, to their great and excessive inconvenience. This, likely enough, accounts for their sprees taking place in the dead of the night, when they may prowl about in perfect safety from the police. Accident might, perhaps, lead a policeman from his usual watering-house and a short pipe, and he might catch one of these Waterfords with a knocker in his hand, or a drain-spout on his back, and a magistrate might fine him five pounds, in, in default &c.; but what a difficult job he would have to raise the cash. He would have to provide an intimate wit a pair of hob-nailed boots to run all over the town to collect the money from his friends, and he would inevitably lose his situation behind the counter.
    But to return to the Archery Rooms. About two o'clock in the morning, the announcement is made that "Coffee is ready." It is well that the proprietor has given it a name, as it would sorely puzzle any one to classify it, other than something wet and warm. Now coffee, or whatever else it may be, is not to be had for nothing, and money at the Archery Rooms is much more scarce than may be imagined; the inference, therefore, is, there are very few gentlemen who play the amiable by honouring that place of refreshment with their presence, or that of their fair partners. It is ludicrous to observe how many excuses they are compelled to adopt to prevent a shabby appearance with their partners; some collect in groups, and parade the room; others seem to discover that they have sticks, and look with great admiration and affection on them; many appear quite unconscious of any announcement having been made and anxiously enquire when the next set of quod-rilles (with particular emphasis on the first syllable) will be danced; and when the discordant strains issue from the elevated orchestra, and three or four half-starved cripples of musicians, styled by the proprietor, "Weippart's band increased," it is quite gratifying to see their faces lighted up with such sudden satisfaction. To it they go again in an uninterrupted whirl, till the tallow-dips sink into their sockets, their peculiar smell overpowering the odiferous exhalations already dripping down the walls, and the company adjourn to the coffee-room, where a "free and easy" at which a daughter who has been dancing and selling flowers all the evening, presides, terminates the amusements. Such is a sight and general sketch of the "Archery Rooms."

The Town, 8 July 1837

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Black Sall

The Town was a "lads' mag" (to borrow a modern phrase) that flourished in the late 1830s, early 1840s, aimed at 'men about town'. The tone was often semi-pornographic, with features including 'Sketches of Courtezans', describing the life histories of well-known prostitutes, and the occasional description of 'low life' in the Pierce Egan style. The description below covers this ground - and I apologise, in advance, for 1830s racism, orientalism, sexism &c. - painting a fascinating picture of 'fast' life in the maritime world of the East End, and early-Victorian prostitution.


"The lady with the diamonds and laces,
By day may heighten her charms.
But Sall, without any such graces,
At night lies as warm in your arms.

The night, when her sable o'ershades us,
Will veil all the pomp of the day;
Then Sall is as good as my lady,
And cats are all equally grey."

Our readers will no doubt be struck with the contrast which our present sketch forms to the bland elegance of that which graced the columns of our last number.
 settlement so long sought for by Mr. Buckingham in reference to the East, nor do we allude to the eastern land of the genii of our childhood - "The Arabian Nights." We refer only to the eastern hemisphere of our vast metropolis; and to aid us in our treatise, and to illustrate our views, we have taken the liberty of introducing Black Sarah, the far-famed mollisher of Radcliffe-highway, to the notice of our friends in the West.
  Oh, gentle readers, few of you, we fear, have busied yourselves with oriental research; few, indeed, are wise in the affairs of our Eastern settlements. We must explain: we do not mean the
    Blue-gate Fields is a small narrow turning about the centre of Ratcliffe-highway, leading into the back road, St. George's in the East; facing it in the Highway is a pawnbroker's and a gin shop; near to the top of it, in the road, are East India Company's Chinese and Lascar barracks, for the last thirty years, and we believe now, under the superintendence of Mr. Gole. - These same Lascars and Chinamen, though odd-looking persons in appearance, are still prone to the natural indulgence of the sex, and what our best-beloved cousin, the beauteous Ellen Clarke is to the Duke, the count and others, such is Black Sarah to these eastern wights; and the proximate situation of the before-mentioned Blue-gate Fields, where she resides, to the barracks, makes it very convenient for these luxurious sons of India to call and revel in the dusky charms of the finely-proportioned worsted-headed Sall.
    Sall, it will be instantly perceived, is not one of the insipid things they call genteel; she may be compared in maritime analogy, to a Dutch-built piratical schooner, carrying on a free trade under the black flag; ergo, in the same spirit, the ladies of her calibre in the west, may be said to resemble the pleasure yachts of noblemen and gentlemen, and to a certain extent, they more than bear out the metaphor. But let not our friends be deceived in Sarah - she is better than she looks:

"For 'tis vain to guess,
At woman by appearances;
They paint, and patch their imperfections
Of intellectual complexions,
And daub their tempers o'ver with washes
As artificial as their faces." - Hudibras

"Beauty soon grows familiar to the lover, fades to the eye, and palls upon the sense;" at any rate, it is evident our jolly Jack Tars entertain this opinion in its fullest sense, and act upon it oo; for many and many a stout and lusty lagger has bourne down upon, and hoisted the British standard over, our sable privateer, Black Sall.
    Sall is a good creature in her way. She never was taken before the cadi (for we must give the beak his eastern appellation) upon any change worse than "drunk and disorderly;" and she had been heard to declare that she "niver had more dan two mons wid labour since she valked de High-vay;" or, to use our own classic phraseology, since she has done the peripatetic on the pavĂ© of the "city of (gin) palaces".
    We have heard talk of eastern magnificence, of seraglios, of baths, of mosaic pavements, of temples and mosques, dedicated to the worship of the Prophet Mahomet; but our eastern sketch treats not of them, and yet there is much of oriental luxurious indolence about the character of our women and men of the east end of the town. If we travel into the regions of Shadwell, Gravel-lane, the Match-walk, or Wapping, and take a peep up the little courts and allies there, we see stretched on the chairs and beds of the lower apartments, in true Sardinapalus-like style, the jolly Jacks smoking, not the hookah, like the Mussulman, but the short dudee, and beside them sit or squat, strictly after the oriental fashion, their sultanas for the time being, clad in the gorgeous and varied colour of the rainbow; and in the evening, the ear is saluted, not with the "lascivious pleasings of a lute" but the enlivening scrapings of a fiddle. Jack does not sit, like the great caliph, quietly, to observe his girls dance, but, in right good earnest, enters into the sport himself, toe and heeling it in company with his Moll, black or white; for Jack, as we said before, is not one of those "d-----d nasty particular sorts of fellow as stands nice about the colour of the craft, so long as she's a fast sailer." Such is black Sarah, and therefore a favourite with black and white; she is the very life and soul of the neighbouring lush cribs, and sticks to her locality as if she know no other. Who is there that knows anything of the Highway that will not immediately recognise our friend Sall, attired exactly as our artist has represented her, walking from ken to crib, in company with Cocoa Bet, Bet Moses, the Mouth of the Nile, Salmony-faced Mary Anne, Peg Mitchell, Poll Sellers, Kit Fury, Bet Blake, Long Nance Taylor, and others, who surround and form a kind of convoy to her of the black flag.
    The gay daughters of Eve, in this quarter, are rarely seen in bonnets; their morning habiliments are racy in the extreme; they actually walk the streets in a short bed-gown, or night-jacket. In the afternoon they dress and visit the public-houses as regularly as our fair ones in the west do the theatres. The Half Moon and Seven Stars in the Highway, the Ship and Shears and the Duke of York in High-street, Shadwell, and the Shakspeare's Head in Shakspeare's walk, we may mention as houses frequented by Sall and her numerous circle of bewitching satellites.

The Town, 8 July 1837