The People, Places, Events, Customs and More from the Victorian Era. Please Scroll Down to Explore Links to Other Sites of Historical Interest:

Saturday 8 November 2014

Guest Post: "A Victorian Institution in the Twentieth Century." Or: The Ongoing Mockings of Punch Magazine:

Its getting to that time of year again when the sun becomes but a fleeting acquaintance and a chill draws itself upon us during the stark days, making home a snug and contended place to spend ones time.

Around this time of year I enjoy a Sunday evening with old books, be they novels or periodicals – or even Victorian newspapers – to bask in the warmth of their pages as our ancestors did in the days before electricity, when home entertainment on a dark autumn evening came in the form of a few hours spent with the a Tennyson or Dickens, or, for a bit of fun-poking and scathing wit, Punch.

I’m lucky enough, as I’ve boasted upon these pages in the past, to own a few Punch’s myself, and I never tire of thumbing the pages of them and marvelling not only at the incredible sketches and cartoons, but the marvellously clever humour that simply isn’t available in today’s society.

Just over eighteen months ago I was lucky enough to have Andre Gailani write a superb history of Punch (which you can read here), and I’m delighted to say that he has furnished me with a second installment, this time exploring the magazine’s development and evolution coming out of the Victorian era and into the twentieth century, where it continued to mock and satirize the establishment.

A Victorian Institution in the Twentieth Century.

Part 1: A Brave New Century
It wasn't All Change in 1900 for PUNCH magazine, but steady-as-she-goes. For one, the editorial staff, writers and cartoonists were all Victorians: Editor Francis Burnand had contributed since 1863, Linley Sambourne since 1867, and its greatest asset Sir John Tenniel who would retire a year later, drew his first Punch illustration in 1850. A few of them continued into the mid Twentieth Century: Lewis Baumer, George Stampa, Leonard Raven-Hill and Bernard Partridge worked into the Thirties, Forties and Fifties while a new generation of writers and artists such as PG Wodehouse, AP Herbert, EV Lucas, George Morrow and EH Shepard began their long associations with the magazine at the start of the century. The weekly issues from 1900 saw a wide range of content and cartoon styles that celebrated the new century and exported English-British culture on the back of its Responsibilities of Empire while Mr Punch’s Extra Pages had guest authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Somerset Maugham contributing one-off stories. But as change and progress at home and abroad were being pushed through by powerful undercurrents of organised labour, voting equality and rising nationalist independence, PUNCH was firmly anchored in its own Victorian imperial glory. That year the PUNCH offices moved from 85 Fleet Street a few hundred yards south to 10 Bouverie Street where their printer-owners Bradbury and Agnew had already published (as Bradbury and Evans) the Daily News, Thackeray and Dickens.

Responsibilities of Empire
Optimism and Civilisation were the order of the day: a dialogue called "The Coming Century" in 1898 may have described a dystopia of a women-only parliament but in presenting a fantastical prophesy it attempted to reinforce the established order. Real change however was already afoot. The British government set up the Fawcett Commission in 1901, an all-woman body led by moderate Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett to investigate concentration camps during The Boer War. Britain’s victory in South Africa caused widespread international criticism and approached the high watermark of an Empire globally managed with the use of telegraphy and steam ships. The great threat to Britain in the 19th Century which had been France and Russia became in the 20th a new imperial, naval Germany. PUNCH’s finest hour was to be in the looming Great War, re-asserting English and British patriotism while pulling together its reader/subjects into duty for ‘king and country’ during social unrest (Suffragettes) and nationalist independence movements (Ireland) using humour, wisdom or outrage. Maintaining the British Empire, defending both Civilisation and its own state required vast human and political resources, not least in morale; and the cartoons portrayed, reinforced and convinced accordingly. 

 Look very closely at the New Year cartoon for 1902 by Linley Sambourne and you will notice a muse with a mirror and symbols reflected back-to-front and upside-down. A closer inspection reveals the letters of the word TRUTH. Through satire and illustration PUNCH never really alters underlying truths- however grotesquely disproportioned its drawings, comical its characters or slanted its Conservative / Liberal / patriarchal / Imperial / English / male bias. Rather, it reflects them back with a mirror of humour, intelligently blending wit, opinion and observation into popular artistic expressions of the highest order. Because a truth remains somewhere in the message, like comedy, the whole thing works. Collectively the magazine described a culture and period of time from within, and in so doing became the definition of Englishness: its worldview, sensibilities, politics, fashions, hobbies and humour.

 PUNCH has a wealth of topics found between its covers, bookending perfectly the growth of the British Empire to the end of the Cold War. In its original weekly incarnation from 1841-1992, it celebrated and 'had fun with' rather than 'made fun of' everything from American bloomer fashions, crinolines, flappers, moustaches and beards; new technologies like cooking with electricity, catching criminals with telegraphy; photography, telephones and television; the ‘monster’ motorcars and air travel. It demonised the Irish and the Socialist, and marvelled at the Suffragette. Since its early days PUNCH observed footmen, butlers, taxi drivers, maids, actors, teachers, shopgirls, dandies, Society women, soldiers and politicians. It was one of the first papers (registered a paper, one would fold out the pages into broadsheet size; the pages were stapled at the turn of the century) to send a correspondent, draughtsman T. Harrington Wilson to report on the Crimean War from the Prussian court. WW1 saw contributors Kenneth Bird (Fougasse), EH Shepard, AA Milne, EV Knox and AP Herbert serve at the front. EV Lucas went on a ‘battlefield tour’ in December 1914, reporting movingly the aftermath of the Battle of the Marne, the destruction of towns, the soldiers' graves freshly dug. During both World Wars we have the housewife, Land Girl, war worker, Boy Scout and profiteer during rationing, evacuations, the Zeppelin threat and the Blitz.

PUNCH didn't just have its finger on the pulse of English culture, it was the pulse. Its cartoonists illustrated for the top authors, adverts and information posters. Its writers were respected authors and librettists, playwrights and poets, journalists and critics witnessing first-hand the politics, arts and social developments recorded in Sketches of Parliament, At the Play and the many ‘social cut’ cartoons. A handful were knighted: John Tenniel, Francis Burnand, Bernard Partridge, AP Herbert; Owen Seaman's 1914 knighthood was upgraded to a Baronet upon retiring as PUNCH editor. William Haselden was offered a knighthood, and long standing contributors PG Wodehouse and John Betjeman given the honour late in life. Many regular contributors and staff were trained barristers, journalists, teachers, designers, university dons (Owen Seaman), MPs (AP Herbert, Christopher Hollis, Clement Freud, Giles Brandreth, Roy Hattersley), a publisher (EV Lucas, chairman of Methuen) an architect (Acanthus designed Gatwick Airport’s Beehive lounge), jazz musicians (Trog, Humph, Benny Green, Miles Kington, George Melly), actors (Bernard Partridge, Joyce Grenfell), artists (Jack Butler Yeats) an inventor (Rowland Emett), sportsmen (RC Lehmann, Bernard Hollowood), engineers (Fougasse, Sambourne), novelists (George du Maurier: Trilby; Anthony Powell: Dance to the Music of Time; Patrick Ryan: How I Won The War; Ernest Bramah: Kai Lung; Keith Waterhouse: Billy Liar; Alan Hackney: Private's Progress; Margaret Drabble, Elspeth Huxley, Peter Dickinson, C.S. Lewis) poets (John Betjeman, Virginia Graham), military intelligence (AA Milne, Malcolm Muggeridge), War Propaganda Bureau (Thomas Derrick was its Art Editor) broadcasters (Michael Parkinson, Frank Muir, Joan Bakewell, Ann Leslie) and several served in either of the World Wars including in WW2 Ronald Searle, David Langdon, Alfred Bestall (WW1 and WW2), and Basil Boothroyd.

"Fougasse", Kenneth Bird's nom-de-plume (French for an unreliable WW1 landmine), was a product of the frontline: his first contribution sent into PUNCH was from a war hospital bed in 1916 where he was critically injured. The series of articles Our Man in America in the 1950's were written by the iconic PG Wodehouse who had been a regular contributor to PUNCH from 1902-1914. In the 1970's the staff tried to get his signature on the Punch Table but couldn't overcome the problem of him being in America. Jan Struther (who's PUNCH work was noticed by The Times and went on to write Mrs Miniver) wrote several stories and poems illustrated by Anne Harriet Fish and EH Shepard. And PUNCH theatre critic Eric Keown's short story Sir Tristram Goes West was turned into the successful Hollywood film The Ghost Goes West (1936) starring Robert Donat.

