Archive for the ‘Victorian Life’ Category

A Girl’s Life in London

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Victorian Life

Battles, Breadbaskets and Bombs
Dunkirk was the first Battle that wasn’t just something I saw in the newspapers. My uncle had been there and was wounded. They wouldn’t let me visit him, because they knew I would bombard him with questions, but of course I thought it must be because his wounds were really terrible.

Enemy planes now sometimes droned overhead and the ack-ack started up. The Battle of Britain was soon raging over Southern England and when we heard the planes we went out into the street to watch the dogfights. I read the papers and watched the newsreels avidly and dreamed of being a fighter pilot. I played ‘crashes,’ baling out at the last moment from my burning plane (the sofa) and rolling under the dining room table to die heroically for my country! But I hated the sound of the sirens and I did wish we had an air raid shelter.

During the first raids, Mum and I went into the Anderson shelter next door. It was very crowded, but I loved being the only child among all those friendly grown-ups. I could identify most aircraft by their engine noise, so they asked me each time a plane approached if it was “ours” or “theirs.” But Mum decided that we needed to sleep at night, raids or no raids. So for a few nights, we stayed in bed when the sirens went off. But the raiders came every evening and the raids lasted nearly all night. Dad was fed up with me constantly asking to go down to the shelter and got my old cot down from the loft. It was large and made of mahogany. He put it next to his and Mum’s bed and told me that since I was behaving like a baby, I would have to sleep in it again. He put heavy planks across the top once I was inside and said it was my very own air raid shelter. I retorted that I thought sleeping under the billiard table downstairs would be safer and there would be room for him and Mum as well! He didn’t think much of that idea, but he did get all the cushions from the lounge suite and put them on top of the planks.

By now, Mum and I were on our own nearly every night, because if Dad wasn’t on a late shift, he would be in the street fire watching. I had crawled out of my ‘shelter’ into the big bed with Mum one night when we heard something thump on the roof and roll down to the gutter. Dad was out in the street. He whipped a ladder up against the gutters, raced up the ladder with a bucket and coal shovel, scooped the incendiary bomb into the bucket, slid down the ladder and dumped the contents of a sandbag on it before it could set fire to anything! He told me afterwards always to use earth or sand on an incendiary bomb, Click for larger picture of this posterbecause it could be an oil bomb, or even phosphorus, and water only made those fires worse. He said that they were very small bombs, containing little or no explosive. They were dropped by the hundreds in large outer casings which broke up on the way down and were called ‘breadbaskets.’ So whenever we heard them rattling on the roof, we laughed, and said it was only one of Hitler’s breadbaskets. Dad must have had our street well trained, because Hitler didn’t manage to start a single fire in it! But Mum moved their mattress downstairs to the chimney corner (supposed to be the strongest part of the house) and my cot was put close by, turned upside down now, the planks and cushions still on the ‘top.’ I crept in and out by raising the ‘drop side’ and slept on the floor. I still fancied the billiard table, but Dad finally managed to shut me up. He sold it to a mate because we needed the room now that we were sleeping downstairs and he couldn’t get it up our narrow staircase!

The raids seemed to go on forever and I lay under the cot night after night listening to the drone of planes, the barrages, the thump of falling shrapnel, and waited tensely for the big explosions when a plane came down or a bomb dropped nearby.

By now, I was beginning to realize that our own defenses were as likely to kill or injure us as the enemy raiders. Dad took me one morning to see the wreckage of a Messcherschmitt which was brought down by our ack-ack. It had been put in the car park of a local cinema, but I knew it hadn’t crashed there, because there was no damage to the walls or roadway. So I asked Dad to show me where it had come down, but he wouldn’t.

One evening, (I was in my ‘shelter’ supposed to be asleep ) Dad came home for his break, something he didn’t normally do. He was white and shaking, and I heard him tell Mum, “I was standing by our bin at the Broadway in me tin hat, but I thought the ack-ack was getting a bit fierce. So I nipped into the bin and shut the lid. When the barrage stopped, and I climbed out, there was a bloke lying by the bin – the shrapnel sliced right through his bloomin’ neck and took his head right off!” Poor Dad! But he had waited until his break to come home for a hot cup of tea and a hug from Mum and then he went back on duty.

Another time, he was out nearly all night. That time I learned about the dreadful incident at Balham Underground Station. (Like many disasters, it was hushed up for fear of undermining public morale. So the photos weren’t published till after the war.) A bomb had fallen near the Station, a bus fell into the crater, the tram lines were destroyed, and broken water mains and sewage pipes flooded the Station, drowning many of those who had sought safety there. Dad had to keep the other buses and trams running as far as possible on time! That meant getting buses re-routed and tram shuttles organized on the sections of track that still had electricity. The situation was worsened by the damage to the Tube Station which doubled the numbers of tram and bus passengers until the Tube was running again.

It’s little wonder, looking back, that he suddenly stopped being such an indulgent father and wonderful companion. But I didn’t understand. I was frightened now because my Dad had become silent and surly. Mum had also become tight-lipped and irritable. She threatened me with all sorts if I upset Dad, and what upset him most was me showing any sign of fear. So I learned to keep quiet and pretend that I was fine. Even when the bombing came closer to our suburb and the noise never seemed to stop, I stayed quietly in my ‘shelter,’ more frightened now of upsetting Mum and Dad than of being killed or injured.

I’ll never forget being woken on Christmas Eve 1940, by a succession of whistling bombs to see that Father Christmas had somehow made it through the Blitz! Hanging inside my ‘shelter’ was a lumpy stocking, just like one of Gran’s, and sticking out of the top was a little black baby doll in a smart green knitted romper suit and hat. Mum had bought the first volume of The Story of the War in Pictures for Dad, but he was working, so I grabbed it and spent most of Christmas day reading it and looking at the maps and pictures. That night, for the first time in months there was no raid. But they didn’t half make up for it on Boxing Night!

