Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Regency London’

During a mini ice age two hundred years ago, the winters were so cold that the river Thames would freeze in solid sheets of ice. The old London Bridge was bulkier than the new London Bridge built in 1823, and it acted like a dam. After the new bridge was built and the old one was demolished, and after embankments were erected (which narrowed the channel), the river flowed too swiftly for the waters to freeze.

But in the days of yore, a Frost Fair was held whenever the river iced over. People ventured out on the ice, vendors set up stalls, and a variety of entertainments were offered. The last time such an event occurred in 1814, Jane Austen was still alive. She must also have felt the chill of that cold February in which London experienced the hardest frost it had known in centuries.

And this is what they did with the Great Frost. By February, as Lord William Pitt Lennox tells us in his Recollections, the Thames between London Bridge and Blackfriars became a thoroughly solid surface of ice. There were notices at the ends of all the local streets announcing that it was safe to cross the ice, and, as in times of Elizabeth 1, full advantage was taken of this new area and the public interest in it. As before, there now sprang up a Frost Fair. The people moved across the river by way of what was called Freezeland Street. On either side, crowded together, were booths for bakers, butchers, barbers and cooks. There were swings, bookstalls, skittle alleys, toyshops, almost everything that might be found in an ordinary fair. There were even gambling establishments and the ‘wheel of fortune, and pricking the garter; pedlars, hawkers of ballads, fruit, oysters, perambulating pie-men; and purveyers of the usual luxuries, gin beer, brandy-balls and gingerbread.’The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency, J.B. Priestley, p 113.

Read more on the topic at these links

This post was updated in this link.

Read Full Post »

…dirt accumulated faster than all measures to contain it: Cattle were still driven through the streets to and from Smithfield Market until the mid-nineteenth century and horse-drawn vehicles added to the labours of the sweepers stationed at street crossings. Smoke from brick kilns and thousands of sea coal fires polluted the air. In 1813 Henry Austen’s new home above his offices at No. 10 Henrietta Street appeared to Jane to be ‘all dirt & confusion.’ – Jane Austen in Context, Edited by Janet Todd, p 207-208

During Jane Austen’s time and into the earliest days of the twentieth century, crossing sweepers made a living sweeping pedestrian crossings, stoops, and sidewalks of horse manure and litter. Before motorized transport, London boasted over 100,000 horses traversing its streets daily, each one eating a fibrous diet. The crossing sweeper’s job was to shovel the muck, keeping the streets clean for ladies whose long dresses and delicate slippers might get soiled and for gentlemen in their fine raiments.


During “Boney’s” time of terror (Napoleonic Wars), the job of crossing sweeper was often strenuous, and it was said that crossing sweepers could build up a considerable fortune to dig a “channel of viscous mud, a foot deep, through which, so late as the time when George the Third was king, the carts and carriages had literally to plough their way.” In those days, the crossing sweeper had to dig trenches to allow carriages and pedestrians to pass through poorly maintained and muddy roads. As the roads improved, so did the lot of the crossing sweeper, who earned less and less for a job that was to become relatively easier. A good crossing sweeper in an excellent location could still earn a decent living, however. – Chambers, Edinburgh Journal, No. 437, Volume 17, New Series, May 15, 1852

Henry Mayhew described the advantages of this lowly occupation for the London poor:

  • 1st, the smallness of the capital required in order to commence the business;
  • 2ndly, the excuse the apparent occupation it affords for soliciting gratuities without being considered in the light of a street-beggar;
  • And 3rdly, the benefits arising from being constantly seen in the same place, and thus exciting the sympathy of the neighbouring householders, till small weekly allowances or “pensions” are obtained. – Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor: Volume 2, Crossing-Sweepers

According to the Leeds Industrial Museum, “Children often had more than one way to make money. When it was dry and the streets were not muddy the crossing sweepers, for instance, would do occasional work like catching and opening cabs for people. In the evening they would go outside theatres and operas and tumble for money. Girls mixed ballade singing or lace selling.”

At one time there were so many crossing sweepers that a pedestrian was accosted for money on every stoop and corner, and it would cost a pretty penny to walk from one end of town to another. In 1881, Richard Rowe wrote in London Streets:

IF anyone wants to realize, as the phrase goes, the little army of crossing-sweepers we have in London, let him take a walk – say for a mile or two – on a muddy day, and give a penny to every one who touches hat, makes a bob, as if shutting up like a spy-glass, or trots after him, trailing broom in one hand, and tugging at tangled forelock with the other. I remember when it would have cost anyone, disposed to give in this way, between a shilling and eighteen- pence to walk from the Archway Tavern, Highgate Hill, to Highbury Cock and back. For anyone of a squeezable temperament, therefore, it was decidedly cheaper to take the bus. It is simply as a statistical experiment, just for once in a way, that I recommend this penny-giving. It would be a great misfortune if all crossing-sweepers had pennies given them indiscriminately. I would not make a clean sweep of the sweepers, but I should like to see their ranks thinned considerably – viz., by the elimination of the adults who are able, and the young who might be trained to do something better than what, in the most favourable instances, is little better than a make-believe of work, as a pretext for begging, either directly or by suggestion.


Crossing sweepers worked diligently on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1882, a New York matron lamented in a letter to the editor of the New York Times about a new regulation that prevented crossing sweepers from working (double click on the image to read it) :

To read more about this fascinating topic, click on the following links:

Click here for an interesting backlink to this post.

Read Full Post »

Life in London

Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation & vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted. – Jane Austen writing about London to Cassandra, August 23, 1796

Jane wrote her remark a quarter of a century before Pierce Egan published his book, Life in London: Or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. The book, written four years after Jane Austen’s death, is largely a description of debauchery in the Great Metropolis during pre-Victorian days. In fact, George Cruikshank, artist and teetotaller, was so taken aback by the book that he allowed his brother Robert to complete two-thirds of the illustrations. Here’s what an early 20th century critique says of this book of vices:

The remainder [of the book] is mainly drinking, gambling, rioting, cock-fighting and other branches of debauchery, either practised or contemplated by the friends. It is significant that, of the three adventurers, the name of Corinthian Tom appears in the largest type upon the title-page. Tom, indeed, is the hero of the tale. He is the ideal “man about town”; and, however lavishly the author may praise his elegance and accomplishment, he remains the type of the polished blackguard, unworthy to associate with his country cousin, Jerry Hawthorn, the cheery fool to whom he shows “the pleasures of the town,” and only a shade more intolerable than the bestial creature, Bob Logic, who is intended for a model of good-humour and wit.

The following links provide more information about our dissipated heroes Tom and Jerry, and the licentious era to which later generations reacted:

Read Full Post »

View the updated version of this post here.

John Nash’s buildings exemplified the neoclassical style of early 19th Century Architecture. His sweeping changes transformed London, from the graceful curve of Regent Street to the majestic terraces and vistas in Regent’s Park.

View some of his edifices below:

1. Regent’s Park
2. Regent Street
3. Buckingham Palace

We will devote an entire section to Brighton Palace later.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: