Dec 062020

Detail from Newton’s Samples of Sweethearts and Wives, via Lewis Walpole Library

We all know about the eighteenth century gin craze: how men and women of ‘the lower orders’  got completely rat-arsed. As Hogarth put in his print of Gin Lane, you could get drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence. The low cost of distilled spirits meant that  the starving poor could escape from their miserable, grinding, poverty into a world of oblivion. Gin was the equivalent of the zombie-drugs taken by addicts, leaving them completely insensate. No-one pretended that it gave anyone a high – it simply numbed the brain. Small wonder, when the distilleries churning out the gin by the barrow-ful were not averse to cutting the spirits with  ingredients ‘to make it taste better’. Well, that is, if you like your gin with turpentine. Or even worse, flavoured with urine. Or perhaps a snifter diluted with sulphuric acid? You name it, the gin-shops mixed it. The resulting alcoholism was most evident in the London metropolis and extended  to men and women of all ages – but women in particular. Many of them had come to the capital as economic migrants, to seek their fortune, only to find that the living conditions were appalling, the job prospects distinctly limited, and the wages insufficient to cover basic living costs. Newspapers  were full of cautionary tales, but generally confused cause and effect. The poor were poor because they spent their money on gin, not the other way round. The poor were idle, the poor were being seduced by luxuries into thinking that they could have things without having to do an honest day’s work.

The Gin Shop, shown courtesy of the Wellcome Institute

One case more than any other shocked the nation: the trial and execution of Judith Defour. The trial took place in March 1734. Defour was a single mother, aged about thirty, and was charged with strangling her own child, a two year-old toddler. Judith’s background was that she was born into a sober, hard-working family who worked in the weaving trade and as a young girl she had started to work as a silk winder. In the words of the Newgate Ordinary, in her mid-twenties “she fell into bad Company, and had a Bastard-Child, which died; and then she had another, the unfortunate Child lately murder’d by her.”

She lost her job (quite possibly because she had a child out of wedlock) and drifted in and out of the gin shops. On several occasions she dropped off her child, called Mary, at the local work-house. She did this in January 1734 but at the end of that month she returned to collect Mary, who by then had been clothed by the Parish. She was accompanied by her friend Sukey, who was described as ‘one of the most vilest of Creatures in or about the Town’. In order to get Mary released from the control of the parish she first had to forge a letter of release from the Church. Judith and Sukey then hit upon the idea that they could make a few bob if they sold the baby’s clothing. The Old Bailey Proceedings recounted that the court heard how Defour ‘took the Child into the Fields, and stripp’d it, and ty’d a Linen Handkerchief hard about its Neck to keep it from crying, and then laid it in a Ditch.’ They then presumably went off to flog the clothes so that they could go off boozing for the rest of the week.

Later, in court, Judith admitted that she throttled the child in order to sell ‘the Coat and Stay for a Shilling, and the Petticoat and Stockings for a Groat.’ Worse, she was motivated to do this so that she could afford to go out and purchase  ‘a Quartern of Gin’ with her mate Sukey, who was with her at the time and was egging her on.

She was caught and sent for trial within a matter of days. The jury found her guilty of murder; her punishment was death. Sentence was carried out immediately despite the fact that she ‘pleaded her belly’ i.e. claimed that she was pregnant at the time. The execution was duly carried out at Tyburn on 8th March 1734, after which her body was anatomised – in other words, handed over to the medical profession for dissection.

At her trial Judith Defour confessed her crimes and according to the records contained in the Ordinary of Newgate she said that ‘she was very sorry for what was done, that she never was at Peace since it happened, that she scarce desired to live; and therefore she made a voluntary Confession she had been always of a very surly Disposition, and untractable Creature, a Despiser of Religion, negligent in her Duty to God and Man, and would take no good Advice of her Friends, nor of any good or sober People. She drank and swore much, and was averse to Virtue and Sobriety, delighting in the vilest Companies, and ready to Practice the worst of Actions. She acknowledged the Justice of her Sentence, and died in Peace with all Mankind’.

The Gibbet by Thomas Rowlandson, courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

Hers was a truly shocking case and one which helped ensure that Parliament had no choice but to intervene  to try and curb the worst excesses of the gin trade. The Gin Act of 1736 was a failure. The Gin Act of 1743 was even more of a failure. It wasn’t until parliament passed a workable law that things got under control, with the 1751 Gin Act. By then you have to wonder how many other women committed  ‘the foul crime of murther’ in order to fund an uncontrollable drink habit…

Nov 282020

A nice print I hadn’t come across before, on the Lewis Walpole Library site. It came out in 1784 and shows the Prince of Wales returning from a heavy session at Brooks’s Club. He is wearing a Prince of Wales plume of feathers in his hat and sports a ‘Fox’ favour. On his right, Charles James Fox offers his arm and raises a finger as if in admonishment. Apparently the figure on the left of the Prince, back half turned to the viewer, is Sam House, but who he was and what his connection was with Brooks’s Club is unclear.

