‘This abominable traffic’: a consequence of gun manufacture

The Illustrated London News of 1 February 1851 carried a long article on gun barrel making (see our pictures ST216, ST217 and ST218 by typing the codes into our website search box), which included the following:

‘The manufacture of fire-arms is one of the most extensive trades carried on at Birmingham; and in all its various departments – of stock, lock and barrel – is estimated to give employment to between 6000 and 7000 persons. During the war, happily ended by the peace of Waterloo, Birmingham could not manufacture fire-arms with sufficient rapidity to meet the necessities of the Government; although for a period of many years it turned out, according to a phrase still repeated in the town, “a gun a minute, night and day, Saturdays and Sundays”, or 525,600 per annum … Though the trade since those times has greatly diminished, Birmingham still manufactures immense quantities of fire-arms of all descriptions; and supplies the gun-makers of every part of the kingdom with gun-barrels and gun-locks, which are afterwards fitted together in London and elsewhere …

‘A proportion of the gun-barrels thus produced are for the Government and for the East India Company; and another portion are for sporting purposes, for the home and foreign trade; but by far the largest number are manufactured for Africa. The African trade in this article alone supports many hundreds of people. The guns are of the cheapest and commonest description. The orders are received from the merchants of London and Liverpool, who barter the guns on the African coast for ivory, spices, gold-dust, and other produce. It is asserted that many of these guns find their way to Brazil, and that the Brazilian slave-traders carry on an extensive business with some of the African kings and chiefs, by exchanging guns for men. When this abominable traffic was legal in England, a Birmingham gun was the common price for a negro.’

‘An amphitheatre of enormous dimensions’: Batty’s Hippodrome

William Batty (1801-68) was an equestrian performer, probably the most successful circus proprietor in the Victorian age, and for a time the operator of Astley’s Amphitheatre (a highly popular performance venue in London, and a long-lived one too – it opened in 1773 and finally closed in 1893).

In 1850 he acquired land in Kensington Gardens and built a huge oval arena for equestrian and other events; it was just five minutes’ walk from the Crystal Palace, and Batty was hoping to attract at least some of the thousands of visitors to the Great Exhibition. Batty’s Hippodrome could seat 14,000 people in a roofed grandstand surrounding the arena.

Here is an account of some of the performances in 1851 from The Illustrated London News:

‘Mr. Batty has erected a novel kind of circus, calculated to be a rival to his own Astley’s, but for the difference of locality and aim. Opposite the Broad-walk, Kensington Gardens, an amphitheatre of enormous dimensions, under the title of “the Hippodrome,” attracts all lovers of horsemanship. It consists of a circle of boxes and stalls divided by two opposite orchestra stations, which are occupied by two brass bands, who continue playing during the performance and an hour previous. The seats for the audience are covered, but the arena for Equestrian exhibition is open to the air and sky. We are thus carried back to the ancient times of Greece and Rome, and our own Elizabethan era; and the entertainments are suitable to these classical associations. Tournaments, chariot races, Trojan youths and Thessalian steeds, and such reproductions from the days of old, are the prevailing amusements. We believe, indeed, that the bills attempt no delusion in stating, that these exercises are “on a scale of extent and grandeur hitherto unattempted in England.”

‘The artists have been drafted from the Hippodrome at Paris, the principal being M. Louis Soullier, equerry to his Highness the Sultan Medjid of Turkey and the Emperor of Russia, and “his numerous and highly-trained stud of horses” to whom may be added his company. The performance on Wednesday commenced with a pageant representing the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I on the Field of the Cloth of Gold … The second part was not less interesting. The Brazilian coursers, performed by the three brothers Debach, on four horses each, was a highly exciting scene – presenting a trial of skill emulously carried out. But this was exceeded in interest by that exhibited by three female competitors, in a grand chariot race. The performances concluded with a monkey riding and driving four ponies; dames of the chase, in characteristic costume, on leaping palfreys; M. Frantz Debach, on the globe arienne, a well-known but difficult feat [he travelled up and down a narrow inclined plank balancing on a large ball], and in this instance executed with inimitable grace; and the Corso races by Barbary coursers, an exhibition at the Carnival of Rome. We have omitted to mention an exceedingly amusing race by two ostriches of the desert, with their Arab riders, one of whom was thrown in the experiment.’

