Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Little World of London, by Charles Manby Smith, 1857 - The Signs of the Times

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[-126-]

THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES.

NOT being gifted with the spirit of prophecy, and possessing no skill in sciences abstruse and occult, we are not going upon the present occasion to attempt any explanation of the mysteries of the past, or to project forward from the dark lantern of imagination an enlightening gleam upon those of the future. We know nothing whatever about the Coming Struggle - have not even the honour of a bowing acquaintance with the Coming Man - have no pretensions to decide upon the completion of the chiliadic periods, nor have looked over the proof-sheets of the next year's almanac by Raphael. The great uproar among the nations that is to be, or is not to be - the long-looked for debacle which is to hoist Turkey in Europe out of Europe - and all the threatened and promised marvels and prodigies and horrors, which certain hungry and thirsty seers finch it so profitable just now to send drifting down the current of public opinion - these must take their course for us, and crown their own especial prophets and promulgators with honour or disgrace, as it may happen : they are not wares for our market. The signs of the times with which we at present have to do, though they do some of them hang out aloft very high, and blaze like meteors - while others glimmer feebly and fitfully in fuliginous and cavernous resorts, have nothing either celestial or infernal, supernatural or prophetical about them. They are substantial realities, the work of men's hands ; they appeal in silent but unmistakable language to a very numerous class of Her Majesty's liege subjects, and, unlike the [-127-] symbols of ancient or modern soothsayers, are never mis-understood by the dullest pate in Christendom. For instance: "The Cat and Bagpipes.''
    When certain unpropitious planets are in apogee, or when Mars and Venus are in opposition, there may be a shindy brewing somewhere, we don't deny it - very probably there is - we cannot undertake to determine ; but when we see the sign of the Cat anti Bagpipes in the ascendant, and swaying gracefully in the evening breeze at the corner of a street, we don't want the aid of astrological lore or the spirit of divination to inform us what it symbolises. We know as well as if we were Spigot himself, and had doctored the beer and spirits with our own hands for these twenty years past., what it means. It means stout in draught, and bottled beer, and treble X at threepence-halfpenny "in your own jugs" ; it means " Max,'' and "mountain-dew," and "yards of clay,'' and a brown japanned tobacco-box, inscribed with the venerable legend-
        A good half-penny pay before you fill,
        Or forfeit sixpence, which you will;
and a saw-dusted floor crowded with kitchen chairs and iron-spittoons, and mahogany-tables baptised in beer and loaded with foaming pots, each the temporary property of a volcanic proprietor in a state of eruption, to be followed by a state of harmony, and to end in a state of beastliness. And besides all this, it means skittles in the mouldy patch of garden-ground in the rear, and "goes" of gin, and "noggins'' and "three-outers," and plenty more of that sort of thing, as everybody knows, anti no mistake at all about it.
    If any one doubts the universal knowledge which bibulous man has obtained with respect to the language of these signs, he or she must be a person of most happy experience, who has dwelt apart in some delectable Arcadia where milk and honey have not been banished by malt and hops - and not in dusty, miry, smoky, beery, brewery London, where [-128-] Sir John Barleycorn surveys the whole capital from unnumbered elevations, and is monarch of all he surveys. Yonder fustian-jacketed labourer is in no such a state of heathen, or, if you like it better, classical ignorance. Ask him the way to Aldgate, and he will direct you along the whole route, though it should extend for a couple of miles, by those to him hospitable and infallible guides. He knows the charms of each separate paradise, and, never dreaming but that you are equally well informed, directs you to go straight on till you come to the Three Turks, then to turn to the right and cross over at the Dog and Duck, and go on again till you come to the Bear and Bottle, then to turn the corner at the Jolly Old Cocks, and after passing the Veteran the Guy Fawkes, and the Iron Duke, to take the first turn to the right which will bring you into it. By this civil communication you are taught, as we have been taught a hundred times, that the publicans' signs are, to no small section of the public, a substitute for the map of London. We propose to take a brief glance at them as they hang over our heads or flourish on side-posts or ground-glass windows. We have no intention of entering their sacred precincts, but shall confine ourselves to some selections from the catalogue which the bare enumeration of them would present, in order to see who and what are supposed to be the presiding deities in these veritable homes of half the working population of the capital of Great Britain.
    The public-houses in London amount in number to something not much short of 5,000, and if we suppose that the average number of customers to each is 100 a day - and some of the gin-spinning fraternity may count their daily customers by thousands - the sum-total will be more than equivalent to half the adult population - which does not say much for the spread of the total-abstinence principles. The half-million men and women who daily subscribe to the great alcoholic fund for promoting the demoralisation of the human [-129-] race, and throw their personal example into the bargain, are the supporters of about 30,000 persons employed in the sole occupation of administering the popular libations, and of half as many more engaged in their manufacture, for the consumption of London alone. They congregate together for one uniform purpose, but under banners including every variety which the imagination can suggest. Somebody has said that upon a question capable of popular solution nearly everybody will arrive at a just verdict, though perhaps no two men will be found who do so upon the same premises : your thirsty subject has always a problem to solve, and, so that he comes to the desired conclusion, is not at all particular as to the premises. If in a loyal mood, he may get drunk on the premises of the Victoria or Prince Albert ;  if in a patriotic one, at the Nelson or the Duke of Wellington ;  if in a benevolent one, at the Open Hand ;  if in an angry one, at the Hand and Dagger ; and so on, suiting the action to the sign, with true drunken philosophy, tile action being always the same what ever the sign.
