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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The International Exhibition of 1862

After the success of the international exhibition of 1851 established London as the most important city in the world, it was keen to host the event once more. The following exhibition was hosted by Paris in 1855, and, seven years later, in 1862, London got its wish…

For London’s second international exhibition, the nation expected a bigger, better and more triumphant event.
With the Prince Consort, Albert, once again to be the figurehead, the 1862 London exhibition would surely eclipse its predecessor of 1851, and more importantly, out-do the event organised by Paris.

So, why then, when the words ‘International Exhibition’ are spoken today, do we all think of The Crystal Palace and 1851, and not the 1862 exhibition?

To start with, let us read what the press were saying about the exhibition of 1862 in the months leading up to the opening of the event:

First, The London Journal;

“Ten years ago, the small world of Great Britain was startled from its propriety by the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851, which created a most extraordinary sensation.
…Next year (1862) in the sunny spring-time of May, we are to have a repetition of the display, as heretofore, under the immediate patronage of Queen Victoria and the illustrious Prince-Consort, which, aided by powerful collateral influences, will, no doubt, as the previous one, wind up with the most successful and satisfactory results.

…As originating in the first instance from the Exhibition of 1851, which may be styled the great parent of similar manifestations, many others have arisen, amongst which may be enumerated that held in Paris in 1855, the Dublin Exhibition, and that of New York (America), to which may be added the one now in progress at Amsterdam, which, externally, may be pronounced, as yet, the most picturesque-planned one of the whole family of international exhibitions.

The building that crowns the hill at Sydenham, although we do not include it in the category of International Exhibitions, strictly speaking, we cannot consistently omit to name, although it is the property of a private company; but yet, like the others, it owes its origin to the first building of the kind in Hyde Park, and to it, we ever look with feelings of esteem, as containing within its crystal walls by far the largest and finest collection of architectural and sculptural art to be seen under one roof in any edifice in Europe, and as such commands our admiration and deserves the patronage of the public, although its educational purposes have in a great measure been perverted by the exhibition of poultry shows and other things of an undignified character.

In describing the new building which is destined to receive within its walls such a multitudinous collection of the products of the earth, and examples of human ingenuity and skill, we may state that in the gross it will be considerably larger than its forerunner in Hyde Park, and in plan is not drawn out cathedral fashion, in extreme length, as that memorable structure was."
- London Journal May 4th 1861

Many fond memories of 1851 and optimism for 1862 and the new building. What did The Times have to say?

“International Exhibition.
Every day now develops new wonders and rarities arrived or expected for this great display. Goods of every kind and from every country are now pouring in from morning till night, and every one -Commissioners, contractors, and superintendents -has to manage somehow to get through about 18 hours' work a day.
The labour all have to undergo is now really severe, but it is done with a will and with an earnest purpose to do the best for the Exhibition. The show of foreign goods from remote countries will on this occasion, be something really wonderful. China and Japan will both be splendidly represented in all their varied branches of arts and art-manufactures… from their rare lacker ware, straw basket, and bamboo work down to the massive quadrangular coins of the realm, almost as curious as the money of Siam. Their wonderful egg-shell porcelain-the astonishment and envy of all European manufacturers- will be amply represented, as we might expect, but we were not prepared to find among their goods a Japanese encyclepadia, with illuminated works on natural history and chymistry, a quadrant and sun-dial, a compass, a pedometer, a thermo- meter, and a telescope.
There will also be a fine collection of arms and armour, scent bottles, exquisite ivory carvings, Japanese metal work, wiith paper, silk, crape, and cotton tapestry, a thick cable of human hair, lava from Fusigama, coal from Fezin, and minerals from all parts of that strangest of kingdoms.

The Chinese exhibition, from the similarity of the peoples, will much resemble that of the Japanese in its lackered ware, its porcelain, its carvings, and its metal works in bronze…There is also a fine collection of medical drugs from China, with complete sets of Chinese types, rare ornaments in jade, and an exquisite wood carving, which formed the back of the Emperor's throne in his Palace of Yuen- Lin-Yuen.

Central Africa will be represented by a good exhibition of raw and native manufactures, while Western Africa contributes a very important collection, especially of strong cotton cloths and cotton pods of various kinds, of grass cloths, and even fine cloths from the jute and palm fibre.

Madagascar sends ores, cloths, and native manufactures, and King Radama II himself presents to the Commissioners a chair of native iron.

The colonial exhibition will immeasurably surpass that of 1851. On that occasion Jamaica was only represented by a few daguerreotypes, and Vancouver's island sent nothing at all. Now Jamaica occupies 600 feet with a very fine display of colonial produce and manufactures, and even Vancouver's Island has voted 1,000l sterling towards defraying the expense of setting off its show to the best advantage. It is from Vancouver's Island that the gigantic pine spar is coming, which is no less than 230 feet high. The suggestion which we threw out, that it should be reared in the Horticultural Gardens, has been adopted, and we hope, like the French fountains, that it will remain there when once established.

The Ionian Islands, even down to little Paso and Santa Maura, are all entering into the international contest with great spirit. Their chief products are olive and other oils, cereals, tobacco, wools, wine, currants, wax, sponges, &c. But from Corfu and Cephalonia-especially the former-are coming specimens of beautiful Greek caps and costume, and many fine specimens of that richest and most picturesque of all dresses, the Albanian chief's costume.
Some fine filigree gold and silver work is also to be sent, with marbles from Ithaca, and ample specimens of raw and manufactured silk from Ithaca, Santa Maura, and Zante.

