Wednesday, 23 September 2009

I'll corpse you!


One of many charming phrases to be found in Arthur Morrison's slum-lit classic, A Child of the Jago, 1896. Here's the appendix containing a list of most of the slang:

Balmy: barmy, stupid
Bang-up: very fine
Barney: lark, spree, quarrel
Benjamin: coat
Benjy: waistcoat
Break: collection made for someone recently out of prison
Boat, in the: sentenced to penal servitude
Broads: playing cards
Buster: burglar
Chancery, in: in an awkward situation
Chat, to screw a: to break into a house
Chiv(e): (v) to cut, stab (n) knife
Claim: to steal
Click: robbery, theft
Clock, red: gold watch
Cop: to steal
Croak: to die
Daisies: boots (rhyming slang—daisy roots)
Davy: affidavit
Dipper: pick-pocket
Fag: pick-pocket
Fall: to be arrested
Fence: receiver of stolen goods
Flimp: to rob
Friendly lead: subscription by whip-round usually held in a pub
Fully: to commit a person for trial
Gilt: money
Gonoph: thief esp. skilled pick-pocket
Go out: to follow the profession of thieving
Hook: pick-pocket
Ikey: Jew esp. receiver of stolen goods
James (jemmy): iron crow-bar
Kicksies: trousers
Lag: to sentence to penal servitude
Lagging dues: liable to be sentenced to penal servitude
Lob-crawling: till-robbing
Lucky, to cut one's: to make a getaway
Mace: (n) swindler (v)
To work the Mace: to swindle by obtaining goods on false pretences
Mag, on the: engaged in swindling esp. as confidence trickster
Magsman: swell confidence trickster
Mazzard: head, face Milling: boxing
Moke: donkey
Nark: (v) to inform (n) informer
Narking dues: arrested because of information provided by a nark
Neddy: loaded bludgeon or stick
Nick: to steal
Nobby: smart, stylish
Oof: money
Pecker, to keep one's pecker up: to remain cheerful
Peter: bag, box, trunk
Pogue: purse
Prop: tie-pin, brooch
Quid: pound
Quod: (v) to serve time (n) prison
Rorty: dashing, lively
Rum: odd
Screw: to break into
Slang: watch chain
Smug: to arrest
Sneak: to steal, pilfer
: counterfeit
Snidesman: coiner of counterfeit
Sparks: diamonds
Split: (v) to inform (n) 1. informer, 2. detective
Stall-farming: prob. helping pick-pockets
Stir: prison
Stramash: rough-and-tumble
Stretch: one year esp. prison sentence
Swag: stolen goods
Toke: bread
Topper: something of outstanding quality
Toy: watch
Toy getter: watch stealer
Toy and tackle: watch and chain
Turn over: to search/rob someone
Twirl: skeleton key
Uxter: money
Weed: to take, steal
Welsh: to inform
Welsher: informer
Yannups: money

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Overarching ambition


Euston station is doomed. Not the Victorian station - London's first major station, which opened at the very start of Victoria's reign (1837) - which was demolished years ago. But, rather, the 1960s disaster that replaced it. Plans are afoot for a complete redevelopment, in the early years of the next decade.

Contrary to what you might imagine, I quite like many modern buildings. But there is nothing (and I can't stress this enough) nothing positive to be said about the current Euston station. It's a functional shed, with no imagination or creative thought seemingly having been expended upon it. Let's hope we do better with Euston 3.0.

There is, however, a campaign to restore part of the original station in the process, namely the Euston Arch. The historian and tv presenter Dan Cruickshank leads the campaign and your can visit the relevant blog here. It features an image of what a rebuilt arch might look like (see above) and details of the remarkable recovery of original stones from demolished building, found in a canal in east London.

Is it worth it?

The precedent, cited by the campaigners, is naturally St. Pancras, only half a mile down the road from Euston. But there were two good reasons for renovating the old St. Pancras Station.

1. the moving of the Eurostar terminal to St. Pancras guaranteed it would be a prestigious project
2. it is a unique and astonishing building

Euston Arch, on the other hand? I don't get it.

