Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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SMITHFIELD AND BARTHOLOMEW FAIR.
The Mulberry-garden at St. Bartholomew's—Prior Bolton—The Growth of Bartholomew Fair—Smithfield reduced to order—"Ruffians' Hall"— Ben Jonson at Bartholomew Fair—A Frenchman's Adventures there—Ned Ward's Account—The Beggars' Opera—"John Audley"— Garrick meets a brother Actor—A Dangerous Neighbourhood—Old Smithfield Market—Remains of the Smithfield Burnings—Discovery of Human Remains.
A great part of the priory was rebuilt in the reign of Henry IV., and it became famous for its mulberry-garden," one of the first planted in England. That garden stood to the east of the present Middlesex Passage, and it was under its great leafy trees that scholars at fair-time held their logical disputations. Within the gates the northern part of the priory ground was occupied by a large cemetery with a spacious court, now Bartholomew Close. After the time of Henry IV. the City established a firm right to all fair-tolls outside the priory enclosure. The last prior of St. Bartholomew who was acknowledged by the English kings died in office, and was the last prior but one of the Black Canons of West Smithfield. This was that same Prior Bolton who built the oriel in the church for the sacristan to watch the altarlights; and he built largely, as we have already shown, at Canonbury. He had two parishes, Great St. Bartholomew and Little St. Bartholomew, within his jurisdiction. At the dissolution the priory and the hospital were torn apart by greedy hands for ever.
In 1537 Sir Thomas Gresham, then Lord Mayor, prayed that the City might govern St. Mary, St. Thomas, and St. Bartholomew Hospitals, "for the relief, comfort, and aid of the helpless poor and indigent." In 1544 the king established a new Hospital of St. Bartholomew, under a priest, as master, and four chaplains; but the place was mismanaged, and King Henry VIII. founded it anew, "for the continual relief and help of a hundred sore and diseased."
At the dissolution the privileges of the fair were shared by the corporation and Lord Rich (died 1568), ancestor of the Earls of Warwick and Holland. The Cloth Fair dwindled away in the reign of Elizabeth, when the London drapers found wider markets for their woollens, and the clothiers, as roads grew better, started to wider fields. The three days' fair soon grew into a fourteen days' carnival, to which all ranks resorted. We find the amiable and contemplative Evelyn writing of his having seen "the celebrating follies" of Bartholomew; and that accumulative man, Sir Hans Sloane, sending a draughtsman to record every lusus naturæ or special oddity. In 1708 (Queen Anne), the nuisance of such licence becoming intolerable to the neighbourhood, the fair was again restricted to three days. The saturnalia was always formally opened by the Lord Mayor, and the proclamation for the purpose was read at the entrance to Cloth Fair. On his way to Smithfield it was the custom for the mayor to call on the keeper of Newgate, and on horseback partake of "a cool tankard of wine, nutmeg, and sugar;" the flap of the tankard lid, it will be remembered, caused the death of the mayor, Sir John Shorter, in 1688, his horse starting, and throwing him violently. The custom ceased in the second mayoralty of Sir Matthew Wood.
"In 1615," (fn. 1) says Howes, "the City of London reduced the rude, vast place of Smithfield into a faire and comely order, which formerly was never held possible to be done, and paved it all over, and made divers sewers to convey the water from the new channels which were made by reason of the new pavement; they also made strong rayles round about Smithfield, and sequestered the middle part of the said Smithfield into a very faire and civill walk, and rayled it round about with strong rayles, to defend the place from annoyance and danger, as well from carts as all manner of cattell, because it was intended hereafter that in time it might prove a faire and peaceable market-place, by reason that Newgate Market, Moorgate, Cheapside, Leadenhall, and Gracechurche Street were unmeasurably pestred with the unimaginable increase and multiplicity of market folks. And this field, commonly called West Smithfield, was for many years called 'Ruffians' Hall,' by reason it was the usual place of frayes and common fighting during the time that sword and bucklers were in use. But the ensuing deadly fight of rapier and dagger suddenly suppressed the fighting with sword and buckler."
