Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Young men in London: 1860

On 1 February 1860 John and his sister Alice arrived in London at the house of their cousin Jane Hirst.

Jane had married Charles Stewart Stubbs (her second cousin once removed) and was known in the family, to distinguish her from the many other Jane Stubbs, as "Mrs Charles".  A tragic accident left her widowed in 1848, only four years after her marriage.  Charles's death in a riding accident in the Park left Jane at the age of twenty-four with their two very young children and pregnant with the third.  She remained in London near her husband's family and must have had the financial benefit of her marriage settlement and the support of her father and her father-in-law.

In February 1860 she was aged thirty-six and lived with her son and two daughters in Islington at 15 Cloudesley Square.

Islington was on the cusp of change.  Cloudesley Square was some thirty years old, in an area of pleasant terraces laid out with gardens in open countryside from 1825 onward, with the Holy Trinity Church designed by the young Charles Barry.  The rural quality of Islington began to disappear from the middle of the century, when it became rapidly built up.  A fashionable shopping "bazaar" had been built on the High Street in 1850, and in 1860 the Grand Theatre or Philharmonic Hall was under construction, while the open land remaining at Stoke Newington was soon to be built over.

London was already beginning to undergo the vast changes that would create a modern city.  Huge trenches were being dug to house the new underground railway and the Houses of Parliament, destroyed by fire a few years before John was born, had been rebuilt.  After the Great Stink of 1858, plans were afoot to create the sewerage system that would rescue the city from stench and disease, but it would be ten years before the opening of the Albert and Victoria Embankments began to create the riverside panorama that we know today.

Alice, aged fifteen, was on her way to school in Blackheath – accessible by train from London, growing rapidly and with many schools, it was an ideal place for her and her cousin Polly Redmayne to complete their education and broaden their experience. 

John was twenty-one and after his years in Uncle Hirst's office was in London to complete his law studies and take the examination which would qualify him as a solicitor.  He would be in London for the next four months, so Mrs Charles helped him to find lodgings with a Mrs Pirmiger at 23 Upper Islington Terrace, just north of present-day Cross Street.

He was to read law in the company of half a dozen other young gentlemen with a barrister named Mr Wharton.  He had plenty to occupy him: lessons with Mr Wharton, hours of study alone in his lodgings or at the Law Library, and some occasional work for Henry Capes' brother George at Gray's Inn.  During the day he would go out to stretch his legs in walks with his fellow students and to drink coffee or enjoy a meal in their company.  Evenings of reading law or writing letters home were enlivened with time spent with his brother Tom, in taking a walk or smoking a pipe with friends old and new, and in going to tea or supper at Mrs Charles' house, where there were frequently family visitors from London and the North.  His brother Tom was in lodgings not far away in Kingsland with their old friend Tom Sedgwick, and on Sundays he would attend church with the Toms, his landlord's son or Mrs Charles and family, enjoying the range of sermons available from the nearby churches. 

He frequently walked to and from his destinations, only occasionally mentioning taking an Omnibus – one Sunday, for example, he went by omnibus with the two Toms from Kingsland to St Paul’s to hear a “splendid sermon”.   On Sundays he attended services at the City Road Church, at “Mr Mackenzie’s Church”, at “the Iron Church”, at Highbury Church, Islington Parish Church, St Mary’s Church near his lodgings, and Barretts Grove Church.

He ate at Simpsons in Cheapside, Gray's Inn Larder, the Guildhall Dining Rooms, Izants in Holborn, Buttons in Oxford Street, and Scotts in the Haymarket.  He bought cheese in Huberton Street, tea from Coates’s, was measured for boots in Basinghall Street, bought something for his toothache at a chemists in Fleet Street, and went to a tailor in Maddox Street.  His home comforts were supplemented by a hamper from Aunt Pick and a spice loaf that came for him from Aunt Bell.

On his first Saturday in London, after a morning at the law books, he and his young cousin fifteen-year-old Willie Stubbs went to see Westminster Abbey and the newly-built Houses of Parliament:

"which we went over & with which I was very much pleased indeed   they are most superb   we then returned to tea"  
Otherwise, apart from a brief visit to the National Gallery about which he makes no comment, there was little time for sight-seeing until after the examinations were over.  They began in May and lasted two days – I believe they were still viva voce examinations at this time:
Tuesday May 1
Ashton called  we called of Hoyle & Baker  we went to The Hall of the Incorporated Law Society to undergo our first days examination  we had a very nice address from Walton the Master of the Examiners  we started Common Law & finished that branch & Conveyancing by 4 o’clock   got thro very well  examn easy    Hoyle Ashton & I dined at Izants & then we walked round by Highbury Crescent & had tea at Ashtons     I then came home  took a book to Waughs & came back feeling very ill and fearfully fatigued both in mind & body