Money, of course, is an issue (it could easily be £10 million, apparently) but I can't claim to understand the complexities of funding such projects - government money, developer's money, lottery funds - and I suspect cash could be found. Let's put that aside - what's the jusitification?

Yes, the arch was imposing; a London landmark. Moreover, it was a popular outcry against its destruction that is believed to have saved nearby St. Pancras from a similar fate. I'm sure many Londoners have fond memories of it. But the new arch won't be in the same place; it won't fulfil the same function (opening onto Euston Square, rather that onto the station buildings) and - I think this is the decider for me - it will bear no relation, visually or in function, to the new station.

With the Victorian Gothic of St. Pancras, the architectural elements combined with the function of the building created something exciting - something that had never existed before - something that's worth preserving. But Euston arch? Without the original station - of which it was an integral part - it seems odd to recreate it as a piece of isolated window-dressing. I also just cannot understand the need to use the original stones - dredged at vast expense from their subaqueous (is that a word?) resting place - when the associated costs of restoration etc. (admitted by the campaigners) will triple the budget for the project; and when the complete set of stones have not been found (so a good deal of new material will be incorporated, regardless).

Perhaps I am being too mean-spirited. Temple Bar has been placed at St. Pauls, somewhat distant from its original site, and I enjoy seeing it there. That, however, was kept broadly intact, and not smashed to pieces in a canal. Moreover, being a much smaller structure, I imagine it cost a fraction of what it would cost to reconstruct Euston Arch; and it has a much longer and more interesting history attached to it.

Macmillan (the prime minister who approved the original demolition) commented 'an obsession with such buildings will drain our national vitality'. I can't quite agree with that - a fascination with history can be intensely rewarding and instructive - but I sympathise a little. I never saw the arch in the flesh; and I suspect nostalgia plays a great part here. It sounds harsh, but I'm inclined to say let's focus on building a new exciting London - preserve out heritage, by all means - but not try to resurrect ghosts from the past.

Friday, 11 September 2009



'Hooligans' first appeared in the 1890s. Previously they were called 'roughs' or 'thugs' and 'Hooligan' was just an Irish surname; then the word somehow acquired the modern meaning.

Clarence Rook's The Hooligan Nights (1899), purporting to be a factual account of the London underworld, contemplates a sample 'hooligan' in Lambeth, by the name of Alf. His book doesn't quite read like a straight documentary account; and one suspects - simply because its so artfully done - that it's substantially fiction. Rook does, however, provide an explanation for the word's origin:

"There, was, but a few years ago, a man called Patrick Hooligan, who walked to and fro among his fellow-men, robbing them and occasionally bashing them. This much is certain. His existence in the flesh is a fact as well established as the existence of Buddha or of Mahomet. But with the life of Patrick Hooligan, as with the lives of Buddha and of Mahomet, legend has been at work, and probably many of the exploits associated with his name spring from the imagination of disciples. It is at least certain that he was born, that he lived in Irish Court, that he was employed as a chucker-out at various resorts in the neighbourhood."

I strongly suspect this also is pure fiction. I can't find this man in the press, certainly not in the early articles which use the word; and Rook's comparison to Buddha or Mahomet is protesting just a little too much. The next thing, of course, is to consult the OED:

"The word first appears in print in daily newspaper police-court reports in the summer of 1898. Several accounts of the rise of the word, purporting to be based on first-hand evidence, attribute it to a misunderstanding or perversion of Hooley or Hooley's gang, but no positive confirmation of this has been discovered. The name Hooligan figured in a music-hall song of the eighteen-nineties, which described the doings of a rowdy Irish family, and a comic Irish character of the name appeared in a series of adventures in Funny Folks."
The OED is not quite right, however - and I know this only because of the new British Library press database. I've put the articles here - what it shows is that the first 'hooligans' were a distinct gang in Lambeth in 1894 who called themselves the 'Hooligan boys'. This follows a music-hall song called the 'O'Hooligan Boys' which was being performed nearby in 1891; and one is inclined to think that is where they got the name. The phrase then got generalised - a 'masher' in Paddington (nowhere near Lambeth) is called a 'member of the Hooligan gang' in 1895 - until we have 'hooligan girls' who push and punch another girl in 1898.