Falstaff. I bought him in Paul's, and he'll buy me a horse in Smithfield; an I could get me but a wife in the stews, I were manned, horsed, and wived.—Second Part of Henry IV., Act i., Sc. 2. (fn. 2)
That fine, vigorous old satirist, Ben Jonson, the dear friend and protégé of Shakespeare, named one of his best comedies after this great London fair, and has employed his Hogarthian genius to depict the pickpockets, eating-house-keepers, protesting Puritans, silly citizens, and puppet-show proprietors of the reign of James I. Some extracts from his amusing play, Bartholomew Fair, 1613 (written in the very climax of the author's power), are indispensable in any history, however brief, of this outburst of national merriment. The following extract from Mr. Morley's "History of Bartholomew Fair" contains some of the most characteristic passages:—
"Nay," says Littlewit, "we'll be humble enough, we'll seek out the homeliest booth in the fair, that's certain; rather than fail, we'll eat it on the ground." "Aye," adds Dame Purecroft, "and I'll go with you myself. Win-the-Fight and my brother, Zeal-of-the-Land, shall go with us, too, for our better consolation." Then says the Rabbi, "In the way of comfort to the weak, I will go and eat. I will eat exceedingly, and prophecy. There may be a good use made of it, too, now I think on't, by the public eating of swine's flesh, to profess our hate and loathing of Judaism, whereof the brethren stand taxed. I will therefore eat, yea, I will eat exceedingly." So these also set off for the fair.
In the fair, as I have said, is Justice Overdue, solemnly establishing himself as a fool, for the benefit of public morals. There are the booths and stalls. There is prosperous Lanthorn Leatherhead, the hobby-horse man, who cries, "What do you lack? What is't you buy? What do you lack? Rattles, drums, halberts, horses, babies o' the best, fiddles of the finest!" He is a too proud pedler, owner also of a famous puppet-show, the manager, indeed, for whom Proctor Littlewit has sacrificed to the Bartholomew muses. Joan Trash, the gingerbread-woman, keeps her stall near him, and the rival traders have their differences. "Do you hear, Sister Trash, lady of the basket! sit farther with your gingerbread progeny, there, and hinder not the prospect of my shop, or I'll have it proclaimed in the fair what stuff they are made on." "Why, what stuff are they made on, Brother Leatherhead? Nothing but what's wholesome, I assure you." "Yes, stale bread, rotten eggs, musty ginger, and dead honey, you know." "I defy thee, and thy stable of hobby-horses. I pay for my ground, as well as thou dost. Buy any gingerbread, gilt gingerbread! Will your worship buy any gingerbread? Very good bread, comfortable bread!"
"Buy any pears, pears, fine, very fine pears!" "What do you lack, gentlemen? Maid, see a fine hoppy-horse for your young master. Cost you but a token (fn. 3) a week his provender."
"What do you lack, what do you buy, mistress? A fine hobby-horse, to make your son a tilter? A drum, to make him a soldier? A fiddle, to make him a reveller? What is't you lack? little dogs for your daughters, or babies, male or female?"
"Gentlewomen, the weather's hot; whither walk you? Have a care of your fine velvet caps; the fair is dusty. Take a sweet, delicate booth with boughs, here in the way, and cool yourselves in the shade, you and your friends. The best pig and bottle-ale in the fair, sir. Old Ursula is cook. There you may read—'Here be the best pigs, and she does roast them as well as ever she did'"—(there is a picture of a pig's head over the inscription, and)—"the pig's head speaks it."
"A delicate show-pig, little mistress, with shweet sauce and crackling, like de bay-leaf i' de fire, la! Tou shalt ha' the clean side o' the table-clot, and di glass vash'd with phatersh of Dame Annesh Cleare." (fn. 4)
In "Wit and Drollery: Jovial Poems," 1682, the
writer has hit off several of the chief rarities of the
"Here's that will challenge all the fair.
