Friday, 26 June 2015

Prostitution and Places of Amusement

(To the Editor of the Daily News,)--

Sir,—I have read with pleasure your leading article discussing the action of the Middlesex magistrates in the recent licensing cases. But, Sir, it seems to me that the comae they have adopted deserves more sweeping condemnation than is conveyed by mere doubts as to its prospect of success. The crusade against places of amusement has now been going on for some time, and it is therefore fair to look at its results, and these must be pronounced eminently unsatisfactory.
    Some time ago, Cremorne Gardens were closed, and the consequence was that the Argyll Rooms, the Criterion, and the Aquarium were crowded with the undesirable characters who had previously congregated there. Last year the Argyll Rooms lost their licence and we were promised order and quiet in the Haymarket and its approaches. This promise has not been fulfilled, and the revelry and not shift a few hundred yards eastward and re-appear in a worse form in Covent-garden, where Evan's Supper Rooms have become so notorious that a licence is now refused them, and other places of amusement have with difficulty obtained a renewal of their own.
    Nor is this all. The foyers and approaches to the theatres are far lees select than they were, and our streets at night are such that few would think of letting a lady walk home after the theatre. In this respect we are certainly put to shame by Paris, the city over whose dissipation we sigh so sadly. There, at least, one can at all times safely escort ladies through the principal streets, and it would be no exaggeration to say that during a month's residence in Paris such annoyances would not be experienced as in a single stroll at night (sometimes even in the day) down a leading thoroughfare at the West-end.
   Nov, Sir, my point is this. The attempted remedies of the magistrates are all in the wrong direction, and aim at an impossible mode of effecting a cure, instead of going deeper into the matter, which requires the application of a surer and more efficient preventive. As was pointed out by a lady in your columns in commenting on a recent police case, assaults and outrages upon women should be visited with the utmost rigour. At present, unfortunately, the penalty for seduction and the damages in an affiliation cane are so trifling that the principal offender gets off almost scot free, white the weaker party is at once classed in a category to which pity or assistance is too seldom extended, and hunted and harried from places of resort, where at least they required to be sought, to force themselves upon us, where from long prescription we possessed a fancied immunity. Like "Poor Jo," the memorable outcast in "Blank House," they're allus a movin' on," but it would be well if the magistrates realised this " chivvin' of 'em up and down," not only acts most injuriously to other places of amusement to which they naturally betake themselves, but renders our streets anything but pleasant to pedestrians. Apologies for the length of my letter, I enclose my card, and remain yours faithfully,
A BARRISTER.--Oct. 18.

Sir,—I shall be very grateful if you. could allow me space in your valuable columns to answer "A Barrister's" letter in your:issue of this morning. I also read with great interest and much sympathy your article upon the action of the Middlesex magistrates in the recent licensing cases; and I think, that before "A Barrister" pronounces what he call a "crusade against places of amusement "—what I should call a crusade against ill-conducted places of amusement—eminently unsatisfactory, he should adduce some evidence to prove that this crusade has had no moralising effect upon the proprietors of places of amusement generally, who are the only people it could , tend directly to moralise. It is obvious that bad men and women will not cease to exist, nor become suddenly good when a licence is refused to what has been till then their habitual place of resort. But I think it is reasonable to suppose that other managers will by this line of action be led to use a little more surveillance over the conduct, not the character, of the people they admit ; and that thus by degrees we women may gain some places of amusement to which we can go unprotected by men. This never can be the case till managers gain the moral courage, not to refuse admittance to the poor down trodden woman of the streets (to whom I for one think they have no right to refuse admittance whilst they pay their entrance money and behave properly), but to eject those men who insult women and otherwise misconduct themselves. I know that this is not done now, because it is apt to cause a little disturbance, which is liable to be reported in the morning papers next day, and thus to bring the place of amusement into disrepute. But it is the only way in which it ever can he made possible for respectable women to go in numbers to any public place, and until respectable women can do so I really do not see how any place of amusement intended for men and women can be called respectable. I cannot help regretting, that "A Barrister," with some of whose opinions I so heartily concur, should object to a crusade which might almost be entitled a, crusade to wrest places of amusement from the disreputable and hand them over to the respectable, and which notoriously goes hand in hand with societies for opening Coffee Music Hails and playgrounds for the girls of the poorer classes. For these last no thought has been taken till lately. And whilst in the teeth of opposition and , derision some of us, women are saving up our odd ha-pence —we women have so little money—to buy for poor girls pianos and battledores and skipping ropes, and are trying to secure rooms in which they can make use of them without losing their characters in men's eyes, we do feel it a little hard to be told we are joining in a crusade against amusement. It is, however, our wish, and I should think " A Barrister's" also, to convince those who invest their money in order to gain tenfold by leading others into temptation, that the investment is an insecure one, liable at any moment to be stopped by the strong hand of the law. Otherwise we may see becoming common among us such elegant establishments as are to be found in Paris, where, as " A Barrister" truly says, men may "at all times safely escort ladies through the principal streets "—that is to say, where a man can walk about without let or hindrance, but where, as he must surely be aware, no lady alone would take five steps at night without being insulted. And, though it may not be necessary for ladies to walk alone at night, there are large numbers of women who have to do so ; and if any one would wish to know the results for them in Paris let such ask to see S. Lazare.—I remain, yours faithfully,
A. E N. BEWICKE.-25, Hereford-square, S.W., October 21

