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A Miscellany of Rowdiness

Yin Ying Kong

07.08.19

Illustrations by Megan Evans

Five semi-fictional responses
to items from the archive,
each an account with object-witnesses
(when their makers were still alive)
of rowdy London in days of yore,
be it wealthy man or poor;
the tax payer or duty collector;
a lone figure, a group, or more.
Who amongst them is instigator?
And what of the instigating event?
For reason of prestige, play, or pleasure?
To outwit, to rebel, to reinvent?
Mayhap you’ll find these tales of windows,
frost fairs, shirts, bikes, and stairs,
through their various eras show
a rowdiness in the air.

  1. WINDOW TAX

An edict for taxation on windows was issued by his Majesty King William III:

Collectors
John: Lewis &
John: Lewendon

An Assessment the Twintieth day of June Anno Domini 1696 upon the inhabitants of Church Precinct in the parish of St Sepulchre London in the Ward of Farringdon Without for One Whole by virtue of alate Act of Parliament instituted an Act for granting to his Majesty severall rates or dutys upon houses for making good the deficiency of the clipt money as followeth (viz.).

Resident: Windows | Rates yearly (s)1

~ Cock Lane
Widow Luffman: 20 | 10
Thomas Laughry: 20 | 10
Daniel Lowden: 18 | 6
[…]2

Thomas Laughry, upon receipt of such a duty, hastened to plead his case:

‘To the Right Worship of his Justice of Peace for the county of Middlesex, this humble petition of Thomas Laughry of his parish St. Sepulchre.

That pursuant to an act granting his Majesty certain Rates upon houses, your parishioner is Rated as assessed the sum of 10s as having twenty windows situated in the house he dwells in.

That your parishioner by reason of poverty is discharged from paying tithes to the Church or poor as by certificate under the bands of the Church-wardens of this parish may appeal.3

This Lot therefore most humbly Prays your worship to be pleased to grant that this parishioner be discharged from payment of this Rate and Christ our Lord shall hear our prayer.

Thomas Laughry'4

It was July when he received a reply:

‘… we have particularly Examined the said Complaint upon Oath, and upon due Examination thereof, have Maintained the said Assessment for that by reason of undue plea of poverty…’5

And so Thomas worded a letter to his architects:

‘Gentlemen, / 12 Cock Lane.

I write to apply for two windows on extreme ends of the Fourth Floor level at the front of the premises at above address to be blocked with bricks as shown on plan enclosed herewith.6

To reduce the count of windows to 18 under this new and abominable law the commissioners shall collect four shillings less!

Let no injury be done to the carved soffits.

T. Laughry'7

References and Historical Notes:

Window Tax

1 s is for shillings. 10s has the purchasing power of approx. £53 in 2018.

2 Window tax collection record references two 1696 manuscripts ‘House, Windows and Lights’. London Metropolitan Archive [hereafter, ‘LMA’], COL/CHD/LA/03/014/024.

3 Tithes: one tenth of annual income collected by Church as tax.

4 Tax exemption request adapted from 1697 manuscript ‘William Barnes of Saint Leonard, Shoreditch asks to be excused from paying Window Tax’. LMA, MJ/SP/1697/10/008.

5 Commissioners’ reply adapted from 1697 manuscript ‘Ann Mason is to be excused from paying Window Tax’. LMA, MJ/SP/1798/OP/103.

6 Today, more commonly known as blind windows. ‘Daylight robbery’ is notably etymologically associated with window tax.

7 Letter adapted from 1905 manuscript ‘Plan and correspondence relating to the construction of a window in 22 Lime Street, overlooking the yard of the vestry hall, in the parish of St Dionis Backchurch’. LMA, P69/DIO/D/026/MS21176.

Illustrations by Megan Evans
  1. FROST FAIR

The Print-house on the Thames was particularly busy this day in 1814.8

Obtained four generations ago, the letterpress was the Warner family’s means of maintaining a livelihood over the winter when maritime trade ground to a halt.9

This was its fifth frost fair.10

Near Blackfriars Bridge, in a tent haphazardly constructed using sails and oars, Samuel Warner toiled away.11

~ Press.

For the poet nursing Old Tom’s Gin:12

Upon the Ice we merry-make,
a glass of Gin all must partake,
or a tasting of hot Mutton Pie
which surely draws a happy sigh.
The Brave may venture further out
and oft will slip with a great shout!
Lewd ladyes flit between the Booths,
dancing about in ways uncouth.
Some slide with Skeetes or Bait the Bulls
or Race on Coaches that horses pull.
At Showes and Humours for all to see,
the young and olde do clap with glee.
Be drunk and mad and rough and loud;
’tis a Faire to make Bacchus proud!13 14

~ Press.

For Mr. Billington’s store, three tents down:

GIN and Gingerbread
Sold here Wholesale
A spot of Purl for ye
of a Strong constitution.15 16

~ Press.

For surly old Amos, the killjoy:

NOTICE Whereas you J FROST have by Force and Violence
taken possession of the RIVER THAMES I hereby
give you warning to Quit immediately
A Thaw17

~ Press.

For the little lady who fancied a keepsake, below a copy of the poem he appended:18

Anne Angello
Printed upon the Thames when frozen, Feb’ 6, 1814.19

Frost Fair

8 The print-house is a popular attraction at frost fairs, featuring in many prints and verses, including ‘Thamasis's Advice to the Painter from her Frigid Zone; Or, Wonders upon the Water’ (from the original ballad in the Ashmolean Museum): ‘Then, painter, let us to the print-house go,/Where men the art of printing soon do know;/ Where, for a teaster, you may have your name/Printed, hereafter for to show the same;/And sure in former ages ne'er was found/A press to print, where men so oft were dround.’ See Old Ballads illustrating the Great Frost of 1683-4 and the Fair on the River Thames, ed. by Edward Francis Rimbault (London: T. Richards, 1844), pp. 19-20. Available online at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pst.000006357559;view=1up;seq=57 [accessed 3 November 2018] See also, footnote 18.

9 ‘[W]ithout a navigable Thames many livelihoods were at risk. When the river froze, the watermen, who transported people along the Thames, and the lightermen, who moved goods, lost their ability to earn. They followed the tradition of their forebears and organised a frost fair, charging traders and punters for access to the ice.’ Or, as I’ve imagined here, some watermen have taken up printing. See Tom de Castella, ‘Frost fair: When an elephant walked on the frozen River Thames’, BBC News (28 January 2014), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25862141 [accessed 28 October 2018] (paras. 9-10 of 29).

10 Referring to the frost fairs of 1715, 1739, 1767, 1788, and 1814. The earliest fairs were recorded in the early seventeenth century, according to Charles Mackay’s The Thames and its Tributaries: Or, Rambles Among the Rivers (London: Richard Bentley, 1840), p. 395.

11 Castella (para. 16 of 29).

12 A popular gin mentioned in the copperplate print ‘A View of Frost Fair as it appeared on the Ice on the River Thames Feby. 3d. 1814’: ‘The Watermen so neat and trim/With bottle filled with Old Tom’s Gin/And others bawled among the throng/Who’s for a glass of Sampson strong?’ LMA, SC/GL/PR/VGP/09/p7499296.

13 In his entry on 24 January 1684, the English diarist John Evelyn famously declared the frost fair a ‘Bacchanalian triumph’. Bacchus, or Dionysus, is a god of the fertility of nature and associated with the loss of inhibitions, wine, and creativity. See John Evelyn, The diary of John Evelyn (New York and London: M. Walter Dunne, c1901), p. 193.

14 This poem was cobbled together using elements of frost fairs as described in the works above and below, with attention to misspellings and rhyming structure.

15 ‘GIN and Gingerbread/Sold here Wholesale’ features in a booth sign in George Cruikshank’s ‘Gambols on the river Thames, Feby. 1814’. Billington’s Gingerbread is an actual store, established 1817, whose website highlighted this detail. LMA, SC/GL/SAT/017/1814/p538575x/A.

16 Purl is a mix of gin and wormwood wine, known for its inebriating ability. (Quite an achievement for a time when alcohol was weak –– think beer at 2-3%.) See Castella (para. 16 of 29).

17 Transcribed from notice commissioned by A. Thaw, originally with acknowledgement: ‘Printed By S Warner/on the ICE FEB 6 1814’. This artifact was used to decide the date of and characters within my fictional account of the frost fair. From the Museum of London collection (location unclear); an image is available on ‘The Curious Story of River Thames Frost Fairs’, Thames Leisure (13 June 2016) https://www.thamesleisure.co.uk/the-curious-story-of-river-thames-frost-fairs/ [accessed 29 October 2018]

18 Souvenirs printed on the ice were popular. Long queues for printing services appear in ‘A View of Frost Fair as it appeared on the Ice on the River Thames Feby. 3d. 1814’. LMA, SC/GL/PR/VGP/09/p7499296. A number of these print keepsakes are in the London Metropolitan Archive, British Museum, Museum of London, and Victoria and Albert Museum, including the one below.

19 Appended name and date adapted from copperplate print ‘Frost Fair, printed upon the Ice on the River Thames Jan 23 1739/40 [Anon.]’. Under the verses in the picture, the following was separately printed: ‘Ann Angillis/Printed upon the Thames when frozen, January 25, 1740.’) LMA, SC/GL/PR/VGP/09/p7499333.

Illustrations by Megan Evans
  1. PAWNBROKER

I’ve sneakily joined a group tour in the Victorian Walk Gallery and we’ve been directed to pause before this replica of a shop. PAWNBROKER, it says, in large gold lettering, above a glass display that contains all manner of objects: bone china tea sets, gilded frames, silverware, figurines, mantle clocks…

‘Pawnbrokers were the poor man’s bank for much of the nineteenth century. 20

Possessions were pawned for a spot of money to tide over difficult financial periods.’

The guide draws our attention to one object in particular. We crowd around the dusty pane and peer in. A folded stack of some unnamed family’s Sunday best sits quietly, limp and yellowing.

‘The poor took advantage of the system. They tended to pawn their Sunday clothes on Monday, get their pay on Saturday and collect their Sunday best for church service, then repeat the process on Monday.’21

I look at the collared shirt at the top of the pile and imagine it worn by a man with a cheeky grin.

3 October 2017
Museum of London

Pawnbroker

20 ‘Pawnbrokers, referred to as ‘uncle’, were the poor person’s bank. Clothing and jewellery were handed over in exchange for a loan. If the loan was not repaid within a year, ‘uncle’ could sell the goods. By 1900 there were 700 pawnbrokers in London. Forfeited articles for sale in this window include Sunday best clothing, wedding gifts and ornaments.’ See Museum of London, ‘A view of the Pawnbroker shop in the Victorian Walk Gallery’, Museum of London (n.d.) https://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/440459/a-view-of-the-pawnbroker-shop-in-the-victorian-walk-gallery [accessed 28 October 2018] (para. 1 of 2).

21 Quoted from Museum of London guide on 3 October 2017 during a tour in the Victorian Walk Gallery, which ‘uses original shopfronts and objects from the Museum’s collection to capture the atmosphere of London life at the close of the 19th century.’ Ibid. (para. 2 of 2)

Illustrations by Megan Evans
  1. PENNY-FARTHING

The Ariel Model Bicycle
With Anti-Vibration Technology

Forget the French ‘boneshaker’, Britain’s very own James Starley has invented the perfect luxury Roadster for our home terrain.22

Unparalleled in quality and comfort, Starley’s Ariel Model is designed to dampen any Metallic Vibration from travelling over cobblestones and ruts in London’s streets, with its larger Front Wheel, stabilising Hind Wheel, and Improved Patent Rubber Suspension Spring.23

The Steel Frame with Elliptical Backbone gives a distinct silhouette to this sleek machine, a style icon ideal for both commutes and recreational riding. Readers are invited to peruse the specifications for notable features that make the Ariel a cut above the rest.24

James Starley Edition

THE ‘SPECIAL CLUB' BICYCLE ARIEL MODEL
SPECIFICATIONS CONTAINING
DIRECTIONS FOR USE AND PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES.25

[…]

HOLD BICYCLE UPRIGHT,
GRASP HANDLEBARS SECURELY,
PLACE LEFT FOOT ON PEG ABOVE REAR WHEEL,
PUSH BICYCLE ALONG AT STEADY PACE
AND LIFT SELF ONTO SADDLE.

