Tag Archive | Tyburn

Amusements of Old London: Sundry Diversions

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

“Modern” folks less brutal and more sophisticated

People of condition in the reigns of Anne and the Georges flocked to the Strand or to Covent Garden to see waxworks at Mrs. Salmon’s, or puppet-shows at Mr. Powell’s, or to watch Mrs. Saraband’s dogs and monkeys going through the operations of a siege with toy cannons and scaling-ladders.

Side by side with these innocent simplicities flourished the brutalities which we have examined in our inquiries into the humours of Hockley, the cockpit and the prize-ring, the last two at least of which famous institutions depended upon the support of well-to-do people for their prosperity and development. So too with the great mass of the people, separated in those days much more sharply from the classes than to-day. They delighted, as we have seen, in the primitive joys of Bartholomew’s Fair or the tea gardens, and were always ready to see much fun in the spectacle of a man grinning through a horse-collar. From such innocent diversion they would turn with joy to the horrors of the duck hunt or the cockshy; and a good place of vantage from which to see old Lovat’s head roll on the scaffold at the Tower, or Jack Rann swing into the air at Tyburn Tree, was held worth while spending the previous day to secure.

Whatever else may be said of the modern entertainments which appeal to the tastes and the purses of the London of to-day, it will not be contended that they lack humanity or err on the side of simplicity in execution or design.

“Simple and curious entertainments”

The naïveté of the audiences of the early part of the last century, and the ease with which they were amused, appear very plainly, we think, in the success which rewarded some very simple and curious entertainments of a spectacular character, which, by reason of that success, became serious competitors of the legitimate drama at Drury Lane.

Puppet Shows

Great people flocked to Mr. Powell’s establishment under the Piazza in Covent Garden in numbers which seriously reduced the takings of the patent houses, and hampered the progress of the exotic opera, then lately introduced into England.

These included marionette plays mixing biblical stories with Punch and Judy characters, such as “Punch and Judy dancing in Noah’s ark, Punch subsequently seating himself on the Queen of Sheba’s lap, fighting the Duke of Lorraine, and selling the King of Spain a bargain.”

Mrs. Salmon’s waxworks in Fleet Street near Temple Bar, foreshadowed Madame Tussaud’s.

Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks

M. Bisset astonished the town… with his Cats’ Opera and troupe of other animals; monkeys taking wine together, riding on horses, and dancing minuets with dogs. One of M. Bisset’s hares walked on its hind legs and beat a drum… [He] also induced his six turkeys to walk through the steps of a country dance.

Pantomime, like Opera, crept into England at the beginning of the eighteenth century, “comique masques in the high style of Italie” were announced, and a ballet at Drury Lane of the Loves of Mars and Venus, where the whole story was told by gesture… foreshadowed the real pantomime which soon followed. Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Theatre produced a piece called “Harlequin Executed” in 1717, which is accepted as the first real pantomime by historians of the stage… Even Garrick himself found the pantomime a serious rival, and was wont to reproach his audiences in the prologues and epilogues which he turned so neatly.

GHL33155 Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, 1811

In the “modern” Victorian era, Boulton cites the “silly performances of the medical mountebank. Katerfelto

…took advantage of an epidemic of influenza to work upon the nerves of audiences with magic langterns and fearsome images of microbes and animalculae. His darkened rooms, black cats, and electric machines impressed his visitors hugely, instead of anticipating the fairly obvious fact later established by a magistrate, when his fire balloons set haystacks alight, that he was a rogue and a vagabond.

Dr. Graham, with the help of the lovely Emma, advocated mud-baths and lectured on “perpetual youth and beauty,” with the illustration of “blooming nursemaid… as the ‘Goddess of Health.'” The Celestial Bed held “great attractions for those wanting heirs, the ‘rosy Goddess of Health assisting at the celestial matters… and that sacred Vital Fire over which she watches.’ “With such attractions as these, Dr. Graham contrived to fill his rooms with a mob of silly people at five shillings a head.”

Philip Astley of Astley’s Amphitheatre was a “true pioneer” in the equestrian entertainment business “and should be canonised as the patron saint of all ringmasters. Astley saved George III’s life on Westminster Bridge and received a royal license. See more about Astley’s Amphitheatre in a previous post.

Like Heidegger, Tyers and others, Philip Astley and his son “claim mention here as men whose fortunes were made by devoting their energies to the amusement of the London of their day.”

Then there was cudgel-playing at open spaces like Spa Fields that drew large crowds. In 1768, “an extraordinary battle was fought in the Spa Fields by two women against two taylors for a guinea a head, which was won by the ladies, who beast the taylors in a severe manor.”

At Spa Fields and other places, grinning matches were popular attractions. In 1779, the authorities took advantage of “such assemblies of British manhood” by offering “an ox roasted whole and unlimited beer to the “friends of their king and country,” hinting at the advantages of enlistment. “Some men were enlisted, but more were impressed, as the bloodhounds were on the scent, and ran breast high.”

Boulton feels that Londoners came late to appreciate the value of the Thames as a source of entertainment, although its value for transportation exceeded London roads as late as the Regency.

