Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Pinner Fair

This morning dawned grey and dull – not great weather for Pinner Fair which takes place today. Traditionally held on the Wednesday after the Spring Bank Holiday, Pinner Fair dates back to 1336 and the reign of King Edward III. I remember it well as a child (in the 1970's, I hasten to add, not the 1300's.) This charter allowed the Mayor of Harrow to hold a weekly market and a larger fair up to five times a year. This has survived down the centuries as the annual fair in May.
Pinner High Street, 1908 (without the fair present!)
As a child growing up near Pinner, I used to walk into the village with my father to watch the rides being set up. The walk still is very pleasant, especially at this time of year with the trees in blossom, but it is essentially a stroll through suburbia, albeit with neat front gardens and well-to-do houses. Quite different from what met the visitor in the 1830's.

'We used to go across the fields about four miles to Pinner.'
Revd. Henry Torre
The Queen's Head in the background
My father and I would walk along Bridge Street and the High Street to watch the lorries being unloaded and the bustle of rides being set up. In previous decades this was regimented by the police and a sergeant would blow his whistle at 6pm, to signal the start of the 'rush-in' to claim the best pitches. The fair people, who were waiting in side streets, would rush to their favourite spot and lay claim to it by sticking a pole in the gutter.
The Queen's Head, Pinner
As a child I had two favourite rides; the ponies that ambled up and down the lane outside the Police Station, and the traditional carousel roundabout at the top of the hill beside the parish church. The last time I visited the fair was with my own children, several years ago and although the carousel roundabout survives, the ponies giving rides are no more. Although the relatively innocent stalls of hooking a duck on a stick still exist today, more and more of the rides as noisy mechanical rides designed to thrill and frighten. A lot has changed since those earlier fairs.
Pinner Fair in the modern day

'The chief attractions were roundabouts, swinging-boats, single-stick and boxing matches; among the labourers, jumping in sacks, climbing a greased pole for a leg of mutton or a hat on the top, and last but not least in importance a dance at a public house.'
Revd. Henry Torre.  Recollections of School Days at Harrow (1890)

Some of the public houses in Pinner, such as the Queen's Head, and The Victory, date back centuries. Nowadays the publicans are content to make money from visitors to the fair popping in for refreshments, but in past centuries they were more enterprising.  Dancing booths were popular and the local publicans often took advantage of the crowds to organize a dance in a side room.
In my day this pub was called The Victory.
'The dancing was in a small room, and the atmosphere, impregnated with the smell of beer and tobacco, and the noise of dancing in chaw-boots, to a merry fiddle were something indescribable. Dancing continued till about midnight, when we walked back to Harrow.'
A drizzly day at Pinner fair

Nowadays, there is no dancing, but plenty of eating and drinking. For the one day of the fair the main roads of the High Street and Bridge Street are closed to traffic to make way for the attractions. It must be a sign of my age but the fair lacks the magic it held for me as a child. It just seems noisy, dirty and expensive. So what about you? Do you like fairs? 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Georgians: And So to Bed

On a recent tour of the Queen's State Apartments at Hampton Court Palace, my attention was taken by a chest / truckle bed in Queen's Guard Chamber.
The cot / chest in which a yeoman guard
might snatch a quick nap.
Apparently, this was where a weary yeoman guard could nap during the long watches of the night. This set me thinking and hence this post about the three beds on view in the state apartments.
The yeoman guard's bed was basically a trunk in disguise. With the lid down, you'd barely notice it as anything other than an underwhelming piece of furniture in the guard room. 
The fireplace in the Guard Room -
Two yeoman guards are featured in the caryatids. 
However, just a few rooms deeper into the royal apartments in the State Bedchamber the contrast with couldn't be greater as the Royal Bed of State is revealed in all its crimson brocade splendour.

The Royal Bed of State.
In a room dripping with opulence and decorated with fabulous paintings portraying the power of the royal family, we find a bed fit for a king...and queen. But just because this is a bed, doesn't imply any degree of privacy. Quite the opposite in fact. A courtier, or petitioner of influence, might be shown into this inner sanctum in order to present his business to the king.
The awe-inspiring ceiling in the State Bedchamber.
Designed to impress!
Fair enough the courtier wouldn't just wander in, he'd need to be sanctioned by the Yeoman Guard and then be escorted through the Queen's Presence Chamber, the Dining Room, the Privy Chambers and Drawing Room in order to reach the State Bedroom - but the principle remains that a person might do business with the king as he dressed.
The view from the State Bedchamber.
The idea is actually quite a practical one. In the 18th century it took an hour or more for the monarch to rise, dress, be coiffured and kitted out in all his royal finery. Neither did the king dress himself, but was attended by trusted servants who attended to his bodily needs as if he were a mannequin.
Deeper within the State Apartments we find the private rooms. It is here, in the Queen's Bedchamber. Heaven's above - this room had a lock on it and was a rare place where the royal couple might seek some privacy.
The Queen's bed within her private rooms
Queen Caroline would have slept here in the company of her husband, George II. Adjacent is a private dining room, a private bathroom and an oratory (prayer room), so whilst their idea of a family life wasn't exactly normal, with a small army of servants coming and going, one can at least hope the courtiers and petitioners didn't intrude this far.
Contrasting places to rest a weary head:
A trunk or state bed.
Which would you prefer? 
And finally...

