Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Came across this in the Standard, March 22 1830.

Seventeen-year-old Betsy Shelley went to the fortune teller Martha Allen ("an old woman of the gipsey tribe") about her love life. As Martha's spells both failed to produce a definitive answer, it appears that Betsy had reported her to the police for obtaining money under false pretence. Betsy's naivety is adorable - after pawning her earrings to find out if she'll ever get a husband, her disappointment is so genuine:

"Anxious to know whether she should soon procure a husband, she [Betsy} one day called upon the prisoner [Martha], at her house in Three Cups-alley, and gave her some money, which she obtained upon pledging her ear-rings. The prisoner then told her that two men – a dark one and a fair one – were desperately in love with her; that the dark one would use every effort to het her into his power, but that the fair one would become her husband. The prisoner then gave her a paper, which she said contained American seeds, and desired her to put it in her bosom at night, and the man she loved would caress her. These directions were compiled with; but, said the complainant, I never saw or dreamt of the dark man or the fair one. In a week after she again visited the prisoner, and received from her a quantity of red powder, which she was desired to sprinkle upon nine pieces of paper cut in the shape of hearts. This she was to do in her bed-room, and then blow out the candle; when the prisoner assured her that the man who was to be her husband would walk into the room and embrace her tenderly in his arms. “Don’t be alarmed,” she added “when you see him, but welcome him to your chamber.” At night, the girl cut out the nine hearts, but she said “just as I was in the act of spreading the red powder upon the first heart, I heard a loud thump at the door, the flame of the candle burnt blue, and the house shook as if it had been threatened by an earthquake.”

Mr Home – Well what did you do next when the house shook about your ears in the way you have described?

Complainant – What did I do sir! Why, I jumped into bed as quickly as I could, and covering my head over with the blankets, lay there afraid to pop it up, in case I should see or hear anything.

Mr Home – They you did not put the experiment to the test?

Complainant – No sir, for in my hurry to get into bed, I upset all the red power.

Martha was sentenced to a month’s hard labour which she appealed against owing to a bad hip.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gustave Dore

As an addendum to my previous post, this is my absolute favourite Gustave Dore drawing from the book. I love that you can still get a sense of this smoky, noisy, dark world when wandering around the East End and London Bridge.

Victorian view on Consumerism

I came across this in my research recently and it really resonated. First published in 1872, this is an excerpt from Blanchard Jerrold's book London: a pilgrimage. Part of the fascination that middle-class Victorians held for social dissection that was spearheaded by Henry Mayhew and, later, Charles Booth, this book charts typical activities of people in London, including big events such as the boat race and balls, alongside every day life (and death) amongst the poor through a series of short chapters, exquisitely illustrated by Gustave Dore.

This is from the chapter entitled Humble Industries:

“There really isn’t any knowing what we shall come to,” said an intelligent New Cut dealer, who was fast disposing of immense mounds of cabbages and lettuces. “Just look how common pines have become, at a penny a slice. In my young days no such thing as a pine had been seen in any market except Covent Garden. But the worst of it is” – the man continued, following out his practical line of thought – “the worst of it is while what I call luxuries get cheaper every season, necessities – the things a man must have – get dearer. These are curious times, gentlemen; and we must keep up to them, or go to the wall. People want so many more things than they did when I was a lad. You see, as I said before, cheap luxuries and dear necessities are the cause of all the mischief. I don’t know how it’s to be helped: it isn’t my business – but I see the mistake plain enough, when the crowds in rags are collecting round the new-fangled ginger-beer and penny-ice man.”

It's worth considering his final points in terms of life today ...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010