"Oh, that I were a swot!" sighed Isobel. "Here's the menu, Blanche; choose. What wine? Their Clos Vougeot isn't bad. But shun their hocks, darling, as you value your life. Do they ice your drinks in that blessed settlement? Or must you share lukewarm beer out of pewter pots with your costers? Now, what on earth do you do in that smutty settlement? They say you all talk Greek with 'Arry and 'Arriet, but I don't believe it. And give them balls. What can 'Arriet look like in a low frock?"
"'Arriet neither wears nor sees low frocks, Belle. She would blush to do either. We dance in high blouses, with flowers in our hair, when we can get any. 'Arry is quite charming at a dance. He narrowly watches the gentlemen and copies all they do. Instead of Greek we try to get them to talk English—which, by the way, few people ever do in these days, at least in England. As Mr. Bassett maintains, it will soon be a dead language."
- Maxwell Gray, The Great Refusal, 1906
One of the interests - or interruptions, depending on how you view it - of reading novels of a century ago is figuring out contemporary references, which often lead to enlightening areas of social history. The Great Refusal has more than a few. This is a scene where the two main female characters - the aristocrat Isobel and her Oxford undergraduate friend Blanche - do lunch at a London club.
The context turns out to be the settlement movement, a reformist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, which involved middle-class volunteers living settlement houses among the urban poor. In the Great Refusal, the protagonist Adrian Bassett and his friend Blanche Ingram are both Oxford University undergraduates who work part-time in East End settlements. As described in The Settlement Horizon (Robert Archey Woods, Albert Joseph Kennedy, 1990 - page 26-) Oxford University was central to the founding of these establishments, notably Toynbee Hall and Oxford House.
As to 'Arry and 'Arriet, they represent a late-Victorian and essentially classist bête noire of the middle classes - the East London working-class - who were stereotyped as visiting Margate (the Kent resort most easily accessed from London), 'Arry in a striped blazer, sometimes playing concertina, and 'Arriet eating shrimps (The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History, Volume 1, Dan Michael Worrall, has a character sketch of 'Arry - see pages 65-66). This image appears in a number of novels of the period. MG's next novel, the 1913 Something Afar (aka The Desire of the Moth) features a reference:
"Well, dear, why not try a little rejoicing instead? Bice's birthday, too. Brisk up in her honour. How about this blessed holiday. There's Margate? Splendid air, worth a shilling a pint."
"Margate! Shrimps and 'Arrietts!"
"Poor 'Arriet, like the poor, is always with us ..."
Similarly disparaging comments - also with hints of the era's racism - appear in various other works of the period, such as:
There is great peace about Cliftonville. It knows not Margate, and, what is more important, Margate knows not Cliftonville. Margate, content with its Hall by the Sea, its Pier, its Baths and its Bands, disturbs not our tranquillity. It is singular, but no less true, that there is a strongly-defined line between Margate and its suburb. "Arry" and " Arriet" come not beyond the Fort and the Marine Palace and Baths. There they sit; smoke and imbibe; listen to the military bands, and shout for the "serio-comics" and "the great" this or that of the Palace. They have no desire to come to Cliftonville. It is dull. No comic songs; no niggers, no gingerpop, "shandy gaff," or any other delight; and so we have the cliffs and the blue sea, the ozone, and the comfort of the Cliftonville Hotel comparatively to ourselves.
- "Our Van", Baily's Magazine of Sports & Pastimes, Volume 48, August 1887
And St. Swithins, staring, cockneyfied, yahoo-ridden St. Swithins, with its blazer-clad 'Arries and shrimp-devouring 'Arriets, its nigger minstrels and beach conjurers ! (faugh !)
- Bertram Mitford, Fordham's Feud, 1897
... if you take my advice, you can stay at either place during the most crowded holiday time, and know and see almost as little of the 'Arries and the 'Arriets, the trippers and the touralooralists (with concertinas, songs and choruses), as if you were in the light-ship, or a hermit crab in his own retired shell.
