[-289-] CHAPTER IX.
BARTHOLOMEW AND GREENWICH FAIRS.
Prefatory remarks—Bartholomew Fair—The numbers which
attend it—Descriptive observations— Greenwich Fair—The numbers which
frequent it—The voyage downward—Throwing the stick, and other games—The
park—The hill— Blackheath —The appearance of the Fair—Supply of
gaming—Swings—Booths—Immoral tendency of the Fair.
THE Fairs in London and its vicinity are still important affairs, though not so much so as formerly, in the estimation of the working classes of the metropolis; and any work, professing to treat of Babylonian life and habits, which did not embrace this subject, would be manifestly incomplete.
Some years ago, there were a greater number of fairs in the metropolis and its suburbs, than there are at present. The two of greatest note which now exist, are Bartholomew and Greenwich Fairs. A few years ago, there were Bow Fair, Stepney Fair, Edmonton Fair, and Brook-green Fair, besides one or two others of minor interest. These fairs have all been done away with by the civil authorities, in consequence of the injury to public morals which resulted from them. On this last point I shall make a few observations in the conclusion of the chapter.
Bartholomew fair, or Bartlemy Fair, as the cockneys call it, once every year. It takes place in September, in Smithfield market, which is in the very heart of London, and is opened with great pomp and circumstance by the Lord Mayor and others of the city authorities. It always lasts three days. During each of these days, it is numerously attended; but the second day is usually the best, both with respect to the numbers who attend, and the spirit with which matters are conducted.
Among the lower classes of London, the return of Bartholomew Fair is looked forward to with great interest and anxiety. The numbers of both sexes—I am not sure whether there be not more females than our sex—which attend this fair, must appear incredible to those who have not been made acquainted with the fact from personal observation. I am convinced I am [-290-] under the mark, when I say that 100,000 persons are present each of the three days, from two to eight o’clock; and if to these be added, those who visit the Fair for an hour or two only, and then quit it, I am satisfied the number who have been at the Fair, each of the three days, is above, rather than below, 150,000. That I may not be suspected of exaggeration in this estimate, it may be proper to mention, that Smithfield-market embraces a space equal to nearly five acres. Let the reader be informed, that not only is this extensive space so densely crowded with human beings, that they have the appearance of a solid mass, but that the Fair, or, at any rate, the crowd of persons, extends itself some distance up all the streets which lead into the marketplace: let him only be informed of this, and he will, in all probability, come to the conclusion that I have considerably underrated, rather than over-estimated, the numbers who patronize Bartholomew Fair.
It is here, perhaps, worthy of a passing remark, that the very spot on which Bartholomew Fair, with all its fun and frolic, is held, is the very spot on which blazed the fires of Smithfield which consumed so many distinguished Protestant martyrs, two centuries ago. Who can help being struck with the difference between the purpose to which Smithfie1d~market then was, and now is, applied!
To enumerate the amusements provided for the holiday cockneys at Bartholomew Fair were a hopeless task: they are legion itself. Everything that can please the palate, delight the eye, or gratify the ear, is there to be seen or heard. The “ shows,” or exhibitions on a larger scale, have all their bands of music; while inside, you’ll see “sich vonders as no von ever saw afore.” In the sweetmeat and toy departments of the Fair, the variety and abundance are so great that you are quite confounded with the scene. I have heard a young man ask his sweetheart what she would like, pointing to a stall on which were displayed, in rich abundance and most tempting condition, sweetmeats innumerable; and I have seen her so completely at a loss to make up her mind as to which she would prefer, that the fable of the ass perishing of hunger between the two bundles of hay has come across my mind with a force I have very rarely known it do on any other occasion. In fact, it is no uncommon thing, in such circumstances, for the lover to be obliged to decide, as. well as to, pay for the object of his affections.
I pass over the leading features of Bartholomew Fair, because the remarks and statements I shall have to make when, speaking of Greenwich Fair, will equally, or in a very great measure, apply to it. The most marked difference, perhaps, between the two fairs, consists in the circumstance of Greenwich Fair being [-291-] most liberally supplied with dancing booths, while Bartholomew Fair has no such attraction for the youths of the metropolis. A substitute, however, is found in the large rooms of some of the neighbouring public-houses.
For the reason just mentioned, I now quit Bartholomew Fair, and proceed to its rival at Greenwich. The latter fair is not nearly so numerously attended; a circumstance which is at once accounted for from the fact of its being four or five miles distant from the centre of London. As far as I can ascertain from the imperfect data accessible to me, I should represent the number of persons who usually attend Greenwich Fair as somewhere about 50,000; full 40,000 of which number, I should suppose, are visitors from London. Formerly, there were only two modes of conveyance to Greenwich—the steamers and the turnpike-road: now there are three, the railway having been opened upwards of a year since. Before the opening of the railway, there were always a great many pedestrians to be seen on the road to Greenwich Fair: now, there are. very few. Scarcely any now go by the usual coaches. It was calculated that, at last Easter F air, the number who went and returned by the railway, and the number that patronized the steamers, was pretty equal; giving, on my estimate, about 20,000 to each. The journey down to Greenwich is always an important affair in the estimation of the patrons of the Fair.
No one can form any idea of the sights which are to be witnessed, and the occurrences which take place, at our metropolitan fairs, who has not been present at them. Bow Fair, Stepney Fair, and several other fairs I had seen when they existed; Bartaiolomew Fair I had been at on two occasions; but, until last Easter Monday, I had never visited Greenwich Fair. Anxious to describe what had come under my own eye, instead of trusting to the representations of others, I that day started for Greenwich, at four o’clock in the afternoon. On passing down Cannon Street, the first thing which attracted my attention was an athletic, surly, hodman-looking personage, walking backwards and forwards, placarded before and behind with immensely large sheets of paper affixed to boards, and on which were the words, in most gigantic letters, “Greenwich Fair.”—” Greenwich Fair, Sir?” “Greenwich Fair, Ma’am?” growled the bearer of these prodigious placards, as he looked into the face of every person whom he deemed likely to be on his or her way thither.
“Has the vessel yet started?” I inquired, as he accosted me with his everlasting “ Greenwich Fair, Sir?”
“Not yet, Sir; but the’r a-going directly,” he answered; adding, “This way, Sir; down this lane, Sir" pointing to a lane, the name of which I forget.
[-292-] “Are there no vessels to be had at the usual place?” I inquired, still proceeding in the direction of London Bridge.
“This is the way to the vessels, Sir,” was the reply, from one, again pointing down the lane,
“But I’ll get a vessel, won’t I, at the usual place ?‘
“I assure you, Sir, the vessels are here,” was the answer. I saw at once how the matter stood, and was pleased to find, notwithstanding the placard-bearer’s forbidding look and rude manner, he had such a perception of the moral beauty of truth, as to resist the temptation to tell a fib.
“You don’t mean to say,” I repeated, “that there are no vessels to Greenwich to be had at the Bridge?”
“Vy, Sir, I have already given you my vord, that the wessels are down this ‘ere vay.” Again his hand pointed in the old direction.
“Woy, yes, Zur,” said a waggon-driver, with a short smockfrock, a dove-tailed hat, and half-boots with immensely thick soles, who was standing at the time at the door of an adjoining wine-vaults, with a pot of Whitbread and Co.’s Entire in his hand; “Woy, yes, Zur, there’ be lots on ‘em at the bridge; but you see, Zur, as how there be two companies, vich be a-cuttin’ o’ one another’s throats. That’s how it is, Zur.”
“Oh, I see,” said I ; “and that, I suppose, is –“
I was interrupted by the placard-bearer observing, with great earnestness, “Yes, Sir; but our wessels only charges sixpence, and the other coves charges ninepence. We be the hopposition, Sir. I’m sure you’ll go on one of our ‘uns.”
The latter sentence was delivered in a tone and manner so very winning, and so unlike anything which one could have expected from a person whose physiognomy was so unprepossessing, that there was no resisting it.
One of the vessels was just on the eve of starting as I got on board: in other words, “the steam was up.” On various occasions I have seen steam vessels, when on pleasure trips, sufficiently crowded. In July, last year, I sailed round the Isle of Wight in a steam-vessel much more crowded than I should like to see again on a similar occasion; but never did I see such a dense mass of human beings on the deck of any vessel, as I witnessed on this Greenwich steamer. It was with difficulty that those who were the last to go on board could procure standing-room. As for walking about on the deck, that was out of the question. The sailors, if the term be not a misnomer as applied to those who conduct steam-vessels down the river to Greenwich and back again, had literally, when working the vessel, to elbow their way through the crowd of passengers on deck.
And then the miscellaneous character of these passengers. [-293-] There you saw a bevy of young dandies, as prim and spruce as it were possible to imagine, puffing cigars, and ogling the girls around them. Of dress-makers’ apprentices there seemed a fair sprinkling, and of male apprentices to various trades there was no lack; but the preponderance of the passengers were clearly journeymen mechanics and kitchen-maids. You would have fancied, to see the swarms of the latter who found their way to Greenwich on Easter Monday, that every kitchen in London had emptied itself of its biped contents. Some of them had their sweethearts; others had evidently gone on spec.—that is to say, trusting to meet by chance with some of their male acquaintances, either there or on their way thither or home again. You saw small colonies of Sallys in every part of the vessel. The remains of kitchen smoke which were visible about some of their caps or bonnets, and the patches of what is, I believe, technically called “black,” which still graced their physiognomies, told, in language not to be mistaken, what were the avocations of a large proportion of the females on deck. But if any one could have been so slow to learn as not to have been instructed by what he saw around him, his ears must have come to his aid, and performed an office in which his eyes had so unaccountably failed; for every word they exchanged with each other smacked of the kitchen. There were the usual number of “La’s !“ “Well, I never—” seemed to be perpetually on their lips; while the invariable mode of resenting, or appearing to resent, the conduct of the young men, when the latter were amusing themselves at their expense, was by giving them a gentle slap on the face, and shouting out, with a shrillness of pronunciation peculiar to those who grace the kitchen—” A-done!” If one Sally asked another Sally what she thought of some male acquaintance whose name was mentioned, the sure answer was, turning up her nose as she spoke, with a view to express disdain—” Oh, shocking! I can’t a-bear him.” “How do you like that gown which that young ooman sitting opposite there has on?” “Oh, shocking! I can’t a-bear it.” Then there was an endless mention of the name of “Missis.” “Missis was so cross yen I sought leave to—day ;“ “Missis is such a rum ‘un ;“ “ Missis is so difficult to please ;“ “Missis says she von’t allow no follo’rs; but I contrives to see Tom Toggs for all that.”
In the voyage downwards, nothing particular took place. The only occurrence worthy of mention was that of a young man’s hat having fallen off his head while looking over the side of the vessel. The general laughter which followed must have been very annoying to the poor fellow, considering at the same time the loss of the hat, and the inconvenience of having his head exposed all the way to a very cold north-easterly wind. Besides, who could [-294-] tell whether the unlucky wight had “the wherewith,” as one of the passengers suggested, to get another? My hypothesis, judging from his appearance, was, that his coffers were by no means abundantly replenished with the circulating medium. Be this as it may, he was doomed to experience the truth of the old adage, that evils do not come alone. I have mentioned a couple of the evils which on this occasion simultaneously befel this young man: the evils, namely, of losing his hat, and then having his ears assailed with a loud and universal laugh from his fellow-voyagers to Greenwich at the occurrence of the calamity. A third evil was in store for him, which was that of the disaster being converted into a subject of wit at his expense by every person on board who could say, or imagined he could say, a clever thing on the impulse of the moment. “Why don’t you take off your hat?” said one, in a gruff grunting sort of voice. A roar of laughter followed. “Wy doan’t you put it on, old ‘un ~“ said another small, shrill, squeaking voice, the proprietor of which was evidently a tailor. The laughter was renewed with additional vigour. The dying lion felt more mortified at being kicked by the donkey, than regret at the mere circumstance of dying; and surely the fact of being made the butt of a tailor’s jokes must have been to this poor fellow more annoying by far than even the loss of his hat. Another passenger inquired whether the hat was “a vashing beaver von ?“ while a fourth inquired whether it was “a gossamer ventilator ?“ Loud laughter followed each of the witticisms which were levelled at the unfortunate young man through means of his lost hat. It was easy to perceive that he was inwardly wishing that some half-dozen or so of his tormentors were in the same locality as his chapeau, namely, either at the bottom of the Thames, or on their way to it.
So much for the voyage downwards. “Going down,” as it is called, whether by the river, the railway, or the road, is considered by all the patrons of the fair as an essential part of the day’s gratifications. On debarking—to keep up the nautical phraseology—we were furnished with abundant earnests of the amusements which awaited those who were disposed to enjoy them. The game of throwing the stick seemed to be an especial favourite with the holiday people: it was prosecuted with a vigour which I have never seen equalled. Within one hundred yards from the landing-place, there were at least forty proprietors of “the holes and the sticks,” and all of them appeared to be driving a most extensive business: judging from what I saw, I should add that they were doing a profitable one also; for out of about thirty throws, I only observed the player win once.
As the game of throwing the stick is unknown in many parts of the country, I shall describe it in as few words as possible.
[-295-] The persons who attend the fair for the purposes dig three holes, each about half a, foot in diameter, in the ground; and in each of these holes place a stick, three, or three and a half feet in height. The sticks are each about one yard distant from the other, and on the top of each stick is placed a. snuff-box, a pen-knife~ or some other trinket, whose nominal value is from sixpence to a shilling, but which only costs the proprietor of “the stand~ three or four pence. Any one who chooses to try for either of the articles on the tops of the sticks, is allowed to do so on the payment of a penny. For this “small sum of one penny” he gets three chances, or throws; three sticks, about two and a half feet in length, being put into his baud for the purpose. The particular part from which he is to throw is duly marked out for him, which is eighteen or twenty feet from the sticks themselves. Those who have never seen the thing played before, eagerly purchase their “pennyworth of chances,” fancying that they have only to hit the sticks and knock down the articles on the top of them, to entitle themselves to the articles so knocked down. I was amused with a countryman of my own, at the last Greenwich Fair, in connexion with this throwing the stick. He had evidently never seen anything of the kind before, and had all the appearance 0f being a recent importation from the other side of the Tweed. “Try a penny’orth, Sir,”—for the poorest and most homely dressed persons are all “Sirs” to the owners of the sticks and holes;—” Try a penny’orth, Sir, o’ them ‘ere sticks,” said one of these personages to poor Sawney, who had the appearance of a. gardeners as he stood by, looking with great simplicity at the three articles on the tops of the sticks.
“Can I try at ony ane I like?” inquired the Scotchman, looking at the sticks which were proffered him, but not withdrawing his hands from his trousers’ pockets, where they were most probably “gripping” what little “siller” be possessed.
“O, certainly,” answered the other, who was a little thick-set, sly-looking personage.
“May I airoh (throw) at the middle ane wi’ the snuff-mull on the top o’t?” asked the Caledonian. “At any one you like,” replied the other, not very clearly comprehending the import of the terms “airch” and “mull.”
”Weel, then,” said my countryman, withdrawing his bands from his pockets, and holding them out to receive the three sticks; “wed, then, here’s the penny, and gie’s the rungs.£
“Jist ha’d oot o’ the way there,” said the Scotchman, with a rich Paisley brogue, addressing himself to some boys who stood rather near the sticks; “jist ha’d oot o’ the way there for a
minit, and I’ll soon bring the snuff-mull doon’
[-296-] The Scotchman threw his “rung,” as he called it, and sure enough he hit the stick and down fell the snuff-box in the hole.
“Jist gie me my mull; I was sure I would knock it doon,” said Sawney to the proprietor of the stand.
“ It’s in the hole, Upon my soul,” said the other, taking up the snuff-box and replacing it on the
top of the stick. “You must make it fall on the ground,” he continued.
“Awa wi’ ye’re nonsense; nae matter whar it fa’s, so as it’s fairly knocked doon; fetch it to me,” observed the Scotchman.
“No, no,” said the other; “that would never do.”
The Caledonian grumbled and disputed for some time; but on being assured by the bystanders that such was the invariable practice, he at last reluctantly relinquished what he had thought his righteous claim to the snuff-box.
“Try again, Sir; per’aps you’ll be more luckier next time’
Sawney did as he was bid by the proprietor of the “mulls” and the knives and the sticks, and “airched” a second time but the “rung” missed.
“Third time’s always more luckier than a first or second,” suggested tbe other.
The Scotchman threw a third time, and hit the stick; down, of course, went the snuff-box.
The usnal couplet,
“ It’s in the hole,
Upon my soul,”
again greeted the ears of the unfortunate speculator.
“Try another penny’orth,” said the proprietor, coaxingly holding out the three sticks again to Sawney. The latter hesitated for a few moments, and then dragged out another penny from his pocket; in consideration of which he received the trio of “rungs” which had already proved such traitors to him. Again he threw them, but with no better success than before.
“Can’t always win, Sir (though the poor fellow had not won at all); there’s a lucky penny’orth this time. Sure to win the third time,” said the cunning rogue, in most coaxing accents, who had fleeced him, as he again presented to him the three sticks.
“Awa wi’ them! awa wi’ them!” said Sawney, indignantly turning away his head from the “rungs,” just as a patient does from some nauseous medicine.
“There’s luck in odd numbers, Sir; the third time’s sure to gain, Sir,” continued the other, still pressing the penny’orth of sticks on the Caledonian.
[-297-] “Get ye gone, ye cheating rascal !“ shouted the Scotchman, now losing all temper with the loss of his twopence; “if ye offer me your rungs again, I’ll break them o’er your back.”
It is needless to say, that the sticks were not again offered to Sawney; their proprietor addressed his solicitations to try their luck, to ether greenhorns of whom there was no lack.
I was struck with the fact, that the great majority of the newcomers proceeded as if by a kind of instinct to the Park. One thing which might of itself have attracted a large number of persons to this classic ground, was the loud unintelligible noise which a woman was making within a. few yards of the gate. The cause of the noise, as well as the words she uttered—if words they could be called, which nobody could understand until when it they got quite near to her— was a profound mystery when it first entered the ears of the visitors. The most natural hypothesis, had there been a disposition to speculate as to the cause of the strange sounds which this woman emitted, would have been, that some one had been either murdered or dangerously and that such unfortunate person was lying dead or damaged at her feet; for while speaking, or rather vociferating, she held her right hand in a. slanting direction upwards in the air, while with her left she steadily pointed to something on the ground. The singularity of her attitude was still further increased by the stooping position in which she stood. The very moment I saw her, she brought forcibly to my mind the late Mr. Thelwall in one of the attitudes in which he always put himself when wishing, in his lectures on oratory, to convey to the minds of his audience some idea of the way in which Mark Antony delivered his funeral oration over the dead body of Caesar. My surprise, and the surprise of others who, like myself, had been attracted to the spot by the mysterious sounds, may be imagined, when, on advancing towards the place where she stood, surrounded by a seemingly very attentive audience, I found the subject of her vehement oratory was—a sack of nuts which had been spread out on a piece of canvass on the ground! Who could refrain from a hearty laugh, when finding the reality so very different from what any one could have expected? Had I guessed till the crack of doom, before quitting the place in which I first heard the noise, what the cause of that noise was, I am perfectly certain I should never have come to the conclusion that it was the woman’s vehement commendation of some two or three bushels of nuts. “Here they are fresh good full sweet a penny a half-pint from the bag this morning best sort not a bad ‘un among the lot,” was the favourite eulogium which this nut-vender pronounced on her commodities! And she sometimes delivered the whole encomium without drawing her breath, and therefore [-298-] all the words appeared, as they came from her lips, as if incorporated with each other. In fact, her panegyric on the superior qualities of her nuts looked, in some cases, as if all the above words had been but one. The next time, again, in which she repeated her praises of her goods, she pronounced the words so slowly and distinctly, resembling a sort of chaunt, that you would have fancied no two of them had any connexion together. They were uttered thus: “Here—they—are—fresh— good—full—sweet—a—penny— a—half—pint-—from—the—bag —this—morning—best—sort —not—a—bad—’un— among—the —lot.” And what rendered the whole affair the more extraordinary, was, the singular manner in which, in her more energetic moments, she howled out the praises of her nuts. She reminded me of the wild sounds which the Bedouin Arabs were in the habit of uttering when performing their gymnastic and other feats at the Colosseum, a year or two ago. She had the most powerful voice I ever heard in a woman. She had all the appearance of being a great patron of malt liquor. If one were acquainted with her domestic history, I have no doubt it would be found that she is one of the most extensive consumers to be met with, of Whitbread and Co.’s Entire. She was a woman of great size, and appeared to have the strength of a Hercules. how- she was able to vociferate so constantly, was to inc a matter of surprise. Had a woman of ordinary lungs, and the average physical strength, bawled for one quarter of an hour, instead of a whole day, at the rate she did, such woman would have made herself hoarse, and become utterly exhausted by the effort: but all her exertions seemed to produce no impression on our heroine. Her face, which was as round and red as a full-moon when she first presents herself above the horizon, afforded no indications of weariness; nor did her voice show the least symptom of exhaustion, if sufficiently plied with porter, I have no doubt she could have held on for twenty, instead of for tent consecutive hours. What amused me much, was the singular dexterity with which she introduced, as if by way of parenthesis, into her commendation of her nuts, any observation which circumstances rendered necessary; but never for a moment losing sight of the main object, namely, the disposing of her half-round, half-oval commodities. If a boy, for example, picked up a nut on the sly, either when falling from the half-pint jug while transferring “a penny’orth” to some customer who had been overcome by the charms of her eloquence, or when one had crossed the edge of the canvass on which the stock lay, she would reprove him for his crime without for a moment losing sight of her main object. “Here they are fresh (you little rascal, return that nut, or I’ll break your bones) good full sweet a penny (and you too, [-299-] you vagabond, just put it back into the heap) a half-pint from the bag this (stand back there you girl with the red head and dirty face) morning best sort not a bad ‘un among the lot.” The only fault to be found with the matron s praises of her nuts, was a want of variety in her words: the above was the only prose eulogium she pronounced upon them. She bad another, which was in poetry. When she fixed her eye on some particular person among the crowd who surrounded her commodities, she snatched up a nut, and thrusting it into the hand of the intended victim to the tune of a “penny’orth,” exclaimed,
“Here, take a nut, and break ‘em,
And if you find a bad ‘un, don’t take ‘em.”
And great was the amount of business which our retailer of nuts did in tine course of a day. As she could not conveniently fill and empty the half-pint jug, and attend to her vociferating duties at the same time, she bad a boy, very possibly her son, who acted in the capacity of assistant: he executed the orders, but all the money was paid to her. It was not the least amusing part of the affair, to hear her lisping out the praises of her articles with a sixpence or shilling in her mouth, while counting the “change” of those who tendered her silver in payment of their penny’orths. There were numerous other nut-venders in the Park; but little, comparatively was the extent of the business which they did. I am serious, when I say, that I do believe she drew more money for her nuts than any half-dozen of persons in the same line of business. It is due to their sagacity to state, that all of them stationed themselves at a respectful distance from the locality which she chose as the scene of her merchandise. They knew that if near her they would have had no chance.
Proceeding up the hill, so great a favourite with lovers, I found it crowded in every part with young people, amusing themselves with the popular exercise of trying how fast they could run down without losing their equilibrium. Many of them—even persons of both sexes, who had got out of their teens some years ago—received some awkward tumbles. I was only surprised that the tragical termination which characterised the ascent of “Jack and Gill”, of nursery celebrity, up some activity with whose geographical position I am unacquainted, was not literally realized. To me it was, to speak quite soberly, a matter of wonder that, like poor unfortunate Jack, no one “broke his neck” when he “fell down.” Had such a disaster occurred, one could not have regretted it so much as one does its occurrence in the case of little “Jack,” the nursery hero. Poor dear boy, he ascended the bill for a most praiseworthy object, namely, “To fetch a pail of water [-300-] and it was while so laudably employed that the awful catastrophe of breaking his neck occurred; but the parties who “went up” Greenwich hill, did so for the purpose of foolishly running down again. If, therefore, any fatal accident had been the result of their folly, less sorrow would have been felt than in other circumstances. It happened, however, that no necks were broken on the occasion. The disaster of greatest magnitude which occurred under my observation, took place in the case of a genteel good-looking girl, seemingly a servant, about twenty years of age. She fell with tremendous force on her face, and what “the fancy” call the claret, suddenly gushed from a prominent part of her phiz. If anything could have made the disaster worse, it would have been the inexpressibly droll observation which a youth, about fourteen or fifteen years of age, made, on being asked by a person who was passing, “what was the matter with the young woman, that so many persons were standing around her, and she was holding her pocket-handkerchief to her face!” “Oh, nothing!” said the young rascal, with the most perfect nonchalance; she was only having a game at running down the hill, when she lost her balance, and trode upon her nose: that’s all.” The idea of treading on one’s nose struck me as irresistibly droll.
On the top of the hill a very animated scene was exhibited, in the shape of a keenly-contested battle. The belligerents were, for the most part, young men, fifty or sixty on either side; and what does the reader suppose were the weapons of their warfare! Their fists? No.—Sticks? No.—Stones? No.—What then? Why nothing else than that description of apples called pippins! With these they pelted one another most cordially, and many were the severe hits which were received on both sides. The chief source of regret was, that those who were no parties to the fight, but were walking quite pacifically disposed along the summit of the hill, occasionally came in for their share of the “hits,” as they were called, which were so liberally given and received by the opposing parties. I recollect, when a boy, reading a private letter from a relative, in which an account was given by one who took a part in it, of an important action between the English and French armies; and after detailing, in graphic terms, the numbers he saw momentarily falling around him on the field of battle, and the circumstances under which some of his comrades were killed, lie added—as well as I can remember the words: “but sad and sorrowful as I was, at seeing so many men—many of them my acquaintances, in the enjoyment of perfect health, and in the prime of life—dropping down, and expiring around me, I felt far more deeply affected at the fate of a poor rifleman who, after being wounded, had managed to crawl [-301-] from the scene of action, but was shot by a Frenchman just at the moment when, in all probability, he thought he had escaped all further danger.” In like manner, numerous as were the militants whom I had seen wounded, and some of them very painfully so, in this battle on the top of Greenwich hill, I did not feel for them a fraction of the concern which I felt for a young inoffensive girl who, though she kept at a reasonable distance from the scene of action, had a large breach made in her Leghorn bonnet—to say nothing of a very unpleasant “whack” on the head—by means of an apple. Whether this was the result of design, or of accident, I cannot say: I should hope, for the credit of human nature, that the thing was purely accidental. I am willing to believe, that depraved and ignoble as many of the frequenters of metropolitan and suburban fairs are, there are few of them so utterly lost to all sense of the claims which the sex have on protection at our hands, as to be capable of perpetrating so daring an outrage as aiming a hard apple at a female’s head.
Not knowing whose cranium might receive the next apple, I lost no time in quitting the scene of conflict, and advanced to the Heath. And what a scene did I witness there! There were, at least, from fifty to sixty four-footed asses on the roadside: how many asses of another kind there were present, is one of those difficult problems which it is beyond my power to solve. In point of numbers, I shrewdly suspect the biped animals, with long ears, were larger than that of the four-footed quadrupeds that were so tastefully put into classes along the aide of the road. The asses on all-fours were placed there for the purpose of asses, who walk in another form, riding about the Heath on their backs. Each had a saddle, such as it was, covered over with a ragged piece of cloth, which, in most cases, had, in its better days, answered the purposes of a smock-frock, or been dignified with the name of a shirt. I pitied the poor animals, while I felt indignation and contempt towards those— and sorry am I to say, the eases were not few—who could severely lash and otherwise cruelly treat them. Persons of both sexes, and-of advanced years, largely patronised the proprietors of the donkeys, by hiring the latter out to ride. Had they contented themselves with sitting on the backs of the poor beasts, I should have been silent; but, not satisfied with that, they must needs lash and strike the unoffending creatures with great severity, under the pretext of causing them to move at a more rapid pace. There were, I understand, several of the officers of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals present; but there was either not a sufficient number, or they were remiss in the performance of their duties. Not to mention other instances of [-302-] cruelty which occurred under my own eye, there was one of a most flagrant nature. Two young ruffians, about fourteen or fifteen years of age, followed one poor miserable donkey, on whose back a clumsy grown-up fellow, of great specific gravity, sate. It would, positively, have been, in the language of certain philosophers, more in accordance with “the fitness of things,” had this lumbering athletic fellow carried the feeble worn-out donkey, instead of the ass carrying him. As the poor creature was unable to do more than move at a slow pace with the two-. legged animal on its back, each of the young barbarians already alluded to applied a large stick to its sides with all their force, with the view of goading it on to greater speed.
But for the cruelties practised towards the helpless jack-asses, one could have heartily laughed at the odd exhibitions made by many of the equestrians. Kitchen-maids, cookeys, and various other riders, of both sexes, had never been on the back of any four-footed beast before. The females screamed and clung to the saddle as if it had been an affair of life or death, if the donkeys happened to trot for a pace or two; and not a few of them fell altogether, to the manifest gratification of the long-eared quadrupeds which had been burdened with them but a moment before.
I was much amused with a cockney youth, seemingly about twenty years of age, of very affected manners, who was ambitious of exhibiting his person on the back of a donkey. Advancing towards one of the stands, on which there stood fifteen or twenty of these animals, with their proprietors all anxious to be employed, he accosted the latter in what is called a puppyish air and manner, with “Well, old fellows, who has got the best donkey for a ride?”
“Here you are, Sir,” shouted a dozen voices, each donkey proprietor drawing his animal towards the cockney.
“I can’t ride on all of them; which is the best?” said the dandy, resting his hands on his sides, and strutting about with an air of great consequence.
“This von’s the best, Sir,” cried one.
“No, it ain’t,” vociferated another. “This ‘ere hanimal is betterer nor any won on the stand.”
“Both on ‘em’s told you a gallows lie, Sir; none of their hasses can lift a leg; but here’s a beast of the right sort,” said a third.
“Here’s a capital good ‘un, Sir; three years old next grass-time, Sir,” was the recommendation of his donkey, which was given by a fourth.
“My von’s the best as vas ever seed, Sir; yen he’s once a-set a-going, he’ll never stop, Sir. It’s truth I say, Sir,” remarked a fifth.
[-303-] “Then,” said the cockney, “I’ll take him.”
“Yes, Sir,” observed another opposition proprietor of a couple of donkeys; “but there’s no setting him a-going. Nobody ever saw him trot a step.”
“Here’s a reg’lar trump of an hanimal, Sir,” said another; “you’ve only to touch him this way, and off he gallops at once.”
As the donkey proprietor spoke, he pretended to touch the ass’s side with his fingers, and, sure enough, the animal made two or three abortive attempts at a leap.
“Ay, there’s some spirit in that donkey,” said the cockney youth, not aware that the cunning rogue of a proprietor had achieved the two or three bungled leaps which the animal gave, by pricking it with a pin. “What is the charge?”
“It depends on how far you ride, Sir.” “From one end of the heath to the other?” “Only a shilling Sir.”
“Then, here goes.”
And so saying, the cockney was astride the ass’s back in a twinkling.
“The shilling, Sir, if you please,” said the proprietor of the anima1, with a knowing look.
““Why, isn’t it time enough when I have had my ride?” said the dandy, pulling a shilling out of his pocket, and transferring it to the other.
“Always in advance, Sir,” answered the ass-proprietor, archly, pocketing the silver image of William the Fourth.
“Now then,” said the cockney, applying a switch to the sides of the donkey, and looking as if he supposed he was about to start off at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. “Now then.”
The animal either did not hear, or did not heed, the “Now then” of the cockney. “Why, he woan’t go,” said the latter, in a tone of voice, and with a look at the proprietor of the beast, indicative of surprise and disappointment
“He will, by-and-bye” said the other, coolly.
“But I want him to go now.”
“Werry good, Sir; as soon as you and the hanimal pleases.”
The dandy-rider was confounded at the consummate nonchalance of the person whose ass he was patronising. “I say, old fellow, I won’t stand any nonsense and pay for it too. Either make your ass go, or give me back my shilling,” remarked the cockney youth, in half-indignant tones.
“We never gives back any shiners, Sir, arter we’ve got ‘em,” answered the other, with the same dryness of manner as before.
“Then, Sir, make your beast go. “That’s more than I can always do, Sir; he’s a little hobstinate at times, as all hasses are; but when once he sets off, there’s ne’er a better runner on the Heath.”
[-304-] “Yez, Zur,” interposed a clownish-looking fellow, with a smock-frock and a dirty demure-looking face; “but the worst of it is, he never sets off at all.”
I had a shrewd suspicion that such was the fact, before the latter personage made the observation; and after two or three more equally ineffectual attempts to cause the animal to start, the dandy rider became a proselyte to the same opinion.
Finding he might as soon have expected to move Greenwich church, as to move the animal on whose back lie sat, he dismounted, muttering imprecations of no very pleasant kind, both on the ass and its owner. His imprecations were equally disregarded by both.
“Try this one, Sir;” “Here’s a prime ‘un, Sir ;“ “No mistake with this ‘ere hanimal, Sir;” “Here’s the reg’lar racer, Sir;” were only a few of the many sounds which greeted his ears as he alighted. In short, in a few seconds, he was surrounded by a congregation, to the number of twenty or two dozen, of jack-asses and their owners; the latter of whom respectively besieged him with their applications to try their “hanimals,” with a vehemence and perseverance amounting to positive persecution. At first, savage and surly at the “hobstinacy” of the beast he had but a few moments ago bestrode, he refused to listen to any of their solicitations; but one of the ass-owners was so very eloquent in his entreaties for a trial of his donkey, that the cockney at length acceded to his request ; stipulating, however, beforehand, that he would not pay his shilling until satisfied of the racing capabilities and disposition of the animal. He mounted the beast, and the owner, a young knowing-looking fellow, immediately pricked it with a pin, when It set off at a smart trot. “Ah, I told you that’s your sort, Sir; that’s the hanimal as can run in slap-up style,” said the proprietor of the beast, keeping up with it, and prompting it forward by repeated applications of the pin to its side. “Ay, this is some-thing like an ass,” said the cockney. “Here, take your shilling,” he added, pulling up the donkey for a moment, and putting that amount of the coin of the realm into the hand of the cunning rogue. “Now then, long-ears,” said the dandy, apostrophising the donkey, and applying the switch to it, with the view of setting out on a regular gallop along the road.
The animal moved not a step.
“Halloa, old donkey! what’s the matter that you woan’t go ?“ said the spruce rider, applying his heels to the sides of the animal.
The latter was appealed to in vain. There it stood as motionless as the bronze horse with the statue of George the Third on his back, near the Italian Opera House.
[-305-] “I say, old fellow,” said the cockney, now transferring his appeal from the ass to its owner; “I say, old fellow, why doan’t the animal go?”
“Can’t tell, Sir; he knows the reason best himself,” answered the other, with inimitable coolness.
“Is there no way of making him go ?”
“He won’t be made, Sir; he never does anything by force. If you wait until he comes to himself, he’ll start off agin.”
“But when will that be ?”
“Aye, that’s more than I can tell; but not before he pleases.”
The cockney looked first at the donkey, and then at its owner, as if he could have eaten both by way of revenging himself for the obstinacy and laziness of the one, and the consummate coolness of the other. he then suddenly dismounted, heaping curses both loud and deep on asses of all descriptions; not excepting himself, for being such an ass as to be thus taken in, and laughed at into the bargain, by the donkey owners of Blackheath.
A Greenwich Fair, without a greater or less number of fights, would be a modern miracle. How many-took place during the fair in question, is a point with the statistics of which I am unacquainted. I witnessed one which threatened, at one time, to be productive of no inconsiderable number of broken heads, if not of personal damage of an irretrievable nature. In this fight, to which there were several parties, both soldiers and sailors, true to their proverbial character, took a marked part. “Drunk as usual,” one soldier. displayed a wonderful ingenuity, both by his words and actions, in inviting aggression; and he soon got it to his heart’s content. “He met with his marrow,” as the phrase is, in the person of an athletic Irishman newly arrived from the neighbourhood of Derrynane Abbey. “By the great Dan himself,” said Pat, “if it’s a fight he’s after wanting, its meself will give him that same.” “Come on, then,” mumbled the soldier, staggering slightly from the effects of drink. “May be I won’t,” said Paddy, advancing as he spoke, and planting some heavy blows in the face of his red-coated opponent, which made him reel yet worse than the liquor. A regular fight ensued, in which sailors and soldier and other persons took part with a marvellous promptitude, until it became quite a general affair. The police interfered; and when they had put a stop to the combat, the soldier, who was instrumental in beginning it, was found lying on the ground, “floored,” as the Fancy say, either by his Irish antagonist or by his no less formidable, because more frequent and insidious adversary, Barclay and Co.’s porter. He was carried away on the stretcher to the station-house, where he lay as straight as a pole and as silent as a bell without [-306-] a tongue; though a few minutes before, he was all noise and bluster and “botheration.”
I refer to the fights which are so common at all our metropolitan fairs, chiefly for the purpose of expressing my surprise and regret that so many persons, with a good coat on their backs and intelligence in their countenances, should not. only stand by, without endeavouring to put an end to such brutal and barbarous exhibitions, but should encourage the parties in their disgraceful practices.
The fight or affray which I witnessed, occurred in the park; from which 1 proceeded to the heart of the fair. There were congregated in the narrow limits of, perhaps, one hundred and fifty yards long, by six or seven yards broad, a mass of human beings, numbering, I should think, not less than 30,000. They were so densely packed together, that it was quite a Herculean task to force one’s way through them. On either side of the market-place were stalls and caravans, and other things, to which I know not what name to give, of all sizes and descriptions. I hold it impossible that any human being, be his imagination as fertile as it may, could previously have formed any idea of the vast variety of expedients which were resorted to at this fair, with the view of eliciting money from the pockets of the visitors. Of eatables, of all descriptions, there was a most abundant supply: apples, oranges, and nuts, stared you in the face in every direction; while gingerbread was presented in an inconceivable diversity of forms. Nor was there any lack of liquids:
there was an ample supply of chalk-and-water, which, for the purposes of sale, was baptised milk; there were little cans of table-beer, and ginger-beer, and soda-water; but the speculators in these liquids found, before the fair was over, that they had reckoned without their host. The weather, as before stated, was intensely cold, which is always fatal to the sale of beer of all kinds, especially in the open air; and which is still more fatal to the sale of ginger-beer and soda-water. Loud were the luckless proprietors of these liquids in their praises of the quality of the article they were anxious to vend; but all the eloquence and ingenuity in the world would not have insured a demand in this case. In fact, the shivering persons who stood in the marketplace, would not have drunk either soda-water or -ginger-beer on this occasion, had they been paid for doing it. Ardent spirits were the order of the day, and the order of the hour and nunute also, during the three days the fair lasted. “Summut to warm us,” was the universal motto of the parties; and the effects of the quantity of these spirits quaffed on the occasion were visible in the scenes of drunkenness and disturbance which presented themselves wherever you turned your eye.
[-307-] Of showy articles, or things which were merely intended to please the eye, there was also a most liberal supply. The assortment of dolls was varied and abundant. it struck me, indeed, as a sort of libel on the frequenters of the fair, that so many dolls should be exposed for sale; for if there be meaning in facts, as there is iii 1angU~ge, the circumstance plainly implied that the dealers in them assumed that the young men and women who attended the fair were but so many children, though children of a larger growth. My only surprise was, that they did not resent the thing as a personal insult, when accosted, as they were at every step they took, with— “Buy a doll, Sir,” “Buy a doll, Ma’am” the article which they were invited to purchase being at the same time thrust in their faces. Crackers, scratchers, little drums, sixpenny looking-glasses, watches which never went and never were meant to go, being, like the razors which Peter Pindar has immortalized as made not to shave but to sell; and innumerable other articles which, to use a favourite expression of George Robins, were too tedious to mention, were all exposed to the eye, under the most attractive possible circumstances. “There was,” as an Irish girl emphatically exclaimed in describing the scene to an acquaintance she met outside the market-place, “such a power of fine things!”
In the article of “sights,” again, Greenwich Fair was, if that were possible, still more amply supplied. You would have fancied, from the number of caravans, booths, and other places for the exhibition of wonders of all kinds, artificial and natural, that the marvels of the whole world had been congregated within the limited space appropriated to Greenwich Fair. The seven wonders of the world, is a phrase which became familiar to us in our younger years perhaps it is one of the first phrases we remember to have been current in the days of our childhood. Here we had, instead of seven, at least a hundred wonders of the world. And what was worthy of observation was, that every individual wonder was more wonderful that is to say, if you took the proprietor’s word for it—than any other wonder. The great difficulty with those who had but little copper in their pockets though, peradventure, abundantly supplied with another well-known metal in their faces; the great difficulty with them was to make a selection. The figures which were daubed on the canvas which was displayed at the front of the caravans and other wooden erections, were most inviting; indeed, as is usually the ease, the representations far surpassed the things represented. But in addition to the attack they made on your curiosity and your pockets, through the medium of your eyes, there were dead sets made at you through the medium of your ears. Nothing could exceed the earnestness or the eloquence with which the [-308-] various proprietors of the exhibitions praised the articles exhibited. There was “the Lincolnshire Ox, the most biggest hanimal of the kind as was ever seen, and whose tail alone was not quite so thick as the mast of a man-of-war.” My astonishment was, how such a “prodigiously-sized” beast could have been got into a sort of caravan of such limited dimensions, that I should have fancied a cow of the ordinary stature would not have had turning room in it. Whether the proprietor of this gigantic Lincolnshire ox was a disciple of Procrustes, and made the ox to fit the place, if the place did not fit him, is a problem which I was prevented from solving, as circumstances interposed to deny me the gratification of seeing the “wonderful hanimal.” The next-door neighbour of the “most biggest ox as was ever seen,” but belonging to a different owner, was “the most extraordinary sheep with four legs and the half of a fifth ‘un.” The patrons of the fair were pressingly invited to “walk up, and see with their own eyes this truly vonderful production of the vorks of natur.” I was sorry to see that the proprietor’s emphatic am repeated appeals were, in a great measure, lost on the dense crowd to whom they were addressed. They proved that they had no relish for “sheep with four legs and the half of a fifth un.” Adjoining the last “vonderful production,” there was a “vonderful pig ;“ not the old pig of literary reputation, nor the Learned Pig, as the swinish scholar and philosopher was usually called. No: this was a pig, whose wonderful qualities were of a physical, instead of an intellectual nature. “It was a pig as was so fat as never to rise off the place vere she lay, and as could not stand upon her legs yen she was fairly put on ‘em.” Judging from the portrait, if there be propriety in the expression, of this “wery extrahordinary hanimal,” which appeared as large as life on the canvas that graced the front of the place of exhibition, I should certainly say that her pigship must have been among the “swinish multitude,” what the celebrated Daniel Lambert was among animals of the biped class. Her belly not only trailed on the ground, but, if the representation was a correct one, her excessive corpulence had given her a globular appearance. I thought with myself, what a treat must her pigship be to the lovers of fat pork, when she falls into the hands of the butcher. A few yards from the spot in which the fat pig starred it, there was a collection of animals forming a sort of miniature menagerie. The figures on the canvas outside were newly painted, and were unusually inviting to go inside. But lest the representations outside were not of themselves sufficiently powerful motives to induce the spectators to go in, to these were superadded the motive., which could not fail to arise from the singularly winning way in which the owner of the animals im-[-309-]plored them to inspect the beasts. “Ladies and gen’lemen, if the hanimals within here be not a treat to any one as sees ‘em, then I pledge myself to eat up every beast in the caravan alive, the tiger and all. But, ladies and gen’lemen, I’m quite certain of it, that you will all be vonderfully pleased. Those who are not satisfied with this extrahordinary sight—the like of which was never seen before, and never will be agin may have their ‘tin back again; and so they will have the splendidest sight as is in London for nothing. And, ladies and gen’lemen I am sure you all knows that it cannot be less. Do walk up this way if you please; walk up this way. All the hanimals to be seen for small charge of threepence.” Of the giant Rockman, and the dwarf Jarmain, each of whom had his place to himself, and to whom the payment of a penny always proved a passport; of them I say nothing. They were confessedly extraordinary enough in their respective lines; but I pass them by, for the purpose of saying, that the most wonderful live exhibition in the fair was, if the owner might be credited, that of some extraordinary unheard-of animal which walked partly on his legs and partly in an all-four’s form, and which moved like an extraordinary quadruped mentioned in Captain Marryat’s “Peter Simple,” as having been exhibited at Bartholomew Fair, which measured fifteen feet from the tail to the head, and thirteen feet and a half from the head to the tail! But there would be no end to particularizing the live stock exhibited on this occasion. Every showman had, if you were good-natured enough to take his own word for it, something “far more better” than any of his neighbours; and he was greatly surprised, as well as indignant, at the perversion of public taste, when he saw other exhibitions patronised while his was deserted. With menageries, on a small scale, Greenwich Fair was most liberally supplied; and if the assertions of the parties who invited the curious in such matters to come and inspect them, might be believed, there were in all those menageries “lots of hanimals of a most extrahordinary kind.”
In the theatrical way there was a good deal of business done. I should think the number of portable theatres, of one kind or other, could not have been much under a dozen; and so great was the taste for the drama, that theatrical speculations answered much better than any other kind of speculations. “The successor on the boards” of the late eccentric Richardson, appeared to be by far the most extensively patronised. The Clown was, as usual, the great attraction. The spectators stared and laughed, and laughed and stared again, at his ludicrous evolutions. Some of the audience, including chimney-sweeps, tap-room boys, and others, to whom the Clown’s movements were perfect novelties in their way, turned up the white of their eyes in the plenitude [-310-] of their amazement at the wonders he performed; and most unequivocal were the marks, in so far as a vehement clapping of hands and loud laughter were concerned, of the approbation with which they greeted his exploits. If any one wished to see the legitimate drama burlesqued with the greatest possible effect, he ought by all means to make part of the audience in one of the portable theatres at Greenwich Fair. The price of admission is reasonable enough: a fourteenth part of what it costs at Drury Lane or Covent Garden will procure him a place either in the pit or gallery. In other words, one’s dramatic taste may be indulged in the theatrical establishments at Greenwich Fair, on the payment of sixpence for the pit, or threepence for the gallery. And who will say that the charge is extravagant? Boxes, there are none; and even the order of things, as regards the pit and gallery, are reversed: for the gallery—at least, in those establishments I have been in—is on the ground-floor, while the pit is six or seven feet above the gallery. However, such things will happen; or, as the proprietors themselves say, there is no use in being too particular. The character of the pieces per-formed, and the quality of acting, are precisely such as I so fully described in my chapter on “Penny Theatres;” and therefore it is not necessary to repeat the description here. Any actor is at liberty, in an emergency, to say what he pleases, or to act as he thinks fit. All that is stipulated for on the part of the proprietors, is, that something be said, and that something be done.
If Drury Lane and Covent Garden have their rivals in Greenwich Fair, so has Astley’s. Not only are there equestrian performances “which has never been ekvalled in this ‘ere vorld before,” but there “is the truly vonderful feats on the tight rope, and various hother exhibishuns too tedious to mention, all performed in the best style.” I went into one of these rivals of Astley’s Amphitheatre, to witness some of these “unekvalled” and “truly vonderful’ “various hother exhibishuns;” but must candidly confess, that such was the worthless quality of my taste in such matters, that I was much more gratified with the ludicrous conduct and humorous remarks of some of the audience. Some of my readers may remember to have heard of a cunning rogue of a traveller who, on going to an inn, in a small town, on an intensely cold evening, found that there was only one fire, namely, the kitchen fire, burning at the time; and it was completely concealed from his view by a number of the neighbours who were earnestly engaged in conversation together. Not one of them moved a stool or chair to allow the stranger to partake of the genial warmth, and he had no hope of succeeding by an appeal either to their politeness or humanity. At last, he resolved [-311-] on trying the effect of an ingenious expedient in his endeavours to procure a place beside the grateful hearth. “Ostler,” he exclaimed.
“Are there any oysters to be had here ?”
“As many as you please, Sir; great place this for oysters, Sir.”
“Very good. Well, then, you go and give half a peck of the very best you’ve got to my horse in the stable.”
“Your ‘oss, Sir ?“ said the ostler, looking unutterably amazed. “Yes, my horse,” said the stranger, quite coolly.
“Bless your soul, Sir, ‘osses don’t eat oysters! I never heard of such a thing. You must be mistaken, Sir,” suggested the ostler, with an air of respect.
“Oh no; no mistake—no mistake; you bring the oysters directly to the horse.”
The other scratched his head, and mumbled out, “Yes, Sir, presently.”
“As quick as you can, ‘said the traveller.
“This moment, Sir,” said the ostler, darting out of the kitchen, to provide the horse with his supper of oysters. A general rush of those who were at the fire followed, every one being more anxious than, another to see how the horse would eat shell-fish; so that the stranger had the entire kitchen, fire and all, to himself. He took the best chair he could find, and seating himself at the fire, determined on making himself quite at home. In a minute or so, the ostler, accompanied by all his followers, returned to the kitchen, saying— “It’s jost as I said: the ‘oss von’t eat ne’er a one on ‘em, Sir.”
“Then bring them to me,” said the stranger, “and I’ll eat them myself.”
I was reminded of this ingenious expedient to secure a comfortable seat at the fire, when nothing but some such expedient could have succeeded, by the device to which a person resorted, to get a good place at the rival Astley’s at Greenwich Fair. He had been among the latest to enter, and all the good places were pre-occupied. Incomparably the best place, at the threepenny rate of admission, was on a sort of wooden stair, by means of which the descent to, and the ascent from, the gallery was to be achieved. The top of this stair was on a level with the pit; but it was densely peopled, or, as the play-bills say, “crowded in every part.” “Is there no room here?” inquired a cunning-looking countryman, as he entered the place.
No one made him any answer.
“Do, frien’s, try to make room for a poor fellaw,” said the clodpole-looking personage, whose accent proved to demonstration that Yorkshire claimed him as her own.
[-312-] The appeal was ineffectual: the portion of the threepennv audience, who had planted themselves in that particular locality, only stood more closely together.
“Well, coom, I’m cu’st, if ye bean’t an uncivil set of people,” I said the Yorkshireman, after a momentary pause.
Censure seemed to have as little effect on them as an appeal to their politeness; for no one moved an inch to accommodate the new-corner. He paused a few seconds again, when an idea I flashed across his mind. He quietly went out of the place, and let fall a green cloth curtain, which answered the purposes of a door, behind him. In a few seconds afterwards, he put the
curtain partially aside, and thrusting in his head, bawled out in stentorian tones—Halloa! clear the stair there; mind your r eyes; here comes a horse.” Not recognising the Yorkshireman
in the abrupt and unexpected apostrophe, and supposing that one of the horses about to ride in the ring was really coming down the stair, there was an instantaneous and unusual rush into the gallery. In two or three seconds, the stair was completely I cleared, and the Yorkshireman promptly took possession of the best part of it.
The humorous remarks made by the audience, while the performances were proceeding, often caused bursts of laughter. In this. respect, indeed, the “Merriman” found that he had a number of formidable rivals. A young woman, of a copper complexion, who monopolized the performances on the tight-rope, said, in a very affected “fine lady” sort of air, addressing herself to the Clown—” Chalk my feet, Sir.” “Vouldn’t your face, too, be all the better of a little on’t, Ma’am?” observed a rustic-looking young man among the audience, with a dryness of manner which told with much effect. “I say, Miss,” exclaimed I another voice, “Vy do you always dance the same thing ? Vy don’t you give us ‘Jack in the Green ‘~‘ Or “Vy don’t you jump ‘Jim Crow’ young vornan?” said a third. “You hold your tongue, Sir,” rejoined the Clown, authoritatively, looking in the direction of the place whence the last voice proceeded. He had scarcely uttered the words, when a small apple abruptly alighted on the crown of his head, which was graced
with a nightcap of many colours. Putting his hand to the part of his head which was hit, he looked half-piteously and half-indignantly around the audience. “Who did that?” he inquired. “Nobody,” answered a voice, after a momentary pause. “It I was an anonymous blow,” said another, amidst bursts of laughter from all parts of the house, which so disconcerted and annoyed poor “Mr. Merriman,” that he was not able either to make a passable new joke the whole evening afterwards, or to retail his old ones with the slightest spirit.
[-313-] It appeared to me, that the scene on the sort of hustings outside the theatres at Greenwich Fair, was better worth seeing than the performances within. There the female actresses, if they should be dignified with the name, strutted about in a mock majesty which, in their circumstances, was truly ridiculous. They were decked out in all manner of tawdry trumpery: they had feathers in their heads; but they were such feathers as I had never seen before. Their dresses, which, I regret to say, I am incompetent to describe, were thickly studded with small fragments of- some sort of metal, which, though seemingly opaque enough in ordinary circumstances, did “cast reflections” when in contiguity to the blazing lights at the front of the theatre. Nothing could be more amusing than the would-be dignified step and consequential air with which these female supporters of the drama walked about before the assembled thousands; many of whom were, no doubt, both wondering and admiring spectators. Had these actresses been so many princesses, they could not have assumed greater importance, or appeared more stiff and stately in their carriage. I thought, as I saw them, of the females who grace the train of Jack-in-the-Green, on May-day. I thought of poor Black Moll, who is doomed to dangle, dressed in white, above-the doors of marine-store dealers, from one end of the year to the other. And yet, if these histrionic personages were happy, in, the thought of their fancied superiority to all other females, why should anyone seek to undeceive them? It was edifying to witness the different objects which the, parties in the front of the theatre had in view. The girls in question thought of nothing but themselves: they sought to show themselves off. The proprietor; on the other hand, had nothing in his head but how he could. best induce persons to patronize. his performances. His wife was wholly intent on taking money, and giving cheeks in return; while a poor fellow most assiduously played the Clown outside, in the character of “Spring-heeled Jack,” because he saw that his own interests were bound up with those of his master.
Gambling was carried on in Greenwich Fair to a very great extent, and in every variety of form. There were roulette, hazard, and other games, at which persons might play for stakes of from one shilling upwards to a sovereign; and many were the simpletons these notable hell-keepers victimised on the occasion. This class of gamblers took care to carry on their business in places not exposed to the general gaze. There was, however, no lack of gamblers on a smaller scale, whose operations were performed in the light of day, and in the most densely crowded parts of the market. There were wheel-of-fortune men; and most promptly did these machines and their proprietors fleece [-314-] the simple, soft-looking lads who ventured their pence on particular articles. In order to decoy and deceive the unsuspecting cockneys, or gullible youths belonging to Greenwich or its neighbourhood, they took care to keep the wheel in constant motion. For this purpose, they had severally one or two cunning young rascals in their employ, who, while they saw others losing their money, contented themselves with merely looking on and encouraging greenhorns to “try again,” on an assurance that they were certain of gaining next time. They appeared all the while not only to have no connection with the professed gamblers, but not even to know them. The moment others ceased to turn round the wheel, they put down their halfpence; and when trying for two or three articles unsuccessfully several times, the sly rogues would, in a careless sort of tone, as if the result of the purest accident, make the observation—” Oh, never mind; can afford to lose a few browns this time; gained half-a-crown’s worth of things with three hap’nies, a short time ago.” This most probably has the effect of inducing some simpleton to try his luck, thinking in his own mind that there can be no good reason why he should not gain a half-crown’s worth of things for his three hap’nies as well as others. He begins, and that moment the other ceases to turn round the wheel; the three hap’nies are gone, but bring no half-crown; no, not even one penny s worth of the trinkets so invitingly spread out before him. He tries other three; they follow their predecessors: three more; they are not a whit more lucky. His losses reach a shilling; he goes on, provided he has the money, until, possibly, he loses half-a-crown. Even if he does happen to gain some article which he fancied was worth eighteen-pence, he finds, on inspection, that it is not worth twopence; so that he is cheated under any circumstances.
The thimble-riggers mustered strong, and appeared to drive a profitable business. They were to be found in all the leading openings to the Fair. Much as every man of healthy moral feeling must disapprove of thimble-rigging, there was no resisting an occasional hearty laugh at the awkward circumstances under which some of the victims betrayed their simplicity. “Who lifts the thimble that kivers the pea next time?” was the everlasting question of the proprietor of the pea, the three thimbles, and the half-crown table, on which the gambling took place,—whenever there was a pause in the play; and as he spoke, he shifted about the thimbles with an almost sleight-of-hand celerity. “I knows the one it’s under,” whispers a greenhorn to some acquaintance.
“Are you quite sure?”
“Quite sure; could swear I knows it, and no mistake.
[-315-] “Then what a tool you are, not to put down your shiners.”
Thus appealed to, down goes the crown, half-crown, or shilling, as the case may be, and the simpleton lifts the thimble. Imagine his surprise, his confusion, and mortification, when he raises it and finds that neither pea nor anything else is there. He can scarcely credit the evidence of his eyes. He would, indeed, live and die in the belief that it had miraculously vanished, did not the proprietor lift another thimble, and exhibit the pea to the gaze of all present.
“It’s all the fortune of war,’ says the thimble-rigger, moving about his thimbles. “Who tries his luck next? Can’t always gain.”
A person who is supposed, by those unacquainted with the roguery of these fellows, to have no connexion with or knowledge of them, but is one of themselves, now advances, and learning from some secret signs made by the mover of the thimbles, the one under which the pea lies, says, “I lay five shillings I know the thimble which kivers the pea.”
“Here you are, Sir,” says the other, putting down his five shillings.
The supposed stranger puts down his crown: he raises the thimble, and the pea is there. lie is inwardly congratulated on his good luck by the spectators around, they still imagining that he is as much a stranger to the thimble-man as themselves.
“Never grumbles when I loses, though better pleased when I wins. Who tries their luck next time?” says the thimble-rigger, shifting the thimbles on the table so slowly that no one can fail to perceive under which one the pea is. “I see the one,” says some greenhorn in audible tones.
“Which one is it!” inquires the party, in a whisper, who bad tried it last time, and who, though one of the rogues who are robbing simpletons is still imagined to be a perfect stranger.
“That one,” pointing to the thimble under which the pea actually is.
“Five shillings again, that I unkiver the pea,” says he, with some eagerness throwing down his crown.
“Done, Sir,” says the thimble~rigger, throwing his five shillings on the table also.
The supposed adventurer raises the thimble, and, behold, the pea is again there.
“You were quite right, Sir,” says he, in agreeable accents, to the simpleton, at whose pockets a dead set is made
“Oh, I knew it,” says the latter, giving a consequential nod of his head, by way of showing that he was perfectly aware of his own superior imaginary discernment.
[-316-] “Just speak a moment,” whispers the coadjutor of the thimble-rigger to the intended victim.
“Certainly,” says the latter; and both retire a few steps together. “Why don’t you try for yourself, and fleece these fellows?” says the supposed stranger.
“Woy, I doan’t know,” says the poor simpleton. “Suppose we run halves, when we see a good chance?” observes the other.
“Well, I doan’t care, though I do,” answers the greenhorn.
They return to the table: the thimble-rigger again shifts the thimbles, and invites “any one” to try his luck.
“I doan’t know vich is the right ‘un this time,” remarks the unsuspecting simpleton.
“Ah, but I do,” says the other, with a knowing nod of the head. “That’s it,” pointing to a particular thimble.
“Then let us put down one half-crown each.”
“By all means,” says the other, throwing down his half-crown.
The thimble-rigger puts down his crown, and the partner of the poor greenhorn raises the thimble; but, lo! there is no pea there. He affects to be marvellously surprised; the thing is beyond his comprehension; however, he swears that he won’t be mistaken next time. Another venture is made, but with no better success. There is no limit to his amazement; the thing is altogether so unaccountable, that there must be some legerdemain in it. He gives a still greater oath that he won’t be wrong next time: the victim ventures once more, on the solemn assurance that his partner in the speculation knows the right thimble this time. The latter lifts it, but still no pea is there. He stamps with his feet, strikes his forehead with his hand, makes extraordinary faces, swears so liberally both at the pea and himself, and altogether acts his part so well, that, though the victim will not trust his discernment any more, and consequently abstains from any more gambling, yet he never once questions his honesty; to say nothing of his not even suspecting that he is a partner in the robberies of the thimble-rigger. In this and various other ways simple persons, whether from London or the surrounding country, are sure to be fleeced, if they are foolish enough to play at the game of thimble-rigging.
The proprietors of swings, at the last Greenwich Fair, must have made a little fortune; for most liberally were their “machines,” as they themselves call them, patronized. Not one, so long as I was there., was idle for a moment. The poor fellows who had to keep them in motion had no sinecure of it. Everybody else seemed half-perishing of cold; they were perspiring with the warmth caused by their unremitting labours. It was curious to see how differently the different persons who committed them-[-317-]selves to the swing felt, when they were driven about in the air. Many of the females—and I have always observed, though I cannot account for the circumstance, that the women are the greatest patrons of swings - many of the females got up a few screams in the plenitude of their affected alarm at being moved to and fro at so rapid a rate in the air; some shrieked because they did actually feel frightened, when suspended between earth and heaven, though they apprehended no such fears before entering the car; while others laughed, joked, and seemed to be as comfortable as if they had been swinging in the air all their lives. Many were made dizzy and others sick, by the motion; but there was no help for them; the swing must go for the usual time for the sake of those who were neither dizzy nor sick, but expected, and had anything to the contrary been proposed would have insisted, that, as they had paid for their pleasure, so they must have it.
The last, but assuredly not the least, of the attractions of Greenwich Fair are the dancing booths. By nine o’clock, they began to be tolerably attended: by ten they were full; that is to say, as full as was consistent with the requisite space for dancing. And yet, though thus as full as they could conveniently bold, one of the parties interested stood at the door inviting, or rather imploring, “ladies and gemmen,” to go in, expressly assuring them that there was room for two or three hundred more. Most liberally was the light fantastic toe tripped: the girls seemed in perfect ecstacies: they would have danced themselves to death, if necessary; but it fortunately was not, there being at least two of them to every one of the masculine gender. Dancing, as they say in the provincial newspapers, when speaking of balls in the county town, “was kept up to a late, or rather early hour.” The floor, or rather in this case the ground, was not cleared until three in the morning; and even then, the girls were loth to relinquish their occupation of it. On one side of the booth, immediately adjoining the dancing-ground, were four or five boxes constructed on the coffee-house principle, where the “partners” swigged porter or sipped brandy-water, as the case might be, by way of refreshing themselves after their dance. In some cases, the arms of the beau were to be seen affectionately entwined around the neck of the belle, while in others, all the indications and demonstrations of love were given by the young ladies.
Though Greenwich Fair. properly so called, is confined to the very narrow space before mentioned, it virtually extends for one or two miles along the leading roads which communicate with the town. In saying this, I do not so much mean the various stalls for the sale of sweetmeats and trinkets which are scattered [-318-] so liberally about the suburbs, as to the number of idlers and holiday people who are seen lounging about in all directions, but especially at the doors of public-houses. I will venture to say, that there is scarcely a public-house within two miles of Greenwich that cannot boast, provided the weather be at all endurable, of its ten or twelve loungers about the door; some of them drinking gin, others swilling porter, a third class smoking away at a most furious rate, while many are doing all three together. Inside these public-houses, again, there is hardly standing, far less sitting room. They are crowded in every part with thirsty customers. You are quite at a loss whether most to admire the talking or quaffing capabilities of the inmates. There is nothing but noise and porter: all talk and all drink at once.
To be sure, an attempt is now and then made to introduce a little harmony, in the way of a song; but the audience are anything but harmonious in hearing it. A vocalist might just as soon hope to hush into silence the roar of the ocean by the eloquence of his dulcet strains, as one might expect to restore silence in a public-house audience, on Greenwich Fair day, by the melody of his voice. Orpheus may have achieved the wonders ascribed to him by the power of his melody, though I have always doubted it: he may have tamed savage animals through means of bus musical talents; but I am quite certain that all the modern Orpheuses in the world—if there be any Orpheuses extant— would not silence or secure the attention of the biped savages who, at Easter and Midsummer, patronize the public-houses in Greenwich and the neighbourhood. They are a set of inveterately noisy beings: the unrestrained exercise of their lungs seems indispensable to their enjoyment of the jovialities of the occasion.
If what I have said, as to the distance .to which Greenwich Fair extends itself, in the shape of crowded public-houses, be true as regards the Woolwich and other roads, it is far more so as respects the road leading to London. The whole of that road, indeed, from Southwark to Greenwich, may be said to be only an arm of Greenwich Fair, in so far as the public-houses are concerned. Though the distance be five miles, .they are all crowded with customers, and each has as much business, in ~the porter and gin way, as it is able to go through. I have, indeed, a strong suspicion, that many hundreds who start from town with the full intention of visiting the Fair, and sharing its fun and frolics, put a period to their journey—in other words, make a full stop—before they have gone half the way. One is cold; he goes into a public-house on the road to get a glass of spirits to warm him: a second is hot, and he must have ditto to cool him: a third is thirsty, and he must have a pint of porter to wet [-319-] his throat; while a fourth, more candid than either of the others, says, according to the old story, that he must have the spirits or the porter because he likes them. But whatever be the motive or the pretext which induces the persons to whom I refer, to go into the public-houses if once they have crossed its threshold, there is no getting them out again until it is time to return home: there they enjoy, if enjoyment it may be called, their Greenwich Fair. All the public-houses on the road from London to Greenwich were, at the last Easter Fair, so much crammed with customers who had been on their way to the fair, or were on their return from it, that the windows were literally blocked up with them.
But not to attempt any further description of Greenwich Fair, let me advert for a moment, in conclusion, to the moral tendencies of that fair. I am sure the facts I have stated, and the efforts I have made to describe the scenes which are to be witnessed during the three days at Easter, and the three at Midsummer, on which the fair is held, must have satisfied every reflecting mind that nothing could be more injurious to the morals of the parties who take part in those scenes. They engender and foster habits of idleness, frivolity, intemperance, and dissipation of every kind. They deaden every delicate and amiable feeling, and inspire notions and lead to practices which are altogether unworthy of rational beings. Thousands of youths of both sexes have had to date their physical as well as moral ruin from attendance at the fairs in the metropolis and its vicinity. Every one knows how difficult it is to eradicate a taste for such scenes when once formed: it must be gratified at all hazards. It never can be satiated: the more the craving after such things is fed, the more urgent and large in its demands does it become. A love of drink and debauchery, in all their varied forms, when once inspired, is very rarely to be abated, much less annihilated, until both the mind and the constitution are irretrievably ruined by its indulgence.
I am convinced there are thousands of both sexes who are now living in the greatest destitution and wretchedness, who have to date their misery from their attendance in early life on metropolitan and suburban fairs. Some such instances have come under my own personal observation; nor could it be otherwise. It is impossible for young persons, whose judgment is immature and whose moral principles want vigour, to witness the scenes which are exhibited on such occasions, and to take part in the transactions which take place, without doing the morals of the individuals great injury. And while there is so much to condemn in these fairs, there is not a single thing to commend. I do not know of one rational amusement among all the exhi-[-320-]bitions which are to be witnessed. I would be the last man to prohibit the youth of either sex from enjoying their amusements and recreations; but surely there could be no difficulty in pointing out the means of their rationally and innocently enjoying themselves at particular seasons of the year, instead of their I patronizing the “shows” and “sights” which are to be witnessed at metropolitan and suburban fairs.
The inference from all this is plain. The civil authorities ought to put an end to such fairs. They are only the relics of a barbarous age, and were established for the sake of an ignorant and brutalized people. They are altogether unworthy the nineteenth century: they are especially unworthy a civilized and Christian land. They are a positive reflection on the intelligence and moral feeling of those in authority over us. To abolish them would be to wipe out a foul blot which now stains the1 character of the country, and would confer a lasting benefit I on the lower classes of the metropolitan community. And I that benefit would soon be visible in the improved morals and ameliorated condition of thousands of those classes. I am no advocate for the interposition of the magistrate in the amusements of the people, as a general principle; but where the obvious and admitted tendency of public amusements is of a most immoral nature, then, indeed, a case is made out for magisterial interference.
In the mean time, and until the civil authorities shall see it to be their duty to interfere, and put down the remaining fairs in the metropolis and suburbs, let me impress on parents, masters, and mistresses, that a great moral responsibility is incurred by them when they do not, in cases where they could do it with effect, interpose the shield of their authority to prevent their children or their servants from visiting such places. How parents, who have any regard for the morals or well-being of their offspring, can allow them to visit fairs, is to me altogether unaccountable. Even in the ease of servants, masters and mistresses, who have any regard for the welfare of their domestics, ought to discountenance, in the most marked manner, their visits to such places.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]