London in the Sixties (with a few digressions)

London in the Sixties (with a few digressions)


Author: Shaw, Donald
London (England) — Social life and customs — 19th century
Hotels — England — London — History
Bars (Drinking establishments) — England — London — History
London (England) — Description and travel
London in the Sixties (with a few digressions)
This ebook was transcribed by Les Bowler

First Edition, June, 1908.
Second ,, September, 1908.
Third ,, March, 1909.
Cheap ,, March, 1914.

London in
The Sixties



I. 1860 1
II. The Tower 13
III. Mott’s and Cremorne 25
IV. Kate Hamilton’s and Leicester Square 37
V. The Night Houses of the Haymarket 48
VI. Evans’s and the Dials 61
VII. The Ratcliff Highway 73
VIII. The Booths on Epsom Downs 83
IX. Racing par Excellence 94
X. The Epidemic of Cards 111
XI. The Coup de Jarnac 127
XII. The Public Hanging of the Pirates 130
XIII. The Hostelries of the Sixties 140
XIV. The Drama (Legitimate and Otherwise) 151
XV. Mostly “Otherwise” (continued) 163
XVI. Usurers and Millionaires 175
XVII. Some Curious Fish of the Sixties 182
XVIII. Spiritualism and Realism 192
XIX. The Rock and the Cape 205
XX. Eastward-ho! 222
XXI. The Guillotine and Madame Rachel 232
XXII. Reminiscences of the Purple 243
XXIII. Dhuleep Singh and Fifty Years after 257
XXIV. The last of the Old Brigade 264