Another attraction at Batty’s Hippodrome was the spectacular ascent of the balloon ‘Erin go bragh’, shown in our illustration LP233. This was the first balloon ever to be made in Ireland, and was reputed to be the second biggest balloon in the world.

Batty’s Hippodrome opened for two seasons. After 1852 it became a riding track and riding school, and was demolished after the 1860s.

Bizarre inflatable swimming suit demonstration

Try this stylish indiarubber body-costume with handy rocket and book storage when you get caught by the tide. Or maybe not.

From ‘The Illustrated London News’ 1874

‘An exhibition took place last week in Cork harbour which was viewed with great interest by thousands of spectators. This was the performance of Captain Paul Boyton with the American swimming apparatus of Mr. Merriman. He came over from New York in the steamer Queen, of the National line. There is a corps of “Life Guards,” in which he is a captain, fur­nished with the apparatus to save persons in danger of drown­ing, at the bathing-places on the Atlantic coast of America.

The apparatus is a complete body-costume, manufactured chiefly of india rubber, in two pieces, which are united at the waist. The pantaloons include covering for the feet, with strong soles, drawn on over the wearer’s ordinary dress, usually of blue flannel, and kept in position by strong suspenders passed over the shoulders and buckled to the inside of the waist.

The waist is fitted with a steel ridged hoop, which is a protection to the wearer’s person and furnishes a watertight joint to the upper portion of the dress, which is drawn down to meet it. This upper garment is a jacket and headpiece with gloves for the hands all in one piece. At the waist its elastic material is strained tightly over the hoop of the pantaloons, so as to exclude the water and keep in the air, and its adjustment is preserved by another belt or strap buckled over the joining. It hangs loosely all over the person, except at the hands and feet; but in a few minutes, by blowing through the five tubes attached to outside of its different parts, air is introduced into the chambers which lie between the outer and inner skin of the costume.

The head-piece fills at the back and draws the casque tightly over the face till the edges of the orifice in front press closely against the cheeks, forehead, and chin, leaving the coun­tenance exposed.

The body and legs are made perfectly buoyant and defended by elastic cushions and air-filled chambers from external violence. Small pockets are distributed over the outside of the dress, into which are pushed such small articles as the wearer may wish to have ready to hand. If any portion of it become detached, such as the sole from one of the feet, though the water would then enter all over the body, the apertures would still be full of air where it remained intact, and its floating power only slightly diminished. It is capable of sustaining in the water a weight of 200 lb, in addition to the weight of the wearer. The latter can preserve any position in the water he pleases, erect or horizontal; and when erect the waist belt is the water-line, so that he has a clear look-out over the sea.

He carries a store of provisions, capable of supplying him for ten days, in a water-tight bag, which floats beside him, provided with air-chambers, being towed after him by a strong line across his back. Besides his day’s supply of food this bag contains a number of signal lights, which can be held high over the water, round a small lamp with bull’s-eye, which, being lighted, he can affix to his head-piece, and so protect himself from being run down by any craft. He can also stow a few books in his little store-room, with which to beguile the time at sea. He also provides himself with a long sheath-knife and an axe. His means of propulsion is a double-bladed paddle of wood; and, under favourable circum­stances, he makes a very fair speed. He can also call the wind to his aid by rigging a small sail to his paddle. Should he be in distress from want of food or having met with any accident, he can signify the fact by hoisting the stars and stripes on his paddle and reversing the jack.

Captain Boyton was dropped from the Citizen steam-boat below Queenstown, and floated up to Haulbowline with the tide, remaining two hours in the water. He ate and drank, and fired rockets, as shown in our Illustration. His clothes, within the india rubber suit, were kept perfectly dry, and he was not exhausted by the labour of paddling.’

Ordnance Survey observatory perched on the cross on top of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Ordnance Survey’s name indicates its original military purpose, which was to map Scotland in the wake of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. There was also a more general and nationwide need in light of the potential threat of invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1747, Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson proposed the compilation of a map of the Highlands to help to subjugate the clans. In response, King George II charged Watson with making a military survey of the Highlands. The survey was produced at a scale of 1in to 1000 yards (1:36,000). One of Watson’s assistants was William Roy, who later had an illustrious career in the Royal Engineers, rising to the rank of General, and he was largely responsible for the British share of the work in determining the relative positions of the French and British royal observatories. This work was the starting point of the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain (1783-1853), and led to the creation of the Ordnance Survey itself.