Various high profile regulars and guest writers, historians and thinkers crop up such as John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, JB Priestley, Margaret Drabble, Alan Bullock, and TV personalities David Frost, Clive James, Michael Parkinson, Frank Muir and Harry Secombe. The cartoonists Partridge, Illingworth, Fougasse and Langdon all produced public information posters for government ministries, the most celebrated of which were the Careless Talk Costs Lives campaign for the Ministry of Information by Fougasse in 1940. Fougasse was awarded a CBE in 1946 in recognition of this contribution. 
PUNCH is a record of massive cultural change in Britain during a century and a half. It also charts the continuity and struggle of British identity, or more accurately, Englishness as produced for and consumed by the middle classes at home and abroad in the imperial/colonial Empire.

Our modern preoccupations with celebrity, crime, fashion, science and technology, the arts, film and leisure are delivered in Victorian and Edwardian cartoons with the freshness of a new diary entry often lacking in posed and lifeless contemporary photos. It was at the forefront of describing and re-imagining a new world of exciting discoveries, scientific breakthroughs, New Art and New Politics and shows how these layers enhance or challenge the normal man or woman on the street. When a new form of self-defence called Jujitsu becomes popularised in Western media, we see it applied to politics with The Suffragette that knew Jiu-jitsu. The Arrest: one woman, sleeves rolled up, and police casualties impaled on the railings. 

When a new dance called the Tango arrives we see a policeman arresting a Suffragette using his latest dance move. The Spread of Tango:

Politicians naturally, were fair game. Gladstone, Disraeli and Lloyd George were praised and pilloried, but respected in equal measure. Members of Parliament, Prime Ministers and Totalitarian leaders all went through the mill of satire, from Asquith to Eden, Atlee to Wilson, Macmillan to Thatcher, Louis Napoleon, Tsar Nicholas I, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Stalin and Hitler. The young Churchill grew up reading PUNCH seeing his father Randolph mercilessly ridiculed, and learnt about history and the world through its full page political cartoons. These often depicted Britannia, the British Lion, John Bull, the German Eagle, Russian Bear, French Poodle or Cockerel, Indian Tiger or Afghan Cat. Early on, PUNCH's staunch anti-Irish/Nationalist/Catholic stance depicted Irish Monkeys, Frankensteins and sub-human Fenians.

A recurring Imperialist tone of saving various peoples (and by extension, taking control) such as the Irish damsel Eire from a separatist dragon, Africans in the Congo from the snake-like Belgian rubber coils, or Indians from Famine, all echoed Britain's burden of responsibility to tame nature and Civilise the world. America was 'Little Jonathan', a rowdy upstart that a paternal John Bull had trouble guiding. By the time the Great War ended, that relationship had turned upside down along with the old orders: Europe, the British Empire, Class, Gender, Culture itself. The once successful pattern of Britannia or the British Lion meting out vengeance on rebel Sepoys in India or arguing the moral case against Belgium in Africa was over. But just as the sun began setting on Empire, the shoots of a 'brighter' London and the Bright Young Things appeared in the 1920s, the term ignited by reports of scientific discoveries such as Einstein's Relativity theory in 1919 and the requirement for a new way of looking at the world and living in it. Readers were consumers: gadgets, inventions and popular science fed this need for a new society that was at once broken and breaking away from the devastation of WW1.

The age of the consumer coincided with the Golden Ages of illustration, mass journalism, advertising, radio and cinema, and PUNCH through its anti-hero Mr Punch rode these horses simultaneously like a circus entertainer. But at its inception the magazine was not a commercial venture: it was a labour of love started by a few talented humourists, became a magazine, later a Club, and, adopted by an eager public, a “National Institution”. Early on in December 1842 editor Mark Lemon agreed to be bought-out by printer-proprietors Bradbury & Evans (from 1872 Bradbury and Agnew) essentially saving a struggling but popular publication in what was at the time in publishing a highly vulnerable venture. They used a new, fast, accurate press to distribute the magazine efficiently and give it the edge over rivals; less than a hundred years later PUNCH had to increase its editorial pages because its advertising pages had grown significantly and it made more money through advertising revenue than circulation. In 1918 PUNCH had 16 pages of editorial content. By 1925 it had to increase them to 28 pages in order not to be swamped by the adverts.
While new forms of expression such as Modernism and Art Deco took off and Futurism and Dada were appropriated by Fascism and Soviet neo-realism, the New Woman too was constantly evolving and pushing the limits of what was permissible in dress, vocation and behaviour. Fashions changed with the practicalities of physical movement in leisure and employment such as cycling, dancing, ice-skating or factory work. If mid-Nineteenth century daring would be to visit the criminal courts un-chaperoned with a male friend or cycling in the fin-de-siècle, then in the first half of the Twentieth century it was Votes for Women and female aviators. PUNCH was at hand to take note of these structural and cultural shifts in society. The Victorian New Woman from the 1860s onwards: usually a university graduate or doctor, had, by the turn of the century become a cycling, smoking, card-playing and altogether more confident, physical, intrepid, politicised and sexualized creature. Women started to match men's leisure activities and professions, and it was a natural progression to demand the right to vote. 

The New Woman was reinvented every decade from Actress in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, munitions worker in WW1, the Flapper/Bright Young Thing in the Twenties, female aviator and business owner in the Thirties, Land Girl and WAAF transport pilots in the Forties, sophisticated Mary Poppins type in the Fifties with the New Look; sexually liberated and objectified in the Sixties, Feminist in the Seventies; social climber, power dresser, politician and Prime Minister in the Eighties. The expedient gender equality of WW1 and WW2 which included work at operations desks, as Bletchley code breakers, Make Do and Mend, and Dig for Victory developed further in the post-war austerity period with rising aspiration, travel, mass consumerism, Rock & Roll, the Pill and Feminism.

The Battle of Britain was replaced with the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and the cartoons in PUNCH, mostly drawn by men, show assertive women demanding chivalry or equality in ironic settings; secretaries, doll-like, sat forcibly on boss's laps; nightclub hostesses, cleaners or long suffering wives. But women hadn't just demanded equality and empowerment, they started controlling the levers of power: in 1919 Nancy Astor became the first woman MP.

 Fast-forward to 1967 and future PUNCH editor William Davis wrote a congratulatory open letter to Minister for Transport Barbara Castle in the series Letters to Our Masters. A few years later he invited her to be PUNCH editor for one issue replacing the editorial staff with women and sub-titling it Judy. 

 The cartoons drawn by women over the years: Anne Harriet Fish, Antonia Yeoman, Sheila Dunn, Sally Artz, Riana Duncan, Merrily Harpur show assertive female characters concerned with fashion and social one-upmanship, cynical and sharp witted, at times ruthless with inadequate men, at others pretentious housewives and ambitious mothers. In this sense not much had changed since Society cartoonist George du Maurier's day, except that women were now making the jokes. 

Sexism and chauvinism however hadn’t changed; female suffrage and greater control of women’s lives (choosing whether or not to have sex/babies/careers) in an increasingly sexualized culture only increased these tensions, and the cartoons reflected this. The corporate world was still male dominated. PUNCH’s largely male middle class readers would have simply acknowledged the message in the cartoons confirming a misogynistic status quo rather than being made to ask questions or prompt social change. Gone was the moral guidance of Mr Punch (some might say thankfully) regularly popping-up to tell off Strikers and Socialists, or venting off about Suffragette vandalism, while balancing it with cartoons such as The Dignity of the Franchise. By the 1960s Mr Punch's job was redundant: the cartoon preaching more to the dyed-in-the-wool type than to the New Man. The joke cartoon, social cut, political full page (Big or Large Cut) and later the Front Cover took over in revealing the surreal and the cynical. Just as these cartoons dealt with racial issues in the 60s and 70s with 'token blacks' now it was the irony of ‘token women’ in corporate boardrooms
or exclusively male committees on female equality. Later however, the dynamics of this Battle of the Sexes was superbly translated with savage irony by William Haefeli, one of a handful of great American cartoonists working for PUNCH, in what could be described as his New Man and New Woman cartoons of the 80s and 90s.