Come, buy my nuts and damsons, and Burgamy pears!
Here's the Woman of Babylon, the Devil, and the Pope,
And here's the little girl, just going on the rope!
Here's Dives and Lazarus, and the World's Creation;
Here's the Tall Dutchwoman, the like's not in the nation.
Here is the booths, where the high Dutch maid is;
Here are the bears that dance like any ladies;
Tat, tat, tat, tat, says little penny trumpet;
Here's Jacob Hall, that does so jump it, jump it;
Sound, trumpet, sound, for silver spoon and fork,
Come, here's your dainty pig and pork."
In the year 1698, a Frenchman, Monsieur Sorbière, visiting London, says, "I was at Bartholomew Fair. It consists mostly of toy-shops, also finery and pictures, ribbon-shops—no books; many shops of confectioners, where any woman may commodiously be treated. Knavery is here in perfection, dextrous cutpurses and pickpockets. I went to see the dancing on the ropes, which was admirable. Coming out, I met a man that would have took off my hat, but I secured it, and was going to draw my sword, crying, 'Begar! You rogue! Morbleu!' &c., when on a sudden I had a hundred people about me crying, 'Here, monsieur, see Jephthah's Rash Vow.' 'Here, monsieur, see the Tall Dutchwoman.' 'See The Tiger,' says another. 'See the Horse and no Horse,' whose tail stands where his head should do.' 'See the German Artist, monsieur.' 'See The Siege of Namur.' So that betwixt rudeness and civility I was forced to get into a fiacre, and with an air of haste and a full trot, got home to my lodgings."
"At the Great Booth over against the Hospital Gate, in Bartholomew Fair, will be seen the famous company of ropedancers, they being the greatest performers of men, women, and children that can be found beyond the seas, so that the world cannot parallel them for dancing on the low rope, vaulting on the high rope, and for walking on the slack and sloaping ropes, outdoing all others to that degree, that it has highly recommended them, both in Bartholomew Fair and May Fair last, to all the best persons of quality in England. And by all are owned to be the only amazing wonders of the world in everything they do. It is there you will see the Italian Scaramouch dancing on the rope, with a wheelbarrow before him with two children and a dog in it, and with a duck on his head, who sings to the company, and causes much laughter. The whole entertainment will be so extremely fine and diverting, as never was done by any but this company alone."
Ned Ward, as the "London Spy," went, of course, to the fair, but in a coach, to escape the dirt and the crowd, and at the entrance he says he was "saluted with Belphegor's concert, the rumbling of drums, mixed with the intolerable squeaking of catcalls and penny trumpets, made still more terrible with the shrill belches of lottery pickpockets through instruments of the same metal with their faces." The spy having been set down with his friend at the hospital gate, went into a convenient house, to smoke a pipe and drink small beer bittered with colocynth. From one of its windows he looked down on a crowd rushing, ankle-deep in filth, through an air tainted by fumes of tobacco and of singeing, over-roasted pork, to see the Merry Andrew. On their galleries strutted, in their buffoonery of stateliness, the quality of the fair, dressed in tinsel robes and golden leather buskins. "When they had taken a turn the length of their gallery, to show the gaping crowd how majestically they could tread, each ascended to a seat agreeable to the dignity of their dress, to show the multitude how imperiously they could sit."
A few years before this the fair is sketched by Sir Robert Southwell, in a letter to his son (26th August, 1685). "Here," he says, "you see the rope-dancers gett their living meerly by hazarding of their lives; and why men will pay money and take pleasure to see such dangers, is of separate and philosophical consideration. You have others who are acting fools, drunkards, and madmen, but for the same wages which they might get by honest labour, and live with credit besides. Others, if born in any monstrous shape, or have children that are such, here they celebrate their misery, and, by getting of money, forget how odious they are made. When you see the toy-shops, and the strange variety of things much more impertinent than hobbyhorses of ginger-bread, you must know there are customers for all these matters; and it would be a pleasing sight could you see painted a true figure of all these impertinent minds and their fantastic passions, who come trudging hither only for such things. Tis out of this credulous crowd that the ballad-singers attrackt an assembly, who listen and admire, while their confederate pickpockets are diving and fishing for their prey.
