Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Shady Side of Nottingham




"The harp, the viol, the timbrel, the lute, and the pipe," as Canon Morse would put it, arrested my homeward steps one early morning less than a month ago. The music was more muscular than harmonious, but it appeared to answer the purpose and was ever and anon loudly penetrated by laughter of that semi-insane order which has been so well described as "the crackling of thorns beneath a pot". How shall I get through that low-browed door into that tall ramshackle building, whence break out those sounds of revelry by night? "Faint heart never won fair lady," nor ever stormed Redan, so here goes
    "Rat-tat-tat." In a moment the door is opened the length of the chain and a pair of piercing eyes under shaggy eyebrows discriminatingly scrutinise my face et tout ensemble. Their decision evidently is that I look sufficiently rowdyish to gain admission, for the chain is undone and I pass quickly through the gloomy portal into a primitive scullery. Whew! The atmosphere beats the "forty well-defined and separate stinks" which Coleridge diagnosed at Cologne. A "nip" of well-watered gin is not only necessary to establish my footing, but to give a passable stability to my stomach and happily it is accessible.
    Herrings in a barrel, sardines in a tin, oranges in an "original package" - only by such illustration can I describe the crowded condition of the first room I overlooked. But the customers of the house - pardonne! the members of the club - are here, many of them good, decent fellows whom I have no met before, and it is not them I am after on this occasion. What a horrible den lies to the right! It seethes with smoke, it reeks with perspiration, it is redolent of drunken breath; and, worst of all, the room is the receptacle of the very old, the very young, or the undanceable middle-aged, who would rather drink, swear and manipulate the "flats" than convert themselves into "teetotums".
    The mystery to me is, that when mature people are anxious to "go the whole hog" they do not leave the children at home. Will the children of this generation not learn cards and cursing soon enough, unless the good God or His ministers interfere, without being deliberately conducted by their parents into the pandemonium of those pernicious pastimes? Let me draw the veil closely on the scene where parents were dissipating before the discerning eyes of their children of both sexes.
     Turn we to the left. It is step nearer the facilis descensus Averni. They are mostly young men, intellectually dissipating in strong tobacco and coarse chaff, while not neglecting to replenish their beer cans and keep a keen eye on the few young women who have ventured into the unhallowed precincts. Ordinary language will not adequately enable my readers to realise this scene. Two young girls at least, I should say, are unaccustomed to it. They are pestered by rude attentions, and ruder invitations to liquid indulgence. For a while they laugh, and for once they drink. Then a Bacchanal more forward than the rest, whispers to one of them a sentence. She blushes like a peony, bursts into tears, passionately exclaims, "I am not one of those;" until the reproof of the "manager" of the Club, that he does not keep apartments for crying in, stilled the indignation of innocence. When I saw the girl I could not help asking myself:- 
    Who was her father, who was her mother,
    Had she a sister, had she a brother?
Why was it permitted that she should be dragged by a female companion, a little more indoctrinated in the ways of a ball at a "Working Man's Club" than herself, into the very jaws of moral death? There is much more that is noticeable on the way to the ball-room, which I cannot pause to describe. At the receipt of custom sits a puffy-faced red-shawled woman who gathers in the sixpences galore from her masculine patrons. She is not connected with the "Club". The ball is her venture. Very good, but by what licence is the drink sold which circulates between the dances? I only ask our authorities the question and do not venture, after recent official threats, to propound the solution of it. Ah, here at last is the band of music, which wooed me from the street; it is not altogether after Canon Morse's Hebraic model, but quite serviceable, nevertheless. The musicians are sober and amused. On the top of the grand piano, however, a reveller is stretched out at full length, bibulously imagining himself in the seventh heaven of happiness, until perhaps his head in the morning may remind him that one who would drink with the gods must be a god himself, and not a very mediocre moral. What do I see? Twenty or thirty couples engaged in a waltz. Who could look at the scene without a shuddering of disgust? The young women are tolerably well dressed. Some of them are very young, and in other scenes and with other expression on their faces would be exceedingly attractive. Others are not old in age, but very old in appearance with their attenuated figures, hollow cheeks and sunken eyes. The latter are the veterans of these illicit "hops". Alas, that they should show the uninitiated or partially initiated such an evil example of ribald jest and abandoned gesture; and still worse, alas, that the former should show such aptitude in aping that dissolute example of their more experienced companions. 
    What I saw in a so-called Nottingham "Working-man's Club" would never have been permitted at Cremorne or in the Argyll Rooms. The young men, who by their clothes might have been the sweepings of the factories, were as vulgar as they were slovenly. The emblem of refinement was to smoke a cigar during the dance, and to watch the curling smoke delineating in the air the terpsichorean figures cut upon the floor. But it was perhaps a more difficult fear, according to the general custom, to deftly balance a long clay pipe between the teeth, and fiercely fumigate into your partner's face, who quietly shuts her eyes and refuses to open them except in the event of a serious collision. By the young men keeping their hats on, I presume that they considered them only safe from the kleptomaniac while they reposed on their heads. I have not seen the same amount of hugging, nor the particular attitude in which, for innumerable rounds, a pair of waltzers rested their right cheeks against each other, since I spent a soul-harrowing Sunday night of enquiry in the lowest quarter of Altona. Then when the musicians crashed their finale, it was the correct thing for the young men to swing themselves to a chair or a form, or perchance a table, and roughly hoisted their dizzy partners on their knees. When more air was wanted an adjournment was made to the staircase, where couples sat or reclined in the most negligé style, cracking rough jokes and exchanging coarse caressses, when they had recovered breath enough for such lewd bye-play. Then - and I might be allowed to ask if that was the contemplated sphere of "clubs"? - they intensified their thirst by stupefying their senses with beer or maddening them with fiery spirits, until the band again summoned them to what proved to be no longer the light fantastic, but the besotted and stumbling toe. The bleared eyes, the blaring faces, the reeling forms, the lascivious language of young men and young women, consequent upon the orgy, are beyond description or recapitulation, and I must drop the curtain on the awful possibilities of the sequel. Will social reformers pardon me if I ask them this question: What is the use of passionately fighting against the comparatively mild dissipation which you see on the surface of the "Shady Side of Nottingham" until you attack and demolish the secret places where drunkards and prostitutes have been, and are now being manufactured wholesale?

Nottinghamshire Guardian, 26 January 1877

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Argyll Rooms Libel

The Argyll Rooms was a notorious night-club in mid-Victorian London, closed in 1878 by magistrates increasingly concerned about West End prostitution (though, as a group, bitterly divided on how to tackle the subject). A letter from a prison chaplain, given in evidence, alleging the Argyll Rooms were a favourite resort not only of prostitutes but burglars, did not help their cause. This letter led to a libel trial, the transcript below:


This was an action by the proprietor of the Argyll Rooms, against the chaplain of the House of Correction for Middlesex, for alleged libel contained in a letter written by him on the 8th October last to the chairman of the Licensing Committee of the Magistrates, which was in these terms:

"When I wrote to you last year on the subject of the licence granted to the Argyll rooms, you were good enough to express a wish that you had received my letter earlier, in order that you might have brought before the Court the facts and arguments therein adduced. I therefore venture this year to write again to you on the subject. It not unfrequently happens that in the course of my prison work the name of the Argyll is casually mentioned, and without any leading questions I have gathered much information about its effect upon certain classes of society. I could not, for example, talk long with a burglar of the higher rank without finding the ''Gyll' mentioned as his familiar resort, not merely when enriched by some recent exploit, but also as a place wherein opportunities might be found and information gathered which might lead to fresh crime. Thus one man, an experienced and successful burglar, first directed my inquiries into this channel by mentioning casually the name of the Argyll. I naturally pointed out the non-necessity of impurity being added to dishonesty; but he affirmed that the chief reason of his going there was to meet gentlemen's servants and be put up by them to good burglaries. Another - now doing 20 months - told me that he had seen lots of burglars there, and knew that they used the place to get at footmen and butlers for dishonest purposes. Almost simultaneously I knew well two footmen who were in for separate plate robberies; both used the rooms, and saw many of their class there, and one said that he met there many whom he knew to be burglars. I was more careful in these and all cases not in any way to lead them to suspect that I had any special reason for dwelling on this point. By a fortunate coincidence there came to me while I was writing the letter a fallen girl of much intelligence and fair education, whom I have known well for two years. Without a word to indicate the reason of my query, I asked her what she considered the most destructive place in London to female virtue; she said at once the Argyll, and in response to further questions she told me she considered more ruins could be traced to that place than to any other; that its pseudo-respectability made it all the more insidious; that she had heard innocent girls told that it must be all right because it was licensed; that she had known swell mobsmen to frequent the place, and many gentlemen's servants; that she had known it for eight years, and that iwas worse now than at the beginning of that time - a fact she attributed a great deal to the migration of the habitués of the Holborn when that was closed. . . . They [the better class of working men] have a special and mournful right to be heard, insasmuch as a very large, if not the largest proportion of fallen girls comes from their ranks, and the glitter of the place casts a gloom upon more homes in their class than in any other. I refrain from urging other points, and have purposefully confined myself to those of which I claim to have some special knowledge. Earnestly hoping that you and those to whom you speak may be strengthened to remove from their brothers and sisters a temptation which has ruined thousands, from themselves any shadow of complicity in a gigantic wrong, and from the State the reproach of giving a licence to licentiousness and a protection to destruction, I am, yours faithfully,  J.W.Horsley, Chaplain."