From the 1840s, the Ordnance Survey concentrated on the Great Britain ‘County Series’, modelled on an earlier Ireland survey of the 1830s. A start was made on mapping the whole country, county by county, at six inches to the mile (1:10,560).

The ‘Illustrated London News’ of 24 June 1848 reported on the Ordnance Survey’s survey of London being made by the Royal Engineers, and the construction of an observatory for that purpose on top of St Paul’s Cathedral, which can be seen in our pictures ST201 and ST202:

‘In order to conduct the Survey, it is necessary to select high buildings, as principal observing stations; whence “are taken angles with theodolites from the most commanding objects to the other remarkable objects, such as church spires, or towers, cupolas, factory chimneys, &c, for the purpose of ascertaining their relative bearings and distances.”

‘St. Paul’s Cathedral, by its position and commanding height, is, probably, the best station in or about London. Accordingly, there has been erected a scaffold from what is termed the Golden Gallery to the summit of the Cross. Upon this scaffold is a stage, 10 feet square, which supports an observatory, within which is placed upon a table a theodolite 18 inches in diameter of the circle. A railing, roughly but securely put up, surrounds the stage. The observatory is a hexagon figure, 3 feet in diameter, and about 11 feet high, with panelled sides and canvas roof.

… ‘The ascent is by the inside of the tower or lantern to the circular openings; then passing to the outside to the foot-ladders, which are set at the north-east corner, parallel to the north-east principal post, inside the scaffold. The whole of the materials have been drawn up from the floor by a permanent windlass (erected in the tower) to the Golden Gallery; and thence passed to the outside horizontally, through an aperture 32 inches wide. The greatest care has been taken to make the stage secure, and fit for the important use for which it has been constructed. It is about five tons weight; and, deducting the time for stoppages (during the performance of Divine Service in the Cathedral), as well as taking into account all the attendant difficulties, the raising has been by no means slow. The whole has been executed under the superintendence of Corporal Beaton, by direction of Captain Yolland, of the Royal Engineers.

‘The probable number of points to be observed is about 900; and the number of observations may be 1500 or 1800.

‘We subjoin a few additional details, explanatory of the Survey, from the Builder: “In every extensive survey, conducted with a due regard to scientific accuracy, it is a matter of the first importance to determine with unerring correctness the relative distances and bearings of the principal or most conspicuous objects within the country or district to be surveyed. To effect this, the first operation is to measure a ‘base line’—that is, a straight or right line between two points, varying in length according to the extent of the survey and the facilities afforded by the nature of the ground for the measurement … The base line being measured, the next step is to connect its extremities by means of angles taken with theodolites or other angular instruments, with all the conspicuous objects visible; the relative distances and bearings of which with each other, and with the base, become thus determinable by means of certain well-known trigonometrical formulae. By selecting the most suitable of these observed objects for new observing stations, the calculated distances become, in their turn, base lines for expanding the operations of the ‘ triangulation’, until the whole country, by a connected line of observing stations, becomes united or interlaced by a perfect net-work of triangles … The London survey will be connected by its triangulation with the general survey of the country, and in its levelling with the one uniform datum plane to which the altitudes of the Ordnance six-inch map are referred.”’

The chef with a social conscience

Alexis Benoit Soyer was born in France in 1810 and trained as a cook. In 1830 he moved to London, where he became chef to the Duke of Cambridge and then chef at the Reform Club. Despite his associations with the rich and famous, his highly developed social conscience led him to write to the press in 1847 voicing his distress about the starvation resulting from the potato famine in Ireland.

He went to Dublin, where he built kitchens from which he sold simple meals to the poor at minimal prices. He wrote ‘Soyer’s Charitable Cookery’, giving part of the proceeds to charities. He invented a lightweight portable stove to be used in remote and difficult locations, such as field hospitals. He became an expert in developing cheap, easy-to-cook recipes for wholesome, palatable food from basic ingredients; he later wrote ‘A Shilling Cookery Book for the People’.