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

18th Century Pastimes: Animal Baiting

Just because a sport is popular, is no guarantee of good taste and when it comes to entertainment what appeals to one person can be repulsive to another. This is certainly true of the 18th century craze for animal baiting, which from the distance of the modern day most right-minded people find disgusting.
The 'sport' of animal-baiting was extremely popular in the past

Baiting involved forcing animals or birds, to fight one another, often to the death. The most ancient form was cock-fighting which has also been suggested as one of the world’s oldest spectator sports, going back over 6,000 years to ancient Persia. Roman mosaics exist that show two cocks squaring up for a winner’s purse. In 17th century Britain the ‘sport’ was so popular and widespread that the term ‘cockpit’ (the pit in which cocks fought) was in common parlance to mean a place of entertainment or frenzied activity and in Tudor times, Whitehall had its own permanent fighting arena – the Cockpit-in-Court.
Cocks were pitched against each other because of their natural aggression to other males and James Boswell noted in 1762 after attending a fight how the birds fought with ‘amazing bitterness and resolution’ to the end.  It took until 1835 for cock-fighting to be banned but the legislation did not have sufficient ‘teeth’ and amazingly the activity continued in a widespread manner until the 1911 Protection of Animals Act made it illegal to prepare a place for cock-fighting.
The distressing 'sport' of bear-baiting
The bear was another animal used for baiting and the ‘sport’s’ fans included King Henry VIII, who had a special bear pit constructed at Whitehall, as well as Queen Elizabeth I. Tudor attitudes were very different to the modern day when such cruelty is to be abhorred, indeed Elizabeth over-ruled Parliament when they tried to stop bear-baiting on Sundays. Elizabeth’s court favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leceister, regularly hosted bear baitings, one of which is described below by Robert Laneham (1575).
Thursday, the fourteenth of July, and the sixth day of her Majesty’s coming, a great sort of bandogs [mastiff] were then tied in the outer court and thirteen bears in the inner . . . It was a sport very pleasant, of these beasts, to see the bear with his pink eyes leering after his enemies approach, the nimbleness and wayt [wait] of the dog to take his advantage, and the force and experience of the bear again to avoid the assaults. If he were bitten in one place, how he would pinch in another to get free, that if he were taken once, then what shift, with biting, with clawing, with roaring, tossing and tumbling, he would work to wind himself free from them. And when he was loose, to shake his ears twice or thrice with the blood and the slather about his physiognomy, was a matter of goodly relief.”
These 'gentlemen' are watching badger-baiting
Incredibly, this cruel activity only died out, in the 18th century, because bears which were extinct in Britain, also became rare in Europe and therefore too costly to import.
            Another example is bull-baiting. The bull was tied to a stake on a tether with a 30 foot radius. The idea of the ‘sport’ was for dogs to immobilize the bull. This was part justified on the rather thin belief that baiting improved bull meat. Indeed, some towns had bye-laws stating meat from a bull could not be sold unless the animal first been baited.

            In the early 19th century social attitudes began to change, but when the topic of banning bull-baiting was debated in parliament, the future prime minister Sir William Pulteney argued that:
‘The amusement inspired courage and produced a nobleness of sentiment and elevation of mind.’
An example of the wide spread nature of bull-baiting is found in the name of the main commercial area of the city of Birmingham, UK – which is called the Bull Ring (or Bullring in the modern day). The ‘ring’ refers to the hoop of iron to which the bull was tethered for baiting prior to slaughter. [It is perhaps testament to the British love of tradition that the 21st century contraction of Bull Ring to Bullring caused anger amongst the locals who looked on the former as the true, historic spelling.]
A modern nod to the origins of Birmingham Bullring
And finally…the dogs used in the vile activity of bull baiting were bred for purpose and when bull-baiting was banned, the numbers of these dogs fell dramatically. Around 1865 dog fanciers worried about the breed going into decline set about breeding the remaining animals together so as to preserve the breed. It is from these dogs that the British bulldog was derived – that national symbol of determination and fighting spirit! 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"Paradise for Women and Hell for Horses": Sexism in the 17th and 18th Centuries

[England is] a paradise for women and hell for horses.” Robert Burton 1651
A woman's role was to marry and have children.

            The above quote is from the 17th century, but the underlying sentiment remains true a century later in Georgian times. Just in case the word ‘paradise’ confuses you – consider that women are being put in the same category as horses, that is, both subject to men, their lord and master. In effect Burton is saying that women should consider themselves jolly lucky to be coddled and generously looked after by their menfolk. Puts a different complexion on the term ‘paradise’ doesn’t it?
            If you aren’t convinced, then consider this quote by Judge Buller, in 1782, who ruled on a point of English law concerning women and concluded:
            [It is] perfectly legal for a man to beat his wife, as long as he used a stick no thicker than his thumb.”
Wealthy and leisured...but at what price?
 In the upper classes there the prevailing attitude was of men ‘owning’ women – almost as though the men were intimidated and needed to keep women firmly under the thumb! Men subjugated women by linking learning, knowledge, politics and career to a loss of feminine charm. A ‘honey trap’ was created where a woman looked to marriage for security, and if she tried to be independent she was labelled as having loose morals. This is illustrated in this quote written in 1757 by Jean Jacques Rousseau:
            “there are no good morals for women outside of a withdrawn and domestic life …any woman who shows herself off disgraces herself.”
A laundress at work - one of the few 'honest' occupations
open to women

But of course, many lower class women had no choice but to earn a living and there were few jobs were considered 'decent' - and surprise, surprise, they paid poorly. Interestingly, the 18th century saw the birth of consumerism and some women stepped into roles as seamstresses (helping the wealthy keep up with the latest fashion), writing for magazines and pamphlets (more lofty literary ambition was frowned upon), decorating ceramics and indeed, serving in the new shops. But as for actresses and singers, those females who might consider entertaining for a living were labeled as being sexually available…

A maid at work.
My latest release, The Ringmaster's Daughter, features a heroine, Henrietta Hart, a performer, who has to balance entertaining men without compromising her morals. This is easier said than done, especially when her livelihood depends on pleasing the amorous Lord Fordyce....