London in the sixties was so different from the London of to-day that, looking back through the long vista of years, one is astonished at the gradual changes—unnoticed as they proceed.  Streets have been annihilated and transformed into boulevards; churches have been removed and flats substituted; night houses and comfortable taverns demolished and transformed into plate-glass abominations run by foreigners and Jews, whilst hulking louts in uniform, electro-plate and the shabby-genteel masher have taken the place of solid silver spoons and a higher type of humanity.  So extensive indeed has been the transformation, that, if any night-bird of those naughty days were suddenly exhumed, and let loose in Soho, he would assuredly wander into a church in his search of a popular resort, and having come to scoff, might remain to pray, and so unwittingly fall into the goody-goody ways that make up our present monotonous existence.
The highest in the land in those benighted days turned up their coat collars and rubbed shoulders after dusk with others of their species in recreations which, if indulged in now, would be tantamount to social ostracism, or imperilling the “succession.”
It was, in short, the tail end of the days of the Regency, changed, virtuous reader, for better or worse.  It was, nevertheless, distinctly enjoyable and straightforward, for it showed its worst, and blinked nothing in hypocrisy.
The only recommendation for this appearance is its authenticity; every incident passed within (or very near) my ken, for I was a veritable “front-rank man” in that long-ago disbanded army—a veteran left behind when better men have passed away—one of the few who could attend a muster parade of that vast battalion of roysterers, and who, by sheer physical strength, has survived what weaker constitutions have succumbed to—a living contradiction of the theory of the “survival of the fittest.”
It was one morning early in 1860 that I proudly saw my name in the Gazette—as a full-blown ensign.  I had scanned every paper for weeks, although aware that our late gracious Sovereign (or her deputy) could hardly have had time to decide the momentous question as to whether I was to be a fusilier, a rifleman, or a Highlander, so short was the period between passing my examination and the announcement I so fervently awaited.  But I had great Army interest, and so it came to pass that, within six weeks of leaving Chelsea Hospital (where the examinations took place), I held a commission in a distinguished regiment.
To give the number of the dear old corps would at best be misleading, for numerals and the prestige that attached to them were wiped out long ago by one scratch of the pen of that great civilian who remodelled our Army from what it was when it suppressed the Mutiny to what it became before the Boer War.
England at this period bristled with soldiers—bronzed old warriors with beards down to their waists, who had not seen their native shores for twelve or fifteen or twenty years; who, till they were scraped (in conformity with St. James’s campaigning ideas), looked fit to do anything, or go anywhere—men who had survived the trenches and the twenty degrees of frost in the Crimea, and sweltered twelve months later at Gwalior, Jhansi, Lucknow, and Delhi, and had at last found their reward, amidst cocked hats, red tape, recruits’ drill, and discharge, in that haven of rest, “merrie England.”
My future regiment, then on its way home, was no exception to the rule, and I remember, as but yesterday, the comparisons I drew a few weeks later on the Barrack Square of the (then) new barracks at Gosport, between the pasty-faced “strong-detachment” from the depôt and the grand old veterans that towered over them.
And every man-jack of them was possessed of valuable jewels.  Where the worthy rogues had captured the loot needs not to inquire, suffice to say that oriental stones worth hundreds were retailed for a few shillings, and found their way to the coffers, and tended to build up the fortune, of an astute Hebrew who, by “the encouragement of British industries,” eventually became a knight, and died not long ago in the odour of sanctity, rich and respected—as all rich men do.
It was amid these surroundings that I began my military career, despite the fact that every rascal with anything to sell had radiated towards Gosport from every point of the compass.
Gosport and Portsmouth were in those days the first stepping stones in the filtration towards Aldershot, after which, and only after a drill season, the grandest soldiers England ever possessed, were considered as presentable troops.
The barrack squares in those happy days, after a regiment had landed, resembled oriental bazaars rather than the starchy, adamant quadrangles familiar to the present generation.  Every forenoon officers and men were surrounded by hucksterers of every care and creed, and one’s very quarters were invaded by Jews and Gentiles anxious to sell or buy something.
“This is the most arakristic trap in the west of England, so ’elp me Gawd; isn’t it, Cyril?” one Hebrew would inquire of another, as the points of an ancient buggy and a quadruped standing in the square were extolled to ambitious youngsters; and “Yes it is, so ’elp me Gawd,” often succeeded in selling a rattle-trap that had done duty in every regiment stationed at Gosport from time immemorial.  Old clothes-dealers, too, abounded by the score, ready to buy anything for next to nothing.  But some of us youngsters were not to be caught like the veterans who were unfamiliar with depôt ways, and the judicious deposit of a farthing in a pocket now and again resulted in phenomenal prices for cast-off garments till the hucksterers “tumbled,” and the harvests ended; and so, between the goose step and a thousand other delights, the happiest days many of us ever enjoyed (though unaware of it at the time) passed slowly on.
At this period the Volunteers had just come into existence, and, not having developed the splendid qualities they proved themselves possessed of during the Boer War, naturally came in for considerable chaff and ridicule.
As a specimen of the senseless jokes that abounded at the time, I may quote what was generally mooted in military messes, that at a recent levée the volunteers who had attended had shown so much esprit de corps that Her Majesty had ordered the windows to be opened; and it is, I believe, an absolute fact that on one occasion an inspecting officer nearly had a fit when the major of a gallant corps appeared with the medal his prize sow had won pinned upon his breast.
It was the Volunteer review in Hyde Park in 1860 that was responsible for my first appearance in uniform.  Determined that the review should lack nothing of military recognition, stands had been erected, for which officers in uniform were entitled to tickets for themselves and their relations.  In an unlucky moment the announcement had caught the eye of a sister, with the result that, terribly nervous, nay almost defiant, I was marched boldly down to Bond Street on the day of the review, and, nolens volens, dressed at Ridpath and Manning’s in my brand new cast-iron uniform.
Conceive, kind reader, a wretched youth—dressed inch by inch by a ruthless tailor in broad daylight on a sunny afternoon, incapable of deceiving the most inexperienced by his amateur attempts of appearing at home—huddled into the clothes, and then hustled into the street by a proud sister and father, and some idea of my abject misery will be apparent to you.
It was at the moment, whilst waiting on the pavement to enter our carriage, that a huge Guardsman passed and thought fit to “salute.”  My first instinct was to wring him by the hand and present him with a sovereign; then all became indistinct, and I tumbled into the carriage.
The excitement was too much for me—I almost fainted.
A splendid specimen of the Hibernian type in my regiment was a man called Madden (and by his familiars “Payther”), who, as a character, deserves special mention.  This giant had not long previously been “claimed” by an elder brother whilst serving in a Highland Regiment, and it was reported that on one occasion, when on sentry at Lucknow, the general officer impressed by his six feet three in full Highland costume, having pulled up and addressed him with, “What part of the Highlands do you come from, my man?” was considerably nonplussed by being informed, “Oi come from Clonakilty, yer honour, in the County Cork.”  Our colonel, too, was an undoubted Irishman by birth; but had succeeded, after forty years’ service, in being capable of assuming the Scotch, Irish, or English dialect as circumstances seemed to require.  In addition, moreover, to an excessive amount of esprit de corps, he had the reputation of being the greatest liar in the Army; not a liar be it understood in the offensive application of the term, but incapable of accuracy or divesting his statements of exaggeration when notoriety or circumstances gave him an opening.  This failing of “Bill Sykes,” as he was called, was so universally known throughout the Army, that one evening a trap was laid for him by some jovial spirits in the smoking-room of a famous Army club.
“Here comes old Bill,” was remarked by Cootie, of the Bays, as the Colonel sauntered in with a toothpick in his mouth.  “I’ll bet a fiver I’ll start a yarn he’ll never be able to cap.”
“Done!” cried Kirby, “and if he doesn’t keep up his reputation I’ll pay you on the nail, and send in my papers in the morning.”
“Good evening, Colonel,” began Cootie.  “I was just relating a most extraordinary coincidence that was lately told me by a man whose veracity I can vouch for—Shute of ours.”
“Indeed,” replied the Colonel, filling a pipe—Bill invariably smoked a dudeen at the head of the regiment.  “By all means let me hear it.”
“It is simply this.  Coming home on sick leave in a P. and O. not long ago, the look-out man descried half a mile out at sea what appeared to be a huge box; a long boat was immediately lowered, and when the derelict was brought on deck, conceive the astonishment of everybody in discovering that it was a hencoop, and a live man inside.  It was a case of shipwreck it appears, and the man saved was the only survivor of some 180 souls.  Rum thing, wasn’t it? but some people have infernal luck.”
“Yes,” replied the Colonel.  “I believe I was horn under a lucky star; perhaps you will be surprised to hear that I was the man.”
A roar of astonishment greeted this admission, whilst Cootie, hastily thrusting a fiver into Kirby’s hand, whispered, “I presume you won’t send in your papers to-morrow?”
But, despite his peculiarity, old Bill was universally popular.  A splendid billiard player, he had in India created such excitement in a match for £500, that even Lord Faulkland, the Governor of Bombay, who never parted with a sixpence without looking at it twice, was said to have put a gold mohur on it, and in later times I can remember the Club House at Aldershot being crammed to suffocation when the same redoubtable warrior licked Curry the Brigade Major, who till our arrival had no compeer.
One curious experience he had had which he never tired of narrating: “I was once waiting for the d— packet at Dover to take me over to Calais, and at the hostelry I met a d— Frenchman, who asked me if I could ‘parley vous,’ and I said ‘no,’ but offered to play him a game of billiards.  We had a fiver on it, but I soon discovered that no matter where I left the balls the d— fellow made a cannon.  I was only about three ahead of him, so when next I played I knocked a ball off the table.  The first time the d— fellow sympathised with me, and picked up the ball; after two or three repetitions the coincidence appeared to puzzle him.  ‘I can’t play if Mooser does this,’ he said angrily.  ‘I can’t help that,’ I replied, and ran out with a break.  He declined to go double or quits, so I pocketed the fiver, and often found myself laughing over it in the d— boat, where I was d— ill.”
This persistent swearing may sound curious to the student of to-day, but in those halcyon days everybody swore.  The Iron Duke, it is well known, never opened his mouth without a superfluous adjective, and General Pennefather, who commanded at Aldershot in my time, literally “swore himself” into office.  On one occasion, when the Queen was on the ground, he wished every regiment so vehemently to the “bottom of the bottomless pit” that it frightened the gracious lady, who sent an equerry to remind him of her presence.  The monition had the desired effect for ten minutes, when the bombardment commenced afresh, and brought the field-day to an abrupt termination.  The Queen had bolted in sheer trepidation of an earthquake.
Military examinations for direct commissions in those long-ago days were held at Chelsea Hospital, and extended over a week.  On the occasion of my public appearance an extraordinary incident occurred.  Every precaution, it was stated, had been taken against the papers getting into unauthorised hands, but hardly had the first day passed when every candidate was aware that the tout of a sporting tailor was prepared to sell the paper of the day correctly answered at £2 a head.  The conspirators met at the “Hans Hotel,” and donkeys incapable of spelling, and with no knowledge of any language but their own, passed examinations worthy of a senior wrangler.
The miscreant who thus tampered with Her Majesty’s stationery was one Pugh, and his employer (if I remember rightly) was one Cutler; but the golden shower came to an abrupt ending, as on one fateful morning (the last day) General Rumley ascended the gallery, and amid the silence of the Catacombs briefly announced:
“The late examination is cancelled; candidates will attend again next Monday.”
The consternation that ensued is beyond description.  Jolliffe, who, I believe, had been measured for his uniform, did not join for at least a year after, and poor old Plummy Ruthven, who couldn’t spell six words correctly, abandoned all further idea of the Army.  He was sitting next me on the first day, and I remember as if it were yesterday his whispered inquiry as to the correct reply to a mathematical question: “At what hour between two and three are the hands of a clock opposite one another?”  The reply, it is needless to add, had to be “worked out” by figures, but thinking in the excitement he was asking the time I hurriedly whispered, “Twenty minutes to one,” and down it went on poor old Plummy’s paper.  During the subsequent days his papers, I fancy, were vastly improved, as he was a constant visitor at the “Hans Hotel.”
The Aldershot of the sixties was a very different place to what it is to-day.  Three rows of huts—as the lines of three regiments—constituted the North Camp, and about an equal number and two blocks of permanent barracks represented the South Camp.  During the drill season everything else was under canvas, and heaven help those who ever experienced the watertight capacity of the regulation bell tent.  I can well remember one night, when the windows of heaven had been open for days, a dripping figure in regimental great-coat and billycock hat appearing in the mess tent with, “The horse is disthroyed, and I don’t know what the Jasus to do,” and as he dripped at “attention” we realised it was only the adjutant’s Irish groom that had been washed out of the temporary stable.
These wooden huts were peculiarly adapted for practical joking.  Within a week of my joining whilst contemplating with admiration, previous to turning in, my brand new possessions of portable furniture, I was astonished by a brick rattling down the chimney.  Barely had I dodged it when bang came another, whilst not a sound disturbed the peaceful repose of the camp.  “Great heavens,” I thought, “there must be an earthquake,” and rushing out frantically to give the alarm, I paused, and on second thoughts returned.  But in the few seconds that had elapsed there must have been another violent sho

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London in the Sixties (with a few digressions)
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