Brooks’s Club is still going strong and their website has this to say about its origins:

“About Brooks’s

In January 1762 a private society was established at 50 Pall Mall by Messrs. Boothby and James in response to having been blackballed for membership of White’s. This society then split to form the predecessors of both Brooks’s and Boodle’s. The Club that was to become Brooks’s was founded in March 1764 by twenty-seven prominent Whig nobles including the Duke of Portland, the Duke of Roxburghe, Lord Crewe and Lord Strathmore. Charles James Fox was elected as a member the following year at the age of sixteen. The Club premises at 49 Pall Mall was a former tavern owned by William Almack as was the neighbouring 50 Pall Mall where the society had previously met and so the Club become simply known as Almack’s. These fashionable young men, known as Macaronis, would frequent the premises for the purposes of wining, dining and gambling.

In September 1777 William Brooks, a wine merchant and money lender who acted as Master, or manager, for Almack’s, commissioned Henry Holland to design and construct a purpose built clubhouse at a site on neighbouring St James’s Street. Paid for at Brooks’s own expense, the building was completed in October 1778 and all existing members of Almack’s were invited to join. Brooks’s gamble paid off as all existing members swiftly moved into the new building and the Club then took on Brooks’s name as its own. Brooks himself however would not live long to enjoy this success, dying in poverty in 1782.”

So, in this picture, Fox would have been around 35 and the Prince a mere lad of 22. By that time he had already been embroiled in affairs with Mary Robinson and The Armistead, and had met and fallen for the charms of Maria Fitzherbert, with whom he would go through an invalid form of marriage ceremony the following year. More about these splendid ladies in my next book, due out next year, about courtesans and high fashion. Meanwhile they all get a mention in my recent tome Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain

The hand-coloured etching was by George Humphrey of No. 48 Long Acre – the elder brother of Hannah Humphrey who owned the nearby print shop where she lived with the caricaturist James Gillray. George sold prints along with all manner of curiosities (shells, fossils etc) – including items bought by him from some of the crew who accompanied James Cook on his voyages of circumnavigation. Later, he operated out of premises at 4 Leicester Street, Leicester Square, and died in 1826. By then both of his print-selling siblings had predeceased him – William in 1810 and Hannah in 1818.

His other sister was  Elizabeth who married the leading international mineral dealer Adolarius Jacob Forster, running his London shop until her death in 1816. An interesting chap, was the splendidly-named Adolarius. He spent forty years flogging mineral samples across Europe, with shops in Paris and St Petersburg and with two London shops, one in Soho and the other in Covent Garden. The Humphrey-Forster link was obviously a close one – Adolarius married George’s sister, George married  the sister of Adolarius.

Oct 272020
Having chosen a George Cruikshank  illustration in my last blog, here is another one, dating from 1819 and entitled ‘Landing the Treasures, or Results of the Polar Expedition!!!’ 
The background to it was the fact that in the 19th century the British government, under the guidance of John Barrow, Second Secretary of the Admiralty, renewed its efforts to find the North-West Passage – the seaway through the Arctic, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 1818 John Ross was sent to look for this route, which had fascinated explorers ever since Frobisher’s unsuccessful attempt in the 1570’s. Men like Henry Hudson and William Baffin had given their name, and in some cases their lives, to exploring the area.  As for Ross, he headed one of the most controversial journeys of all because, having reached Lancaster Sound he turned round and came home, announcing that the route was blocked by icy mountains. Strangely, no-one else had seen the mountains and his crew gave  evidence suggesting that the captain was either mistaken – or an outright liar.
The etching appears on the Library of Congress site but is also to be found on the British Museum site which gives the following lengthy explanation:
A procession headed by John Ross extends from the coast (right), where Esquimaux dogs swim ashore from a boat, to the gate of the British Museum, part of which is on the extreme left. Sailors, all of whom have lost their noses (replaced by a triangular black patch) carry the scientific objects brought back from the expedition to Baffin’s Bay. Ross, very stout, and wearing a large false nose, goose-steps pompously, ignoring a black fiddler with a wooden leg (Billy Waters) wearing a plumed cocked hat, who leans towards him, saying: “O, Captain he is come to Town, doodle doodle Dandy Ho / How you do Sir: hope see you well Sir?!!” After Ross marches his nephew, a dwarfish boy, in naval uniform, supporting the fore-paws of an enormous (dead) Polar Bear, carried on the shoulders of six sailors, the hind-legs resting on the shoulders of a seventh who says: “’tis a good thing I’ve lost my Nose.” On the bear are stars in the form of the constellation of the Great Bear.
Behind the bear walks a lean military officer, Capt. Sabine, who holds up his musket with a gull spiked on his bayonet labelled: ‘-? Sabini.’ Two soldiers follow carrying a barrel slung from a pole and inscribed Red Snow for B M’. Beside them marches a naval officer holding in gloved hands the staff of a Union flag. The next pair carry between them a tree-stump labelled ‘Esquimaux Wood for B M’. One of them looks round at a black sailor behind him to say: “I say Snowball, mind you don’t tread on my heels [these are missing].” The black sailor walks on stumps and has also lost a hand. He answers: “No! No, Massa Billy! & mind you no tread on my toes!” He wears a smart short jacket and shirt-frill, showing that he is an officer’s servant. He carries on his head a large canister inscribed ‘Worms found in the Intestines of a Seal by a Volunteer—for Brit. Mu.’
The next sailor carries a chest on his head inscribed ‘Moluscæ for the British Museum’ and points a fingerless hand to a large block of stone on the ground labelled ‘Granite for BM’, to which a pole is tied; he asks: “who the hell’s to carry the big stone—?!!” The last sailor of the procession holds the leads of four fat and frightened Esquimaux dogs who have just landed; a small British dog expresses its contempt for them. Just stepping ashore is a grotesque Esquimaux, ‘Jack Frost’, with spiky hair and beard, wearing below the waist a muff-like garment of fur. He resembles a Stone Age man by E. T. Reed. He holds a tall spiralled pole labelled: ‘Lance made of Horn of ye Sea Unicorn, used in common, as a walking stick’. Under his left arm is a portfolio. Three sailors are still in a boat; one leans over to send two dogs ashore; another with a boat-hook asks the third: “If they kill the Dogs & stuff ’em! what will they do with Jack Frost.” The sailor answers: “Cut his throat & stuff him also, I supposes.” In the background is Ross’s ship, the ‘Isabella’, at anchor, with a broom at the masthead to show that she is for sale.

The procession is bordered by a cheering crowd, hats are frantically waved, In the foreground on the extreme left is a stout, disgruntled ‘cit’, who says: “I think as how we have Bears [speculators], Gulls, Savages, Chump wood. Stones & Puppies enough without going to the North Pole for them.” In the background (left) are tiny spectators watching from the high wall of the British Museum: Sir Joseph Banks, grasping the top of a ladder, stands on the wall, waving his hat: “Huzza! they have got Eursa Major as I live! Huzza!!” Leach (1790-1836), the naturalist, leaps high, exclaiming: “I see it! I see it! the North Pole by Jupiter!! I’ll cling to it like a leech Huzza! huzza!! Huzza.” A man standing on the wall shouts: “I see Jack Frost!! Huzza! with the N Pole in his hand!! Huzza.”

Ross had returned on his ship Isabella but when the Admiralty heard evidence from William Edward  Parry, in charge of the smaller vessel the Alexander they decided to send Parry back to have another look. In 1819 he was put in charge of the Hecla, with his second in command Matthew Liddon on the Griper. They were able to prove that Lancaster Sound did indeed form part of the North West Passage. Parry began to map the numerous islands through which the North-West Passage would have to be navigated. In doing so his ships crossed a longitude of 110° W,  reaching Melville Island via the Barrow Strait. This meant that Parry qualified for a prize of £5000 offered by the British Parliament.

The crews of the Hecla and Griper preparing to spend winter ashore, courtesy of the Mariners Museum

However, once he reached Melville Island the sea froze over and Parry was forced to spend the next ten months imprisoned on the ice-bound island. It was here that he showed his great strengths as a commander. The crew were kept busy by putting on plays, at fortnightly intervals. He even started a newspaper, calling it the North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle. It contained humorous anecdotes about life on board, including ones about ‘the non-cookery of our pies in proper time for dinner’ or ‘proposals for the eradication of snoring at night.’  Parry demonstrated that, with enough provisions, a ship and crew could winter successfully above the Arctic Circle.

Melville Island courtesy of Google Maps

When the ice finally broke up, Parry attempted to push further westward towards Banks Island, but progress was incredibly slow and it wasn’t long before he had to make the decision of either spending another winter frozen solid, or of  retreating and coming home to Britain. He chose the latter, which must have been an enormous relief to the crew! His voyage stands out as a monument of human endeavour, especially when contrasted with the humiliating failure of Captain Ross before him. He was to return to the area in 1821 and again in 1824 – each time using  the Hecla as part of his fleet. She was then retired from Arctic duty and was used to survey the West African Coast between 1828 and 1831 after which she was sold off by the Navy. Sadly, she ended her days off Greenland as a whaling ship and was wrecked in 1840.

Portrait of W E Parry by Charles Skottowe

(I am grateful to the Royal Museums Greenwich site for the factual information about the voyages of Ross and Parry).

Oct 222020

Today it rained. And then rained some more. All day. But by happy coincidence I came across  a splendid print by George Cruikshank, dating from 1820, entitled ‘Very Unpleasant Weather – Raining Cats and Dogs and Pitchforks’ and suddenly I feel more cheerful.

I hadn’t heard of raining pitchforks before, but apparently it is one of those idioms which date back centuries. I am told that the French have an equivalent (‘Il pleut des hallebardes’) and the Germans (‘Es regnet Heugabeln’). And of course we also have stair rods which can rain down on us….