Mass travel, motoring and cheap flights in a new Jet Age from the 1950s enhanced a global economy: cartoons on regional dialects or cultural differences, holidays, corporate settings and immigration appear in the 60s acknowledging a re-evaluation of Britain's status within Europe and the World. The Come to Europe and Come to Britain cartoons of 1960 developed into questions of the English North-South divide; while Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, economic recession, unemployment, De-valuation, strikes and neo-fascism by 1970 are counterpointed by anti-British immigration cartoons from an Australian perspective. 

And a spine-chilling 1977 front cover cartoon by Jensen If We Had A Fascist Britain highlights how far the country had gone, could go and in so doing, how it had to retreat. By being extreme or surreal, cartoons infuse important issues with humour and like the best comedy, question and re-balance a country's morals. This was PUNCH's strength: it showed you the abyss in advance. It was an early warning alert, a satnav for the cultural psyche. On many occasions the Big Cut political cartoon was a cautionary tale of what could happen: The Awful Warning by EH Shepard, still pertinent in today's international affairs, was superbly cynical in its anti-appeasement stance when British and European opinion at the time was largely pro-appeasement. We also see Neville Chamberlain building a sand castle as Mussolini splashes with him in the rising tide; or as a hesitant firefighter as buildings burn, a foretaste of the Blitz and WW2.

North-South Divide
If We Had a Fascist Britain

The Awful Warning
PUNCH regularly surprised the reader by what characters in cartoons would say or do, whether through familiar recognition or anachronistic shock. What makes those characters more impressive is that their clothing and accessories, living rooms and gardens, carriages and streets, shops and art galleries are drawn in authentic contemporary detail. For the 1970s series Upstairs Downstairs the producers used George du Maurier's cartoons to help create their sets, while many of the ‘one-liners’ heard in Downton Abbey sound typical of the jokes which appeared in thousands of PUNCH social cartoons.

But the nature of ‘detail’ changed: from du Maurier’s fascinating Society cartoons of the 1860s-1890s rendering every crease and crumple of a lady's dress (including theatrical instruction in the caption), to Phil May's simplified Art Nouveau lines of street life in the early 20th Century, to Fougasse’s distanced view of crowds as detailed squiggles, to the fine-art illustrative colour detail of Frank Reynolds and Leslie Illingworth; the graphic style starting from Linley Sambourne and running through to Norman Thelwell, Mike Williams and Quentin Blake, to the gradually changing facial expressions in HM Bateman's panel cartoons; Pont's backgrounds and genteel familiarity, Rowland Emett's surreal fantasies, Michael ffolkes’ delicate, comical rococo line, Ronald Searle and Ralph Steadman’s sharp scrawls, David Myers’ childlike simplicity and Andre Francois' cartoons where readers deciphered the joke by making connections within the details. These were all masters of their art.

The Choice
In ‘cartoon reality’ people go about their daily business conversing with neighbours, going to the office, boating, buying houses, holidaying, driving, playing tennis or parlour games, dining and entertaining; and tripping over metaphorical objects, concepts or speech. In so doing they distil the dreams and harsh truths of ‘our reality’. And we also see the imagined but likely, private conversations of politicians and royalty in their offices and chambers. Bernard Partridge places you directly inside the room where Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin addresses Edward VIII over the abdication crisis in The Choice. 

It is this privileged 'fly on the wall history' that PUNCH invites us into that is most exciting. Another cartoon parodying the Concert of Europe shows foreign powers waiting to dance with a partner; one chooses an unsatisfactory partner to John Bull’s consternation. The real-life Ping-Pong Diplomacy of 1971 between the USA and China was borrowed from PUNCH in 1901.

Frequently cartoons dared to go even further than what was possible in an age of optimism and discovery. One could hardly imagine a plasma TV with two-way communication in the 1870s but PUNCH ‘made it real’ in one of George du Maurier's visionary cartoons, the Telephonoscope. Another by Charles Harrison in 1901 shows a flying policeman stopping speeding cars in the sky. As soon as a new invention appeared, PUNCH re-invented it with its attendant quirks. This was the cutting edge of PUNCH’s Brave New World: humans combining with technology and creating confusion. 


Video Calling

 As a study of social character, Pont’s The British Character series of cartoons is the most celebrated but thousands more by numerous other cartoonists appeared weekly. One example shows a man crashing through the ceiling, his legs dangling above a husband and wife nonchalantly reading a newspaper and knitting: the woman tells her husband, "It’s that horrid Mr Oozley from the flat above who was so rude to me" (Sherwood, 1933). Another by Bateman - The Man who Paid off his Overdraft (1930) - shows a man happily striding out of a bank manager's office as a row of cashiers cheer him on.

This contrasts with Tenniel's political cartoon fifty years earlier of The Lady of Threadneedle Street bailing out the banks - represented as naughty boys, heads bowed in shame. Corporate and institutional capitalism of the previous century had given rise to personal capitalism in the Thirties just as the European nations were beginning to settle their Great War debts.

In 1951 the Festival of Britain renewed the legacy of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and PUNCH had its own Festival of Punch. In this special edition sub-titled The New Elizabethan Age the modest yet proud, quirky yet sure-footed English are examined through cartoons and humorous articles. Kenneth Bird, whose non-de-plume "Fougasse" was famous for his wartime Careless Talk Costs Lives posters resurrected his own type of Mass Observation, The Changing Face Of Britain from WW2: a series of spot-the-difference cartoons showing London crowd behaviour before and after war.

The Charivari pages at the start of each issue were the equivalent to today's Twitter: short snippets of news, trivia, jokes and gossip from the previous week and sparked off a dialogue with its readers. In the Victorian era the magazine was postage-stamped so one could re-post the magazine- this media sharing was as high technology as you could get in the 1860s. For every 1 magazine of PUNCH sold 9 other people would have held that copy as it was passed around, re-posted or left on coffee tables to enjoy. In a circulation of around 125,000 in 1973 this equated to more than 1 million readers, or ‘followers’ in today's currency. But it wasn't a one-way dialogue. Starting in 1958 PUNCH started a weekly Toby Competition setting readers challenges: to write a fictional review on a well-known work of art, or a poem in the style of Homer; the top prize being a cartoon original. In 1965 PUNCH published reader letters for the first time and held a cartoon competition for children (a teenage cartoonist Ken Pyne was discovered) and in 1969 started the long-running Caption Competition, really a cartoon 'remix' by readers. Winners received a cash prize of five pounds (later rising to ten pounds). These important features of the magazine made PUNCH a companion in the livingroom or a home from home for Colonials abroad, a small A4-ish sized corner of England in a remote outpost of Empire.

The Fancy Portraits series in the 1870s of Victorian celebrities, politicians, authors, do-gooders, innovators and icons re-emerged in the 20th century with Punch Personalities and Heroes of Our Time. In one portrait Arthur Conan Doyle is dramatically chained by an evil Sherlock Holmes in Bernard Partridge's excellent full page cartoon. 

In the 1950s PUNCH made brilliant use of Ronald Searle's talents to produce double-page colour posters of Princess Margaret, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Bertrand Russell and Sir Malcolm Sergeant among others, while William Hewison added Sporting Heroes and Artist's Corner. His As They Might Have Been re-cast celebrities such as Graham Greene, Richard Dimbleby and Joe Orton in different occupations.
Later the portrait became an illustrated interview in Passing Through. The actors Roger Moore, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Telly Savalas and many legends from film, music and the arts were interviewed by David Taylor and sketched by the inimitable ffolkes. Michael Parkinson, Melvyn Bragg, Clement Freud, Humphrey Lyttelton and Harry Secombe were regular contributors and occasional pieces appear by Michael Palin, Terry Jones and John Cleese, Joanna Lumley and even Paul McCartney. PUNCH had not just absorbed a readership of the 'silent majority' but the glitterati.