In short, looking through the press reports, the phrase clearly describes a particular group of young men in 1894. The specificity to Lambeth, and that particular group is gradually lost, as more shocking stories of 'hooliganism' appear (often not much different from regular crimes, to tell the truth). There is, admittedly, a particular flare-up of violence in Lambeth in 1898, which attracts the 'hooligan' tag - and more press attention to the area. But soon it appears 'hooliganism' is everywhere, not just darkest South London.

Interestingly, some of the offences ascribed to 'hooligan gangs' are serious - murder and threatening witnesses - whilst some are trivial (knocking hats off people's heads, for instance) but the tag of 'hooligan' fits all. British residents can compare and contrast with the modern 'hoodie' paranoia, or any moral panic in the last two hundred years. There were, of course, plenty of criminals in Lambeth - but how many were 'hooligans'?

The moral, if any, is that the press - the media - the public - love neat labels?

Punch drunk!


Continuing the (not very convincing) food and drink theme for this month's blog entries, I've started a new project. I have a whole run of Punch reprints mouldering on my shelves (1841-91) and I'm putting the full-page cartoons online.

The first volume (July-Dec 1841) is now available here
and I plan to add additional volumes, when I get the chance.

The cartoons, although visually engaging, are largely satirical/political in nature and Victorian politics is quite beyond me - most feature Robert Peel or Lord Melbourne in this period, but I have difficulty telling the difference between even them. If anyone wants to add comments that would enable me to put some contextual information, please do so!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

This is toast!


Not all entries in Cassell's Household Guide are very illuminating. Pity the poor journalist obliged to concoct this literary masterpiece:-

Hot Buttered Toast.—The art of making really good toast is little understood, and this is largely the reason why it is so often denounced as unwholesome. A slice of bread burnt on the two outer surfaces, with its interior in a moist, waxy condition, has no right to be called toast, but is rather a compound of charcoal and tough, heavy, sodden dough, in which condition it is certainly and seriously unwholesome. But a slice of bread, not too thick, just browned on the outside, but thoroughly baked through, is wholesome and pleasant food, which may be fearlessly eaten. The way to toast bread thus is to keep it at the right distance from the fire, so that it may be toasted throughout before the outer surface is overdone — in other words, not to toast it too fast. Concerning the buttering of hot toast we may add another hint or two. An ill-toasted slice of bread does not absorb the butter, but allows it to remain in a mass on the surface. A slice of properly-toasted bread, on the contrary, allows the butter to permeate every part of it, and to all parts equally. Butter in the one case is too heavy for the stomach ; but when thus intimately associated with the whole mass of the food, in finely divided and proper proportions, its character is entirely changed, and it becomes wholesomely nutritious.

Friday, 4 September 2009

This is jam!


More Victorian slang culled from the first novel (novella, really) of W. Somerset Maugham Liza of Lambeth (1897). Maugham had worked in the Lambeth slums, so he had first-hand experience of the way people talked. He explicitly notes that he does not give the 'unexpurgated' words of his characters (ie. we may safely assume that, in Lambeth, there was a good deal more swearing of a kind that never appeared in Victorian fiction) but it seems fairly accurate to me, looking at other sources and the OED.

Beeno (normally 'beano', elsewhere, I think) – party, spree

Boozed – drunk

Brake (noun) – OED gives ‘break’; waggon/coach for outing

Bust it – this one is not clear; may be 'bust' or Maugham's approximation of characters saying 'burst'; – 'make a great success of it', I think; also as exclamation, seemingly like ‘damn it’; not obviously in the OED

Cheese it! – leave it out!

Cock, old cock, cocker – mate, pal, familiar form of address to a man

Corker (Maugham writes as 'cawker') – a stunner, something astonishing

Dossy – stylish, smart, of a woman's clothing

Drag ­– waggon/coach for outing

Heel-tap – liquour left at bottom of a glass, dregs

This is jam! – this is great fun, this is a fine thing!

On my own hook – on my own

Mash – sweetheart, boyfriend

Got the needle – annoyed

Ooftish – money, cash

Pill – contemptible person, bore

Slobber (noun) – kiss

Still (noun) – a still birth

Whack (noun) – portion, share