The plaintiff sued for this as a libel, stating that he was at the time, and had been for many years, proprietor of the Argyll Rooms, and that he, in order the better to fit out the rooms for the purposes of  a place of public entertainment, had expended £100,000 in decorations, &c.; that by the letter complained of he had been injured in his credit and reputation as proprietor of the place and in his business as proprietor; and that, in consequence of the libel, the magistrates, on the 11th of October, refused as heretofore, to license the place for the purposes of music and dancing, and that the plaintiff thereby lost the licence and the benefit thereof  and profits he made thereby, and he claimed as damages £10,000/ The defendant in his statement of defence, stated that the letter was written by him as chaplain of the House of Correction to the chairman of the Visiting Committee of Justices, as such chairman, and at his request as chairman, and was written and sent in the pursuance and discharge of his duty as chaplain, and at the request of his official superior; that the circumstances stated in the letter came to his knowledge as chaplain, and that they were privileged as being written in discharge of his duty, bona fide, without malice, and upon a matter in respect of which he and the chairman had a duty, interest and obligation; and further, that the Argyll Rooms, being a place of public entertainment, duly licensed by the magistrates, the defendant, as one of the public, was interested in its conduct and control, and wrote to the chairman upon it as a public matter, the Chairman having control over it as a magistrate, and that he wrote the letter in the interest of the public, and without malice; all which the plaintiff denied.
    ... Mr Serjeant PARRY in opening the case for the plaintiff stated his position with reference to the rooms, and read the letter at length, pointing out that it was necessarily calculated to do his client very serious injury, and was likely to cause, as in fact it did cause, his licence for a place of entertainment to be withdrawn. The refusal of that licence was a matter of a very serious nature, and was calculated in fact to destroy the place as a place of public entertainment. He was in a position to prove that the place had been most respectably conducted, and there was no reason to suppose that there was any truth in the statements contained in the letter. If the defendant had received from any prisoners or convicts statements to such effect as he represented he had been imposed upon, and he ought to have known that the statements of such persons were not likely to be reliable. He ought not, therefore, to have made such statements in his letter, the result of which had been to cause so serious an injury to the plaintiff.
    The plaintiff was called as a witness, and stated that in 1848 he had taken the rooms from Sir J. Musgrove at a rent of £240 a year, and carried it on as a place of musical entertainment, under a licence to his predecessor, Mt. Laurent, renewed every year. In 1857 Mr. Laurent died, and he himself after that renewed a licence for the place. In 1864 he bought the freehold from Sir J. Musgrove, giving £10,400 for it, and expending £1,500 or £2,000 a year on decorations &c. Altogether he had spent about £70,000 or £80,000 on the place. He had taken every care that the place should be respectably conducted; he had engaged respectable men as managers, usually retired police officers - and he always had constables present, who had orders to exclude drunkards or improper characters - that is, those who were known to be so, and to his knowledge it was not a place of resort for burglars or persons planning burglary. He thought it impossible that it should be so. Two shillings was the sum demanded for admission. He heard the letter read at the licensing meeting of the magistrates, and the licence was refused. The loss this had caused to him was £10,000 a year - had paid income-tax on that amount.
    In cross-examination he said this £10,000 a year represented his profits. His object was to keep the rooms as respectable as possible. His orders were to keep out disreputable persons, but he could not keep out prostitutes, as long as they were well conducted; it was impossible to discriminate except as to persons badly conducted.
    Did you give orders to shut out well-known prostitutes?
    - I did.
    Suppose a woman known to be prostitute, but no ill-conducted, would you shut her out? - No.
    Was it your view that all who went there were virtuous? - Some were respectable.
    Some were virtuous? - Yes.
    Some were prostitutes? - I should say so.
    Some of those who were virtuous were young? - Not under 20, if we could help it. Many foreign ladies came there, it being an entertainment they fully understood.
    They all mingled together? - I do not know; there were no reserved seats.
    Men would address women there and women men? - Yes.
    Do you think the women not virtuous came there to follow their trade? - I do not know. They came for entertainment. They were of a superior order, well-dressed, and well-conducted.
    Did they come to follow their trade? - That I do not know; they were well conducted.
    Did they not follow their calling there? - That I cannot say.
    Did not men and women go away together from the rooms? Sometimes, I suppose; often they would come together and go together.
    Did many dance? - A great many of them.
    Were men paid to dance at the rooms? - Never.
    What class of men were dancing with these prostitutes? - Apparently very respectable gentlemen.
    Clerks and persons in that position? - No; gentlemen.
    What class? - I cannot say. I will not compromise my customers' character. Some of them were the first men in the country.
    Why should it compromise any one's character to be known to dance at your rooms? - I do not say so.
    Then why not say to what class they belonged? - I can hardly say; they were of various classes-  officers, men at the Bar. (Loud laughter)
    Well, officers and members of the Bar. Were they ever dancing there? - No; I never saw them doing so.
    Then why mention them? What class of young men were dancing there? - They seemed to me to be gentlemen; of course, most of them were strangers to me.
    If any one was well-dressed and paid his 2s., he would be admitted? - Justly so.
    Suppose a gentleman's servant came so dressed? - Well, we might not know it; but if we knew it, we should not admit him.
    He would obtain admission? - I do not think so. It is not likely that gentlemen's servants would come there to meet their masters, perhaps.
    Were order given to exclude them? No, I do not say so.
    Then can you say that gentlemen's servants were not there? - I cannot say they were never there.
    Suppose a man engaged in a burglary, he might be there? - I think it very unlikely; there were detectives there, and would be acquainted with criminals. Practically it would be impossible tthat they should frequent the rooms.
     There would be nothing to prevent them from going there? - Of course, they may go anywhere; but would be very unlikely they should go there.
    The Foreman here interrupted and said - The jury are of the opinion that this cross-examination is a waste of public time.
    The Foreman - Because we think the plaintiff is not responsible for those who go to the place.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE.- You had better not, I think, express an opinion prematurely; you will shake our confidence in your verdict. Depend upon it, Sir H. James has not asked these questions without very good reasons.
    One of the jury said all the jury did not concur in the observations of the foreman.
    Sir H. James, upon the interposition of the foreman, sat down, and
    Serjeant PARRY, in re-examination, said to the plaintiff. - You have taken every means in your power to prevent improper character from frequenting the rooms? - Yes.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE observed that this was the plaintiff's view of his own conduct, but it might not be acquiesced in by the other side. Consistently with the admission of a certain class of improper characters, perhaps it might be admitted that the plaintiff had done all he could to preserve order.
    The Police-Inspector of Vine-street Station stated that he had often attended the room and had seen nothing improper there. He had never known burglars go to the place or persons planning burglaries.
    In cross-examination by Sir H. JAMES, he said that the prostitutes no doubt did follow their vocation there and did sometimes address men there. Any bad character known to the police would be shut out, and the police knew many of them; but if a burglar were well dressed and not known to the police, he would be admitted.
    In re-examination, he said the place was well conducted.
    Another of the inspectors at Vine-street Station gave similar evidence. He had, he said, habitually visited the rooms during the last six years and had never had occasion to report anything wrong there. He never knew of any of the criminal class being there, especially "burglars or swell-mobsmen." Servants in livery were not admitted.
    In cross-examination, he said no doubt the majority of the women there were prostitutes or "fast women," and he could not say that any respectable women visited the rooms there; there might be some, but he did not know of any, and as rule the women addressed the men. Burglars  well dressed but not known to the police might go there, but he had never known of any there.
    Sergeant PARRY. - A well-dressed burglar might go into a church, or into this court? - He might.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE - How long can a burglar carry on his business without being known to the police? - I think before long something would transpire to raise suspicion against them.
    Mr. Serjeant PARRY - Pray, are burglars usually well-dressed? - Yes, they are.  (Laughter)
    Swell-mobsmen, of course, are so? - Yes.
    Another police-inspector from Vine-street Station gave similar evidence. He had never known of burglars there; a burglar there would have to run the risk of detection by several experienced police officers.
    Sir H. James in cross-examination -  If the burglar were not known to the police, he would run no risk? - No.
    Another police-inspector, who said he had known the place since 1852, gave similar evidence. The place was not to hos knowledge or belief a place of resort for burglars or other criminals; a single burglar might possible come in, but he knew of none. Gentlemen's servants, if they came nightly in any number, would be certain to be observed; and persons of an objectionable class were excluded.
    Sir H. James in cross-examination - What do you mean by "objectionable" persons? - Persons known as bad characters or disorderly.
    You would not exclude a woman known to be a prostitute, if well dressed? - No.
    You cannot know all gentlemen's servants? - No, not in all cases; but in some cases they would be known.
     The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE here said to Mr. Serjeant Parry, - You have done enough to show the character of the rooms. It is not disputed that they are conducted respectably, so far as possible; but it is said, and it is not denied, that majority of the women were prostitutes, and that as to burglars or others not known to the police, it is possible that they may sometimes have got in, but that they are not known there.
    Mr. Serjeant PARRY said he could not carry the evidence further, and this was the case for the plaintiff.
    Sir H. JAMES submitted that there was no evidence of the letter, except in the admissions of the defendant, coupled with statements which showed it to be prima facie privileged.
    Mr. Serjeant PARRY said he would then given evidence of the publication of the letter.
    Mr. Benjamin Sharpe, Chairman of the Visiting Committee of the Justices, was then called, and in examination by Serjeant PARRY, stated that he received the letter from the defendant, which, he said, was addressed to him as chairman, and was written by the defendant as chaplain, and he submitted that it was privileged.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE - That we shall judge of when it is produced.
    Mr. Sharpe went on to state that he had read the letter.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE said the letter must be produced; it was not privileged from production.
    The letter was produced and put in.
     In cross-examination by Sir H. JAMES, the witness stated that he had no communications with the defendant, except as to matters of business in his official position. He had conversed with him on the subject in a previous year, and last year had desired him, if he had any facts which would throw light on the subject, to state them in a letter to himself. That was a few days before the meeting of the licensing magistrates, and in consequence of that the letter was sent to him. The notice paper of the Sessions stated that the licence was to be opposed; the press, he believed. were unaminous against it, and it was discussed among the magistrates.
    Sir H. JAMES proposed to show on what the witness acted in refusing the licence, in order to show that it was not, as alleged by the plaintiff, in consequence of the defendant's letter.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE said it was competent to show this on the testimony of any magistrate.
    The witness stated that he had voted against the licence, and had done so for years, and certain magistrates had drawn certain matters to his attention. In particular, a certain magistrate had stated -
    This was objected to, and
    The witness said he had acted in a great degree upon what had been stated by the police.
    Sir H. JAMES urged that other matters had influenced the magistrates in refusing the licence.
    Serjeant PARRY objected; but
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE said the plaintiff alleged that his licence was refused in consequence of this letter, and he could not say that it was not open to the defendant to disprove this.
    The witness then repeated some strong statements made by one of the magistrates as to his knowledge of the place. The magistrates voted 38 against the licence; 16 for it.
     In re-examination he stated that on a former occasion the licence had been granted by a majority of one. He denied that in asking Mr. Horsley to send a a letter he had any desire to get up a case against the licence; he only desired to get at the truth.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE  - Did you take any means to sift the grounds of his statements? - No. I took his statements; it would be difficult for me to sift them; they might have been statements made to him by prisoners who had left.
    In answer to further questions, the witness sated that Mr. Horsley had not been examined as a witness; if he had been, he might have been cross-examined.
    This being the case for the plaintiff,