     The first class of signs demanding notice are those bearing the names, and frequently the portraits, of celebrated individuals. The first on the list, for we like to begin at the beginning, is of course Adam but Adam, before he had his Eve, had his arms, for which we must refer the reader to the College of heraldry, putting no faith in the legend of a pewter pot, and a couple of crossed tobacco-pipes, attributed to him by the learned members of tile Licensed Victuallers' Company. There is but one Adam's Arms in London. Then come Adam and Eve together, and the blissful pair dominate over exactly twelve reeking tap-rooms within the sound of Bow Bells. Our first parents are the only antediluvians on the list, but of Noah's Arks, which form the connecting-link between the world before and the world after the deluge, there are eight.. David with his harp begins the catalogue of royal personages, of whom there is literally no end. There [-130-] is a King Alfred, only one King George, two Henry the Eighths, three Kings of Denmark, fourteen Kings of Prussia, five King William the Fourths, one King on Horseback, ten King and Queens, ninety King's Arms, and seventy King's Heads. Of Queens Adelaide and Charlotte, there are two each ; of Queen Victoria, twenty-one ; of Queen's Arms, a dozen ; and of Queen's Heads, fifty; and for the use and behoof of all these royal personages, there are threescore-and-ten Crowns ; and about as many more in connection with Anchors, Anvils, Apple-trees, Barley-mows, Tin cans, Dolphins, Horse-shoes, Leeks, Sceptres, Shears, Shuttles, Sugar-loaves, Thistles, and Wool-packs ; to say nothing of fifty Roses, the rose always taking precedence of the crown on the sign-board. There are a dozen Prince Alberts ; twice as many Princes of Wales; as many Prince-Regents. Each Prince-Regent might be matched with a Princess of some designation or other ; and foreign princes and princes' heads complete the catalogue of sovereignty. Then there is everything Royal, from the Royal Albert, down through the whole alphabet to the Royal Yacht, including five-and-twenty Royal Oaks and fifteen Royal Standards.
    Of Dukes, there are ninety-eight, including fourteen Dukes of Clarence, six Dukes of Sussex, twenty-five Dukes of Wellington, and thirty Dukes of York. There are ten Earls, and forty-five Lords, including thirty Lord Nelsons thirty-six Marquises, of whom one-half are Marquises of Granby. Of Shakspeares, there is but one, and six Shakspeare's Heads. There are two Sir Isaac Newtons, two Sir Sydney Smiths, and one Sir Walter Scott ; one Van Tromp, three Whittington and Cats, two Sir John Barleycorns, four Sir John Falstaffs, and ten Robin Hoods.
    Among the signs especially appealing to working-men, there are the arms of every profession, from the Bricklayers' Arms, of which London boasts thirty, through the whole [-131-] alphabet again, down to the Watermen's Arms, of which there are fifteen.
    In the animal kingdom, there are three Antelopes ; fourteen Brown Bears, besides a whole bear-garden of various other lively colours ; Birds in the Hand, five ; Black Bulls, sixteen; Bulls' Heads, twenty-five; Black Dogs, four; Black Horses, twenty-five ; Black Lions, ten ; Black Swans, six; Blue Boars, seven ; one Blue Pig ; one Blue Lion ; one Camel ; four Cart-horses ; three Cats ; one Civet Cat; twenty Cocks ; four Cocks with Bottles ; two Cocks with Hoops, and one Cock and Neptune ; two Dogs and Ducks ; fourteen Dolphins ; six Eagles ; seven Elephants with or without Castles ; ten Falcons ; one Fish ; thirty Foxes, with Grapes, Geese, or Hounds; three Hampshire Hogs; five Hares and Hounds ; ten Goats, some in Boots, and some furnished with a pair of Compasses ; thirty Green Men ; nine Greyhounds ; two Hen and Chickens ; one Hog in the Pound ; twenty- seven Horses and Grooms; ten Lions in a state of nature, some t?te-a-t?te with Lambs, some with French Horns ; ninety Lions in red skins, anti twenty-eight in white ones ; seven Magpies, one with a Maiden, three with a Stump, one with a Pewter Platter, and one with a Punch-bowl; twenty Nags' heads ; one Old Cock; one Old Fox ; six Old Red Lions ; and four Old Swans. There are twelve Peacocks one Pheasant ; four Pied Bulls ; two Barns ; two Ravens nine Red Cows ; one Red Horse ; ten Roebucks ; seven Running Horses ; one Running Footman ; three Spotted Dogs ; eleven Spread Eagles ; thirty Swans, some with Horse-shoes, some with Sugar -loaves, and one with two Necks ; five Tigers ; twelve Turks' Heads ; five Unicorns ; eighteen White Bears; seventy White Harts, and only one White Hind; fifty-four White Horses ; one White Raven; thirty-one White Swans ; four Stags ; one Leopard ; three British Lions, and one Porcupine.