Newgate Witness Account, Part 1

Posted: September 10, 2013 in Victorian Life

In the year 1744 Silas Told, a worthy Wesleyan, deeply touched by a sermon preached by Wesley on the text, “I was sick and in prison, and ye visited me not” (Matt. xxv. 43), began to exert himself among the prisoners at Newgate, and has left a graphic and simple-hearted account of his labours among them; and from this book we obtain many curious glimpses of prison life at that period. The first persons Told visited were ten malefactors, then under sentence of death. “The report having been made,” says Told, “and the dead-warrant coming down, eight of the ten were ordered for execution. The other two were respited; nor did either of those two appear to have any the least regard or concern for their deathless souls; therefore I trust they were spared for a good purpose, that they might have time for repentance and amendment of life.
“The day arrived whereon the other eight malefactors were to die. Sarah Peters and myself were early at the cell, in order to render them all the spiritual service that was within our power. The keeper having received directions on the over-night to lock them all up in one cell, that they might pour out their souls together in fervent solemn prayer to Almighty God, they paid very circumspect attention thereto, and a happy night it proved to each of them; so that when they were led down from their cell, they appeared like giants refreshed with wine, nor was the fear of death apparent in any of their countenances. We then went up to the chapel, when my companion and myself conversed with them in the press-yard room. Upon being called out to have their irons taken off, Lancaster was the first. While they were being made ready for the gallows, Lancaster looked up to heaven with a pleasant smile, and said, ‘Glory be to God for the first moment of my entrance into this place. For before I came hither; my heart was as hard as my cell wall, and my soul was as black as hell. But, oh, I am now washed, clearly washed, from all my sins, and by one o’clock shall be with Jesus in Paradise!’ And with many strong and forcible expressions he exhorted the innumerable spectators to flee from the wrath to come. This caused the sheriff to shed tears, and ask Mr. Lancaster if he was really in earnest, being so greatly affected with his lively and animated spirit. As their irons were taken off they were remanded back to the press-yard room; but, by some accident, they were a long time getting off the last man’s fetters. When they were gotten off, Lancaster, beholding him at a short distance, clapped his hands together, and joyfully proclaimed, ‘Here comes another of our little flock.’ A gentleman present said, with an apparent sympathising spirit, ‘I think it is too great a flock upon such an occasion.’ Lancaster, with the greatest fluency of speech, and with an aspiring voice, said, ‘Oh, no; it is not too great a flock for the shepherd Jesus; there is room enough in heaven for us all.’ When he exhorted the populace to forsake their sins, he particularly endeavoured to press on them to come to the Throne of Grace immediately, and without fear, assuring them that they would find Him a gracious and merciful God, to forgive them, as he had forgiven him. At length they were ordered into the cart, and I was prevailed upon to go with them. When we were in the cart, I addressed myself to each of these separately.”
Told’s account of the execution of these men shows clearly how lawless and savage were the mobs which gathered at Tyburn. “When we came to the fatal tree Lancaster lifted up his eyes thereto, and said, ‘Blessed be God,’ then prayed extemporary in a very excellent manner, and the others behaved with great discretion. John Lancaster had no friend who could procure for his body a proper interment; so that, when they had hung the usual space of time, and were cut down, the surgeon’s mob secured the body of Lancaster, and carried it over to Paddington. There was a very crowded concourse, among whom were numberless gin and gingerbread vendors, accompanied by pickpockets and even less respectable characters, of almost every denomination in London; in short, the whole scene resembled a principal fair, rather than an awful execution. Now, when the mob was nearly dispersed, and there remained only a few bystanders, with an old woman who sold gin, a remarkable occurrence took place, and operated to the following effect:
“A company of eight sailors, with truncheons in their hands, having come to see the execution, looked up to the gallows with an angry countenance, the bodies having been cut down some minutes previous to their arrival. The old woman before named, who sold gin, observing these tars to grow violent, by reason of their disappointment, mildly accosted them and said, ‘Gentlemen, I suppose you want the man that the surgeons have got?’ ‘Aye,’ replied the sailors; ‘where is he?’ The poor affrighted woman gave them to understand that the surgeons’ crew had carried him over to Paddington, and she pointed out to them the direct road thereto. They hastened away, and as they entered the town, inquiry was made by them where the surgeons’ mob was to be discovered, and receiving the information they wanted, they went and demanded the body of John Lancaster. When the sailors had obtained the body, two of them cast it on their shoulders, and carried him round by Islington. They being tired out with its pressure, two others laid themselves under the weight of the body, and carried it from thence to Shoreditch. Then two more carried it from Shoreditch to Coverley’s Fields. At length, after they were all rendered completely weary, and unable to carry it any farther, the sequel of their project, and their ultimate contrivance to rid themselves of the body was an unanimous consent to lay it on the step of the first door they came to. They did so, and then went their way. This gave birth to a great riot in the neighbourhood, which brought an old woman, who lived in the house, downstairs. When she saw the corpse lie at the step of the door, she proclaimed, with an agitated spirit, ‘Lord, here is my son, John Lancaster!’ This being spread abroad; came to the knowledge of the Methodists, who made a collection, and got him a shroud and a good strong coffin. I was soon informed of this event, which was peculiarly singular, as the seamen had no knowledge of the body, nor to whom he belonged when living. My second wife went with me to see him, previous to the burial; but neither of us could perceive the least alteration in his visage or features, or any appearance of violence on any part of his body. A pleasant smile appeared in his countenance, and he lay as in a sweet sleep.”
Told gives a terrible picture of the state of Newgate about 1744—the felons swearing and cursing at the preacher, and the ordinary himself guarding the prison doors on Sunday morning, to obstruct Told’s entrance. Told, however, zealous in the cause, persevered, and soon formed a society of about forty of the debtors, who formed his Sunday congregation. The ordinary, however, soon contrived to shut out Told from this part of the prison also. He therefore betook himself almost entirely to the graver malefactors. His account of some of these unhappy men is extremely interesting. During his visits to Newgate six men of good family were lying there, sentenced to death for highway robbery. Of these, one was the son of an Irish divine, two others were men of fortune, and a fourth was a naval officer, to whom a daughter of the Duke of Hamilton was engaged to be married. After an election dinner, at Chelmsford, these men, for fun, had sallied out and robbed a farmer in the highway. The king was unwilling to pardon any of the party; but at the incessant importunities of Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, at last consented to reprieve her lover, but only at the gallows’ foot. He fainted when the halter was removed, and was instantly lifted into the carriage, where Lady Betty awaited him. Six weeks after, to Told’s vexation, he found the reprieved man gambling with a fraudulent bankrupt, who shortly afterwards was himself executed at Tyburn. Told’s next visit was to Mary Edmonson, a poor girl hung at Kennington Common for murdering her aunt at Rotherhithe. The girl was entirely innocent, and the real murderer, a relation, who was a foot-soldier, came up into the cart to salute her before she was turned off. Some time after; this man riding in a post-chaise past the gallows at Kennington said to a friend, “There is the place where my kinswoman was hung wrongfully. I should have gone in her room.” The rascal was soon after found guilty of highway robbery, and cast for death, but reprieved by the judge, who did not wish to draw attention to the scandal of an innocent person having been sent to the gallows. Silas Told says that at the execution of Mary Edmonson he walked by the cart, urging her to prayer, holding the bridle of the sheriff’s horse, in spite of a most cruel and violent mob. Told also mentions attending Harris the “Flying Highwayman,” to the gallows a man who; the very morning of his execution, was so violent in the chapel that the ordinary ran for his life. Just beyond Hatton Garden, after some exhortations of honest Told, the indomitable ruffian, at his request, shut his eyes, hung back his head on the side-rail of the cart, and after ten minutes’ meditation burst into tears, and, clapping his hands together, cried, “Now I know that the Lord Jesus has forgiven me all my sins, and I have nothing to do but to die.” He then burst into a loud extemporary prayer, and continued happy to the last, but still denying that he ever “flew” a turnpike gate in his life. Another case mentioned by Told does not give us a very enlarged view of the tender mercies of the time. A poor man, Anderson, entirely destitute, was sentenced to death for taking sixpence from two washerwomen in Hoxton Fields. The man had served with credit on board a man-of-war, and his own parish had petitioned on his behalf. The Privy Council, however, insisted on confounding him with one of the same name, a celebrated highwayman of the day, and to Tyburn he went.