The defendant, the Rev J W Horsley was then called and examined as a witness and stated that he had been chaplain since November 1876. Mr. Sharpe, to whom the letter was written, was chairman of the Visiting Justices. In 1877 he became aware that Mr. Sharpe had opposed the renewal of the licence to the Argyll Rooms, and seeing the fact in the papers he wrote to him on the subject. A few days before the licensing meeting in October 1878, on the 7th or 8th of October, he saw Mr. Sharpe at the prison ,while he was there in the performance of his official duties, and Mr. Sharpe reminded him of the letter he had written last year, and asked him to write a letter of a similar character, such as might be produced in court. In consequence of that, the witness said he wrote  the letter in question. While he was writing it a young woman called upon him in the prison. She was not then a prisoner, although she had been many times in prison for drunkenness arising out of assault. Her name was Mary Cummings, and she was present at all events in the precincts of the court. She had to him the statements in the letter.


The witness went on to state that he asked the girl what, in her opinion, was the worst place for female virtue in London, and she answered the Argyll Rooms. He asked if she knew that innocent girls sometimes went there, induced to go by the place being licensed and so presumed to be respectable, and she said that they did. He asked if he had seen any of the criminal classes thyere, and she said that she had, and that swell mobsmen sometimes took home girls from the place in cabs and robbed them. She further stated that gentlemen's servants were sometimes there. The witness went on to state that he had received a statement contained in his letter (as to burglars going to the rooms &c.) from an experienced and successful burglar, whose name being asked to give he gave, though, he said, under protest and in obedience to the order of the Court. The name was Britton. He said he had been in the habit of taking down notes or minutes of prisoners statements to him, but he had lost his note of Britton's statement. He produced his notes of several cases - that is, the rough notes he took at the time, afterwards reducing them more into form, under different heads of moral or social interest, in separate books, one of which he produced and contained his account of Britton, which he read, to the effect that he used to frequent the Argyll Rooms in order to meet servants.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE - What led to this?
    The witness - The man had let out that he was at the rooms, and I asked him how he came to be there. He stated that he used to got to the rooms to meet gentlemen's servants there, to be "put up" to good "jobs" or burglaries. Britton himself was on remand for burglary. There was another prisoner in custody for burglary whose name was Howard, and he also, the witness said, made a communication to him and stated ot him that he had seen burglars there.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE  - What led to that?
    The witness said he could not remember at the moment; probably  the man mentioned being at the rooms, and then at the mention of the place he would "prick up his ears." Looking at his note of what Howard had said as to burglaries, he read these words,- "Argyll Rooms - largely used by burglars to 'get at' gentlemen's servants." (The jury here asked to look at the book, and were told they should have it when it was done with.) The witness stated that he had been able to trace Howard, and his case was transferred to his fair-book. There was another prisoner in custody about the same time, whose name was Charles Bagnall, and he produced his notes as to him. This man had been a gentleman's servant and was "in" for stealing silver spoons. Having heard that gentlemen's servants went to the rooms, he asked the man if he knew of it, and he read the note of the man's answer. - "Argyll Rooms. - Often seen gentlemen's servants there." There was another man, also a gentleman's servant, there, named Block, who had been convicted of robbery of plate, and he stated that he used to frequent the rooms, and knew many "flash" men to be there, and he produced his entry as to the man's answer, - "Argyll Rooms - Knew many flash men there; knew burglars there." The paragraph in his letter as to two footmen "in" for plate robberies referred to these two men. The witness being ask whether he believed the statements of these men and of the girl to be true, he answered firmly that he certainly did; and being asked whether when he wrote the letter he honestly believed its contents to be true, answers that he did believe them then, as he believed them now, to be true.
     The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE referred to a passage in the letter, "I could not talk to a burglar of the higher rank without finding the 'Gyll' mentioned as a place of resort," &c. What foundation was there for that statement?
    The witness - Partly what I have already stated, and partly many other similar statements made to me by other prisoners whose names I cannot now recollect. Nearly 11,000 prisoners passed through the prison last year, the majority of them unconvicted, others bail-prisoners, and it was his duty as chaplain to see them all. Of course he did not take or keep notes of all his conversations with prisoners, but only in cases that appeared to him remarkable, or such as for any reason happened to  be preserved.
    In cross-examination by Mr. Serjeant PARRY the witness stated that there were about 11 Visiting Justices and Mr. Sharpe had been one of them for many years. He first wrote to Mr. Sharpe on the subject in 1877, when he had been chaplain about a year. He had been always opposed to the granting of a licence to the Argyll Rooms, but his object in writing the letter now in question was simply that he was asked to do so. Referred to a passage in his letter as to complicity in a "gigantic wrong, and giving licence to licentiousness," he said he avowed the statements there expressed and had always entertained them. He avowed that he was anxious that the licence should be refused. He knew that the plaintiff was the proprietor of the rooms. He did not object to theatres; he thought they were quite different. He knew that his letter was to be read to the magistrates, giving to it whatever weight might attach to his position and character. He did not attend the licensing meeting; he happened to be otherwise engaged, but had he attended he should have had no objection to be examined as a witness. He wrote the letter as a witness. Asked, with reference to Britton, he said he knew the man had been several times in prison, and was now in penal servitude. He avowed that he had cut out or erased names, as he did not think the names should be disclosed. There was an entry in his fair book "Argyll Rooms" and the cases of Britton and Howard were entered under that head. The case of Britton was in December 1876, and that of Howard was in 1877. They were probably entered not long after the cases occurred. Asked whether they were not entered as the same time, he said, looking at the writing, he should say so, but according to his memory it was not so. The man Block was under his charge for several months, convicted. As to Bagnall, he knew him two or three week awaiting trial. The girl Cummings had been imprisoned a great many times - perhaps 30 or 40 times - almost a hopeless case of dipsomania, i.e. a passion for drink so strong as to amount to a mania.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE  - Did she represent herself as still frequenting the Argyll Rooms? - No, not at that time; nor, I believe, for three or four years.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE  - Did you always give implicit credence to all that such persons as prisoners state? - Very rarely.
    The witness being asked as to Britton, said he had know him well and he knew many other prisoners.
     Mr. Serjeant PARRY - Have you not made every possible inquiry in the prison with a view to injure the Argyll Rooms? - Not at all.
    Had you a heading in your book of any other place of public amusement except the Argyll Rooms? - No other institution or establishment; but I have a heading as to public houses.