In February 1855 Soyer travelled to the Crimea at his own expense to support the army, who at this time were malnourished and scurvy-ridden. A soldier’s daily ration was 1lb of army biscuit and 1lb of meat, but there were supply problems, no efficient catering system (each soldier had to cook for himself) – and no fuel to cook with. First Soyer revised the diet sheets and recipes for the hospitals at Scutari and Constantinople, using his portable stove to prepare food (see our picture HS157). During two visits to Balaclava he, Florence Nightingale and the medical staff re-organised the hospitals. He also cooked for the 4th Division of the army.

He returned to London in May 1857, and died in 1858.

Here are two of Soyer’s recipes for the troops, taken from letters he wrote to The Times while he was at Scutari:


Put into a canteen saucepan about 2lb of well soaked beef, cut in eight pieces; ½lb of salt pork, divided in two, and also soaked; ½lb of rice, or six tablespoonsful; ½lb of onions, or four middle-sized ones, peeled and sliced; 2oz of brown sugar, or one large tablespoonful; ¼oz of pepper, and five pints of water; simmer gently for three hours, remove the fat from the top and serve. The first time I made the above was in Sir John Campbell’s soup kitchen, situated on the top of his rocky cavern, facing Sebastopol, near Cathcart’s-hill, and among the distinguished pupils I had upon the occasion were Colonel Wyndham, Sir John Campbell, and Dr Hall, Inspector-General of the Army in the Crimea, and other officers. This dish was much approved at dinner, and is enough for six people, and if the receipt be closely followed you cannot fail to have an excellent food. The London salt meat will only require a four hours soaking, having been only lightly pickled.


Put into a basin 1lb of flour, ¾lb of raisins (stoned, if time be allowed), ¾lb of the fat of salt pork (well washed, cut into small dies, or chopped), two tablespoonsful of sugar or treacle; add a half pint of water; mix all together; put into a cloth tied tightly; boil for four hours, and serve. If time will not admit, boil only two hours, though four are preferable. How to spoil the above:- Add anything to it.

Political candidates speak from the hustings

Victorian illustration to download showing political candidates speaking to voters from the hustings (a large rostrum/platform) erected in front of a town hall. A large crowd listens from the street below and from the windows and balconies of a nearby inn.

After the candidates had made their speeches from the hustings, the returning officer asked for a show of hands from the voters. If this was decisive, the candidate was declared elected. If the show of hands was not decisive, polling then took place. Each voter had to mount the hustings, where he orally declared his vote, and his name and vote was recorded in the poll book. After counting the votes, the returning officer announced the result from the hustings.

The obvious disadvantage of this system was that employers, landowners and landlords, for example, were able to use their power over their employees or tenants to influence the way they voted.

The Ballot Act of 1872 required that parliamentary and local government elections be held by secret ballot to prevent the bribery, intimidation or blackmail of the voters.

Article: ‘Condemned to unwomanly toil’: young girls making nails

For many women and young girls in the Victorian era, the struggle to make a living was hard and strenuous – and, many philanthropists felt, totally unsuitable for the female sex. Our picture shows a girl making spike nails; she was labouring in the Black Country (Staffordshire and Worcestershire), where women were engaged in the nail and chain trade, working in small workshops in villages and towns. The Rev Harold Rylett, writing in the English Illustrated Magazine of 1890, felt that their work was ‘emphatically unfeminine.’ He describes the process thus:

‘Now the making of spike nails is surely the cruellest occupation in which women and young girls are employed in this country … A spike nail is simply a very large nail, beginning with the four-inch rose-head nail, and finishing with a seven, or eight, or even nine-inch dog-eared spike or railway brob half an inch or perhaps three-quarters of an inch thick. Two people work together, one on each side of the hearth … The common case is for a man and a young girl of from fourteen to eighteen years of age to work together.

‘The first thing to be done is to cut the iron rods into the required lengths. This is done by the means of the oliver, and while the iron is cold. The oliver is simply a sledge-hammer affixed to the block on which the anvil is placed. It is worked by the right foot operating upon a sort of treadle. The man places the rod upon a chisel fixed in the block by the side of the anvil. The girl then gets close behind the man, generally holding him by the waist, and they both jump together upon the treadle which works the oliver, and with one, two, or three blows, according to the thickness of the iron, the required length is cut off. When very thick iron has been operated upon I have seen as many as four or five men and young women alternating and clasping each other close and jumping together upon the oliver, and a more brutal and loathsome spectacle I never witnessed in my life.

