Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London and Londoners in the Eighteen-Fifties and Sixties, by Alfred Rosling Bennett, 1924 - Chapter 40 - 1867 - Strikes and Revolutions - Paris under the Empire - Gunpowder Treason

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Martyrdom of Governor Eyre - A disloyal Government - Strikes on the Brighton and North-Eastern Railways -Woburn Square ghost -  Emperor Maximilian - The Tomahawk and Napoleon III - Empress Charlotte - First visit to Paris - A fascinating chamber-maid - Parisian showmen - P.s. La Parisienne - Czar - King of Prussia - Bismarck - Luxembourg dispute - Fetes de l'Empereur - Hard on the English - Arc de Triomphe - Grand Exhibition - Clerkenwell Prison explosion - Gunpowder treason - Last public execution - Special constables - Glasgow explosions - German raids - H.M. Theatre fire - A scrimmage - Faraday - Alison - Holborn Viaduct - Tichborne case.

THE year 1867 was full of incident, most of which had some reference to London, for our metropolis was veritably the hub of the universe in those days, and there were few lines of force that did not pass through it even when they did not originate within its borders. My present difficulty is that, recollecting most of its events, I cannot refer to more than a small proportion of them without committing myself to something like a general history of the times, an undertaking both arduous and irreconcilable with the scope of this work. I must therefore confine myself to the matters which interested me most or came directly under my observation.
    In January the prosecution of Governor Eyre was decided upon; his persecution had been going on ever since his successful suppression of the Jamaican insurrection. Although the Jamaican Legislature had approved and thanked him for his prompt and effective action in saving the citizens from murder and outrage, the Home Government had not the courage to stand by their man.
    The pretext of the action was the alleged invalidity of [-304-] an Act of the Legislature indemnifying Governor Eyre for proclaiming martial law without adequate reason.
    In March the engine-men on the Brighton Railway struck, choosing the first day of the Epsom Spring Races as a favourable occasion. Only two drivers remained at work, but by supplementing these by locomotive foremen and shed-men, together with a few station-masters and inspectors who had had locomotive experience, eighteen engines were kept in service the first day and a considerable proportion of the traffic dealt with, although some of the less important branches had to be worked by horses. I had to travel on the South London line, then opened only from London Bridge to Brixton, and found that one engine, No. 51, manned by a turner and a cleaner from New Cross Sheds, was doing the whole duty of the branch. The 4 o'clock express to Brighton was only eight minutes late on March 26th, which pleased the passengers so much that they shook hands with and tipped the driver. A fund for the men running the trains was started at Croydon, from which many of them drew £6 to £7. One old man, driver of No. 73, who had been with the company from its opening day, refused to strike, and was called upon to run some of the most important trains, for which purpose one of the more modem and powerful engines was prepared; but he would not abandon his own locomotive, and kept No. 73 throughout, although she was comparatively old and second-rate.
    All the men's demands about pay and hours and overtime, which indeed would be reckoned moderate enough nowadays, were granted by the directors; but they would not consent to all men, clever or stupid, diligent or lazy, being put on an equality as regards pay; nor would they yield to another demand-that the men who remained loyal should be dismissed. On the second day many applications to take the strikers' places were received from Wales and the North; some German engine-men were reported to be on their way to London, and one Belgian driver actually started work. This was more than the revolters had bargained for, and those south of Three Bridges accepted the proffered terms. It was then hopeless for the London [-305-] men to persist, and the strike fizzled out. It was fought with much forbearance and good temper, although attempts were made to stop two of the working locomotives by placing soft soap in their tanks, and one of the engines was stoned from a bridge near Brockley. In 1916 a pensioned Brighton driver told me that there was nothing in his life he regretted so much as having been induced, against his better judgment, to participate in this strike. In April the engine-men on the North-Eastern Railway indulged in a similar campaign, with no better success.
    It is of interest to note that in 1867 a scheme for the amalgamation of the Brighton Railway with the South Eastern was debated with much acrimony and ultimately rejected by the former company's shareholders. After fifty-six years this fusion became a fact in 1923.
    I do not suppose that many Londoners of to-day have heard of the Woburn Square Ghost. In 1867, however, it would have been difficult to have found a Londoner who had not. It was reported that the figure of a woman in white was appearing nightly amongst the trees at the northeast corner of the enclosed garden in Woburn Square, and had been seen of many. The Press noticed the matter, with the result that crowds invaded the Square after nightfall, blocked the thoroughfare and refused to be moved on. But the ghost became coy under such conditions, and although some declared they saw her plainly the majority - including myself-were not so fortunate, and some felt considerably aggrieved. The sensation persisted for a week or two and then died away. What the true facts were never transpired, but the evidence in favour of some sort of apparition was very strong. Some said that medical students (as usual) had a magic lantern in a neighbouring attic; but, as the ghost was only visible at a certain angle, it is probable that the hazy figure was merely the light of an adjacent street-lamp shining through, and taking some form from, the foliage of intervening boughs. This is what the Lancet said, but then the theory may have been only a sort of red herring for the purpose of diverting suspicion from medical students. Be all that as it may, Our Lady [-306-] of Woburn Square had a good and lively (for a ghost at least) innings.
    In June came the news of the slaughter of the unfortunate Emperor (?) of Mexico, the Austrian Archduke Maximilian. Napoleon III, at whose instigation and with whose support he had assumed the perilous dignity, now terminated by an ignominious death - for he was made to turn his back to his executioners - incurred great odium both in his own and foreign countries and endeavoured to suppress discussion of the matter in the French, and particularly the Parisian, press. Sharp watch was kept on foreign publications and few indeed mentioning Maximilian got through the scrutineers. We had then in London a smart satirical weekly called the Tomahawk, the chief feature of which was a double- paged cartoon, usually by a clever artist known as Matt Morgan, which turned a limelight, not too kindly a beam as a rule nor excelling in good taste, on passing events. Its comment on the Mexican tragedy was a well-done picture showing Napoleon III as Macbeth shrinking at the feast and saying to the frowning ghost of Maximilian:
        "Thou canst not say I did it; never shake
            Thy gory locks at me!"
Thinking this to the point, I cut out the cartoon and sent it in a letter to a friend in Paris who, I knew, was in touch with those irreconcilable Republicans to whom Napoleon III was as scarlet geraniums to a bull. It pleased immensely, and he wrote asking for fifty copies posted separately as letters to different addresses, but, on applying at the Tomahawk office for them the answer came "Sold out." Three years later my friend, in spite of his Republicanism, rallied to Napoleon against the Prussians; helped to fight the guns of Mont Valérien, and in the end lost everything he had save life and honour.
    Maximilian's widow, once Empress Charlotte of Mexico, a sister of the late King Leopold II of Belgium, has long afforded one of history's most pathetic spectacles. Her intellect broke down under the strain of her husband's execution, and has remained obscured during the long period [-307-] which has since elapsed; insensible, poor thing, to passing events and even unconscious of the shower of disintegrated thrones, dynasties, kingdoms and empires belched forth as debris by the volcano of the Great War.
    The next episode to be related was a grand one of my own - my first visit to Paris, where there was that year a great - truly great - Exhibition. I travelled via Dieppe and spent a couple of interesting days at Rouen, where, in addition to the well-known antiquarian sights, I discovered many evidences of the early English railway rule in that part of France, where Brassey made the lines and Buddicom, from the Grand Junction Railway, the locomotives. The Parisian friend already mentioned had secured me a comfortable bedroom in the Avenue de la Bourdonnaye, close to the Exhibition, where an elderly chamber-maid from the South of France brought me every morning my polished boots together with coffee, roll and butter. The first time she did this I was truly fascinated by her appearance-for she was the first woman I had ever seen with a moustache. It was dark and well developed-better than mine own at that time-and might have been waxed into points like that of her mighty Emperor. But she was kind, poor soul, and was much taken aback when she learnt that I was only seventeen and had come to Paris across the seas without my mother ! Realisation of the fact seemed to threaten dire consequences, for I thereupon thought that I detected symptoms of an intention to dress and wash me and otherwise replace the missing parent. Certainly wonders had begun promptly in Paris! Not far from my lodging, on a vacant plot of ground, some showmen had pitched their booths and their cries to attract custom reached my ears very distinctly. One man called out about twice a minute from 11 a.m. till midnight every day, Sundays included, "Entrer et voir la belle Parisienne, seulement deux sous!" The insistence of this phrase so affected me that I found myself repeating it without rhyme or reason while walking about; but I never expended the modest sum requisite for an introduction to the lady.
    Reference to this man's cry recalls the fact that I often [-308-] saw on the Seine, plying to St. Cloud, an old-fashioned paddle-steamer named La Parisienne which, I was informed, had been employed to transport the great Napoleon's body from Le Hâvre to Paris on its road from St. Helena to the Invalides.
    The Exhibition was very fine, and Great Britain well represented. The Czar of Russia, Alexander II, was fired at by a Pole while visiting it: he, however, was to die by bomb, not bullet. The King of Prussia came too, with Bismarck, and the pair were laughed at by the Parisians as they rode in an open carriage. There had been a dispute only recently settled about the fortifications of Luxembourg, which had at one time threatened to develop seriously. The Parisians thought their Emperor had scored against Berlin, and were hilarious accordingly. How the laugh was on the other side only three years later when Bismarck proclaimed his King as Kaiser at Versailles!
    The French were rather given to risibility at other people's expense in those days, without any great regard for good manners or international amenities. I was in Paris during the fêtes de l'Empereur, when Napoleon III, who knew his subjects, provided several free open-air theatres in the Champs Elysées. I visited more than one and always found the play contained a character in a red coat, got up more or less like an English soldier, sometimes in shell-jacket and pork-pie castor, who was invariably a fool if he wasn't a poltroon (the poor soul was generally both), and came in for tricks and kicks and contumely at the hands (and feet) of all the rest. At each insult or buffet he suffered the crowd roared with delight, and it was painfully evident that John Bull and his red-coated legions were at a sad discount on the banks of the Seine. And this in spite of the co-operation in the Crimea twelve years before and the Emperor's kiss on Victoria's regal brow at Cherbourg! But Waterloo was then only fifty-two years distant-instead of 109 as at present-and had not yet been forgiven by any means. The fetes finished up with a grand display of fireworks on and about the Arc de Triomphe - so soon to be desecrated by the hoofs of the Prussian hussar. [-309-] They attracted an immense crowd, but were not equal to the shows I bad been accustomed to at Cremorne and the Crystal Palace. I wonder whether, in those high-flying days, the Man of Ham and his beautiful Spanish bride could have located Chislehurst on the map had they been put to it?
    On the afternoon of December 13th I was m Threadneedle Street, near the Royal Exchange, about 4 o'clock, when a loud dull bang rose above the din of the traffic. Wayfarers paused and looked interrogatively at each other, but nobody proffered any explanation, not even the Royal Exchange beadles, wise as they looked and doubtlessly were. Later, the evening papers disclosed quite a modem gunpowder plot. With the object of freeing Fenian prisoners, a barrel of black gunpowder had been exploded against the wall of the Clerkenwell House of Detention in Corporation Row by two or three Irishmen, with the result that several inoffensive persons, including a little girl, had been killed and many injured. Further particulars disclosed considerable method in the murder. The barrel had been placed under cover on the end of a costemmonger's barrow and wheeled to the site just as the prisoners were known to be exercising in the yard adjacent to the street. The truck was turned across the pavement, tipped up and the cask rolled off against the prison. While two men took the barrow rapidly away, a third lighted a fuse on the barrel and likewise decamped. A big slice of the wall went down, but the warders were not demoralised and were able to prevent any escapes. Four killed and forty wounded was the tally, and indignation raged. A man named Barrett was executed the following May for this cruel outrage. He had been brought from Glasgow specially to fire the barrel. His was the last public hanging in London.
    Fenianism had been rampant throughout the year and it was deemed judicious, in view of the many deeds of violence - the famous attack on the police van at Salford and the murder of Sergeant Brett had been one of them-to swear in special constables in London. I was considered too young to be enrolled, but two friends of mine were accepted and duly provided with badges and batons. They attended [-310-] drill regularly for some weeks, and, being athletic young fellows, already fair boxers and wrestlers, would have been able on occasion to have argued effectively in Pat's own emphatic style.
    The eastern districts of Glasgow, which so obligingly lent Barrett to the metropolis, are much more Irish than Scotch and have long been noted for disloyalty. In the early 1880s a series of outrages occurred, endeavours being made to blow up the Tradeston Gas Works and destroy a viaduct carrying the Forth and Clyde Canal over a principal thoroughfare. My destiny, which has ordained that I should frequently be on the verge of explosions, took me to Glasgow at that time, and I heard both those bombs.
    Late one evening, about a week before the evil deed at Clerkenwell, I was with the two athletic friends mentioned, when we heard that Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket was on fire. This was one of the largest and handsomest playhouses in London, at which one of the two opera seasons then generally provided was located, the other being held at Covent Garden. Her Majesty's was always furnished with a guard of red-coated and bear-skinned grenadiers who marched up and down in front of the building with gleaming bayonets, but who, it was alleged, had to call for the police in the event of any disturbance. It was said that, soon after the theatre had been built, such a. guard was requisitioned for a special occasion and was sent. The military authorities forgot about the matter; no cancellation of the order was received at the Guard House, and so the sentries had been continued ever since. But more probably it was considered that the name of the theatre entitled it to royal honours.
    Such a sight as a burning opera-house none of us had ever witnessed, so we hastened to the scene and got there shortly before midnight. An immense crowd had assembled, and any approach from the Cockspur Street side was impracticable; but Suffolk Street and Suffolk Place, its short cross-connection with Haymarket, were not so densely occupied, and we managed with some trouble to get very near the burning pile. It was a royal blaze, and it was [-311-] evident that the firemen and their engines might go home for any extinguishing they could hope to do. Fortunately there had been no performance that evening and life was not in peril.
    After a time the pressure behind us became very great and the front ranks of the crowd were impelled willy-nilly against a line of policemen drawn across the Haymarket end of Suffolk Place. Their formation bulged and they endeavoured to push the people back with more force than ceremony, and got soundly hissed and hooted for their trouble. But they could not restore the line and with some amazement we saw them replaced by Guardsmen in bearskins and overcoats, with bayonets fixed. At first the crowd cheered and called out "Bravo Guards!" but the big soldiers advanced and shoved with even more insistence than the police. The cheers turned to hisses, but the Tommies were impassible and simply went on doing it until, somehow or other, Suffolk Place received all its own again.
    Not being in the first dozen or so ranks, we escaped contact with the military and endeavoured to help matters by ourselves backing against those behind and calling upon others to do the same. Whilst so engaged a man roared out that he had lost his watch; and at the same instant several young fellows knocked my friends' tall hats over their eyes and tried to pull open their overcoats. Seldom have thieves, I imagine, made a worse miscalculation. In a moment two of them were holding their jaws and trying to get away, while two others put up their bands and dodged to avoid punishment. I did not sport a topper myself that night and had not been molested, but I fell in alongside my friends and together we sparred in the circular space that, in spite of the tremendous crush, was immediately cleared and which the blazing theatre rendered as light as day. The resistance put up by the four thieves was quite ineffective against my comrades' boxing - I had some slight knowledge of the art myself - and they did not get away without good and solid reasons, well and fairly imprinted, to remember the burning of Her Majesty's Theatre.
    [-312-] The year 1867 saw the death of two celebrated men - Faraday, the man of science and gifted experimenter, and Archibald Alison, author of the History of Europe. It likewise witnessed the commencement of Holborn Viaduct; the New Reform Bill; the new dog tax, and heard the first rumblings of the great Tichborne case.

source: Alfred Rosling Bennett, London and Londoners in the Eighteen-Fifties and Sixties, 1924