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Subject: ‘Leisure’

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The Beargarden in the entertainment district of Southwark

Posted in Animals, Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Sport on Friday, 14 March 2014

Bear Garden,  picture, image, illustration

The Beargarden in Southwark, London

The Beargarden was an enclosure in Southwark with a purpose-built theatre-like stadium for the baiting of bears. The exact location of this famous entertainment spot has been difficult to find, and it is thought that the original Elizabethan beargarden may have moved around the time of the building of the Globe Theatre in 1599. The theatrical impresario and entrepreneur, Philip Henslowe, bought the prestigious Mastership of His Majesty’s Game in 1604, since he had already been engaged in staging bull and bear baiting as well as pursuing his more famous theatrical career of staging plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. He continued to provide the sport in the famous old Beargarden well into the Jacobean period, until in 1614 he decided to demolish it and build the Hope theatre, which was used for both plays and animal baiting. Half a century later Samuel Pepys called the sport “a rude and nasty pleasure” after visiting the very same venue in 1666.

Many more pictures relating to Southwark can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Everyday life in Elizabethan London

Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Trade on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about Elizabethan London first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Stalls in St Paul's,  picture, image, illustration
Young visitors see the buying and selling in Old St Paul's Cathedral by Peter Jackson

Elizabethan London, dirty, smelly and even a little shocking, was an exciting place for the two young country people who had come to explore its wonders with their uncle.

The sermon was rather boring and nobody was paying much attention to it. Many members of the congregation were strolling around chatting with friends. The twins, John and Joanna, up from Cambridge to stay with their lawyer uncle, were wondering how any preacher could manage to make himself heard above the din, for this was old St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1597, London’s chief meeting place until it was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666.

Their uncle took them out of the magnificent building, telling them that a good preacher could hold his audience, especially if he was attacking the Government, but today’s speaker was far too quiet to still the multitude.

In the cathedral’s grounds, crowds thronged around a collection of market stalls. But the twins’ uncle led them to a gallery of bookshops, the largest in England, which lined the churchyard. They went into one called the Green Dragon (the twins liked its splendid painted sign) and their uncle bought a copy of “Richard III,” a very popular play by William Shakespeare, which had been a huge success for several years and was at last in print.

There was one more purchase to be made. Their uncle led them back into the cathedral to Paul’s Walk, where servants waited to be hired by gentlemen. These were not just any servants, but personal valets. Their uncle’s valet had died in the recent plague, and, after some bargaining, he hired a likely looking fellow, who agreed to join him the next day.

Before catching a boat back to his home in Chelsea, their uncle agreed to take them on a sightseeing tour. This was John’s and Joanna’s first trip to London. They had been born in Norwich, the second city of the kingdom and the centre of the cloth trade, where their father was a master glovemaker with four apprentices to help him run his shop and business. Since a law passed in 1563, every craftsman had to learn his craft for seven years, then, at 24, he was free to set up on his own, become a hired hand (a journeyman), or marry if he so wished.

Their father had prospered and had decided to move to Cambridge, where John was to go to the university at 16. He was 12 now and at a grammar school, but Joanna studied at home.

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The Edwardians raced through the country in their new motor-cars

Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Transport, Travel on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about the Edwardians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 583 published on 17 March 1973.

Edwardian charabanc,  picture, image, illustration
A noisy new motor car frightening villagers and their horses by Richard Hook

It has been said that the Victorians made the money, and the Edwardians spent it! A new phrase to describe the young Edwardian descendants of their manufacturing forefathers was “the idle rich”. And idle a great many of them were; inheritors of huge fortunes which it was their pleasure to spend on all the wonders of the new age, and on one wonder in particular – the motor-car, the “horseless carriage”, a new-fangled monster which quite serious thinkers at the turn of the century condemned as a passing craze which would soon appear only in museums and would never displace the horse.

It was in a Daimler that the King made history by driving from Sandringham to Newmarket in Suffolk to enjoy a day’s horse racing. At 30 miles-an-hour the Monarch, followed by a cloud of dust, came speeding through the main street of Downham to the dusty cheers of his loyal subjects. The legal speed limit was then twelve miles an hour, but no Norfolk bobby would flag down his king.

Edward was always in the forefront of the merriest forms of progress. Before the advent of the “horseless-carriage” he followed – rather than set – the craze for the bicycle. Thanks to the inflatable tyre devised by a Belfast vet named Boyd Dunlop the bicycle became the thing, and there went Edward, knickerbockered, upon his own machine.

Late Victorian England regarded the new-fangled motor-car with the greatest distrust. It lacked elegance, it gave forth a vile smell, and it was a menace to chickens and old ladies who were often drawn by cartoonists of the time toddling away in terror at the approach of a Benz, a Darracq or a Daimler.

In 1896, the Red Flag Act, which had required a man with a red flag to walk in front of every motor car and warn people of its approach, was repealed. To celebrate the event 33 motorists set off on a drive from London to Brighton, some steam-propelled, the majority petrol-driven, and most of them “foreigners”. The manufacturers of these Mercedes’s, Darracqs, Delauney-Bellevilles, Benz’s and Daimlers, having had no “Red Flag Act” to contend with, had the edge over the early British ‘motormakers’, such as a Mr Morris of Oxford and a Mr Austin of Birmingham. Of the 33 starters only thirteen made the grade, but they had started something – the annual London-Brighton run for veteran cars. Five years later, in 1901, 65 cars assembled in London’s Hyde Park to start a gruelling 1,000 mile test course to prove the merits of petrol versus steam, horizontal versus vertical engines, the two cylinders versus four, air versus water, cooling belt transmission versus chain and sprocket drive.

The test run was a national sensation. Scarcely a road in the country was other than a dust-track in the summer and a mud-bath in the winter. The early motorist was scarcely a popular figure as he trundled through the countryside raising behind him a dust cloud 20 feet high and a mile long. In tweed hats with ear-flaps, heavy goggles (because there were no windscreens) and long “dust-coats” these gentry are portrayed as “road-hogs”, terrorising the chickens which fled squawking before them, frightening villagers and, above all, raising panic among horses. They outraged the “carriage-folk” whose age of elegance was under threat and whose coachmen whenever they had the chance lashed out with their whips across the faces of any motorist rash enough to pass close to them.

But there was no doubt about it – the motor-car had arrived. In 1904 nearly 9,000 private vehicles were on the roads. Ten years later the figure had risen to 132,000. 1903 was the year when, for the fee of £1, the motorist was required to register his diabolical machine and to pay a further two guineas for a licence to possess such a thing. A driving licence cost five-shillings, though whether a man or a woman was able to drive did not concern the authorities. The early cars, of course, were eternally breaking down, likewise the first motor-buses. These, especially in London, were greeted with hatred and derision by the drivers of the horse-drawn buses.

In 1905, there were still 4,000 four-wheeler horse cabs plying for hire. In London alone there were 3,500 horse-buses and 7,000 hansom cabs, those superbly elegant carriages made for two which had been described as the “gondolas” of London. But then came 240 motor-buses to revolutionise public transport and the petrol-driven taxi, which made its first appearance in that year. By 1910, the year of the King’s death, there were over 6,000 of them.

A year later the very last horse-bus to clip-clop through the London streets had disappeared.

It was fairly early in Edward’s reign when motor-cars of English manufacture began to push the Continentals out of supremacy. The Austin, the Morris, the Arrol-Johnson, the Swift, the Humber, the Napier, and, mightiest of them all, the Rolls-Royce reigned supreme. The moment when the Honourable C. S. Rolls, an intrepid racing driver and car-dealer, met a meticulous engineer from Manchester named Henry Royce, was, in its way, the greatest moment in the history of the motor-car. Already Henry Royce had been manufacturing small, twin-cylinder cars of ten horse-power. The “little Royce” was extremely popular. But Rolls, the intuitive sales and publicity man, knew a genius when he saw one. Royce would make the best car in the world, and Rolls would sell it as just that. “The Best Car in the World” was, and still is, the simple slogan under which Rolls-Royce have traded, almost unchallenged, for some 65 years.

And what a sensation it was, this “Silver Ghost”, which appeared at the Paris Motor-Show of 1908. The long, sleek bonnet with its distinctive radiator, the almost silent 40 horse-power, six-cylinder engine beneath it, the gleaming coachwork. The entire car had an overall air of confident good breeding.

The great Montague Napier whose six-cylinder car had already beaten the cream of the Continentals, could not equal Henry Royce’s masterpiece, even though it had already averaged 65 mph for 24 hours over the first motor-racing circuit in Britain – Brooklands.

“British and Best” was the war-cry of the Edwardian motor-makers. Not only did they prove it with cars by Royce, Napier and Lanchester, but in the eccentric “drive it to death” stunt of tyre-maker Harvey du Cros. In 1904 he drove his little Ariel car up the track of the mountain railway to the top of Snowdon, the last half-a-mile of it being a gradient of one in five. There on the summit, stood the Ariel, seeming to say to the world: “That’ll show you.”