‘The man takes a number of pieces of rod and plunges them in the fire. The moment the iron is heated he withdraws one piece, and using the hand-hammer and oliver in rapid succession, he forms the head, jerks out the iron, flings it across to his companion, and goes on again. The girls instantly takes what is thrown her, plunges the cold end into her side of the fire, helps to blow the bellows, and then, when her iron is heated, she snatches it from the fire, and using hand-hammer and oliver almost as rapidly as the man, draws the iron to a point, and the spike is finished. The work is terribly hard, for in addition to striking the spike with the hand-hammer as vigorously as any blacksmith would strike a horseshoe, the girl has to work her sledge-hammer with her foot. It is humiliating to see a girl thus occupied.

‘But I have seen a girl of eighteen ‘heading’ as well as ‘pointing’. I shall never forget the sight. I saw this young woman with arms and bosom bare, grimy, profusely perspiring, and working like a tigress. It was simply revolting. Yet I was assured by an old and experienced man that though such sights were not as common now as formerly, they were still more frequently to be met with than they should be.’

Mr Rylett writes that ‘the spike nail-makers work extremely hard and are very ill paid’: he calculates that a pair of workers would make about 680 spike nails a day, and that the man would earn about 15s a week and the girl about 5s. He goes on:

‘The one ugly feature about spike nail-making is the employment of young girls and women, involving as it does the use of the oliver. It is nothing short of a scandal, and I am happy to know that the universal feeling among the women and girls themselves is that they ought not to be condemned to such unwomanly toil. They would hail with satisfaction a law prohibiting their employment in this way, and it is earnestly to be hoped that the next session of Parliament will see the enactment of such a law.’

But progress was slow, and little was done in the Victorian age to improve working conditions for women and children. The Factory Act of 1891 prohibited the employment of women within four weeks of childbirth, and raised the minimum age for children to be employed from 10 to 11 years old – 11 to 14-year-olds could only work for half a day. In 1895 working hours and breaks during work were regulated, and in 1901 the minimum working age was raised to 12 years old.

The Hop harvest

At Goudhurst and Paddock Wood, and in many other villages throughout the south-eastern county of Kent, are the great gardens and oast-houses devoted to the growing and processing of the hop. Introduced to England from Flanders in the 1600s, this ancient plant, well known to the Romans, is cultivated for its very special catkins, which bring to beer its unique aromatic bitter taste.

Towards the end of the summer of their third year, the ripening fruits began to swell and to acquire a scent. In the final stage of cultivation the ‘stilt-men’ appeared. On lofty stilts eighteen feet high, they picked a path between the rows, tying the topmost bines to the tallest strings to keep the ripening plants aloft. Once the plump cones were firm and crisp in the hand it was time for the pickers to enter the fray.

At hop harvest armies of the London poor travelled out by train and waggon to enjoy a few weeks of healthy open-air labour. It must have seemed like paradise, with the sun streaming down and with the fresh country smells and greenery. Men, women and children laboured from dawn to dusk in the dusty hop fields, sweltering in the sultry heat.

This ragged army had to work fast, for the hops needed to be picked as soon as they were ripe. It was one man’s task to cut the supporting strings that held the hops aloft with a bill-hook, causing the plants to collapse and fall haphazardly down on the heads of the assembled hop-pickers below. Straight away, the bines were stripped of their harvest by a thousand nimble fingers.

Towards the day’s end the call went up over the fields, ‘Pull no more poles!’ and the brigades of pickers trooped off to kindle fires, prepare their evening meal, and to enjoy a well-earned rest. It was a time of joy and comradeship, despite the gruelling work under the hot sun.

The incredible Patent Impulsoria

The Illustrated London News for 22 June 1850 explains how this amazing invention works:

This ingenious means of applying animal power to the working of railways, so as to supersede the costly locomotive engine, has lately been invented in Italy, and exhibited experimentally upon the South-Western Railway. It consists in introducing the animals into a kind of coach, called Impulsoria, by which they transmit their acting power to the leading wheels.

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