[…]

RIDING DOWNHILL
TO AVOID TAKING A HEADER,
ENSURE CONSTANT SPEED OF TRAVEL,
PRESS BACK ON PEDALS TO SLOW DOWN
AND USE SPOON BRAKE GRADUALLY.26

FOR PROFICIENT RIDERS,
HOOK LEGS OVER HANDLEBARS
AND ATTEMPT TO LAND ON FEET
IF DISLODGED FROM BICYCLE.27

[…]

PRICES28

48in., £17. 50in., £17.10s. 52in., £18. 54in., £18.10s. 56in., £19.
Odd sizes made to order, with extra charge per inch.
Complete with Rubber or Rat-trap Cone Pedals, Patent Suspension Saddle, Plated Spanners and Oilcan.
EXTRAS. nickelling £4.10s., ball pedals £1, gold lines 10s.6d., ¾ in. tyres 17s.6d., enamel finish 7s.6d.
Racing model specifications available on request.29

[...]

ADAPTED TO THE VICTORIAN PUBLIC BY A BRITISH ENGINEER
PRINTED BY COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ COMPANY, LIMITED
1872

Penny-farthing

22 ‘[The] penny-farthing bicycles that featured very large front wheel that housed seat and set of pedals [sic], and smaller rear wheel that was there for stabilization […] was more pleasant to drive on rougher surfaces […] Even though they were dangerous for driving, their ability for easier travel over rougher terrain (such as cobbles, stones, ruts, uneven concrete) made it very popular in urban environments where they were driven mostly by the men who had enough money for such an extravagant form of transport.’ See ‘Penny-farthing History and Facts’, Bicycle History (2018) http://www.bicyclehistory.net/bicycle-history/penny-farthing/ [accessed 29 October 2018] (para. 1 of 4)

23 This bicycle came to be called the penny-farthing for its resemblance to the two coins placed side by side. The name was only popularised when the bicycle was phasing out; the first recorded print reference is from 1891 in Bicycling News. As such, the term ‘bicycle’ is used in this account. See Ian Smith, ‘Ever Seen Marilyn Monroe riding a Penny Farthing? Look at some of these wacko pictures of ladies on this strange bike’, The Vintage News (2016) https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/03/23/ever-seen-marilyn-monroe-riding-a-penny-farthing-look-at-some-of-these-wacko-pictures-of-ladies-on-this-strange-bike/ [accessed 30 October 2018] (para. 3 of 6).

24 Advertisement references the Coventry Machinists' Company illustrated catalogue of ‘Club’ Bicycles and Tricycles. See The Buckley Society, ‘Diagram of Wilf Owens’ Penny Farthing’, GT Systems (2015) http://comma.gtsystems.net/014r0afh0a6s.htm [accessed 30 October 2018)

25 Specifications: (i) Directions for use and precautions: see Jaroslav Vozniak, ‘How to Ride Downhill’, Penny-farthing (n.d.) https://sites.google.com/site/pennyfarthingufv/how-to-ride-downhill [accessed 30 October 2018] (ii) Prices: see ‘Diagram of Wilf Owens’ Penny Farthing’ by The Buckley Society, as above. (iii) Format based on 1830 Housekeeper’s Manual: see Foods of England, ‘The Cook’s Oracle, 1830’, Foods of England (2 September 2018) http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/book1830kitchiner.htm [accessed 30 October 2018]

26 ‘[Riders] of high bicycles were prone to doing a “header,” that is, pitching forwards after hitting a pothole, breaking a spoke, having a tire come off, or touching the pedals at high speed. Since the rider’s legs were trapped behind the handlebars, he (very rarely, she) planted his face in the dirt, and if he tried to break the fall with his arms, two broken wrists were a common result.’ See Glen Norcliffe, Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 50.

27 The ‘feet on handlebar’ technique was highlighted by vintage bicycle renovator Jaroslav Vozniak (as above): ‘PRECAUTION: Hooking your legs over the handlebars doesn’t give you an opportunity to control your bicycle. Taking your feet of [sic] the pedals means risking with [sic] your life. This method can be used only by proficient penny-farthing riders.’

28 £100 in 1870 has the purchasing power of approx. £11,560 in 2018. An £18 bicycle in 1870 would have cost upwards of £2,000 today. For reference, the average cost of a bicycle in 2018 is £480. The penny-farthing can thus be seen as a prime object of conspicuous consumption; riding bicycles was ‘an activity confined to the affluent, many of whom formed exclusive clubs’ and ‘[having] purchased what was one of the most visible markers of modern consumption, the bicyclists of the 1880s and 1890s were determined that the public should take notice of them.’ See Norcliffe, pp. 32, 124.