The phrase ‘raining cats and dogs’ apparently  referred at one stage to pole-cats. Wikipedia gives us the phrase ‘It shall rain dogs and polecats’ as emanating from the pen of one Richard  Brome, in 1652. A year earlier a poet called Henry Vaughan wrote in his collection of poems ‘Olor Iscanus’ that a roof was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.”

One suggestion is that really heavy rain on thatched roofs would wash out the carcasses of old animals which had sneaked into the eaves in search of a quiet place to die. Another suggests a link to a poem entitled ‘A description of a city shower’ written by Jonathan Swift in 1710. Describing the rain flushing out all the detritus from the kennel (in other words, the channel which ran down the centre of the road) the poem ends with these stanzas:

Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odours seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.
Swift obviously liked the link between heavy rain and dead pets, and used the expression in his 1738 Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, in which one of his characters fears that it will “rain cats and dogs.”
    A description of the Cruikshank print, which was re-released in 1835, appears on the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College site. It gives us this explanation:
‘A heavy slanting downpour composed of cats, dogs, and pitchforks descends on a road filled with pedestrians. An old apple-woman and a porter with a chest inscribed “Glass – keep this side upward” have been thrown to the ground. Pitchforks transfix a kneeling dustman; another pierces the umbrella of a person on which a dog is also seated. A man is pinned to the ground; his wooden leg impales a cat. A barrow-woman shouting “Cats meat, dogs meat!” is beset by dogs and cats. A coach numbered “2072,” with a burlesque coat of arms (a cat and dog for supporters, a cat for a crest) contains two dandies; the roof is covered with animals and pierced by pitchforks. There is a background of houses and landscape; a placard on which a coach and four is depicted is inscribed “Cheap Safe & Expeditious Travelling – Pig & Whistle to the Cow & Snuffers – Winchester Hants.”
    As for George Cruikshank he was born in 1792 into a family of illustrators and caricaturists. He went on to become known as ‘the modern Hogarth’ and drew the pictures to illustrate Dickens’s ‘Sketches by Boz’ (1836) and ‘Oliver Twist’ (1838). He was in every sense prolific – he not only married twice but had eleven children by his mistress Adelaide Attree, who had at one stage worked in the Cruikshank household as a servant. Presumably that was not known to the proprietors of Punch Magazine, who wrote an obituary for the old dog when he died in 1878: “There never was a purer, simpler, more straightforward or altogether more blameless man. His nature had something childlike in its transparency.”
   Meanwhile, it’s nice to know that here in the UK we have been complaining about the weather (too wet, too cold, too hot, too much of it …. whatever) for hundreds of years. Long may it continue.
Aug 192020

Sawney in the Boghouse. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The recent guest post by Naomi featured a print showing a Scotsman mis-using a close-stool or convenience. The original came out in 1745, just before the Jacobite uprising, and was at a time when anti-Scots feeling ran high. The reference to ‘Sawney’  or ‘Sawnee’ was a shorthand way of describing someone from Scotland – much as we might use ‘Jock’ today. I gather that it derived from the popular Scottish name of ‘Alexander’, which the English tended to shorten to ‘Alec’ and which  was abbreviated to ‘Sandy’ north of the border. ‘Sandy’ got corrupted to ‘Sawney’ and for several centuries it was used as a term of contempt by the English to refer to a stupid fool, of Scottish origin. The term went out of use some time in the 1800’s.

Sawney in the boghouse. © National Portrait Gallery, London

When James Gillray drew his version of Sawney in the boghouse in June 1779 he was copying a version which had appeared ten years earlier. The Gillray version, according to the British Museum site, is described as follows:

A Scot in Highland dress and wearing a feathered cap is seated in a latrine, his legs thrust down two holes in the board. He grasps in his left hand a rolled document inscribed “Act for [esta]blishing Popery”. Behind him a stone wall is indicated on which is etched (left) a thistle growing out of a reversed crown, inscribed “Nemo me impune lacessit”. On the right. and over Sawney’s head is engraved:

“‘Tis a bra’ bonny seat, o’ my saul”, Sawney cries,
“I never beheld sic before with me Eyes,
Such a place in aw’ Scotland I never could meet,
For the High and the Low ease themselves in the Street.”

In the background can be seen a thistle and crown – referencing the common accusation that the Scots were Jacobites. The ‘Act for establishing Popery’ refers to the Catholic Relief Act, fiercely opposed by many, and leading to serious riots in Edinburgh and Glasgow in February 1779.

Gillray was obviously rather pleased with this racist nonsense and in January 1796 brought out a particularly revolting piece entitled National Conveniences. The British Museum site gives us this explanation of the four panels:

[1] ‘English Convenience – the Water Closet’. A grossly obese alderman of repulsive appearance sits full-face, clasping his sides. He wears his gown and chain, one gouty leg is swathed in bandages. On the wall behind his head are two placards: ‘Bill of Fare, – Turtle Soup Fish Poultry H . . .’ and a broadside, ‘Roast Beef of old England headed by a sirloin’.
[2] ‘Scotch Convenience – the Bucket’. A woman seated in back view on a pair of tongs across a bucket in some sort of permanent shelter composed of ramshackle planks. On this are two papers: ‘The Sweets of Edinbro’ to the Tune of Tweedside’  and ‘Croudie a Scotch Reel’. In the foreground are pigs and poultry.

[3] ‘French Convenience – le Commodites’. A pretty young woman, full-face, in a latrine with three apertures. She crouches with one foot on the ground, one on the seat. On the wall are two papers: ‘Caira nouvelle chanson’ and ‘Soupe Maigre petit Chanson.’

[4] ‘Dutch Convenience – the Lake’. A stout man (? or woman) in back view sits on a rail, smoking a pipe. In the foreground is shallow water with ducks. Behind and in close proximity are town houses with high crow-stepped gables.

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Gillray relished lavatorial jokes and happily applied them to political caricatures. Here we have ‘Evacuation before Resignation‘ showing Lord John Cavendish, a Whig politician who was briefly Chancellor of the Exchequor in 1782. His Lordship announces “We must save everything” – to which the servant, catching vomit in an upturned hat, remarks “For the Public Good”. Charming!

In the public domain – via Library of Congress

The young caricaturist Richard Newton delighted in lavatorial jokes: here, above, his defence of the  Habeas Corpus Act, which the King sought to suspend. It appeared in 1798 – the year that the 21 year old Newton died – and shows John Bull, archetypal Englishman, sticking out his bare backside and breaking wind  in the face of George III. Treason indeed!

                                            Junction of the Parties © The Trustees of the British Museum

But I think my favourite Gillray  potty joke – because it resonated with the Cameron-Clegg coalition – was this one from 1783 entitled Junction of the Parties. It depicts Charles James Fox and Lord North, who briefly entered into a coalition in 1783. The two stand back-to-back and defecate simultaneously into a pot, the contents of which were being stirred by the Devil, who holds his nose against the stench and stands between them, balancing with one foot on the lower back of each man. Superimpose Messrs Clegg and Cameron onto the faces of the defecators and it brings the parody right into the 21st Century.

Aug 122020

In my last blog I mentioned ‘the other’ Samuel Johnson  and the help given to me by Naomi Heap. She has kindly agreed to tell me more about her ancestor. Over to you, Naomi:

Ever sat and pondered the scribblings of a previous occupant? No me neither, let’s face it public toilets are not a place to tarry in the modern age. Even so, these days a necessary encounter with shared facilities is not likely to provide much in the way of reading material. The ubiquitous and poorly shaped phallus is a more likely artistic offering, or alternatively, you might find stylised tags that are entirely illegible to anyone but the ‘artiste’. This was not always the case, and it seems that in the 1700’s the bog-house wall (or glass window if you happened to have a diamond about your person) was an excellent spot to leave your thoughts. The surety that those to follow would be in-situ long enough to enjoy your attempts at verse, was quite literally ‘taken as read’.

‘Merry Thoughts: or the Glass-window and Bog-house Miscellany’ is a collection of such graffiti found in conveniences, tavern windows and public places in the 1700’s. It was published in four parts by one Hurlo Thrumbo – a pseudonym which I will later explain.

First however, here is an example of toilet humour from the time. This cartoon (held by the British Museum) entitled ‘Sawney in the Boghouse’ shows the likely conditions of early public conveniences. As an aside, the joke of this picture is that the Scots Man has his legs in the bottom holes and is sitting on the lid. The words below the picture insinuate that the Scots were so wild they wouldn’t know how to answer the call of nature if it involved indoors facilities.

Sawney in the Boghouse. © The Trustees of the British Museum

You will notice that our Scottish friend is surrounded by various leaflets and flyers. In the dedication of Merry Thoughts, this practice of advertising in the loo is cited as the very reason for Hurlo Thrumbo’s collection. I paraphrase the author, who considered that the collection of “lucubration” should not be lost as “bum fodder” or be painted over by landlords who would rob the world of such “sparkling pieces” – but they should be kept for posterity in the form of a publication, and so was born Merry Thoughts: Or Glass Window and Bog House Miscellany.

Not only did people leave their thoughts for others to read, it seems that their audience would commonly respond. To use a modern metaphor, they would ‘post’– and you thought that Face Book was a new idea! Of course it’s not surprising that bodily functions feature extensively in the subject matter, as do food and sex, here are some examples. First up, a complaint about the lack of loo paper:

From costive Stools, and hide-bound Wit,

From Bawdy Rhymes, and Hole besh – – t.

From Walls besmear’d with stinking Ordure,

By Swine who nee’r provide Bumfodder

Libera Nos— 

Keeping to the lavatorial theme:

In a Bog-House at the Nag’s-Head in Bradmere._

Such Places as these,

Were made for the Ease

Of every Fellow in common;

But a Person who writes

On the Wall as he shites,

Has a Pleasure far greater than Woman.

For he’s eas’d in his Body, and pleas’d in his Mind,

When he leaves both a Turd and some Verses behind.



  You are eas’d in your Body, and pleas’d in your Mind,

  That you leave both a Turd and some Verses behind;

  But to me, which is worst, I can’t tell, on my Word,

  The reading your Verses, or the smelling your Turd.

Not all the verses are crude. Next up, one written on the Wall at the George in Sandy-Lane, in the Bath Road, a Place famous for Puddings:

  The Puddings are so good in Sandy-Lane,

  That if I chance to go that Way again,

  I’ll not be satisfy’d, unless I’ve twain,

  The one stuck thick with Plumbs, the other plain.

Here is another:

Bog-House at Ludlow._

  Two pitiful Dukes at our Race did appear;

  One bespoke him a Girl, the other new Geer,

  And both went away without paying I hear,

  For the Cheat lov’d his Money, and so did the Peer.


  You Rogue, Taylor shan’t catch me, while your Legs they are cross’d.

  Don’t cry, my dear Girl, since you have got more than you lost.

One of the entries concerns a woman who is fed up with her husband for getting her pregnant so often:

  A poor Woman was ill in a dangerous Case,

  She lay in, and was just as some other Folks was.

  ‘By the Lord’, cries she, then: ‘If my Husband e’er come,

  Once again with his Will for to tickle my Bum,

  I’ll storm, and I’ll swear, and I’ll run staring wild’;

  And yet the next Night, the Man got her with Child

Merry Thoughts is for me a recommended read, not because I have a particular interest in graffiti, vandalism or public loos. Rather because the curator of the verses is likely to have been Samuel Johnson of Cheshire – no, not the lexicographer, but the dancing master and play writer who was also my distant ancestor. Here by circuitous route we come back to Hurlo Thrumbo. There is some dispute as to whether this pseudonym was used by the publisher because of the popularity of Samuel Johnson’s play ‘Hurlothrumbo; or The Supernatural’ which ran at the Haymarket for 30 consecutive nights in 1729. However, in my opinion (I would like to say ‘informed opinion’ because I have studied Sam for over a year now) Merry Thoughts Part I is his collection and compilation, the later books are likely collaborative with some of the verses being sent to him by friends.

Anyway, if you have the time and the money I would recommend searching out a copy of Merry Thoughts. One online source is The Project Gutenberg; an academic team who offer a transcription of parts II, III and IIII. Part I may require an order from AbeBooks.”

Thanks for that Naomi. The Gutenberg transcription supports your contention that Samuel Johnson was the author of the Merry Thoughts and sets out the following endorsement of the value and significance of graffiti:

“modern graffiti is surprisingly like that of earlier periods: scatological observations, laments of lovers, accusations against women for their sexual promiscuity, the repetition of “trite” poems and sayings, and messages attributed to various men and women suggesting their sexual availability and proficiency. And if the political targets have changed over the years, many of the political attitudes have remained consistent. Graffiti is an irreverent form, with strong popular and anti-establishment elements. As actions common to all classes, eating, drinking, defecation, and fornication find their lowly record in graffiti-like form”.

Here are a few more examples contained in Merry Thoughts and contained in an interesting article by Dr. Maximilian E. Novak of the University of California, Los Angeles and entitled Loos, Lewdness and Literature

Rich or poor, we are all the same….

Some of the entries are more romantic than others….

Thank you Naomi for drawing this book to my attention – I knew that the Georgians were a scatological lot, and caricaturists such as Gillray and Newton loved fart jokes, potty jokes – indeed everything and anything lavatorial!



Jun 072020

The Bell & Anchor public house at 38-40 Hammersmith Road was closed and demolished in the 1970s to make way for the lorry park at London’s Olympia. I only mention it because it was a well-known watering hole 200 years earlier, when it appears to have been run by a Mr Wilson. As at 2 January 1782 the square pillared porch of the pub, bearing the name ‘WILLSON’ appeared in a print published by Carington Bowles. The  four-storeyed building is shown next to the  toll-house known as the Hammersmith Turnpike and the picture is devoted to showing a woman having a driving lesson.

It interests me because  I am fascinated to see how, in the 1780s, driving your own gig or phaeton became  the display of success for the female nouveau riche – and that included all the whores and hookers who made the grade to become ‘Toast of the Town’. Mary Robinson and Gertrude Mahon in particular were famous for their  driving abilities. It was a badge of their success that they not only could afford to have a carriage parked outside their premises, with a matching pair of horses and with footmen in livery, but that they themselves could take the reins and  impress the passers-by as they charged through Hyde Park (or wherever).  A fashionable conveyance did not come cheap – Mary Robinson drove one given her by her lover the Prince of Wales which had set him back 900 guineas. Think ‘Bentley Mulsanne’ – with go-faster stripes…

And of course, that meant that the women had to have driving lessons, starting off in a simple gig. This print, entitled ‘A lesson westward – or, a morning visit to Betsy Cole’ shows the young lady receiving a driving-lesson from a man who sits behind her on the edge of the cart in which is a sheaf of straw. On the side of the cart is a board inscribed “Tom Longtrot’s Academy for Young Ladies. Driving taught to an Inch, Ladies compleatly finish’d in a fortnight, for Gig, Whiskey, or Phaeton: Single Lesson half a Crown, Five for half a Guinea”.

She doesn’t seem particularly comfortable holding the whip and reins at the same time, and has just run over a piglet, one of a litter  accompanying the sow as they scatter for cover. A short, stout, man clutches the London milestone, terrified that he is about to be run over.

It appears on the Yale Center for British Art  site and was based on a water colour by Robert Dighton. Beneath the title it has the warning:

‘When once the Women take the Reins in hand;

‘Tis then too true, that Men have no command.’

The lady driver is shown not, as might be expected, in riding garb, but wearing an elaborate hat with feathers and a muslin dress. Her dress gives the game away – she is intended to be recognized as  ‘a lady of easy virtue’. It is almost easier to see the detail in its original monochrome form:

It’s not a rare print – the last one I saw on the Christie’s site went for £325 ten years ago and there are copies, coloured and uncoloured on various sites including the British Museum one. As the V&A site points out: ‘In the eighteenth century humourous mezzotints such as this were known as drolls. The taste for poking fun at women’s driving skills evidently goes back much further than the invention of the motor car.’

Having been taught the basic skills in handling a gig, managing a single horse, the next stage was to move on to an open phaeton – everyone’s idea of a really sporty conveyance. The most prestigious phaeton was the English four-wheeled  high flyer. I rather like the image of one taken from Wikipedia showing  a high flyer designed by the royal coachmakers Hoopers. It is described as being ‘with a pair of out-sized, swan-neck leaf springs at the rear and the body mounted daringly high’. Impressive – what Georgian harlot wouldn’t want to be a high-flyer driving one of these!


May 272020

I recently returned from India and one of the main recollections was of the way that if I ventured outside, I was immediately targeted by every taxi driver within half a mile! This scene drawn by Thomas Rowlandson is a reminder that anyone walking near the River Thames crossings 250 years ago would have been assailed in a similar fashion.

Entitled ‘Miseries of London’ it has  the strap-line ‘Entering upon any of the bridges of London or any of the passages leading to the Thames being assailed by a groupe [sic] of watermen holding up their hands and bawling out. Oars Sculls. Sculls. Oars. Oars.’

The watermen were notorious – this was drawn by Rowlandson in 1807 and is shown courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For several hundred years the activities of the watermen (who carry passengers) and lightermen (who carry goods) had been governed by The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames which was founded in 1514, back in the reign of Henry VIII (the lightermen were allowed to join in 1700). Members must have watched in horror throughout the eighteenth century as more and more bridges were constructed across the Thames – Westminster Bridge opened in 1750, Blackfriars in 1769, Vauxhall Bridge (then known as Regent Bridge) in 1816 and Southwark in 1819. Each new bridge-crossing would have lessened the volume of business for the poor watermen, classic losers in the  changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

So, what happened to all the importuning,wheedling, body-checking, shouting, swearing men who used to gain a living from working the river (and there were 40,000 of them as far back as 1600)? My guess is that they all went to India to look for work driving taxis…

May 232020

A while back I was fortunate enough to buy a Rowlandson print, entitled ‘Giving up the Ghost, or, one too many’. Needless to say my wife hates it and is not inclined to let me  display it on the living room walls. Which is a shame because in these gloomy times, when every single news item dwells on sickness, mortality rates and medics unable to cope, it is good to be cheered up with the thought that illness, death and  doctors have been around for rather a long time. Humour is wherever you choose to find it – in the depiction of death, lurking outside the window, arrow poised, or the chamber pot under the bed, or the doctor happily snoring away in a chair in the corner – or the soon-to-be deceased lying with his toes curled up.

The British Museum site describes the print as being ‘by Thomas Rowlandson, after Richard Newton,’ and dates it as being from 1813. It has this to say:

A dying man, wearing a tattered shirt, lies stretched on a miserable bed under a casement window, through which looks Death, a skeleton holding up an hour-glass and a javelin which he points menacingly at his victim. A fat doctor (left) sits asleep at the bedside (left) while an undertaker’s man, with a coffin on his back, and holding a crêpe-bound mute’s wand, enters from the right as if smelling out death. The doctor wears old-fashioned dress, with powdered wig, and has a huge gold-headed cane. Beside him are the words:
“I purge I bleed I sweat em
Then if they Die I Lets em”

I must admit I knew very little about the practice of having mutes at funerals, or that the sticks they carried were called wands, so I am grateful to the History Extra site for giving this helpful information:

The mute’s job was to stand vigil outside the door of the deceased, then accompany the coffin, wearing dark clothes, looking solemn and usually carrying a long stick (called a wand) covered in black crape.Charles Dickens’s best-known mute is Oliver Twist, employed by the undertaker Sowerberry for children’s funerals. Most, though, were adult males, and were common in several European countries from the 17th century onwards, as ceremonial ‘protectors’ of the deceased. The fashion was probably inspired by the ancient Roman practice of assigning lictors (bodyguards of civic officials) to escort the funerals of prominent citizens.

