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Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year from ‘The Amateur Casual’ c/o ‘London Journal’ 1862

Okay, last piece of Victorian poetry of the year, and for quite a while I think, and the last blog post of 2010 from me.

I stumbled across this piece just today believe it or not, and thought I best share it, given what today is. 

It was in the above-mentioned ‘London Journal’ for the week ending 4th January 1862. If you have an interest in Victorian Periodicals, you can read a little about the London Journal in one of my earlier blog posts here

Anyway, Happy New Year to all readers, and have a prosperous 2011!

Now, please enjoy ‘The New Year’

The New Year

Come, bury the griefs of the Old Year,
And list to the musical chime
That welcomes the dawn of the New Year –
The new-born child of Time.
Oh, thousands of weary ones bless him,
The aged, the way-worn, and sad,
For the bells ring out musical tidings
To make the disconsolate glad.
The dawn of a New Year is breaking!

Yes, listen, dear toil-weary brother;
The bells now no solemn knells toll,
But tell a sweet tale that must waken
The sweetest delights in the soul!
O God, make their strain no delusion!
Let clouds of the past fade from view,
That all of the woes of the Old Year
Be lost in the joys of the New!
The dawn of a New Year is breaking!

In truth, oh, may this prove a New Year,
The end of oppression and strife;
The dawn of a glorious era,
The morn of millennial life;
The advent of joy, peace, and gladness,
When eaglets shall feed with the dove,
And up to Heaven’s gates shall rise only
The soul-stirring music of love.
The dawn of a New Year is breaking!

Then this would indeed be a New Year –
Despair not, brave champions of Right,
Ye martyrs, ye heroes, great workers,
Who toil on unknown through the night!
Take courage, there will be a New Year;
The night is far spent; and the day
Is at hand, when old things
Shall vanish for ever away.
The dawn of a New Year is breaking!

                                              R. B.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

“Holly! Green Holly!” Or: ‘Christmasing’: The Victorian Christmas Decoration Trade:

Below is an excerpt from Henry Mayhew’s seminal work, ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ in this chapter, he explores the tradition of ‘Christmasing’; whereby vendors (costermongers or market traders) gather festive branches such as holly and mistletoe in order to sell.

Why did they sell mistletoe and holly in Victorian times?

People would purchase these festive branches to decorate their homes over the Christmas period. Even pubs and churches would put up mistletoe and holly over Christmas, and people even topped their Christmas puddings with it.

‘London Labour and the London poor’ was written over a period of time in the 1840’s, and shows that the tradition of decorating our homes for Christmas is nothing new, and neither is the profit to be made from it. Selling Christmas decorations – even things as simple as a few branches of festive leaves – was as lucrative for retailers then as it is now:

The article is as follows:

Of Christmasing: Laurel, Ivy, Holly and Mistletoe

In London a large trade is carried on in "Christmasing," or in the sale of holly and mistletoe, for Christmas sports and decorations. The quantity of these "branches" sold is nearly 250,000, and the money expended upon them annually in the streets amounts to just over £15,000.
It must be borne in mind, to account for this expenditure for a brief season, that almost every housekeeper will expend something in "Christmasing;" from 2d. to 1s. 6d., and the poor buy a pennyworth, or a halfpennyworth each, and they are the coster's customers.

In some houses, which are let off in rooms, floors, or suites of apartments, and not to the poorest class, every room will have the cheery decoration of holly, its bright, and as if glazed leaves and red berries, reflecting the light from fire or candle.

"Then, look," said a gardener to me, "what's spent on a Christmasing the churches! Why, now, properly to Christmas St. Paul's, I say properly, mind, would take 50l. worth at least; aye, more, when I think of it, nearer 100l. I hope there'll be no `No Popery' nonsense against Christmasing this year. I'm always sorry when anything of that kind's afloat, because it's frequently a hindrance to business."

This was said three weeks before Christmas. In London there are upwards of 300,000 inhabited houses. The whole of the evergreen branches sold number 375,000.
Even the ordinary-sized inns, I was informed, displayed holly decorations, costing from 2s. to 10s.; while in the larger inns, where, perhaps, an assembly-room, a concert-room, or a clubroom, had to be adorned, along with other apartments, 20s. worth of holly, &c., was a not an uncommon outlay.