Several lightbulb moments go off: the future poet laureate John Betjeman regularly contributed to PUNCH and was an editorial member of the Punch Table; Alfred Lord Tennyson in the 1840s submitted two poems (and was accepted, unsurprisingly). Caran D'Ache in the 1890s drew one of the first captionless panel cartoons in PUNCH (though there is evidence of a Charles Keene panel cartoon in the 1860s), PG Wodehouse was a regular since 1902, Graham Greene wrote once or twice a year, and the inspiration for the John le Carré spy ‘George Smiley’, John Bingham, wrote poetry and prose on occasion: his “Telephone Conversation, 1943” of a supposed cross-wired eavesdropped exchange is a revelation. Readers at the time would not have known his day-job was an MI5 intelligence officer. Charles Dickens, Garibaldi and Mark Twain visited the Punch Table. Winnie the Pooh first appeared in PUNCH as Edward Bear with the prototype drawing by Alfred Bestall not EH Shepard; and the illustration of a girl which later became Alice in Wonderland had already been created by Tenniel in a PUNCH Title Page of 1864, a year-and-a-half before her official ‘debut’.

Although largely male oriented in content and readership, PUNCH did attract women readers with its “For Women” section written by women (though edited by novelist Peter Dickinson), and was later renamed “Judy”. The poets and writers Margaret Drabble, Joan Bakewell, Angela Milne, EM Delafield, Mary Dunn, Elspeth Huxley and Joyce Grenfell wrote regularly for the magazine; Virginia Graham's poems are wonderfully evocative of the struggles that Londoners endured during WW2. Great women cartoonists included Georgina Bowers in the 19th and Fish, Anton, Merrily Harpur, Sally Artz and Riana Duncan in the 20th Century. In 1972 with MP Barbara Castle guest-editing the magazine, an all-female editorial staff included Joan Bakewell, Molly Parkin and Irma Kurtz.

Some great comic characters were created in the Twentieth Century, (just as the Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody had with Charles Pooter in the 1880s or the Mr Briggs series of cartoons by Leech in the 1840s-60s), and all first appeared in PUNCH before being published in book form. In 1924 Winnie the Pooh (as Teddy Bear) in the When We Were Very Young series of illustrated poems- was a creative merger of two masters: journalist AA Milne and cartoonist EH Shepard. Geoffrey Willans' Nigel Molesworth first appeared in 1939, HF Ellis' The Diary of AJ Wentworth (1938) and Max the hamster by Giovannetti (1952). Another hugely successful series was ex-barrister AP Herbert's Misleading Cases (1924) which parodied the absurdities of British law using hypothetical cases. These were collected in book form and made into a BBC series in the 1960s. During WW2 and the immediate post-war era Mary Dunn’s Lady Addle’s Domestic Front and The Memoirs of Mipsie series were also hugely popular. In the 1970s and 80s it was Alan Coren's Correspondences of Idi Amin, turning him into a first-person fan-fiction comedy character, Miles Kington's Let's Parlez Francais, Merrily Harpur’s The Nightmares of Dream Topping and Michael Bywater’s Bargepole column.

It is often said that cartoons in PUNCH are great social commentary; while many are snapshots of time that describe the way people lived and thought, one often overlooks the writing. Even greater analysis can be found in Bernard Hollowood's serious articles on the state of the international, political and economic landscape, Elspeth Huxley on how immigration was changing society in the early 60s and how society was treating immigrants; William Hardcastle on Britain's crisis of identity, William Davis on strikes and a New Europe, Francis Williams on the media. And reading Joan Bakewell you can gather what it was like for a woman living in a changing society: the sexual freedoms and expression in the 60s hadn't translated to equality in the 70s where sexism and misogyny still reigned. As a whole, PUNCH is a barometer for measuring Britain's status in the world, measuring class struggle, measuring sexual and racial equality; measuring its own medium against the media. The magazine absorbed, magnified, parodied and re-imagined reality in its own parallel universe threaded with a needle of home truths that were particularly English. This interplay of the Arts, Science, Politics, Fashion, Technology and Class in the form of a cartoon, poem, comment or story makes for a fun, engaging experience.

In the end, PUNCH remains the chronicle of English culture from its minutest foibles to its grandest achievements. In terms of years served, three cartoonists: John Tenniel, Bernard Partridge and David Langdon span 142 years from 1850-1992, overlapping and working for more than 50 years each to continue the line from the Victorian Age to the Modern Era. Just as the East India Company boldly forged its own destiny and that of the British Empire in the 19th Century, PUNCH had done so in the media, achieving world coverage. But just as the East India Company had been absorbed by the Empire, PUNCH belonged to a certain greatness, to a period of time, to History. No longer an institution, but a monument. Like Father Time, Mr Punch could never be wrong: he was merely an observer; an actor on the finest stage reciting lines that we the public, through the satirists, had given him.

Andre Gailani
Punch Ltd
All images copyright Punch Ltd.

Friday 13 September 2013

“A Story of Human Wrong, of Human Suffering; of Evil, of Good; of Sorrow, of Succour…The Weakness and Trust of Woman, and the Treachery and Infidelity of Man.” Or: The Unwanted Children of the 19th Century:

The Victorian era gave birth to many institutions, most of which were hugely beneficial to society’s neediest lives, such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Ragged Schools and Battersea Dogs and Cats home. Such gestures, however, were not confined to the period of the Victorians, and whilst The Foundling Hospital may conjure up images of Oliver Twist-esque waifs and strays being educated by strict Victorian schoolmasters,
The Hospital (not actually a hospital, but a place that offered hospitality) was established in 1741, but ran from then, all the way through the nineteenth century, and well into the second decade of the twentieth.
Its purpose was to act as a home for destitute children, and to care for and educate them until they were old enough to seek work and look after themselves, thus removing them from the streets.

The children who occupied the Hospital would be the offspring of mothers who were unable to care for them. However, a woman could not simply turn up with a child born out of wedlock and turn it over to prevent a scandal; she had to prove her good character, and demonstrate that the father had walked out on the family, leaving her unable to cope, and with no option but give up the infant for its own benefit and hers.

The following article from Strand Magazine explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, and reveals that despite being generally a good thing for children, when it came time for them to step out into the real world, they – in particular the girls – could often struggle to adapt:

The Foundling Hospital is not an institution for the reception of foundlings. This will be news to five-sixths of our readers, and it is easy to imagine some of them exclaiming: “But do you mean to tell us that, if we discover a human mite abandoned on someone’s doorstep, and take it to the Foundling Hospital, it will not be admitted?” We do. “Why, then, call the place a Foundling Hospital?” Thereby hangs a deeply interesting story – a story of human wrong, of human suffering; of evil, of good; of sorrow, of succour – a veritable world’s story, focusing the large-souled sympathy of mankind, the weakness and trust of woman, and the treachery and infidelity of man.

The institution owes its origin to one of Nature’s noblemen; it is a monument equally to the head and the heart of Captain Thomas Coram. Captain Coram, in no ordinary sense of the word, went about doing good. His life was made up of attempts to improve something or somebody. Early in the eighteenth century, he used, in his walks between the City, where he had business, and Rotherhithe, where he lived, to constantly come across young children left by the wayside, “sometimes alive, sometimes dead, and sometimes dying.” In other countries such children would be taken up by the state, and cared for; in England nothing of the sort had ever been attempted, or even perhaps dreamed of. Captain Coram’s heart was touched by surely the most pitiable sight in creation, and to touch Captain Coram’s heart was to set the machinery of his resourceful brain in motion. He rightly considered such exposure of infant humanity a disgrace to civilization, and proceeded to enlist the services of the high-placed and the large-hearted in the cause. For seventeen long years he laboured against adverse circumstances, until, in 1739, his efforts were rewarded by a charter authorising the founding of an institution “for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.”

A fine statue of Captain Coram, by W. C. Marshall, R.A., and a stone tablet to his memory, placed on the wall of the arcade in front of the building, are the first things to catch the visitors eye. Coram lived, we are told, to be eighty-four, and died “poor in worldly estate, rich in good works.” To help the new-born infant, he brought his grey hairs, if not in sorrow, at least in poverty to the grave. Like so many other benefactors of mankind, in striving to alleviate distress, this “indefatigable schemist” forgot himself, and had he, in his devotion, not had friends who gave more regard to his material needs than he gave himself, he might have closed his eyes to mundane affairs in want by the wayside, even as the objects of his solicitude opened theirs.

Foundling Girls
It is not necessary to go here at great length into the early mistakes made, or to describe how the institution failed of the purpose which the founder had in view. It was intended by him to meet the necessities of deserted motherhood; it came, in the middle of the last century, to be a receptacle for all the babes whom worthless parents did not care to keep. A basket was hung outside gates of the Hospital. On the first day 117 children were left in it, and a lucrative trade sprung up among tramps who, for a consideration, carried the little ones from all parts of England to the Hospital. In less than four years, 14,934 infants were thus disposed of.

These “regiments of infantry,” as a waggish commentator called them, overwhelmed the resources of the institution, and it is not surprising to learn that, from various causes, not more than 4,000 of the 14,934 survived, the indiscriminate admission of children had to be abolished. Later, it was decided to receive children for money, but this step resulted in other abuses, and we have the authority of the admirable account of the Hospital, compiled by a former secretary, and revised by the present, Mr. W. S. Wintle – a work which may be purchased for half a crown, and is well worth attentive study – for stating that, since January, 1801, no child has been received into the Hospital, either directly or indirectly, with any sum of money, large or small.

Today the practice is for the mother to take the babe before it is twelve months old to the Hospital, to make her statement before the authorities, and to leave the child to their care absolutely. She must be poor, she must be anxious to regain her good name, and no woman who petitions that her child may be admitted to the Hospital stands a chance of relief if she cannot prove that she has led a life of propriety previous to her misfortune. This point cannot be too strongly borne in mind. As the Reverend Sydney Smith, one of the preachers of the Foundling Chapel puts it:-

“No child drinks of our cup or eats of our bread whose reception, upon the whole, is not certain to be more conducive than pernicious to the interests of religion and good morals. We hear no mother whom it would not be merciless and shocking to turn away; we exercise the trust reposed in us with a trembling and sensitive conscience; we do not think it enough to say. ‘This woman is wretched, and betrayed, and forsaken’; but we calmly reflect if it be expedient that her tears should be dried up, her loneliness sheltered, and all her wants receive the ministration of charity.”
Foundling Boys
No instance of a mother going to the bad after she has been relieved by the Governors of the Foundling Hospital has, we believe, ever come to notice!

The general public knows most of the Foundling Hospital from a visit to the chapel on a Sunday morning. Anyone who is prepared to drop a silver coin into the plate at the door is admitted. The spectacle is impressive. In the galleries at the west end of the chapel, on either side of the organ, are seated some five hundred boys and girls, better behaved probably than any other considerable number of young people who appear in church regularly every Sunday. Their happy faces are perhaps a greater pleasure to gaze upon than their healthy voices are to listen to. Divine service over, at one o’ clock they march into their respective dining-rooms, the boys being in one wing of the building and the girls in the other. Grace in the former is sung to the accompaniment of a cornet, which one of the boys plays. When they take their places at table, the spectator will find none lacking in appetite for the simple honest repast. On the opposite side of the building the girls are doing not less justice to themselves and those who have provided and prepared the dinner.
The Chapel

The scene on any Sunday morning in the year 1891 is precisely that which Charles Dickens described in “No Thoroughfare,” a quarter of a century ago: -

“There are numerous lookers-on at the dinner, as the custom is. There are two or three governors, whole families from the congregation, smaller groups of both sexes, individual stragglers of various degrees. The bright autumnal sun strikes freshly into the wards, and the heavy framed windows through which it shines, and the paneled walls on which it strikes, are such windows and such walls as pervade Hogarth’s pictures. The girls’ refectory (including that of the younger children) is the principal attraction. Neat attendants silently glide about the orderly and silent tables; the lookers-on move or stop as the fancy takes them; comments in whispers on face such a number from such a window are not infrequent; many of the faces are of a character to fix attention. Some of the visitors from the outside public are accustomed visitors. They have established a speaking acquaintance with the occupants of particular seats at the tables, and halt at these points to bend down and say a word or two. It is no disparagement to their kindness that those points are generally points where personal attractions are. The monotony of the long spacious rooms and the double lines of faces is agreeably relieved by these incidents, although so slight.”

There is not much to see in the classrooms, which will not be fully conveyed in our illustrations. As we enter the boys room, we are momentarily startled by the shuffle of feet as every boy rises respectfully in his place. Not being professional school inspectors, such honours are not often accorded us. Resuming their seats, the class work goes on as at any ordinary school. So with the girls. The most interesting of the classes is that of the infants. On the day on which we visit the Foundling for the especial purpose of this paper, they are turned out of their ordinary room, and are squatted on the floor of another in sections before blackboards, and with slates in their laps. They are the veriest, chubbiest urchins imaginable, and, as we approach, three or four of them turn their smiling faces up to ours. They evidently expect to be spoken to, and we ask them what they are doing?
            “Writin’,” answers a babe of very few summers.
            “Writing what?” we ask.
            “Good,” is the reply, as a little finger points to the blackboard on which the word is written in bold characters.
            “And are you good?”
            “Es,” and with a “That’s right!” we pat the baby cheek, and think many things. Poor little mites, and yet happy withal! Motherless, fatherless, friendless, and yet inmates of an institution which is not such a bad substitute for father, mother, and friends. What would they be but for it? Recruits perchance in the ranks of shame into which their mothers might have drifted. And their mothers? Who knows but that somewhere out in the world, women are living, and working, and sleeping; dreaming, wondering how fares the helpless mortal for whose existence they are responsible, for whom they still bear a love which no barrier of separation can obliterate?

Foundling Infants

From the school-rooms let us go to the museum, where are stored some valuable and many curiosities. Pictures by Hogarth and others line the walls, and it is an interesting item of information that the Royal Academy of Arts, to which the fashionable world flocks today, was suggested to the founders by the crowds of people who in the last century went to see pictures exhibited at the Foundling Hospital. Artists rallied strongly to the support of the institution, which also enlisted the services of Handel, who devoted his “Messiah” to its benefit, and presented the organ which is still in use. Lovers of art history and art treasures will find much on the walls and in the show-cases of the Foundling Hospital to gratify them. What will attract the majority of people more, however, than Handel’s gifts, or Hogarth’s or Sir Joshua Reynolds’ canvases, are the tokens which it early became necessary to stipulate should be left with the child for the purpose, if need be, of identification. All sorts of things were left, from a coin or a key, to a trinket of piece of ribbon. Hearts and wedding rings are numerous, the former, no doubt, emblems more often than not of broken hearts, the latter eloquent of disappointed hopes. In some instances, the token took the shape of a verse.
The Museum
What becomes of the inmates of the Hospital when the time arrives to turn them out into the world to gain a living? The boys, at the age of fourteen, are usually apprenticed to some trade. A great many of them, however, who have formed part of the juvenile band at the Hospital, join the bands of the army and navy. In this position they seem to do especially well. Testimonials of gratitude from lads brought up at the Hospital are not wanting. One is a handsome Chinese vase, bearing the inscription:

“Presented to the Foundling Hospital by George Ross, Corporal, Band, 74th Highlanders, as a small token of gratitude for the years of childhood spent in the institution. Hong Kong, 15th February, 1879.”

Another is an inkstand made of Irish bog oak, and was

“Presented to the Governors of the Foundling Hospital by Corporal Samuel Reid, a foundling, of her majesty’s Regiment Military Train, as a token of deep gratitude. April 26, 1868.”

The girls go into domestic service, and with initial care make excellent servants. In these days, when good domestics are so difficult to get, the demand for foundling girls is much greater than the supply. Whatever the deprivations of the children may be on account of the want of individual motherly love, the real hardships of the lives of the girls begin when they leave the Hospital. They are educated in everything save worldly knowledge. Where an ordinary girl runs errands for her parents, and becomes a little woman by the time she reaches her teens, the foundling girls remain in absolute ignorance of how to purchase any single article, or transact the simplest affairs outside the home. This is one drawback.

Girls in Class

Another and sadder is when, standing on the threshold of the great world, they realize that they are not as the majority of other girls are. They go to service, and they have not a friend of any kind to see or to talk about. Do what it will, the Hospital cannot supply the place of relatives, and, however much her origin may be screened from her fellow servants, in all probability the time comes when the latter say:
            “How strange we never hear you speak of your father, or your mother, or your sister, or your brother.”
Then the lonely maiden invents little stories and tells fibs, which the most truthful among us may pardon, respecting the father and mother who are dead, or whatever other explanation may occur to her. If the inquisitive world only knew what pain its thoughtless enquiries may cause!

