Monday, 9 July 2007


Current reading: a very nice book of other kinds of British institutions consigned to the dustbin of history: ES Turner's An ABC of Nostalgia.

This compendium of bizarre and largely forgotten fixtures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries includes examples that show nothing much has changed. It tells, for instance, of John Bull magazine, run by the deeply crooked Horatio Bottomley, which ran a word competition called "Bullets" where strangely no-one ever won the top prize: a reminder that Lottery fraud and other competition scams are nothing new.

There was the Children's Newspaper run by the gung-ho and evangelising Arthur Mee. It mentions Crystal Sets (a doomed technology decades ago, but even more so now we're shifting to FM and digital radio, which crystal receivers won't pick up); the Jellygraph (aka hectograph), a still-usable technology for homebrew, maybe samizdat, printing; Lobby Lud (fictionalised as Kolley Kibber in Greene's Brighton Rock , and reinvented as the Daily Mirror's Chalky White); and the scary cautionary stories of Struwwelpeter, online at Project Gutenberg.

My favourite of the bunch is probably the Froth Blowers (AOFB), a charitable drinking organisation founded in 1924 by a grateful patient of the surgeon Sir Alfred Downing Fripp. This is the kind of uncontroversial topic where Wikipedia excels: its article Ancient Order of Froth Blowers is very good, even mentioning the Turner book, with links through to a couple of enthusiast sites, The Friends of the Froth Blowers and the Pub History Society's page. It may well have not been a terrifically healthy pursuit, but it must have a significant source of bonhomie in a period still reeling from World War 1.

- Ray

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