"Well, then, consider," said another informant, "the plum-puddings! Why, at least there's a hundred thousand of 'em eaten, in London, through Christmas and the month following. That's nearly one pudding to every twenty of the population, is it, sir? Well, perhaps, that's too much. But, then, there's the great numbers eaten at public dinners and suppers; and there's more plum-pudding clubs at the small grocers and public-houses than there used to be, so, say full a hundred thousand, flinging in any mince-pies that may be decorated with evergreens. Well, sir, every plum-pudding will have a sprig of holly in him. If it's bought just for the occasion, it may cost 1d., to be really prime and nicely berried. If it's part of a lot, why it won't cost a halfpenny, so reckon it all at a halfpenny. What does that come to? Above 200l. Think of that, then, just for sprigging puddings!"

Mistletoe, I am informed, is in somewhat less demand than it was, though there might be no very perceptible difference. In many houses holly is now used instead of the true plant, for the ancient ceremonies and privileges observed "under the mistletoe bough." The holly is not half the price of the mistletoe, which is for one reason; for, though there is not any great disparity of price, wholesale, the holly, which costs 6d.retail, is more than the quantity of mistletoe retailed for 1s. The holly-tree may be grown in any hedge, and ivy may be reared against any wall; while the mistletoe is parasitical of the apple-tree, and, but not to half the extent, of the oak and other trees.

It does not grow in the northern counties of England. The purchasers of the mistletoe are, for the most part, the wealthier classes, or, at any rate, I was told, "those who give parties."

It is bought, too, by the male servants in large establishments, and more would be so bought, "only so few of the great people, of the most fashionable squares and places, keep their Christmas in town." Half-a-crown is a not uncommon price for a handsome mistletoe bough.

The costermongers buy about a half of the holly, &c., brought to the markets; it is also sold either direct to those requiring evergreens, or to green-grocers and fruiterers who have received orders for it from their customers, or who know it will be wanted. A shilling's worth may be bought in the market, the bundles being divided. Mistletoe, the costers -those having regular customers in the suburbs -receive orders for.

"Last December," said a coster to me, "I remember a servant-girl, and she weren't such a girl either, running after me in a regular flutter, to tell me the family had forgot to order 2s. worth of mistletoe of me, to be brought next day. Oh, yes, sir, if it's ordered by, or delivered to, the servant-girls, they generally have a little giggling about it. If I've said: `What are you laughing at?' they'll mostly say: `Me! I'm not laughing.'"

The costermongers go into the neighbourhood of London to procure the holly for street sale. This is chiefly done, I was told, by those who were "cracked up," and some of them laboured at it "days and days." It is, however, a very uncertain trade, as they must generally trespass, and if they are caught trespassing, by the occupier of the land, or any of his servants, they are seldom "given in charge," but their stock of evergreens is not unfrequently taken from them, "and that, sir, that's the cuttingest of all." They do not so freely venture upon the gathering of mistletoe, for to procure it they must trespass in orchards, which is somewhat dangerous work, and they are in constant apprehension of traps, spring-guns, and bull-dogs.

Six or seven hundred men or lads, the lads being the most numerous, are thus employed for a week or two before Christmas, and, perhaps, half that number, irregularly at intervals, for a week or two after it. Some of the lads are not known as regular coster-lads, but they are habitués of the streets in some capacity. To procure as much holly one day, as will sell for 2s. 6d. the next, is accounted pretty good work, and 7s. 6d. would be thus realised in six days. But 5s. is more frequently the return of six days' labour and sale, though a very few have cleared 10s., and one man, "with uncommon luck," once cleared 20s. in six days.

The distance travelled in a short winter's day, is sometimes twenty miles, and, perhaps, the lad or man has not broken his fast, on some days, until the evening, or even the next morning, for had he possessed a few pence he would probably have invested it in oranges or nuts, for street-sale, rather than "go a-gathering Christmas." 

One strong-looking lad, of 16 or 17, gave me the following account: -

"It's hard work, is Christmasing; but, when you have neither money nor work, you must do something, and so the holly may come in handy. I live with an elder brother, he helps the masons, and as we had neither of us either work or money, he cut off Tottenham and Edmonton way, and me t'other side of the water, Mortlake way, as well as I know. We'd both been used to costering, off and on. I was out, I think, ten days altogether, and didn't make 6s. in it. I'd been out two Christmases before.

O, yes, I'd forgot. I made 6d. over the 6s., for I had half a pork-pie and a pint of beer, and the landlord took it out in holly. I meant to have made a quarter of pork do, but I was so hungry -and so would you, sir, if you'd been out a-Christmasing -that I had the t'other quarter. It's 2d. a quarter. I did better when I was out afore, but I forget what I made.