In 1770, when Mr. Akerman, one of the keepers, appeared before a Committee of the House of Commons, Newgate appears to have been a sink of filth and a den of iniquity. It was over-crowded, ill-disciplined, badly ventilated, and ill-supplied with water. The prisoners died in great numbers; and as Mr. Akerman, a good and trusty official, stated, two whole sets of gaol-officers had been cut off by gaol distemper since he had been in office; and in the spring of 1750 the gaol was so terribly infectious, that the contagion was carried into the Old Bailey court, and two of the judges, the Lord Mayor, and several of the jury, more than sixty in all, died in consequence. A huge ventilator was then erected, but this alarmed the whole neighbourhood, and the residents complained, with bitter outcries, that the poisonous air was drawn from the prison cells, to destroy all who lived near.
One of the earliest anecdotes of Newgate is to be found in a letter to the Duke of Shrewsbury, dated August 10, 1699. “All the talk of the town,” says the writer; “is about a tragical piece of gallantry at Newgate. I don’t doubt but what your grace has heard of a bastard son of Sir George Norton, who was under sentence of death for killing a dancing-master in the streets. The Lords Justices reprieved him, till they heard from the judge that no exception was to be taken at the verdict. It being signified to the young man, on Tuesday last in the afternoon, that he was to die the next day, his aunt, who was sister to his mother, brought two doses of opium, and they took it between them. The ordinary came soon after to perform his functions; but before he had done, he found so great alterations in both persons that it was no hard matter to find out the cause of it. The aunt frankly declared she could not survive her nephew, her life being wrapped up in his; and he declared that the law having put a period to his life, he thought it no offence to choose the way he would go out of the world. The keeper sent for his apothecary to apply remedies, who brought two vomits. The young man refused to take it, till they threatened to force it down by instruments. He told them, since he hoped the business was done, he would make himself and them easy, and swallowed the potion, and his aunt did the like. The remedy worked upon her, and set her a-vomiting, but had no effect on Mr. Norton, so that he dozed away gradually, and by eight that evening was grown senseless, though he did not expire till nine next morning. He was fully resolved upon the business, for he had likewise a charged pistol hid in the room. The aunt was carried to a neighbouring house, and has a guard upon her. They say she is like to recover; if she does, it will be hard if she suffer for such a transport of affection.”
Among the many guilty and unhappy criminals who have sat in Newgate and counted the moments that lay between them and death, one of the most un-happy must have been that once popular preacher, Dr. Dodd, who was hung for forgery in 1777. Dodd was the son of a clergyman who was vicar of Bourne, in Lincolnshire. On leaving Cambridge he married imprudently, and became a small poet, and compiler of the “Beauties of Shakespeare,” a work still reprinted. He then renounced literature, entered the Church, and in 1758 was appointed preacher to the Magdalen Hospital, where Horace Walpole describes his flowery sermons, which set all the ladies of fashion sobbing. Gross flattery of Dr. Squire, Bishop of St. David’s, procured him, in 1763, the prebendaryship of Brecon. Soon after this the grateful bishop introduced Dodd to the Earl of Chesterfield, as a tutor to his son, and about the same time Dodd was appointed one of the king’s chaplains, and in 1766 took his degree of LL.D. at Cambridge. He now dabbled in lotteries, and, having won a £1,000 prize, erected a chapel near Buckingham Palace, and also bought a share in Charlotte Chapel, Bloomsbury. Overwhelmed with debt; Dodd brought out several religious works, with the hope of winning patrons by his fulsome dedications. In 1773 he was appointed chaplain to the young Lord Chesterfield, the hopeless cub to whom the celebrated “Letters” were addressed. The rich living of St. George’s, Hanover Square, just then falling vacant, Dodd was unwise enough to write an anonymous letter to Lady Apsley, wife of the Lord Chancellor, offering £3,000 for the appointment. The letter was traced to its source, and handed to the king, and the writer’s name was ordered immediately to be struck out of the list of chaplains. Foote, always cruel in his fun, introduced Dodd into one of his Haymarket pieces as Dr. Simony. Dodd promised an explanation, but it never came. He retired for a time to Geneva, and the society of Lord Chesterfield, till the storm blew over.
Though enjoying an income of £800 a year, Dodd, entangled by press of debts, one fatal day, signed the name of Lord Chesterfield, his old pupil, to a bond for £4,200. The signature disowned, Dodd, who then lived in Argyle Street, was apprehended. He at once repaid part of the money, and gave a judgment on his goods for the remainder. The prosecutors were reluctant to proceed; and Lord Chesterfield, it is said, placed the forgery in Dodd’s hands, as he stood near a fire, in hopes that he would destroy it; but Dodd wanted promptitude and presence of mind, and soon after the Lord Mayor compelled the prosecution. He was tried and found guilty. Dr. Johnson, on being applied to, wrote the speech delivered by Dodd before his sentence. He also composed several petitions for him; and a sermon which Dr. Dodd delivered to his fellow-prisoners shortly before his execution.
In Newgate this vain and shallow man acted the martyr, and wrote a book called “Thoughts in Prison,” and believed in the possibility of a reprieve, though the king was inflexible, because in a recent case of forgery (that of Daniel and Robert Perreau, wine merchants), the sentence had been carried out. “If Dr. Dodd is pardoned,” the king said, “then the Perreaus were murdered.”
The friends of Dodd were zealous to the last. Dr. Johnson told Boswell that £1,000 were ready for any gaoler who would let him escape. A wax image of him had also been made, to be left in his bed, but the scheme, somehow or other, miscarried. Anthony Morris Storer, writing to George Selwyn, who had a passion for executions, thus describes Dodd’s behaviour at Tyburn:
“The doctor, to all appearance, was rendered perfectly stupid from despair. His hat was flapped all round, and pulled over his eyes, which were never directed to any object around, nor even raised, except now and then lifted up in the course of his prayers. He came in a coach, and a very heavy shower of rain fell just upon his entering the cart; and another just at his putting on his night-cap.
“He was a considerable time in praying, which some people standing about seemed rather tired with; they rather wished for some more interesting part of the tragedy. The wind, which was high, blew off his hat, which rather embarrassed him, and discovered to us his countenance, which we could scarcely see before. His hat, however, was soon restored to him, and he went on with his prayers. There were two clergymen attending him, one of whom seemed very much affected; the other, I suppose, was the ordinary of Newgate, as he was perfectly indifferent and unfeeling in everything that he said and did.
“The executioner took both the hat and wig off at the same time. Why he put on his wig again I do not know, but he did, and the doctor took off his wig a second time, and then tied on a nightcap which did not fit him; but whether he stretched that, or took another, I could not perceive. He then put on his nightcap himself, and upon his taking it, he certainly had a smile on his countenance. Very soon afterwards there was an end of all his hopes and fears on this side the grave. He never moved from the place he first took in the cart; seemed absorbed in despair, and utterly dejected without any other signs of animation but in praying.”
There is a tradition that the hangman had been bribed to place the knot of the rope in a particular manner under Dodd’s ear, and also that when cut down, the body was driven off to a house in Goodge Street, where Pott, the celebrated surgeon, endeavoured to restore animation. But the crowd had been great, and the delay too long; nevertheless, it was believed by many at the time that Dodd was really resuscitated and sent abroad. His wife, who regarded him with great affection, died some years after, in poverty.
In 1802 Governor Wall was hung at Newgate, for the murder of Benjamin Armstrong, a soldier, who had been under his command at Goree, in Africa. The high rank of Wall, and the long period that had elapsed since the crime had been committed, excited great interest in his fate. He had been Governor of Goree in 1782, and was disliked by both officers and men, for his severe and unforgiving disposition. The day before he returned to England, worn out with the climate, twenty or thirty men of the African corps came to petition the governor with regard to certain money stopped from their pay. The spokesman at the head of these soldiers was the unfortunate Benjamin Armstrong, who was extremely respectful in his manner, and paid the governor every deference. Wall, whose temper was no doubt aggravated by illness, instantly ordered Armstrong and his companions back to the barracks, and threatened them with punishment. The men obeyed, and quietly retired. Soon after his dinner-hour, Wall ran out of his rooms, and beat a man who appeared to be drunk, and snatching a bayonet from the sentry, struck him with it, and ordered both men under arrest. Eager for revenge on the “mutinous rascals,” as he called them, Wall then ordered the long-roll to be beat, and parade called. Three hundred men, without firearms, were formed into a circle, two deep, in the midst of which stood the drummers, and the governor and his staff. A gun-carriage was then dragged up, and Benjamin Armstrong was called from the ranks. Five or six black slaves then lashed the unfortunate soldier to the rings of the gun-carriage, and Armstrong was ordered 800 lashes. With unusual cruelty, the governor ordered the slaves to use, not the cat-o’-nine-tails, but long lashings of rope, nearly an inch in circumference. Every twenty-five lashes a fresh slave was called up to continue the punishment, and the governor encouraged the slaves by shouting “Lay on, you black beasts, or I’ll lay on you. Cut him to the heart; cut his liver out. At the end of this ferocity, Armstrong, with his back beaten black, was led to the hospital, saying he should certainly die. The rope had bruised, not cut the flesh, yet the injuries were only the more dangerous. Five days after the governor left Goree Armstrong died.
In 1784 Wall was arrested at Bath, but managed to escape from the king’s messengers, at the “Brown Bear,” Reading, and escaped to France, where he changed his name. Many years later Wall rashly returned to England, and in 1801 wrote to Lord Pelham, Secretary of State, announcing his readiness to submit to a trial. He was tried in 1802. He pleaded that Armstrong was the ringleader of an open mutiny. A prisoner had been released, he himself had been threatened with a bayonet, and the soldiers had threatened to break open the stores. He denied that he had ever blown men from cannon. It was clear from the evidence that the grossest cruelty had been used, and Wall was at once found guilty, and sentence of death passed.
In that curious and amusing work, “A Book for a Rainy Day,” Mr. J. T. Smith, formerly keeper of the Print Room in the British Museum, says: “Solomon, a pencil dealer, assured me that he could procure me a sight of the governor, if I would only accompany him in the evening to Hatton Garden, and smoke a pipe with Dr. Ford, the ordinary of Newgate, with whom he said he was particularly intimate. Away we trudged, and upon entering the club-room of a public-house, we found the said doctor most pompously seated in a superb masonic chair, under a stately crimson canopy, placed between the windows. The room was clouded with smoke whiffed to the ceiling, which gave me a better idea of what I had heard of the Black Hole of Calcutta than any place I had seen. There were present at least a hundred associates of every denomination. Of this number, my Jew, being a favoured man, was admitted to a whispering audience with the doctor, which soon produced my introduction to him.”
Sunrise, the next morning, found Mr. Smith waiting by appointment for his new friend, Dr. Ford, at Newgate; and this is how he describes the end of Governor Wall:
“As we crossed the press-yard a cock crew, and the solitary clanking of a restless chain was dreadfully horrible. The prisoners had not risen. Upon our entering a cold stone room, a most sickly stench of green twigs, with which an old round-shouldered, goggle-eyed man was endeavouring to kindle a fire, annoyed me almost as much as the canaster fumigation of the doctor’s Hatton Garden friends.
“The prisoner entered. He was death’s counterfeit, tall, shrivelled, and pale; and his soul shot so piercingly through the port-holes of his head, that the first glance of him nearly terrified me. I said in my heart, putting my pencil in my pocket, ‘God forbid that I should disturb thy last moments!’ His hands were clasped, and he was truly penitent. After the yeoman had requested him to stand up, he ‘pinioned him,’ as the Newgate phrase is, and tied the cord with so little feeling, that the governor, who had not given the wretch the accustomed fee, observed, ‘You have tied me very tight,’ upon which Dr. Ford ordered him to slacken the cord, which he did, but not without muttering. ‘Thank you, sir,’ said the governor to the doctor, ‘it is of little moment.’ He then observed to the attendant, who had brought in an immense iron shovelful of coals to throw on the fire, ‘Ay, in one hour that will be a blazing fire;’ then, turning to the doctor, questioned him, ‘Do tell me, sir: I am informed I shall go down with great force; is that so?’ After the construction and action of the machine had been explained, the doctor questioned the governor as to what kind of men he had at Goree. ‘Sir,’ he answered, ‘they sent me the very riff-raff.’ The poor soul then joined the doctor in prayer; and never did I witness more contrition at any condemned sermon than he then evinced.”
Directly the execution was over, Mr. Smith left Newgate, where the hangman was selling the rope that had hung Governor Wall for a shilling an inch, and in Newgate Street a starved old man was selling another identical rope, at the ridiculously low price of only sixpence an inch; while at the north-east corner of Warwick Lane a woman known as “Rosy Emma,” reputed wife of the yeoman of the halter, was selling a third identical noose to the Epping buttermen, who had come that morning to Newgate Market.


Posted: September 4, 2013 in Victorian Life

The Whitechapel district, around the East End of London, was known to be the most notorious slum in London during the Victorian era, where poverty and homelessness, drunkenness and prostitution were a common way of life, until eleven unsolved serial murders changed the area.

Between 3 April 1888 and 13 February 1891, eleven women, all living in the Whitechapel district, were brutally murdered, with the crimes becoming known as the ‘Whitechapel Murders’, and during this time there was widespread panic among the citizens of London.

The attacks are thought to have been committed by the killer, later nicknamed, ‘Jack the Ripper’, although many theories have suggested the killer be that of a female.

There was much debate at the time, and since the murders, as to all eleven women having been murdered by the same person, a debate that will undoubtedly continue through further centuries.

Various organisations were involved in the hunt for the killer/s, but although extensive inquiries were conducted, with numerous suspects arrested, the perpetrator has never been caught, and the majority of original paperwork has since gone missing.

Out of the eleven women killed, most were identified as prostitutes:

Emma Elizabeth Smith

Martha Tabram

Mary Ann Nichols

Annie Chapman

Elizabeth Stride

Catherine Eddowes

Mary Jane Kelly

Rose Mylett

Alice McKenzie

Frances Coles



In the early hours of the morning, prostitute Emma Elizabeth Smith, was brutally assaulted and robbed on Tuesday 3rd April 1888 in Whitechapel at the junction of Osborn Street and Brick Lane.

Smith managed to walk back to her lodging house at 18 George Street, Spitalfields and informed Mary Russel, the deputy keeper, of her ordeal, explaining her attackers were two or three men with one of them being a youth.

Mrs Russell took Smith to the London Hospital, where on examination it was revealed a blunt object had been inserted into her, rupturing her peritoneum. Smith developed peritonitis and died at 9am the following morning.

Edmund Reid, local inspector from the H Division of the Metropolitan Police Service investigated the attack, but no person/s were ever caught.

Although the division suspected the crime to be the work of a gang, Detective Constable Walter Dew, also from the H Division, later believed this was to be the first victim of ‘Jack the Ripper’



Prostitute Martha Tabram aged 39, also lived at a lodging house in George Street, at number 19.

Tuesday 7th August 1888 at around 2.30am, Tabram’s murdered body was found at George Yard Buildings, where she had been stabbed with a short blade 39 times.

A statement by a prostitute and a police officer by the name of PC Thomas

Barrett, who had been patrolling nearby, led to Inspector Reid organising an identity parade of soldiers from the Tower of London and Wellington Barracks, which proved unproductive.

The police did not believe this murder was connected to Smith’s, but they did connect it with the later murders. Most experts today do not connect it with the other killings, as Tabram was stabbed whereas the later victims were slashed, but a connection cannot be ruled out.



Another prostitute, 43 year old Mary Ann Nichols lived in a lodging house at 18 Thrawl Street.

Just a few weeks after the murder of Martha Tabram, on 31st August, at a back street of Whitechapel in Buck’s Row, Mary Ann Nichols mutilated body was found at 3.45am on the ground of a gated stable entrance by cart driver Charles Cross.

Two slices had been made from left to right across the woman’s throat, a jagged edged knife was used to cut into her abdomen, along with several incisions made across the abdomen, and a number of cuts inflicted on her right side which was used violently in a downward strike by the same knife.

As with the previous two murders, this investigation had very little success. Some newspapers reported a possible gang connection with the previous murder of Smith, while another newspaper suggested it being that of a single killer.

The Coroners report concluded that the murder of Mary Ann Nichol had been committed just after 3am and dismissed the possibility of her murder being connected with those of Smith and Tabram due to the weapon used on Nichol being different to those used on the previous murder victims and whereas Nichol had her throat slashed, the earlier cases hadn’t.



Annie Chapman was a 47 year old prostitute living in a lodging house at 35 Dorset Street.

Annie Chapman had left her lodgings at 2am on Saturday 8th September, to collect money from a client in order to pay her rent. Her body was found at 6am on the ground near a doorway in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields.

As with Nichols murder, Annie Chapman’s throat had been cut from left to right.

The mutilation of her body included her intestines removed and placed behind each of her shoulders. On examination, the pathologist George Bagster Phillips also revealed a part of her uterus was missing, and suggested that the killer had knowledge of surgical anatomy due to having used a single movement slice to remove the reproductive organs, using a blade of 6-8 inches long.



Elizabeth Stride was a 44 year old prostitute living in a lodging house at 32 Flower and Dean Street. A month after the previous killing, the body of Stride, laying in her own pool of blood with her throat cut from left to right, was found by Louis Diemschutz, in a gateway of 40 Berner Street on Sunday 30th September at 1am. It is believed the murder had occurred just minutes previous to her body being found and the attacker had been disturbed before having the time to mutilate her body.

Again there was a question mark on whether this killing was connected to the previous due to the blade possibly being shorter and a different design, and being the only murder victim not to have been mutilated in Whitechapel.



Catherine Eddowes aged 46, also lived at a lodging house, in 55 Flower and Dean Street with her partner John Kelly. On Sunday 30th September, at the corner of Mitre Square, just 12 minutes walk from Berner Street, the body of Catherine Eddowes was found at 1.45am by PC Edward Watkins.

Eddowes had been murdered 10 minutes earlier and suffered a slash to the throat from left to right with a 6 inch long knife, her face and abdomen had been mutilated with her intestines placed behind her right shoulder, her left kidney and most of her womb removed.

Coroner for the City of London, Samuel F. Langham opened the inquest on 4th October whereby the examining pathologist Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown believed the killer “had considerable knowledge of the position of the organs”. Dr. Brown also described how the position of the wounds on the body indicated the murderer had knelt to the right of the body, and worked alone. This theory was disputed by local surgeon Dr. George William Sequeira.



Mary Jane Kelly was a 25 years old prostitute murdered shortly after 10.45am on Friday 9th November at 13 Millers Court, in the room of which she lived. The house was situated behind 26 Dorset Street, Spitafields, the street of which Annie Chapman had lived, and of where Catherine Eddowes had often slept rough.

This murder was the most savage, where her body was found lying on her bed with her throat cut, her abdomen cut open where her intestines had been removed and  spread all over her room including her breasts and some of her thigh muscles, and her face mutilated.

The inquest into her death was held on 12th November at Shorditch Town Hall by Coroner Dr. Roderick Macdonald MP and her funeral took place on 19th November where she was laid to rest at the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Leytonstone.



The body of 29 year old prostitute Rose Mylett, who had also been known as Catherine Millett and Lizzie Davis, was found by a patrolling police constable on Thursday 20th December 1888.

The woman had lodged at 18 George Street, as was the same with Emma Smith. Her body wasfound in Clarke’s Yard having been strangled, yet there was a debate between doctors over the cause of death.

Although the majority believed it to be murder, it was also suggested that she had died accidentally or through suicide as there were no signs of a struggle and the hanging was possibly caused by herself through the collar of her dress while intoxicated. However, a verdict was reached by the jury whereby a “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown” was recorded and included in the Whitechapel case file.



It is unknown if 40 year old Alice McKenzie of 52 Gun Street was a prostitute, or that she was murdered by the same person as previous victims. Her body was found at 12.40am on Wednesday 17th July. There were similarities between her killing and the others, whereby her throat had been cut from left to right and she suffered wounds on her abdomen. However, unlike the others, the blade used was shorter and the wounds were not as deep. This caused doubt between police and doctors as to whether this was part of the ‘Whitechapel Murders’ or a possible copycat crime.

Coroner Baxter concluded at the inquest: “There is great similarity between this and the other class of cases, which have happened in this neighbourhood, and if the same person has not committed this crime, it is clearly an imitation of the other case”.


On Tuesday 10th September 1889 a woman’s torso was found under a railway arch in Pinchin Street at 5.15am. The victim was estimated at being 30 – 40 years of age, and despite a search of the area no other body parts were recovered and therefore the victim remained unidentified, along with the killer.

Doubt arose as to the identity of the killer when it was suggested that the woman had not died from her throat being cut or from haemorrhage, so it was unlikely that she had been murdered by the ‘Ripper’. It was felt possible that her murder was committed by the ‘Torso Killer’ who had committed the same crimes in Rainham and Chelsea, of whom could have been the ‘Ripper’ himself or a separate murderer.



Frances Coles aged 25 and living in a lodging house at White’s Row was to be the last victim of the ‘Whitechapel’ cases. The prostitute’s body was found at 2.15am, just minutes after the attack under a railway arch on Friday 13th February 1891by PC Ernest Thompson.  

The injuries included her throat being cut twice from left to right and back again, and with minor wounds on the back of her head it is believed she was violently thrown to the ground.

Police arrested James Sadler who had been seen with Coles earlier, he was charged with her murder but due to lack of evidence he was released on 3rd March.

With the absences of Robert Anderson, who was appointed head of C.I.D on 1st September and went on sick leave on 7th September travelling to Switzerland, and Superintendent Thomas Arnold, who was in charge of H Division going on leave on 2nd September, the confusion as to who was to lead the enquiries caused major commotion, causing Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Warren to appoint Chief Inspector Donald Swanson to co-ordinate the investigation from Scotland Yard.

Still no nearer to catching the killer, and with rumours being spread around Whitechapel of the murders being that of Jewish ritual killings, Samuel Montagu, Member of Parliament for Whitechapel offered a reward of £100, whereby the local residents founded the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, also offering a reward for the apprehension of the killer. However, under instructions from the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police disallowed the offers explaining that offering rewards could lead to false or misleading information. Therefore the Committee employed two private detectives to investigate the case.

With feelings running high within the district, and further women having been murdered, a mob attacked the Commercial Road police station, suspecting that the murderer was being held there.

Various suspects were arrested during the course of the gruesome killing period, including a local male by the name of John Pizer, known as the ‘Leather Apron’ who was familiar to the authorities for terrorising local prostitutes. He was arrested on 10th September but his alibis, Mrs Elizabeth Long and Mr Albert Cadosch, for the two most recent murders were corroborated, and he was released without charge.

