Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Elizabeth Robins Pennell on Margate

I've never been to Margate, but even the barest details have very comfortable resonances for me: resorts set on the chalk coasts of southern England were central to my childhood, and appeal to me wherever I see them (even across the Channel). And yet I think the ones I know best were, to various extents, gentrified by location away from major population centres. Britain has any number of resorts that were historically much more vigorous and downmarket because of their catchment area: day-trip distance from major working-class conurbations. Blackpool, within rapid access of Manchester and Liverpool, is a classic example; and so is Margate, repeatedly mentioned in late-Victorian works as the day-trip destination of "'Arrys and 'Arriets" from East London.

I couldn't resist quoting in full the article - London at play: on Margate's sands - written by Elizabeth Robins Pennell in 1897 for the US-published The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. An American who lived for most of her working life in London, she was a wide-ranging writer who wrote on art, food, biographical topics, and travel.

The piece was written for Century as part of a regular commission for travel writing she took on, with her artist husband Joseph Pennell, who provided the illustrations (I'll try to sort these out later). It's a realistic yet affectionate 'outsider' view of Margate and its London visitors - imagine a late-Victorian Bill Bryson analogue. That Margate is long gone, but this vivid piece rather makes you wish you could visit it.

Here it is (usual disclaimers about the period's racist language apply): London at play: on Margate's sands. Due to the vagaries of Google Books hosting, US readers can access it directly via one of the links here. The piece is packed with contemporary and literary references - perhaps labouredly so - and I've annotated ones that may not be self-explanatory.

- Ray

London at play: on Margate's sands

See the following post - Elizabeth Robins Pennell on Margate - for an explanation.

A donkey-ride
on Margate’s sands

Margate is London’s Coney Island, its big suburb by the sea, only far enough away for a long morning’s voyage in a steamboat. It is easy to forget in town how near the coast is; but already at Charing Cross sometimes, when the tide is high, you can smell the fresh salt air through the London smoke; in winter the white gulls haunt the bridges at Waterloo and Blackfriars; and it is just after the widening Thames has lost itself in the North Sea that Margate stretches out its pier into the water. There are plenty of other places on the same cliffs—Broadstairs and St. Leonard's and Westgate, and a dozen more; but Margate first, with Ramsgate as an alternative, is the cockney's choice. This is why some people agree with Mrs. Tuggs 1 that it is altogether too low—«nobody there but tradesmen!» But then, without the London crowd Margate would not be—well, Margate.

If you wish, you can take a train that starts from Charing Cross or Victoria, and, after a long, rambling tour through Kent, eventually gets to Margate. But half the fun is in going by boat. The lower Thames is supposed to be entirely commercial, but from time immemorial it has been the classic stream for the Londoner's frolic. You remember Dr. Johnson taking water to Billingsgate on the night of his famous « frisk» with Topham Beauclerk; and Hogarth sailing with his four jolly companions for Gravesend; and Elia in the «old Margate hoy,» which he was right in thinking «ill exchanged for the foppery and fresh-water niceness of the modern steam-packet»; and Boz on so many of those very youthful excursions of his; or, to come down to our own contemporaries, Ally Sloper, that delightful British «Mayeux,» and his party, dancing on deck, as Baxter shows them in one of his wonderful Sloper drawings? Besides, Margate virtually begins when you meet the crowd hurrying down through the narrow, dirty streets leading to the Old Swan Pier, and you struggle with babies and bandboxes at the ticket-office, and you rush down the long gangway, where you get wedged in so tight that you cannot move hand or foot, while a cool official keeps calling: «This wye for the Sovering—the Royal Sovering. Passengers for Southend pass on to the houter boat. Passengers for Margit and Ramsgit on the Sovering—the Royal Sovering! Show your tickets, please! Move on! This wye for Southend! This wye for Margit!» And from rival boats at the next pier come a still louder screaming and yelling. It all sounds like a page out of Dickens or Thackeray.

When you are fairly off, when you have scrambled successfully for a seat, and the Southend boat has steamed away, and the Royal Sovereign 2 has whistled playfully,—as only a Margate boat can, and very much as the bad boy shrieks when he wishes to make you jump,—you gradually discover that this is the way to see the Thames. For there, at the start, is St. Paul's lifting its dome above the grimy warehouses; and you pass under London Bridge, where swarms of idlers watch you safely through, hoping all the time that you will hit the arches and go to the bottom for their pleasure; and you steam by the Tower, and between the open gates of Tower Bridge, which, once well weather-stained, will be as imposing a feature as the river can boast; and on again, between miles and miles of docks, and «plantations of ship-masts and forests of steam-chimneys»; and on every side are the boats—huge ocean steamers, little penny steamboats, red-sailed barges, big sailing-ships, puffing, smoke-belching tugs. And then, presently, it is Greenwich, with the beautiful buildings of Inigo Jones, and the memories of fish dinners eaten by yourself or in friendly books, and Rosherville, and Gravesend with its gardens, and the broad flats that make you think of Pip and his «great expectations.» 3

And all the while, if, you know how to do the thing in style, a sandwich is in one hand and a pot of porter in the other; for everybody on the boat is eating sandwiches and drinking porter. And by everybody I mean precisely the same company you jostle in the third-class carriages of the «underground » on the day of the University boat-race, or travel with by road down to the Derby,—«the mighty London populace,» Mr. James calls it,—its «female contingent» conspicuously sharing Mrs. Boffin's inclination toward fashion, while a baby, apparently, is as necessary to a Margate outfit as an umbrella on a rainy day. Of course there are musicians on board, —«Italians from the Strand,» is Mr. Mourey's description of the Thames boat band—gold laced and tarnished, out at elbows, playing their poor fiddles and harps and flutes first in the bow, then in the stern, up the middle and back again, and taking up an endless collection. And as the breeze grows brisker and the air keener, as the shores recede farther and farther, there seems to be, as in Mr. Punch's music-hall song, a call for «a drop o' something shorter» 4; for the little bar on deck is filled with men—and women, too: has no long practice in the public-house taught the Englishwoman how to take her drink standing like a man? Already by noon, faces are redder, laughs lighter. There are races round the deck. A few figures are huddled up suggestively against the railings. There are wild shrieks and playful giggles. And in the midst of it children are dancing, children are sick, children are yelling, children are sleeping. And the boat stops no more, though the cliffs are dotted with little towns, until all the gay crowd that does not mean to go on to Ramsgate is emptied upon the pier at Margate, where a crowd as gay watches its arrival..

Carried ashore
Margate is fairly big—a substantial town, in fact, not the least like the American seashore place. There is an embankment instead of the familiar board walk, blown away regularly every season by the worst storm remembered for years. There are houses and shops of brick and stone, instead of the wooden cottages and hotels that can be wheeled off at a moment's notice. Indeed, I believe if you explore far enough you can find old gables and markets and assembly-rooms, and probably Baedeker or Murray would chronicle a creditable number of inhabitants. But for London people the only Margate is the beach. Nothing else counts, unless it is the pier in the evenings, or when the tide is in, or when the London boats arrive. I suppose the people do go into the town occasionally, for they must sleep somewhere, and there are not enough hotels and lodging-houses directly on the sea to hold them all. But wherever they sleep, they live on the beach. It is a very good one for the English coast, though perhaps not to be compared to the beautiful sweep of sands at Atlantic City and many another little town on the Jersey coast. However, not a square foot of it is wasted. There the London crowd squats—there is no other word for it; the same crowd, partly small tradesmen, partly swaggering clerks, partly well-to-do workmen, partly professional loafers, and largely their wives and daughters, that you see picknicking and betting on the Downs at Epsom, or scattered over the river-banks at the Henley regatta, or packed into a solid mass at the Lord Mayor's show. The only difference is in the background and the way the holiday is spent.

Oh, I love to sit a-gyzing on the boundless blue horizing
When the scorching sun is blyzing down on sands and sea!
And to watch the busy figgers of the happy little diggers,
Or to listen to the niggers when they choose to come to me.

There you have it in Mr. Anstey's «idyllic» verse 5. Only no one can ever sit« a-gyzing » in romantic solitude. Not even in Santa Lucia in Naples have I seen people herded so close together, and living an outdoor life with such unembarrassed frankness. Rows upon rows, groups upon groups, of men and women sprawl on low steamer-chairs, open-mouthed and snoring without shame. Lovers lie in each other's arms prone upon the sand—the disconcerting spectacle 'Any and 'Arriet always present in their hour of courtship. Family parties sit within neatly dug-out inclosures, mothers with the week's mending, fathers with their pipes. And children by the dozen, by the hundred, by the thousand, barelegged, frocks and knickerbockers rolled well up into little bathing-drawers, are digging and paddling and building; while in a space apart, marked by a gay red flag, poor little pale-faced cripples are hobbling about in the sand, a show for the pennies of the compassionate. And down into this mess of people, too stupefied by sunlight and sea air to seek amusement, come the same beloved negro minstrels who turn up at Epsom and Henley and Hammersmith, and at chance London street-corners on a Saturday afternoon. But they are ten times more gorgeous at Margate: faces shinier, coats and trousers gaudier, sashes wider, buttonhole bouquets huger, hats jauntier, some in tights, some in flannels, with bones, tambourine, and banjo all complete. And a wide space is made for them hours beforehand, and the audience collects, first a circle of children low on the sands; then circle after circle of the steamer-chairs; then people standing behind the chairs, and more people on the Embankment. For the late-comer there is no getting near enough to hear a joke or a song. And when finally the morning's heroes arrive, they bring another audience with them—men, women, and children dogging their every step through the streets, patiently waiting outside every public-house where it pleases them to stop. Talk of the success of a Patti or a Melba: it is nothing to that of the minstrels at Margate!

The crowd

And down, too, on the beach come the seedy German bands, and the unblackened strolling singers, and the men with pianos and concertinas and cornets and harmoniums, and the preachers, and the photographers. And down, too, comes the Punch-and-Judy man, but not the summer I was at Margate; for Mr. Brown, who had the monopoly, was ill, —so I learned upon inquiry,— and not another Punch of such irreproachable morals was to be found in all England. The fact is, though you would not believe it, the police have a strict eye upon the program of the beach performance.

The bathing-machines
Through the crowd boys push and wriggle with trays of nougat or fruit or buns. And over the chorus of noises you hear the ceaseless «Hi! hi!» of the donkey-boys, and the shrieks of giddy young ladies clinging to the donkeys as they gallop full tilt along the sands, and the screams of delighted children in the little goatcarriages on the Embankment above. Away out beyond, standing in a white-and-green line, wheel-deep in the surf, are the absurd bathing-machines; and between them and the dry beach an old cart loaded with people is being continually driven backward and forward; while fat old bathing-women, as out of date as Sairey Gamp herself, wait gossiping in the water; and farther still bathers are splashing, men and women apart—as well they may be, for the costume of the men would be a scandal anywhere save in prudish England.

This is the scene presented by Margate sands every day, and every hour of the day, during the season—serenely domestic at moments, boisterously hilarious at others, especially when a big excursion is let loose upon the place. Then you have the courting that is done by blows and thumps; then you see 'Arry and 'Arriet exchanging hats; then you have horse-play bedlam; and mounted police show themselves in the near streets, and magistrates, the next morning, are officially shocked by the conduct of the «savages» from London.

It is true there is a more elegant end to the sea-front, partly for invalids whose doctors prescribe Margate air, which has the name of being the purest and most bracing in England, the number of Bath chairs proving medical compulsion. There is no promiscuous herding here. Groups take their books and work and gossip into railed-off spaces, with a haughty assumption of the privacy that costs a penny. The very amusements are distinctly genteel: archery, lawntennis, and a lightning draftsman making portraits in a tent while you wait; and as the shore has risen into cliffs, bathers are discreetly screened from public gaze, and the narrow sands are as decorous as in that picture of «Pegwell Bay,» by Dyce, in the National Gallery 6 —a picture of a shingly beach, and two or three lone figures, in the absurd costumes of the fifties, gathering shells in polite isolation.

The pier
But upon the cliff end the real Margate crowd never intrudes. Why should it? There are far better ways of enjoying itself. If you wish to give the Briton a really good time, put him in some sort of vehicle, averaging from the donkey «shay» that «knocked 'em in the old Kent road» 7 to the brake and cornet, and send him off driving. Where the Embankment widens into a great square above the sands, brakes and busses are always ready to start for St. Leonard's or Westgate or Pegwell Bay—above all, for Ramsgate. There's the place for a «'appy day »! The drive over is short,—about half an hour or so,—but quite long enough to need a half-way house, where everybody stops for a drink, and the conductor takes up a collection for no better reason than that nothing can be done in Margate without a collection; the real marvel is that your landlord does not come with his hat instead of his bill! I have always wondered why Mrs. Tuggs, when she found Margate too low, went over to Ramsgate. It is really Margate all over again, but Margate exaggerated, intensified, concentrated. The beach is smaller, the people are huddled closer together, and the crowd is the same, —negroes, strolling players, donkeys, goatcarts, bathers, children, lovers, preachers, photographers, peddlers, sleepers, cockshies, and bathing-machines,—but in so dense a mass that it looks as if a swarm of human bees or ants had alighted upon the sands. The very air seems close, and one would as soon bathe in the Thames at London Bridge as in the sea just here. If Trouville made Flaubert long to hide himself in the Sandwich Islands or in the virgin forests of Brazil, what, what would he have felt here at Ramsgate? Yet not even in an Eastern bazaar or market could there be more dazzling color; and as for character, there is enough to set up a new Dickens or Charles Keene for life.

If you do not care to go to Ramsgate, there are boats in the harbor, with their «boatmen so beguiling,» 8 and the menagerie with its beasts to be fed, and the music-hall attached, with its «stars » from London, who'd «all be in the workhouse should their antics cease to dror!» 9 —an inducement for women and babies and nurses, who would be quite out of place in the palaces of Leicester Square, to flock to this «hall by the sea.» And there are shops full of the indispensable china « souvenirs from Margate.» And first and last and always, there are tea and shrimps! Many things may have changed. Gillray's 10 little phaeton, with the round apron front, and its boy in jack-boots on one of the horses, has disappeared from the beach; the saucer hats and swirling crinolines of Leech 11 are no more: but tea and shrimps are as essential elements to Margate life as the sea and the sky. You are not supposed to need or to wish anything else, and in vain you may try the little restaurants that are perched on the cliffs as delightfully as the Neapolitan cafes on the Posilipo, or those others that set out their tables on balconies looking seaward. If you would dine, you must fall back upon the pompous hotel table d'hôte, which you share with the last theater company down from London. But one other thing you can order at the restaurant, to be sure—champagne. To be in the Margate fashion, you must drink it without so much as a biscuit to eat. On the pier, which is as select as the twopence charge for admission can make it, couples of those stupendously vulgar people you do not believe in when you see them on the pages of papers like «PickMe-Up» 12 —indeed, you hardly believe in them when you see them in life—may be found as early as eleven in the morning pledging each other over a magnum of extra dry. And the Margate swell will bring his friends into one of the restaurants, at any hour after his evening meal of tea and shrimps, and call loudly for champagne, just to let you know that he can do the thing in style when he chooses, and pay for his bottle with the biggest lord or «dook » of them all!

I hesitate to mention beauty as another of Margate's charms, so little has it to do with the popularity of the place. But for all that, very beautiful it is; and its sands every morning and afternoon arrange themselves into a picture as brilliant and gay as you could find at Trouville or Abbazia, at Coney Island or Newport. To follow the cliffs beyond the hotels and villas is to find one's self at once in as pretty English country as Constable ever painted—a country of broad meadows and plowed fields, of hedge-rows and stately elms, of old farm-houses and gray ruins, of cloud-swept skies and misty blue distances. Toward twilight, when the tide is coming in and the beach is deserted except by the small boy kindly giving the necessary spot of black here and there, and the occasional barge left high and dry on the sands, the lines are as lovely as those that the Venetian Lagune make at low water. As for the barges, with their half-furled sails, they are really finer than anything at Venice; while every evening there is the atmosphere for which on the Adriatic you might have to wait a year. And as dusk deepens, lines of light on the Embankment curve with the curving shore, and torches flame from the barrows of the periwinkle-men, and the black, shadowy pier crosses the deep blue of sea and sky as fantastically and decoratively as in a color-print by Hiroshige. And, gradually, what people are pleased to call the vulgarity of Margate is lost in the beauty of night, only broken momentarily by the shriek of 'Arry sporting with 'Arriet in the «shide»!

- Elizabeth Robins Pennell, pp 569-575, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 54, 1897 (illustrations by Joseph Pennell)

1. From The Tuggs's at Ramsgate (Sketches by Boz, Volume 2, by Charles Dickens) in which the Tuggs family make this trip. Her actual quote about Margate is "nobody there, but tradespeople".
2. The Margate paddle steamer Royal Sovereign was still in service in 1919, and the British Pathé archive has this nice clip of it setting sail from Old Swan Pier at Charing Cross:

Margate boat - 'Royal Sovereign'

3. See Noir and the North Kent marshes.
4. A reference to The Poor Old 'Orse, a parody music hall song in F Anstey's 1892 Mr. Punch's model music-hall songs & dramas:

For we 'ad to stop o' course,
Jest to bait the bloomin' 'orse,
So we'd pots of ale and porter
(Or a drop o' something shorter),
While he drunk his pail o' water,
He was sech a whale on water!
That more water than he oughter,
More water than he oughter,
'Ad the poor old 'orse!

5. Also a parody music-hall song from Mr. Punch's model music-hall songs & dramas: The Joys of the Seaside.
6. And still so: Pegwell Bay, Kent - a Recollection of October 5th 1858. A classic painting of the beach and chalk cliffs further round the Kent coast, it shows in the sky the faint trail of Donati's comet (see previously: Comet apocalypse, 1857).
7. From Albert Chevalier's 1892 music-hall song Wot Cher! or, Knocked ’em in the Old Kent Rd.
8, 9. More quotes from The Joys of the Seaside (see 5).
10/ The caricaturist James Gillray convalesced in Margate in 1807.
11. John Leech, also a caricaturist, was a Margate regular.
12. Pick-Me-Up was a weekly comic magazine with topical articles and cartoons, that ran from 1888 to 1909.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Exchanging 'ats

A social/cultural aside from the previous post: quite a few contemporary references to the 'Arry and 'Arriet subculture refer to its custom of couples exchanging hats to show they were an item.

This is the scene presented by Margate sands every day, and every hour of the day, during the season—serenely domestic at moments, boisterously hilarious at others, especially when a big excursion is let loose upon the place. Then you have the courting that is done by blows and thumps; then you see 'Arry and 'Arriet exchanging hats; then you have horse-play bedlam; and mounted police show themselves in the near streets, and magistrates, the next morning, are officially shocked by the conduct of the « savages » from London.
- London at play: on Margate's sands, Elizabeth Robins Pennell, pp569-, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 54, 1897.

In European folk-custom there are several traces of this, bride and groom exchanging head-dresses and the like. After betrothal the Ainu boy and girl wear each other's clothes. This method of union is a common phenomenon in love - practice, and when a modern 'Arry and 'Arriet exchange hats, the fact is no coincidence, but is due to the same principle inherent in the human consciousness.
- The mystic rose: a study of primitive marriage, Alfred Ernest Crawley, 1902.

Our native 'Arry and 'Arriet, when they " walk out " together in amicable companionship, are accustomed to express their mutual affection by possessing themselves of, and wearing, each other's hats.
- page 953, The Bookseller, Volume 53, 1910.

The courtship of a pair of green parrots is as amusing to watch as that of any 'Arry and 'Arriet. Not possessing hats the amorous birds are unable to exchange them, but otherwise their actions are quite coster-like.
- A Bird Calendar for Northern India, Douglas Dewar, 1916

This would explain why 'Arry is wearing a lady's hat in this Punch cartoon.

Wearing the wrong hat or exchanging hats was a comic staple (the Marx Brothers and the hat-swapping scene in Waiting for Godot spring to mind) - but one with undercurrents. In an era when hat-wearing was near-universal, choice of hat was strongly constrained by, and identified with, social status and role, so 'Arry and 'Arriet wearing wrong-gendered hats must have seemed very edgy.

This leads neatly away from 'Arry and 'Arriet to the American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) whose Exchanging Hats, unpublished in her lifetime, touches directly on choice of hat as a signifier of sexual orientation.

Exchanging Hats

Unfunny uncles who insist
in trying on a lady's hat,
--oh, even if the joke falls flat,
we share your slight transvestite twist

in spite of our embarrassment.
Costume and custom are complex.
The headgear of the other sex
inspires us to experiment.

Anandrous aunts, who, at the beach
with paper plates upon your laps,
keep putting on the yachtsmen's caps
with exhibitionistic screech,

the visors hanging o'er the ear
so that the golden anchors drag,
--the tides of fashion never lag.
Such caps may not be worn next year.

Or you who don the paper plate
itself, and put some grapes upon it,
or sport the Indian's feather bonnet,
--perversities may aggravate

the natural madness of the hatter.
And if the opera hats collapse
and crowns grow draughty, then, perhaps,
he thinks what might a miter matter?

Unfunny uncle, you who wore a
hat too big, or one too many,
tell us, can't you, are there any
stars inside your black fedora?

Aunt exemplary and slim,
with avernal eyes, we wonder
what slow changes they see under
their vast, shady, turned-down brim.

- Ray

Friday, 23 September 2011

'Arry and 'Arriet

"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".

- Ray

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Mrs Partington and her mop: Victorian meme

Left (click to enlarge) [Hutchison, William] 1820-1905 :Dame Partington and her mop. No. 44. Whitaker (loq) - I don't think you can manage it. Atkinson - I can mop up the water as well as you've mopped up the land. The "Wellington Advertiser" supplement [8 July 1882]. Reference Number: A-095-042. Reproduced with permission of National Library of New Zealand.

Wayland Wordsmith just mentioned an anecdote of East Devon interest: the story of Dame Partington. This, first told by the cleric and author Sydney Smith in 1831, is a clone of one version of the Canute story, telling of an elderly Sidmouth lady who tried in vain to keep back the encroaching waves during the storm surge of the 1824 'Great Storm'.

"I do not mean to be disrespectful but the attempt of the Lords to stop the progress of reform reminds me very forcibly of the great storm of Sidmouth and of the conduct of the excellent Mrs Partington on that occasion.

"In the winter of 1824, there set in a great flood upon that town - the tide rose to an incredible height - the waves rushed in upon the houses, and everything was threatened with destruction. In the midst of this sublime and terrible storm, Dame Partington, who lived upon the beach, was seen at the door of her house with mop and pattens, trundling her mop, squeezing out the sea water and vigorously punching away the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic was roused.

"Mrs Partington's spirit was up; but I need not tell you that the contest was unequal. The Atlantic Ocean beat Mrs Partington. She was excellent with a slop or a puddle, but she should not have meddled with a tempest."

The context is intereresting. The Rev. Smith's speech, delivered in Taunton in October 1831, was in support of the Reform Bill, whose aim was to reform the corrupt British electoral system of the time, particularly in its undemocratic domination by aristocratic landowners, many operating "rotten boroughs" with a tiny electorate. Smith was speaking at a particularly inflamed time that was seeing rioting after the second attempt to pass the Reform Bill , despite decisive support in the House of Commons, had been blocked by the House of Lords.

To be honest, I'm mildly doubtful of the particulars of the story - Smith's speech seems to be the first account of Mrs Partington - but it was a highly effective parable. The Bodleian Library collection has contemporary prints by "HB" (John Doyle) - the 1831 Dame Partington and the ocean (of reform) and the 1840 Mrs Partington and her mop - both depicting the Duke of Wellington, a noted opponent of reform, as Dame Partington.

The idea went viral, and continued for decades, Mrs Partington and her mop making an outing whenever the unstoppability of causes was being argued: there are currently 3670 hits in Google Books for Partington mop, and a number of other pictorial examples are findable online.

Mrs Partington got to California in 1856, in a "Letter sheet illustration showing satirical sentiments on the opponents of the 1856 Vigilance Committee, San Francisco" (California State Library record / detail). HarpWeek has other political examples: "Tidal Waves" (Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, October 17, 1868) where Mrs Partington is Democratic presidential nominee Horatio Seymour; "Mrs. Partington Hancock Struggling with the Republican Tide" (Thure de Thulstrup, Harper's Weekly, October 30, 1880), showing Democratic presidential nominee Winfield Hancock; and "Our Mrs. Partingtons and the Democratic Ocean" (Charles Jay Budd, Harper's Weekly, November 2, 1912), showing various Republicans attempting to sweep back the sea in the form of Woodrow Wilson.

Nor was it all US politics. The Wellington Advertiser, 8 July 1882, Dame Partington and her mop, showed Sir Harry Atkinson, Colonial Treasure (ie Minister of Finance) of New Zealand; and the Women's Library has nice examples of Mrs Partington in England trying to sweep back the tide of suffrage: this poster from c.1909, Mrs Partington, Coming in with the tide indeed I'll soon stop their tide! (detail) and a postcard from 1910, showing "The New Mrs Partington (of the Anti Suffrage Society)" (detail).

A footnote in the 1856 Wit and Wisdom of the Rev. Sydney Smith (ed. Evert Augustus Duyckinck, 1856) does raise the question of the original Mrs Partington's existence:

Did Sydney Smith invent Mrs. Partington? A communication in Notes and Queries (Nov. 16, 1850), may seem to establish Mrs. Partington as a real personage, but the evidence is not conclusive. The writer says, the original Mrs. P. was a respectable old lady, living at Sidmouth, in Devonshire, and her encounter with the ocean, when mop and broom failed, and she was driven to take refuge in the second story of her cottage on the beach, occurred, to the best of his recollection, during an awful storm in November, 1824, when some fifty or sixty ships were lost at Plymouth. He well recollects, he adds, reading in the Devonshire newspapers of the time *, an account of Mrs. Partington; but he may have read only Smith's speech, which he wrongly ascribes to Lord Brougham.

Mrs. Partington has acquired additional celebrity by the pleasant sayings in the vein of Mrs. Malaprop, which have been widely scattered over the world, in the newspapers. This peculiar pleasantry, a humourous dislocation of the English language, with grotesque associations of ideas, has had various imitators; but the original American Mrs. Partington owes her graces to Mr. B. P. Shillaber, for several years associated with the Boston Post, in which tho genuine sayings arc recorded. They were collected into a volume in 1854, with the title, "The Life and Sayings of Mrs. Partington, and others of the Family."
- page 316, Wit and Wisdom of the Rev. Sydney Smith

* I can add to this that I can find no sign in the 19th Century British Library Newspapers archive of a reference to Mrs Partington before Sydney Smith's 1831 speech. Still, whether she existed or not, it was a durable meme.

There are some detailed contemporary accounts of Sidmouth in the Great Storm, neither of which mention Mrs Partington.


The great storm of 23rd November, 1824, did much damage to Sidmouth. Bishop Kestell Cornish has forwarded us a manuscript from a diary of a relative of his which will be perused with interest, and Mr. J. Y. Anderson Morshead has sent us the account of the same storm by the late Peter Orlando Hutchinson from his manuscript History of Sidmouth.

Extract from an old diary, November 23rd, 1824:—

"A violent storm all night, quite a Hurricane! I never heard any-thing at all like it! The whole House shook, and our beds were rocked under us, as if they had felt the shock of an Earthquake! . . . (Nov. 24.) A most aweful scene presented itself to us this morning! Such a storm has not been Witnessed in the memory of man! . . . The sea poured in last night, and has very nearly destroyed the whole of the houses in front of it! The water came up as high as Harris'. The grocers, and people were taken out of their beds at night and conveyed in Boats to a place of Shelter: Everyone has lost something, and some poor people Every thing: never was there such a scene of devastation! All the Cottages under the Cliff were washed away: The Beach Walk is entirely destroyed, and covered with Shingle. Wallis' library is nearly knocked to pieces: and old Chit Rock, that gave its character to the Coast Scenery, is thrown down and nothing but its base remains. The rising of the sea was so sudden, that it almost appears to have been the effect of an earthquake! No language can describe the sad and desolate appearance which the Beach now presents, and the poor sufferers walking about, drenched in water, hardly knowing where to go or what to do, is enough to break one's heart

"A Subscription has been entered into, and £300 has been already subscribed, which I hope will relieve them in some degree. Tho' it is the poor Tradespeople and those above the reach of Common Charity that will suffer most. We have been spared any of the effects of this aweful visitation, with the exception of a few Trees, and Slates blown off the House we have lost little or nothing. . . .

"I never was more frightened in my life than during the night. I almost expected the House to have fallen down. ... It was impossible to sleep. ... I can hardly attempt to describe my feelings. . . . The noise of the wind was like incessant Thunder, but there was something in it still more aweful and supernatural. It seemed to rage so perfectly without controul—so wild and free— that nothing I ever heard before could be at all compared to it."

From P. 0. Hutchinson's History, vol. iii 146 :—

"The Chet-rock stood near the S. end of the reef. It was about 40 f high, much beloved by the fishermen as on steering in it was the first mark they made. Annually one of them was crowned as its king. At low tide he & his court marched out & scrambled to its top where they waved their caps, cheered, & drank to the King of diet (including the King of England) in smuggled brandy. Along the reef extended a labyrinth of stakes & nets called the 'Ram's horn.' At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, 22nd November the glass stood at 29-49. It was new moon, & the tide high at 11.45 a.m. The afternoon was fine & calm but freshened towards evening & the glass sank to 28.25. Mr. Stone, grocer Market place had a party, but it began to rain & blow from S.W. so that he offered them shake-downs. But they bundled on old shawls &c and left. There was only rainwater in the street then. So many slates were blown off he could not sleep & at 4 a.m. found his ground-floor full of water to the knees. He began clearing the shop but the enemy reached his armpits & washed papers off the mantelpiece. J. Pile, ironmonger (now Selleks) in Fore St saw it full of water & a door wash past. A bag of nails was rusted into a solid mass. Mrs Mogridge 7 York Terrace found boats &c battering her wall, & bored through a partition into No. 6 for escape. Lodgers at Mr. Pursey's (Canister house) were much distressed. A sick lady had to be taken from a warm bed into a wet boat. The York was much injured. Mr. Hall draper (now Fields) saw sailors row across the Market-place & rescue ladies from (Pepperells) opposite. The cottagers under Clifton-place escaped to the top 10 min. before the houses were washed away. Wallis Library (now the Bedford Hotel) had its Billiard-table broken ag(ain)st the fire-place, & a piano washed into the sitting room. The children were lowered into a drifting boat at the back by blankets—one by mistake into the water, of which he informed them in loud tones. May (gardener) saw it flow up to High St (now Veales) where it was met by a land-flood & a boat rowed up Old & round into New Fore St. The landlord of the London Hotel saw a specially big wave about 5 a.m. burst in the door of the chemist (now Penberthys) sweep round the shop & reappear laden with bottles & pill-boxes. Edmondson of Bond St had opened a shop for costly silks in Marine-place & the bales were found all over the town next day. Mr. Yeates at dawn dragged himself by the railings to the beach, & to his dismay Chet-rock was no longer to be seen. The familiar old mass had been knocked over in the night. Fragments lay about on the reef for two years after. A subscription of £3000 was raised for the sufferers of which Honiton gave the noble sum of £600.

"I only arrived in Jan. 1825 but the most beautiful watering place of England looked still like a bombarded city. A cart was backed against Marlborough place & men were shovelling pebbles out of the windows into it. A naval officer said the wind was stronger than W. Indian hurricanes. The effects long remained. The shrinkage of population (as shown by Registrar's return) & of popularity were due partly to the growth of Torquay, but more to this catastrophe. Depression weighed on our trade for 40 years till it slowly began to revive about 1865. Mr. Hubert Cornish's view of the Rock is inaccurate. It was more like Great-picket."

- page 101, Devonshire Association, Report and Transactions, Volume 35, Sidmouth, July 1903.

- Ray

Monday, 19 September 2011

"Luckless wight"

Language Log just had an interesting thread - How supernatural, preternatural, or unearthly beings sweeten their coffee - that leads from a sighting of a misspelt Moroccan sugar packet ("Wight Sugar") to a general discussion of the word "wight".

My first association was to the Isle of Wight, but this is actually about "wight" as an archaic English word for "man" or "being", which goes at least back to Chaucer's "He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde / In al his lyf unto no maner wight". In popular culture, it's probably best known from "Barrow-wight", the malevolent haunter of a barrow in an episode in The Lord of the Rings that didn't make it into the film.  The phrase appears to have been lifted by Tolkien straight out of an 1869 translation of Grettis Saga (a.k.a. the Saga of Grettir the Strong), a section where Grettir and his colleagues go treasure-hunting in a barrow.

Then Grettir entered into the barrow, and right dark it was, and a smell there was therein none of the sweetest. Now he groped about to see how things were below; first he found horse-bones, and then he stumbled against the arm of a high-chair, and in that chair found a man sitting; great treasures of gold and silver were heaped together there, and a small chest was set under the feet of him full of silver; all these riches Grettir carried together to the rope; but as he went out through the barrow he was griped at right strongly; thereon he let go the treasure and rushed against the barrow-dweller, and now they set on one another unsparingly enough.

Everything in their way was kicked out of place, the barrow-wight setting on with hideous eagerness; Grettir gave back before him for a long time, till at last it came to this, that he saw it would not do to hoard his strength any more; now neither spared the other, and they were brought to where the horse-bones were, and thereabout they wrestled long. And now one, now the other, fell on his knee; but the end of the strife was, that the barrow-dweller fell over on his back with huge din. Then ran Audun from the holding of the rope, and deemed Grettir dead. But Grettir drew the sword, 'Jokul's gift,' and drave it at the neck of the barrowbider so that it took off his head, and Grettir laid it at the thigh of him.
- pp47-48, Grettis saga: the story of Grettir the strong, trans. Eiríkr Magnússon, William Morris, F.S. Ellis, 1869

But I admit I didn't run into "wight" anywhere as worthy, or even in Tolkien. I first remember it from the last of EE 'Doc' Smith's atrocious 'Lensman' series, Masters of the Vortex:

For his guardian against lighting had been a vortex-magnet at the moment when some luckless wight had tried to abate the nuisance of a 'loose' atomic vortex. That wight dies, of course- they almost always did-and the vortex, instead of being destroyed, was simply broken up into a number of widely-scattered new vortices.

