WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Canary Bird

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Canary Bird

We’ve seen fresh-faced, country girl Moll Hackabout arrive in London, hit the harlotry jackpot and become a mistress, only to fall a few rungs into prostitution. This week, with Plate 4, she has fallen further and is now in jail (or gaol, if you prefer).

It’s amazing the amount of sympathy I feel for Moll, as compared to Tom Rakewell from A Rake’s Progress. For me, I feel that Moll came to London innocently enough, hoping for the best, although I wonder if she was warned on the coach along the way, that little good turned out for girls on their own in Town. In contrast, Tom Rakewell earns my ire, having been given every advantage only to squander them, despite having several chances to repent and escape his ultimate fate. Moll finally looks defeated in this plate, too, which somehow makes it worse.

A Harlot’s Progress was a series of six paintings and engravings. The paintings were destroyed in a fire at Fonthill House in 1755, but the original engraving plates survived, and are in the public domain.

Canary Bird

A jail bird, a person used to be kept in a cage. Prisoners.

A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 4 – Moll Beats Hemp in Bridewell Prison, by William Hogarth, 1732, British Museum.

From the Wikipedia description:

Moll is in Bridewell Prison. She beats hemp for hangman’s nooses, while the jailer threatens her and points to the task. Fielding would write that Thwackum, one of Tom Jones’s sadistic tutors, looked precisely like the jailer. The jailer’s wife steals clothes from Moll, winking at theft. The prisoners go from left to right in order of decreasing wealth. Moll is standing next to a gentleman, a card-sharp whose extra playing card has fallen out, and who has brought his dog with him. The inmates are in no way being reformed, despite the ironic engraving on the left above the occupied stocks, reading “Better to Work/ than Stand thus.” The person suffering in the stocks apparently refused to work.

Moll, the Jailer, and His Wife, from A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 4 – Moll Beats Hemp in Bridewell Prison, by William Hogarth, 1732, British Museum.

Next is a woman, a child who may suffer from Down syndrome (belonging to the sharper, probably), and finally a pregnant African woman who presumably “pleaded her belly” when brought to trial, as pregnant women could not be executed or transported. A prison graffito shows John Gonson hanging from the gallows. Moll’s servant smiles as Moll’s clothes are stolen, and the servant appears to be wearing Moll’s shoes.

Prisoners and Moll’s Servant from A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 4 – Moll Beats Hemp in Bridewell Prison, by William Hogarth, 1732, British Museum.

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

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WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Boarding School

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Boarding School

This week it’s the penultimate plate of A Rake’s Progress: Plate 7 – The Prison Scene. Tom has officially reached the end of his rope without reaching the end of His Majesty’s rope…as of yet. And he’s receiving a whole new kind of education at this institution.

The paintings of A Rake’s Progress are in the collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, and are considered part of the public domain.

Boarding School

Bridewell, Newgate, or any other prison, or house of correction.

A Rake’s Progress – Plate 7 – The Prison Scene (Engraving) by William Hogarth, 1735, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Public Domain.

From the Wikipedia description:

All is lost by the seventh painting, and Tom is incarcerated in the notorious Fleet debtors’ prison. He ignores the distress of both his angry new wife and faithful Sarah, who cannot help him this time. Both the beer-boy and jailer demand money from him. Tom begins to go mad, as indicated by both a telescope for celestial observation poking out of the barred window (an apparent reference to the Longitude rewards offered by the British government) and an alchemy experiment in the background. Beside Tom is a rejected play; another inmate is writing a pamphlet on how to solve the national debt. Above the bed at right is an apparatus for wings, which is more clearly seen in the engraved version at the left.

A Rake’s Progress – Plate 7 – The Prison Scene by William Hogarth, 1735, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Public Domain.

Between Plates 6 and 7, I’m pleased to note Tom has found his periwig, at least, and replaced it upon his nog.

Next week we wrap up our visit to Soane’s Museum and our tour of A Rake’s Progress.

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Clap on the Shoulder

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Clap on the Shoulder

This week we discover Plate 4 of A Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth – Arrested For Debt. Our hero, or antihero, Tom Rakewell, is truly reaping now what he has sown.

The paintings of A Rake’s Progress are in the collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, and are considered part of the public domain.

Clap on the Shoulder

An arrest for debt; whence a bum bailiff is called a shoulder-clapper.

A Rake’s Progress – Plate 4 – Arrested For Debt by William Hogarth, 1735, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Public Domain.

From the Wikipedia description:

In the fourth, he narrowly escapes arrest for debt by Welsh bailiffs (as signified by the leeks, a Welsh emblem, in their hats) as he travels in a sedan chair to a party at St. James’s Palace to celebrate Queen Caroline’s birthday on Saint David’s Day (Saint David is the patron saint of Wales). On this occasion he is saved by the intervention of Sarah Young, the girl he had earlier rejected; she is apparently a dealer in millinery. In comic relief, a man filling a street lantern spills the oil on Tom’s head. This is a sly reference to how blessings on a person were accompanied by oil poured on the head; in this case, the ‘blessing’ being the ‘saving’ of Tom by Sarah, although Rakewell, being a rake, will not take the moral lesson to heart. In the engraved version, lightning flashes in the sky and a young pickpocket has just emptied Tom’s pocket. The painting, however, shows the young thief stealing Tom’s cane, and has no lightning.

A Rake’s Progress – Plate 4 – Arrested For Debt by William Hogarth, oil on canvas, 1735, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Public Domain.

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Nubbing

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Nubbing

Newgate was the final stop for most criminals. Literally.

By the Georgian era, Newgate was in need of overhaul and expansion. The designs of George Dance were chosen and construction began in 1770. The Gordon Riots of 1780 all but destroyed the prison, but reconstruction was finally complete in 1782. The style was architecture terrible, a French-based design that was supposed to render prison so repulsive as to deter criminal behavior. Newgate was basically a large, hulking rectangle of thick, reinforced walls, with few windows, with its interior subdivided into three sections built around central courtyards. Accommodations were available for 300 men, with separate quarters for 100 debtors and 60 women. Prison reform advocate John Howard was initially impressed:

john howard quote

In reality, the new design, with its Common area for the poor and State area for the wealthy, was further subdivided into various chambers and cellars to house debtors and felons, both male and female. Basic incarceration was free in the Common area at Newgate, but that came with a hidden cost: infrequent food, appalling sanitation, and rampant over-crowding. Doctors refused to visit the ill unless mandated by court or paid handsomely. Wealthy prisoners, however, were limited in comfort only by their purses.

“Political prisoners and wealthy felons were expected to pay exorbitantly for food, wine and fuel but enjoyed unlimited visits and other privileges. One of them married twice during his forty years awaiting trial and sired ten children.”

It took little time to realize the positive outlook desired by Howard was nowhere near the reality of Newgate. Because the prisoners were allowed to essentially manage themselves. they developed their own methods of provoking sympathy from visitors in the form of food, drink, and even money. The more enterprising developed methods to collaborate in court in pursuit of favorable verdicts and sentences: forgers drafted appeal notices and petitions for financial support from the Bank of England, and those in danger of transport conspired and refused the Royal Pardon that would send them to Australia.

Multiple reforms were attempted but met with little success. Acts in 1774, 1784, and 1791 established rules for cleanliness and adequate ventillation, classification of prisoners, and regular visitation and inspection of prisons, respectively. All were unenforced. Reformer Elizabeth Fry wrote in an 1813 letter:

“I have lately been twice to Newgate to see after the poor prisoners who had poor little infants without clothing, or with very little and I think if you saw how small a piece of bread they are each allowed a day you would be very sorry.”

But few were sorry. Few concerned themselves with what went on behind the monstrous walls. That is, until the public executions occurred. Those evoked a macabre interest in the public, and unfortunately, the end result for most housed in the Common area was rarely freedom; it was more often death, whether by disease or nubbing, from the nubbing cove manning the nubbing cheat.

An Execution Outside Newgate Prison, 19th century, by Thomas Rowlandson, ca. 1805-1810, via Museum of London.

An Execution Outside Newgate Prison, 19th century, by Thomas Rowlandson, ca. 1805-1810, via Museum of London.

Nubbing (verb)

Hanging.
Nubbing cheat: the gallows.
Nubbing cove: the hangman.

 

The Story of John Howard Prison Reformer yields bounteous information on prison conditions.
•The quote about political and wealthy prisoners was by Stanley Jackson in his book, The Old Bailey.
•Elizabeth Fry can be studied through her own words, in the Memoir of the Life of Elizabeth Fry.
•Fascinating information on English prisons, and Newgate specifically for this post, can be found at London Lives.
•Slang definitions from 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.