It's often slow work, for you must wait sometimes 'till no one's looking, and then you must work away like anything. I'd nothing but a sharp knife I borrowed, and some bits of cord to tie the holly up. You must look out sharp, because, you see, sir, a man very likely won't like his holly-tree to be stripped. Wherever there is a berry, we goes for the berries. They're poison berries, I've heard. Moonlight nights is the thing, sir, when you knows where you are.

I never goes for mizzletoe. I hardly knows it when I sees it. The first time I was out, a man got me to go for some in a orchard, and told me how to manage; but I cut my lucky in a minute. Something came over me like. I felt sickish. But what can a poor fellow do? I never lost my Christmas, but a little bit of it once. Two men took it from me, and said I ought to thank them for letting me off without a jolly good jacketing, as they was gardeners. I believes they was men out a-Christmasing, as I were. It was a dreadful cold time that; and I was wet, and hungry, -and thirsty, too, for all I was so wet, - and I'd to wait a-watching in the wet. I've got something better to do now, and I'll never go a-Christmasing again, if I can help it."

This lad contrived to get back to his lodging, in town, every night, but some of those out Christmasing, stay two or three days and nights in the country, sleeping in barns, out-houses, carts, or under hay-stacks, inclement as the weather may be, when their funds are insufficient to defray the charge of a bed, or a part of one, at a country "dossing-crib" (low lodging house). They resorted, in considerable numbers, to the casual wards of the workhouses, in Croydon, Greenwich, Reigate, Dartford, &c., when that accommodation was afforded them, concealing their holly for the night.

As in other matters, it may be a surprise to some of my readers to learn in what way the evergreens, used on festive occasions in their homes, may have been procured.
The costermongers who procure their own Christmasing, generally hawk it. A few sell it by the lot to their more prosperous brethren.

Some of the costermongers deck their carts and barrows, in the general line, with holly at Christmas. Some go out with their carts full of holly, for sale, and may be accompanied by a fiddler, or by a person beating a drum. The cry is;

"Holly! Green Holly!"

Of all the "branches" in the markets, the costers buy one-half. This season, holly has been cheaper than was ever known previously. In some years, its price was double that cited, in some treble, when the December was very frosty.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

‘In the Workhouse; Christmas Day’; by George R. Sims

It wasn’t my intention to put any more poetry on here, but I picked up a copy Staffordshire newspaper, The Sentinel last week whilst on a Christmas gift delivery mission to Miss Amateur Casual’s home town. I only read the paper a few days ago, though, and came across an article entitled:
Christmas Day in The Wolstanton And Burslem Union Workhouse in Chell.’
(Chell being an area of Stoke-On-Trent) The article cited a few lines from the poem ‘In the Workhouse: Christmas Day’ by George R. Sims.

With this being the festive season, I thought this as good a time as any to put this poem up, whilst at the same time writing a little bit about the author, George R. Sims.

George R. Sims
George R. Sims was born in London in 1847, the son of a successful businessman who owned a wholesale and export cabinet manufacturing business.
George was educated at Eastbourne College, after which he worked for his father. This, he found unsatisfying, as he had a strong desire to become a writer, he went some way to achieving this in 1872 when he began writing theatre reviews for two journals, ‘Dark Blue’ and ‘Woman’.

Three years later he became a staff writer with Fun and in 1877 moved to Referee. He also wrote a column for the ‘Weekly Dispatch’. 
George indulged his creative writing desires with plays. He wrote one of moderate success entitled ‘Crutch and Toothpick’ in 1879, aged 32, but it was ‘The Lights of London’ that established him as a playwright.
His other plays include ‘Romany Rye’, ‘The Member for Slocum’ and ‘The Harbour Lights’. 

In the 1880s Sims often wrote poetry on social issues for Referee, whom he had now been contributing to for over five years. These poems became known as the ‘Dagonet Ballads’, the most famous of these being ‘In the Workhouse: Christmas Day’.
Its passionate social concern for the plight of the poor caught the ears of the public in the same way as Greenwood’s ‘A Night in the Workhouse’ had in 1866.
In the Workhouse: Christmas Day’ made Sims a strong voice for reform, using his writing and poetry to dramatize the plight of suffering Londoners and bring it the public attention.

Sims wrote in his memoirs that after In the Workhouse: Christmas Day’ was first published it was "vigorously denounced as a mischievous attempt to set the paupers against their betters". 

With the bit between his teeth after his success
, Sims, along with his great friend, John Burns, gave lectures on the need for social reform. After one of these meetings in Southwark, Sims was approached by Arthur Moss, a local School Board officer. Moss told Sims of the terrible poverty that large numbers of working class people were experiencing in London, and offered to take Sims of a tour of the district. 
The tour shocked and opened Sims eyes at once. He decided he would try to find a way of bringing this information to the notice of the general public. He approached his friend, Gilbert Dalziel, the editor of a new illustrated paper, ‘The Pictorial World’ who agreed to publish a series of articles by Sims on the living conditions of people in London.

Illustrated by Frederick Burnard, the articles were later published as a book in 1889 entitled ‘How the Poor Live’. Articles originally published in the Daily News appeared in another volume in 1889 entitled Horrible London.

Sims also wrote many popular ballads attempting to draw attention to the plight of the London poor, a selfless undertaking that raised public opinion on the subject of poverty and led to reform legislation in the Act of 1885

Sims was intrigued by the psychology of crime, and in the 1890’s he wrote some ingenious detective stories. Dorcas Dene’, written in 1897, featured a woman detective. At Arthur Lambton's Crimes Club, Sims enjoyed discussing cases with Max Pemberton, Conan Doyle and John Churton Collins. He was consumed with the murders of Jack the Ripper and at one point he was even a suspect.

Although by now Sims was mainly a playwright, he continued to write on social issues. In 1909, At the age of 62, he wrote a series of articles on child poverty that appeared in the Daily Telegraph. These were eventually published as the books: ‘London by Night’ and ‘Watches of the Night’. Sims also wrote for the Daily Mail and the Evening News, newspapers which were owned by his friend, Lord Northcliffe. 

Sims enjoyed his position as a successful author and playwright and reported earnings of nearly £150,000 in 1898, but he gambled most of his wealth away, or gave it to charities. Sims was a charitable man, a trait no doubt brought about by his work on behalf of the poor, and along with Mrs. E. W. Burgwin, he founded the Referee Children's Free Breakfast and Dinner Fund in 1880, which became London's largest charity of this kind. He also worked to promote the boys' clubs movement and campaigned to open museums and galleries and permit concerts on Sundays as part of the National Sunday League.

He used the Daily Mail to wage a campaign to secure the pardon and release of a Norwegian, Adolph Beck, who had twice been imprisoned because of mistaken identity. This effort led to the establishment, in 1907, of the court of criminal appeal. For his assistance, in 1905, the king of Sweden and Norway made him a knight of the order of St Olaf, first class, awarded by in 1905.

In the last few years of his life Sims worked on his memoirs. His autobiography, ‘My Life: Sixty Years' Recollections of Bohemian London was published in 1917. He was passionate about sports, especially horse racing and boxing, and he played badminton and bred bulldogs. He even a baldness curing tonic named Tatcho, but his friends found this a source of mirth when it did not stop his own hairline from receding.

George R. Sims died at his home in Regent's Park, London, just after his 75th birthday in 1922, from liver cancer.
His autobiography, ‘My Life: Sixty Years' Recollections of Bohemian London (1917) became very popular. It consisted of reminiscences originally contributed to The Evening News.

A modern edition of his poetry, ‘Prepare to Shed Them Now’ was published in 1968.

And now, as promised, the poem that gave George his big break,
‘In the Workhouse: Christmas Day:’

It is Christmas Day in the workhouse,
And the cold, bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly,
Ad the place is a pleasant sight;
For with clean-washed hands and faces,
In a long and hungry line
The paupers sit at the table,
For this is the hour they dine.

And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast;
To smile and be condescending,
Put pudding on pauper plates.
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They've paid for — with the rates.

Oh, the paupers are meek and lowly
With their "Thank'ee kindly, mum's!'"
So long as they fill their stomachs,
What matter it whence it comes!
But one of the old men mutters,
And pushes his plate aside:
"Great God!" he cries, "but it chokes me!
For this is the day she died!"

The guardians gazed in horror,
The master's face went white;
"Did a pauper refuse the pudding?"
"Could their ears believe aright?"
Then the ladies clutched their husbands,
Thinking the man would die,
Struck by a bolt, or something,
By the outraged One on high.

But the pauper sat for a moment,
Then rose 'mid silence grim,
For the others had ceased to chatter
And trembled in every limb.
He looked at the guardians' ladies,
Then, eyeing their lords, he said,
"I eat not the food of villains
Whose hands are foul and red:

"Whose victims cry for vengeance
From their dark, unhallowed graves."
"He's drunk!" said the workhouse master,
"Or else he's mad and raves."
"Not drunk or mad," cried the pauper,
"But only a haunted beast,
Who, torn by the hounds and mangled,
Declines the vulture's feast.

"I care not a curse for the guardians,
And I won't be dragged away;
Just let me have the fit out,
It's only on Christmas Day
That the black past comes to goad me,
And prey on my burning brain;
I'll tell you the rest in a whisper —
I swear I won't shout again.

"Keep your hands off me, curse you!
Hear me right out to the end.
You come here to see how paupers
The season of Christmas spend;.
You come here to watch us feeding,
As they watched the captured beast.
Here's why a penniless pauper
Spits on your paltry feast.

"Do you think I will take your bounty,
And let you smile and think
You're doing a noble action
With the parish's meat and drink?
Where is my wife, you traitors —
The poor old wife you slew?
Yes, by the God above me,
My Nance was killed by you!

'Last winter my wife lay dying,
Starved in a filthy den;
I had never been to the parish —
I came to the parish then.
I swallowed my pride in coming,
For ere the ruin came,
I held up my head as a trader,
And I bore a spotless name.

"I came to the parish, craving
Bread for a starving wife,
Bread for the woman who'd loved me
Through fifty years of life;
And what do you think they told me,
Mocking my awful grief,
That 'the House' was open to us,
But they wouldn't give 'out relief'.

"I slunk to the filthy alley —
'Twas a cold, raw Christmas Eve —
And the bakers' shops were open,
Tempting a man to thieve;
But I clenched my fists together,
Holding my head awry,
So I came to her empty-handed
And mournfully told her why.

"Then I told her the house was open;
She had heard of the ways of that,
For her bloodless cheeks went crimson,
and up in her rags she sat,
Crying, 'Bide the Christmas here, John,
We've never had one apart;
I think I can bear the hunger —
The other would break my heart.'

"All through that eve I watched her,
Holding her hand in mine,
Praying the Lord and weeping,
Till my lips were salt as brine;
I asked her once if she hungered,
And as she answered 'No' ,
T'he moon shone in at the window,
Set in a wreath of snow.

"Then the room was bathed in glory,
And I saw in my darling's eyes
The faraway look of wonder
That comes when the spirit flies;
And her lips were parched and parted,
And her reason came and went.
For she raved of our home in Devon,
Where our happiest years were spent.

"And the accents, long forgotten,
Came back to the tongue once more.
For she talked like the country lassie
I woo'd by the Devon shore;
Then she rose to her feet and trembled,
And fell on the rags and moaned,
And, 'Give me a crust — I'm famished —
For the love of God!' she groaned.

"I rushed from the room like a madman
And flew to the workhouse gate,
Crying, 'Food for a dying woman!'
And the answer came, 'Too late.'
They drove me away with curses;
Then I fought with a dog in the street
And tore from the mongrel's clutches
A crust he was trying to eat.

"Back through the filthy byways!
Back through the trampled slush!
Up to the crazy garret,
Wrapped in an awful hush;
My heart sank down at the threshold,
And I paused with a sudden thrill.
For there, in the silv'ry moonlight,
My Nance lay, cold and still.

"Up to the blackened ceiling,
The sunken eyes were cast —
I knew on those lips, all bloodless,
My name had been the last;
She called for her absent husband —
O God! had I but known! —
Had called in vain, and, in anguish,
Had died in that den — alone.

"Yes, there, in a land of plenty,
Lay a loving woman dead,
Cruelly starved and murdered
for a loaf of the parish bread;
At yonder gate, last Christmas,
I craved for a human life,
You, who would feed us paupers,
What of my murdered wife!"

'There, get ye gone to your dinners,
Don't mind me in the least,
Think of the happy paupers
Eating your Christmas feast;
And when you recount their blessings
In your smug parochial way,
Say what you did for me, too,
Only last Christmas Day."

Honestly now, that is the last bit of Victorian poetry until next Christmas at least!

Incidentally, to put a full stop on the opening of this post, the Chell Workhouse was built around 1838, and was bleak enough to earn the nickname, The Bastille.

The city council took over its administration from the Stoke and Wolstanton Board of Guardians in 1930, but it continued to take in the sick, elderly, impoverished and homeless.
Today, the Westcliffe Hospital stands on the site of the workhouse.