There are plenty of accounts of mutes in Britain by the 1700s, and by Dickens’s time their attendance at even relatively modest funerals was almost mandatory. They were a key part of the Victorians’ extravagant mourning rituals, which Dickens often savaged as pointlessly, and often ruinously, expensive. In Martin Chuzzlewit, for instance: “Two mutes were at the house-door, looking as mournful as could reasonably be expected of men with such a thriving job in hand.” Mutes died out in the 1880s/90s and were a memory by 1914. Dickens played his part in their demise, as did fashion. Victorian funeral etiquette was complex and constantly changing, as befitted a huge industry, which partly depended on status anxiety for the huge profits Dickens criticised. What did for them most of all, though, was becoming figures of fun – mournful and sober at the funeral, but often drunk shortly afterwards.

Ah well, on that cheerful note I will go back to thinking where I can hang my Rowlandson print without causing a domestic scene….

May 062020

We live in an era where we take it for granted that photographs lie – where models routinely photo-shop their bikini shots to enhance their boobs, narrow their waist and  lengthen their legs. It is cheating – but it is commonplace.

What I find interesting is how, 250 years ago, artists and engravers were just as willing to  come up with phoney images to enhance their products. Take this image on the left, which appears on the Rijkmuseum site. It shows the courtesan/actress Anne Elliott, and it appeared in 1769 when it was described as being  ‘after the portrait artist Tilly Kettle and engraved by James Watson’. It didn’t sell, presumably because no-one was really interested in Anne Elliott given that she died in that same year. So the copper plate used in the engraving was sold, the face tweaked slightly, and then re-titled as ‘Miss Nancy Parsons’. It is shown on the right and appears courtesy of the Isaac and Ede site here.

Nancy was the infamous courtesan who had shacked up with the Duke of  Grafton, acting prime minister. The Duke was happy to parade Nancy on his arm when he went to the opera, or to the races at Newmarket, and she even hosted the equivalent of  dinner parties at number 10 Downing Street, in other words at his official residence.

People assumed, when Grafton’s wife had a very public affair with the Earl of Upper Ossory and had his child, and the Duke and Duchess went their separate ways and divorced, that the Duke would marry Nancy. But no, he amazed everyone by  giving Nancy the heave-ho and instead married the far more respectable Elizabeth Wrottesley. But don’t feel too sorry for Nancy, because one of the reasons why the Duke decided to end their relationship was because she was busy having an affair with the randy John Sackville, third Duke of Dorset.

All of which made Nancy a figure very much in the public eye. The press tended to show that Nancy had a raw deal, believing that Nancy was being passed over unfairly. Typical was the caricature entitled The Political Wedding, an extract of which is shown above, with the Duke exchanging wedding vows with Elizabeth, with whom he went on to live happily for 40 years and bring up no fewer than twelve children.

And here, to the left side of the caricature, is the disconsolate figure of Nancy Parsons, weeping while uttering the words: “I retire on a pension of £300 p.a. to make way for Miss Wr—y.”

Getting back to the Anne Elliott engraving, passed off as being Nancy. It  demonstrates the way that engravings were churned out in bulk – as long as an image sold, who cared if it was accurate? To add to the parody, this time it was described as being ‘by Housman after Renold’ – a spoof on  the engraver Richard Houston after Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Courtesans were the fashion icons of their day and before photography brought their features into the public domain, it was a case of ‘anything goes’. The face was altered, prettified and tidied up, but the setting, with the sitter playing the role of Juno, the peacocks to one side, the elaborate dress – they were left unaltered.

Nancy Parsons in Turkish costume, by George Willison, courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

The Reynolds portrait of Nancy, shown courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum











Nancy Parsons  had her portrait painted by the Scottish artist George Willison, as well as by Joshua Reynolds. Both show her in exotic Turkish costume. There was also a third portrait, by Thomas Gainsborough, but sadly that got stolen in a robbery at the Park Lane home of the collector Charles Wertheimer back in 1907 and has never been seen since. So, just in case any of you have this picture hiding at the bottom of a pile in a rear cupboard, this is a reminder of what the Gainsborough looked like:

At the time, when the robbery was reported in The Sphere of 16 February 1907, the Gainsborough was valued at £15,000 – two and a half times the value of the Reynolds portrait of the Honourable Mrs Charles Yorke stolen at the same time. But then, I have only ever rated a Reynolds as being worth a fraction of a Gainsborough ….

Nancy Parsons is on my mind at present because I am researching her for my forthcoming book ‘Whores, Harlots and Mistresses – the fashionistas of the 18th Century.’ Ideas of beauty have altered over the centuries, but you can’t take it away from Nancy: she sure used what nature had given her.  Energetically. She moved on from Lord Grafton and ended up married to Viscount Maynard. Her husband was an old goat who happily let her introduce a 19-year-old into their household, and they lived as a threesome in Italy for a number of years. A case of eating your gelato and having it….