Edwardian high society saw the idle rich languishing in luxury

Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Royalty on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about the Edwardians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.

Royal Henley,  picture, image, illustration
Debutantes 'coming out' at Royal Henley when the river was packed with punts by Richard Hook

Let’s take a look at Edwardian ‘High Society,’ those so-called ‘idle rich,’ whose life, far from being idle, was truly more exhausting, nerve-wracked and fraught with anxiety than that of Mr Average – say, a schoolmaster jogging comfortably along on £350 a year, or even a skilled artisan who managed to keep up appearances and the wolf-from-the-door on a few pounds a week.

‘High Society,’ had, as its figurehead, the jovial King himself, and it was as different from the rather stuffily restrained upper-crust of Queen Victoria’s long reign as might be the spirit of champagne from that of heavy and befuddling port. It was as though most of the 19th Century had been blotted out and the flavour of Charles the Second or the Prince Regent put in its place. It was to be a short life, this Edwardian decade, and, for the socialites, one devoted to an unrelenting pursuit of so-called pleasure. Pleasure-seeking was hard work!

The “London Season” was the starting point for each new year of the social grind, and King Edward in his newly gilded, marbled and chandeliered Buckingham Palace fired, as it were, the “starting gun” by the introduction of “Courts,” at which the daughters of “High Society” who had, as they said at the time, “let down their dresses and put up their hair” were in an atmosphere of daunting splendour and formality “presented” to their Sovereign and his Queen Alexandra. And what an ordeal this was for all concerned, most of all for the debutante, the girl who was “coming out,” in society and whose “presentation” by some titled lady already acknowledged by the Lord Chamberlain as one fitted to “present” was the launching-pad of her mother’s aim to get her successfully married.

Either just before, or just after, the presentation was the visit, in court dress, to the Court Photographer. A Mr Bassano was the prince of Court Photographers, and very expensive he was. Expensive, too, was the debutante’s presentation dress – three ostrich plumes on the head, fan or flower-posy, flowing gown of silk or satin, wasp-waisted, making the young lady stick out like a pouter pigeon in front and like the hindquarters of a pony behind. All down the Mall, leading to Buckingham Palace, the carriages of these nervous young ladies and their ‘presenters’ waited in line, glassed in like tropical fish in bowls, to be gawked at – and often jeered at – by the common people.

At long, long last, after she had queued in corridor after corridor with others like herself, came the great moment – some thirty seconds of it, as, surrounded by satin-breeched court officials and braided flunkeys, she made her deep curtsy to Their Majesties, and prayed to heaven that she would not catch her shoe in her train and fall.

For the mammas of these young girls every moment of the long day’s ordeal had been worth it. The girls had “come out” and the marriage-market was launched – London “coming out balls,” packed with eligible young men; fruit-and-flowered hats at Royal Ascot; Royal Henley when the river was packed from booms to bank with punts and launches; chickens’ wings and champagne; the fashion parade of Henley’s famous Phyllis Court – what a world! Then came Goodwood Races, slightly less formal than Ascot, and finally; Cowes, with the Royal Yacht,’Victoria and Albert’, dressed overall, and very possibly the Kaiser’s yacht as well.

Some of it still goes on, but it is not the same as the twittering splendour of Edwardian upper-class Britain. It had, apparently, not a care in the world, but at heart it was afraid. There was the sense that this butterfly dance was to be the last.

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Fun and games and old-age pensions in Edwardian Britain

Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, Theatre on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about Edwardian Britain first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.

Music Hall,  picture, image, illustration   picture, image, illustration
The Music Hall by Peter Jackson

National Assistance . . . The Welfare State. We take these phrases for granted today. In the first years of King Edward the Seventh’s reign there was a ‘Welfare State’ for the rich who could afford the life of easy living, and something not far short of an ‘Illfare State’ for the masses of the people. The farm-labourer on fourteen shillings a week was, oddly enough, better off than the unskilled city labourer on double the money. The countryman had his low-rent ‘tied-cottage’, a pig in the back garden and, generally, a free allotment on which he could grow his vegetables. But the bulk of the population lived fairly close to the poverty line, and for the old there was the almost inevitable ‘Workhouse’, or ‘Poor House’ where, tragically, husbands and wives were forced to be sheltered separately, maybe never to meet again.

It was not until the year 1909, when the fiery young Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr David Lloyd George, introduced his ‘People’s Budget’, that things became any better. He introduced the first Old Age Pensions – five shillings a week to persons over 70 years of age. At a single happy blow old folks were relieved of the humiliation of being ‘on the Parish’ as the workhouse system was called. The ‘Welfare State’ had begun, and to pay for this small beginning the rich were taxed.