    In re-examination, the witness pointed out numerous other headings - "home influence", "want of education", "public houses" &c. He had not entry as to promenade concerts or other places, because he had not special information about other places. He had no reason for discrediting the statements made to him and believed them to be true.
    Dr. Clark, the medical officer of Millbank, was called to prove that Britton was under his special charge in hospital, suffering from disease of the brain, his recovery being improbable and his condition being such that he was unfit for attendance as a witness. He was under a sentence of penal servitude for burglary.
    Evidence was also given that Britton's evidence had been taken for the defence before his illness came on, and a Judge's order had been made for Block, but he could not be found; but it was found that he had been in the prison while Mr. Horsley was chaplain there. He had, however, found Howard and Bagnall (and they were in attendance as witnesses).
    Mary Cummings was then called and examined as a witness. She stated that she remembered seeing Mr. Horsley at the House of Detention in October last year, and making certain statements to him as to the Argyll Rooms. He asked her -
    Mr. Serjeant PARRY objected to this.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE  - How can you object? The evidence is to prove that the statements were made. If you admit that they were made, then, of course, the evidence need not be given; but if you deny it, it is for them to prove it.
    Mr. Serjeant PARRY said he objected to it as evidence of an accidental conversation between two persons in the absence of the plaintiff.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE - It is admissable to support the case for the defence - that these statements were made to the defendant and used by him bona fide.
    The witness went on to state that she told Mr. Horsley she had been at the rooms, and that she had seen gentlemen's servants there and swell mobsmen, and that innocent girls sometimes went there to see the dancing and that in that way they fell. She stated further that it was very much lowered of late from what it was when she first knew the place, especially since the Holborn Casino was closed.
    In cross-examination by Mr. Serjeant PARRY she said it was four or five years ago since she went to the rooms. It was true that she had been very frequently in prison.
    In re-examination, she said she first went to the Rooms in 1870 or 1871, and went there three or four years.
    In answer to the LORD CHIEF JUSTICE, she stated that she had tild Mr. Horsley that girls were sometimes ruined through going to the rooms.
    The next witness was Howard, who appeared in charge of two warders, and in the yellow garb of a convict, and he stated that he was in penal servitude under a sentence for burglary. He remembered, he said, see Mr. Horsley, the chaplain of the prison, in October 1877, and had a conversation with him about the Argyll Rooms - that is, Mr. Horsley had a conversation with him about the place, and asked him questions about it. He asked me (said witness) if ever I went there, and I said, "Yes, I did." He said, "Did you go there to get information for burglaries?" and I said, "No."
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE - What else?
    That is all as I know of.
    Sir H. JAMES - Did you tell him you saw many men of your own class there? - Yes.
    What did you mean by men of your own class? - Men of the world. (Much laughter)
    You mean of the criminal class? - Yes.
    Did you tell him you saw gentlemen's servants there? - No.
    Are you certain you did not say so? - Yes, I am.
    Did you say the rooms were resort of "cross life" people? - No.
    Who are they? - Of the criminal class.
    You said you had seen persons of that class there? - Yes.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE - How often had you been there yourself? - Lots of times.
    Were you convicted more than once? - Yes.
    In cross-examination by Mr. Serjeant PARRY, the convict said he went to to other places of amusement as well as the Argyll Rooms, dressed like other persons.
    The other convict, Bagnall, under sentence of five years' penal servitude at Chatham, for stealing plate, was then called and examined as a witness. In 1877 he was at the Clerkenwell Prison, and the chaplain saw him., and asked him how he came to be in trouble, and he told him that he spent his evenings and money at theatres and music halls. He then asked him if he had been at the Argyll Rooms, and he told him that he had been there and that he had seen other gentlemen's servants there.
    In cross-examination by Mr. Serjeant PARRY, he said that Mr. Horsley did not ask particularly as to any other place of entertainment but the Argyll Rooms.
    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE  - had your going to the Argyll Rooms anything to do with your getting into trouble? - No.
    That was the case for the defence.

Times 2 & 3 May 1879

The result? The jury failed to reach a verdict and the case was discharged. Mr. Horsley was left with a £300 legal fee, more than his annual income. The Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a public subscription to defray these costs.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Up in Smoke

I've just finished Peter Watts' book Up in Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. Peter is a friend of mine, so perhaps I'm biased, but it's a thoroughly satisfying, immersive read; a total pleasure.

Peter notes in his introduction 'Rather that a straightforward history, this is a journalist's book'. True, he has interviewed many of the key players in the power station's peculiar trajectory from post-industrial albatross to property developer's goldmine; but, frankly, more historians should get out and talk to real people. Moreover, we get all the history, too: from (pre-power station) Edwardian plans for a theme park on the vacant site (trumped by the White City) to the ominous spectacle of Margaret Thatcher armed with a 'laser-gun', serving as starting pistol for one of several ambitious (and often faintly ridiculous) failed redevelopment bids.

I was interested to discover that Victor Hwang, whose company owned the site from 1993 to 2006, was actually a little in love with the building (although unable to summon the money or will to actually realise any of his numerous architects' ideas). I had always assumed he was a faceless, distant investor.  Richard Barrett, the Irish speculator who succeeded him, also had a romantic streak - of a sort - writing of his coup in buying out Hwang, ''The site lay tantalisingly waiting for a saviour, legs akimbo, breasts appetisingly on openish display." Property developers, eh? Barrett's project (pleasingly) collapsed along with the tanking of the Irish economy; but it established the template which now surrounds the station: 'luxury' housing, and lots of it.

This could have been a dull book, about council meetings, chimneys and bickering architects. Peter, a great journalist, instead tells a story about people, hopes and dreams. And it's an engrossing tale, although we already know the melancholy ending: the building survives, swallowed-up amidst unimaginative glass cubes of offices and shops. But it survives, nonetheless.

If you interested in more of Peter's writing, check out The Great Wen, his blog. It's well worth your time - as is this book.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Victorian Fashion - by Jayne Shrimpton

Long-time readers will recall that I once had a career as a historical novelist. One of the great problems was how to accurately incorporate Victorian fashion into the story. Did ladies wear 'mantles' in 1854? Were there 'pagoda sleeves' on dresses in 1863? Did readers want a description of particular items? I think I broadly came to the conclusion that my readers would appreciate a degree of accuracy, but it was impossible to get everything right. Part of the problem was sources. Books and websites were full of year-by-year fashion plates (gorgeous contemporary artistic sketches of fashionable clothing, which appeared in women's magazines &c), but how accurately did they represent every-day clothing?