29 Penny-farthing races were an early twentieth-century fad. ‘Because of the high appeal of [the] penny-farthing, this bicycle was responsible for the earliest examples of cycling –– recreational pastime and sport that soon became very popular around the world after introduction and proliferation of “safety bicycles”.’ See ‘Penny-farthing History and Facts’ (para. 1 of 4)

Illustrations by Megan Evans
  1. MOVING STAIRCASE

On Wednesday, 16 November 1898, Harrods opened its doors to the Victorian public with a new centrepiece attraction: the ‘moving staircase’. With a heady incline of twenty-five degrees, the contraption boasted balustrades of mahogany and silver plate-glass, each flanking a leather conveyor belt-like surface on which customers were directed to stand.30

At the end of an ascent, uniformed attendants proffered brandy and smelling salts to nervous customers to ‘revive them after their ordeal’.31

…………… ‘I’m not sure my delicate constitution could handle such a journey.’

…………… ‘Such a quick change in elevation would discombobulate your inner workings!’32

…………… ‘My heavens, that was a frightful to-do. I say, would you be so kind as to pour me some of that brandy?’33

…………… ‘Come along now, John. I’ve done it once and survived.’

…………… ‘The Morning Post said that it’s “a remarkable substitute for the ordinary lift”. None of those vexatious waits to be had. Shall we go try it, Margaret?’34

…………… ‘I do declare that I shall never take the stairs again!’

…………… ‘Now, why doesn’t Debenham & Freebody have one?’35

PRESS OPINIONS:

~ Sketch.
‘By a delightful movement which is both exhilarating and fascinating, you are carried from floor to floor without the least effort and without any of those unpleasant thrills which lifts always succeed in giving to nervous persons.’

~ Tenders and Contracts.
‘As far as the shops are concerned, it seems as though it would solve the difficulty of getting people to do their shopping higher than the first floor.’

~ Warehouseman and Draper.
‘There can be no doubt as to the usefulness of the invention, and they should soon be in use in railway stations, public buildings, hotels, warehouses, &c.’36

[In 1911, a few stations over in Earls Court, a one-legged man called ‘Bumper’ Harris was seen riding the escalators in the London Underground. He was allegedly hired by the Underground Electric Railways Company to demonstrate that ‘if a one-legged man can, you can too!’]37 38

Moving Staircase

30 ‘The First Moving Staircase in England’, The Drapers’ Record (19 November 1898), p. 465.

31 ‘… customers unnerved by the experience were revived by shopmen dispensing free smelling salts and cognac.’ See William Lancaster, The Department Store: A Social History (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1995), p. 50.

32 ‘[Victorians] worried what such a rapid change in elevation would do to the body. It was believed that it could discombobulate your inner workings. People were unnerved.’ See Brandon Donnelly, ‘Riding an escalator for the first time’, Brandon Donnelly (2014) http://brandondonnelly.com/post/98074642058/riding-an-escalator-for-the-first-time [accessed 28 October 2018] (para. 2 of 8).

33 Borrowed from lapapinton’s comment on reddit: ‘I say old boy, would you be so kind as to pour me a brandy? I should like to have one after that frightful to-do.’ (8 sep 2015) from u/die247’s thread, ‘TIL that the first 'moving staircase' or escalator was built in 1898 at a Harrods store in London. Riders found the escalator so nerve racking that an employee stood at the top offering brandy so they could recover from the ordeal’, reddit (2015) https://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/3k0708/til_that_the_first_moving_staircase_or_escalator/ [accessed 28 October 2018]

34 Transcribed press opinions. See The London Helicopter, ‘The UK’s First Escalator’, The London Helicopter (n.d.) https://www.thelondonhelicopter.com/interactive-map-of-london-tourist-attractions/the-first-escalator-needs-content/ [accessed 29 October 2018]

35 To create an impression of Victorian London at once familiar and distant, I mention Debenham & Freebody, which did not become the Debenhams Ltd we know today until 1905.

36 See The London Helicopter’s ‘The UK’s First Escalator’, as above.

37 ‘Who’s Bumper Harris?’, The Storytellers (2018) https://thestorytellers.com/whos-bumper-harris/ [accessed 31 October 2018]

38 Before Transport for London was conglomerated in 2000, the Underground Electric Railways Company was the transport service provider for three deep-level ‘tube’ lines in London. See ‘Underground Electric Railways Co’, Grace’s Guide (2018) https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Underground_Electric_Railways_Co [accessed 31 October 2018]

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