"'Tis from those of this number who are more refined that the mountebank obtains audience and credit; and it were a good bargain if such customers had nothing for their money but words, but they are best content to pay for druggs and medicines, which commonly doe them hurt. There is one corner of this Elizium field devoted to the eating of pig and the surfeits that attend it. The fruits of the season are everywhere scattered about, and those who eat imprudently do but hasten to the physitian or the churchyard."
"In the year 1727-28," says Mr. Morley, "Gay's Beggar's Opera was produced, and took the foremost place among the pleasures of the town. It took a foremost place also among the pleasures of the next Bartholomew Fair, being acted during the time of the fair by the company of comedians from the new theatre in the Haymarket, at the 'George' Inn in Smithfield. William Penkethman, one of the actors who had become famous as a boothmanager, was then recently dead, and the Haymarket comedians carried the Beggar's Opera out of Bartholomew into Southwark Fair, where 'the late Mr. Penkethman's great theatrical booth' afforded them a stage. One of the managers of this specula tion was Henry Fielding, then only just of age, a young man who, with good birth, fine wit, and a liberal education, both at Eton and at Leyden University, was left to find his own way in the world. His father agreed to allow him two hundred a year in the clouds, and, as he afterwards said, his choice lay between being a hackney writer and a hackney coachman. He lived to place himself, in respect to literature, at the head of the prose writers of England, I dare even venture to think, of the world."
"A writer in the St. James's Chronicle (March 24,
1791) wished to place upon record the fact that it
was Shuter, a comedian, who, in the year 1759,
when master of a droll in Smithfield, invented a
way, since become general at fairs, of informing
players in the booth when they may drop the
curtain and dismiss the company, because there
are enough people waiting outside to form another
audience. The man at the door pops in his head,
and makes a loud inquiry for 'John Audley.'"
The ingenious contriver of this device is the Shuter
who finds a place in "The Rosciad" of Churchill:
"Shuter, who never cared a single pin
Whether he left out nonsense, or put in."
"There lived," says Mr. Morley, "about this time a popular Merry Andrew, who sold gingerbread nuts in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, and because he received a guinea a day for his fun during the fair, he was at pains never to cheapen himself by laughing, or by noticing a joke, during the other 362 days of the year."
"Garrick's name," says the same writer, "is connected with the fair only by stories that regard him as a visitor out of another world. He offers his money at the entrance of a theatrical booth, and it is thought a jest worth transmitting to posterity that he is told by the checktaker, 'We never takes money of one another.' He sees one of his own sturdy Drury Lane porters installed at a booth-door, where he is pressed sorely in the crowd, and calls for help. 'It's no use,' he is told, 'I can't help you. There's very few people in Smithfield as knows Mr. Garrick off the stage.'"
In "Oliver Twist" Dickens sketches with his peculiar power the dangerous neighbourhood of Smithfield, which lay between Islington and Saffron Hill, the lurking-place of the Sykeses and Fagins of thirty years ago:—
"As John Dawkins," says Dickens, "objected to their entering London before nightfall, it was nearly eleven o'clock before they reached the turnpike at Islington. They crossed from the 'Angel' into St. John's Road, struck down the small street which terminates at Sadler's Wells Theatre, through Exmouth Street and Coppice Row, down the little court by the side of the workhouse, across the classic ground which once bore the name of Hockley-in-the-Hole, thence into Little Saffron Hill, and so into Saffron Hill the Great, along which the Dodger scudded at a rapid pace, directing Oliver to follow close at his heels.
"Although Oliver had enough to occupy his attention in keeping sight of his leader, he could not help bestowing a few hasty glances on either side of the way, as he passed along. A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops, but the only stock-in-trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place were the public-houses, and in them the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in the filth, and from several of the doorways great, ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, upon no very well-disposed or harmless errands."