There were screams of outrage from the privileged. Income Tax was raised to one shilling and twopence in the £1 for earned incomes of £3,000 a year or over, and on all unearned incomes between £3,000 to £5,000. Then, horror of horrors, for those who gathered in £5,000-plus for doing nothing there was an additional ‘super tax’ of sixpence.

Clearly Edwardian Britain was ‘going to the dogs’. The House of Lords had, in fact, rejected Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’ and it was only when the Liberal Party’s threat to flood it with up to 500 newly created Peers that the Upper House reluctantly saw reason.

Edward’s Britain did not ‘go to the dogs’, and, although a multitude of its citizens were poor, they were not, as with the Victorians, unhappily poor. The spirit of the new century, forward-looking and packed with the scientific promises of a ‘brave new world’, fairly bubbled with the spirit of being happy, of having a good time, whatever your income-bracket. Fun and games were in the air.

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The Turkish Baths, 76 Jermyn Street, London

Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London on Monday, 24 February 2014

Turkish Baths in Jermyn Street,  picture, image, illustration
Turkish Baths in Jermyn Street: the Hararah, or hot chamber

The Turkish Baths or Hammam in Jermyn Street were the most important such building in the entire United Kingdom. Their splendour was legendary, and owed much to the vision of their principal founder and first manager, David Urquhart. He had advertised in The Times for a suitably large building in the neighbourhood of London’s clubs or West End, and eventually the St James’s Hotel at 76 Jermyn Street answered all his requirements. It was there that the dying Sir Walter Scott had stayed before making his last journey from London to Abbotsford, and it was there that Urquhart proposed to open the largest Turkish Baths in Europe. It was owned by the Crown Estate and the lease cost him £6,000 with a further investment of £5,000 for additional buildings and land to the rear. The London & Provincial Turkish Bath Company Limited, of which he was Honorary Director, was inadequately capitalised for the venture and a lady from Rickmansworth who liked Urquhart came to the company’s aid. In the event the plans were revised and the original four floors were reduced to two, which spared the company immediate financial difficulties. On 28 July 1862, the Jermyn Street Turkish Baths were opened to the general public.

Many more pictures relating to baths can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The Roman Gladiatorial Games at the Italian Exhibition, 1888

Posted in Actors, Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Theatre on Wednesday, 19 February 2014

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The Roman Gladiatorial Games at the Italian Exhibition, Earl's Court; illustration for The Graphic, 14 July 1888.

The Italian Exhibition at Earl’s Court in 1888 was a triumphant success, its most spectacular achievement being what today is called an historical re-enactment. The Souvenir Guidebook describes it thus:

“A reproduction of the Coliseum with its Roman sports, gladiatorial combats, wrestling bouts, chariot and foot races, triumphal processions, and all the other stirring spectacles that went to make up a Roman holiday. In the proceeding year the huge space at Earl’s Court, now transformed into the Flavian Amphitheatre, had formed the scene of ‘Buffalo Bill’s’ performance; but the revolver, the scalping-knife, the lasso, and the Winchester repeating-rifle of ‘Wild West’ warfare were now exchanged for the gladiatorial short sword, the net, and the trident of the Roman arena; and it was hard to say which species of personal combats exercised the greatest spell on the spectators.

As a mere show this reproduction of ‘Rome under the Caesars’ was admitted to be one of the finest and most interesting things of the kind that had ever been essayed in England, and a perfect triumph of scenic art. By continuing the semicircle of seats right round, the ‘Wild West’ Arena had been converted into a wonderful resemblance of the Flavian Amphitheatre, its dimensions, for one thing, being exactly the same as those of the Coliseum.”

Many more pictures relating to games can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Classics from the golden age of children’s literature

Posted in Adventure, Education, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Literature on Tuesday, 18 February 2014

This edited article about Victorian children’s books first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 556 published on 9 September 1972.

Characters in children's books,  picture, image, illustration
Some familiar characters from children's story books

If you had been a child in the ‘nineties whose parents were not poor, it is almost certain you would have received from some kindly aunt at Christmas a copy of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ by a woman named Frances Hodgson Burnett. And you would have been duly impressed by the good behaviour of this golden-haired little gentleman in the velvet suit and lace collar who called his widowed American mother ‘Dearest,’ found himself heir to an English Earldom and eventually melted the heart of his grandfather, a crusty old Earl who hated everybody and everything.

‘Fauntleroy’ would produce in the average youngster of today, the urge to give him a good kick on the seat of his velvet pants. But he was no joke to the late Victorians whose small boys were rigged out in ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ suits, and to whom the little chap’s winning ways and practical compassion for the so called ‘Lower orders’ were wholly admirable. ‘Fauntleroy,’ in fact, was a symbol of the feeling among certain of the upper classes to be more kindly to those less fortunate than themselves.

Even so, the Victorian child who was ready to take an uplifting lesson from ‘Fauntleroy’ might secretly have preferred F. Anstey’s ‘Vice Versa’ in which, by magic means, the schoolboy son of an unspeakably pompous Papa is able to change places with the parent who, pompous as ever, finds that school is not exactly the happy place to which he imagined he had sent his lad.

The school, of course, was one where children of the upper classes often had a worse time of it than those in the State or Church schools. Rugby was not exactly a bed of roses in 1857 when Thomas Hughes published ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays,’ the greatest Public School story of that century, if not of all time. Like most Victorian school yarns there was a message and a moral. Young Tom’s arrival at Rugby coincided with that of its new Headmaster, the famous Dr Arnold. But the old order of bullying among the senior boys still prevailed. The odious Flashman was a cad, far more villainous than the cads of Greyfriars and St Jims, those two wholly imaginary schools immortalized in the Magnet and the Gem, which gave so much pleasure to your fathers.

Within a year of Tom Brown’s days at Rugby, a clergyman, Dean Farrar, produced a school tale of quite a different kind. ‘Eric or Little by Little,’ the tale of a boy whose forthright and delicate young nature falls under evil influences, including that of the Demon Drink, is almost laughable today. The good Dean preached a typically Victorian sermon which brought tears to the eyes of its readers because it contained an abundance of deaths, including those of Eric’s nearest and dearest relatives and his closest school friend and finally – no doubt to the relief of many readers – of himself.

What real tear-jerkers were some of the writers for children in the second half of the 19th Century, after the Great Exhibition of 1851 had trumpeted ‘Progress’ to the world, and social reform was doing its best to improve the appalling conditions of the working classes. A certain lady who wrote under the initials A.L.O.E. – ‘A Lady of England’ – saw the sadness of the London poor through, of all things, a family of rats. Rats, despised by everybody, were shown to be loyal, generous and family minded to a degree, and quite incapable of what horrified them in their dockland warehouse – man’s inhumanity to man. ‘The Rambles of a Rat’ is a true Victorian curiosity. And let’s not forget perhaps the greatest ‘weepie’ of them all – ‘Frogg’s Little Brother,’ published in 1871.

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The “Talking Fish” was a performing seal called Jenny

Posted in Animals, Fish, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Oddities on Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Talking fish,  picture, image, illustration
The Talking Fish

The Victorians were fascinated by natural oddities, and exhibitions of Unnatural Wonders and Freaks of Nature were very popular. In The Times of April, 1859, there appeared an advertisement for one such event: “THE TALKING AND PERFORMING FISH will arrive at 191 Piccadilly, early in May. Complimentary cards to naturalists and gentlemen of the press will be issued for private performances three days before public exhibition.” This turned out not to be a fish but a pet seal called Jenny, which had been taught by her keeper to perform various tricks and make suitably speech-like sounds when required. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in November of the same year, 1859, and the subsequent interest in evolution would give rise to many bizarre ‘entertainments’ mocking the scientific attempts to find human characteristics in the animal kingdom.

Many more pictures relating to London entertainments can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

C. H. Simpson Esqr., Master of Ceremonies at Vauxhall

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Music, Theatre on Tuesday, 18 February 2014

C H Simpson Esq,  picture, image, illustration
C H Simpson Esquire, Master of Ceremonies at the Royal Gardens, Vauxhall, with a distant view of his Celestial Likeness in Variegated Lamps

C H Simpson was the Master of Ceremonies at Vauxhall Gardens “for upwards of 56 years”, and held several retirement benefits, as was often the case with artistes reluctant to leave their profession and their adoring public. He claimed to have served in the West Indies with Admiral Rodney in 1782 as a teenage Midshipman, and was famous for his elaborate courtesy, which involved an unusually exaggerated extension of his right leg on tip-toe, whilst simultaneously raising his magnificent top hat. This posture became his trademark, his modus operandi, his widely acknowledged claim to theatrical fame, and on the bill he issued for another of his retirement benefits in 1833, he was depicted performing the florid welcome routine for the Duke of Wellington, while in the background his likeness was “exhibited in variegated lamps”. It is unknown when this ageing dandy finally retired from his ceremonial role for the very last time.

Many more pictures relating to London entertainments can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.