Wednesday May 2
Reading law   Ashton called at 9 & we called of Hoyle & went to the Hall of the Incorporated Law Society where we underwent a stiffish examination in Equity     I finished about ½ past 2  Went with Lindo & had some coffee at Buttons     Stokes went with me to Maddock St to see my tailor but he was not in         came back & ran up to Whartons to tell him the result of the examination       Hoyle Baker Ashton & I went to dinner at Grays Inn Larder from there we walked to Hoyles lodgings & had some tea     we then went to the Olympic & heard Robson in Uncle Zachary and the B.B.       we there met Stringer a friend of Bakers & we all supped at Crausts  got home about ½ past one
The examinations once over, there was a short and nervous wait until he could record on 5 May
"Recd a note from the Examiners to say I was all right    wrote home"
Even before that happy news, there was time for enjoyment.  He and his friends could now devote themselves to catching up with all the opportunities that London could offer. 

They took coffee at night in the Turkish Divan, had supper at the Cider Cellars (one of the best known supper-and-singing taverns, popular with all types of men), visited public houses and music halls.  They heard the Christy's Minstrels and saw Samuel Phelps as Othello at the Princess Theatre, the celebrated actress Amy Sedgwick in The Family Secret at the Haymarket Theatre ("she is a splendid actress") and Frederick Robson in Uncle Zachary at the Royal Olympic Theatre.

They enjoyed a visit to the “London Pavilion at the top of the Haymarket where we had some capital singing” and they ate oysters in the early hours of the morning "in the market".

He went to Regent's Park Zoo, Hampstead Heath and Richmond, and walked in Hyde Park, where flowers were being planted for the first time.  He went to the Colosseum, the huge rotunda built in the 1820s in Regent's Park to show panoramic views of London, and visited the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.  He and the two Toms went to Kew Gardens (“and a very pretty place it is”).

John had already paid a visit to another form of entertainment which had displeased him a great deal. 

On 3 April, after eating dinner and studying for several hours in the company of another student, they set aside their books. 
 "We then went to Baron Nicholson’s & I never was more disgusted in my life,"  
wrote John.  This was the impresario Renton Nicholson, whose satirical 'Judge and Jury' show was considered crude, sexually explicit and scandalous and whose poses plastiques featured barely-clad women. 

A few days later, he obviously felt emboldened to try another London experience.  On Good Friday, he and his friend Waugh had been reading in John's lodgings until tea time, when they walked to Highbury to go to church. They then
"walked on an exploring expedition into Leonard St & we then came along with 2 g’s from the Angel & made an arrangement for tomorrow evening at 9." 
The next evening they walked up to the Angel where they parted company.  We can safely assume that this is some sort of sexual encounter, though it is perhaps futile to attempt to categorise it.  This was a time when any woman actively seeking such encounters was considered a prostitute, whether money passed hands or not.  Girls willing to be spoken to in the street probably covered the whole range from those happy to have a walk and a flirtatious chat to those that expected to charge for services.  It is fairly clear that there were young women who went to dance halls and music halls to have a good time, to make useful new acquaintances and perhaps find someone who would "keep" them, but who didn't consider themselves as prostitutes. 

There is a later episode on Sunday 6 May when he records
"I picked up 2 respectable girls & had a walk round Highbury Crescent & saw them nearly home"
followed a week later by
"I went to Harecourt Chapel to meet one of the girls I met last Sunday we had a splendid walk together after service on the quiet side of Highbury Crescent  got home about 10"
But we can be sure what happened in his encounter with Bella Howard. 

On Friday 4 May he and his friend Ashton went to the Holborn Casino, a fashionable dance-hall popular with medical students and young lawyers and notorious for prostitution.  Here they encountered another friend, Harding:
"Harding was there    he introduced me to Mrs Bella Howard  went with her to sup in the market & from there [illeg] & went to 19 Walton Villas Brompton stayed all night"
He went to Brompton a second time ten days' later:
Monday May 14
Hoyle Ashton & I went to the Crystal Palace & a very pleasant day we had  I took a bus from London Bridge Station to Brompton & stayed all night there

Tuesday May 15
Returned from Brompton in the middle of the day  Had a bath  went to the office & went with Hoyle & Ashton home   theatre at night
Bella Howard was a lively young woman of respectable family who was very much at home in the demi-monde.  She was being kept at this time by twenty-four year old Walter O'Brien Glennie.  He was the son of a clergyman and was employed as a clerk at the Bank of England at a salary of £200 a year.  She was simultaneously continuing her liaison with Thomas Gibson Bowles, a highly-connected young man holding an office in Somerset House, and he was not the only man in her past. 

Her real name was Isabella Constance McRae, and although she had given Walter Glennie the impression that she was the daughter of a Scottish clergyman who had been brought to London by the man who had forsaken her, she was the daughter of a Scottish gardener living in Fulham and her brother was a nurseryman in Bow. 

Walter had met her in the street in about 1857 and had gone home with her.  They must both then have been in their very early twenties.  He must have been completely enthralled by her.  He had believed that he was the father of a child that died at the age of three in the spring of 1861.  He had tried and failed to persuade her to go into a reformatory, and she had said she was willing to go to Australia if he would pay.  His father had given him the money, which he had put into her hands, but she returned some time later saying that the captain of the ship would not take her without a marriage certificate.  On 6 October 1861, Walter – who was described by the Divorce Court judge as "a very weak young man" – married her and told his father about it the next day. 

Married life made little difference to Bella, apart from the change of address.  She continued to drive about town in a brougham provided for her by Bowles and made no attempt to alter her way of life. The situation was clearly beyond Walter, and his brothers took a hand to extricate him from a marriage of which they profoundly disapproved.  Within a few months he petitioned for divorce on the grounds of Bella's adultery with Bowles. 

The case attracted widespread newspaper coverage in November 1862, generally under the headline "A Clandestine Marriage".  The lively accounts of the witnesses, the glimpses of the raffish world of the capital – it was an irresistible story.  The newspapers provide a great many details of Isabella Glennie and her life – including the fact that she lived at Mrs Dibbs's, 19 Walton Villas, Brompton under the name Bella Howard before her marriage. 

There can be little doubt that this was the attractive young woman who took John home with her for the night.  How fascinated he must have been a couple of years later to find her name in the newspapers and law reports!

Walter Glennie went on to marry a young woman who had been born in India; he continued his progress at the Bank of England.  Thomas Gibson Bowles became a writer, politician and newspaper proprietor – he was the founder of The Lady and Vanity Fair, and was the grandfather of the Mitford sisters.

As for Bella – I wonder whether she was the Bella Howard who appeared in the Corps de Ballet in Dan Lowrey's Malakoff Music Hall in Liverpool in 1869 [Liverpool Daily Post, 24 September], and whose vocal contributions in the Gay Parisienne Company's performances at the Lyceum, Ipswich, were so heartily applauded in 1895 [The Era, 12 October]?

In this time of sightseeing, conviviality and London nightlife, there were two important ceremonies to be undergone.  The successful candidates had to be enrolled as solicitors and attornies the respective courts of law:
Tuesday May 8
Took a bus at The Angel to Westminster & was sworn there & enrolled an Attorney in the Queens Bench     Glover Stokes & I then came in a Hansom & we were enrolled in the Common Pleas and Exchequer     I then got my hair cut & went to try on a Coat in Regent St came back & was enrolled a Solr of the High Co.t of Chancery      Dined at Izants  came home called at Janes     Spent a most pleasant evg at Hoyle & Bakers rooms      met Ashton Foster Stringer Rodgers & another      played cards &c &c got home at 4 o’clock in the morning
And there was another great Victorian institution to see.  John had the chance to go to the Derby in the company of relatives who lived at Effingham in Surrey.  We can imagine the scene – it was painted by Frith only a couple of years earlier.
Tuesday May 22
Went by train to Dorking  Mr Morley met me half way in the Dog Cart & I went on to Effingham   Mrs Morley Jane Lizzie Fanny Bill & Mr Morley were at home   Bill & I had a long walk in the afternoon & in the evening the girls & Bill & I had a very pleasant walk  the scenery is most splendid all about there

Wednesday May 23
Mr Morley  Bill & I drove to Leatherhead & had lunch at Mr Nash’s (Mr Morley’s medical man) & from there we went to Epsom & saw The Derby run    a most splendid sight  Thormanby was the winner  Our Tom was there    we stayed till 6 o’clock & then we returned to Effingham    Thousands & thousands of people were at Epsom & a finer sight I never saw
But the glory of the Derby and the sight of the vast crowds that had poured from London to fill the racecourse would be quickly eclipsed by unexpected news.

John's dear Aunt Pick – who had sent to his lodgings in early March
"a beautiful Ham  some bacon  above a score eggs & about the same number of tarts"
had died suddenly in Yorkshire. 

It must have been a very sad ending to his time in London. 

On Saturday 26 May he left the capital by an excursion train from King's Cross at 10.15.  He must have been glad that he did not travel alone.  Sophy Hirst's fiancĂ© was getting off the train at Doncaster but Bill Morley of Effingham was going with John as far as Humburton, and they were joined at York by Jane Redmayne of Taitlands, now Mrs Leonard Sedgwick of Boroughbridge.

Two days later they would bury poor Aunt – and then John would have to start thinking about his own future.  There was no place for him as a qualified solicitor in Uncle Hirst's office.  He would have to look for a position somewhere else.

Many thanks to Lee Jackson of Victorian London, a must-see website, for his help in the matter of the music halls and Bella Howard.

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