People did swim in the Thames from Stuart times to George IV, however. “Mr. Benjamin Franklin, has left record of a swim which he took through London from Lambeth to London Bridge in the reign of George the Third.” In 1807, Lord Byron swam from Lambeth three miles with the tide.

The Thames appears to have been used as an opportunity for the common people to express their views without fear of retribution. People of fashion who traveled to Vauxhall by boat would hire musicians, not just for the entertainment value, but also for protection from unruly hecklers. “It was the pride and joy of the average boatload of apprentices from the city to unite the vulgarity of their whole company in an epithet of suitable brevity, and fire it off upon every passing boatload of their betters they encountered on the voyage.

The Folly, the only floating place of entertainment of which there is record, a large hulk moored off Somerset House in the days of the Restoration, and fitted up as a musical summer-house for the entertainment of the quality, sank from a resort of the fashionables “to a receptacle for companies of loose and disorderly people for the purposes of drinking and promiscuous dancing.”

The Ranelagh Regatta of 1775 was the first of many such functions. Later on, the proprietors of Vauxhall Gardens began offering prizes for sailing races, and that spurred on more interest in leisure sailing on the Thames.

Vauxhall Sailing Match, engraving, 1800 (Minet Library, London, Lambeth Archives Department, V. fo. 57). This appears to be the only surviving image of one of the Vauxhall sailing matches.

Then there was the cock-shy, or cock-throwing, which was celebrated on Shrove Tuesday.

On that holy day you might see, in all open parts of the town, cocks or hens tied by the leg, their owners offering sticks at twopence a throw at a range of a chain, or twenty-two yards, just, in fact, as one used to throw at cocoa-nuts at a country fair. The cock had a certain length of strong in which to manoeuvre, and his master had trained him to avoid the knock over, which him the property of his assailant, as long as possible, and so to earn may twopences.

The duck hunt, however, was not limited to a season.

The duck-pond was a small affair, and boarded to the height of the knee round its edges to prevent the excited spectators from falling in in their eagerness to follow the incidents of the sport. These all arose from the movements of a pinioned duck which was put into the water and hunted by a spaniel or spaniels. “It escaped,” we are told, “as long as it was able by diving.”

Survival of the Fittest

Of the amusements of our ancestors in London which we have examined in our inquiry, how many have survived to our times. Practically one, and one only, the theatre, which to-day perhaps fills a greater place than ever amongst the diversions of the town… Parks, of course, remain, but they are no longer the playground of fashion which London made of them in the days of the Ring or the Mall. The tea gardens and Vauxhall were features of the London of other days, which all who have studied their old delights must regret… We may congratulate ourselves upon the change in taste and manners which has rendered the excsses of the play tables impossible in these days. No one regrets the disappearance of Hockley in the Hole, or the closing of cockpits and prize-rings… Speaking generally, Londoners of all ranks have exchanged most of their former joys for diversions in which bodily exercise takes a chief part; the man who formerly lost his fortune at hazard or faro at White’s or Brooks’s now spends it in healthy forms of sport which take him over the country, and indeed, over the globe for its gratification. Men of a lower station play cricket and football or ride bicycles when they are young, and look on at others doing the same when age overtakes them. And London and England have surely gained by the change.

Amusements of Old London series

Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industrious and Idle Apprentices”

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

Comments on Hogarth’s “Industrious and Idle Apprentices”

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray

Mr. Thackeray, in his Lectures on the English Humorists, thus vividly paints the scenes of Hogarth’s masterpieces; at the same time he very ingeniously contrasts the past with the present—one of the more immediate benefits of the Lecture: the past is generally interesting, but it chiefly becomes instructive when brought under the powerful focus of the present. His account of Hogarth’s “Apprentices” is a masterpiece in this way:

1William_Hogarth_-_Industry_and_Idleness,_Plate_1;_The_Fellow_'Prentices_at_their_Looms

William_Hogarth-Industry and Idleness, Plate 1; The Fellow ‘Prentices at their Looms

Fair-haired Frank Goodchild smiles at his work, whilst naughty Tom Idle snores over his loom. Frank reads the edifying ballads of Whittington and the London ‘Prentice: whilst that reprobate Tom Idle prefers Moll Flanders, and drinks hugely of beer.

2william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_2_the_industrious_prentice_performing_the_duty_of_a_christian.png

William Hogarth-industry and idleness plate 2 the industrious prentice_performing the duty of a Christian

Frank goes to church on a Sunday, and warbles hymns from the gallery; while Tom lies on a tomb-stone outside playing at halfpenny-under-the-hat, and with street blackguards, and deservedly caned by the beadle.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_3_the_idle_prentice_at_play_in_the_church_yard_during_divine_service

william hogarth -industry and idleness plate 3 the idle prentice at play in the church yard during divine service

Frank is made overseer of the business; whilst Tom is sent to sea.