If I had possessed Jayne Shrimpton's new book, Victorian Fashion, I could have saved myself hours of research, and done a much better job. I should reveal that I am acquainted with Jayne from twitter (we have exchanged tweets, if not cartes de visite). I can tell you, from experience, that she is an absolute expert on establishing the date of photographs  based solely on the subject's clothing. This book gathers her considerable knowledge into a compact, densely informative review. 

There are, of course, websites and other books on Victorian fashion. Nonetheless, I think this has three main advantages over its rivals. Firstly,  the language never ventures beyond the level of the average reader (my level!). Secondly, given its small size  this is a Shire pocket book, approximately a hundred pages   Victorian Fashion is amazingly comprehensive. Chapters include not only the more familiar women's clothing, but menswear, children's clothes, sportswear, evening dress, bridal outfits and more. Finally, the numerous pictures are fabulous, ranging from visiting cards and family photos, through fashion plates to cartoons and high Victorian art. 

The book touches lightly on fashion-related social history (e.g. the 'breeching' of boys; or the rise of cycling); but I would suggest this is, essentially, a beautifully illustrated work of reference. Anyone writing Victorian fiction will appreciate a copy. Anyone interested in day-to-day Victorian life will thoroughly enjoy dipping in and out. 

I don't normally review books on this blog, but I welcomed a review copy of Victorian Fashion and it lived up to my high expectations.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Fat Nell of the Lane

Fat Nell of the Lane

An Original Comic Parody on "Young Ellen Loraine," Written by EDWARD P. LONGLEY, and Sung by Mr. I. WILSON, at the London Concerts

Vhen I bolted from Drury, determined to cut yer,
    Cos I dreamt yer vos false vonce, Fat Nell of the lane;
Thinks I, she's a gal, vot von't pig with a butcher,
   Oh! vy did yer do so, fat Nell of the lane.
I coaxed yer vhen sober, I vopt yer when muzzy,
   And dear charged the doctor for easing yer pain;
Yer spent every mopus, and then turned a hussey,
  Oh! vy did yer do so, fat Nell of the lane?

Ah! you vos the live ghost vot haunted my bed rug,
   The thief in the darkness, fat Nell of the lane;
Stole my togs, e'en my night cap yer did from my head tug,
   Vhilst I vos a snoring, fat Nell of the lane.
You'll think of me yet, vhen that false kid deceives yer,
   And his pals in Clare Market, refuse yer a drain;
Vhen the shine of yer bounce, like a shying norse leaves yer,
   You'll think how yer sarved me, fat Nell of the Lane.

Oh! gammon not me, in them eyes I diskiver,
   Yer knows how you've done me, fat Nell of the lane;
Go doze in the lap of that dealer in liver,
   Go ugly spots face-full, fat Nell of the lane.
The days vithout grub, vithout drinkin, or smokin,
   They tapers my body, and muddles my brain;
Go bad un, and grin at the head you've often broken,
    Go, ugly spots face-full, fat Nell of the Lane.

transcribed from
Pickwick Songster vol.9 no.1, 'edited by Sam Weller' [Harding A 1229] n.d. ?1837?
[with many thanks to Simon Cope @simontcope for his assistance]

Damages for having seduced and debauched

Maidstone, July 26


This was an action to recover damages from the defendant for having seduced and debauched the wife of a plaintiff. ...

Mr. Chambers, in opening the case, said that the plaintiff in this action was a person in a humble condition of life, and , at the time of his marriage with the young woman whose conduct was the subject of inquiry on the present occasion, he carried on the business of a tailor in London. Unhappily for him, in the beginning of the year 1853, he was suffering from a malady which rendered it necessary for him to go to hospital, where he was obliged to remain for 15 months, and during that period he was undergo an operation of a most painful character, and the defendant appeared to have taken advantage of his being placed in this distressing position to seduce the affections of his wife, and when the unfortunate plaintiff came out of the hospital, he found that his wife had taken away the whole of his furniture and that she and the defendant had been living together at different places as man and wife. The defendant, he was instructed, carried on several different occupations. He was an omnibus proprietor, a jeweller, and also, he believed, a money-lender at very high interest; and when the jury had heard the facts he should lay before them, it would be for them to say what amount of damages he ought to pay the plaintiff for the wrong he had inflicted upon him.

James Bendall deposed that he was the plaintiff's nephew, and he produced the certificate of a marriage between his uncle and Rose Botwright on the 1st of July 1848. He was not present at the marriage, but he visited them afterwards, and they appeared to live happily together. His uncle carried on the business of a tailor and his wife worked as a dressmaker. His uncle went into the hospital in 1853, and remained their 15 months.

Cross-examined - Witness keeps a dancing academy in Circus-street, New-road. Persons were admitted to his rooms on payment of 6d. each. Some people might call the establishment a Casino, but he called it a dancing academy and he kept a dancing-master for the purpose of teaching dancing. This person also acted as master of the ceremonies, and he introduced the male and female visitors to each other (a laugh). The plaintiff's wife was in the habit of coming to his dancing-rooms. Sometimes she came with her husband before he went into the hospital. After he went there she used to come to the rooms with a young woman called Jennings. He did not whom who Miss Jennings was, nor where she lived. The plaintiff was about 52, and his wife was 28 years old. He first introduced her to the dancing-rooms. The defendant, he believed, first met the plaintiff's wife there. He was not aware that they danced together, but they might have done so. There was a refreshment-room upstairs, and very likely the plaintiff's wife, Miss Jennings, and the defendant took refreshment there. The plaintiff's wife lived with him for 18 months or two years before they were married.

The Chief Baron asked the witness what he meant by saying that they "lived together?" Did he mean that they cohabited together as man and wife?

The Witness said he did.

Mr. James - And did she not live with another person before she lived with your uncle, and did not that person give you uncle 200l. to marry her.

Witness. - I had heard that she did live with some one before she lived with my uncle; but I do not know anything of his receiving 200l. to marry her.

Cross-examination continued. - Witness was not aware of the wife of the plaintiff having put on widow's weeds directly her husband went into the hospital. She began to come to his room very soon after her husband went there, and he would not swear that she and Miss Jennings had not supped there several times with different men. His uncle first introduced her as Rose Botwright.

By the Court. - It was not any part of the witness's business to inquire into the character of the persons who visited his establishment.

The Chief Baron. - Then it was 6d. to pay, and no questions asked? (a laugh)

Witness. - Exactly, my lord.

John Cozens, of 67, Waverley-road, Harrow-road, proved that in March, 1853, the wife of the plaintiff engaged a lodging in his house, which she occupied for five months. During the whole of that period she was constantly visited by the defendant whom she introduced as her brother John. He frequently stayed all night.

Cross-examined. - Could not say where he slept.

Mrs. Cozens, the wife of the last witness, deposed to the same facts. The plaintiff's wife had occupied two rooms, but there was only one bed.

Cross-examined. - They used at first to consider that the defendant was a very affectionate brother indeed from his constant visits, and they thought that he sat up in the front room where he remained all night.

Mr. James - I believe, at last, however, you began to entertain a little suspicion of their proceedings?

Witness. - I very strong suspicion indeed. (a laugh)

Mrs. Jane Bullock proved that the plaintiff's wife occupied a room in her house for a few days and that the defendant invited her there, and upon one occasion they were in a bed-room together. She complained to Mrs. Bendall of her conduct.

Cross-examined. - She one saw Miss Jennings at her own apartment, and Miss Bendall was nursing her.

Mr. James. - I believe Miss Jennings had had a baby (a laugh). There was a child in the room, was there not?

Witness. - I shan't answer you. (a laugh)

Mr. James. - Come now, you can't object to tell us whether there was not a young child - a very young child, you know what I mean, in the room? (laughter)

Witness. - I shan't tell you. (renewed laughter)

Mr. James. - Well did you ask whose child it was?

Witness. - Oh! certainly not.

The Chief Baron. - How very discreet (a roar of laughter).

This closed the case for the plaintiff.

Mr. James then addressed the jury for the defendant. The plaintiff's wife had been proved to have lived with him in a state of concubinage, for nearly two years before they were married, and that before their connection she had lived with another man, and that she had been proved to have been in the constant habit of frequenting casinos and places of that description, and there was very little doubt that the defendant, who was a young man, had been "picked up" by her at the place referred to. He felt assured that if the jury should feel themselves bound to return a verdict for the plaintiff, they would only give him the smallest possible amount of damanges.

The Chief Baron having summed up,

The Jury, after a short consultation, returned a verdict for the plaintiff. Damages, 1s.

Daily News, 28 July 1854

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Horrors of Living in London

The Horrors of Living in London!

A Famous New Comic Song, now singing by Mr. BULLER, with great applause. Written by Mr. J. BRUTON.

AIR - "The Gypsy Party."

Of country troubles I've heard much, 
Of hedges, ditches, dirt and such, 
But on a different theme I'll touch,
   The horrors of living in London. 
Your cockney travellers often tell 
Of dangers great which them befell. 
While journeying beyond " Bow Bell," 
And fore'd with raw greenhorns to dwell 
Of rural miseries let 'em prate,
But we may have many just as great, 
And so you'll say when I relate
   A few of the horrors of London! 
                                       Tooral looral, &c.

An urgent letter to a friend, 
Into the country you've to send, 
So with it yourself must wend,
    Ere all the mails leave London
In crossing of some street, the way's 
Completely stopp'd by carts and shays, 
Waggons, omnibusses, drays, 
Extending far as you can gaze. 
So 'neath the horses legs you cut, 
And breathing reach the office—but 
That very moment find it shut!
   And such are things in London.

The Opera, or Drury Lane,
You leave at night, with ladies twain, 
When all at once down comes the rain, 
   Another horror of London !
To save the dears from dirt and wet, 
Beneath some gateway you all get; 
Then to the coach-stand off you set, 
But find the vehicles all let!
From street to street you hurry on, 
But all is vain, so back you run
To join the ladies,—but they're gone
   Another horror of London.

Perhaps you're bald or grown quite grey,
And walking on a windy day,
Your hat and wig are blown away,
   And carried half o'er London
Then off you start with all your might, 
To overtake then in this plight, 
While at your bald-head every wight, 
Sets up a shout of rare delight. 
With grief aloud you curse and groan, 
For, after you so far have flown,
Clean o'er the bridge your hat is blown,
   Another horror of London.

In white ducks dress'd a perfect beau
Cravat and waistcoat white as snow, 
For to a party you've to go
   In one of the squares of London!
You cross the road, by sweeper seen
Who asks for alms, and if you're mean,
You're ducks that were so nice and clean, 
He spatters o'er with mud, for spleen; 
You mutter curses long and deep,
But then no good from that you reap, 
He brings his friend to fight—a sweep!
   Another horror of London.

While walking through the Street, you look 
Into a pamphlet, or a book,
And find that you have your way mistook, 
   A common thing in London!
You study on, but not being fenc'd, 
An iron bar you run against;
Its bearer you blow up incensed, 
But with abuse get recompens'd! 
Then on you go to 'scape a brawl.
But venturing on too near the wall, 
You clean into a cellar fall
   Another horror of London.

As through the hail and elect you go, 
The wind a hurricane will blow,
Your pleasure heightened by some snow, 
   And that's a treat in London!
Your umbrella inside out
Is blown—while all the urchins about, 
And, stooping to give one a clout,
Your hat's knocked off and kick'd about! 
But from some house-top soon is blown, 
A tile, while running for your own,
Upon your head, which makes you groan,
   And curse the horrors of London.

Being ill from nervousness, you take 
A room retired, for quiet sake;
As noise would quite your system shake,
    And where's not noise in London? 
You find, e'er you've passed one day o'er, 
A coffin-maker lives next door;
While o'er the way at No. 4,
There's practisinga trumpet blower
And in next roans, by a thin wall screened, 
A noisy child is being weaned,
Who howls all night—the little fiend, 
   And such is living in London

transcribed from
Pickwick Songster vol.3 no.1, 'edited by Sam Weller' [Harding A 1229] n.d. ?1837?
[with many thanks to Simon Cope @simontcope for his assistance]

Monday, 25 April 2016

TV REVIEW (yes, I know, not very Victorian)

Trying to stretch and rest my brain from endless Victorian research, I've written this about some programmes on telly ...

Unhappy Families: The A-Word and Undercover

[--This article contains spoilers. Although I would have thought that was predictable.--]

Let me tell you about two families.

Paul and Alison Hughes live in the Lake District. They have a newly-diagnosed autistic son called Joe, who struggles with primary school, the wider world, and the human frailties of his parents – and they struggle a bit with him. There’s also their teenage daughter Rebecca; but they mostly ignore her. This is the simple premise of The A-Word which currently occupies the prime-time slot on BBC1 on Tuesdays.

(Joe, by the way, self-medicates with an MP3 player permanently tuned to his dad’s music collection, downloaded directly from XfM, c.2004. The Arctic Monkeys have probably bought themselves a gold-plated chip-shop, solely on the proceeds of this show’s soundtrack).

The Johnsons, meanwhile, live in the elegantly terraced Victorian hinterland between Hampstead Heath and Alexandra Palace. Their life, in Undercover (prime time on Sundays) is ostensibly more complicated. We know this partly because Nick Johnson, father of three, does lots of troubled pensive jogging  in the parks.

Maya Cobbina (aka Mrs. Johnson), for her part, is a HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENCE LAWYER.  We know this, because we first meet her pluckily trying to stay the grisly (failed) execution of an Louisiana death-row inmate. The innocent and kindly felon tells her to GO BIG and challenge the system that permits such injustice.

(The fact that BBC announcers are obliged to trail the show with phrases like ‘Maya attempts to “Go Big!” and address corruption’ positively thrills me. I wish they could go the whole hog and say ‘SUPERSIZE JUSTICE!’).

The Johnsons also have two teenage girls – one just gone to Anonymous College, Oxford – one who occasionally pouts and demands to be taken to parties in Crouch End. (Does anyone demand to be taken to parties in Crouch End? This seems the most unrealistic aspect of the show.)

The Johnsons also have an 18-year-old son with learning difficulties. He’s easily spooked and repeatedly told to go out and wait in the garden; sometimes with the long-suffering family dog. He then lurks by the patio doors, literally and figuratively window-dressing.

The Johnsons not only have three kids but a secret (agent). Nick is an undercover policeman, who fell in love with and married Maya when she was under highly dubious police observation (as a plucky black rights activist, back in the 1990s). And – you’ll never guess – his secret is going to be ... revealed.

But there’s more. For the government want her – the only black female lawyer in the country –  to be the Director of Public Prosecutions. They are institutionally racist, and, dammit, it will look good. She’s never actually worked as a prosecutor; but governments are not sticklers about this sort of thing. She gives a plucky interview and – ba-boom! – she’s got the job. She then wants to prosecute the police, over the murder-in-custody of her ex-1990s-boyfriend; and there’s a conspiracy of silence; and a conspiracy of husband; and lots of unsavoury middle-aged men in suits (sinister!) who will stop at nothing to prevent her from discovering the truth.


So, we have two programmes about dysfunctional families. One ‘family drama’, one more ‘conspiracy thriller’.

One of them is really good.

So good, in fact, that it teaches us exactly what’s wrong with the other one.

The good show? I am, of course, talking about The A-Word.

Perhaps I am so impressed with this show, because I expected it to be awful. Set in a small cosy community in the Lake District (ey lad! those northerners and their quirky ways!); featuring Christopher Eccleston in a role which calls for comic acting (comedy is to Eccleston what nuance is to Donald Trump); and that title. I battened down the hatches for a sickly-sweet morality tale about ‘coping with an autistic child’.

And yet, it’s great.

The heart of the story is not AUTISM (or even Autism or autism) or even Joe himself, but Alison and Paul, and the fault lines in their marriage. The writing is subtle; and the characterisation of Alison is particularly impressive. She is slowly revealed as bullish and manipulative, like her annoying father (Eccleston); but also desperate to do ‘the right thing’ for her beloved son. She’s a complex character, an imperfect mother, as opposed to a good or bad one – indeed, an imperfect person – that’s a nice thing in a ‘family drama’.

Paul, meanwhile, is cheerful and amiable, but plainly relies too much on his charm and good humour. The differences in their approach to parenting – exposed by the extremes of Joe’s behaviour – drive a wedge into the seemingly healthy relationship.

The most recent episode culminated in a scene where Alison, having secretly taken a morning-after pill, admitted to Paul that she did not want another child. Two things impressed me. First, this argument genuinely felt like a release of simmering tensions, that had been built up –  sometimes exposed and then swiftly covered – in the previous four episodes. Second, the brutal reality of it: the way Paul and Alison, slowly but surely, moved from resignation, and even affection, to trading cruel insights, finding each other’s weak spots. Love soured – briefly or permanently? – by  latent bitterness, finally bubbling to the surface. That’s how emotions work, isn’t it?

