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Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Parents of Modern Fashion: Charles& Marie Worth

I know I’ve missed the boat by a few days for this post to be topical, but London Fashion Week descended upon the capital this week, and with that in mind, I decided to join in with the spirit of it all, and present something in the way of fashion here – Victorian fashion that is.

The models who have been walking down those catwalks wearing all manner of garments can all be said to descend from one woman – known as the worlds first fashion model; Marie Augestine Vernet Worth. The fashion designers and show promoters, too, can all give thanks to one man who started the industry we know and recognise today; Charles Frederick Worth.

Marie was born on 23rd August 1825 in Clermont-Ferrand in France. As a young woman in the 1840’s she moved to Paris to find work. She was not the only one to do this; An Englishman by the name of Charles Frederick Worth, a former textile trader in London, had also moved to Paris where he found work with the prestigious upper class drapers Gagelin. This happened to be the same drapers in which one Marie Vernet Worth had recently found employment.

Charles, originally from Lincolnshire, was a few months younger than Marie, and whilst working with her had become attracted to the pretty French girl.
By 1850 he was using her as a ‘Human Mannequin’ to show off and model bonnets, shawls and other small items of clothing and accessories to the shop’s wealthy clientele. In June 1851 Charles and Marie were married, and Charles, who had always held an interest in the design of clothing, began to create simple but beautiful dresses for her, which she, with her handsome features and comely shape, modelled perfectly.
Before long, the Gagelin’s lady customers were requesting the new fashions for themselves.

With the restoration of Napoleon III in the late 1850s, Paris reclaimed its crown as the centre of European style and fashion. Charles was convinced that Gagelin should branch out into dress making but its conservative owners were not so sure. A compromise was reached whereby in 1858, Charles was able to “go solo” and set up his own shop on the Rue de la Paix with the backing of a rich Swede, Otto Bobergh.

The Shop 'Worth'
With his own shop and ideas, Charles set about creating dresses that would change the way people thought about fashion. In the early days of the shop, Marie would visit potential clients at their homes and model clothes for them. Charles’ uncanny understanding of the female shape and his unfussy and simple dresses made with rich fabrics won him many fans, including Napoleon’s wife, Empress Eugenie.
With a clientele base soon established, Marie no longer had to go out touting for business. Instead, clients visited the shop and several times a year she and several other models would put on a themed fashion show of Charles’ latest creations. These are believed to have been the first ever fashion shows that loosely resembled what we know today.

Previously in the world of upper class dress shopping, a lady approached a tailor or dressmaker with her own idea for a dress, but now they picked from the garments being modelled, which were then altered to their particular requirements.
As well as being the first fashion designer to market and sell clothes in this way, he was also the first to label his clothes with the name ‘House of Worth’.
Before long Charles and Marie’s customer list included such stars of the day as Jenny Lind, Lily Langtry, Nelly Melba and Sarah Bernhardt.

A severe bout of bronchitis ended Marie’s career in 1865, and beyond this, very little seems to be known about her. Sadly, I was unable to even find out what year she died.   
Charles Worth
Charles died in March 1895 aged 69. After his death, his and Marie’s two sons, Gaston and Jean-Philippe Worth took over the business, and in around 1910, Gaston Worth’s sons Jean-Charles and Jacques joined the company.
In 1922, Jean-Philippe's son, Jacques Worth, introduced perfumes to the business to accompany the clothes. Their most popular perfume, 'Je Reviens' (French for 'I will return'), was launched in 1932, and is still to this day one of the most famous French perfumes in ever created.

Below is a painting of the rue de la Paix – the street in Paris where the Worth’s shop was, by Jean Georges Beraud. It was painted a little after Charles dies, in 1910. You can almost envisage the glamorous ladies arriving in their horse-drawn carriages with footmen and going in to look at the fine dresses, by then being sold by Charles sons and grandsons.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

"So Far as Any Present Use is Concerned, The Tunnel is an Entire Failure.” Or: Marc Brunel's Thames Tunnel:

In the 1800’s, London was the busiest city in the world. Trade brought goods from all over the globe, and they all came by ship down the Thames, to be unloaded in the various docks and wharves that lined the river.

The city itself was becoming busier too, as these newly arrived goods needed to be distributed from wharves to places of business. With London spreading ever outwards, a new crossing was required to the east of the city, but with so many ships with tall masts and sails coming down the Thames from the sea, a bridge would have to be extremely tall and steep, it seemed impossible. Was there any way a river could be crossed by thousands of people, horses and carts, without building a ship-impeding bridge?

In 1808, Richard Trevithick; inventor and mining engineer, attempted to construct a tunnel running underneath the River Thames in London, connecting the south bank to the north. The project was delayed after a sudden inrush of water flooded the tunnel, and a month after this flood, and a more serious inrush occurred. The tunnel was flooded again, and Trevithick was nearly drowned. Clay was dumped on the river bed to seal the hole and the tunnel was drained but mining was now more difficult.

Marc Brunel
The problem that Trevithick had encountered was the soft ground next to the river, which was soft and sandy and had no cohesion. Unlike more solid, clay-like land, this ground could not support itself when tunneled into, and subsequently was hugely prone to collapsing and vulnerable to seepage of water. With a thousand disastrous and potentially dangerous feet of tunnel having been completed, the general consensus was that a tunnel under the Thames was at best, impractical, and at worst impossible. Civil engineer William Jessop was an influential voice expressing this opinion, and the project was abandoned.

Ten years later, in 1818, engineer Marc Isambard Brunel patented a tunneling device, known as a tunneling shield. This shield was a large, rectangular structure, with three horizontal lines of twelve ‘spaces’ across the width of it, making thirty six ‘spaces’ roughly the size of a wardrobe inside each of which a man would stand with a small shovel, a candle and the minimum of elbow room. In front of each worker there were a series of horizontal boards. The worker unscrewed the top board to expose the earth at the face of the shield. He would dig away at this small portion of earth, and then replace the board, screwing it tightly into the empty space he had just dug away. The worker would then repeat the process with the boards below until he reached the bottom board. Once he had got to the bottom board he would start from the top again. The second time he finished at the bottom board his whole digging position would be jacked forward by around two inches using screw jacks. As the shield moved forward, bricklayers followed, lining the walls, and the process would be started again. Written down, this sounds awfully complicated. The picture helps:

The Thames Tunnel was dug using this process, meaning these workers dug a 1,200 ft tunnel two inches at a time for 1,200 feet across the River Thames. It is thought – whether true or not, I don’t think anyone knows – that Brunel modeled his tunneling shield on the shipworm; a creature that eats through the wooden timbers of ships with its head protected by a hard shell.

The prospect of testing his tunneling shield by constructing a tunnel under the Thames led Brunel to write to as many influential people he could think of who may be able to help him.
Subsequently, in February 1824, an impressive 2,128 people bought shares for £50 each in Brunel’s idea. Four months later the Thames Tunnel Company was formed.

The first stage of the build was to create an entrance to the tunnel. There was not enough space to build long, gentle-gradient ramps in and out of the tunnel for horses, so a vertical brick shaft was built on the soft Rotherhithe bank, and as the shaft became taller and heavier, the ground beneath gave way, leading the shaft to sink down to the depth where the tunnel entrance was planned to be built. This vertical shaft was completed in November 1825, and the tunnelling shield, which had been manufactured at Lambeth by Henry Maudslay's company, was then assembled at the bottom. but despite the tunneling shield, the process was still dangerous and difficult due to the soft ground around the Thames. The ground, though, was not the only problem the project would encounter. The sewers of Joseph Bazalgette were still almost forty years away, and so the Thames was a virtual open sewer surrounding the workers. The tunnel, not being particularly water-tight, seeped the sewage and became damp with it. The air quality underground naturally suffered, with workers feinting, coughing, and having to be pulled from their work and up to ground level to recover in fresh air. There was a more menacing danger to the presence of the sewage too; it gave off methane gas, which, in an environment full of men working by candle-light led to the odd fire-based accident.

Brunel Lowering the Diving Bell

These incidents, however, paled in comparison to some of the more serious dangerous occurrences during the construction.

Many workers, including Brunel himself, soon fell ill from the poor air quality. Resident engineer William Armstrong took ill in April 1826, leaving the engineering team a man down. Marc drafted in his twenty year old son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who took Armstrong’s place.

In May 1827 the tunnel suffered a flood when the miners breached the tunnel wall. Isambard lowered a diving bell from a boat to repair the hole at the bottom of the river, throwing bags filled with clay into the hole in the tunnel's roof. Once the tunnel had been repaired and drained, dignitaries were invited to a banquet inside it.