4William_Hogarth_-_Industry_and_Idleness,_Plate_4;_The_Industrious_'Prentice_a_Favourite,_and_entrusted_by_his_Master

William_Hogarth Industry and Idleness, Plate 4; The Industrious ‘Prentice a Favourite, and entrusted by his Master

 

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_5_the_idle_prentice_turnd_away_and_sent_to_sea

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 5 the idle prentice turnd away and sent to sea

Frank is taken into partnership, and marries his master’s daughter, sends out broken victuals to the poor, and listens in his night-cap and gown with the lovely Mrs. Goodchild by his side, to the nuptial music of the city bands and the marrow-bones and cleavers; whilst idle Tom, returned from sea, shudders in a garret lest the officers are coming to take him for picking pockets.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_6_the_industrious_prentice_out_of_his_time__married_to_his_masters_daughter

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 6 the industrious prentice out of his time married to his masters daughter

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_7_the_idle_prentice_returnd_from_sea__in_a_garret_with_common_prostitute

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 7 the idle prentice returnd from sea in a garret with common prostitute

The Worshipful Francis Goodchild, Esq., becomes Sheriff of London, and partakes of the most splendid dinners which money can purchase or alderman devour; whilst poor Tom is taken up in a night cellar, with that one-eyed and disreputable accomplice who first taught him to play chuck-farthing on a Sunday.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_8_the_industrious_prentice_grown_right__sheriff_of_london

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 8 the industrious prentice grown right sheriff of london

What happens next? Tom is brought up before the justice of his county, in the person of Mr. Alderman Goodchild, who weeps as he recognizes his old brother ‘prentice, as Tom’s one-eyed friend peaches on him, as the clerk makes out the poor rogue’s ticket for Newgate.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_9_the_idle_prentice_betrayed_and_taken_in_a_night-cellar_with_his_accomplice

william hogarth – industry and idleness plate 9 the idle prentice betrayed and taken in a night-cellar with his accomplice

 

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_10_the_industrious_prentice_alderman_of_london_the_idle_on_brought_before_him__impreachd_by_his_accomplice

william hogarth -industry and idleness plate 10 the industrious prentice alderman of_london the idle on brought before him impreachd by his accomplice

Then the end comes. Tom goes to Tyburn in a cart with a coffin in it; whilst the right Honorable Francis Goodchild, Lord Mayor of London, proceeds to his Mansion House, in his gilt coach, with four footmen and a sword-bearer, whilst the companies of London march in the august procession, whilst the train-bands of the city fire their pieces and get drunk in his honor; and oh, crowning delight and glory of all, whilst his majesty the king looks out of his royal balcony, with his ribbon on his breast, and his queen and his star by his side at the corner house of St. Paul’s Church-yard, where the toy-shop is now.

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_11_the_idle_prentice_executed_at_tyburn

william_hogarth- industry and idleness plate 11 the idle prentice executed at tyburn

 

william_hogarth_-_industry_and_idleness_plate_12_the_industrious_prentice_lord-mayor_of_london

william_hogarth -industry and idleness plate 12 the industrious prentice ord-mayor of london

How the times have changed! The new Post-office now not disadvantageously occupies that spot where the scaffolding is on the picture, where the tipsy trainband-man is lurching against the post, with his wig over one eye, and the ‘prentice-boy is trying to kiss the pretty girl in the gallery. Past away ‘prentice boy and pretty girl! Past away tipsy trainband-man with wig and bandolier! On the spot where Tom Idle (for whom I have an unaffected pity) made his exit from this wicked world, and where you see the hangman smoking his pipe, as he reclines on the gibbet, and views the hills of Harrow on Hampstead beyond—a splendid marble arch, a vast and modern city—clean, airy, painted drab, populous with nursery-maids and children, the abodes of wealth and comfort—the elegant, the prosperous, the polite Tyburnia rises, the most respectable district in the habitable globe!

In that last plate of the London Apprentices, in which the apotheosis of the Right Honorable Francis Goodchild is drawn, a ragged fellow is represented in the corner of the simple kindly piece, offering for sale a broadside, purporting to contain an account of the appearance of the ghost of Tom Idle, executed at Tyburn. Could Tom’s ghost have made its appearance in 1847, and not in 1747, what changes would have been remarked by that astonished escaped criminal! Over that road which the hangman used to travel constantly, and the Oxford stage twice a week, go ten thousand carriages every day; over yonder road, by which Dick Turpin fled to Windsor, and Squire Western journeyed into town, when he came to take up his quarters at the Hercules Pillars not he outskirts of London, what a rush of civilization and order flows now! What armies of gentlemen with umbrellas march to banks, and chambers, and counting-houses! What regiments of nursery-maids and pretty infantry: what peaceful processions of policemen, what light broughams and what gay carriages, what swarms of busy apprentices and artificers, riding on omnibus-roofs, pass daily and hourly! Tom Idle’s times are quite changed; many of the institutions gone into disuse which were admired in his day. There’s more pity and kindness, and a better chance for poor Tom’s successors now than at that simpler period, when Fielding hanged him, and Hogarth drew him.

One hundred and fifty years after Thackeray’s assertions that the world is a kinder place toward kids like Idle Tom, I’m not so certain I can say the same. As a former teacher, it seems to me that the system is still stacked against kids who “dance to a different drum” or who are raised in poverty and/or by indifferent parents. And I’ll be damned if I know how to change that. What do you think?

 

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse