London 1839

This is (as far as I know) the oldest remaining image of London. I’m afraid I don’t know where it is but wow!!



Recruiting Sergeants At Westminster 1877

Taken in 1877 by John Thomson, this is image called Recruiting Sergeants At Westminster is from ‘Street Life in London’. (1)

Prostitution and causes 1858

Sadly prostitution is still here in the 21st century and no matter how many laws that are thrown at it this terrible trade in bodies remains.

I have never been to prostitute and have always remined adamant that I would never will…I would rather have no sex than pay for it as I have no wish to perpetuate this most distasteful business, but I do know just one person who has paid for sex on a fairly regular basis. He doesn’t have two heads, nor does he smell or anything out of the ordinary…he is just shy and awkward when it comes to the fairer sex, paying for sex is a business transaction and is viewed by him as quite different from sex with a girlfriend or spouse and so it goes on.

Last best guess  back in 2009 was that there were 100,000 prostitutes in the United Kingdom which should really be of concern to all of us as it was back in the Victorian Era.

In 1859 James Miller FRSE, FRCSE (Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh) published a book about prostitution, it’s causes and cure.

His best guess back then was that there was between 8000 to 80,000 prostitutes in London alone although that figure was more likely to have been around 10,000.

The sum is a terrible one, pregnant of vast results in debauchery, disease, and death to individuals—of degradation and danger to the community at large. Let any one walk certain streets of London, Glasgow, or Edinburgh, of a night, and, without troubling his head with statistics, his eyes and ears will tell him at once what a multitudinous amazonian army thedevil keeps in constant field service, for advancing his own ends. The stones seem alive with lust, and the very atmosphere is tainted.

According to Miller thereare several reasons why prostitution is such a problem and the number one issue is:

An abundant cause of prostitution, in the lower ranks, is the force of early habits and education—education, not in knowledge, but in vice and crime. Children are born to unchastity. Their parents are the offscourings of the earth: the first words a daughter hears are those of cursing and blasphemy; the only example her childhood sees is that of obscenity and vice; such youth is an apt learner; and, at the age of ten or twelve, she may be both a prostitute and a thief—her lapsed state having proved rather a simple progress than a fall.

Followed very closers by:

A more painful, and perhaps equally prolific cause, is poverty. Look to the female operatives in large towns—the sewing girls, milliners, factory workers, etc. It is generally understood, so as to be quite proverbial, that out of these the ranks of the fallen are mainly recruited. How? In some cases, no doubt, from the cause previously stated—evil and early associations; in some, also, from vanity, imprudent acquaintanceships, intemperance, etc.; but, in a very large number, from sheer want.

Poverty and a lack of education…funny isn’t that the reason given for the riots last year?

Henry Mayhew in his book London Labour and the London Poor quotes one poor girl:

“I struggled very hard to keep myself chaste,but I found that I could not get food and clothing for myself and mother, so I took to live with a young man. He said he’d make me his lawful wife, but I hardly cared so long as I could get food for myself and mother . .

Quite simply if you were poor you could not earn enough to live on. Another mother:

“I earn clear just about 3 shillings. At times I was so badly off, me and my boy, that I was forced to resort to prostitution to keep us from starving. I do the best I can with what little money I earn and the rest I am obligated to go to the streets for. I can’t get a rag to wear without flying to prostitution for it. My wages will hardly find me in food. Indeed, I eat more than I earn.”

Within poverty was what Miller called ‘a sense of decency’ with whole families, lodgers and even newly married couples living in the same room.

Another reason was alcohol:

“A woman that drinks will do anything,” is too true a proverb; and its interpretation is easy”

It was a vicious circle for many women who drank because their lives were so wretched, they turned to selling their bodies to pay for alcohol and carried the guilt of prostitution which they would try and drink away..and the circle only ceased when the woman was dead.

Miller also claims that:

First and foremost stands irreligion—prolific parent of every vice and crime. Without its restraining power in the heart, the creature is impelled to all sensual indulgence without let or hindrance.

A lack of faith? Maybe but as far as I was aware all are ‘sinners’ and all sin treated as equal!

His final cause is a:

“slackness of our civic rule in permitting prostitution, brazen-faced and open-handed, to prowl upon our streets for prey. The thief is dogged anxiously by the detective, and even mere suspicion of his craft is sufficient for arrest; but the prostitute, though such by habit and repute, and seen in the act of ensnaring the silly one, is left undisturbed in her vocation.”

Not policed enough, many prostitutes were a simply allowed to go about there business.

So what were the solutions that Miller put forward? His remedies for prostitution are as follows:

We would continue and greatly increase the efforts made for elevating the masses. Education must be sown far more broadcast than it is; and with it religion, as the true fertilising and fructifying power. Secular and religious teaching must go hand in hand. Let these run to and fro together over all our borders; then true knowledge shall be increased; and then, too, as already stated, we may look for prevalence of self-respect and self-control.

Education, education, education…sounds somewhat familiar part of today’s political landscape in the UK.

Accommodation was also at the top of the agenda:

Better houses must be provided for the working-men and women, in both town and country, but specially in the former. Oh, that some magic power were given to the monied and respectable classes, so that they might have but one brief comprehensive glimpse of all the frightful orgies that are transacted, night after night, in the squalid lairs of the sunken and depraved!

and the country did eventually make some headway with housing although we are once on the brink. Instil some morals and values into the those scrounging, idle parents and thus there parents:

Let every means be used to restore vicious and idle parents to habits of industry, and virtue, and honesty. And into the children let us ingraft right principles, so that they may grow up, at least in the knowledge of right and wrong, and with a consciousness on the part of the female, that she carries a priceless jewel in her honour— however plain her person—however humble her rank may be—which, without deepest shame and detriment, she dare not give away.

A ban on alcohol:

The masses will not be elevated, unless along with many other changes intemperance be put away; and this demands special opposition, as we have seen. Were the disuse of alcoholic drinks, except under medical requirement, to become general, in six months we should be rid of prostitution by at least a half.

It’s amazing how much this is starting to sounds like a political broadcast for our current masters in government…my how thing don’t change!

The question of womens pay which was eventually adressed some 120 years later and yet even today women in the UK earn 10% less than men

In this country, the whole question of female labour and wages stands urgently in need of revision. It is a shame that in these enlightened days, honest, industrious, able-bodied women, labouring with painful industry from morning to night, or oft-times far into night, cannot make a living; and may, from this cause alone, be driven into vice and self-debasement.

Clearly there were some who were mentally ill and lived on the streets very much like today although this is not mentioned by Miller. He does go on to say that the moral tone of general society must be raised and with the Penny Dreadfuls, Penny Gaffes, lack of education and extreme poverty that is really par for the course…mind you it probably wouldn’t do our society to raise the bar a bit whne you look at the awful celebrity culture that has risen up in the last 20 years.

And of course Miller is not in favour of regulation of prostitution but of the full repression of so that it is removed from the streets altogether…and I for one can only agree with him.

Panoramas of Lost London

Whilst perusing one of the (sadly) few high street bookshops (Waterstones) remaining I came across Panoramas of Lost London: Work, Wealth, Poverty & Change 1870-1945.

Published by the English Heritage and with the involvement of Philip Davies it seems this is a second instalment to the fascinating Lost London 1870 – 1945 which was published in 2009.

The picture range is excellent from 1870 -1945 but at the rather expensive tag of £53.69 (via Amazon uk) I can see most people waiting until it is half that price in the (never-ending) sales sometime this year.

However it is a quality publication and sets out to reproduces 300 historic photographs commissioned by London County Council. To capture individual buildings and streets that, along with their entire neighbourhood, were on the threshold of redevelopment, and as with Lost London they are fascinating.

Pipes, puffing and concerts!

King James the first back in the 17th century declared that smoking was ‘hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, and dangerous to the lungs.’ and how right he was.