The Banquet in the Tunnel

The tunnel flooded again in January 1828, in a disaster in which six men died and many others, including Isambard, were almost drowned. To recuperate, he was sent to Clifton in Bristol, where he put himself forward to be the engineer to build a bridge there, amidst much competition. He won the contract, and today we have the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Meanwhile, back in London, the tunnel was facing financial difficulties after the second flood. The resources Marc Brunel had acquired for the Thames Tunnel Company were spent, and despite his efforts to raise more money with tours of the tunnel, but these were fruitless. The tunnel was sealed up just behind the shield in August 1828. Marc Brunel resigned from his position and offered his help to Isambard in designing the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

The tunnel remained abandoned and sealed for seven years until Marc Brunel raised enough money for the work to continue. The project was plagued by the same floods, gas leaks and sick workers as before, which continued to set work back.
Because of the slow process of the build, the tunnel would not be completed until 1842, seven years after the re-start.
The Thames Tunnel, building of which commenced in January 1825, was finally completed in 1842.

The main reason the tunnel had been created was to allow trade vehicles – namely, horses and carts – to cross the river at this hugely busy point, without the need for a bridge. A bridge was completely impractical, as the thousands of ships that sailed in and out of the port of London – the busiest port in the world at the time – all had tall sails, and would be unable to pass a bridge, hence, the reason for crossing beneath the river, and not over it.

The original plan for the tunnel entrances was to use two large shafts with spiraling ramps running at a very gradual gradient that horses could pull carts down into the tunnel, then up to street level again at the other side.

However, because the project had taken so long to complete, and had taken so much money, there were no funds available to build these ramps, and so the only way in and out of the tunnel was via the spiral staircases in the entrance and exit shafts shown in the pencil drawing on the right. This clearly meant that horses and carts – the very passengers the tunnel was designed and created for – could not use the tunnel. Below is a cross sectional cut-away picture of the entrance shaft and part of the tunnel. Definitely not horse and cart friendly

Despite this, it opened to the public on 25th March 1843. On 7 November 1842 Brunel suffered a stroke that paralysed his right side for a time, but despite ill health he still took part in the opening ceremony.
On the first day of opening fifty thousand people paid a penny each to walk though the new tunnel. Within the first ten weeks a million people had passed under the river via the new tunnel. With tourists coming from Europe it was deemed a worthy enterprise to set up souvenir stalls inside the tunnel. Shops were set up in the arches and entertainment was put on for pedestrians crossing the river. The tunnel was declared ‘The 8th Wonder of the World’. The novelty of the tunnel, though, soon wore off. After a short amount of time it became populated by hawkers of tatty wares who tried to sell to the pedestrians. It also earned a reputation as a place of business for prostitutes seeking work. This was a blow for the tunnel, with American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne writing of it:

It (the tunnel) consisted of an arched corridor of apparently interminable length, gloomily lighted with jets of gas at regular intervals ... There are people who spend their lives there, seldom or never, I presume, seeing any daylight, except perhaps a little in the morning. All along the extent of this corridor, in little alcoves, there are stalls of shops, kept principally by women, who, as you approach, are seen through the dusk offering for sale ... multifarious trumpery ... So far as any present use is concerned, the tunnel is an entire failure.”

The Shaft Today - Note the Scarring Where the Stairs Once Were
The East London Railway took over the tunnel in 1865. They wanted to dig new tunnels to link the Thames Tunnel to the national railway network. In 1869 trains did start to run through tunnels where horses and carts should originally have traipsed. 

Twenty six years after the tunnel opened, it was finally carrying out the function it was designed for – carrying goods from north to south beneath the river, albeit by train and not horse and cart.

The tunnel remains in use today as part of the London Underground’s East London Line. Occasionally, the Brunel Museum, located in the old engine room to the tunnel, put on a guided walk through the museum. Keep checking their website here for any future walks.

Modern Photo of entrance shaft taken by David Flett, used with permission. See more of David’s work on FlickR here

Monday, 14 February 2011

No Sex Please, We're Victorian, Or: The Dubious Work of Ruth Smythers

Today being Valentines Day, I was lucky enough to receive, prior to setting out for work, a small selection of gifts from Miss Amateur Casual, one of them being a rather humerous book entitled ‘Sex Tips for Husbands and Wives from 1894’ written by a Reverend’s wife named Ruth Smythers.

It was published in Spiritual Guidance Press, in New York, and then reprinted by The Madison Institute Newsletter later the same year, The Madison Institute being an enterprise ‘…to examine and discuss the problems of our time, with a view toward extending democratic principles and promoting social and economic justice…’

The pamphlet suggests the methods a newly married woman should employ to rebuff her perverted, sex-hungry new husband. It reads almost like an article in Punch, and, indeed many people believe it is just a joke. This theory is backed up by the fact that there are no records of a Reverend Smythers, or his wife, Ruth, nor the church to which they were attached, the Arcadian Methodist Church.

Some people believe it may have even been written in the 1960’s during the sexual revolution in America.
Whatever its origins, it is certainly a funny little piece of literature, and reads with what might be called typical Victorian prudery.

As its Valentines Day, I have decided to reproduce it here for your light-hearted merriment, and whether it is Victorian or not, it is a delightful pastiche of the upper class prudery of the age:


on the
Conduct and Procedure of the
Intimate and Personal Relationships
of the Marriage State
for the
Greater Spiritual Sanctity of this
Blessed Sacrament and the Glory of God
Ruth Smythers
beloved wife of
The Reverend L.D. Smythers
Pastor of the Arcadian Methodist
Church of the Eastern Regional Conference
Published in the year
of our Lord 1894
To the sensitive young woman who has had the benefits of proper upbringing, the wedding day is, ironically, both the happiest and most terrifying day of her life. On the positive side, there is the wedding itself, in which the bride is the central attraction in a beautiful and inspiring ceremony, symbolizing her triumph in securing a male to provide for all her needs for the rest of her life. On the negative side, there is the wedding night, during which the bride must pay the piper, so to speak, by facing for the first time the terrible experience of sex.

At this point, dear reader, let me concede one shocking truth. Some young women actually anticipate the wedding night ordeal with curiosity and pleasure! Beware such an attitude! A selfish and sensual husband can easily take advantage of such a bride. One cardinal rule of marriage should never be forgotten: GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDGINGLY. Otherwise what could have been a proper marriage could become an orgy of sexual lust.

On the other hand, the bride's terror need not be extreme. While sex is at best revolting and at worse rather painful, it has to be endured, and has been by women since the beginning of time, and is compensated for by the monogamous home and by the children produced through it.
It is useless, in most cases, for the bride to prevail upon the groom to forego the sexual initiation. While the ideal husband would be one who would approach his bride only at her request and only for the purpose of begetting offspring, such nobility and unselfishness cannot be expected from the average man.

Most men, if not denied, would demand sex almost every day. The wise bride will permit a maximum of two brief sexual experiences weekly during the first months of marriage. As time goes by she should make every effort to reduce this frequency.
Feigned illness, sleepiness, and headaches are among the wife's best friends in this matter. Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove very effective, if used in the late evening about an hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction.
Clever wives are ever on the alert for new and better methods of denying and discouraging the amorous overtures of the husband. A good wife should expect to have reduced sexual contacts to once a week by the end of the first year of marriage and to once a month by the end of the fifth year of marriage.

By their tenth anniversary many wives have managed to complete their child bearing and have achieved the ultimate goal of terminating all sexual contacts with the husband. By this time she can depend upon his love for the children and social pressures to hold the husband in the home.
Just as she should be ever alert to keep the quantity of sex as low as possible, the wise bride will pay equal attention to limiting the kind and degree of sexual contacts. Most men are by nature rather perverted, and if given half a chance, would engage in quite a variety of the most revolting practices. These practices include among others performing the normal act in abnormal positions; mouthing the female body; and offering their own vile bodies to be mouthed in turn.

Nudity, talking about sex, reading stories about sex, viewing photographs and drawings depicting or suggesting sex are the obnoxious habits the male is likely to acquire if permitted.
A wise bride will make it the goal never to allow her husband to see her unclothed body, and never allow him to display his unclothed body to her. Sex, when it cannot be prevented, should be practiced only in total darkness. Many women have found it useful to have thick cotton nightgowns for themselves and pajamas for their husbands. These should be donned in separate rooms. They need not be removed during the sex act. Thus, a minimum of flesh is exposed.

Once the bride has donned her gown and turned off all the lights, she should lie quietly upon the bed and await her groom. When he comes groping into the room she should make no sound to guide him in her direction, lest he take this as a sign of encouragement. She should let him grope in the dark. There is always the hope that he will stumble and incur some slight injury which she can use as an excuse to deny him sexual access.
When he finds her, the wife should lie as still as possible. Bodily motion on her part could be interpreted as sexual excitement by the optimistic husband.

If he attempts to kiss her on the lips she should turn her head slightly so that the kiss falls harmlessly on her cheek instead. If he attempts to kiss her hand, she should make a fist. If he lifts her gown and attempts to kiss her anyplace else she should quickly pull the gown back in place, spring from the bed, and announce that nature calls her to the toilet. This will generally dampen his desire to kiss in the forbidden territory.
If the husband attempts to seduce her with lascivious talk, the wise wife will suddenly remember some trivial non-sexual question to ask him. Once he answers she should keep the conversation going, no matter how frivolous it may seem at the time.

Eventually, the husband will learn that if he insists on having sexual contact, he must get on with it without amorous embellishment. The wise wife will allow him to pull the gown up no farther than the waist, and only permit him to open the front of his pajamas to thus make connection.
She will be absolutely silent or babble about her housework while his huffing and puffing away. Above all, she will lie perfectly still and never under any circumstances grunt or groan while the act is in progress. As soon as the husband has completed the act, the wise wife will start nagging him about various minor tasks she wishes him to perform on the morrow. Many men obtain a major portion of their sexual satisfaction from the peaceful exhaustion immediately after the act is over. Thus the wife must insure that there is no peace in this period for him to enjoy. Otherwise, he might be encouraged to soon try for more.

One heartening factor for which the wife can be grateful is the fact that the husband's home, school, church, and social environment have been working together all through his life to instill in him a deep sense of guilt in regards to his sexual feelings, so that he comes to the marriage couch apologetically and filled with shame, already half cowed and subdued. The wise wife seizes upon this advantage and relentlessly pursues her goal first to limit, later to annihilate completely her husband's desire for sexual expression.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Cleveland Street Workhouse, Or: An Appeal

Some weeks ago I was urged to sign a petition for a good cause. The petition was to prevent redevelopment to a site in Cleveland Street, London, upon which currently stands an old workhouse.

The Cleveland Street workhouse, however, is not a typical workhouse. Here is some information taken from the petition site:

The Cleveland Street workhouse was originally built in 1775 and it is the best preserved Georgian era workhouse in Central London, one of only three remaining in the Capital.
The building has witnessed a unique evolution in the medical care of the sick and poor, being a workhouse infirmary for most of its existence, with purpose-built Nightingale wards added a century after its inception. Then, at the end of the workhouse era in the 1920s, it became part of the charitable Middlesex Hospital.
The Cleveland Street Workhouse has survived largely unchanged since the Georgian era. Its austere appearance is a rare testimony to the bleak and utilitarian institution it was designed to be. Its back yard was a graveyard for the poor, full of dead to a depth of at least 20 feet.

The Workhouse Today
The building embodies the evolution of health-care for ordinary Londoners since the days of King George III and is rich in historical interest.
Complete redevelopment of the workhouse site has been proposed. If these plans go ahead, this important historical building will be totally demolished.  A very large-scale private residential development, quite out of character with the street and its historical surroundings, will take its place.

Yesterday, I received an email from the Cleveland Street Workhouse group with further news regarding the Workhouse, coinciding somewhat with my last post here. The email contained the following news:

Charles Dickens lived only 9 doors away from the workhouse!! His address was in a street called Norfolk Street, which is now the southerly part of Cleveland Street, and is now included in its numbering. None of the biographers seems to have noticed this - they knew the address, but did not notice the workhouse. Remarkably, the house still stands, on the corner with Tottenham Street. The fact that there was a workhouse so close to his home (he lived there twice before he wrote Oliver Twist, and for over four years in all) of course means that your support for the workhouse was not for just any old workhouse, but for the very one which may have been the inspiration for the most famous workhouse in the world!!

The Dickens Fellowship is supporting our efforts to get a blue plaque on the house.

we have made an appeal with new evidence to the government Minister, which thankfully 
has been greeted with a request to English Heritage to re-consider its earlier report. The earlier report recommended listing for preservation, and we are hoping the reconsideration will too - especially as the new evidence includes the Dickens connection. English Heritage is about to submit its report any day, and the Minister will then consider it. Of course we are hoping for the best.

Being the kind of thing that interests me, I signed it happily. The petition to save the workhouse currently has in excess of 2000 signatures, but before the petition is given to the minister mentioned, the group would like to achieve at least 2,500 signatures.

So, please visit the links below, all of which contain the petition, and please sign it to save an important bit of our heritage.

The Cleveland Street Workhouse Petition can be found here here

You can keep up to date with news about the workhouse (and read about workhouses in general) AND sign the petition at - the petition is there too!

Finally, you can read a bit more about the workhouse, and Dickens at the Dickens Fellowship Website

Hopefully you can help!

Monday, 7 February 2011

“Happy 199th Birthday to You”, The Early Life of Charles John Huffam Dickens

Today, 7th February, would have been the birthday of Charles Dickens. I suspect a lot of history blogs and sites will do a post about him, and it may even make a footnote in some newspapers. Those blogs and sites, I’m sure, will contain wonderfully detailed descriptions of Dickens’ life, his family, his inspirations and his novels.
With that in mind, I decided not to do a long post about his life and / or his work (I think that task would have been too daunting for me!) but instead I wanted to try and condense his early years – specifically the years between his birth and his becoming a successful author – into a fairly bite-size post.

That way, I hoped to make a short, succinct, readable post that contained all the key points about Dickens’ younger years that could be read in a matter of minutes.

Hopefully I’ve been successful…

John Dickens
On 7th February 1812, Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsea, Portsmouth. His father, John, was a clerk working in the Navy Pay Office, his mother Elizabeth was the daughter of a senior clerk in the same Pay Office. Charles was the second of ten children, only five of whom survived childhood.
Charles’ childhood was unsettled, with the family moving around extensively. They first moved when he was four years old, from Portsmouth to Norfolk Street in Bloomsbury, London in 1816. A year later they moved from London to Chatham, in Kent, and then back to London in 1822 where the family settled in Camden Town.
Elizabeth Dickens
Charles would always consider Chatham to be his real home, being the place where his formative years were spent playing by the sea and observing the dockyard, and his first memories made.
Moving from home to home would be a pattern for the rest of Charles’ life.

His parents were neither particularly affectionate nor loving toward him, and he would go on to describe himself in his childhood as a "very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy". As such, he spent much time alone between the ages on ten and twelve, which helped little Charles to develop a vivid imagination that he would return to again and again in his work. John was a poor father, who neglected the educational needs of Charles and his siblings. Even with the funds the family had at their disposal, the boy was denied any schooling.

At the time of Charles’ birth the Dickens’ were a perfectly ordinary middle class family in a financially comfortable position. Charles’ father, John, was earning a decent salary of £350, which would have been sufficient for the family to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle. John, however, was a man who lived beyond his means and in 1824 the family ran out of money. Bankruptcy descended, and all the Dickens’ possessions had to be pawned. In February of the same year, John Dickens was imprisoned in Marshalsea Debtors Prison, in Southwark. The Dickens family, with nowhere else to go, moved into the prison to live with John during his imprisonment, apart from young Charles, who had found lodgings in Camden with family friend Elizabeth Roylance.
Dickens in 1839
Living in lodgings and having to pay his way, twelve year old Charles was sent out to work.
He found a job in a shoe blacking factory on the north bank of the Thames, near Hungerford market doing terribly mundane labour for 6 to 7s a week. As one of a number of young, often shoe-less boys, he spent his days pasting labels onto bottles of shoe blacking from early morning until late at night. Quite a change in lifestyle for a young middle-class boy of twelve.

In the summer of 1824, John Dickens' grandmother, Elizabeth Dickens, died having bequeathed the family £450. With this money, John was granted release from prison and paid off his debts, allowing the Dickens family to leave Marshalsea Prison. They went to live with Charles in the home of Elizabeth Roylance.

With a little money now to their name, the family was able to remove Charles from the blacking factory. His employment there, thankfully for Charles, lasted only a few months, but he would remember the misery for the rest of his life, referring to the time as “the secret agony of my soul”.
Much later, Charles described the misery of working in the blacking factory to his biographer, John Forster, who published ‘The Life of Charles Dickens’ after the author died in 1870. Talking about his time in the blacking factory, Dickens told Forster:

The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first with a piece of oil-paper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary's shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label, and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down-stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in Oliver Twist.

Things took a turn for the better for Charles when the family finally sent him to school at Wellington House Academy, where he enjoyed good schooling until 1827, when the family finances had once again been drained and he was withdrawn from the school, leaving Charles angry and disappointed.

After the disappointment of losing his school place, Charles, in May 1827, now aged fifteen, gained employment as a junior solicitor’s clerk at Ellis and Blackmore, attorneys, of Holborn Court, Gray’s Inn, where he earned just less than £1 a week. However, as with his job in the blacking factory, this position did not last long as he hated law, and six months later he left and sought a position in journalism. To achieve his goal, he learned shorthand in his spare time, and by the time he was seventeen he had acquired a job as a freelance reporter. Between 1831 and 1832 he sat in on Parliamentary debates, taking shorthand notes and writing reports which he sold to various London papers.

This job paid well with Charles sometimes earning up to £5 a week. In his private life, Charles was taken with a girl named Maria Beadnell, whom he wished to marry, only for her father, a banker, to refuse Charles permission to do so and end the relationship by sending her to school in Paris

Mary Beadnell
Despite enjoying some success with his reporting work, Charles was a creative personality, and contemplated a career on the stage. Ready to give up on writing and become an actor, it was only the publication of his story ‘A Dinner at Poplar Walk’ in London periodical Monthly Magazine’s December 1833 issue that changed his mind. This acceptance of his work changed his career course, and rather than become an actor, Charles returned to writing.

Catherine Hogarth
In 1834, Charles rented rooms at Furnival’s Inn, and, under the pseudonym of Boz (The Dickens’ family nickname for Charles’ youngest brother, Augustus) he started to write descriptive political sketch pieces for the newspaper the Morning Chronicle, for whom He travelled across the country reporting on election campaigns. In 1835 he submitted work to a newly established paper, the Evening Chronicle, and whilst doing so, met the daughter of the co-editor, George Hogarth; a young lady named Catherine Hogarth. A year later, they were married and moved in with Catherine’s youngest sister, Mary. Charles and Catherine would go on to have ten children.

Charles’ career as a writer appeared to be set for success when, in February 1836 his sketch pieces for the morning chronicle were compiled into one piece of work, named ‘Sketches by Boz’, and published by John Macrone. This collection was received with great success by the public, and two months later, his first full-length novel, ‘The Pickwick Papers’ was published in monthly instalments by publishers Chapman and Hall. ‘Pickwick Papers’ started off slowly, being released to a rather indifferent reception, but by November 1836, when its run came to an end, it was selling 40,000 copies of each installment.
Dickens in 1842
In the same month, Richard Bentley, owner of the new literary magazine, Bentley’s Miscellany, offered Charles the job of editor of the magazine. Charles accepted and as a contribution to its contents, serialized his second novel ‘Oliver Twist’ within its pages. This serialization was illustrated by the great George Cruikshank.
By the time Charles and Catherine’s first child was born (also named Charles), in 1837 Charles senior had become the most popular and best paid author in the country.
His third novel ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ was serialized monthly between April 1838 and October 1839, with publishers Chapman and Hall paying £150 per monthly part – a huge sum of money at the time.

By now, Charles was hugely busy, and in danger of suffering from exhaustion, or, as he put it ‘bursting my boiler.’ With that in mind, Charles bought out his publishing agreements with John Macrone, and, in 1839 left his post at Bentley’s Miscellany, a move encouraged by a fall-out with Richard Bentley over the rights to Oliver Twist.

From this moment, Charles Dickens’ literary career went from strength to strength, and he would go on to write prolifically for the rest of his life, turning out not just the novels for which he is famous, but also short stories, non-fictional works, plays and poetry. Looking at a list of his work, it’s difficult to see how he found the time to do anything BUT write. In the interest of keeping this post fairly short, I did not intend to list all of Dickens’ work here, but to illustrate his writing consistency and abundant productivity I have done just that.
If you wish, treat the following list as somewhat of an appendix:

Sketches By Boz – 1836 (Short Story Collection)
The Village Coquettes – 1836 (Plays)
The Pickwick Papers – serialised April 1836 to November 1837
The Mudfog Papers – 1837 (Short Story Collection)
Oliver Twist – serialised February 1837 to April 1839
Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi – 1838 (Non Fiction)
Nicholas Nickleby  - serialised April 1838 to October 1839
The Old Curiosity Shop – serialised April 1840 to February 1841
Barnaby Rudge – February 1841 to November 1841
The Fine Old English Gentleman – 1841 (Poetry)
American Notes – 1842 (Non Fiction)
A Christmas Carol – 1843 (Christmas Book)
Martin Chuzzlewit – serialised January 1843 to July 1844
The Chimes – 1844 (Christmas Book)
The Cricket On the Hearth – 1845 (Christmas Book)
The Battle of Life – 1846 (Christmas Book)
Pictures From Italy – 1846 (Non Fiction)
Dombey and Son – serialised October 1846 to April 1848
The Haunted Man and the Ghosts Bargain – 1848 (Christmas Book)
The Life Of Our Lord: As Written for His Children – 1849 (Non Fiction)
David Copperfield – Serialised May 1849 to November 1850
Bleak House – serialised March 1852 to September 1853
A Child’s History of England – 1853 (Non Fiction)
Hard Times – serialised April 1854 to August 1854
Little Dorrit – serialised December 1855 to June 1857
The Frozen Deep – 1857 (Play)
A Tale of two Cities – serialised April 1859 to November 1859
Great Expectations – serialised December 1860 to August 1861
Our Mutual Friend – serialised May 1864 to November 1865
The Uncommercial Traveller – 1860 to 1869 (Short Story Collection)
Speeches, Letters and Sayings – 1870 (Non Fiction)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood – serialised April 1870 to September 1870 (Unfinished)