Another suspect was Charles Ludwig, a German hairdresser who was arrested on 18th September, and released two weeks later when the ‘double murder’ of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on 30th September proved that the murderer was still at large.

During November and December 143 extra plain clothed police officers were deployed in Whitechapel after it was suggested that Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes and Kelly were murdered ‘by the same hand’. However, the culprit was never caught and the mystery as to the identity of the murderer continued.

 The theory that ‘Jack the Ripper’ could have actually been ‘Jill the Ripper’ was published in 1959 by author Donald McCormick in his book ‘The Identity of Jack the Ripper’.

The suggestion first came about from Inspector Abberline, during the time of the killings, who had raised the conversation with his mentor Dr. Thomas, after the murder of Mary Kelly, due to the testimony of Caroline Maxwell.

Mary Kelly was believed to have been murdered on Friday 9th November 1888 between 3.30 – 4.30am. At the inquest Mrs Caroline Maxwell, who lived local, testified to having spotted Mary Kelly twice.

The first time being at 8 – 8.30am, as it was just after her husband arrived home from work, and she described the victim as looking quite ill.  

The second sighting was outside the Britannia public house, where Kelly was speaking with a male.

Caroline Maxwell had described Kelly as wearing a dark shirt, velvet bodice and a maroon coloured shawl, of which she had seen Kelly wearing on previous occasions.

Inspector Abberline felt it possible that the killer had murdered Kelly and dressed up in her clothes in order to disguise herself, which would account for Caroline Maxwell having believed that she had seen Kelly at a time after her death.

The author questioned:

What kind of person could be seen at night and not arouse suspicion.

Who wouldn’t draw attention when walking the streets wearing blood stained clothing.

Who would have had the surgical skills which were involved in the killings.

Who would have been able to provide a reasonable explanation if caught near the body.

William Stewart had considered various facts for his theory, one being that the police were looking for a male and therefore this would allow a female murderer to walk the streets freely with less chance of being discovered.

Another fact was witnessing a midwife walking the streets during all hours, night and day, was not uncommon, and due to the surgical involvement of her work, blood stained clothing would not have aroused suspicion.

If it was to be believed that a woman was responsible for the murders, then it would be probable that the only kind of female capable would be that of a midwife or abortionist, due to the surgical inflictions and mutilations incurred on the victims.

In his book William Stewart suggested that “she might have been betrayed by a married woman whom she had tried to help, and sent to prison — as a result, this was her way of revenging herself on her own sex.”

He also suggested that a midwife would “almost instantly produce unconsciousness, particularly in persons given to drink, by a method frequently used on patients in those days by midwives who practised among the extremely poor.”

The creator of ‘Sherlock Holmes’, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, believed that ‘Jack the Ripper’ was a male who had disguised himself as a female in order not only to avoid capture but also to befriend and become more accessible to other women.

The theories and debates of these gruesome chilling murders, which have conceded throughout the centuries, will undoubtedly continue for centuries to come, remaining to be one of Britain’s biggest unsolved murder cases.

Post-mortem photography (also known as memorial portraiture or memento mori) is the practice of photographing the recently deceased.
The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 made portraiture much more commonplace, as many of those who were unable to afford the commission of a painted portrait could afford to sit for a photography session. This cheaper and quicker method also provided the middle class with a means for memorializing dead loved ones.
These photographs served less as a reminder of mortality than as a keepsake to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might have been the only image of the child the family ever had. The later invention of the carte de visite, which allowed multiple prints to be made from a single negative, meant that copies of the image could be mailed to relatives.

The practice eventually peaked in popularity around the end of the 19th century and died out as “snapshot” photography became more commonplace, although a few examples of formal memorial portraits were still being produced well into the 20th century.
The earliest post-mortem photographs are usually close-ups of the face or shots of the full body and rarely include the coffin. The subject is usually depicted so as to seem in a deep sleep, or else arranged to appear more lifelike. Children were often shown in repose on a couch or in a crib, sometimes posed with a favorite toy or other plaything. It was not uncommon to photograph very young children with a family member, most frequently the mother. Adults were more commonly posed in chairs or even braced on specially-designed frames. Flowers were also a common prop in post-mortem photography of all types.

The effect of life was sometimes enhanced by either propping the subject’s eyes open or painting pupils onto the photographic print, and many early images (especially tintypes and ambrotypes) have a rosy tint added to the cheeks of the corpse.
Later examples show less effort at a lifelike appearance, and often show the subject in a coffin. Some very late examples show the deceased in a coffin with a large group of funeral attendees; this type of photograph was especially popular in Europe and less common in the United States.








Mother and post mortem child




Posted: August 6, 2013 in Victorian Life


The Oxford Dictionary’s first record of the word workhouse dates back to 1652 in Exeter — ‘The said house to bee converted for a workhouse for the poore of this cittye and also a house of correction for the vagrant and disorderly people within this cittye.’ However, workhouses were around even before that — in 1631 the Mayor of Abingdon reported that “wee haue erected wthn our borough a workehouse to sett poore people to worke”

State-provided poor relief is often dated from the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 1601 when the passing of an Act for the Relief of the Poor made parishes legally responsible for looking after their own poor. This was funded by the collection of a poor-rate tax from local property owners (a tax that survives in the present-day “council tax”). The 1601 Act made no mention of workhouses although it provided that materials should be bought to provide work for the unemployed able-bodied — with the threat of prison for those who refused. It also proposed the erection of housing for the “impotent poor” — the elderly, chronic sick, etc.

Parish poor relief was dispensed mostly through “out-relief” — grants of money, clothing, food, or fuel, to those living in their own homes. However, the workhouse gradually began to evolve in the seventeenth century as an alternative form of “indoor relief”, both to save the parish money, and also as a deterrent to the able-bodied who were required to work, usually without pay, in return for their board and lodging. The passing of the Workhouse Test Act in 1723, gave parishes the option of denying out-relief and offering claimants only the workhouse.

Parish workhouse buildings were often just ordinary local houses, rented for the purpose. Sometimes a workhouse was purpose-built, like this one erected in 1729 for the parishes of Box and Ditteridge in Wiltshire.

In some cases, the poor were “farmed” — a private contractor undertook to look after a parish’s poor for a fixed annual sum; the paupers’ work could be a useful way of boosting the contractor’s income. The workhouse was not, however, necessarily regarded as place of punishment, or even privation. Indeed, conditions could be pleasant enough to earn some institutions the nickname of “Pauper Palaces”.

Gilbert’s Act of 1782 simplified and standardized the procedures for parishes to set up and run workhouses, either on their own, or by forming a group of parishes called a Gilbert Union. Under Gilbert’s scheme, able-bodied adult paupers would not be admitted to the workhouse, but were to be maintained by their parish until work could be found for them. Although relatively few workhouses were set up under Gilbert’s scheme, the practice of supplementing labourers’ wages out of the poor rate did become widely established. The best known example of this was the “Speenhamland System” which supplemented wages on a sliding scale linked to the price of bread and family size. By the start of the nineteenth century, the nationwide cost of out-relief was beginning to spiral. It was also believed by some that parish relief had become seen as an easy option by those who did not want to work. There was also growing civil unrest during this period, culminating in the Captain Swing riots whose targets included workhouses. In 1832, the Government set up a Royal Commission to investigate the problems and propose changes.

In 1834, the Commission’s report resulted in the Poor Law Amendment Act which was intended to end to all out-relief for the able bodied. The 15,000 or so parishes in England and Wales were formed into Poor Law Unions, each with its own union workhouse. A similar scheme was introduced in Ireland in 1838, while in 1845 Scotland set up a separate and somewhat different system.

Each Poor Law Union was managed by a locally elected Board of Guardians and the whole system was administered by a central Poor Law Commission. In the late 1830s, hundreds of new union workhouse buildings were erected across the country. The Commission’s original proposal to have separate establishments for different types of pauper (the old, the able-bodied, children etc.) was soon abandoned and a single “general mixed workhouse” became the norm. The new buildings were specially designed to segregate the different categories of inmate. The first purpose-built workhouse to be erected under the new scheme was at Abingdon in 1835.

Under the new Act, the threat of the Union workhouse was intended to act as a deterrent to the able-bodied pauper. This was a principle enshrined in the revival of the “workhouse test” — poor relief would only be granted to those desperate enough to face entering the repugnant conditions of the workhouse. If an able-bodied man entered the workhouse, his whole family had to enter with him.

Life inside the workhouse was was intended to be as off-putting as possible. Men, women, children, the infirm, and the able-bodied were housed separately and given very basic and monotonous food such as watery porridge called gruel, or bread and cheese. All inmates had to wear the rough workhouse uniform and sleep in communal dormitories. Supervised baths were given once a week. The able-bodied were given hard work such as stone-breaking or picking apart old ropes called oakum. The elderly and infirm sat around in the day-rooms or sick-wards with little opportunity for visitors. Parents were only allowed limited contact with their children — perhaps for an hour or so a week on Sunday afternoon.

By the 1850s, the majority of those forced into the workhouse were not the work-shy, but the old, the infirm, the orphaned, unmarried mothers, and the physically or mentally ill. For the next century, the Union Workhouse was in many localities one of the largest and most significant buildings in the area, the largest ones accommodating more than a thousand inmates. Entering its harsh regime and spartan conditions was considered the ultimate degradation.