correspondence in Daily News 21-22 October 1879

Monday, 15 June 2015

Naked Slum Dancing

More on dubious slum dancing ...

‘There are dances at some of these lodging-houses, especially on Sunday evenings, at which a fiddler ordinarily attends. One penny is charged for each dance to each person. The dancing is continued till late at night. These dances are often scenes of great evil. Boys entice girls to dance with them, and afterwards to sleep with them. One missionary knocked in the middle of the day at the door of one of the rooms of these lodging-houses. A voice from within directed him to enter, when he saw two young men and two young women dancing together, all in a state of entire nudity, a fiddler playing to them in another part of the room, while they dance. He immediately insisted on the women’s dressing themselves, and he retired; and while he did so, the men escaped.’

London City Mission Magazine, 1845 p.176

Music and Dancing

On a private dance in the Field Lane (Irish) slums ...

In Red Lion-court and Blue-court, there is the most public and wanton desecration of the Sabbath. Two Missionaries recently visited Blue-court on the Sabbath evening, and found a large room in one house crowded with persons, who had been admitted at a charge of one penny each person. and who were assembled for music and dancing. About 100 yards from this spot, the door of another room stood open in Red Lion-court, and as they approached they heard the sounds of music and dancing here also. The Missionaries entered and found the company composed of young men and women of various ages, many of the latter not more than sixteen years of age. The females sat on forms around the room, while the men stood, leaving a space in the centre for the dance. At one end sat the fiddler, in full employ, and the dance proceeded. As soon as the fiddler rested, they approached the woman to whom the room belongs (who immediately recognised one of the Missionaries) and addressed her on the open violation of the Sabbath, which she both permitted and encouraged in her house. For a time silence prevailed, and the attention of the company was arrested. The blame was thrown by the woman upon her son, who was the fiddler. He excused himself by saying that he was out of work, and had no other way of getting his living. While he was speaking a general movement took place, the men attempted to crush the Missionaries against the wall. Some shouted, “Put them out;” others, “We are not of your religion;” and others called to the fiddler, “Play up, play up”, which was done. Many of them followed the Missionaries shouting and yelling after them into the street. About sixty persons were present in this one room.

London City Mission Magazine, January 1842, p.56

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Tavern Singing, and an Irish Wake

I knew the landlord very well, and was on friendly terms with him; this was what is termed and 'Irish' house, and the host, himself an Irishman, had but little indoor custom except amongst his countrymen: and they were mostly of the labouring class. I was well known to the different parties that used the place, and was invariably treated by them with great civility. There was one young man, a breeches-maker, with whom I was intimately acquainted; he worked at a shop close by, on Moorfields pavement, and happening just now to drop in, asked me, " If I had ever been to an Irish 'cock and hen' club?" Upon my replying that "I had not," he requested me to go upstairs: saying, that I should see some excellent fun.

The room we entered was about forty feet by twenty, rather indifferently lighted; the company was a motley gathering of choice Hibernian specimens, both male and female. Quarts of porter were circulated in rapid succession; halfpints of gin were gallantly handed round to the 'ladies,' with compliments in Irish, pure as the sweet waters of Killarney. As their hearts warmed with potent draughts of the ' cratur,' they began capering about and whirling round with the velocity of spinning-wheels,—occasionally, in the course of their evolutions, giving vent to such discordant shouts, as called to mind the descriptions of an Indian war-dance.

At length the floor was cleared: and two fine daughters of the emerald isle, stepping gracefully into the centre, commenced a jig. They began to slow time, but kept on gradually increasing in speed amidst the shouting and clapping of hands, till both performers appeared wrought up to the highest pitch of frenzy; and perspiration streamed down their blowzy faces as they whirled dizzily round, urged on by the mad drunken creatures that surrounded them, until one dropped.

As the girl who had tired the other down was a great favourite, the delicate half-swipy gentlemen surrounded her: all scrambling to snatch a kiss from the lips of the victorious damsel, who had saved the credit of their province. The vanquished was taken below, and received the benefit of the pure air to be found in the skittle-ground,—for this was one of the most confined and offensive localities in London; the sign of the house was the 'Punch-bowl,' in Half-moon alley, Little Moorfields. When the girl had recovered from the effects of her over-exertion, she was brought back into the room by her friends; and singing and dancing continued till the entire group was furiously excited. One of the pot-valiant heroes smashed the fiddle, because the fiddler was too far gone and had fallen asleep, his head hanging over the back of his chair in the corner.

At this peculiar juncture, a mighty storm arose in the assembly. One Jim Donohoe was seen to kiss Mr. Pat Flannigan's wife as she came up the stairs: 'Och, by St. Pathrick,' roared out Pat, 'and is it that you mane, Mr. Donohoe ?'—'You dirty spalpeen,' retorted Jim, 'I don't care the great-coat of a pratie for the like o' yees, nor all the Flannigans 'twixt here and Belfast, your dirty native place!'—' Och, by the powers then,' said Pat, 'just be after bringing your filthy carcass downstairs, and I'll tache you better manners than you ever larned under that bottle-nosed ould sexton of a Protestant at Mullingar: where you could never git a congregation at all, at all, if the ould woman as opened the pews happened to be sazed wid the toothache!' 

'D'ye say that, ye dirty blackguard!' roared out Jim; 'faith, and I'll make ye know your lord and master from Biddy Sullivan!' Downstairs they rushed by mutual consent: and at it they went in true Irish style,—when both being drunk, tumbled against each other and fell rolling over like a couple of hogs at sea. After this splendid display of science the combatants were propped up, while they shook hands, kissed, and made it up; but in attempting to put on his shirt poor Jim was terribly bothered. The sleeves had got so entangled with the fragments of the body (which was slit into ribbons) that from what was once a shirt, it had become a puzzle of so difficult a nature that the poor fellow gave up the attempt in despair, exclaiming: 'By Jasus, although I've been a long time acquainted wid yees, I can't find the way into yees at all, at all,—any more than if we'd been strangers!' With this short soliloquy he gave up the job, and put on his clothes without the usual under garment.

Treating the late belligerents to half-a-pint of whiskey at the bar, we took leave of the interesting revellers: and strolling up the City-road as far as the Angel, on our return looked in at old Rouse's twopenny concert; the tickets for which were eightpence, but each entitled the bearer to sixpenny-worth of grog. Here some of the best room-singers of the day were engaged; amongst them was Charley Rayner, with Bob Glendon, Joe Martin, and other celebrities of the time; there were also two brothers (boot-closers) who recited remarkably well.

The company was a mixture of both sexes, and of all ages, from sixteen years of age up to middle life; nay, even greyheaded old men and women were there, who seemed as well pleased as their juvenile companions. On a platform elevated about three feet from the floor stood a piano; at which a man presided, who accompanied the vocalists. Some of these could sing to music; but in the case of such as could not, the pianist accommodated the music to the voice, as he best might. The singers were introduced according to the programme, and announced by a conductor or master of the ceremonies; and, on finishing their allotted parts, each and all enjoyed a hearty round of applause.

Rouse, the proprietor, was very particular in keeping order during the hours of performance: and, always proceeding systematically, in the end found himself at the head of a most superb establishment. I have never seen a place of the kind fitted up with such taste and elegance; the grounds are spacious, lighted up with a profusion of gas, and ornamented with grottoes and statues; the saloon, or theatre, is commodious and beautifully adorned with various designs painted on the panels of the dress-circle, which have a very lively and pleasing effect.

But at the time when my friend and I spent our evening here, the original house yet stood. It was an old-fashioned inn, called the 'Shepherd and Shepherdess', with skittle-grounds attached, and a few ill-conditioned arbours where the company smoked their pipes and quaffed their ale. At the back part of the premises, the 'governor' had raised (what he called) 'Russian mountains,' with steep circuitous pathways, made corkscrew fashion, and running from top to bottom: down which the adventurous public travelled in chairs with considerable velocity. The charge for this amusement was something very trifling—I believe a penny, or twopence; but the numbers made it a profitable speculation. From such small beginnings did ' Governor Rouse' elaborate that famous resort known to the world as the ' Eagle Tavern' in the City-road.