A visit to the Foundling Hospital will afford food for many an hour’s reflection. We are often urged to recognize woman’s equality with man. The Foundling Hospital is a pathetic reminder of her eternal inequality.
- Strand Magazine, 1891

The Foundling Hospital is no longer there, but Captain Coram’s name still lives on in Coram’s Fields, a children’s park (into which adults are only allowed if accompanied by a child under sixteen) situated between Regent’s Park and Clerkenwell where the hospital stood for 187 years before it was moved outside London in the 1920’s.
A plaque at the entrance to the park commemorates the history of the area with these words:

The site of the Foundling Hospital established in 1739 by Captain Thomas Coram were offered for sale as building land in 1926 when owing to changing social conditions the old Hospital was sold and demolished.
After eight years of anxiety as to its fate, the site was eventually preserved for the use and welfare of the children of Central London by the generosity and vision of Harold Viscount Rothermere, by the efforts of the Foundling Site Appeal Council, by the co-operation of the Governors of the Foundling Hospital, and of the Education Committee of the London County Council, and by the enthusiasm of many thousands of donors, large and small, who contributed their money, or their toil to the saving of these nine acres, henceforth to be known as

Tuesday 27 August 2013

“Pushing the Door Open with a Creak I am at Once Surrounded by the old Familiar Smell; the Acidic and Vinegary Smell of Old Leather Bound Books from a Bygone Age…” Or: A Return to the Dusty Factory of Nineteenth Century Appreciation:

It's morning. Early. Despite the recent warm weather there is a fine mist of cool water hanging in the air as if a cloud has fallen from the sky and landed amongst us. The only sound I can hear is of the soles of my shoes clacking upon the floor and grinding the tiny particles of grit on the tarmac. My destination is close now. I have not been here for some months, but I feel as if I have never left as the familiar sights and sounds bring the past forward, colliding with the present.

It is unusually dark, but, for the lack of light and the damp air, unusually warm, too. It is August, and I suppose as we phase awkwardly from summer into autumn, the enigmatic weather is wont to contradict itself.

Looming closer is my destination. Shrouded by the mist and the early morning twilight it looks like some great animal, watching me draw near, incredulous at my late return, at once excited, but also vexed at my lengthy absence. As I approach the door the finer details are painted into the beast by my nearing proximity, and the broad brushstrokes that made it seem animalistic are replaced, and the looming creature morphs into a familiar and friendly presence, excitedly welcoming me back.

Just as you may be apart from a friend for a length of time, and upon being reacquainted may notice small differences in them that may have gone unseen had you been in their presence more frequently, I notice the face of the building has undergone minor changes; the weeds upon the front step have grown longer than I have ever seen, the hot summer has caused the once-striking red paint of the door to fade and begin to peel, and the windowsill has become thick with dust and dirt. All this will be attended to in time.

Above the door I read the sign with the same pride with which I read it the day it was hung almost three years ago. 'The Victorianist'. I whisper it aloud.

Pushing the door open with a creak I am at once surrounded by the old familiar smell; the acidic and vinegary smell of old leather bound books from a bygone age. Paper touched by our ancestors and passed down through the generations to find its way to me. I am, like previous persons, but a stepping stone for these old tomes. Long after me they will find new custodians to keep them and enjoy them. They have outlived so many, and will outlive many more yet.

The one window in this building of wood is miserly in its allowance of light, and so I reach for the light switch and flick it, but nothing happens. Stepping forward over the threshold I stumble upon a pile of mail; it seems I have much work to do...

When the light is returned, and the weeds pulled up, and the window cleaned and the dust is blown from these old books, business can once again resume and this little wooden factory of nineteenth century appreciation can once again get running.

First, I must get a fire going. I tread across the creaky wooden boards to the knee-high cupboard and take out the matches I knew I had left there, for when I was last here it was May, yet we were still in the throes of winter. A few lumps of coal and newspaper still remain and in no time a small fire is burning in the grate, crackling and throwing obscure orange shadows up the walls. Then she catches my eye, sitting proudly on the wall of the chimney breast, from whence she has watched everything for the last three years from behind her gilt frame. Although she was the first item I brought into this place, I had forgotten she was here.

There is no mistaking her mood as she sits regally, staring out at me with a displeased look. She is photographed here in 1897, the year of her diamond jubilee, and yet, despite her expression having been captured in a second, all those years ago, I feel it has been reserved for this moment, as she registers her annoyance at my lengthy absence.

I bow my head to her and agree; 'Yes, your Majesty, it has been too long...'

Then, like an industrious squirrel at the dawn of winter, I scurry off to do my work...

Thursday 2 May 2013


Last September, this blog explored the fun, yet often melancholy world of the Victorian music hall and the lives of those who illuminated the stage. (read those articles here:)

But for a more in-depth exploration of this fascinating world of gas-light, music, laughs and celebrity, I direct you toward the fabulous Hoxton Hall – an original 1860’s music hall – for a day of music hall history and gaiety!
From Charlie Chaplin to Vesta Tilley, the working-class theatre and its performers captured the imagination of the Victorian and Edwardian period. This exciting and unique conference explores how such a controversial art form influenced popular perceptions, and still resonates in the world we live in today.

Held at Hoxton Hall, on May 11th 2013, and organized by King’s College, London and the University of Liverpool, this one-day conference will explore the history of one of the most exciting, subversive and controversial forms of theatre from the 19th Century. 

The first example of mass entertainment in Britain, the music hall’s influence over fashion, language, society, and culture continues to resonate today, while remaining one of the most enduring art forms of the Victorian period. On the other side of the Atlantic, vaudeville had a similar impact, helping produce a mass audience of consumers, in advance of the development of film and television. In addition, American performers found opportunities in the UK, and vice versa, becoming carrier of cultural exchange in the process.

This conference seeks to bring together all those working on any aspect of the Music Halls, both nationally and internationally, for a day of discussion and discovery. 
We are looking for papers from all disciplines: Drama, Performance Studies, History, English, Geography, Music, Social Sciences, and Digital Humanities, etc. 
We welcome submissions from established scholars, early career researchers, Phd students, as well as performers, and members of relevant societies. 
Papers could explore:

This conference takes place on 11th May 2013 at 9am.

£25.00 Full Admission
£20 Concession for Students 

For more information or to book tickets, please find your way to the event website, or simply allow me to do all the hard work for you, and click here:

Friday 19 April 2013

“The Show-Case of the East-end Photographer Gives One a Very Fair Idea of the Evolution of the Foreign Immigrant…” Or: A Day With an 1890’s East-End Photographer:

In the last post here we delved into the history of The Strand magazine and its owner, George Newnes. It felt it quite appropriate, then, to follow that with an article from that publication.

This article relates to one of the real heroes of the Victorian era, and one without whom I doubt my passion and interest for the subject would be so great;

The photographer.

One of the great beauties of studying the Victorian era is the fact that it was the first period in history ever to be photographed, and Queen Victoria the first ever monarch to have a portrait done, not by an artist under pressure to hide the blemishes and bring out the best features of regal subject, but by the ever-truthful camera. We will never know for certain what former kings and queens really looked like, or what the streets of the world looked like in earlier eras, but the latter-half of the nineteenth century is there in photographs for the world to see.

Such is my enthusiasm for Victorian photography that not too long ago I decided to begin sharing the pictures I have saved on a Tumblr photo blog, which you can find here:

Although it is a little London-centric, there are nineteenth century photographs from other parts of the UK there too.

I have many books containing Victorian street photography, which are invaluable research sources, and photographs of people can provide great insights into the fashions of all classes of the day. Having looked at so many photos its great to be able to get an insight into the life of the man behind the lens, and for that, this article is just fantastic, and illustrates what The Strand did so well.

I have published on this blog a few other posts about Victorian photography, for which I will provide links below the main article:

A Day with an East-End Photographer
“Here y’are now, on’y sixpence for yer likeness, the ‘ole thing, ‘strue’s life. Come inside now, won’tcher? No waitin’. Noo instanteraneous process.”

Thus, with the sweet seductiveness of an East-end tout, was a photographer endeavouring to inveigle ‘Arry and ‘Arriet into his studio, which was situated – well, “down East som’ere,” as the inhabitants themselves would describe the locality. It was somewhere near the Docks; somewhere, you may be sure, close bordering upon that broad highway that runs ‘twixt Aldgate and the Dock-gates, for within those boundaries the tide of human life flows most strongly, and the photographer hoped, by stationing himself there, to catch a few of the passers-by, thrown in his way like flotsam and jetsam. He was not disappointed in his expectation. While daylight lasted there was generally a customer waiting in his little back parlour, enticed thither by the blandishments of the tout outside.

The establishment was not prepossessing to an eye cultivated in the appearance of the artistic facades of photographers in the West. The frontage consisted of a little shop, with diminutive windows, which it was the evident desire of the proprietor to make the most of by engaging in other commercial pursuits.
There seemed to be an incongruity in the art of the photographer being associated with the sale of coals, firewood, potatoes, sweets and gingerbeer, but the East-enders apparently did not trouble themselves to consider this in the least. There was, indeed, a homely flavour about this miscellaneous assortment of useful and edible articles, which commended itself to their mind. What was more natural than that ‘Arry, having indulged in the luxury of a photograph, should pursue his day’s dissipation by treating his ‘Arriet to a bottle of the exhilarating “pop,” to say nothing of a bag of sweets to eat on their holiday journey.

The coals, firewood and potato department, so far from being regarded as in any way derogatory to the photographer’s profession, was rather calculated to impress the natives, who were accustomed to look upon a heap of coals – to say nothing of the firewood and potatoes – as a material sign of prosperity.

So far as the photographer was concerned, it was a matter of necessity as well as choice that he came to be thus associated, for it transpired that he had married the buxom woman, whom we now see behind the counter, at a time when he was trying hard to make ends meet in the winter season, when photography is as a discount. She, on the other hand, had a thriving little business of the general nature we have indicated, and was mourning the loss of the partner who had inaugurated the shop, and for a time had shared with her his joys and sorrows, the photographer had won her heart by practicing his art on Hampstead Heath the last Bank Holiday, and the happy acquaintance thus formed had ripened into one of such mutual affection that the union was consummated, and another department was added to the little general business by the conversion of the yard at the back into a photographic studio.

The placards announcing the price coals and firewood, and the current market rates of potatoes, were elevated to the top-most panes of the window, and the lower half was filled with a gorgeous array of specimen portraits in all the glory of their tinsel frames.
From that day the shop was a huge attraction, and the proprietor of the wax-work show over the way cast glances of ill-conceived envy and jealousy at the crowd which had deserted his frontage for the later inducements opposite.

The incoming vessels from foreign ports brought many visitors, and generally a few customers. To the foreign element the window was especially fascinating. Many a face of strange mien stared in at the window, and the photographer being somewhat of an adept with an instantaneous camera, would often secure a “snap shot” of some curious countenance, the owner of which could not be enticed within. These would duly appear in the show cases, and served as decoys to others of the same nationality.
 There was a solemn-faced Turk in showy fez, and with dainty cigarette ‘twixt his fingers, who surveyed the window with immutable countenance, and was impervious to all the unction of the tout. This latter worthy was not aware that it was against the religion of the “unspeakable Turk” to be photographed, or he would not have wasted his energy on such an unpromising customer.

The negro sailor was apparently struck with the presentments of the other members of his race, but asseverated that he was “stone broke,” and did not own a cent to pay for his photograph. He had spent such small earnings as he had received, and was now on his way back to his vessel. “Me no good, me no money,” he told the tout, who turned away from him in disgust.

There has so far been a good many passers-by today for every likely customer, and the tout is almost in despair. “Rotters,” he mutters; “not a blessed tanner among ‘em.”

Ah! Here’s his man, though, and he is on the alert for his prey, as he sees a dapper little figure with unmistakable Japanese features come sauntering down the street. He is dressed in the most approved style of the East-end tailor, who no doubt has assured him that he is a “reg’lar masher.” So evidently thinks the little Japanese man, as he shoots his cuffs forward, flourishes his walking cane, and displays a set of ivory white teeth in his guileless Celestial smile. The tout rubs his hands with a business-like air of satisfaction as he sees the victim safely handed over to the tender mercies of the operator within. “Safe for five bobs’ worth that ‘un,” he soliloquises, winking at no one in particular, but possibly just to relieve his feelings by force of habit.

The next customer attracted in was an Ayah, or Hindoo nurse, a type often to be seen in the show-case of the East-end photographer. These women find their way to England through engagements as nurses to Anglo-Indian families coming home, and they work their way back by re-engagements to families outward bound. Whenever a P.&O. boat arrives there will probably be seen one or more of these women, whose stately walk and Oriental attire at once attract attention.
Prominent also among the natives who find their way up from the Docks are the Malay sailors, in their picturesque white dresses. Sometimes the photographer secures a couple for a photo, but as a rule they have little money. “Like all the rest o’ them blessed haythens,” says the tout, “not a bloomin’ meg among a ‘ole baker’s dozen of ‘em.”

The faces of such types are not, however, interesting to the East-enders. Their interest in the window display is only heightened when familiar faces make their appearance in the tinsel frames. There was, for instance, positive excitement in the neighbourhood when a highly-coloured portrait of the landlord of a well-known beershop in the same street was added to the collection.
Everyone recognised the faithfulness at once, though it was irreverently hinted that in the colouring the exact shade of the gentleman’s nose had not been faithfully copied.

One can imagine the feelings of pride with which the photographer has posed his worthy neighbour, who had arrayed himself in all the glory of his Sunday best suit.
“Head turned a little this way, please! Yes – now – look at this – yes – now, look pleasant!”

Everything would have gone well at this point, but the dog, which it was intended should form an important adjunct to the picture, and symbolically typify the sign of the house – “The Jolly Dog” – set up a mournful howl, and made desperate efforts to et away from the range of that uncanny instrument in front of him. However, the photographer waited for a more favourable moment, and while the dog was considering the force of his master’s remarks, the exposure was successfully made. The result was regarded as quite a chef d’oeuvre in the eyes of those who stopped to gaze at it as it hung in a place of honour in the window of the little front shop.

The “reg’lar” East-enders, as distinguished from the foreign element, were, indeed, very easy to please; but, unfortunately, they were not the mainstay of the photographers business. He must needs look for other customers to eke out a living. And here his difficulties began. He had to be careful not to take a low type of Jewish features in profile, for the foreign Jew, once he has been acclimatized, does not like to look “sheeny”; and the descendants of Ham – euphemistically classed under the generic term of “gentlemen of colour” – were always fearful lest their features should come out too dark. One young negro who came to be photographed expressly stipulated that he should not be made to look black. To obviate this difficulty, the photographer wets his customer’s face with water, so as to present a shiny appearance to the lens of the camera, and a brighter result is thus secured.
On this particular occasion the ingenious dodge failed, and the vain young negro loudly denounced it as representing him a great deal blacker than he was in the flesh. Indeed, the tears sparkled in his eyes as he protested that he was “no black n***er.”

There is a subtle distinction, mark you, between a “n***er” and a “black n***er” in the mind of a “coloured person,” and no greater insult can be leveled at him than to apply the latter epithet.

The tout’s thoughts are soon distracted by the appearance of a German fraulein, evidently of very recent arrival in England, who is admiring the photos in the window. She is arrayed in a highly-coloured striped dress, which is not of a length that would be accepted at the West-end, for it reaches only to the ankles, and shoes her feet encased in a clumsy pair of boots. An abnormally large green umbrella which she carries is another characteristic feature that seems inseparable from women of this type.

The tout has a special method of alluring women folk within the studio. He has a piece of mirror let into one of the tinsel frames which he carries in his hand as specimens. He holds this up before the woman’s face, and asks her to observe what a picture she would make. This little artifice seldom fails to attract the women, whatever their nationality, for vanity is vanity all over the world.

John Chinaman is quite as easily satisfied, and the tout has no difficulty in drawing him within, but the drawback to his custom is that he seldom has any money, or, if he has any, is not inclined to part with it. It is just a “toss-up,” as the tout says, whether he will pay, if he gets the Celestial inside, though it is worth the risk when business is not very brisk.

Here is a fine specimen of a Celestial coming along. Western civilisation, as yet, has made no impression on him, and he looks for all the world the Chinaman of the willow-pattern plate in the window of the tea shop. John falls an easy prey to the tout, who ushers him inside, and whispers to the “Guv’nor” in a mysterious aside: “Yew du’im for nothin’, if ye can’t get him to brass up. Lots o’ Chaneymen about to-day, an’ ‘e’ll advertise the business.”
He customer is thereupon posed with especial favour, the photographer feeling that the reputation of the business in the Celestial mind depends on the success of this effort. Chinese accessories are called into play; John Chinaman is seated in a bamboo chair, against a bamboo table, supporting a flower vase which looks suspiciously as though it had once served as a receptacle for preserved ginger. Overhead is hung a paper lantern, and the background is turned round so that the stretcher frame of the canvas may give the appearance of a Chinese interior. There is no need to tell the sitter to look pleasant, for his features at once expand into that peculiar smile which Bret Harte has described as “child-like and bland.”

The photo is duly completed and handed over to the customer for his inspection and approval. He manifests quite a childish delight, and is about to depart with it, when he is reminded by word and sign that he has not paid. John very well understands the meaning of it all, but smiles vacuously. When, however, the photographer begins to look threatening, he whines in his best English that he has no money. The photographer slaps him all round in the hope of hearing a jingle of concealed coins, but to no purpose. “Another blessed specimen, gratis!” he mutters, as he allows his unprofitable customer to depart with the photo, in the hope that it will attract some of his fellow-countrymen to the studio. This seems quite likely, for the Chinaman goes off in a transport of delight. He stops now and again to survey the photo, and the appearance of it evidently gives such satisfaction that he goes dancing off like a child to show it to his Celestial brethren. They straightway resolve to go and have a photograph for nothing.

A group of chattering Chinamen soon appear in the front of the photographer’s shop, with the late customer in the midst explaining how the trick is done. It seems to be finally resolved that they should go in one at a time, the others waiting outside. One young member of the party accordingly steps forward, and the tout, delighted to see the bait has so soon taken, never considers the possibility that this customer likewise has no money.

The same scene is enacted as in the previous case, but when it comes to the point of paying for the photo, and John Chinaman is found to be absolutely penniless, there is an unrehearsed ending to the little comedy. The proprietor of the photographic establishment seizes the Chinaman by the collar and drags him into the front shop, where the tout, in instant comprehension of the state of affairs, takes the offender in hand and very neatly kicks him over the doorstep, whence he falls into the midst of his compatriots, who all take to their heels, screaming in a high-pitched key. The tout looks at their rapidly retreating figures with a countenance eloquently expressive of mingled sorrow and anger, vowing vengeance on any other of “them haythen Chaynees” who might choose to try the game of securing photos for nothing. “Ought to be all jolly well drownded in the river,” he remarks to his colleage in-doors.

'Some Foreign Immigrants'

On the other hand, the heavy-browed, gaunt-cheeked, male Teuton is not so easy to attract, but the photographer can trust the course of things to bring him eventually to the studio. When first imported he stares in at the window in a stolid, indifferent manner. His face has a hungry look, and is shadowed by a heavily slouched hat; his hair is unkempt; he wears an untidy and unclean scarf; his boots are big and heavy, and his trousers several inches too short for him.

In a short time, however, he will blossom forth into a billycock hat, with broad and curly brim of the most approved East-end cut; patent leather boots to match, and a very loud red tie. The hungry look has by this time given way to a sleek, well-fed nature, and he will stroll along with a Teuton sweetheart, likewise transformed very much from her former self. The short, gaudily striped dress has given way to the latest “’krect thing” in East-end fashion, and the green stuff umbrella has gone the way of the striped skirt, to be replaced by the latest novelty in “husband beaters.” Then it is that Teutonic ‘Arry and ‘Arriet patronize the photographer, and rejoice his heart with, perhaps, a five-shilling order.

The show-case of the East-end photographer gives one a very fair idea of the evolution of the foreign immigrant.

The tout seemed to know the history of every person whose photograph was displayed in the show-case, and he was rattling it off to us at a rate which precluded any possibility of storing it up in our memory, when a slight diversion was created by a coster’s barrow, drawn by a smart little pony, being driven up to the front of the photographer’s.
The driver was Mr. Higgins, we learnt, and the other occupants of the barrow were Mrs. Higgins and the infant son and heir to the Higgins’ estate, which was reputed to be something considerable in the costermongers’ way, as was evidenced by the fact that Mr. Higgins was enabled to keep a pony to draw his barrow. Mrs. Higgins had determined that ‘Enery – at one year and eight months – should have his photograph taken and afterwards be glorified in a coloured enlargement. Mr. Higgins had assented to this being done regardless of expense. It was a weighty responsibility for the photographer, who always considered the taking of babies was not his strong point. But he reflected upon the increased fame which would accrue to his business if he was successful, and he determined to do it or perish in the attempt.

He made hasty preparations by selecting the most tempting stick of toffy he could find in the sweetstuff window, and the tout was instructed to procure from a neighbouring toy shop a doll, a rattle, a penny trumpet, and other articles dear to the juvenile mind.

The youthful Higgins was duly placed in a chair, behind which Mrs. Higgins was ensconced with a view to assisting the photographer by preserving a proper equilibrium in the sitter, and also ensuring confidence in the infantile mind.

So far, the child had been quietly sucking his thumb and surveying the studio with an interested air, but no sooner was his attention directed to the photographer than a distrustful frown settled upon his face and, and his irritation at the photographer’s presence found expression in a yell of infantile wrath. The more the photographer tried to conciliate by flourishing toys the more the child yelled. The photographer danced and sung, and blew the penny trumpet, and was about to give up in the operation in despair, when it dawned on him that he had forgotten the toffy stick. It was produced, and had its effect.

On being assured by Mrs. Higgins, behind the chair, that the “ducksy darling would have its toffy stick,” the youthful sitter held that prospective joy with his tear-glistening eye, and the photographer seizing a favourable moment performed the operation with a sigh of satisfaction. Baby Higgins had its toffy stick, Mrs. Higgins had a pleasing photo of her infant offspring, and the photographer proudly congratulated himself on having so successfully performed his task.

The production of such elaborate efforts as the coloured enlargements was, however, attended with disadvantages and disappointments at times. It was hard to give entire satisfaction to such exacting critics in these matters as East-end folk. And there was always the risk that the picture might be thrown upon his hands if not liked.

Taking it all round, his time was much more profitably enjoyed out of doors on high days and holidays, in taking sixpenny “tintypes” “while you wait!”

We have seen him on a Bank Holiday beaming with good luck. He has started out early in the morning with the intention of proceeding to Hampstead, but instead of going thither, he pitches his camera near the walls of the Docks, and manages to catch a good many passers-by before they have had the opportunity of spending their money in the pleasures of a London Bank Holiday. Here he has succeeded in inducing ‘Arry and ‘Arriet to have their photos taken.

Such is a chapter in the life of an East-end photographer. Today he may be doing a “roaring” business, but tomorrow he may be reduced to accepting the twopences and threepences of children who club together and and wait upon him with a demand that he will take “Me, an’ Mary Ann, an’ little Mickey all for thruppence.” He invariably assents, knowing that, though there can be little profit, the photo will create a feeling of envy in the minds of other children who will decide on having a “real tip topper” at sixpence.

The stock-in-trade of an East-end photographer is not a very elaborate one. He may pick up the whole apparatus second-hand for about £5, and the studio and fittings are not expensive. The thin metal plates cost not more than 10s. per gross, and the tinsel binding frames about 3s. per gross, while the chemicals amount to an infinitesimal sum on each plate. On a good day a turnover of £2 to £3 may be made, but there are many ups and downs, and trials of temper and patience, to say nothing of the unhealthy nature of the business, all going to make up many disadvantages associated with the life of an East-end photographer.
-          Strand Magazine, 1891

There are so many wonderful cultural references in this article that it is a mine of great information, and the pictures are just stunning (particularly Baby Higgins!)
A Teuton, by-the-by, is a Germanic person. In this article the author is probably referring to a German.

In these days in which every member of the public has a powerful camera in their pocket, spare a thought for the tout on the street in 1891 trying to drum up business to take the type of pictures we today can take anywhere, anytime and in a matter of seconds!

If you enjoyed this, you may also like these other Victorian photography-based articles (click on descriptions to go to the articles)