The workhouse was not, however, a prison. People could, in principle, leave whenever they wished, for example when work became available locally. Some people, known as the “ins and outs”, entered and left quite frequently, treating the workhouse almost like a guest-house, albeit one with the most basic of facilities. For some, however, their stay in the workhouse would be for the rest of their lives.

In the 1850s and 60s, complaints were growing about the conditions in many London workhouses. Figures such as Florence Nightingale, Louisa Twining, and the medical journal The Lancet, were particularly critical of the treatment of the sick in workhouses which was frequently in insanitary conditions and with most of the nursing care provided by untrained and often illiterate female inmates. Eventually, parliament passed the Metropolitan Poor Act which required workhouse hospitals to be on sites separate from the workhouse. The Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB) was also set up to look after London’s poor suffering from infectious diseases or mental disability. The smallpox and fever hospitals set up by the MAB were eventually opened up to all London’s inhabitants and became the country’s first state hospitals, laying the foundations for the National Health Service which began in 1948.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, conditions gradually improved in the workhouse, particularly for the elderly and infirm, and for children. Food became a little more varied and small luxuries such as books, newspapers, and even occasional outings were allowed. Children were increasingly housed away from the workhouses in special schools or in cottage homes which were often placed out in the countryside.

The workhouse era ended, officially at least, on 1st April 1930; the 643 Boards of Guardians in England and Wales were abolished and their responsibilities passed to local authorities. Some workhouse buildings were sold off, demolished, or fell into disuse. Many, however, became Public Assistance Institutions and continued to provide accommodation for the elderly, chronic sick, unmarried mothers and vagrants. For inmates of these institutions, life often changed relatively little during the 1930s and 40s. Apart from the abolition of uniforms, and more freedom to come and go, things improved only slowly. With the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, many former workhouse buildings continued to house the elderly and chronic sick. With the reorganisation of the NHS in the 1980s and 90s, the old buildings were often turned over for use as office space or demolished to make way for new hospital blocks or car parks. More recently, the survivors have increasingly been sold off for redevelopment, ironically, in some cases, as luxury residential accommodation.

Increasingly little remains of these once great and gloomy edifices. What does survive often passes unnoticed. But even now, more than seventy years after its official abolition, the mere mention of the workhouse can still send a shiver through those old enough to remember its existence. In Kendal, the location of a long-gone workhouse is modestly marked in a now renamed side-road. However, some local residents clearly feel this is an institution they would rather not commemorate…


The spectacle of gladiatorial combat was initiated by wealthy Romans over 250 years before the birth of Christ as a part of the ceremonies held to honour their deceased relatives. Later, these games became separate events sponsored by Rome’s leading citizens in order to enhance their prestige. With the decline of the republic and the rise of the empire, gladiator games were appropriated by the emperor. The primary purpose of these life-or-death duels was to entertain the multitude of spectators that jammed the arena.
Although some freemen elected to live the life of a gladiator, the majority were slaves, captured during the numerous wars Rome fought to expand its territory. The prospective gladiator received extensive training and became proficient in a particular mode of combat and the use of specific weapons such as the sword, net or the three-pronged spear known as the trident.
The games began early, lasted all day and were usually divided into three presentations. The morning was devoted to the display and slaughter of animals, many of them exotic beasts gathered from the far reaches of the empire. Lions, elephants, giraffes and other rare animals all played a role in a display of butchery designed to advertise the diversity of the far-flung empire and Rome’s mastery of Mother Nature.
The morning session was followed by a lunch break in which patrons could leave the arena to satisfy their hunger. Those who lingered were entertained with the execution of common criminals. An attempt was made to match the method of the condemned person’s death with the crime committed. Those who had murdered were thrown unprotected to wild beasts. Those who had committed arson were burned alive. Others were crucified. Criminals also provided the fodder for entertainment in the re-enactment of historic naval battles in which the arena was flooded and the condemned forced to play the role of the doomed crews of enemy ships.
The afternoon was devoted to the main event – the combat of the gladiators. Typically, gladiators with different specialties were pitted against one another. Much like a modern boxing match, the duels were governed by strict rules and overseen by a referee to assure these rules were followed. Music provided an accompaniment with the band varying the tempo of its play according to the action in the arena. The crowd would ultimately decide whether the loser would live or die.
“…it was plain butchery.”
The Roman philosopher Seneca took a dim view of gladiatorial contests and the spectacle that accompanied them. Interestingly, his criticism is not based on revulsion at the butchery he witnesses, but because the display is boring and therefore unworthy of the attention of a well-reasoned man. In a letter to a friend, he describes what he saw in the arena during the reign of Emperor Caligula:
“There is nothing as ruinous to good character as to idle away one’s time at some spectacle. Vices have a way of creeping in because of the feeling of pleasure that it brings. Why do you think that I say that I personally return from shows greedier, more ambitious and more given to luxury, and I might add, with thoughts of greater cruelty and less humanity, simply because I have been among humans?
The other day, I chanced to drop in at the midday games, expecting sport and wit and some relaxation to rest men’s eyes from the sight of human blood. Just the opposite was the case. Any fighting before that was as nothing; all trifles were now put aside – it was plain butchery.
The men had nothing with which to protect themselves, for their whole bodies were open to the thrust, and every thrust told. The common people prefer this to matches on level terms or request performances. Of course they do. The blade is not parried by helmet or shield, and what use is skill or defence? All these merely postpone death.
In the morning men are thrown to bears or lions, at midday to those who were previously watching them. The crowd cries for the killers to be paired with those who will kill them, and reserves the victor for yet another death. This is the only release the gladiators have. The whole business needs fire and steel to urge men on to fight. There was no escape for them. The slayer was kept fighting until he could be slain.
‘Kill him! Flog him! Burn him alive!’ (The spectators roared) ‘Why is he such a coward? Why won’t he rush on the steel? Why does he fall so meekly? Why won’t he die willingly? “
Unhappy as I am, how have I deserved that I must look on such a scene as this? Do not, my Lucilius, attend the games, I pray you. Either you will be corrupted by the multitude, or, if you show disgust, be hated by them. So stay away.”

Welsh Facts

Posted: August 1, 2013 in Victorian Life

1. Welshmen may have settled America before Columbus.
It is now well known that Viking explorers reached parts of the eastern seaboard of what is now Canada about the year 1100 and that Norwegian Leif Erikson’s Vinland may have been an area that is now part of the United States. What is less known is that a Welshman may not have been too far behind Erikson, bringing settlers with him?
According to Welsh legend, Madog ab Owain Gwynedd was a 12th century prince from Gwynedd who sailed westward with a group of followers seeking lands far away from the constant warfare of his native Wales. According to the story, his eight ships made landfall at what is now called Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1169. Owain’s little flagship was the “Gwennan Gorn.” Liking what he found, Madog then returned to Wales for additional settlers, who consequently left with the explorer in a small fleet of ships. Sailing westward from Lundy Island in 1171, the courageous little band was never heard from again, at least in Europe.
2. Canada was explored and mapped by a Welshman.
Not only John Evans (and Meriwether Lewis) helped map the North American continent, but another Welshman, David Thompson could rightly be called “the man who measured Canada.” Almost on his own, this prodigious explorer surveyed most of the Canadian-US border during the early days of the country. Covering 80,000 miles on foot, dog sled, horseback and canoe, 200 years ago, Thompson defined one-fifth of the North American continent. His 77 volumes detailing his studies in geography, biology and ethnography entitles him to the title of one of the world’s greatest land geographers.
Though born in Wales, Thompson was educated at a charity school in London, immigrating to Canada to work for the Hudson Bay Company in 1784. At the time, the map of Canada was mostly blank. He was taught the art of surveying from a colleague and the skills of wilderness survival from native Canadians. In 1797 he joined the North Company at Montreal and began his explorations of the vast continent to the West.
3. America may have taken its name from a Welshman.
According to research conducted by an English College professor, America did not take its name from Amerigo Vespucci, but from a senior collector of Customs at Bristol, the main port from which English voyages of discovery sailed in the late 15th century. Dr. Basil Cottle, who is himself of Welsh birth, tells us that the official was Richard Amerik, one of the chief investors in the second transatlantic voyage of John Cabot, which led to the famous navigator receiving the King’s Pension for his discoveries.
John Cabot landed in the New World in May 1497, becoming the first recorded European to set foot on American soil. As far as Amerik’s Welsh connection is concerned, the word “Amerik” itself seems to be derived from AP Meuric, Welsh for the son of Maurice. (The later was anglicized further to Morris). There was a large Welsh population in Bristol in the late 15th century.
4. Pennsylvania is not named after William Penn.
Most Americans are taught that Pennsylvania, one of the earliest American states to be settled by Europeans, was named after the Quaker William Penn or his father, Admiral Penn. It is not so. Had William Penn, the Quaker leader, not ignored the advice of his secretary, the new colony would have been called New Wales.
In the late 17th century, many Welsh emigrants braved the horrors of Atlantic passage to flee religious persecution. The Welsh Quakers, in particular, sought lands where they could practice their own form of religion and live under their own laws in a kind of Welsh Barony. One of their leaders, surgeon and lawmaker Dr. Griffith Owen, who came to the colonies in 1684, induced William Penn to set apart some of his land grant for the settlement. The project envisioned as a kind of “Holy Experiment,” involved an oral understanding with William Penn and the Society of Friends (a pact made in England before the Welsh sailed to the New World). The oral understanding set aside 40,000 acres of land (some sources give 30,000) in what is now south-eastern Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, this agreement was never put into writing and later became a source of bitter controversy between Penn and the Welsh Quakers.
5. St. Patrick was not an Irishman.
On March 17th, when St. Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated in so many communities in the United States (where much more fuss is made than is found in Ireland), most Americans assume that Patrick was an Irishman. It is not so.
Though Patrick’s birthplace is debatable, most scholars seem to agree that he was born in the area of south-eastern Scotland known as Strathclyde, a former Celtic kingdom and Welsh-speaking at the time. (However, a few scholars continue to regard St. David’s in Pembrokeshire as the saint’s birthplace; the tiny city was formerly directly in the path of missionary and trade routes to Ireland).
6. Wales is not represented on the British Flag.
Wales is an integral part of the British Kingdom, yet it is not represented on the national flag, the Union Jack. The standard of Wales consists of a red dragon on a green and white background. As such, it will not fit easily into the design of the Union flag, composed of the red upright cross of St. George on a white background; the white diagonal cross of St. Andrew on a blue background; and the red diagonal cross of St. Patrick on a white background. This represents England, Scotland and Ireland respectively.
St. Andrew’s cross was added to the English flag in 1707 when Scotland joined the Union. The Union Jack that was flown in the American Colonies before the Revolution does not include the red diagonal of Ireland which was added in 1800 (and which remained after 1921, when Ireland was divided into the Free State and Ulster, or Northern Ireland.
The red dragon of Wales (Y Ddraig goch) goes back a long time, long before the Union Jack was ever put together. As a national symbol for Wales, it predates its adaptation by the Tudors. The dragon is perhaps the very first mythical beast in British heraldry. Legend has Macsen Wledig and his Romano-British soldiers carrying the red dragon (Draco) to Rome on their banners in the fourth century. It was adopted in the early fifth century by the Welsh kings of Aberffraw to symbolize their authority after the Roman withdrawal. By the seventh century, it was known as the Red Dragon of Cadwallader, forever after to be associated with the people of Wales. The ninth century historian Nennius mentions the red dragon in his Historia Brittonum and it was referred to by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae written between 1120 and 1129.
7. A pungent vegetable is the national emblem of Wales.
The leek, a member of the onion family, has a strong smell. On March 1, St. David’s Day, patriotic Welsh and those of Welsh descent, wherever they reside or work, wear a leek on their clothing.
The custom stems from the plant being used by the Welsh as a national badge for many centuries. According to a legend utilized by English poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631), the leek was associated with St. David because he ordered his soldiers to wear it on their helmets in a battle against the hated, pagan Saxon invaders of Britain that took place in a field full of leeks. The poet probably made up the story, but it is known that Welsh archers adopted the green and white colours of the leek as early as the 14th century to distinguish their uniforms (perhaps in the Battle of Crecy.)
A 16th century reference to the leek as a Welsh emblem is found in the Account Book of Princess Mary Tudor. That it was well known as an emblem for Welsh people is also recorded by Shakespeare, who refers to the custom of wearing a leek as “ancient tradition” and whose character Henry V tells Fluellen that he is wearing a leek “for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.”
8. The Welsh Language is not Gaelic.
Welsh belongs to a branch of Celtic, an Indo-European language. (It was a Welshman in India in the 18th century, Sir William Jones who noticed the similarities between Welsh and Sanskrit and thus pioneered the later research into the families of European languages.) In heavily populated areas of Wales, such as the Southeast (containing the large urban centres of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea) the normal language of everyday life is English, but there are other areas, notably in the Western and Northern regions (Gwynedd and Dyfed particularly) where the Welsh language remains strong and highly visible.
The Welsh people themselves are descendants of the Galatians, to whom Paul wrote his famous letter. Their language is a distant cousin to Irish and Scots Gaelic and a close brother to Breton. Despite being widely spoken in the British Isles at one time, because the Anglo-Saxon conquest was so thorough and took so very long, the native British language was exterminated in many areas and very few words were adopted into English. (Surviving examples are coomb, coracle, eisteddfod, cromlech, Avon, Avalon and a few others.) When a conquest is quickly achieved, such as the Norman Conquest of England, the native tongue survives even if the official language of the royal court and the judiciary changes. This didn’t happen during the centuries of warfare with the Saxon invaders when the native Brythonic language disappeared from most of lowland Britain.
9. The modern Olympics did not begin in Athens.
Ask almost anyone when the modern Olympics began and you will be told that the ancient Greek games were revived in Athens by French Baron Coubertin in 1896. What you most certainly will not be told is that Coubertin was inspired by the events he witnessed at Much Wenlock, a little village in Shropshire, just over the Welsh borders. In 1890, in an article for a Greek magazine, Coubertin stated the following:
Much Wenlock is a town in Shropshire, a county on the borders of Wales, and if the Olympic Games that modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survive today, it is due not to a Greek, but to Dr. W.P. Brookes. It is he who inaugurated those 40 years ago, and it is he, now 82 years of age, but still alert and vigorous, who continues to organize and inspire them.
The mysterious Dr. W.P. Brookes was born in 1809 in Much Wenlock, remaining there the rest of his life. His efforts as a Justice of the Peace led to the village gaining gas lighting and the railroad. Keenly interested in the idea of physical fitness for the masses, Brookes believed that a rigorous program of physical training would help make better Christians by keeping people out of the taverns. He thought that it would be a good idea to fuse the twin notions of the ancient Greek games with the rural sports practiced by English and Welsh rural classes. His knowledge of the ancient Olympics inspired him with the idea of establishing the Much Wenlock Society for the Promulgation of Physical Culture in 1841.
10. A Welshman invented Lawn Tennis in Wales.
At a meeting of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, London, in August 1887, Colonel Mainwaring made the following statement: “I should like it to be entered on record that the now popular game of lawn tennis was the old Welsh game of Cerrig y Drudion.” The Colonel’s remarks came at a time when lawn tennis was enjoying a tremendous spurt in popularity both in Britain and in the United States.
There had been many games of “the tennis family” before the old Welsh game mentioned by Colonel Mainwaring had evolved into lawn tennis. In France, for example, jeu de paume (the palm game) and in England, real tennis had been played since the late 12th or early 13th centuries. These were indoor games, using a variety of courts, wall or roof surfaces and various rackets and balls. None of them enjoyed the luxury of a ball that could bounce on a hard; grass surface until the mid-19th century when it was discovered in Europe that balls made of rubber would do the trick.

11. Welsh Immigrants began The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Not the least of the enormous contribution that the people of Wales made to the early growth and eventual success of the latter-day Church of Jesus Christ (the Mormon Church) was that of music, especially choral singing. The world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir owes much to the efforts of Welsh pioneers in keeping alive the musical heritage of their nation.
Elders from the early Mormon Church found willing converts in Wales when the Overton Branch was formed in Flintshire in the fall of 1840. Other branches quickly spread throughout the principality mainly through the missionary zeal of Captain Dan Jones who had left Wales to settle in the Mormon settlement of Nauvoo. Jones had carried many emigrating Saints up the Mississippi River on a small river steamer The Maid of Iowa during the early 1840’s. Because Jones impressed Joseph Smith with his enthusiasm for the cause and was blessed by the soon-to-be martyred Smith (they shared a jail cell together until one hour before the Church leader was murdered), Jones was given the task of converting the people of Wales. The mission was confirmed in a meeting with Brigham Young and other Church Elders in May 1843.
12. The Prince (Princess) of Wales is not Welsh.
In 1300, King Edward of England made his son, Lord Edward, (born at Caernarfon Castle), Prince of Wales and Count of Chester. Ever since that date these titles have been automatically conferred upon the first-born son of the English monarch. The Welsh people were not consulted in the matter although an entry by an English propagandist in Historia Anglicana for the year 1300 reads:
In this year King Edward of England made Lord Edward, his son and heir, Prince of Wales and Count of Chester. When the Welsh heard this, they were overjoyed, thinking him their lawful master, for he was born in their lands.
The task was made easy, for Edward because of the long inability of the native-born Welsh princes to unite their lands and form a single, unified kingdom. Up to King Edward’s proclamation, in fact, there had been many kings in Wales. However, there had been only five rulers who could justify their claim to be Kings of Wales: Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great); Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good), Gruffudd ap Llywelyn): Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great); and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (Llywelyn the Last).
13. Golf’s Stableford System was invented in Wales.
For countless millions of golfers the world over, the Stableford scoring system has proved to be one of their greatest blessings. During the last years of the 19th century at Glamorganshire Golf Club in South Wales (founded in 1890), Dr. Stableford was concerned about the then-current scoring system in the increasingly popular game of golf. The good doctor was concerned that, in other forms of scoring, one bad hole could ruin the entire round, so he introduced a much fairer system that reflected the golfer’s complete round, one that would enable him (or her) to recover from a high score on nine or more holes. His new system was announced in a South Wales newspaper that reported on the Golf club’s first autumn meeting held 30 September, 1898. After the scores in the bogey competition were listed, a footnote gave the method of scoring as follows:
Each competitor plays against bogey level. If the hole is lost be one stroke only, the player scores one; if it is halved, the player scores two; if it is won by one stroke, the player scores three; and if by two strokes, the player scores four. To the score thus made, one third of the player’s medal handicap is added. (South Wales Daily News, 30 Sept., 1898)
The new system favoured the better golfers. In 1932, after the stroke index had been introduced, Dr. Stableford re-introduced the system, making only one change: players now added their full handicap to the points they had gained off scratch. Another option was introduced in the same year following a season of heavy gales that heavily favoured the player with the highest handicap. Stableford decided that instead of adding the handicap allowance at the finish, the allowance should be taken at the relevant holes.
14. A Welshman was responsible for 19th century US industrial might.
On the 4 July, 1840, a blast furnace constructed under the management of a recent immigrant from Wales at Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, produced its first run of iron using anthracite for fuel. Thus David Thomas, from Neath, South Wales, showed that anthracite, known scathingly throughout the iron industry as “stone coal” could be successfully used to produce high quality iron.
David’s arrival, at the request of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, couldn’t have come at a better time. For almost two centuries, iron masters had been trying to utilize the vast anthracite coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania with only limited success. The right combination of fuel, furnace size, blast pressure and temperature had not been found; thus enormous sums were paid for imported iron (mostly from South Wales) in an age where the metal was desperately needed to supply the fledgling iron-ship building and railroad industries.
At Ystradgynlais in the Swansea Valley, in South Wales, Thomas had perfected a method that used a hot blast to produce good quality iron from West Wales’s anthracite. Urgently needed in Pennsylvania, and promised a good contract, the 43 year-old iron master sold his property in Wales and with his wife and family embarked on the Roscius at Liverpool to begin a new career across the Atlantic.
15. The Holy Grail is to be found in Wales.
While England enjoys its legend concerning the planting of Joseph of Arimathea’s staff, where it blooms as the Glastonbury Thorn, Wales has preserved an even more wondrous legend connected with the holy man, that of the Grail itself. At Nant Eos (Stream of the Nightingale), not far from Aberystwyth, there stands an old mansion house that was lived in by the Powell family for centuries. In 1876, the Powells put one of their ancient heirlooms on public display. It was a battered, old cup made of wych elm that supposedly came from nearby Strata Florida Abbey at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The relic is a Holy Grail, supposedly made out of the wood of the true cross and brought to Britain by Joseph.
For centuries, pilgrims had been drinking out of this wooden vessel to partake of its healing powers. On display with the cup was a number of paper slips attesting to the cures affected. Last displayed in 1960, the cup was found to have been badly worn with many pieces having been broken off and kept for good luck by those who came to enjoy its healing powers. Having lost its silver rim, placed to protect the cup from damage, the Grail is said to have now lost its miraculous powers.
There is an interesting story connected with the Welsh Grail. It has been told that the great composer Wagner stayed at Nant Eos in 1855, and inspired by the presence of the cup and the legend of the knights who undertook many courageous adventures on the quest to find it, began work on his opera “Parsival”. That the opera was started ten years before Wagner’s visit to the Powell family should not detract those who treasure such legends. As far as the Holy Grail itself is concerned, the cup at Nant Eos has as good a claim as any other.
16. A Welshman co-founded the New York Times.
It is not generally known that the New York Times, that most American of US newspapers, owes it origin to a Welshman, George Jones. Jones was born in the Welsh slate producing area of Poultney, Vermont, the son of an immigrant from Montgomeryshire, Mid-Wales who had married a titled Irish lady at a little Dissenters Chapel (as the Baptists were then known). Orphaned at the age of 13, George worked as a clerk and errand boy for a store owner who published the Northern Spectator, a newspaper that also employed Horace Greeley as a printer’s apprentice. When Greeley established the New York Tribune in 1840, Jones worked with him for a short while but declined a partnership in the paper. His friendship with Henry J. Raymond gave them the idea of beginning their own newspaper.
Raymond became Lt. Governor of New York and Speaker of the Assembly. After a bill was passed that lowered profits on the business of redeeming bank notes, in which Jones had been profitably employed, he and Raymond pooled their resources to found the New York Daily Times, the first issue of which was published on September 18, 1851. Jones was publisher and business manager, remaining with the paper, which became the New York Times, for over 22 years. A highlight of his tenure came when he refused to accept a $5,000,000 bribe to stop publication of documents exposing the Boss Tweed Ring. This led to that crime-organization’s downfall.
17. A Welsh-American invented the first automobile.
One day in 1805, in the streets of Philadelphia, Oliver Evans drove his Orukter Amphibolos (Amphibious digger) down to its intended work site, the Schuylkill River, using his own high-pressure steam engine to power the wheels. The first self-propelled vehicle in the Americas, the monstrous digger, a 17 ton steam-powered dredge, had made its debut, no doubt scaring everyone who happened to be in the vicinity of Market Street and City Hall that day. Though Evans had built his leviathon with the sole intention of dredging the river to make it available for ships, by using its own power to get it to the Schuylkill, he had, in fact, created the first automobile.
Evans was born to a family of Welsh settlers in New Castle County, Delaware in 1755. After an apprenticeship as a wheelwright, he began to experiment with steam power, inventing many laboursaving devices in his flour mills on the Brandywine River. He moved to Philadelphia in 1792 where he manufactured milling machinery and continued his experiments with steam at the same time that Cornishman Richard Trevithick was working on his own engines in Britain. Evans patented his high-pressure steam engine early in 1804, originally intending it for use on waterways, not roads, though he had dreamed of some kind of bus to carry passengers on land. By 1806, he had constructed over 100 steam engines, and, following his example, steam-driven flour mills were rapidly proliferating in the former colonies.
18. The world’s largest second-hand bookstore is in Wales.
Though Wales is visited primarily for its magnificent scenery impressive castles and charming sea-side resorts, the fourth most popular destination, attracting over a million visitors a year, is a little town on the River Wye, appropriately called Hay-on-Wye. A proliferation of book shops has earned the otherwise sleepy little border town the title of “largest second-hand book shop in the world,” for the whole town seems to be one massive collection of books, a bibliophile’s dream.
The whole thing began in the early 60’s when resident Richard Booth opened an antique store in which he also sold some books. The books sold far better than the antiques and soon the clever entrepreneur was buying up every available piece of property in town to store and sell books. He bought the old cinema, the firehouse, the workhouse, a chapel and even the ruins of the ancient castle. It wasn’t long before Mr. Booth began to advertise himself as “the world’s biggest second-hand book seller.” He began to attract attention from book lovers, not just in the nearby urban conglomerations of Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol, but also to eventually draw connoisseurs (and the merely curious) from London and even overseas.
19. Thanks to a Welshman, Britain has no Death Penalty.
On February 17, 1956, the Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, after a long and often acrimonious debate, voted to abolish the Death Penalty. Even though post war crime rates had been soaring and a new criminal element, not averse to the use of murder as a weapon, was surfacing in British cities. Parliament had been heavily influenced by a single book arguing against the Death Penalty, even for heinous crimes. Michael Eddowes, a well-known criminal lawyer, wrote the book, The Man in Your Conscience. Its subject was a Welshman who, the author argued had been wrongly hanged for murder.
Timothy Evans was born in Merthyr Vale, South Wales, in 1924. He could not read or write and had trouble finding employment. Moving to London with his wife to try to better their lives, he had the misfortune to seek lodging at 10 Rillington Place, North Kensington, an address that was later to become one of the most infamous in the annals of British crime. This was the home of John Reginald Christie.
The police picked up Mr. Christie as he walked over one of the Thames’ bridges one calm day in the summer of 1953. Quiet, unassuming, looking more like a timid bank clerk than one of the biggest mass murderers in British history, Christie had been the subject of a massive manhunt after body after female body had been found in his house in Rillington Place. Three years earlier, Mr. Evans had been hanged on a charge of strangling his wife at the same address. He had bitterly protested his innocence. When Christie eventually came to trial, he confessed to murdering poor Mr. Evans’s wife, one of the victims he had lured into having sex before strangling.
After Christie’s execution on July 15, 1953, the Evans case was raised in fierce debate in the House of Commons. Abolitionists saw in the case their great hopes from success in getting rid of Britain’s Death Penalty, but a parliamentary inquiry; “The Scott Henderson Report” stated that there were no grounds for believing that a miscarriage of justice had occurred in the Evans case. Many considered it a whitewash. A second debate was then called for. It was then that the bombshell of the book appeared. The publication of The Man in Your Conscience began a crusade for justice. The amendment to abolish the Death Penalty was carried by a majority of 31 votes. It has never been restored in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
20. The world’s first mail order shopping began in Newtown, Wales.
Some time in 1859, astute businessman Pryce Pryce-Jones, of Newtown, Montgomeryshire (Powys) began to cater to the needs of many of his rural customers by offering goods for sale through the mail. Many of the area’s farmers lived in isolated valleys or in mountain terrain and had little time or suitable transportation to come into town for their many needs. The Pryce Jones Mail Order business was the perfect answer, especially since the Post Office reforms of the 1840’s had made the mail service cheap and reliable. The Newtown Warehouses, packed with goods, began a service that quickly caught on in the United States, with its even greater distances and scattered population. As we all know only too well from our mailboxes ever bulging with catalogues, mail order shopping was here to stay.