Canada is to send a most extensive and valuable exhibition of all her products -raw and manufactured. From the lower provinces, New Brunswick is sending all her products, natural or preternatural, including everything, from fossil fish to the bed the Prince of Wales slept in; from cereals, coal, free- stone, and granite, to drawings of the engine that drew the Prince through the colony.

Nova Scotia is also forwarding a fine exhibition, including gold quartz, auriferous sands, and gold bars from their new "diggings," with a single column of coal, 34 feet high, from the great seam at Pictou.

All parts of Australia will, of course, send fine collections. For instance, that young though rapidly thriving colony of Queensland, which has become a colony since 1851, sends, among a host of her other native products, arrowroot, pineapples, citrons, sandal wood, wool, black marble, raw silk, beeswax, honey, maize, gold, sugar-cane, ginger, sarsaparilla, cayenie, and, above all, many specimens of the best Sea Island cotton.

Western Australia is especially rich in minerals, and sends every description of iron, copper, lead, and gold ores, with fine pearls and pearl oysters from Nicol Bay gums skins, raw silk, wool, and wheat.

From Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales, the collections will be equally good and extensive, and, in fact, as we have said, the whole colonial exhibition will in itself make a most important and suggestive display.”
The Times; March 29th 1862

A report containing even more optimism, waxing lyrical about the vast number of exhibitors displaying exotic goods, and even more belief that the exhibition will be bigger, better, and house more wonders than its predecessors. The mood of the nation was expectant, but, with the date of the exhibition drawing near, fate appeared to conspire against its success…

The original plan was for the exhibition to take place in 1861 – ten years after the original London exhibition – but political problems in Italy which led to the country unifying itself in 1861 meant the exhibition was delayed. If it had not been for the events in Italy, and the delay, it may have been a very different story. On 14th December 1861 – eleven months prior to the opening of the 1862 exhibition – Prince Albert died, placing doubts upon the event’s success.

Albert had been the driving force behind the whole concept of the world exhibitions and played a huge role in the planning and organization of the original in 1851 and had endeared himself to a previously unsupportive British public with its success. Now, his support, knowledge and symbolic presence were absent, and keenly felt. The exhibition missed Albert, as did the nation.

But, nevertheless, the event would go ahead as planned. So, onto the opening, with The Times reporting:

“The International Exhibition.
At 10 o’clock yesterday morning the bell of Mr. Benson's great clock began to toll, which was a signal to the exhibitors and their workmen to "knock off” work and prepare to leave the building. Shortly after, a strong body of police were drawn up in line at the east end, a rope was stretched across the building from north to south, as directly as possible, and the building was gradually cleared of all but the workmen of the contractors and the executive staff. The rest of the day was then devoted to preparing the building for the opening ceremonial of today.

At half-past 11 o'clock there was a grand rehearsal of the music which is to be performed. The effect in the immediate neighbourhood of the orchestra was remarkably grand and impressive, but it is much to be feared that little of it will be heard at the further end of the building. Notwithstanding the awning which has been spread over the orchestra, the vast dome and the east transept swallow up the sound in a marvellous manner, and the crowded state of the nave, moreover, prevents it travelling very far west. This fact has led to a considerable change in the arrangements for the ceremonial; indeed, at a late hour yesterday the programme already settled was entirely abolished, nor was sufficient progress made with the new one to enable us to furnish it to our readers. This is of less consequence, as we understand that it will be ready printed by the hour of opening, with the addresses &c., and may be bought in the building for a shilling.

There was a numerous company assembled at the rehearsal, among whom were the Duchess of Cambridge and the Princess Mary of Cambridge, the Lord Chancellor, Lord and Lady Palmerston, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Lord Llanover, Sir C. Creswell, &c. M. Meyerbeer and the Poet Laureate were also present.
Later in the day the bands of the Foot Guards rehearsed the music which has been allotted to them. The following will be the military arrangements in connection with the opening - An escort of Household Cavalry, consisting of one captain, three subalterns, and 50 non-commissioned officers and troopers, will attend at Buckingham Palace at 12 o'clock, to accompany the Royal Princes from thence to the Exhibition building.

A guard of honour of the Grenadier Guards, consisting of a regimental captain, two subalterns, and 100 rank and file, with a colour and band, will mount at the entrance in the Cromwell-road at 12 o’clock, to receive their Royal Highnesses on arrival. The bands of the Foot Guards, and trumpeters of the Household Cavalry, will be also employed within the building…A troop of Royal Horse Artillery will be stationed on the north side of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, to fire a Royal salute when the opening of the Exhibition has been declared. This troop will march from Woolwich, so as to be on the ground at 11:30 a.m.

A notice has been issued to the following effect:- "A juror presenting his juror's pass may enter by the western dome with one lady having a season ticket. "A juror's ticket will pass one lady into the reserved galleries along with the juror."
The Exeter hall offices were crowded up to a late hour last night. It was not possible to learn the exact amount taken during the day, but it was believed to be considerably over 3,000l. For the convenience of persons arriving from the country, and to prevent the inconvenience applicants for tickets will suffer from the crowds which will doubtless be congregated about the building, the Exeter hall offices will be opened from 8 o'clock in the morning until 12.”
- The Times, May 1st 1862.

On the eve of opening, it appeared that everything was going to plan – the building was perhaps a bit too large, which required some ceremonial processes to require alteration – but other than that, there was huge demand for tickets, sales of which had supposedly exceeded £3,000, the building had been finished on time and was a grand, massive affair, there were more exciting exhibits from more places around the globe than ever before, the public was enthusiastic, the event was to be the greatest show ever seen…

So what happened? 

Despite the death of Albert, and a subsequent lack of the same kind of planning and public enthusiasm that had surrounded the 1851 event, the second great London Industrial Exhibition opened on schedule on Thursday, May 1st, 1862, situated beside the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society in South Kensington, (where the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are now)

The building itself, (pictured below) designed by Captain Francis Fowke, cost £300,000. The profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851 covered the cost of this. It consisted of a main structure with two adjoining wings set at right angles for machinery and agricultural equipment.

Queen Victoria, who had opened the 1851 exhibition, and attended on many occasions in support of her husband – garnering much publicity for the event – did not attend the opening of the 1862 exhibition as she was in mourning for Albert. An empty throne surrounded by busts of Victoria and Albert replaced her, underlining the emptiness felt after the loss of the father of the exhibition.

Nevertheless, the exhibition was opened, featuring over 28,000 exhibitors from 36 countries, representing a wide range of industry, technology, and the arts which attracted over six million visitors. The exhibition cost £458,842 to put on and made £459,632 leaving a total profit of only £790, which was better than the Paris exhibition.

On 1st November 1862, the doors of the second International Industrial Exhibition in London closed. The critics were unanimous - in terms of significance and success, this exhibition was a long way behind the Great Exhibition of 1851 which, as we have seen, was remembered with great fondness still – a fondness that was sharpened by the loss of Albert.

So what was wrong with the 1862 Exhibition?

Firstly, the building itself was not taken to like the Crystal Palace was. Nobody appeared to have a fondness for it. Its main facade along Cromwell Road was 1,152 feet in length, and ornamented by two crystal domes, each of which was 260 feet high. Despite being, at the time, the two largest domes in the world, their effect was to some unimpressive, and the building was called "a wretched shed" by The Art Journal.

So nobody liked the look of the building, and they also complained about its size.
In their attempt to surpass the first London exhibition, the organizers of the 1862 exhibition had planned an event that would eclipse all others and be bigger and better. In terms of sheer scale, size and magnitude they certainly achieved this.

But, the vastness of the exhibition proved ultimately counter-productive; the press complained about the monstrous exhibits and over-ornate architecture – an attribute they blamed on the large and confusing number of people in control – a task that would, no doubt, have fallen to the Prince Consort.

The organizers had managed to bring together more exhibits by more exhibitors from more participating countries than had ever been attempted before, with 29,000 exhibitors from 37 countries participating (a number which would have been a lot higher, but for the non-participation of the USA, where there was Civil War) This statistic also more than eclipsed the 1855 Paris event. Over 9,000 of the participating exhibitors came from Britain alone, together with a further 2,600 from the British Colonies. 

Whilst this was a good thing, and deemed a great success from the point of view of the organizers, the public were united with the press with regards to the size of the exhibition and complained that it was too big, and contained too much for them to look at during one visit.

Complaints also came from the exhibitors with regards to the limited space allocated to them due to the sheer number of exhibits. They complained that whilst the building was vast, it was still not big enough, whilst the press and public continued to complain in the opposite direction.

Other problems arose due to the restricted space in which the exhibition building was situated in Kensington; there was chaos at the entrances, as thousands upon thousands of visitors turned up every day, but there being constant confusion as to the admittance fee, this being only a shilling on some days, higher on others, and different for season-ticket holders.

As a final insult to the building, Parliament declined the Government's wish to purchase it, and so it was demolished and the materials were sold and used for the construction of Alexandra Palace.

So there was a lack of leadership, the building was ugly, it was too big and too crowded, there were too many exhibits and nobody knew how much it cost to get in.

The Report of the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1862 summed up the mood of the nation at the close of the Great Exhibition:

“The events originating in 1861, when the pillars of the American commonwealth came crashing downwards and startled the nations of Europe by their fall, entailed great suffering on masses of our own population, who would in happier circumstances have been among the firmest friends of the Exhibition. But this disaster was only of partial operation. It was the melancholy death of the Prince Consort in December, 1861, that gave the heaviest blow to the fortunes of the enterprise. The nation was suddenly plunged into mourning, and anything like gaiety or display became visibly, out of place.”

As the Queen mourned, the country felt it only right to mourn with her.

But surely something good must have come from the exhibition?

Well, in spite of all the criticism from both the media and the public, there were some positives. The exhibition allowed members of the public, as well as experts and enthusiasts to see and observe the latest advancements in technology. The demonstrations of production processes and machinery that the public could watch softened the image of technology, leading to much of it appearing in peoples homes in the form of mass-produced items and goods.

Who knows what legacy the exhibition of 1862 may have left behind it had Albert been alive to oversee it? Perhaps it would have eclipsed the 1851 exhibition and today we would not look back so fondly on the Crystal Palace, which burnt down 74 years ago today, but rather, look back on its seldom mentioned, often forgotten, little brother.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Victorian Poetry for Christmas: Suspiria De Profundis by Robert Buchanan.

A thumb through the London Society yearbook of 1868 (a wonderful leather-bound tome with marble boards) threw up a few wintry Victorian pieces that I may share here over Christmas, along with this touching and tragic poem by Robert Buchanan, the Scottish poet. Not particularly Christmassy other than the presence of snow, but it conjures a wonderful image of two poor women out walking the streets in winter. I like it quite a lot:

By Robert Buchanan

To-Night there is no moon –
How dark and still the sky looks overhead!
I think that we shall have a snow-fall soon,
Walk quicker? Nelly Blair’s your name, you said?
Have you been long in London?

Thirteen days.
I hate it! hate the town, and all its ways!

And I! An ugly place! All bad, all bad!
Hardhearted as a flint, and dull and dark!
Drink is the only comfort to be had;
But drink gets me in trouble always. Hark!
That’s twelve o’clock. Let’s stop a minute, do!
Here, down this quiet street – there’s no one nigh –
Sit on my shawl – I live in Lambeth too,-
We can go home together by-and-by.
How bad your cough is! It will kill you quite
This being out at night.

Kill me? It’s Death who doesn’t hear me call –
‘Tis killing my ownself I fear to do!
If I’d the heart I’d leap off Waterloo
This night, and end it all.

Ah, how you cough! You’d best go home to bed!
Are you in pain? Rise up, and let us go!

O Lord! O Lord! I wish that I was dead!
Look how the air is whitening. It’s the Snow.
How white it looks, how still!

Lean on my arm a little. You are ill!

Come on, come on. How white the streets are growing!
I used to like the fields when it was snowing.
This minds me of old days, and all the fun –
That’s over now, and done –
I’ve seen my brightest days, and now I’m old –
Hark! There’s Saint Clement’s striking ‘one’ –
It’s cold! It’s cold!

Victorian poetry is not something I’ve ever delved into, other than that of Edgar Allen Poe when I was a bit younger, but I find the above piece rather touching.

As I said, more Victorian Christmas to follow closer to the season…

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Slum Rag Bag : Or "The Old Nichol, A Child of the Jago & its Author, Arthur Morrison"

Having spent the last few weeks admiring my newly leather-bound copy of my favourite Victorian novel ‘a Child of the Jago’ by Arthur Morrison (thanks to for the beautiful work) I thought I would write a little bit about the book here, along with a little about the author, Arthur Morrison.

A Child of the Jago
A Child of the Jago, written in 1896, is probably the most popular example of the ‘slum literature’ novels to come out of the late Victorian era. Along with other works, such as George Gissing’s The Nether World (1889), W. Somerset Maugham’s Liza of Lambeth (1897) and William Pett Ridge’s Mord Em’ly (1901) slum literature gave middle and upper class readers a chance to glimpse the coarser, poorer side of life without having to leave their drawing rooms.
Morrison’s classic is a tale of slum life set in the fictional area ‘The Jago’, in the East End of London. He spent eighteen months living in Shoreditch, immersing himself in the poverty of the slums as research for the novel.

The child of the title is Dicky Perrot, whose father Josh is a brawler and a criminal and one of the main men in the Jago until his arrest. Dicky, without the guidance of his father is trained as a thief by local shop owner Aaron Weech – a character more than inspired by Oliver Twist’s Fagin – a wily and dastardly man who uses others to his own advantage, in particular the slum children. The scene in which Dicky is conned into being in Weech’s debt is written superbly.
Dicky has a little success as a thief, but makes a few vain attempts to ‘go straight’ and reform his character after his mother gives birth to his baby sister and after receiving advice from local clergyman Father Sturt. Ultimately, however, the Jago will not allow him to escape, and Dicky returns to criminal ways.

The theme throughout the book is both one of ‘Thieves Honour’ as slum dwelling criminals do wrong to each other, and yet stand together in the face of the police. Another theme is the futility of attempting to escape the vicious cycle of life in the Jago, a place where to survive, you must steal, thieve and commit acts of violence so as not to stand out, and therefore become an outsider.

The Jago of the story is a fictional place, but is clearly based on the real-life London slum of the Old Nichol, located between High Street, Shoreditch, and Hackney Road in the north, and Spitalfields in the south.
A Street in the Old Nichol
In 1863, periodical The Builder contained a report describing the housing conditions in the Old Nichol:
"With few exceptions, each room contains a separate family; some consisting of mother, father, and eight children. The first two adjoining houses that we looked into, of six rooms each, contained forty-eight persons. To supply these with water, a stream runs for ten or twelve minutes each day, except Sunday, from a small tap at the back of one of the houses... The houses are, of course, ill-ventilated. The front room in the basement, wholly below the ground, dark and damp, is occupied, at a cost of 2s. a week for rent."

And on 24 October 1863 The Illustrated London News published an article entitled:
"Dwellings of the Poor in Bethnal-Green" which also described the living conditions in the Old Nichol, although in a slightly more tabloid-friendly way:
"This district of Friars-mount, which is nominally represented by Nichols-street, Old Nichols-street, and Half Nichols-street, including, perhaps most obviously, the greater part of the vice and debauchery of the district, and the limits of a single article would be insufficient to give any detailed description of even a day's visit. There is nothing picturesque in such misery; it is but one painful and monotonous round of vice, filth, and poverty, huddled in dark cellars, ruined garrets, bare and blackened rooms, teeming with disease and death, and without the means, even if there were the inclination, for the most ordinary observations of decency or cleanliness."
Below is the map from within the first page of the book A Child of the Jago, drawn by Morrison to illustrate the setting. The street names in The Jago are;

Honey Lane
Half Jago Street
Old Jago Street
Edge Lane,

The similarity can be seen with the names of the real-life streets of the Old Nichol;
Boundary Street, (Edge Lane in the Jago?)
Old Nichol Street, (Old Jago Street)
Half Nichol Street, (Half Jago Street)

If anyone is interested in Victorian social fiction or slum literature, then A Child of the Jago is certainly recommended, or the novel A Princess of the Gutter (1896) by the prolific female writer L.T Meade, which is also set in the Old Nichol. Anyone interested in the non-fictional Old Nichol should purchase Sarah Wise’s documentary book ‘The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum” immediately.

Arthur Morrison*
Arthur Morrison was born the son of a steam fitter in Poplar, East London in 1863, but, being a secretive man, very little is known of his early life. Due to his father’s occupation, it is likely that Morrison’s early home life was impoverished. In 1887, he started work in the people’s palace in Stepney. (The institution was founded by writer Walter Besant.) However the palace fell into financial difficulties around 1890, leading Morrison to become a freelance journalist. (His first commissions were to write on cycling topics.) He subsequently joined the National Observer under W. E. Henley and on its collapse worked for Macmillan’s Magazine and Tit Bits.

Morrison’s naturalistic sketches of east end life were published as the volume Tales of Mean Streets in 1894. It was successful, and at the invitation of a missionary in the slums, the Reverend A. Osbourne Jay, Morrison went on to research and write his best known novel of London squalor; A Child of the Jago in 1896.
To London Town, written in 1899 is less pessimistic than Tales of Mean Streets and A Child of the Jago with which it was to form a trilogy. Cunning Murrell, written in 1900, is a historical novel of witch-finding in Essex in the mid-nineteenth century with close topographical descriptions. The work is based on the historical fact that ‘a man was swum for a witch in Essex ten years after the date of this tale (1854)’

Morrison was an early contributor to Newnes’s Strand Magazine. For this journal in the early 1890’s he devised a sub-Sherlock Holmes detective, ‘Martin Hewitt, Investigator’. The Dorrington Deed Box (1897) reprints a collection of the authors other detective stories. In 1902 he wrote another novel of slum life, The Hole in the Wall. Thereafter he largely gave up as a writer of serious fiction, but between 1902 and 1910, he made himself an expert on Japanese art, producing an authoritative study, The Painters of Japan, in 1911.
As a novelist, Morrison was remarkable for the authenticity of his observations, even going to such length as spending time working in a matchbox factory to gather local colour, and for the sensitivity of his ear to cockney dialect.
He married in 1892 and had one son, who died of injuries sustained in World War One.
Morrison died on 4 December 1945, and is buried in High Beach in Loughton, Essex where he was living at the time.

*Parts of the above article regarding Arthur Morrison are taken from the excellent John Sutherland book; The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Missionaries of the Sea: Frightful Life-boat Catastrophe at Whitby, 1861

I came across this article in the London Journal from March 1861, a rather dramatic, passionate and ultimately tragic and proud article about lifeboats and the volunteers that man them.

The article presents a question that I believe is still valid today, in the wake of recent strikes.

The article:

The most frightful storms have lately visited the shores of these islands, indeed, any more dreadful or destructive since that of 1839 – when a hurricane swept over sea and land with awful devastation – we do not at present remember. The horrors of the recent ones made the very blood turn cold; for, omitting all considerations of wealth buried for ever in the bosom of the sea, and consequent monetary embarrassments, the sad and great loss of life has caused weeping and wailing in homesteads spread over the whole land.
And when we reflect on the fact, that annually above two thousand lives are lost on our shores, we must leave it to the imaginations of our readers how terrible must be the increase when storms after storms come howling in rapid succession, as if rejoicing at having burst their ice-bands in the north.
It may help us to a conception of the reality of these visitations – apparently periodical – that the present rate of loss of life by shipwreck in half a century, voracious Neptune devours a hundred thousand British subjects.

No wonder, then, that all maritime peoples fear storms, but the greater wonder should be that they should not have long ago combined for the adoption of means of alleviating their severity, of providing against their recurrence by precautionary and preservative means.
In these days speed is almost a mania in every department of business. We must rattle over the land, sweep and skim over the waves, talk to each other by lightning. As to navigation, it is become quite fashion to race over oceans, and from port to port; and, as our ships are not now built half so strong as formerly, science and humanity have stepped forward to suggest various measures for the safety and protection of life and property.

Modern navigation owes everything to science, and humanity has nobly assisted in its development. Lighthouses became earthly stars to guide the mariner in his course, then harbours of refuge and breakwaters were formed to afford him a welcome shelter; lastly, lifeboats were constructed to rescue him from death howling in the wild waste of waters around him.
The best form in which these boats can be built has not yet been determined. Boats that have done good service for years and new ones have succumbed to the combined fury of wild wind and wave. This was the case during one of the late gales.

Off the Yorkshire coast the gale was terrific. The Whitby district was the scene of serious calamities. The gale being from the north-east, there was no chance for any craft to avoid the iron-bound coast, and no harbour of refuge being in existence, the loss of life and property has been most appalling. Seven ships were driven on shore at Whitby, and three of them almost immediately broke up.
The new lifeboat was launched and succeeded in saving all the crews. When proceeding on their fifth errand of mercy, a violent sea caught the lifeboat, which was capsized, and twelve of her brave crew perished within twenty yards of the shore, where thousands were assembled, unable to render the slightest succour.
It should be stated that the lifeboat was not one of those belonging to the National Lifeboat Association.

Comment on this awful catastrophe would be painfully superfluous. It speaks for itself in mightier language than can flow from the pen. Those twelve brave men were truly missionaries of the sea; and when it is considered that their services were voluntary, and, if they had survived, would have been ill-rewarded, their bravery was the more conspicuous, we might add – sublime.
The subsidiary portion of the distressing part of the affair is that the twelve heroes have left wives and families to suffer and lament over them. But here, as in the case of the establishment of lifeboats, the voluntary principle comes again into play, and the English hearts have opened their purses with Christian alacrity.

By the time this article is published, more than a thousand pounds will have been subscribed for the relief of the widows and orphans of the Whitby calamity. This is highly characteristic of our great and benevolent nation; but it may seriously be asked, whether it is expedient to leave such grave matters to the voluntary principle, which is purely emotional. Would the voluntary principle maintain the Royal Navy or the Army? Is the saving of life a duty below the dignity of the Legislature? We have much to learn in such matters. Our self-complacency about them is only disturbed when sad and powerful appeals are made to our sympathies.
                                                      - The London Journal, Week Ending March 16, 1861

149 years later, the lifeboat service in Britain, now called the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, is still voluntary.

To see the RNLI website, where you can make a donation to the cause, click here:

Thursday, 18 November 2010

London Gas Works: 1895

Another antique book received in the post from, this time:
“Industrial Explorings In and Around London” written in the year 1895, this is the second edition, printed 1896.
In the book, the author / reporter jauntily capers around late Victorian London exploring the various industries, including the piano works, the candle works and rubber works.

Having examined the Victorian use of gas last week as part of the ‘Beyond the Door; or “The Homes of the Victorians” series last week on this blog, I thought it apt to post the author’s humerous chapter on gas, in which he visits the West Ham Gas Works in Stratford, pictured below.

Onto the article; “In Gas Land”

…West Ham Gas Works, which are Stratford way.
At the end of a quiet little street turning out of the main road, just past Stratford Market Station on the Great Eastern line, I discovered it, and it struck me as being uncompromisingly ugly. Nothing here for the painter to linger over, I reflected, neither would a poet be likely to go into rhapsodies over the scene. However, I was not searching for the picturesque. Rather did I hanker after the practical, so I made my way round to the secretary's office, mid found Mr. Snelgrove waiting for me in a room rather more imposing than snug, though
for all its size it struck pleasantly warm after the biting wind outside.

While chatting pleasantly over industries generally, and the gas industry in particular, Mr. Wright, the assistant-engineer, came in, and I was introduced to my guide through this particular land.
So far I have had the advantage of the common or garden explorer in being able to obtain a separate and qualified guide to every land I have passed through, which shows the advantage of doing your exploring at home. Had I gone abroad, I expect one greasy native would have had to serve my purpose for the whole
series. Out in the open again, and we walked straight through Gas-Land to hunt up the initial stage in the process of changing coal at about sevenpence per hundredweight into gas at three shillings per foot.
I used to make gas when I was a youngster, and I daresay many of you have done so too. It is a delectable and messy operation, and dear on that account to
the heart of the average schoolboy. I did it with a churchwarden pipe, a few ounces of coal-dust, and a lump of clay, when the girl had gone out and left the kitchen range unprotected. The illuminant was not blinding in its intensity ; but the satisfaction that that stewing clay and coal-dust gave me was beyond expression. They have improved on my old method in Gas-Land I observed.

I commenced my observations at the top of a perilous-looking light ironwork ladder some thirty feet above the level of the ground. Mr. Wright scaled it with ease and the agility born of use and long practice. I lacking the ease, and being somewhat hampered by a heavy ulster, an umbrella, a notebook, and one lead pencil, arrived many minutes later, somewhat shaky, and out of breath.
This ladder, I may mention, is situated at the end of one of the " retort "-houses, and the temperature of a " retort "-house in the depth of winter would be favourable for fostering tropical plants, I should judge. When I stepped off the ladder on to a staging outside that runs round the building I found it fresh,
to say the least of it, though the view was worth the climb and the cold.
Far below ran the canal, just then frozen and snowed over into a treacherous semblance of a solid supporting body, up which barges bring the coal supplies in forty-ton loads. Gas-Land lay stretched out around me, with tall chimneys, low, squatty buildings, and huge gasometers dotted about at irregular intervals.

Rails lead away from this staging to the various retort-houses, and the coal, landed by steam-cranes, is conveyed in metal cars and distributed about the works by quite a miniature railway service. It finds the ground-level by a series of shoots, which deposit it within convenient reach of the retorts.
I turned into the building again, and gazed down on the busy scene below me. It was an impressive and a striking sight. A long and comparatively narrow passage leads from the open doorway at one end to the ladder above which I was standing at the other,  between the coal supplies that are being continually replenished from above by the shoots, and the " retorts " surmounted by the complicated system of pipes.
In reality the "retorts" divide one huge building into two, being built down the middle and so arranged that they may be charged at both ends. They are set side by side, and are kept at a red-heat by immense coke furnaces, underneath.

I was asked if I would like to see into one of these furnaces, and I rather thought I should, until I casually discovered that the heat is liable to scorch the toes off one's shoes, to say nothing of doing superfluous and vexing damage to one's wardrobe accessories. I said, then, that it would be a pity to put the men to such needless trouble, and sternly negatived the protestations that ensued.
I learnt, however, that these furnaces never go out. Day and night, from Monday morning to Saturday night, the "retorts" are charged, and the process of making gas goes forward. On Sunday they cease and rest, but the furnace underneath burns on just the same.
A "retort" is simply a long, bricked chamber capable of carbonising five or six
hundredweight of coal at one filling. The only opening from it, with the exception of the curved, oval doors through which it is charged, is the one leading to the pipe shown running up just above the mouth. I wondered vaguely, as I leant over that rail and watched the men at work below me, why it was called a "retort." Later, the answer came to me, and I discovered that it was so quick at repartee that no other name could be given it.
"There's coal for you," the men observe, as they ram three or four hundredweight into its capacious interior.
"And there's gas for you," it retorts, with a snap and a burst of flame, as the men hastily retire out of its reach. Then one will run forward and slam the door to and screw it up and you can hear it chuckling away to itself inside there out of the cold long after the joke has died from the remembrance of the busy throng, who have heard it so often that it has probably become irritating and stale.
These "retorts" are charged by means of iron scoops fourteen feet in length, something like a Canadian canoe in appearance, supposing the ends to be cut off square and a T handle fitted at the top. The bowl measures ten feet, and has a carrying capacity of one hundredweight, Mr. Wright informed me, though I
should never have thought it possible. Three times this scoop is filled and emptied into the retort, one man being stationed at the handle, and two others supporting the body by means of a curved iron arrangement termed a "bridle."
This has a handle on each side; the bottom of the scoop fits into the bend, and so the load is borne into the "retort" and run home, the men at the bridle hastily retiring to avoid the rush of flame that takes place as the scoop is turned over and withdrawn upside down by the man at the handle.