Arguably, nothing much happens in The A-Word. But it has such great writing and performances – all very low key and self-effacing – so that you barely notice this is quality drama. Writing this, I look it up and find it’s by Peter Bowker, who wrote the peculiar and engaging Blackpool a dozen years back. I’d like to shake his hand.

Then we come to Undercover. First of all, what is it? Well, I guess it’s essentially a political drama. There are sinister government sorts, covering up the police’s (?historic?) undercover police operations against dissidents; there’s a murder of an ex-undercover policewoman who’s about to reveal all. But there’s also the very personal betrayal of Maya by Nick. There’s lots of stuff in the home; family scenes; but it’s really all designed to heighten the big question – when will Maya learn the truth about Nick? And what will she do? (probably to THE ESTABLISHMENT; but perhaps also to him)

Does it work? Well, ish. But it’s convoluted, glossy and superficial. Some of it is plain daft. Maya, appointed director of public prosecutions, drags her 1990s cop-murdered ex-boyfriend’s mum into the first staff briefing. She tells all the assembled lawyers of the  DPP that they should work on this case.

All of them? 

And, by the way, we haven’t heard anything about that for two episodes.

Maya also has a severe case of dramatic illness – she’s just now – just right now! – developed epilepsy. She can’t get the proper scan and meds because the MRI scanner reminds her of the gurney she saw used on her death-row client. She may die! Well, nice imagery and all, but importing random isolated perils like this is just bad writing. (Sophie Okonedo can do an impressive epileptic fit, mind).

When she returns to death-row in the latest episode, Maya takes her teenage student daughter; who is keeping an eye on her because of the epilepsy. Oookay. US penitentiaries are more easy-going than I realised.

Now, of course, with these sort of things, I’m being picky. Writers can take liberties, when it suits them. People like me can carp.

But there’s one fundamental problem with this programme you can’t really ignore: the family are all fakes. Nick, Maya, and their randomly generated children. This is what struck me this week, thinking about these two shows.

The Johnsons sit and eat food together; they chat; they walk the dog; they wait anxiously, and collectively, for the death-row inmate to die (I’ve had similar weekends with my in-laws). But they feel no more real, as a family unit than a glossy advertisement. Nick, of course, is fundamentally bogus – but you’re meant to believe that he has spent eighteen years parenting this family; that he has raised a son with learning disabilities; got one daughter through the awkward teenage years and through to Anonymous College; and probably spent at least some time with his wife in the process.

I don’t think you get any of that. It’s all rather cursory; waiting for the big reveal and dramatic consequences. We know pretty much nothing about the kids. I had to check that there even were two daughters in the show; more window dressing. Maya, likewise, seems to exist in two dimensions. She’s brave; a good lawyer; loving wife and mother. She’s got it all. She’s bloody perfect, really. Sketchy stuff. Easily-sketched stuff, in fact.

Steven Moffatt is the writer. He of Sherlock fame. He believes, I’m sure, in GOING BIG. Keep things fast-paced; ratchet up the tension. But I’m not convinced he really has any interest in people.

The result is that there’s more genuine gut-wrenching tension in Alison and Paul’s childcare arrangements in Cumbria than whether Maya throttles Nick, and/or brings down the entirety of the British establishment.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Lottie Collins Libel




Mrs. COONEY, an actress and variety artist, professionally known as Miss Lottie Collins, brought an action for libel, in the Queen's Bench Division, before Mr. Justice Hawkins and a special jury, against Mr. Edeveain, proprietor of a weekly journal named Society. The defendant pleaded that the words complained of were in their natural and ordinary meaning fair comment and criticism upon a public performance.
     Mr. Henry Kisch was for the plaintiff; and Mr. Jelf, Q.C., Mr. E. U. Bullen, and Mr. Cane for the defendant.
     Mr. Kisch, in opening, said his client had sung " The Little Widow" in public some 2,000 or 3,000 times, and the song upon all occasions met with approbation. She had also sung "A Girl on the Ran-dan-dan." (Laughter.) In December last she was performing at the Palace Theatre, and the two songs were in her repertoire. In reference to this engagement an article appeared in Society, and in it was the following passage:

"At the Palace Theatre, Morton Consule, there is quite the best entertainment in London, a sort of show a man can with impunity take his maiden aunt to. There is nothing coarse about it anywhere and the only touch of vulgarity is supplied by Miss Lottie Collins, who successfully reproduces, in two of her songs at least, methods far from pleasing of the age which to its eternal sorrow used to applaud such monstrosities as that lion comique, now happily very near dead. One of her songs, `The Little Widow'—no connection, I am happy to say, of our very own sweet lady—is written in grossly had taste, which is not redeemed even by the singer's surprising agility and rose-red petticoats. To my mind Miss Collins has never done so well since "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay."
     Mr. Justice Hawkins: What was meant by "Morton Consule." Was it the name of a place? (Loud laughter.)
     Mr. Fisch said he had at first taken it to be some French expression—(laughter)— 'but it seemed that it was intended to intimate that the place was under the management of Mr. Morton. (Laughter.) He regretted that he could not bring the whole performance before the jury; but at least he could bring "that little widow" before them. (Laughter.) Of course when he said "The The Little Widow" he meant the song. (Renewed laughter.) He would ask his lordship to let the jury read that song, so that they might form their own opinion as to "vulgarity," and as to the song having been written "in grossly bad taste."


Mr. Jelf: Had you not better read it yourself?
Mr. Kisch said he would with his lordship's permission, and he did so amidst peals of laughter.

Oh, dear, what I've suffered, there's nobody knows;
I'll endeavour to tell you my troubles and woes,
A lone little widow, two husbands I mourn,
And now I'm forsaken, heartbroken, forlorn.
No one to love me, no one to bless,
No one to tease me, none to caress,
And just twenty-one, 'tis true, on my word,
So I am thinking of taking a third.

I'm a widow, a little widow; I am simple, but I'm witty;
I'm stylish and pretty; yes, a widow, a charming widow.
But I won't remain single very long.

Dear George was my "first," he just doated on me;
And, oh, we were happy as happy could be.
He died, all the doctors said "shortness of breath"
The women, the wretches, said "worried to death!"
What could a poor little lone widow do?
Charlie consoled me, and became Number2 ;
And only last week he said, "Daisy, good- bye,
I'm going to meet George in the sweet bye-and-bye."
And I'm a widow, once more a widow; I am, &c.

I wonder why single girls are such mean things;
They'd like to be angels, of course, without wings;
Make eyes at the men with such a sly glance,
And won't give us dear little widows a chance.
But I'm going to show them of what we are made;
I'm looking around me; oh, don't be afraid.
If there's one here who'll be Number 3,
He find me as loving as loving can be.

Counsel added that he would hand the other song, "A Girl on the Ran-dan-dan" to his learned friend, who could read it if. he liked. (Laughter.)
     Mr. Jelf, amidst renewed laughter, read a few lines of it.
     Mr. Justice Hawkins thought that, with a little more rehearsal, counsel might be able to sing the songs. (Loud laughter.)
     The plaintiff was then called. She said that she was the wife of Mr. Stephen Patrick Cooney, but was professionally known as Miss Lottie Collins. She had so performed at the principal theatres and halls in London and in the provinces, and also in the United States.
     Did you sing "The Little Widow" at the Palace Theatre in "The New Barmaid"? "Possibly," interjected Mr. Kirsch, his lordship had heard of "The New Woman," and The New Barmaid" was probably a development of that idea. (Laughter.)
     Witness said that both songs had always been received very well, and no objection to them was ever made by managers or by anybody else. She did not think that she indicated any vulgarity in singing either of these songs.
     Cross-examined: "The Little Widow" she believed to be as popular as ever.
     And you yourself are as popular as ever?
     I hope so.
     You do not deny that Society has very often praised you?
     I have seen notices there that praised me.
     And you agree that everybody is entitled to have his own opinion upon a public performance?
     Oh, yes! but where the word "vulgarity" was used it was rather far-fetched. Witness added that she did not think that there was any touch of vulgarity in "Ta-ra-ra-boom- de-ay." It must be borne in mind that the audience went to music-halls to be amused; they did not go to church. (Laughter.) When she was singing "The Little Widow" she was, dressed all in black, except the petticoats, which were red. (Loud laughter.)
     Mr. Jelf : Is not that, an important point, that petticoat?
     Witness: I beg your pardon—petticoats. (Laughter.)
     Mr. Jell: Ah, that is my ignorance. (Renewed laughter.)
     The petticoats of red suddenly made their appearance during the song?—Yes.
     And that had a startling effect?—No doubt it had. (Laughter.) Continuing, witness said she still kept her position upon the stage; but this libel had been sent abroad through the world, and she feared that it would do her a good deal of harm in America. She had never had the word "vulgarity" applied to her singing before.
     Mr. G. H. Payne, managing director of the Canterbury Hall, of the South London Theatre of Varieties, and of the Paddington Theatre of Varieties, said he had had twenty years' experience connected with music-halls, and had known the plaintiff from the time when she was a child. He had heard her sing both these songs.
     Have you noticed any procedure or gesture on the part of Miss Lottie Collins that was vulgar?— No.
     Cross-examined: Naturally there were differences of opinion upon such matters.
     Mr. Charles Morton said that he was the manager of the Palace Theatre of Varieties, and had been engaged in connection with music-hall engagements ever since 1848. He was invariably on duty every evening at his theatre, and he looked closely after everything that took place. He had heard Miss Collins sing " The Little Widow" on many occasions, and he had never seen anything on her part that was vulgar.
     Would you allow it to continue if you did see it?—No. He had heard "The Girl on the Ran-dan-dan" sung, and he had never observed any objection to it on the part of the audience.
     Cross-examined: Do you consider that this article has done Miss Collins the slightest injury?—No. She is still receiving the same salary as she received before.
     Mr. Lionel Monckton, a member of the bar, upon the critical staff of the Daily Telegraph, said he had heard the plaintiff sing "The Little Widow" more than once. He did not know Miss Collins at all, and he had not until that day ever seen her off the stage. He had never seen anything on her part that was vulgar.


Mr. Jeff addressed the jury for the defendant, contending that what had been published amounted to nothing more than fair criticism upon a performance. He also submitted that there was no evidence to show that any damage had been inflicted upon the plaintiff.
    The jury, without leaving the box, said their verdict was for the plaintiff, with £25 damanges.
Illustrated Police News, 24 Ju;y 1897

Fun without Frivolity?

The late-Victorians are often caricatured as prudish and anti-entertainment. There was, certainly, a vigorous 'social purity' movement in the 1890s, which attempted to control and reduce the number of music halls in the capital, both on the grounds of them selling drink, and harbouring prostitutes. But the puritans were not the Victorians and many contemporaries opposed them, even amongst the most respectable in society. This article about granting Sadlers Wells Theatre a music hall licence ('music and dancing') paints an interesting picture of the debate in local authority circles.

Messrs. Wilmot and Freeman, lessees of Sadler's Wells Theatre, wrote to the Clerkenwell Vestry on Thursday giving notice their intention to apply to the London County Council for a music and dancing licence for Sadler's Wells Theatre. This led to an angry discussion at the vestry meeting. Mr. Weston moved to oppose the application, on one ground, because they had driven Captain Davis from Deacon's Music Hall with a compensation of £10,000, and now they wanted to give this valuable concession to Messrs. Wilmot and Freeman for nothing. Mr. J. Crowle-Smith objected to the licence because drink was sold on the premises; and Mr. Putterill and Mr. Wildboe and Mr. Brighty thought similarly. Mr. J.F.Kelly said that it would be all right, he supposed, if they filled the parish with "Little Bethels", but with 75,000 inhabitants, who were not all teetotallers or churchgoers, but who nevertheless were good husbands and fathers, he contended they should consider their amusement, as well as their rates. He recommend to the notice of the Puritanical party the words of the good old Bobbie Burns:-

God knows, I'm not the man I should be,
Nor am I even the man I could be;
But fifty times I rather would be,
An Atheist clean,
Than under Gospel I'd be
Just for a screen.

Messrs. Wilmot and Freeman's enterprise should be encouraged. They had shown by their management of the Grand Theatre, with thoroughly respectable surroundings, that they could be relied upon to supply a good class of entertainment when they got the music and dancing licence.
    Mr. Churchwarden MILLWARD said he was happy to tell them that he could go to church and to a music hall, and appreciate both. In fact, he went to the Royal in Holborn, about once a week. It was all humbug these people coming there with their "McDougall nonsense."
    Mr. Churchwarden SANS gave an opinion that the parish would be all the better without the licences.
    Mr. KELLY, amid considerable laughter, pointed to this model churchwarden, who years ao was a music hall proprietor himself; who was, in fact, sponsor for, amongst others, Herbert Campbell, Tom Vine, and Clara Nisbet, and from whose hall Londoners had got some of their greatest pleasure givers.
    Mr. Churchwarden SANS - I was not proprietor of the place.
    Mr. KELLY - Then you were the man in possession.
    Mr. MATTHEW HANLY also vigorously denounced members who denied people such pleasures as Messrs. Wilmot and Freeman would be sure to bring them. One of the Puritans had said he would not go to a music hall or theatre to find a husband for his daughter; but allow him (Mr. Hanly) to tell that member that there were as good and virtuous ladies and gentlemen on the theatrical and music hall stage as there were in his little chapel. In fact, many of the actors were better than the parsons. Looking at the matter from another point of view, let them consider the hundreds of people who wer employed when Mr. Wilmot had as many as five companies travelling at once. And where was there a body of people more ready to lend a hand to charity and philanthropy than the theatrical and music hall profession? He hoped the good sense of the Vestry would prevail and put down these bigots.
    Mr. DIXIE did not wish to be political; but he certainly must mention the bad songs which had been and which were sung at the Radical club dens, to which some of the opposers of the Sadlers Wells licence belonged. The Lord Chamberlain and the County Council exercised strong powers over theatres and music halls, but these club-drinking dens were allowed to go on as they pleased.
    In the result, the following motion was carried by 19 to 17: "That the Vestry adheres to its resolution of Oct. 16th last, in which they decided to oppose any new music and dancing licence in the parish." This was followed by a number of amendments, but the figures were not materially altered, and the final quarrel between the members was as to whether the clerk should send details of the discussion to the London County Council, when opposing the granting of the licence.
    Mr. KELLY said he would see that the County Council committee knew the motion against the licence was only carried by the narrow majority of two, or else the Puritans, with all their truth, and honesty, and morality, would go and say the Vestry was unanimously against the licence.

Era 22 August 1891

Sunday, 20 March 2016

LCC Inspector's report into Collins Music Hall, Islington Green, 1890

With one or two exceptions this is a place of entertainment to which I would not hesitate to take my wife and family to. The only part of the programme that I object to is the skirt dance of Miss Alice Leaman. The high pitching of the legs and the continual twirling, with the hands, of her muslin petticoats is, to say the least, suggestive. This skirt dance gave such unbounded satisfaction to the audience that she had to appear again.
    Regarding prostitutes, it is satisfactory to report that in the gallery they are not to be seen at the bar or promenade. As far as I could make out the Superintendents insisted that females must be seat – a plan which if generally adopted would in my humble opinion greatly improve the moral tone of the London Music Halls and Theatres.
    I regard that I cannot report as favourably on the area of the Hall. this part is besieged by a goodly number of unfortunates of the better-clad sort. The bar, which is at the back, is supplied with side lounges and these are the hunting grounds of these women. I observed no importuning but it is not required with such conveniences. A tipsy young man will invariably drop down beside one of these females. If the Superintendents were as exacting in this part as they are in the gallery, this blot would disappear.
    I would draw the attention of the Committee to the existing condition of the WCs in the gallery. At the back is a promenade not too well lighted – having two dim gas lights and an oil lamp. At the back of this promenade are two WCs – the one for men and the other for women, the distance between the doors being some  seven or eight  feet. The entrances to these are in full view of the promenade, the bar, and the exit, which is close to the entrance. For the observance of decency on the part of the female sex, I would suggest that a door, immediately at the top of the gallery stairs, would suit the purpose and would afford females an opportunity of availing themselves of the use of the Convenience without being so much observed.
    I must again make mention of the touting for drinks that prevails in this and other music halls and also theatres in London. I don’t see why a person after paying for admission should be continually pestered by a waiter poking his nose in yours and shouting “orders please.” These men are paid little or no salary and naturally they try to make three-fourths of an audience order drinks, whereas if they were left to enjoy the performance, the liquor would not be thought of.