Gin Lane revisited in 1888

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One the most powerful images of the negative effects of alcohol is William Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’. The engraving is Hogarth’s attack on the evils of imported ‘foreign’ liquor – ‘jenever’ or Dutch gin. He produced this to contrast with ‘Beer Street’ drawing a clear comparison between ‘honest’ English beer and the stronger more dangerous spirit that gripped so many Londoners in the 1700s. London suffered a  ‘gin craze’ at mid century that forced government to act against it, passing the last of several gin acts in 1751 aimed at reducing consumption by raising prices through taxation. Actually it was rising prices for grain that weaned Londoners off gin by the 1760s, coupled with higher food costs people simply couldn’t afford it.

Hogarth’s Gin Lane (above) has a woman holding (or rather dropping) a baby at its centre. It is this image that sums up the affect of alcoholism on the addict; a total abdication of responsibility in pursuit of the next ‘fix’ of gin. Anyone familiar with modern drug addiction will recognize this as having very similar consequences.

Gin did not go away in the 1760s and remained a popular and cheap way to get drunk in the 1800s. By then campaigners against alcohol had developed more sophisticated ways to encourage abstinence – as the Temperance movement and the Salvation Army attest. Sadly, they don’t seem to have been able to do much for Mary Sullivan.

In September 1888 Sullivan, a 44 year old mother, was found dead drunk in Woolwich High Street by PC Williams (127R). The policeman had been alerted to Sullivan by the large crowd that was quickly gathering around her. She was drunk and had a baby in her arms, which she was flailing about. The child was crying and Mary was angry with it.

As he approached her he saw her dash the baby’s head against a nearby wall. He rushed over, secured her and the child and asked her where she lived. Mary had no home; homeless, impoverished and probably abandoned by the child’s father, she was at her wits end. It was not uncommon in the poorer districts of London in 1888.

A woman standing nearby offered to pay for a night’s lodging for Mary but she refused the charity. The baby seemed ok so PC Williams warned her and carried on his beat. Some time later he found her again, sitting on a  doorstep holding the child in front of her. The child was naked and another crowd were berating her, some threatening to lynch her for her cruelty.

For her own safety, and that of her baby, PC Williams now arrested her (as he probably should have done earlier). At the station the child was examined by the police surgeon and was taken away from Mary and sent to the workhouse infirmary to be cared for. At Woolwich Police court Mary Sullivan was sent to prison for 14 days hard labour. At least there she might have a chance to sober up.

[fromLloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 9, 1888]

‘A great nuisance’ but a dedicated body of men and women. How the Salvation Army got their message to the people

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Yesterday’s blog concerned the Salvation Army with two of their ‘soldiers’ being warned about annoying a local man with the ‘infernal din’ they made playing music outside his house on a Sunday. That was in 1896 when the organization was beginning to establish itself in late Victorian society. It was still an object of suspicion for some, and ridicule for others but it was well on its way to being widely recognized as the charitable religious body it is regarded as today.

William Booth had founded the East London Christian mission in 1865 and adopted the name ‘The Salvation Army’ in 1878. Booth and his wife Catherine (pictured below right) were Methodists and their intention was to bring religion and abstinence from alcohol to the poor of the East End. Unusually for the time Catherine (and all women in the mission) was able to preach on the same terms as her husband. In the early 1880s the Salvation Army began to expand its operations overseas, opening branches in the USA, Ireland and Australia and of course their success was in no small part due to their ability to promote the Army and to as many possible ‘volunteers’ as possible.

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They did this by public meetings and marches, all accompanied by brass bands made up of members, a military system of organization (with “General’ Booth at the head), and by selling their weekly paper, The War Cry. This was sold on the streets and in public houses and, as this case from 1882 shows, this could sometimes bring them into dispute with the local constabulary.

Thomas Dawson was an unlikely looking occupant of the dock at the City Police court. He was described as being about 30 years of age, ‘delicate looking’ and wearing the uniform of the Salvation Army. He had been summoned for ‘obstructing the footway in Liverpool Street’ while attempting to hawk copies of the Army’s publication.

Appearing for the City of London police chief inspector Tillcock said that there had been a growing problem with Sally Army men and women standing on the streets and drawing crowds. It was ‘a great nuisance’ he stated and caused by the ‘peculiar actions and dress’ of those involved. Perhaps the public was curious and stopped to hear what the soldiers of Booth’s army had to say; I suspect some stopped to harangue them as misguided or laugh at their costumes.

PC 934 City had tried to move Dawson on several times but each time the man had simply returned to the same position and carried on his business. When challenged about it in court Dawson declared that he had just as much right to sell the paper as anyone else and was causing no more obstruction than a Punch and Judy show. He felt the constable was picking on him because he didn’t like the message the Army was keen to broadcast but he wasn’t about to stop for anyone. The Salvation Army was, he stated in court, ‘something they wanted everyone to know about’.

Sir Robert Carden, the presiding magistrate, found for the police and begged to differ regarding the merits of an organization that took a doctrinal position that differed from the established, Anglican, church. Regardless of the virtues of the War Cry or the Army’s message he couldn’t allow the obstruction of City roads and pavements so he fined him 26d plus costs and warned him that if he came before him on a similar charge again he would double the fine. Dawson asked the justice what the alternative to paying the fine was.

‘Three days imprisonment’ he was told. He thanked the magistrate and was taken into custody. Perhaps he preferred to suffer some gaol time rather than reducing the income of the Army. If so he was a very dedicated soldier for the cause and that probably tells us all we need to know about the eventual success of the Salvation Army. Whatever we might think of it, or the people that sign up as new recruits, it was men and women like Thomas Dawson that  helped ensure that William and Catherine Booth’s vision prospered and developed into the global charity it is today.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, April 29, 1882]

An ‘infernal din’ disturbs the peace on the Sabbath and lands the Salvation Army in court

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It was 10.30 on a Sunday morning in late April 1896 and Mr Eamonson had settled down to write in his study when, once again, his peace was broken by the sound of music playing in the street outside. He set aside his work and went outside to remonstrate with those responsible, as he’d done more than once before.

There were six or eight members of the Salvation Army assembled on the opposite side of Burdett Road in East London, and they had drawn a small crowd around them. He approached John Murfitt who was banging a large drum and asked him, ‘please to stop, or go away’.

Murfitt took no notice and the band played on.

Eamonson tried again, cupping his hands and shouting for them to stop or play somewhere else.

Ignored three times he set off in search of a policeman to complain to. Eventually he found one and accompanied him back to Burdett Road to ask the Army band to desist.  The officer tried to take their names and addresses on the grounds that they were causing a nuisance and obstructing the pavement but it was difficult given the ‘infernal din’ they were making.

In the end two of the band (Murfitt the drummer and Charles White) were summoned before Mr Mead at Thames Police court on the dual accusations of refusing to stop making a disturbance after having being requested to, and of obstruction of the thoroughfare. The men denied both charges.

In essence the men of William Booth’s ‘army’ tried to argue that they couldn’t hear what was being said to them, so weren’t aware that Eamonson had requested them to stop. Their solicitor, a Mr Frost, told the court that the Army ‘always cheerfully acquiesced in any suggestion’  that they should refrain from disturbing the peace but hinted that on this occasion his clients were the victims of an ‘organized attack’. Perhaps Eamonson was a serial complainer and simply didn’t like the Salvation Army.

He would not have been alone; in its early years Salvationists like Murfitt and White suffered considerable abuse from all classes in Victorian society. They were ridiculed, chased down the street, and prosecuted as a nuisance. It is quite hard to imagine the global success and acceptance that they have today.

Mr Mead was a stickler for the law and so he trod a careful path around this pair of summons. He agreed with the lawyer that the playing of music was not illegal and that any obstruction caused was minor, technical in fact, but not worthy of a summons. However, he was also clear that Mr Eamonson had been disturbed by a band playing loudly outside his home on a Sunday morning.

In many persons’ eyes the essence of the Sabbath is quietness’, he stated, and so he could ‘quite understand the Complainant being annoyed’.

He told Frost that if his clients gave an undertaking not to play there in the future he would dismiss the summonses. The lawyer waivered, not wanting to commit the Army to signing up to self-enforced restrictions, but Mr Mead pressed him.

‘Perhaps you would like to consider your position’, he told him. Further prosecutions could follow if others objected to the Army setting up a band outside their homes but hopefully if they took sensible cognizance of this action they could continue their form of recruitment without the need to defend themselves in court.

It was an invitation to common sense: leave Mr Eamondson and others like him alone, and the Salvation Army band could continue to play. Persist in disturbing his peace and the law would probably find for the complainant. Mead decided to end proceedings by adjourning the hearing sine die, meaning that it was effectively postponed indefinitely. Like Mr Eamonson the worthy magistrate had no desire to hear from the Salvation Army in his court again and, if they followed the advice he’d give, he wouldn’t have to.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, April 28, 1896]

‘I may be wrong but I think a man can be a Christian and march along without a uniform’: theft and imposture brings the Salvation Army into court

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The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 but only adopted its current name in 1878, so in January 1884 (the subject of this week’s series of posts) it was still a fairly new organization. I’ve written about the ‘Army’ several times in this blog and elsewhere and I think it would be fair to say that in its infancy the Sally Army (and it is now affectionately known) was not as well-thought of as it is today.

As a deeply religious Protestant sect it attracted criticism from middle-of-the-road members of the established Church of England. This criticism (which was often sneering) from above was matched by ridicule and antagonism from ‘below’; members of the working class resented the temperance message the Army preached. Many others simply disliked the awful row they made when they marched through London playing brass instruments badly and singing hymns off key.

A quiet Sunday in London; Or, the day of rest.

Cartoon in Punch (1886) showing some of the contemporary ridicule of salvation Army members 

Some of this underlying resentment and  contempt can be seen in the prosecution of a letter carrier at Bow Street Police court towards the end of January 1884. William Hartley, employed in the Chelsea district of London, was brought before Mr Flowers accused of stealing a letter that contained a £5 note. Hartley, it was alleged, had stolen the money and used it to buy a Salvation Army uniform.

When the police traced the missing money and found a trail leading to Hartley he was arrested and held for questioning. He then wrote to the Army at its headquarters in Queen Victoria Street, saying he was attached to ‘211 Blood and Fire Division, Chelsea Detachment’. As a result both the detachment’s commander –a ‘Captain’ Isaac Anderson – and the Army’s solicitor – Mr Bennett – appeared in court also.

The reporter was amused that Bennett, a lawyer, appeared in the uniform of the Army rather than civil clothes and this theme ran through the Morning Post’s article. The lawyer said he regretted any association between the prisoner and the Army and suggested the man was an imposter. After all, he said, ‘any person could have a uniform by paying for it, if he liked to represent himself as a soldier’.

This drew a strong rebuke from the magistrate:

‘The country provides its soldiers with a uniform’ Mr Flowers told him, adding that he ‘didn’t see the use of a uniform, but I may be wrong. I think a man can be a Christian and march along without one, and all the better’.

While he said this ‘warmly’ it was met with applause in the court, indicating that many of those gathered shared his dim view of the Army’s obsession with dressing up and adopting a military outlook. That said it was clear to him that Hartley was guilty of stealing the bank note (and, as it was revealed a 20spostal order and since the theft was both serious (£5 in 1884 is about £300 today, 20 shillings equates to £65) and from her Majesty’s Post Office, he committed him to take his trial before a jury.

Today the Salvation Army has over 1.6 million members across the globe and does a great deal of worthwhile charity work. William Booth, the Army’s founder, wanted a more direct religion for the masses, feeling that the C of E was far too ‘middle class’ to appeal to ordinary people. I suppose the rise of evangelicalism  in the modern period is a reflection of this as well, the idea that Anglicanism is less about God and more about keeping up appearances and retaining social barriers (rather than  breaking them down).

As someone with no organized religion of my own I find them all equally strange but at the same time am happy when Christians (as the Sally Army’s legions of members are) actually practice what they preach rather than simply paying lip service to the sermon on the Mount by their occasional attendance at harvest festivals or carols at Christmas.  The Salvation Army may be odd but it is not full of hypocrites.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, 26 January, 1884]

‘Oh don’t be so hard on me,’ pleads an Irish philosopher and gentleman of the road

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I had a ‘conversation’ yesterday on social media with someone asking how he should act when homeless people ask for money in the street. Should he give money, or buy them food or a coffee, or should he simply take the time to chat to them? It is a complex question and I quite understood his dilemma; some charities (like the Salvation Army) tell us not to give money, believing it perpetuates the problem. Others suggest we should to help them get the basic necessities of life.

I’m also often told that ‘they will spend it on drink or drugs’, not that it is any of my business how they spend whatever money they have.

Homelessness, vagrancy and begging are not modern social issues, they have been with us for as long as humans have lived in societies. The ‘modern’ vagrancy laws in Britain have their roots in the Tudor period with laws to punish ‘sturdy beggars’ and the building of houses of correction to enforce them. By the Victorian period poverty was endemic and being dealt with by the Poor Law, with workhouses operating as a deterrent to the ‘work-shy’ in the belief that poverty was a personal failing, not a product of society or a capitalist economic system.

There was also limited understanding of mental health and very little state provision for those that suffered. That much is obvious form so many of the cases I’ve written about on this site. I am reluctant to say that nineteenth-century society didn’t care about the poor and homeless and mentally ill, just that it didn’t really understand them and the underlying reasons for their actions.

St. George Gregg was someone who often found himself in trouble with the authorities in the late 1830s and early 40s. He’d come up before the Police court magistrates at Queen Square on more than one occasion in 1840 and was there again in early May that year.

Gregg was an Irishman and was frequently charged for being drunk. He was about to be convicted and fined by Mr Burrell when he raised his hand and asked if he could say a few words. The justice agreed and listened.

The defendant held out a small book, offering it to the chief usher to give to the magistrate. He explained that he’d been writing a book ‘on the currency question’ and thought his worship might like a copy. Mr. Burrell wasn’t interested.

I don’t want your book. What have you to say to the charge against you?’

I walk frequently thirty miles a day’, replied Gregg, ‘That fatigues me, and if I have nothing to eat the liquor has an effect sooner. I had no dinner yesterday, in fact I had no “tin”.’

The magistrate didn’t know what he meant by ‘tin’, so asked him.

Tin is money’, the man explained, ‘and having no  money I had no dinner’.

He’d tried to sell his books for money but seemingly had no takers to he’d started to sing in the streets and that way he’d raised a few pennies which he spent on drink.

‘You might have purchased victuals with that’, Mr Burrrell remarked.

‘Oh, sure, I wasn’t victuals hungry, I was grog hungry’ Gregg shot back. ‘I was like the captivating chandler, wanted I wanted in starch, I made up in blue’, he said, warming to his theme.

So I had toddy till I had but a single copper left, then devil a bed had I, and was making my way to the church-yard to go to bed on a tombstone, when the police found me quarters’.

He added that he’d written a study of ‘ambition’ and would send the magistrate a copy.

‘I don’t want your book. You are fined 5s’ was Mr. Burrell’s response.

Gregg hadn’t got one shilling let alone five and the justice must have realised this. What was the point of fining a homeless tramp anyway? Gregg attempted to barter with the justice, offering him books that he probably hadn’t written (and certainly hadn’t ‘published’ as he’d insisted he had) as part payment of the penalty. Burrell was having none of it and ordered him to be taken away; if he couldn’t pay the fine he’d have to go to prison.

Oh don’t be so hard on me’, pleaded the Irishman, ‘I want to finish a poem’. He was led away protesting his freedom.

Society didn’t understand George Gregg. He didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t conform to what was expected of him. He chose to live by his wits and on his own terms. Perhaps he was a ‘popular philosopher’, who wrote tracts in notebooks or scraps of paper that nobody read. His logical response to accusations of being drunk (drinking on an empty stomach) or his choice of how to spend the money he’d earned (on drink because he was thirsty after singing and walking) would be quite reasonable if he was a ‘normal’ member of society. Because he was an outsider and had chosen to live differently to others, the law treated him as a problem. It punished him rather than helped him. I’m not entirely sure we have made much progress in the last 180 odd years.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, May 7, 1840]

‘You are all talk, and there is no work in you’: a magistrate sends a ‘Union man’ to prison for Christmas

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Striking dockers in the East India Dock Road, 1889

1889 was a big year for British Trades Unionism. It was the year that Ben Tillett (with support from John Burns and other prominent socialists) led the London dockworkers to victory in their dispute with the dock companies. The demands of the workers seem almost trivial today; they wanted a guarantee of at least four hours work at sixpence (a ‘tanner’) an hour.

East Londoners supported them, as did the Catholic bishop of London, the Labour Church and the Salvation Army. Funds were raised to feed striking families and rent strikes broke out as the workers resisted all attempts to force them back to work. Afterwards John Burns reflected that then Labour movement had learned a lesson that was perhaps more important than the achievement of the specific aims of the strike. He declared:

‘labour of the humbler kind has shown its capacity to organise itself; its solidarity; its ability. The labourer has learned that combination can lead him to anything and everything’.

If only.

The strike sent ripples thorough society and, like the Match Girls’ strike the year before, unnerved the authorities. Labour was flexing its muscles and where possible those in power needed to put this particular genii firmly back in its box. During the Dock Strike the police had been deployed to break up picket lines, and arrest those intimidating non-union workers. Some of the battle lines that we saw repeated in the twentieth century had their birth in the 1880s. I well recall how Margaret Thatcher’s government used the police to in the front line against the miners in the 1980s for example.

When Charles Stephens, a union man, appeared at Worship Street Police Court in December 1889 he must have feared the worst. A complaint against Stephens was brought by an unnamed ‘sandwich man’ – someone employed by an advertising agent to wear a sandwich board and walk up and down in the street.

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The sandwich man was standing by Shoreditch church when Stephens approached him. He asked him if he was a union man and the other replied that he wasn’t.

‘If you don’t belong to a Union, I ain’t going to let you carry them boards about’, Stephens told him, and then seized him and wrestled with him until the straps of the boards broke and were thrown down to the street.

Stephens was arrested and charged at Worship Street with disorderly conduct and assault. Mr Montagu Williams, the sitting magistrate, asked the prosecutor what the man had meant by ‘Union man’.

The sandwich professed not to know so Stephens interjected from the dock:

“I asked him if he belonged to the Labourer’s Union’.

‘Union for what?’ demanded Mr Williams

‘To prevent a man working unless he belongs to it’ came Stephens’ defiant reply.

‘That is a very disgraceful union then’, snapped the magistrate.

At this Stephens pullet a small booklet from his pocket and handed it to the policeman by the dock. It was entitled ‘The Dock, Wharf, and General Labourers Union of Great Britain and Ireland’. It was stamped to show that Stephens was a fully paid up member and declared that Ben Tillett was it secretary. It was the union Tillett had formed in 1887 as the Tea Operatives and General Labourers’ Association which, from small beginnings, had swelled to over 30,000 members by the end of 1889.

Stephens was part of a growing movement of organised labour and his confidence and bravado in the dock are perhaps indicative of how union members felt in the wake of their victory that year. Montagu Williams was neither impressed nor intimidated however, and was seemingly resolved to reassert the authority of the ruling class in the face of such an upstart.

‘You are one of those men that get up these Unions and strikes’, he told him. ‘You are all talk, and there is no work in you. Well I will teach you, and others like you that you shall not interfere with men who choose to work, you will go to prison for 21 days’.

Stephens was led away, still shouting the odds defiantly. He would spend Christmas in gaol that year.

[from The Standard, Saturday, December 21, 1889]

For more posts related to late 19th century Trade Unionism and its contexts see:

Striking workers in West Ham are thwarted with the help of the bench

Assault on the docks

Exploiting workers in the late 19th century ‘rag trade’.

Brickbats and stones ‘welcome’ the Salvation Army to Hackney

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Congress Hall, Clapton – a Salvation Army mission

None of the London papers reported the business of the Thames Police Court in their editions on the 14th June 1881, but fortunately The Standard did include a report from Worship Street, Thames’ sister court in the East End. Given that the Morning Post did have reports from other courts, this helps me understand that reportage was (as I was fairly certain it was) highly selective.

I have written before about the unpopularity of the Salvation Army in its early days. The Army marched up and down London’s streets and held meetings to draw attention to the moral plight of the working classes. Whether it was the moralising people didn’t appreciate or the supposedly awful row their amateur musicians made, is not clear, but they suffered a great deal of abuse.

What I found most interesting was not the brickbats of the working poor but the relatively lukewarm support they drew from the middle-class magistrates that served in the Police Courts. I would have expected them to approve of the Army’s message but it seems that they saw them as at best a nuisance and at worst an unwelcome example  of radical non-conformism.

On Sunday 12 June 1881 a Salvation Army procession was marching, four abreast, though Hackney on the way to a gathering at the Mission hall in Havelock Road(which they soon outgrew, moving in and adapting a former orphanage to build Congress Hall in the later 1880s).

As the marchers processed they were assailed with all sorts of missiles along the route and when they reached the hall some of them found their path barred by a group ‘of rough young fellows’ who had been dogging their progress through Hackney.

Edgar Lagden, a porter and member of the Army was attacked. James Elvidge saw two lads, later named as Israel Stagg and Henry Abbot assault his fellow marcher. Stagg hit Lagden with a stick which drew blood, Abbot had been throwing stones, some of which hit Elvidge and others.

Elvidge broke free and grappled with the boys and seized Stagg, but as he tried to get him under control several men attacked him to release the lad.  In giving evidence before the magistrate at Worship Street Elvidge explained that he and his section of the march had been waiting and making space for the female marchers (the ‘sisters’) to get through unmolested when the main trouble flared. He ‘admitted that the crowd appeared to object to their possession of the road’.

That didn’t excuse the violence shown towards them of course, and the magistrate, Mr Hannay was quite clear on that point. Stagg was apparently well known as a troublesome lad in the district  and he was described as being ‘in league with the street fighters’. His actions and those of the others who objected to the marching band of the Army was unacceptable, he was told, and ‘very nearly [constituted] a riot’. Mr Hannay sent Stagg to prison for two months and Abbot for seven days, ‘both with hard labour’.

But he wasn’t happy about the tactics of the Salvation Army either, he noted that the ‘course pursued’ by them was ‘such as to induce disturbance’. One gets the distinct impression that he wished they would find some other way to practice their faith, one that didn’t involve marching or the cacophony of brass instruments that accompanied it.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, June 14, 1881]