The work is done with marvellous energy and quickness, because delay here means loss of gas, and when the last fill is made the contents are pushed back from the entrance, the door is rammed to and fastened, and the "charge" is left baking for six hours.
Each retort carbonises about one ton of coals per diem; there are about sixty-four
'’retorts" in one building, set in two rows side by side and back to back. Gas-Land contains five or six similar buildings, and with 365 days in a year and coals at, say, twelve shillings per ton, it occurred to me that I shouldn't like to foot the coal bill. The same idea will probably occur to you.
At the end of the six hours, the doors are opened and the residue is seen running back in a long red line that is too trying to the eye to gaze in upon.

It is better not to be too eager to get a near sight at this stage of the operations. The "retorts" have a spiteful habit of blowing out a huge sheet of flame and gas and dense sulphurous smoke when the doors are first opened, and if you are not expecting it the surprise is apt to be unpleasant and painful. The coke is then drawn out, by means of long iron rakes, into metal barrows, where it is cooled down by the application of cold water, and wheeled out to an immense heap, around which a whole regiment of grandmothers could be instructed in the art of mastication, publicly, instead of getting surreptitious and imperfect lessons in
their coal-cellars at home.
I used often to be advised to teach my grandmother to eat coke, in my younger days, and, assuming that it is a knowledge all respectable and conscientious grandmothers ought to possess, it struck me that this would have been an excellent opportunity to give the lesson. There was such a sufficiency of material, that the company could easily have afforded the amount an innocent old lady of limited appetite would have consumed in "swatting" up the subject.
Now, we have seen the coal go into the "retorts," and we have seen the coke leave them at least, I have, and you are seeing the process through me hardly so clear and impressive, I'll admit; but lucid and very improving.
In the process it has parted with several properties, notably gas, tar, and ammoniacal water. All these things are comprised in the thick, yellow, smoky gas that rises up from the "retorts" through the series of huge iron pipes that tower in front of them. Arrived at the top, it turns over into an immense iron pipe termed the "hydraulic main," through which it is drawn by a set of powerful steam pumps or exhausters that are working in another part of the grounds. In turning, it deposits a certain proportion of tar which is drained away into tanks, preparatory to being emptied into an immense well, handily contrived out of the basin of an old and long-since discarded gasometer.
Even after it has rid itself of a few superfluous gallons of tar, the gas is hardly in a
condition to be supplied to long-suffering householders, and the outside authorities would probably have something to say on the subject, even supposing the householder didn't kick - an unlikely contingency. So the crude gas is drawn away by the engines through the condensers, a series of upright iron pipes, which reduce the temperature considerably, and prepare it for the "scrubbers" and "purifiers."

The ordinary gas of commerce cannot be seen. It may be smelt, and a lighted match in the hand of a double-distilled idiot will discover its presence and make its whereabouts known to the whole neighbourhood. But up to the time of reaching the '’scrubbers" it can be seen by even a near-sighted person. I cannot say that I myself did actually see it, but Mr. Wright assured me that such was the
case, and I always take these facts from my guides, occasionally passing them off as my own.
Forced by the powerful pumps, the gas then goes on a circumlocutory tour, in the course of which it enters a "washer" a huge horizontal contrivance half filled with water, in which revolve a number of wheels containing bundles of wood somewhat similar to the familiar halfpenny bundles of commerce that are sold by
oilmen. The wheels carry these wood bundles alternately through the gas and through the water, and as ammonia has the property of sticking like glue to a wet surface the result is obvious.
"So sorry," it observes hastily to the gas when it sees the wet bundle coming round in its direction, "but here's a friend of mine, and I must go. Remember me kindly to all at home. Ta-ta! I'll probably see you at the club to-night."
But it doesn't. The water in the tank below has too powerful an attraction for it; and once in, it stays, while the bundle, having disposed of that little lot, goes out to look for more giddy little ammoniacal stragglers. It suggests a conscientious policeman on duty - supposing there were such a thing - only that it is too
intelligent, and it will not lie still, while the average policeman lies anyhow with a magnificent impartiality.

It takes ten gallons of water to wash the gas product of a ton of coal, to say nothing of the scrubbing process that it has to undergo in what are appropriately termed the "scrubbers."
These "scrubbers " consist of two immense iron towers, which stand forty feet high and are filled with layers of coke arranged in tiers two and a half feet thick. At the top, ammoniacal liquor is poured down, and by the time the gas has forced its way through this tortuous length of coke and water it has left behind, in the
form of ammoniacal liquid, all the ammonia it contained. After that it would seem superfluous to talk about purifying it. But they do purify it! These industrial people are so thorough and so wonderfully painstaking!
If it were left to the gas, I have no doubt that it would elect to go straight off and help twist round the wheels of some inoffensive citizen's domestic meter - perhaps mine. It is a light-hearted, frolicsome sort of substance is gas, and it delights in a joke of that sort, even though it cannot stay to witness the
"He, he!" it chuckles, in a silly, irritating sort of way.
"Won't he just say things when the bill comes in!" And it gives the meter an
extra shove and goes rejoicing on its way to its one especial tap just under the baby's foodwarmer.
I am glad they purify it, because, from what I know of gas, I am very sure it has a conscientious objection to the process. This is done in a series of squatty, dome-roofed iron tanks, containing layers of lime six inches deep, which are termed with sweet simplicity and directness "purifiers." These number ten, and the gas takes them in regular rotation, entering at number one and leaving again at number ten, and then, for the first time, it is gas pure, simple, unadulterated and
The ammoniacal waters used at one time to be a waste and an obnoxious product, for a certain proportion of the ammonia being blown off into the air, got the neighbourhood of Gas-Land a bad name. Being of a sensitive nature, this grieved the officials, and they took and collected it - the ammonia, I mean, not the bad name - and sat down before it and pondered deeply and darkly.
The outcome of their ponderings resulted in a comparatively new building, where the ammoniacal water is distilled and treated with lime and sulphuric acid, and finally deposited in the form of a crystallised salt known as sulphate of ammonia. This sells for an encouraging sum for use as manure on tea and coffee plantations, and the officials have reason to pride themselves en the results of their stupendous mental effort.

Freed from the retarding influence of all impurities, back the gas rushes to the meterhouse, anxious to get the remaining formalities over, in order that it may let its light shine before all men and increase the quarterly bill of one man in particular. Sometimes it happens that it may be disappointed at the last gasp, for it has many roads to traverse, and should it mistake the turning it might possibly
find itself up a lamp-post, when the local authorities would have to foot the bill, and a pound or two more or less doesn't matter when the rates are eight shillings in the pound and the parish is ‘’improving."
I followed it into the meter-house, which is a handsome, lofty building, gleaming with polished metal-work and filled with mysterious appliances, wheels, and fittings.
"By the way," I remarked to Mr. Wright, as we entered,
"what do you make here ?"
"Why, gas," he replied.
"Oh, that accounts for it then," I rejoined, "I thought I could smell it."
Up to then I had neither seen nor smelt the product of so much pains and labour, and I had had to take my guide's statements on trust. This I was very ready to do, of course ; but here was tangible proof, and it interested me accordingly.
The meters, of which there are three, are the main feature in this building, and hold an important, not to say obtrusive, position in the centre of the room. There is not much to be seen in them, however, big and imposing as they are. A circular glass window on the face of each shows inside a number of dials similar
to, though much larger than, the ordinary gasmeter for house use. A clock wags a sedate brass pendulum in the centre, and every hour a record is taken of the quantity of gas manufactured.
I got the horrors looking in and watching the tens - of - thousands hand covering the ground. I tried to figure out a quarter's bill at the ordinary rates, based on a calculation from five minutes' observation. This depressed me and gave me a headache, so I quitted meters and mental arithmetic and went over and watched the test flame burning steadily away up in one corner of the room in a polished little case with a glass door to it. Mr. Wright did make me understand the
working of this contrivance; but headache left me hazy on the subject when I tried to remember it. It is a Governmental regulation, anyway, that a sixteen candle-power flame shall be seven inches in height, and in this arrangement the test can be applied and the quality of the gas determined.
Thus tested and measured, the gas once more travels down the yard to one of the numerous "holders," as they are termed the familiar great iron tanks supported in a circle of massive columns, up and down which guidewheels
travel and stay the " holder" from getting jammed, or rocked by the wind pressure
that in a decent breeze on such a vast surface must be enormous.

They have quite recently set up a veritable giant even amongst those giants in Gas-Land, and I may as well describe that one, for they are much of a muchness in constructive arrangementare these "holders," and differ only in size and storage capacity. The great fellow I was inspecting is made in three sections, which fit telescopically one within another. A third of the height, therefore, represents the depth of the tank-well in the ground into which they subside.
This is an ordinary well, brick-lined, and its chief importance consists in the fact that it costs something like £10,000 to dig and construct. The "holder" itself runs the company into another trifle of £15,000 or so. Considered as a monument,
it would doubtless be imposing and impressive, but something quieter and less costly would satisfy me if I had that sum lying about and getting in my way and irritating me so that I had to put it out to service.
Water is an absolute seal for gas, and is used to prevent the escape between the loosely fitting sections and from between the "holder " and the tank. In the centre of the "holder,” rising up from the ground to a few feet above the water-level, are set two capacious pipes, one for filling and one for drawing-off. The gas is pumped in, and the pressure causes the inside receiver to creep slowly upwards, the guide-wheels holding it in place and allowing it to travel freely. When it has fully expanded, an outward-curved rim catches under a similar rim curved inwards on the second tank, and that is slowly dragged upwards, until the third
section is reached and hoisted in its turn. The "holders" are constructed of riveted
iron plates, of half, quarter, and eighth-inch metal, with a domed roof.

A fussy little steam-boiler was at work at the time blowing steam into the water contained in the basin. I gathered from Mr. Wright that the frost would be apt to complicate matters, and this operation has to be kept up all through the severe weather to prevent the water freezing.
The gas is compelled to travel back once more to the meter-house before they have quite done with it, where it passes through one of a series of big iron governors, of which there are five - one for each district - that by rising and
fallng over the outlet-pipe serve to regulate the pressure, in much the same manner that the governor of a steam-engine equalises its speed.

And so it travels out of Gas-Land into the street, and I, having seen all there was to be seen, and having missed hearing nothing for the want of asking, wrapped my coat-collar up round my ears and travelled out with it.

I may post more of these if there is any interest. In the meantime, anyone who does have an interest in Victorian industrial London is welcome to choose from the following list of industries in the book and I’ll post the corresponding chapter:

·  Piano
·  Rope
·  Tram
·  Candle
·  Paper
·  Soap
·  Mineral-Water
·  Matches
·  Rubber
·  Wire
·  Sweets