“Cigarettes also came home to England from the Crimea[with soldiers who served in the Crimean War. Early in the nineteenth century, gentlemen used tobacco only in the form of snuff. Working men smoked pipes. After the Napoleonic wars, cigars come into common use; intellectuals and artists took up pipes. Since the smell of cigars and pipes was very unpleasant when it got into heavy curtains or women’s long hair, men at home smoked in their private study or went outside to the garden. Working men smoked in pubs or in the street, not generally at home. Even at the end of the period only 17% of tobacco was sold in the form of cigarettes. Elderly countrywomen sometimes enjoyed a pipe, but women who smoked cigarettes usually did it in secret with a woman friend – cigarette smoking by women was definitely ‘fast’ behavior.” Daily Life in Victorian England by Sally Mitchell

I smoked for about 20 years more or less and now as a former smoker cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would want to undertake smoking, your breath has a certain bitter stench, your hairs smell, your clothes are ruined by the hideous redolence of tobacco and that is not mention the disservice you do to your body…

Anyway this was not always the case, smoking was generally accepted in the our era. The  upper and middle class houses had a smoking room where the man of the house could go and smoke a good pipe or cigar. Women just didn’t smoke, as per the quote above, fast women smoked.

Smoking concerts were something that proved very popular at the time for several reasons. Firstly they were for men only, secondly it was a chance for men to talk politics whilst being entertained by music and thirdly it was chance for the concert halls to introduce new music an audience. In fact they continued until about 1980 when the Annual Smoking Concerts were held at Imperial College London.

However not all were impressed, The Duke of Wellington absolutely
hated smoking and was annoyed and disgusted by the increase of cigar-smoking
among officers of the army.

In the early 1840’s General Order (No. 577) which contained a paragraph which goes

The Commander-in-Chief has been informed, that the practice of smoking, by the use of pipes, cigars, or cheroots, has become prevalent among the Officers of the Army, which is not only in itself a species of intoxication occasioned by the fumes of tobacco, but, undoubtedly, occasions drinking and tippling by those who acquire the habit; and he entreats the Officers commanding Regiments to prevent smoking in the Mess Rooms of their several Regiments, and in the adjoining apartments, and to discourage the practice among the Officers of Junior Rank in their Regiments. 

Medical opinions differed greatly: A certain Dr Hodgkin wrote in a letter approving of the objects of the Anti Tobacco League, he states ‘

‘Tobacco, in all its forms, is a poison. In the end, tobacco impairs the mind for the use of its faculties. In various ways it becomes the provocative and servant of sin, and is largely contributing to the vice of the age. The use of tobacco is a violation of the courtesy of a Christian, and the good manners of a gentleman’ Dr Hodgkin

and then from an named medical paper of the time (although I find it somewhat suspension that the there is no reference!)

“The first of these statements is calculated to mislead, for the ordinary use of tobacco is not poisonous in any of its forms. That the smoking of tobacco does not produce poisonous results, an inquiry amongst the pensioners of Chelsea or Greenwich will satisfy the most sceptical. There is no sufficient scientific evidence to warrant the conclusion that its moderate use at all impairs the mind. As to the last assertion, we should be veryloath, without better evidence, to denounce in such discourteous terms two millions of Englishmen, or to stigmatize, with such uncalled for bitterness, all who indulge in a habit that was loved by Raleigh, Milton, Newton, Parr, Johnson, and a host of great and good and learned men.” Unknown Source

or the romantic view

‘Sublime tobacco! that from east to west Cheers the tar’s labours or Turkman’s rest!’ Byron

back to the medical evidence. The British Medical Journal was fairly clear on the effect of smoking in 1860:

‘In smoking a hundred grains of tobacco, therefore, say a quarter of an ounce, there may be drawn into the mouth one of the most subtle poisons. The empyreutamatic oil is acrid and disagreeable to the taste, narcotic and poisonous. One drop applied to the tongue of a cat brought on convulsions, and in two minutes occasioned death.’ BMJ 1860

and goes onto say:

For amongst the patients who consult us for various nervous and stomach complaints, it will be found that tobacco form a large proportion. Indeed, we find, unexpectedly sometimes on inquiry, that the habit of smoking is the very source of the distressing ailments, which immediately or gradually subside on omitting the use of the drug. BMJ 1860

and to finish with the great Lord Byron again.:

I had a dream—it was not all a dream:
Methought 1 sat beneath the silver beam
Of the sweet moon, and you were with me there,
And every thing around was free and fair;
And from our mouths upcurl’d the fragrant smoke,
Whose light blue wreaths can all our pleasures yoke,
In sweetest union, to young Fancy’s car,
And waft the soul out thro’ a good cigar.
There as we sat and puff’d the hours away,
And talked and laugh’d about life’s little day,
And built our golden castles in the air,
And sigh’d to think what transient things they were,
As the light smoke around our heads was thrown,
Amidst its folds a little figure shone,
An elfin sprite, who held within her hand
A small cigar, her sceptre of command.
Her hair above her brow was twisted tight off,
Like a cigar’s end, which you must bite off;
Her eyes were red and twinkling, like the light
Of eastern Hookah, or Meerschaum, by night;
A green tobacco-leaf her shoulders graced,
And dried tobacco hung about her waist;
Her voice breathed softly, like the easy puffing
Of an old smoker after he’s been stuffing.
Thus, as she roll’d aside the wanton smoke,
To us, her awe-struck votaries she spoke: —
“Hail, faithful slaves! my choicest joys descend
On him who joins the smoker to the friend,
Your’s is a pleasure that shall never vanish,
Provided that you smoke the best of Spanish;
Puff forth your clouds”—(with that we puff’d again)—
“Sweet is their fragrance”—(then we puff’d again)—
How have I hung, with most intense delight,
Over your heads when you have smoked at night,
And gratefully imparted all my powers
To bless and consecrate those happy hours;
Live on,” she said—I started and awoke,
And, with my dream, she vanished into smoke.
(unpublished works) Lord Byron 1828

The Pox

Sloughing lip following smallpox 1846?

Smallpox was an horrendous disease but was a frequent visitor and killer in the Victorian Era.

There are two forms of smallpox, Variola major is the most serious. The illness can be life threatening in people who have not been vaccinated, and Variola minor which is a milder infection that rarely causes death. Horrific scarring can be the result if you manage to survive it.

The symptoms may include: Backache, Delirium, Diarrhea, Excessive bleeding, Fatigue, High fever, Malaise, Raised pink rash — turns into sores that become crusty on day 8 or 9, Severe headache and Vomiting. These will manifest themselves within two weeks of the initial infection.

Now if you manage to overcome all of these there is a chance of complications: Arthritis and bone infections, Brain swelling (encephalitis), Eye infections, Pneumonia, Scarring, Severe bleeding, Skin infections (from the sores) and of course the ultimate complication death!

All in all it best avoided i’d say! If we look at Dickens great novel Bleak House we see Esther Summerson, our heroine of the story contract small pox (although the disease is not named).

It all begins when John Jarndyce and Esther discover that Jo, the young crossing sweeper, is ill and insist on taking him back to the house to care for him. He mysteriously goes missing overnight and by morning, Esther has contracted smallpox.

She nearly dies and is left with horrendous scarring which scares away her unwanted suitor Mr Guppy…probably a bonus in this case.

In 1853 laws were put ion the statute books making the vaccination of children compulsory but oddly this aroused considerable opposition and the poor quite simply ignored it.

Some fifty years later opposition was still bring expressed:

Compulsory medicine… is opposed to the ancient constitution of England, and is, therefore, a gross infraction of the liberty of the Citizen and of parental rights. The work of our Congress is to assist in restoring the birthright of our citizens, to give back to parents their highest duty and privilege—the sacred right to protect and defend their offspring from evil , and to liberate the oppressed of many nations from an ignorant, unjust, and indefensible tyranny. Anti-vaccinationist campaigner Dr Walter Hadwen 25 January 1896:

The global eradication of smallpox was certified, based on intense verification activities in countries, by a commission of eminent scientists on 9 December 1979 and subsequently endorsed by the World Health Assembly on 8 May 1980.WHO Factsheet. Retrieved 2007-09-22

So it took nearly 140 years to eradicate smallpox from the world after the initial mandatory vaccinations of our Victorian forebears.

Oxford Circus

I love looking at these old photos, im not quite sure what it is that draws me too them…they are so ordinary but seem to tell a story.

Oxford Circus 1888

This is Oxford Circus in 1888, a quite a chaotic scene and I can’t imagine getting from one side of the road to the other was either safe or fun.

It was the Earl of Oxford who developed the area but designed by John Nash. It became popular with its Victorian entertainers including bear-baiters and masquerades, and for entertainment venues such as the Pantheon.