The enormous sale of roast pork at Bartholomew Fair ceased, says Mr. Morley, with all the gravity of a historian, about the middle of the last century, and beef sausages then became the fashion. Thomas Rowlandson's droll but gross pictures of the shows, in 1799, show those sickening boatswings and crowds of rough and boisterous sightseers. He writes on one of the show-boards the name of Miss Biffin, that clever woman who, through the Earl of Morton's patronage, succeeded in earning a name as a miniature painter, though born without either hands or arms. In 1808 George III. paid for her more complete artistic education, and William IV. gave her a small pension, after which she married, and, at the Earl of Morton's request, left the fair caravans for good.
This great carnival, a dangerous sink for all the vices of London, was gradually growing unbearable. In 1801 a mob of thieves surrounded any respectable woman, and tore her clothes from her back. In 1802 "Lady Holland's Mob," as it used to be called, robbed visitors, beat inoffensive passersby with bludgeons, and pelted harmless persons who came to their windows with lights, alarmed at the disturbance. In 1807 the place grew even more lawless, and a virago of an actress, who was performing Belvidera in Venice Preserved, knocked down the august king's deputy-trumpeter, who applied for his fees. Richardson's shows were triumphant still, as in 1817 was Toby, "the real learned pig," who, with twenty handkerchiefs over his eyes, could tell the hour to a minute, and pick out a card from a pack. In one morning of September, 1815, there were heard at Guildhall forty-five cases of felony, misdemeanour, and assault, committed at Bartholomew Fair. Its doom was fixed. Hone, in 1825, went to sketch the dying sinner, and describes Clarke from Astley's, Wombwell's Menagerie, and the Living Skeleton. The special boast of Wombwell, who had been a cobbler in Monmouth Street, was his Elephant of Siam, who used to uncork bottles, and decide for the rightful heir, in a very brief Oriental melodrama. The shows, which were now forced to close at ten, had removed to the New North Road, Islington. Lord Kensington, in 1827, had offered to remove the fair, and in 1830 the Corporation bought of him the old priory rights. In 1839 Mr. Charles Pearson recommended more restriction, and the exclusion of theatrical shows followed. The rents were raised, and in 1840 only wild beast shows were allowed. The great fair at last sank down to a few gilt gingerbread booths. In 1849 the fair had so withered away that there were only a dozen gingerbread stalls. The ceremony of opening since 1840 had been very simple, and in 1850 Lord Mayor Musgrove, going to read the parchment proclamation at the appointed gateway, found that the fair had vanished. Five years later the ceremony entirely ceased, but the old fee of 3s. 6d. was still paid by the City to the rector of St. Bartholomew-the-Great, for a proclamation in his parish. The fair had outlived its original purpose.
Smithfield Market was condemned in 1852 by law to be moved to Islington, the noise, filth, and dangers of the place having at last become intolerable, and half a century having been spent in discussing the annoyance.
"The original extent of Smithfield," says Mr. Timbs,"was about three acres; the market-place was paved, drained, and railed in, 1685; subsequently enlarged to four and a half acres, and since 1834 to six and a quarter acres. Yet this enlargement proved disproportionate to the requirements. In 1731 there were only 8,304 head of cattle sold in Smithfield; in 1846, 210, 757 head of cattle, and 1,518,510 sheep. The old City laws for its regulation were called the "Statutes of Smithfield." Here might be shown 4,000 beasts and about 30,000 sheep, the latter in 1,509 pens; and there were fifty pens for pigs. Altogether, Smithfield was the largest live market in the world."
