Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Corf-Batters and Bum-Bailiffs: Victorian Miners' Language Catalogued

There's a fascinating review in yesterday's Guardian of Pitmatic: The Talk of the North-East Coalfield (Northumbria University Press):

"A dialect so dense that it held up social reforms has been rescued from obscurity by the publication of its first dictionary.

"Thousands of terms used in Pitmatic, the oddly-named argot of north-east miners for more than 150 years, have been compiled through detailed research in archives and interviews with the last generation to talk of kips, corf-batters, and arse-loops.

"First recorded in Victorian newspapers, the language was part of the intense camaraderie of underground working which excluded even friendly outsiders such as the parliamentary commissioners pressing for better conditions in the pits in 1842.

"'The barriers to our intercourse were formidable,' they wrote in their report on encountering the Pitmatic dialect. 'Numerous mining technicalities, northern provincialisms, peculiar intonation, and accents and rapid and indistinct utterance rendered it essential for us to devote time to the study of these peculiarities ere we could translate and write the evidence.'

"The first Pitmatic dictionary, including pit recollections and analysis of the origins of the dialect's words, has been compiled by Bill Griffiths, the country's foremost Geordie scholar, whose previous work includes the standard Dictionary of North East Dialect. His new book reveals an exceptionally rich combination of borrowings from Old Norse, Dutch, and a score of other languages, with inventive usages dreamed up by the miners themselves.

"'There's been an urgency to the project, copying the handwritten diaries and songs stored away in family homes,' said Mr Griffiths, who also collected booklets, pit newspapers, and magazines and spent hours interviewing ex-miners.

"Although the north-east was once the world capital of mining - hence the phrase carrying coals to Newcastle - the last major pit closed in 2005 and the industry's traces are vanishing.

"'The golden age of writing about the pits by working pitmen for working pitmen and their families is over,' said Mr Griffiths. 'It is time to save and share what we can.'

"Part-financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, in a three-stage dialect study of the north-east called Wor Language, the dictionary reveals the deeply practical nature of Pitmatic. The dialect was originally called Pitmatical, and its curious name was a parallel to mathematics, intended to stress the skill, precision, and craft of the colliers' work.

"Term after term is related to mining practices, such as stappil, a shaft with steps beside the coal seam, or corf-batters, boys who scraped out filthy baskets used for hauling coal to the pithead.

"Other words are more earthy: arse-loop is a rope chair used when repairing shafts and a candyman or bum-bailiff is a despised official who evicts strikers from company-owned homes."

--end of The Guardian article--

Shown here: "The Miner," The Graphic, 15 April 1876.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Staying On Track

George Bradshaw (1801-1853), compiler of railway guides, is the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography's "Life of the Day" today. (The full bio is available at the DNB website for the next week.)

Bradshaw is one of my favorite Victorians because his particular set of abilities is so characteristic of the period: he was a disciplined man whose painstakingly detailed work was undertaken in service of extending the fruits of the Industrial Revolution to the British public (in this case, the steam railway) and making that public exponentially more conscious of time, imposing order and regularity on travelers through schedules produced with new printing technologies and disseminated through newly formed commercial distribution channels.

During an apprenticeship to a Manchester engraver, Bradshaw discovered the technical and artistic pleasures of map making. He produced engraved maps of Lancashire roads as well as maps of the canals of his native north England.

This interest in documenting travel routes was extended to the nascent railway system in 1830, when he produced Bradshaw's Railway Time Tables, a small cloth-bound book that sold for 6d. In 1840 Bradshaw's Railway Companion was produced, containing section maps and monthly timetables. The first edition of Bradshaw's Monthly Railway Guide appeared in 1841; Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide ("the foreign Bradshaw"), followed six years later. The monthly Bradshaw continued publication until 1961, more than 100 years after its founder's death.

The DNB notes that the monthly Bradshaw was notoriously hard to read because of its small format and print: "This presented a challenge to Victorian opticians to produce spectacles which were serviceable for reading Bradshaw--an essential companion for railway travellers. You did not simply 'look up' train times: you 'studied' Bradshaw. But the word 'Bradshaw' became synonymous with incomprehensibility: the guide was pilloried in Punch and Vanity Fair and was the subject of music-hall jokes [click here for an example]. When the actress Fanny Kemble was asked what she read to send her to sleep she replied: 'Why, the foreign Bradshaw, of course.'"

Everyone consulted Bradshaw, even certain Transylvanian vampires. In the second chapter of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jonathan Harker discovers the Count in his library, reclining on a sofa and leafing through a copy. As the business manager of Henry Irving's Lyceum Theatre, Stoker would have been intimately familiar with the Bradshaw guides; they would have been indispensable as he planned the company's extensive provincial tours.

Bradshaw was an active and philanthropic Quaker. He died in Norway in 1853 after contracting cholera and is buried there.

Shown here: Top--George Bradshaw by R. Evans (1841); Bottom--a typical page of a Bradshaw guide, from an 1850 edition.

Note to Readers: Search the Peeper!

In response to several requests, I've added a custom Google search engine to my blog. It's located at the bottom of the white sidebar on the right-hand side of the page. I hope this will make it easier for you to find information on the site.

As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions. Thanks, and enjoy!

(To learn how to create a custom Google search engine on your own website or blog, please read my response to a question in the comments to this post.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mary Seacole Gets Her Due

It looks like Mary Seacole, the celebrated Crimean War nurse who was the daughter of a Scottish army officer and a free-black Jamaican, will finally receive a much-deserved tribute in the form of a memorial at St Thomas’s Hospital, London.

The Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal was launched in November 2003. The appeal’s original target of £475,000 was recently reduced after the construction company Sir Robert McAlpine offered to build the monument at cost and the hospital offered the site, reducing the expenses associated with acquiring land for the memorial.

The Times reports that a design competition will now move forward and will seek ideas for the memorial from artists around the world. The selection panel, chaired by Baroness Amos, leader of the House of Lords, "will be looking for a design that not only represents Seacole but also reflects the scope of her activities and journey from Jamaica to the Crimea, via London, and back to Britain." It expects to announce the winning design next spring.

The memorial will celebrate the life and work of the self-taught nurse, herbalist, and businesswoman who made her own way to the Crimea in 1854, where she set up a rest, refreshment, and nursing post for troops near Sebastopol.

Her work won the gratitude of soldiers and the admiration of officers, and became known to Britons back home through the reporting of William Howard Russell, The Times’s legendary correspondent in the Crimea. When Seacole arrived in London penniless after the war ended, The Times sponsored an appeal that was supported by dukes and generals.

That appeal, and her bestselling autobiography (Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Mary Seacole in Many Lands), helped put Seacole back on her feet. After a quiet and apparently happy later life, which included working as a masseuse for the Princess of Wales, she died in 1881 at the age of 76. She is buried at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, northwest London.

In 2004 Seacole was named "Greatest Black Briton" in a BBC poll. The Albert Charles Challen portrait of Mary Seacole shown above currently graces a Royal Mail stamp.

Related links:


"Seacole memorial a step closer," The Times, 1 August 2006

Florence Nightingale Museum

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Agony at Sea

Is this the greatest British painting of the nineteenth century?

Historian Simon Schama thinks so, and makes a pretty solid case, too, in his series "Simon Schama's Power of Art" (originally aired last October and November on BBC Two and now airing in the United States on PBS).

This is JMW Turner's Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) from 1840. (Click on the image for a larger version.) John Ruskin once owned this oil painting, which is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It measures 90.8 x 122.6 cm (35 3/4 x 48 1/4 inches).

The painting was based on a poem that described a slave ship caught in a typhoon and on the true story of the slave ship Zong, whose captain, Luke Collingwood, had (in 1781) thrown sick and dying slaves overboard so he could claim compensation from his insurers for lost "cargo."

A replica of the Zong was sailed up the Thames in March 2007 as part of the UK's national commemoration of the bicentennary of the abolition of the slave trade. GrahamIX has some nice shots at Flickr.

Here's what Schama says:

"In 1840 in London, an international convention of the Great and Good was planned to express righteous indignation against slavery in the United States. Turner, initiated into the cause many years before by his patron, Walter Fawkes, wanted to have his say in paint. So how does he do it? By being a thorn in the side of self congratulation.

"He reaches back 60 years to resurrect one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the British Empire, when 132 Africans - men, women and children, their hands and feet fettered - were thrown overboard into the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. And Turner has drowned you in this moment, pulled you into this terrifying chasm in the ocean, drenched you in this bloody light - exactly the hue you sense in your blood-filled optic nerves when you close your eyes in blinding sunlight.

"Though almost all of his critics believed that the painting represented an all-time low in Turner's reckless disregard for the rules of art, it was in fact his greatest triumph in the sculptural carving of space."

So...is this the greatest British painting of the nineteenth century? If not, what painting would you nominate instead?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shiny Pretty Things

Queen Elizabeth II has reportedly dumped her official jeweller, Garrard, ending the 164-year link between the world's oldest jewellery house and the royal family. [Read the report in The Daily Mail.]

Garrard, the upmarket jeweller based in London's Mayfair, was originally chosen by Queen Victoria to be the official crown jeweller in 1843.

The little-known jeweller Harry Collins has been selected by the Queen to take over the coveted role of caring for the crown jewels and the monarch's personal collection.

Collins runs a family-owned antique and modern jewellery business at Tunbridge Wells and will travel to London once a week to tend to the Queens' collection of priceless tiaras, necklaces, and brooches.

He has been the Queen's private jeweller for five years and is the first jeweller ever to have his workshop in Buckingham Palace.

Shown here: The famous Small Diamond Crown of Queen Victoria, made for her by Garrard, which measures just 9 centimetres wide and 10 centimetres tall. Victoria first used the crown at the State Opening of Parliament in February 1871. She subsequently wore it as required on state occasions.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Victorian Things: Bashaw by Matthew Cotes Wyatt

Meet Bashaw, hound extraordinaire.

The Victoria and Albert Museum introduces us to this life-size sculpture of a Newfoundland dog commissioned by John William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley, which was to have been placed in Lord Dudley's house in Park Lane, London.

"Lord Dudley commissioned the portrait in 1831 from the sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1777-1862). He wanted not only a portrait of [his favourite dog] Bashaw, but also a great work of art. Money no object, Bashaw was taken [from Lord Dudley's country seat, Himley Hall, Staffordshire] about 50 times to sit for Wyatt at his London studio. Lord Dudley searched through family jewels and chose a combination of Persian topaz and sardonyx for his eyes.

"Unfortunately, Lord Dudley died in 1833 before the sculpture was completed and his executors refused to pay Wyatt the five thousand guinea fee. It had been an extravagant commission: a full-length marble statue of a man by the eminent sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey, for example, would only have cost about three thousand pounds.

"In his own lifetime, Wyatt’s sculpture of Bashaw was enthusiastically received. When it was exhibited at Wyatt's studio in 1834, the Court Journal declared that 'the work must be regarded as a triumph of art', while the Literary Gazette judged it 'the most elaborate representation of a quadruped ever produced by ancient or modern art ... singularly effective, magnificent, and unique'.

"It was also a popular exhibit at the Great Exhibition of 1851, with the title 'The Faithful Friend of Man Trampling Underfoot His Most Insidious Enemy.'

"Remaining unsold at the sale of Wyatt's effects, Bashaw became the property of the sculptor's son James. In 1870, he lent it to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). This time, the critics were not all in favour of Bashaw.

"John Ruskin scathingly wrote in a letter dated May 1871: 'It showed that the persons who produced it had seen everything, and practised everything; and misunderstood everything they saw, and misapplied everything they did … and misunderstanding of everything had passed through them as the mud does through earthworms, and here at last was their worm-cast of a Production.'

"Bashaw was also criticised in the Art Journal in January 1870: ‘The great placid beast is trampling with calm indifference on a bronze serpent, ingeniously contrived to form a support to the body of the oppressor … We are glad to learn from the label that this work is only on loan.'

"Bashaw was sold at auction in 1887. It then changed hands four more times before being bought by the V&A for £200 in 1960."

Shown here: Matthew Cotes Wyatt, Bashaw and detail of head. © SCRAN/ Victoria and Albert Museum.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Was A Scottish Warlock the Inspiration for Mr. Hyde?

From The Independent, 15 June 2007:

To the great and good of seventeenth-century Edinburgh, Major Thomas Weir was the epitome of puritanical respectability. An esteemed preacher who railed against sin from his pulpit in the city's West Bow thoroughfare, he and his sister Jean were considered so devout they were known locally as the "Bowhead Saints."

So it came as something of a surprise to his devoted faithful when the Major confessed, at the age of 70, to leading a darker life as a warlock behind a string of horrendous crimes including bestiality, incest, black magic, and necromancy.

His trial and subsequent execution for witchcraft in 1670 has gone down in the annals of Edinburgh's folklore. But it appears Major Weir boasts an even more formidable legacy: it was his bizarre, schizophrenic life that Robert Louis Stevenson used as his inspiration for his most infamous of literary creations - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

According to the BBC Four documentary "Ian Rankin Investigates: Dr Jekyll," the split personality of Major Weir both fascinated and terrified a young Stevenson who was haunted by the ghost stories his nanny, known as "Cummy," would tell him when he was little.

"What made Cummy's bedtime stories for young Louis so terrifying was that they really happened - just outside his bedroom window on the haunted streets of Edinburgh," said the documentary's presenter, the crime writer Ian Rankin.

Stevenson's novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, stunned Victorian London when it was published in 1886 and became an instant best-seller.

Rankin believes that the incredible duplicity of Major Weir, who for decades was able to convince his peers that he was a man beyond sin only to be condemned to death as a follower of the devil provided a perfect muse for the character of Dr Jekyll.

Described by Stevenson as a "tall black man" with a "grim countenance and a big nose," Major Weir was the Scottish equivalent of a holy warrior. Throughout the Bishops' Wars, which pitted Scotland's clergy against Charles I, he fought on behalf of Scotland's strictest religious sect, the Covenators, and, by the time he confessed, was regarded as the most pious man in Edinburgh.

Sentenced to death by strangulation and burning, it is said that while tied to the stake the former preacher who had spent a lifetime telling his flock to ask forgiveness refused to repent. "Let me alone," he said as the executioner tried one last time to make him pray. "I will not. I have lived as a Beast and I must die as a Beast."

Rankin also believes that the city of Edinburgh itself may have been just as much an inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as the ghost stories of Major Weir. Stevenson would have been aware of the way the city's elite would often lead duplicitous lives, extolling the virtues of Victorian moralism while drinking and whoring in the city's poorer old quarters.

"The city itself has a split personality," said Rankin. "Stevenson himself lived a double life, enjoying the kind of company that would have appalled his upright and god-fearing parents. The city's haunted and violent past is all around you; it's impossible to escape."

--end of The Independent article--

Shown here: Henry Van der Weyde (1838-1924, London), Mr. Mansfield, albumen print cabinet card, circa 1895.

Richard Mansfield (1857-1907) was an actor and producer. He appeared in several productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas during stints with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company but was best known for the dual role depicted in this double exposure: he starred in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in both New York and London. The stage adaptation opened in London in 1887, a year after the publication of the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Mansfield's performance was of such ferocity that it was rumored he was questioned by Scotland Yard in connection with the notorious Jack the Ripper murders in 1888.

Photo from the American Museum of Photography online exhibit "Seeing Double: Creating Clones with a Camera."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Victorian Things: Vase by William de Morgan

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City) introduces us to a beautiful vase by William De Morgan (1839–1917).

"Beasts and dogs among stylized foliate motifs in a ruby luster on an ivory ground decorate this vase by William De Morgan. A designer and master potter associated with the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as a founding member of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society (1888), De Morgan studied at the Royal Academy Schools before leaving his studies to work for William Morris' firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. as a designer of stained glass and a painter of furniture panels.

"De Morgan noticed an iridescence that resulted from the firing of silver paint used in the stained-glass process, thus sparking his interest in ceramic luster glazes, for which he later became famous. His inspiration came primarily from Iznik (Turkey) and Persian ceramics as well as Italian Renaissance maiolica and sixteenth-century Hispano-Moresque wares.

"In the 1870s, De Morgan (shown here) concentrated on decorating tiles. His mastery in this area culminated in a commission to copy Sir Frederic Leighton's collection of Persian tiles for the Arab Hall at Leighton House, London, in 1879. In 1882, he moved to a larger workshop in Merton Abbey, where he produced and decorated hollowware and continued to experiment with luster glazes."

This vase was made sometime between 1888 and 1898. It was manufactured at Sands End Pottery and is 13 3/4 in. (34.9 cm) tall.

Related links:

The De Morgan Centre in southwest London is a permanent home for work by William De Morgan, the Victorian ceramic artist, and his wife Evelyn, the painter. The Centre also houses an archive of papers relating to their lives and their circle, a reserve collection, and a temporary exhibition space. Visitors are welcome.

"Design Reform" (Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Related Posts with Thumbnails