The only time the constant production line of work trailed off was after the Staplehurst Rail Crash in which he was involved.
You can read about the effect this accident had on Dickens here

I hope this post is what I set out for it to be; a digestible account of Dickens’ youth up until he acquired the fortune and fame we know him for today. All that remains is for us to wish him a happy 199th Birthday!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

“Spending a Penny”: Or The First Public Flushing Toilets - Open on This Day in 1852

Of all the technological feats and wondrous designs to come out of The Great Exhibition of 1851, there is one invention that we still use regularly today without even thinking about its ingenuity, to many, this will, at some stage or other, have been a life-saver – particularly after a lunch time drink…

At the Exhibition, a man named George Jennings, a Brighton plumber, installed his so-called ‘Monkey Closets’ in the Retiring Rooms of The Crystal Palace. These ‘Monkey Closets’ caused great excitement as they were the first public toilets anyone had ever seen, and during the exhibition 827,280 visitors paid one penny each to use them. For ‘spending a penny’, they received a clean seat, a towel, a comb and a shoe shine. 

George Jennings
When the exhibition finished and the Crystal Palace was moved to Sydenham, the toilets were set to be closed down. Jennings, however, persuaded the organisers to keep them open. They agreed, and the penny toilets went on to generate revenue of over £1000 a year.

After the success of Jennings’s Crystal Palace lavatories, public toilets started to appear in the streets, the first of these being at 95, Fleet Street, London, next to the Society of Art on 2nd February 1852, with one for women opening a little later, on the 11th February at 51 Bedford Street, Strand, London. These ‘Public Waiting Rooms’ contained water closets in wooden surrounds.
The charge was 2 pence entrance fee and extra for washing or clothes brushes. These new facilities were advertised The Times and on handbills, distributed around the city. These ‘Public Waiting Rooms’ however, did not become successful, and were eventually abandoned due to their unpopularity with the public, and the awkward design of the lavatory and flushing technique.

Henry Cole
Samuel Peto
The men responsible for building and promoting Jennings’ public conveniences – Sir Samuel Morton Peto (a building contractor who had erected Nelson’s Column and built the Reform Club, Lyceum Theatre and a few other London buildings) Sir Henry Cole (one of the Great Exhibition’s principal promoters and inventor of the commercial Christmas card) thought that the scheme would be extremely profitable. It wasn’t.
Public toilets only really became popular after Mr. Thomas Crapper developed some improvements to Jennings’ initial flushing mechanism, which promised “a certain flush with every pull”, these improvements did a lot to increase the popularity of the public toilet. Crapper also developed some other important toilet - related inventions, such as the ballcock. (He is often mistakenly credited with inventing the flush toilet, but he merely improved its functionality)

George Jennings died on the 17 April 1882 in a traffic accident, when the horse pulling his cart shied, and threw him across the road into a dust cart. He sustained minor injuries and a broken collar bone. Later, he appeared to be healing well until he suffered a congestion of the lungs and died. He was aged 72.

Thomas Crapper
His company continued its work, now being run by his son, and by 1895, with a new improved method of flushing in place, it had provided the public toilets for 36 British towns, and they could also be found in Paris, Florence, Berlin, Madrid, and Sydney as well as far-flung destinations in South America and the Far East. 

The designers, architects and engineers of the Victorian age built public conveniences to a very high standard. When conveniences were to be above ground, they were built to be aesthetically pleasing, and built with high quality materials such as marble and copper, and furnished with fine ceramics and tiles.

Not many original Victorian public toilets survive today, in London they are recognizable by the fine and fancy railing work above ground, with steps leading under street-level.
If anyone knows of any surviving I’d love to hear about them.