The old market-days were, Monday for fat cattle
and sheep; Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for
hay and straw; Friday, cattle and sheep, and milch
cows; and at two o'clock for scrub-horses and
asses. All sales took place by commission. The
customary commission for the sale of an ox of any
value was 4s., and of a sheep, 8d. The City received a toll upon every beast exposed for sale of
1d. per head, and of sheep at the rate of 1s. per
score. Smithfield salesmen estimated the weight
of cattle by the eye, and from constant practice
they approached so near exactness that they were
seldom out more than a few pounds. The sales
were always for cash. No paper was passed, but
when the bargain was struck the buyer and seller
shook hands, and closed the sale. £7,000,000,
it was said, were annually paid away in this manner
in the narrow area of Smithfield Market. "The
average weekly sale of beasts," said Cunningham in
1849, "is said to be about 3,000, and of sheep about
30,000, increased in the Christmas week to about
5,000 beasts, and 47,000 sheep. The following return shows the number of cattle and sheep annually
sold in Smithfield during the following periods:—
1841 194,298 1,435,000
1842 210,723 1,655,370
1843 207,195 1,817,360
1844 216,848 1,804,850
1845 222,822 1,539,660
1846 210,757 1,518,510
The miseries of old Smithfield are described by Mr. Dickens, in "Oliver Twist," in his most powerful manner. "It was market morning," he says; "the ground was covered nearly ankle-deep with filth and mire, and a thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary ones as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; and tied up to posts by the gutter-side were long lines of oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a dense mass. The whistling of drovers, the barking of dogs, the bellowing and plunging of beasts, the bleating of sheep, and grunting and squeaking of pigs; the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides, the ringing of bells, and the roar of voices that issued from every public-house, the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping, and yelling, the hideous and discordant din that resounded from every corner of the market, and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng, rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confused the senses."
Smithfield Market, on a foggy, rainy morning in November, some twenty-five years ago (says Aleph), was a sight to be remembered by any who had ventured through it. It might be called a feat of clever agility to get across Smithfield, on such a greasy, muddy day, without slipping down, or without being knocked over by one of the poor frightened and half-mad cattle toiling through it. The noise was deafening. The bellowing and lowing of cattle, bleating of sheep, squeaking of pigs, the shouts of the drovers, and often, the shrieks of some unfortunate female who had got amongst the unruly, frightened cattle, could not be forgotten. The long, narrow lanes of pavement that crossed the wider part of the market, opposite the hospital, were always lined with cattle, as close together as they could stand, their heads tied to the rails on either side of the scanty pathway, when the long horns of the Spanish breeds, sticking across towards the other side, made it far from a pleasant experience for a nervous man to venture along one of these narrow lanes, albeit it was the nearest and most direct way across the open market. If the day was foggy (and there were more foggy days then than now), then the glaring lights of the drover-boys' torches added to the wild confusion, whilst it did not dispel much of the gloom. It was indeed a very great change for the better when at last the City authorities removed the market into the suburbs.
In March, 1849, during excavations necessary for a new sewer, and at a depth of three feet below the surface, immediately opposite the entrance to the church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great, the workmen laid open a mass of unhewn stones, blackened as if by fire, and covered with ashes and human bones, charred and partially consumed. This was believed to have been the spot generally used for the Smithfield burnings, the face of the victim being turned to the east and to the great gate of St. Bartholomew, the prior of which was generally present on such occasions. Many bones were carried away as relics. Some strong oak posts were also dug up; they had evidently been charred by fire, and in one of them was a staple with a ring attached to it. The place and its former history were too significant for any doubt to exist as to how they had been once used. Gazing upon them thoughtfully, one was forcibly reminded of the last words of Bishop Latimer to his friend Ridley, as they stood bound to the stake at Oxford: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." And the good Latimer's words have come true.
Some years ago, on removing the foundations of some old houses, on the south side of Long Lane, a considerable quantity of human remains were discovered—skulls and other portions of the skeletons. This spot was understood to be the north-west corner of the burying-ground of the ancient priory of St. Bartholomew. The skulls were thick and grim-looking, with heavy, massive jaws, just as one would expect to find in those sturdy old monks, who were the schoolmen, artists, and sages of their time.