Pulp authors were fond of these Sunday-best words (compare HP Lovecraft's fondness for words like "eldritch" and "effulgence") but it's hard to see what was going through Smith's mind to use this archaic word in his technophile space opera.

On brief research, I get the impression that "wight" underwent a decline and temporary revival in its long history of usage. Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (see 6th edition, 1766, Volume 2) cited examples from Shakespeare, Dryden, Butler and Milton, and defined it as "a person; a being" but with the qualification "Now used only in irony or contempt". Much the same is said in this 1819 gloss to Samuel Butler's late-1600s Hudibras: "The word wight was often used by our old writers to imply person, but it had become nearly obsolete in Butler's time, and he probably used it in a ridiculous sense, as we do at present, when we say, a luckless wight."

But "wight", in the context of "luckless wight" (a jocularity for "unfortunate person"), seems to have exploded as a cliché at the end of the 18th century: see Google Books Ngram Viewer.The first example I can find in print is in a poem, Sylvia and Colin ...

Oh stay ! oh stay!— I sue in vain
He's gone—O had I spoke more plain,
Ere he had fled my sight.
Ah ! charming youth; ah ! happy fair,
To be the charming COLIN's care,
And I a luckless wight.
- Sylvia and Colin. A pastoral. By a lady. Page 97, Scots Magazine, February 1761.

... but it soon turned up in the works of satirical writers - Laurence Sterne (1766) and Peter Pindar (1794) - and by the mid-1800s, everyone was using it to droll effect (see Google Books) such as in this Punch parody of Shakespeare:

I know a bank wherein my wild cheque goes,
Where if they'll pay it, goodness only knows!
There I've one pound fifteen.
There creeps some luckless wight
Bills to present, when "no effects" they write.
- page 149, Punch, Volume 13, 1847

But it wasn't all comic. The phrase turns up in at least two translations of Dante's Inferno, in Canto XXII, where it's used as a translation of "sciagurato". (My OUP edition translated by John D Sinclair uses "hapless wretch", and the Henry F Cary translation on Bartleby.com says "wretched soul".  I suggest "poor bastard").

E io: «Maestro mio, fa, se tu puoi,
che tu sappi chi è lo sciagurato
venuto a man de li avversari suoi»
- Dante, Inferno, Canto XXII

Then I: "O Master mine, inquire, I pray,
what luckless wight hath fallen thus
into the demons' paws."
- page 128, Canto XII, Inferno, trans. WP Wilkie, pub. Edmonston and Douglas, 1862

And I: "My Master, see to it, if thou canst,
That thou mayst know who is the luckless wight,
Thus come into his adversaries' hands."
- page 94, Canto XXII, Inferno, trans. HW Longfellow, pub. B. Tauchnitz, 1867

Still, by the early 20th century, it had become a joke. Joseph Fitzgerald, in his 1901 Word and phrase: true and false use in English, commented:

The derivatives of Man in English are very few, and they were all in use before the language lost its species name for the human individual: they are formed from Man or Mann, the word meaning male human individual, and hence are rightly applicable only to the male individual, his characters, his works; these derivates are manly, manlike, manful, manhood, the verb to man, and the participle form, unmanned. But there was once in the language of the people, and still is in the language of poets, a word which answered well to Mensch, homo, anthropos. That word is Wight. But the comic poets have made "wight" their exclusive property, so that even the phrase, "luckless wight," i.e., a human creature in misfortune, no longer suggests to us compassion, fellow-feeling, but mild contempt at best.

Google Books Ngram Viewer shows "luckless wight", while declining, persisted well into the 20th century. Knowing that EE Smith was born in 1890 and was widely read - see Wikipedia - I guess goes some way toward explaining how he picked up this archaic turn of phrase. It still doesn't explain why he had the tin ear for prose to use it in such an inappropriate context.

Addendum: Rodger C at the Language Log thread has added what I didn't know: that the original word for barrow-wight in Grettis Saga is "haugbúi" (haug = mound, búi = dweller). This nicely explains why a number of historical sources mention a fabled goblin inhabiting a tomb in Orkney was called the "Hogboy".

- Ray

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Strange Love by Koop

I'm constantly delighted by the Internet's ability to lead in serendipitous directions. In an idle moment I was playing Red, a roughly physics-based 1 tower defence game I found on MetaFilter, and liked the soundtrack. Googling the words tracked it to be the Jazzanova Mix of the ambient track Absolute Space by Koop.

Koop is a Swedish band that produces an interesting mix of rather unclassifiable work - they variously call it fusion jazz or acid jazz - using guest vocalists, a minimal instrument lineup, and a backing of sampled material from vinyl records:

It is difficult to properly categorize Koop’s unique music style. One part jazz, one part electronica, with a heavy hand of swing and a pinch of Caribbean influence- the band will not be pigeonholed. The Swedish duo of Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson are known for sampling music from many eras and influences, which gives their pieces a timeless feeling of modern retro.
- k-o-o-p.com

It varies between rather ambient sounds, wistful blues, chillout, old-style torch singing, and exhilarating swing. On brief acquaintance, I particularly like Absolute Space; the above--linked Strange Love, with vocals by the jazz/cabaret singer Hilde Louise Asbjørnsen (I didn't realise this song had featured in a Coca Cola ad, "Library"); the gentle chillout jazz of Waltz 4 Koop; and the wistful but ultimately feelgood Come to Me.

For more tracks, see YouTube and at the official Koop Myspace page. There's more background on the band and its styles at the unofficial site k-o-o-p.com.

1, By "roughly physics-based", I mean that the scenario is loosely that of fending off descending moons/asteroids with missiles. The impacts are realistically ballistic in terms of speed, size and angle: but not realistic in that the incoming objects don't interact with each other; nor do the missiles lose momentum from impacts, so that multiple snooker-style cannons work.

- Ray

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Brown, Jones and Robinson

An aside from an aside: if you didn't follow the link from the George Morland article, check out The Foreign Tour of Messrs. Brown, Jones and Robinson: being the history of what they saw, and did, in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland & Italy (Project Gutenberg E-Text No. 29463). This 1854 satire on the European Grand Tour (equally hostile to the Europeans and the trio of English travellers) is one of the many works of the artist Richard "Dickie" Doyle.

Doyle's art ranged through satire and parody (he worked for Punch for seven years) via mainstream illustration (he illustrated Dickens, Thomas Hughes, and Ruskin works) to fantastic and grotesque fairy art. He sounds a rather strange guy: despite his (untrained) talent, he didn't always produce work up to standard, and often gave deeply lame excuses for not meeting deadlines.

Doyle had a facile pencil when once fairly at work, but he was singularly deficient as to the value of time, which appears strange in one who produced so many elaborate drawings; but little reliance could be placed upon him even when working for periodical publications. On one occasion when illustrating a story by Thackeray, the number had to be issued short of certain pictures that had been arranged for. Thackeray was a good deal annoyed and asked Doyle if he could give any reason why he had not done the drawings. He replied in his cool, deliberate manner: "Eh—er— the fact is, I had not got any pencils."
- The brothers Dalziel: a record of fifty years' work in conjunction with many of the most distinguished artists of the period, 1840-1890, George Dalziel, Edward Dalziel, Methuen and Co., 1901

The Victorian Web has a good compendium of essays and samples of his work, under the heading The Illustrations of Richard Doyle, 1824-83. Most of the books he illustrated are also on the Internet Archive: I particularly like Manners and customs of ye Englyshe (1849); A journal kept by Richard Doyle in the year 1840 (1885); and the abovementioned The foreign tour of Messrs. Brown, Jones, and Robinson (1854).

Brown's first impression of the Rhine

- Ray

Topsham: The Historic Port of Exeter

Fishermen on Topsham Quay, 1907
Cover image, reproduced with author's permission
The Topsham Bookshop has copies of the new photographic archive book Topsham: The Historic Port of Exeter (Peter D Thomas, Thomas Castle Books, pb 27cmx20cm, ISBN 978-0-95168207-4, £19.95).

I have to admit that my heart sank on hearing that there was to be another Topsham photo collection. Historical photographs of Topsham tend to focus on endless retreads of particular picturesque scenes and folksy local character shots. My particular pet hate is the omnipresent image of "old Dick", "Urchard" and "Noll" holding up the largest salmon caught on the Exe. It combines maximum folksiness - the working people of the past stereotyped as gurning rustics - with the traditional bias of viewing local history via superlatives: focusing on the biggest / best / most famous about a place, rather than what was a typical picture of life there.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised. The largest salmon and its minders do make an appearance in Topsham: The Historic Port of Exeter, but this book is far wider-ranging. The 250+ photos - many newly-restored - draw partly on the author's own collection, and partly on largely unseen images from the collections of Topsham Museum, the Westcountry Studies Library, and private collections, to give a broad picture of the activities, trades, and changing environment of the town.

While many of the images are picturesque, the author doesn't shy away from showing Topsham "warts and all"; alongside wonderful pictures of sailing ships on the Exe, long-closed shops, haymaking, and the usual shots of local working people and Topsham-associated celebrities such as Vivien Leigh, it also documents the more mundane aspects of the town's history and even the grimmer ones.

The opening of Topsham Water Works, bottled lager being loaded on the quay in the 1950s, and the building of the motorway bridge are there. And the past gets even more gritty, with Odams' Manure and Chemical Factory, the shabbiness of Ferry Road in the 1930s, a dancing bear as street entertainment, and flooding on the Underway in 1974. The picture of the gruesome display at White's Family Butchers - pigs propped up looking at the camera, heaps of giant ribs, and a row of carcases with the organs hanging out and decorated with twists of fat - is a powerful illustration that "the past is another country".

This makes all the difference between nostalgic past, and balanced documentation of social history through images: and this book impresses me as the latter.

Sections include: Aerial Views, The Estuary & Foreshore, Exeter Ship Canal, The Quay, Ferry Road, The Ferry, Local fishermen, Strand and Dry Dock, Fore Street, High Street, The Station, Around Topsham, People, Business and Shops, The Holman Family, Miss Dorothy Holman, Vivien Leigh, and Topsham Museum.

Topsham: The Historic Port of Exeter is available from Topsham Museum, The Topsham Bookshop, Darts Farm, the Turf Hotel and Waterstones, or direct from Thomas Castle Books (www.exeterbooks.com).

- Ray

Monday, 12 September 2011

George Morland at Freshwater

Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight
I've just been reading one of the volumes - Canterbury : Winchester : Isle of Wight : Swanage - in the Gresham Publishing Company series (c. 1911) Our Beautiful Homeland. These books are notable for the charming and evocative EW Haslehust colour plates, but the texts are worth reading: in this case, the essay "Impressions and Memories", on literary and artistic reactions to the Island. I'll return to this later, but for the moment I followed up its brief reference to the misadventures of the artist George Morland in the Isle of Wight.

George Morland had discovered Freshwater half a century before [1854], when there was only one cottage there—"The Cabin". This most English—old English—of painters knew every corner of the island, especially those parts which are still least accessible, as he knew every fisherman and publican. So well did he explore that he was arrested as a spy at Yarmouth fort in 1799. There is no cruciform or other stone to his memory: nothing left but his paintings, his pleasant name, and stories of his merriment and after wretchedness.

Morland (1763-1804) was a prolific and highly-regarded painter of animals and rustic scenes. His tastes, however, ran to extravagance, drinking, and slumming it, and towards the end of his short life he was constantly pursued by creditors. In 1899, he quit his native London and temporarily escaped to the Isle of Wight, where he had regularly taken summer holidays. The biography George Morland, painter, London (1763-1804) (Ralph Richardson, 1895, Internet Archive ID georgemorlandpai00rich) tells the full story of this episode:

We have now arrived at the year 1799, which marks a new departure in Morland's life and habits. Instead of murky London, with its manifold temptations, he was to reside in the beautiful Isle of Wight, then far from London owing to the want of easy communication. To this day the isle presents picturesque features which have often disappeared in the more populous parts of England. Not that it has entirely escaped the modern builder. The charming old houses, built of stone and thatched, in the Freshwater district, put to shame the modern brick tenements which have sprung up round Totland Bay. It seems as if decreed that the nineteenth century, which came in picturesquely arrayed, should go out in a blaze of architectural ugliness and vulgarity.

Mrs. Morland being unwell, and Morland himself being worried by the low companions who disturbed his work and destroyed his health, they accepted the offer of their medical man, Mr. Lynn, a surgeon in Westminster, who generously placed at their service a picturesque cottage which he possessed near Cowes. In April, 1799, Mrs. Morland went there with her servant, and her husband and his man Simpson soon followed.

Dawe makes an objection to Morland going to the Isle of Wight for retirement, and yet keeping ' the apartment in which he painted filled from morning till night with sailors, fishermen, and smugglers.' Yet how, or who, was Morland to paint else ? As a story related further on proves, he but followed the dictates of his own style of art in collecting these men, however objectionable they seem to Dawe, whose own classic bent is revealed in his picture of  'Achilles, Frantic for the Loss of Patroclus, rejecting the Consolation of Thetis ' ('Iliad,' lib. xviii.), a painting which gained the Academy gold medal in 1803. The world would rather have one painting of sailors, fishermen, or smugglers by Morland, than a hundred Achilles canvases by Dawe.

Take, for example, two paintings by Morland, both engraved by J. R. Smith, mezzotint engraver to the Prince of Wales, and published in 1799. One is ' The Fisherman's Hut,' and the other is ' Selling Fish.' The latter was painted in 1793, but both display the artist's homely yet powerful style, and show that, before he went to the Isle of Wight, he had made the acquaintance of fishermen. In 1800 appeared, under the title 'Fishermen,' a fine coast scene with fishermen, boats, and dogs, engraved by John Young, engraver to the Prince of Wales, and 'The Fisherman's Dog,' engraved by S. W. Reynolds ; whilst in 1802 William Ward produced 'Sailors' Conversation,' a scene between four sailors and a girl at the door of an inn. A fine picture of  'Fishermen Going Out ' was engraved by S. W. Reynolds in 1805. Next year appeared a small 'Coast Scene,' and William Ward's mezzotint 'The Contented Waterman ' — also an engraving of a well-known painting, ' Fishermen on Shore,' representing two men toasting a fisher-lass as she passes. A mezzotint by William Ward, published so late as 1814, entitled 'Bathing Horses,' may close this brief notice of some of Morland's pictures done near the seashore.

One would have imagined that, in the Isle of Wight, Morland would have been safe from his London creditors, but unfortunately such was not the case. His Cowes retreat was divulged by some toper in a public-house, and Morland's brother was just in time to warn the artist of the possibility of his arrest. Hastily leaving Cowes, the latter and his man Simpson took refuge in Yarmouth, a picturesque town on the Solent, not very far from Cowes, and also in the Isle of Wight. There they lodged with an old smuggler named George Cole ; but, as if misfortune dogged our painter's footsteps everywhere, he had not been long in Yarmouth when he and his man, and also Morland's brother, were arrested as spies by an order from General Don, commanding this district of the isle. Their arrest was sudden and dramatic. Morland was breakfasting with his brother and servant at six o'clock one morning, when a lieutenant and eight soldiers of the Dorset militia entered, grounded their pieces, and declared them all prisoners. The zealous militiamen had observed our artist sketching the coast at Yarmouth; and, being in all things warlike, they could arrive at no other conclusion than that he was sketching the coast defences for the information of the French Government, and to assist a French invasion. They accordingly marched the suspected artist, his brother, and his servant off to Newport, the island capital, twelve miles distant; and the weather being hot and dry, and the artist's heavy portfolio of sketches (which contained the criminatory evidence against him) being carried by the prisoners, the latter appeared in sorry plight before the island justices. To complete the indignity, they were hooted at as traitors whilst on the road to Newport. Fortunately, Morland had received, from Dr. Lynn, a letter of introduction to a well-known gentleman in the Isle of Wight, and this saved him. With a stern admonition to make no more sketches in the isle, he was dismissed from the justices' court.

This ridiculous affair will remind the reader of an episode in Richard Doyle's inimitable 'Brown, Jones, and Robinson,' where the whole party were arrested and tried because Brown chose to make sketches in Austrian territory. However, the injunction to sketch no more in the Isle of Wight seems to have lain light on Morland ; for, whilst staying with the old smuggler at Yarmouth, he painted, for Mr. Wedd, two of his finest coast scenes — the one a view of the Needles, and the other of Freshwater Gate, into which he introduced the portraits of various people of the districts.

Allan Cunningham says ('Lives of British Painters,' 1830, vol. ii., p. 222) that a friend once found  Morland at Freshwater Gate, in a low public-house called The Cabin. Sailors, rustics, and fishermen were seated round him in a kind of ring, the roof-tree rung with laughter and song, and Morland, with manifest reluctance, left their company for the conversation of his friend. "George," said his monitor, "you must have reasons for keeping such company." " Reasons, and good ones," said the artist, laughing ; " see, where could I find such a picture as that, unless among the originals of The Cabin ?" He held up his sketch-book and showed a correct delineation of the very scene in which he had so lately been the presiding spirit. One of his best pictures contains this facsimile of the tap-room, with its guests and furniture.'

Freshwater Gate is a hamlet situated on the seashore close to the more inland village of Freshwater. The Cabin public-house has vanished, and the only inn known to have once existed at Freshwater Gate was the Mermaid, the site of which is now occupied by the Albion Hotel. In all probability, Morland lived at the Mermaid. The author was informed by an old fisherman of Freshwater that he assisted, when a boy, at the pulling down of the Mermaid, and that his grandmother had secured its sign, a mermaid carved in wood. One day the fisherman's aunt wanted firewood, and actually broke up and burnt the old sign — a bit of ruthless destruction which the fisherman said he had never ceased to regret. Curiously enough, the fisherman had two good coloured engravings, by William Ward (1790), of Morland's ' Jack in the Bilboes' and 'The Contented Waterman ' which, he said, had descended to him.

Since Morland's day, Freshwater has become a fashionable watering-place, but its picturesque scenery remains just as he loved to depict it. There are still the chalk cliffs, the splendid sea, the grassy downs, the old thatched stone cottages, situated amid a luxuriant tangle of trees, shrubs, and flowers. The Poet Laureate of England came to this district and lived long and happily among its lovely scenery and homely people. Farringford, Lord Tennyson's seat, is close to Freshwater ; and it is known that the illustrious poet felt, like Morland, most at home among the common people of the locality. He fled from a Cockney tourist as Morland did from a London dun.

In times to come, Farringford will be a place of pilgrimage for all lovers of English poetry ; and people will go there to visit the haunts of Tennyson, just as they go to Stratford-on-Avon to visit those of Shakespeare. It is pleasant to think that one of the most English of all poets was, like one of the most English of all painters, attracted to the same locality; and it is still more pleasant to know that the place possesses imperishable beauties which all lovers of poetry and art may still enjoy.

The last years of the life of George Morland are sad reading. Returning to London in November, 1799, he thought he might live in safety in lodgings at Vauxhall, but he was mistaken.

Despite all this hassle, he managed to produce a large body of his best works during this period, depicting the coast of the Island in the years before its Victorian development as a fashionable retreat. Check out Calm off the Coast of the Isle of Wight; A view of Gurnhards Bay, near Cowes, Isle of Wight, with fisherfolk on the shore 1; and Fisherfolk Unloading their Catch in Freshwater Bay Isle of Wight.  Compare the coastscape around Freshwater as depicted in old postcards scanned at freshwater.shalfleet.net.

The Sterling Times ("the virtual scrapbook of British nostalgia") has a large index of paintings by Morland; and there are other more or less similar biographies findable online. See George Dawe's The life of George Morland (Internet Archive ID cu31924008634960), David Henry Wilson's George Moreland (Internet Archive ID georgemorland00wilsuoft) and John Hassell's Memoirs of the life of the late George Morland; with critical and descriptive observations on the whole of his works hitherto before the public (Internet Archive ID memoirsoflifeofl00hassrich).

Addendum: footnote 1 is sic probably, and maybe even the whole title. "Gurnhards Bay" appears nowhere except in modern references to this painting. There is a Gurnard Bay, however, which was historically called Gurnard's Bay. As far as I can tell, this spelling "Gurnhards Bay" comes from a 2007 Christie's auction. But the image doesn't look like Gurnard Bay. The geology is wrong: the painting shows distinct chalk cliffs, and Gurnard Bay is actually backed by soft low-lying Tertiary rocks. Plus there's no reference to a work of this name in any of the Morland biographies.

- Ray