On the conclusion of the performances, we made the best of our way home; and parted under a promise to meet again the next evening at the 'Golden Hind' in Little Moorfields, kept by one of my friend's countrymen named Murphy; where we frequently met some excellent players at 'draughts,' in which game both of us were also acknowledged proficients. Eight o'clock being the time appointed for our meeting, I repaired punctually to the little back-parlour, which was our usual rendezvous. On entering the room, I found my friend in serious conversation with a man whom I had frequently seen in the same place, a cooper by trade, who worked at the docks. I soon gleaned from their conversation, that the cooper was inviting my friend to accompany him to an Irish wake: which the latter declined doing, on the ground that he was engaged to spend the evening with me. To obviate this little difficulty, I was also invited; and having never witnessed this ceremony, (except as typified in the wild grief of the poor young widows on board the Tigris) I readily availed myself of the occasion; and we all set out for the locality indicated.

The house was situated in one of the most secluded and dirty lanes betwixt Cripplegate workhouse and Fore-street, then called Featherbed-hill. As we approached the door, which was open, I perceived a number of lighted candles ranged in order, which were stuck into ginger-beer and blacking-bottles. Upon a table close to the door was a plate containing a quantity of silver coin,—into which my two friends threw a shilling each, as did I also, understanding such to be the custom: and then taking my seat on a plank laid between two chairs, proceeded to take a cautious survey of the company who were jabbering away together in their native Irish.

All present seemed of the lowest order; and in one corner sat three hideous-looking old women smoking short pipes black as ebony; it struck me they would have done well for the witches in Macbeth. Some of the younger females had washed their faces, and put on what (I suppose) were intended for clean caps; but the dresses of the entire company were neither of the finest quality nor latest fashion; and were besides, in many instances, considerably patched.

At the further end of the room was the corpse, laid out in white, and surrounded with candles, which threw a glare of light upon the sickening spectacle. The child (for such it was) had died of the most virulent kind of small-pox; the head had swollen beyond all proportion, and wore the appearance of an immense plum-pudding; the features being absolutely obliterated by the horrid disease. Two large bunches of flowers were placed on each side of the body; where sat the parents and kindred of the deceased. In the centre stood a can of beer and three or four earthern pots without handles, which were constantly being handed round,—with, at intervals, a glass of the 'cratur.'

As the liquor began to operate the talk became fast and furious: but what was said I knew not, as all was carried on in the Celtic vernacular. Just when the storm was at its height, the before-mentioned old women broke out into the most hideous yells that ever scared man or beast; the other females joined in a chorus loud enough to have awakened all the Irish that have been buried since the days of St. Patrick; the men began raving and fighting; pots and cans flew about in every direction: over went the tables, out went the lights, and lastly down rolled the corpse upon the floor to be kicked and trampled on by the bacchanalian mourners!

Of all the absurd rites connected with the idea of a religious (!) observance, the ceremony above described is certainly about as brutal and debasing, as any ever practised by the veriest savages in creation. I sat near the door; and, having taken the precaution to put my hat under the seat, as soon as this infernal hubbub reached its climax, I made a hasty retreat, followed by my friend and by the man who had introduced us to this extraordinary exhibition. Glad as I was to escape from such a disgusting scene, I nevertheless felt gratified that I had at least witnessed something to be remembered. The frantic sounds soon died away in the distance: and finding that it was still early, I invited our late guide to return with us and take a glass of grog.

John Brown, Sixty Years' Gleanings from Life's Harvest, 1859 [describing early 1820s]

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Illicit Amusement

I beg to report that a public concert was held on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdary evenings at the ‘Australasian and New Zealander’ Public House, No.429 Oxford St. landlord James Kibble and that 3d each was chaged for admission.
At 8 ¾ the 25th inst I visited the house in plain clothes. I paid 3d to Mr Kibble at the Bar and received a piece of card on which was written the word ‘Refreshment’. I showed the ticket to a man standing at the stairs leading to the Concert Room, and was allowed to pass. In the room I found abut 30 persons most of them youths and girls. Some of the latter appeared to be about 14 old. A man was playing a piano and a professional chairman presided. He announced that he would open the Concert by singing the first song himself. He afterwards announced the singers who followed him by name, but they all appeared to be visitors, each person that sang left his seat and went and stood on a small platform near the piano. I saw several of the persons get ale or beer or their tickets. There were about 60 persons in the room when  I left at 10pm.


The house is not licensed for music. Mr. Kebble has applied for a Music licence and the application will be heard at the ensuing licensing meeting.

Police report to Middlesex Magistrates, 26 September 1869