    Some publicans betray a partiality for a particular number, [-132-] and double or treble their signs, or choose some device which shall express their favourite figure. Thus we have the One Tun, the One Swan ; the Two Bells, the Two Black Boys, the Two Sawyers, the Two Ships, the Two Mariners, the Two Brewers (of which there are thirty), the Two Eagles, &c. These we have the Three Colts, the Three Compasses (twenty-seven in number), the Three Cranes, the Three Crowns, the Three Cups, the Three Goats' Heads, the Three Hats, the Three Herrings, the Three Jolly Butchers, the Three Kingdoms, the Three Kings Heads, the Three Loggerheads, the Three Lords, the Three Mackerel, the Three Neats' Tongues, the Three Pigeons, the Three Stags, the Three Suns, and the Three Tuns, which last number over a score. Four is not a favourite number with Publicans, and the Four Swans in Bishopsgate Street is the only quadruple alliance upon the sign-boards of London. Fives there are in plenty ; among which we may particularise the Five Bells and Blade-bone, the Five Ink-horns, and the Five Pipes. Of sixes, there are but two - the Six Bells, and the Six Cans and Punch-bowl. Of the sevens, there are just seven - of which six are the Seven Stars, and one the Seven Sisters. Then the Eight Bells, of which there are four ; and the Nine Elms, of which there is but one. There is also but one ten - the Ten Bells ; and one twelve, which is also a peal of Bells.
    There are sixteen saints - St. John, St. Luke, and St. Paul being the favourites ; and though there is but one bishop, Bishop Blaize, there are eleven Mitres. Of Georges, there are fifty; and twenty more of that gentleman settling his account with the Dragon. There are twenty-one Angels, and fifteen more Angels in partnership with Crowns, Suns, and Trumpets ; seven Flying Horses ; about thirty Golden prodigies of various kinds - Anchors, Fleeces, and Lions ; of Green Dragons, there are sixteen ; and five Griffins, three Men in the Moon, one Monster, three Neptunes, eleven Phoenixes, and one Silver Lion.
    [-133-] Among the Jolly fellows are the Jolly Anglers, the Jolly Farmers, the Jolly Millers, the Jolly Sailors, and the Jolly Waterman, with a Tippling Philosopher at their head.
    Of fruits, fruit-trees, and vegetables, we have - Artichokes, seven ; Apple-trees, three ; Cherry-trees, five ; Grapes, sixty-six ; Mulberry-trees, four ; Orange-trees, two ; Pineapples, five ; and Vines, three.
    The most absorbent colours are found to be black, blue, green, red, and white. Of these the Blacks amount to nearly a hundred, the greater part of them being Black Bulls and Black Horses ; the Blues are sixty, being mainly Anchors, Boars, and Posts ; the Greens are fifty, mostly Green Dragons or Green Men ; the Reds are a hundred and ten, of which three-fourths are Lions ; and the Whites are above two hundred, in which the White hart and the White Horse principally predominate.
    Among the mysterious signs which are apt to puzzle us as we walk the streets, are the Hole-in-the-Wall, of which there are seven the Bag of Nails - thought to be a corruption of The Bacchanalians - the Two Black Boys; the Cat and Salutation ; the Fish and Bell ; the Globe and Pigeons the Goose and Gridiron ;  Grave Maurice (who was he?) ; the Half-moon and Punch-bowl ; the Ham and Windmill ; the Hat and Tun ; the Hop and Toy ; the Horns and Chequers; the Horse-shoe and Magpie ; the King's Head and Lamb ; the Naked Boy and Woolpack; the Queen's Head and French Horn ; the Rose and Three Tuns ; the Salmon and Compasses ; the Sash and Cocoa-tree ; the Sun and Sword ; the Ship and Blade-bone, &c., the significations of which, if they have any, lie too deep beneath the surface for our comprehension.
    Of the implements of agriculture there are - Ploughs, eighteen ; Harrows, five ; one Shovel, three Carts and Horses, and two Waggons. We may add that there are fourscore Ships in all conditions, from a Ship on the Launch, [-134-] to a Sheer Hulk and of Anchors there are twenty, most of them allied with Hope, and twenty more allied only with blue paint.
    The above selections from the list of wooden banners, beneath which assemble nightly the thirsty population of the metropolis, must suffice for the present. They are the multifaced symbols of the most frequented, most popular, and best patronised of all our national institutions whether they reflect much credit upon us as the inhabitants of the most enlightened city in the world, is a question we have not leisure to enter upon. The hospitality they practise is regarded by humanitarians as a very doubtful virtue - and some of them do not scruple to declare, that though by no means ministers of charity themselves, they are the originating causes of half the munificent and splendid charitable endowments which adorn our land, and, moreover, of not a few of those palatial-looking prison-fortresses which the genius of architecture has latterly condescended to render ornamental too, on the principle, we suppose, that if the body politic cannot get rid of an unsightly wen, the next best thing is to hide it beneath an agreeable covering.

source: Charles Manby Smith, The Little World of London, 1857