Sunday, 31 January 2010

Local News - Stoke Newington

Here's some random news items from my local area ... just a century or so too late ... all telling you a little bit about Victorian life ...

SEDUCTION AND SUICIDE. – Mr. Collier, deputy-coroner for East Middlesex, held an inquiry at the Red Lion, Church-street, Stoke Newington, on the body of Frances Townes, aged twenty, a domestic servant, who had destroyed her own life under the following sad circumstances:- Deceased had been general servant in the employ of Mrs. Sarah Snellgrove of 44, Broughton-road, Stoke Newington, fro a year and nine months. She had been keeping company with a young man up to Easter when it was broken off, and witness’s husband, having reason to suspect deceased and his nephew of improprieties, instituted a watch upon them, the result of which was that he turned him out of the house early last month. After he left the girl became low-spirited, and more than once said she would commit suicide. On Tuesday last she was found in bed in great pain, and a doctor was sent for, but ere he arrived she was dead, and a packet which had contained Battles Vermin Killer was found close by her side. Her condition was not known until her pockets were searched, when the following letter was found amongst others:- “44, Broughton-road. – My Dearest Mother. – For the last time I write to you to state what a wicked daughter you have got. You will hear a great many lies about me but all of them are not true. I was made to tell lies by Mr. Hazell (the nephew spoken of). I hope that my sisters will never be led into such temptation as I was, and I hope they will see further than I have. I am not able to see you again on this earth, but I hope to meet you in the next. Please to thank her and Mrs. Snellgrove for their kindness to me. I remain, your wicked daughter, F. TOWNES. – You will find money in my box to bury me. I should like to see you all before I go.” The medical evidence showed that deceased was five months advanced in pregnany, and that death arose from the result of taking a large dose of Battle’s Vermin Killer. The ocoroner having commented upon the heartless conduct of the seducer, and expressed his regret that such men could not be made answerable for the death. The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide while of unsound mind.” Reynolds's Newspaper, August 3, 1879

AN ACTOR’S LEADING PART. J.H.Clayton, an actor, of Kynaston-road, Hackney, appeared to a summons charging him with having travelled in a superior class of carriage, on the Great Eastern Railway, to that for which he had taken a ticket. A solicitor appeared to prosecute on behalf of the company, and Mr. J.B.Abbott defended. The defendant, it was stated, was in the habit of travelling every evening from the Rectory-road Station to Bethnal-green on his way to the theatre at which he was engaged. The solicitor remarked that the defendant, as a leading actor and a popular man, was well known by the officials. Mr. Abbott objected to the statement. Mr. Hannay said that he could stop the prosecution stating anything to the prejudice of the defendant until they had proved their case, but could not prevent the solicitor praising the defendant (Laughter.) Evidence was then given showing that on the 4th of May the defendant at 6.16 in the evening arrived at the station about a minute before the train. The station-master, who said that he had previously had reason to suspect him, ascertained that the defendant had taken a third-class ticket, but he saw him pass carriages of that description and enter a second-class carriage. A porter being sent to watch him the defendant was seen to leave at Bethnal-green, and on passing out to give up a third-class ticket and go away without offering any excess or mentioning that he had ridden in a superior class of carriage. He was then stopped and his name and address taken. At first he said he had not so ridden, and then he admitted it, and offered to pay the excess, and it was said he had since made a written apology and offered a guinea to the Railway Porters’ Benevolent Fund. Mr. Abbott pleaded that the defendant had no intention to defraud. What he had done was in forgetfulness, he being in the habit of riding sometimes second-class. Mr. Hannay said that the defendant might have entered the carriage in a moment of abstraction, particularly as being engaged on the stage, he might have been repeating the words of his part; but the fit of abstraction, he thought, would scarcely have lasted throughout the journey, and still less likely was it that he would not have been cognisant of his mistake when giving up the ticket. It was a bad kind of offence, the difference between it and steading 2d. out of the company’s till being merely technical. He fined the defendant 40s. and costs. Daily News, June 2, 1880

ROBBING OMNIBUS HORSES OF THEIR TAILS. Wm. Thos. Ferray, 35, of Northwold-road, Clapton, and Edward Rist, 19, of Defoe-road, Stoke Newington, horse keepers, were charged with stealing during the past fortnight a quantity of hair from the manes and tails of horses in the omnibus yard of the London General Omnibus Company at Church-street, Stoke Newington. Evidence was given on behalf of the company that the prisoners were horse keepers, who each had daily charge of eleven horses in the omnibus yard. There are 122 horses kept in the yard. It was discovered that the prisoners had been in the habit of pulling hairs from the horses’ tails and selling them to a marine store dealer’s near by. The dealer, Jacob Ludkin, who said that he had not known that the prisoners were acting wrongly, proved having purchased horsehair from them at a rate of 10d. a pound. It was stated that the foreman of the horse keepers was the only employé in the yard who was allowed certain small perquisites, and the amount of hair that would be combed out of the horses’ tails and manes in a legitimate manner would be very small. The company did not prosecute on account of the value of the horsehair, but because the prisoners had disfigured the horses’ tails – Mr. Hannay sentenced both the prisoners to 21 days hard labour. Daily News, November 8, 1884

STRANGE IDEA OF A LARK. – Arthur Oliver, 26, printer of Bouverie-road and Edward Wilson, 22, clerk, of Sandbrook-road, Stoke Newington, were charged with being concerned together in wilfully extinguishing six public lamps in Church-street, Stoke Newington, late on Wednesday night. – The prisoners said they were very sorry. They only did it for a “lark” – Mr. Barstow ordered both the young men to pay a fine of 10s. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, June 20, 1886

DALSTON. DAMAGING AN AUTOMATIC SWEET MACHINE. – Mr. Bros heard the first summons at the new police-court. – The defendant, a lad named Edmund George Long, living in Neville-road, Stoke Newington, was charged with wilfully breaking the glass of an automatic sweet machine, in Ridley-road, Dalston, the property of Henry Pearce. – The prosecutor said the prisoner apparently broke the glass to get at the sweets, but this the defendant denied. He said that he had put a penny into the machine, which did not act, and he smashed the glass. Mr. Bros fined the lad 5s. Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, April 22, 1888

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Diary of a Messenger-Boy

Not quite Victorian, but it seems to be the year for online diaries ... the Museum of London presents the diary of Oscar Kirk, a docks messenger in 1919. Sample entry from 19 January 1919:

"Father made some chocolate in the afternoon.
When I went out to wash I saw my mouse on the floor! He had got out through a hole at the top, which I afterwards blocked up.
Father grumbled at me yesterday because he said I was greedy and he made mum cry.
Got up late.
Had fire in Mother's bedroom.
Polished my leggings.
Had a high see-saw yesterday in the Sack Shed. Fell off and bumped my head."

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Diary of a Clerk

The lovely people at Westminster Archives are also web-publishing the diary of a Victorian clerk, albeit not a potential murderer. What are the chances? Read the (ok, somewhat humdrum) story of Nathaniel Bryceson here.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

London at Midnight

While I generally want to limit this blog to new discoveries, I occasionally stumble across some old bit of my website (eight years old and counting!) which I suspect few people ever notice, and deserves better.

With this in mind, I give you Henry Vigar-Harris's London at Midnight. It's an 1885 pamphlet, in the 'social investigation' style of Mayhew or, more closely, the journalist James Greenwood. Except, it really pulls no punches in exposing the - ahem - dangers of London life. Viz, regarding the lower-class shops and amusements of Islington's Upper Street

"Yonder is the "Devil's Mile," which extends from here to the "Cock" at Highbury, and along which we will steadily make our way. This is not my title; North Londoners themselves have designated it as such. It is an appropriate name, however, for the devil's imps seem to perambulate through it, both day and night. It's past midnight, and look at these young girls with their besotted countenances. They have been torn from all that is pure and bright; swept, as by an irrepressible torrent, into the sea of vice. Here they are conversing and bartering their lives with men who, twelve hours hence, will walk the same thoroughfare, and say " We're respectable moral and virtuous citizens." Look at that old man with grey hairs, and who seems to be fast descending the hill of life, in company with that cherry-faced, intelligent looking child. Surely a relationship of father and daughter exists between them. Maybe they've been to some place of amusement, and are now discussing the best way of returning home. But no."