- The ZZG, or, Zig zag guide round and about the bold and beautiful Kentish coast, Sir Francis Cowley Burnand, 1897
Tramways have driven the aristocratic four-in-hand away from the old Kent road leading to Greenwich, and the "Arries" and "Arriets" are now enjoying, at sixpence per head, shrimps and tea in any of the little refreshment places lining the street from the landing stage to the entrance of the park.
- The Burr McIntosh monthly, 1909
I still went on pulling, however, and still no lock came in sight, and the river grew more and more gloomy and mysterious under the gathering shadows of night, and things seemed to be getting weird and uncanny. I thought of hobgoblins and banshees, and will-o’-the-wisps, and those wicked girls who sit up all night on rocks, and lure people into whirl-pools and things; and I wished I had been a better man, and knew more hymns; and in the middle of these reflections I heard the blessed strains of “He’s got ’em on,” played, badly, on a concertina, and knew that we were saved.
I do not admire the tones of a concertina, as a rule; but, oh! how beautiful the music seemed to us both then—far, far more beautiful than the voice of Orpheus or the lute of Apollo, or anything of that sort could have sounded. Heavenly melody, in our then state of mind, would only have still further harrowed us. A soul-moving harmony, correctly performed, we should have taken as a spirit-warning, and have given up all hope. But about the strains of “He’s got ’em on,” 1jerked spasmodically, and with involuntary variations, out of a wheezy accordion, there was something singularly human and reassuring.
The sweet sounds drew nearer, and soon the boat from which they were worked lay alongside us.
It contained a party of provincial ’Arrys and ’Arriets, out for a moonlight sail. (There was not any moon, but that was not their fault.) I never saw more attractive, lovable people in all my life. I hailed them, and asked if they could tell me the way to Wallingford lock; and I explained that I had been looking for it for the last two hours.
“Wallingford lock!” they answered. “Lor’ love you, sir, that’s been done away with for over a year. There ain’t no Wallingford lock now, sir. You’re close to Cleeve now. Blow me tight if ’ere ain’t a gentleman been looking for Wallingford lock, Bill!”
I had never thought of that. I wanted to fall upon all their necks and bless them; but the stream was running too strong just there to allow of this, so I had to content myself with mere cold-sounding words of gratitude.
We thanked them over and over again, and we said it was a lovely night, and we wished them a pleasant trip, and, I think, I invited them all to come and spend a week with me, and my cousin said her mother would be so pleased to see them. And we sang the soldiers’ chorus out of Faust, and got home in time for supper, after all.
- Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K Jerome, 1889
The "'Arries and the 'Arriets" were basically the "chavs" of their era, but I think their worst crime was being "jumped-up chavs": ones with social aspirations to the middle-class. I think the revulsion by middle-class writers was because they were a dark mirror to the painfully aspirational middle classes of the time, who itched to be upper middle or upper class.
The identification of that class with those names was mostly driven by Punch magazine, that carried regular cartoons, jokes and verse about 'Arry and 'Arriet. See Mr. Punch's Cockney humour, in picture and story (Phil May, c. 1910, Internet Archve ID mrpunchscockneyh00maypiala). See also The 'Arry ballads: an annotated collection of the verse letters by Punch editor E.J. Milliken (Edwin James Milliken, Patricia Marks, 2006, Google Books preview): Marks particularly makes the point that Milliken's portrayal of 'Arry - unlike the peeves by other writers - was affectionate and satirical: as much a dig at the foibles of Punch's own readership as at 'Arry's class.
1. "He's got 'em on" was the signature song of the music hall comedian TW Barrett:
He's got 'em on, he's got 'em on,
Don't he try to do the heavy;
He's got 'em on, he's got 'em on,
He's the Bean at every Levee,
He's got 'em on, he's got 'em on,
Ain't he got a funny chevy—
I declare, he's all there,
Ain't he got 'em on.
"He's got 'em on" probably would correspond to "[he's wearing the clothes that show] he has a bob on himself" / "he thinks he's all that".