Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Night Side of London, by J. Ewing Ritchie, 1858 - Caldwell's

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A STRANGER, ignorant of our inner life, and unacquainted with our social system, knowing only that we call ourselves a Christian people, and that we boast that Christianity places woman in a peculiarly favoured position, might dwell among us for awhile, and, seeing how woman is flattered and followed, might imagine that our condition was perfect, and that here, at least, woman, the weak, was sheltered by man, the strong. In the dazzling ball-room - on the glittering promenade - he might meet the lovely and the fair, and deem that they were no brilliant exception, but as they were sheltered and loved, so were sheltered and loved all of their common sex. Grieved would he be to find out his mistake; yet more grieved would he be to know that the graceful drapery that added to the beauty that everywhere flashed upon his eye was wrought by tender and delicate women, who, pale and wan, slave at the needle from [-181-] morn till eve, and from eve till again the dim grey of morn gleamed in the east - by women withered before their prime - by women who, for no crime, but from their simple desire to live by the honest and honourable labour of their hands, are shut up in heated and unhealthy rooms, debarred from social duties and joys, and who know nothing of life but its wants and woes-by women who can find in slavery itself nothing more forlorn than their melancholy fate - by women to the majority of whom there is no honest way of escape from the lingering death that besets them, but the grave.
    We would guard our readers against giving way to mawkish sentimentalism; that it is not our aim to excite. There are employers who are all they should be; there are milliners' and dressmakers' assistants who find their labour what all healthy labour is, a blessing, and not a curse. Nor is every dressmaker shut up in these hot-houses of disease beautiful, nor the daughter of one who has seen better days. It is true that some of these unfortunate girls are the daughters of " clergymen, medical men, and officers;" but it is because they partake of our common humanity - because they have human [-182-] blood and human hearts - because life was given them that in it they might bless and be blessed  - because, in their injuries and wrong, the human family and its Father above are injured and wronged - that we claim for them from society sympathy and redress. We say nothing of the moral danger to which, in a metropolis like this, they are peculiarly exposed. When sin offers so golden a bait, it shows that those who yet continue at their work deserve respect and aid. If some of them have fallen - if some of them, driven by despair, have walked our streets to gain their bread, let us blame the system which has made so infamous and wretched a mode of life seem a change to be desired. Let the cure be adopted; let the work now done be distributed among a larger number of hands; and in this country, at least, there is no lack of persons eager to be employed. In many of the fashionable establishments increased cost of production can be of but little moment. Let employers learn to practise humanity, and let our high-born and influential ladies see to it, that it is no thoughtlessness of theirs that compels their poorer sisters to toil with a sinking frame and a heavy heart. As a nation, we have worked out [-183-] one problem in civilization; we have shown that the utmost wealth can exist side by side with the deepest poverty - the grossest ignorance with the most cultivated knowledge - the most elevating piety with the most debasing fetichism - the fairest virtue with the most revolting vice. Be it our nobler work to show to the nations of the earth how, while our higher classes live in refinement and wealth, there is no class, however humble, but can joy in the possession of social happiness and rights.
    But what, you ask, has this to do with Caldwell's? Only this, that of the class to which I have referred, I believe more may be found of an evening at Caldwell's than anywhere else in London. It is not all dressmakers who toil thus severely and unnaturally; and few of them are there who do not in the course of the year find time to pay Caldwell's a visit. Who has not heard of Caldwell's Soirées Dansantes ? Are they not advertised in every paper? Are they not posted in gigantic bills in every street? In quiet country lanes, miles and miles away from to town, do we not come across the coloured letters b which Mr Caldwell announces his entertainment to the world? Who is Mr John Caldwell? [-184-] We will let him speak for himself. He has an establishment in Dean-street, Soho. The building cost him nearly four thousand pounds. On boxing-night he had as many as 600 customers, "and on average nights," he tells us, "I have about 200. "The charge for admission is eight-pence. Mr Caldwell has a public-house just by, and from that supplies wine, and ale, and spirits. "I have never had a case of drunkenness in my place for years; I am very particular - I never let a drunken man remain." On an average about thirty glasses of spirits are drunk in the dancing room in the course of an evening, and about forty glasses of beer. "I believe my place is carried on in as respectable a manner as can be. Some of the first noblemen come; there are some very respectable tradesmen round the neighbourhood, and a great many young people from the neighbourhood. The rooms are principally supported by the working classes." The dancing saloon opens at eight, and is closed at a quarter to twelve. Such is the evidence given by Mr Caldwell himself before the select committee of the House of Commons on public-houses. As is perfectly natural, it is all coleur de rose. The union of the first noblemen [-185-] and the elite of the working classes over spirits-and-water, or in the mazy dance, is a beautiful specimen of fraternisation, and the small quantity of beer and spirits drunk by 200 persons indicates an amount of sobriety rare in places of public amusement. I think Mr Caldwell has a little understated the case. I fear he forgot to tell the committee that the drinking at his place was in the refreshment-room down-stairs, not in the dancing-room above; while in the latter the small quantity he asserts is consumed, I am inclined to think, much more may be disposed of down-stairs. In the course of his own examination some disagreeable truths oozed out. We give a couple of questions and answers in proof of this. - Sir George Grey: " Do you mean to say that the dancing-saloon would have no sufficient attraction for the people unless there were connected with it the facility of obtaining spirituous liquors ?" "I think not; the people want a glass of wine, or negus, or brandy-and-water." Again, Mr Caldwell has been unable to procure a license on account of the opposition of the publicans in the neighbourhood. The Chairman asks, "Do you think the publicans would withdraw their opposition?" " Yes, [-186-] they begin to find my house an advantage; when parties leave my rooms, they stand together at the corner of the streets, and say, We will have a parting glass. They do not all have it at my rooms."
    Now this answer does not well coincide with Mr Caldwell's former evidence. It is quite as much the drink as the dancing that is the attraction, and as to his respectable tradesmen, and the fact of persons not being tipsy, and that of some of the first noblemen coming there, all these assertions are fairly open to criticism. It was only the other day I heard a London magistrate declare that publicans never could tell when a person was tipsy; and as to respectability, your Robsons, and Camerons, and Sadleirs are always considered highly respectable. Ask the first person you meet about your neighbours. What is the answer? Oh, they are a highly respectable family; they are immensely rich. And as to noblemen coming into such places, I imagine that would be precisely the reason why the judicious father of a pretty girl would prefer her dancing anywhere rather than in Mr Caldwell's establishment in Dean-street. I have not much faith in the benefits of that spe[-187-]cies of the mixture of all ranks. Like the Irishman's reciprocity, it is all on one side. Tennyson makes his hero tell Lady Clara Vere de Vere-
        "At me you smiled, but unbeguiled  
            I saw the snare and I retired,-
        The daughter of a hundred earls,
            You are not one to be desired."
But perchance a young maiden, led away by the excitement of the hour, could not find it in her heart to address similar language to Lady Clara Vere de Vere's brother. The last victim always believes that she is to be the exception to all general rules; she may transgress, but not pay the penalty - pluck the forbidden fruit, and for doing so not forfeit Eden - plunge wildly into sin, and sorrow, and shame, and yet find peace in her heart and the light of heaven lying on her path; but cause and effect are eternal, and, youth gone, and pleasure gone, and the power to attract gone, and the inward sense of right succeeded by the stings of conscience and the gnawing of remorse, what is left but to weep madly and in vain for
        " The tender grace of a day that is dead "?
    [-188-] But we are in Caldwell's, - let us go into the gallery and look down. I know not the name of the new dances, but how the women swim round the room, as the music now hurriedly hastens, now softly dies away. The girl that dances here so modestly to-night in twelve months will have lost her maiden shame, will be dressed in silks and satins, will be dancing at the Argyll, and supping at Scott's or Quin's. That girl they call Rose - and a rose she is, for she might shine in a Belgravian drawing-room, and walks in beauty as a fairy queen - might have lit up a home with her love, and made a brave heart proud; but here she comes, night after night, and domestic life is to her tame after music and dancing such as she has here. Beauty you will not find much of, nor that overdress which stamps the character of the women at the Casino or the Argyll in unmistakeable terms; and the men are the class you usually meet in these places. They may be pickpockets, or they may be peers; you can scarce tell the difference in these levelling days. If I had not Mr Caldwell's express assertion to the contrary, I should certainly say that that Young fellow with a pint bottle of champagne in his hand was decidedly drunk, - at any rate, [-189-] he has very much the appearance of a tipsy person; but the waiters seem to be of Mr Caldwell's opinion, and are still offering him more drink, and the women around seem to think it is rather fun than otherwise. Ah! little do they reflect how such as he, under the influences of drink, forget the decencies of life, the claims of duty, forget even the common instincts of common humanity; so that the wife, whom he has vowed to love, honour, and protect, is abandoned, and the home forsaken, for the orgies of the public- house. Do the women around us ever expect to be the wives and mothers of such, or have they, young and fair as many of them seem, learnt already that recklessness as to the future which robs life of all its glory, and incarcerates the soul in a living grave? I can see, even here, a gaiety more sad than tears. But I need not continue my description; dancing in public rooms in the metropolis is much the same everywhere. Of course the place is all that Mr Caldwell says it is. I believe with him that it is as respectably conducted as establishments of the kind can be; but at the same time Mr Caldwell confesses it leads to drinking, and that is quite [-190-] reason enough, independently of other obvious considerations, why I come away thankful that no wife or sister of mine is amongst the parties nightly to be met at Mr Caldwll's soirees dansantes.