Or on King's Cross:

"This is King's Cross. It is the centre of a foul net-work of London vice and ruffianism. Four Railway Stations are here - stations of the gay and dissolute, who glide serpent-like upon the platforms, and parade their sensual and daring visages before respectable members of society. The profligate finds here a haven for his vicious desires, and he can be seen from an early hour in the evening till early dawn, or until the recuperative powers of nature no longer lend their aid for a prolongation of their animal enjoyment. "Gentlemen" who reside in various parts of North London find this arena a very secluded spot to carry on their drunken debauch. Here, as in many other parts of London, disorderly houses of the most disreputable kind exist ad libitum, under the very eyes of the police, and wherein, night after night, a calling of the most iniquitous kind is carried on with the sanction of all the departments of officialism. Shops, with side doors which stand ajar, and small windows adorned with nondescript refreshments, and wherein you would imagine you could procure tea, coffee, or cocoa to renew your almost exhausted energies, form deceptive gateways into houses consecrated to immoral purposes. Private houses, in streets occupied by well-to-do tradesmen and City business people, are made centres of corruption into which the unwary are taken, robbed of all that's dear, then trampled and beaten to earth by the hoofs of passion, appetite and mad indulgence."

This is condemnatory Victorian prose at its finest ... stations of the gay and dissolute, who glide serpent-like upon the platforms ... wow! In fact, it's so barking mad in its rhetorical flourishes - so redolent of how we imagine a certain brand of Victorian writing - that I've wondered if it was published as a joke, or a crowd-pleasing piece of incendiary journalism for people who never actually visited the metropolis. Who was Mr. Vigar-Harris? If anyone has access to the census, I'd love to know if he existed - or is it a pseudonymous effort?

Enjoy the full text here.


Mark Catt writes to share his family history research which touches upon Henry Vigar-Harris ...

Henry was the son of William Harris and Julia (or Judith) Degoris(?) Viger. Julia was of French descent, born either in Guernsey or Cherbourg Normandie. William was a seaman from Churston Ferrers, Devonshire. They may have married in Guernsey... their first child Louisa was born there around 1853.

They had many children. Henry was born in 1859, Woolwich Kent.

Henry is on the 1871 census with his parents and siblings in Stoke Damerel, Devon.

In 1881 he's living as a boarder at 3 Malvern Terrace, Islington. Occupation: shorthand writer.

He married Martha Bowen in late 1881.

His "London at Midnight" was published in 1885.

The last trace I have of him is on the electoral register in 1885, living at
3 Clifton Grove, Graham Road, Hackney.

Not a pseudonym at all! Many thanks!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Freaks and Circassians

Circassian lady from

The excellent Victorian Peeper draws our attention to a British Library online exhbition on Freaks. To add my contribution, I've hurriedly digitised a piece from the Era on Chang and Eng, the original 'Siamese Twins' on their comeback appearance in 1869. There is, unsurprisingly, a lot on the web about them (see here, for instance). More interesting, perhaps, is the passing mention of a "Circassian Lady" Zobeide Luti.

"The Circassian, Zobeide Luti by name, was rescued at four years of age, from a slave dealer, and was educated by her preserver, an Austrian nobleman. Such is the account given of this lady, who is very handsome, and has a profusion of strong and vigorous brown hair, not in long tresses, but standing out in a mass from her head. The "Circassian" speaks five languages, and any one is at liberty to test her skills as a linguist. She is dressed in a robe of brown satin, and wears Turkish unmentionables of the same material. Zobeide Luti is dark in complexion, and her receipts from selling her portrait must be something considerable. "

I've never come across a Circassian Lady before and had assumed that Zobeide was a one-off 'freak' (or whatever a 'beautiful' freak is called) but apparenty such women - and their stories of titillating pasts involving kidnap and slavery - were a standard feature of sideshow life in the 19th century - and most had names beginning with an exotic Z (cf. Zazel and Zuleilah!). See Sideshow World for some lovely examples and more information.