Category Archives: Victorian

Ragtime gets closer

Last week we started our story with a broad overview of ‘Ragtime’ from both sides of the Atlantic.  This week we’ll have a look at early British popular music. This music can be seen as originating in the 16th and 17th centuries and from this we can trace the arrival of printed musical copies which were sold cheaply and in great numbers through to the 19th century.

Most of the instruments used by British brass bands had existed for some time but they only became a mass activity in the 1840/50s out of village, church and military bands. For many these brass bands were an expression of the local solidarity and their newly formed and often rapidly growing communities.

This developed as a result of a steady increase in the number of households with enough surplus cash to purchase musical instruments and instruction in music and with the leisure time and cultural motivation to engage in recreational music-making. This high point of the parlor song came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a distinction arose between ‘art music’ and ‘popular music’, even if it was not expressed exactly in those terms.

The increase in urban populations and the rise of the bourgeoisie brought a need for public demonstrations of social standing, since it was no longer common knowledge who was important. Attending concerts was, among other things, a means of displaying status.  What for a working-class audience might be down-to-earth, plain-speaking and funny – for the bourgeois audience might appear as rude, vulgar, and silly! Perhaps this is why inversion was common in popular form – for example, lust not love, crudity not politeness, degradation not sublimity, materiality not spirituality.

For the middle class, culture was in itself instructive but first required that people be instructed in it; hence the didactic character of attempts to encourage working-class ‘appreciation’ of music. The People’s Concert Society, founded in 1878, was an amateur organization dedicated to making high-status music known among the London poor. The Society began Sunday concerts of chamber music in South Place, Moorgate, in 1887. From the succeeding year, admission was free, or a voluntary contribution could be made, and attendance was good.

The British Brass Band Movement, in the second half of the century, was another example of ‘rational recreation’, with the willingness of factory owners to sponsor works bands. These bands had their roots in the industrial North, but the steel, ironworks and shipping companies of east London also had bands in the 1860s. Some of the difficulties and distractions facing London bands compared to bands further north have been discussed by Dave Russell. Huge annual contests were held at the Crystal Palace during 1860-63. The first of these, a two-day event with entrance prices of 2s 6d for the first and 1s for the second day, attracted an audience of 29,000. The test pieces for the contests at the Crystal Palace placed an emphasis on high-status music: selections from Meyerbeer’s grand operas were the favourite choices, as at the Belle Vue contests in Manchester that same decade.

The labouring poor may have been sung about and even felt to be understood in certain socially-concerned drawing-room ballads, but their lives often lay outside the experience of those who sang the ballads. Antoinette Sterling, who so movingly sang ‘Three Fishers Went Sailing’, confessed that not only had she no experience of storms at sea, but ‘had never even seen fishermen’. Actual acquaintance with fishermen was undoubtedly unnecessary, since the subject position such ballads addressed was that of the middle class.

So we have now had a glance of both sides of the water in the years as music met with the changing needs and attitudes.
Our story, though, was born as being from ‘Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’. That arrives next week – on Wednesday 25th April 2018.   Please be there!

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What does the morning bring forth for Queen Victoria & Albert?

Yesterday evening we left Queen Victoria, her husband Albert and their ‘team’ settling down to sleep after far from exciting food yesterday.  So what did Wednesday, 9th October 1861 bring forth for the Royal couple?  Queen Victoria tells us that…

It was a bright morning which was charming.  Albert found, on getting up, that Cluny MacPherson, with his piper and two ladies, had arrived quite early in the morning; and, while we were dressing, we heard a drum and fife – and discovered that the newly-formed volunteers had arrived – all indicating that we were discovered.  However, there was scarcely any population, and it did not signify.  The fat old landlady had put on a black satin dress, with white ribbons and orange flowers!

We had breakfast at a quarter to nine o’clock; at half-past nine we started.  Cluny was at the door with his wife and daughters with nosegays, and volunteers were drawn up in front of the inn.  They had all assembled since Saturday afternoon.

We drove as we did yesterday.  There was fine and very wild scenery, high wild hills, and no habitations.

We’ll leave the pair now as they enjoy the Scottish landscape,

A Queen and her husband don’t quite get what they expected.

It was Tuesday 8th October 1861 and Britain’s Queen Victoria, and Albert her husband, are in Inverness-shire, Scotland and heading for their evening abode. She writes in her diary:

It became cold and windy with occasional rain. At length, and not till a quarter to nine, did we reach the inn of Dalwhinnie – 29 miles from where we had left our ponies – which stands by itself, away from any village.

Here, again (as yesterday), there were a few people assembled, and I thought they knew us; but it seems they did not, and it was only when we arrived that one of the maids recognised me.

She had seen me at Aberdeen and Edinburgh.  We went upstairs: the inn was much larger than at Fettercairn, but not nearly so nice and cheerful; there was a drawing-room and a dining-room; and we had a good-sized bed-room.

Albert had a dressing-room of equal size.  Mary Andrews [a wardrobe-maid] who was very useful and efficient and Lady Churchill’s maid had a room together, every one being in the house; but unfortunately there was hardly anything to eat, and two miserable starved Highland chickens, without any potatoes!  No pudding, and no fun; no little maid [the two there not wishing to come in], nor our two people – who were wet and drying our, and their, things – to wait on us!  It was not a nice supper; and the evening was wet.  As it was late we soon retired to rest.

Mary and Maxted [Lady Churchill’s maid] had been dining below with Grant, Brown, and Stewart [who came, the same as last time, with the maids] in the ‘commercial room’ at the foot of the stairs.  They had only the remains of our two starved chickens!

I wonder what the morrow will bring. 

Wednesday 20th September and the Victoria Cross:

The Victoria Cross was introduced in Great Britain on Saturday 29th January 1856 by Queen Victoria. Its ‘role’ was to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War. The VC takes precedence over all other Orders, Decorations and Medals and may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and to civilians under military command.  The first presentation ceremony was held on Thursday 26th June 1857 when Queen Victoria invested 62 of the 111 Crimean recipients in Hyde Park.

The Battle of the Alma took place just south of the River Alma and is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War. It was on this day – Wednesday 20th September 1854 – at that Battle, that Edward Bell & Luke O’Conner of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and John Knox, William Reynolds (the first private to be awarded the VC), James McKechnie & Robert Lindsay of the Scots Fusiliers Guards each earned their Victoria Cross. All survived the war.

63 years later, on Wednesday 20th September 1917 Second Lieutenant Hugh Colvin of the 9th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiments won his VC during an attack east of Ypres in Belgium. He took command of two companies and led them forward under very heavy machine gun fire. He then went to assist a neighbouring battalion. In the process he cleared and captured a series of ‘troublesome’ dugouts and machine-gun posts, some on his own and some with his men’s assistance. He personally killed several of the enemy and forced others – about fifty in all – to surrender. His Victoria Cross citation concludes ‘Later he consolidated his position with great skill, and personally wired his front under close-ranged sniping in broad daylight, when all others had failed to do so. The complete success of the attack in this part of the line was mainly due to Second Lieut. Colvin’s leadership.

An extract from ‘The Diary of Beatrice Webb volume one – 1873-1892.’

I have read many of Beatrice’s diaries and find them fascinating.  I wonder how many of us have sat and thought something similar to this that she recorded on Saturday 21st July 1888.  She writes:

‘I wish I could rid myself of self-consciousness and ambition in all its forms.  Life is so short and there is so much that needs doing that it is a sin to waste a thought or a feeling on self.  Some days I seem to rise above it, to look down on my own struggle, failures and little successes as something too small and insignificant to be noted, to see it all in proportion to the great currents of life, of all kinds, that surround one.’

Published by Virago in association with the London School of Economics and Political Science.

A Snippet from 6th May 2017 ref this day in 1840!

It was on Wednesday 6th May 1840 that Great Britain issued the world’s first adhesive postage stamp, resulting from reforms by Rowland Hill to simplify and reduce postage costs. It was called ‘The Penny Black’ and the design showed Queen Victoria, without a country name.  It laid the foundations for British stamps.

Just in case you forgot – two days ago, on Thursday, May 4th 2017 – self-adhesive stamps today came on sale to the general public for the first time.  In future all first and second-class stamp booklets will contain self-adhesive rather than the old-fashioned gummed postage stamps.  The new booklets could signal the beginning of the end of “lickable” stamps on sale at British post offices.  These new ‘Sticky Stamps’ were introduced after a survey showed a massive 93% of the British public said they would prefer not to lick their stamps.  This launch also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria with a special “stamp label” in booklets.

It began with a visit in 1876

John Ruskin was a leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as being an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist.  He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy.  He also penned travel guides and, on Sunday 23rd April 1876, he wrote a piece about the city of Peterborough:

‘In comfortable room with horriblest outlook on waste garden and vile buildings; Italian architraves in brick of coldest mud colour – cretinous imitation.  A Bridewell or Clerkenwell with Genovese cornices travestied!  The Cathedral here for a wonder, spared.  Bitter black day yesterday so cold I could neither stand to look at it an instance, nor at the beautiful old inn at Stilton.  Road here from Cambridge very flat and dull and in the black days, nothing but gloom over distance towards the Wash.’

Not very pleasant but – in 1858 he had opened the Cambridge School of Art. The art school grew to become Anglia Ruskin University, and it’s still at the heart of the modern-day campus in Cambridge.  But that was just the beginning – over the years, a number of colleges and institutes have become part of Anglia Ruskin. This now includes the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology and the Essex Institute of Higher Education.  At first these colleges combined to become Anglia Polytechnic, and then Anglia Polytechnic University in 1992. It has been known as Anglia Ruskin University since 2005. As well as Cambridge, they have campuses in Chelmsford, London and Peterborough.  The campus at Guild House, Peterborough opened in 2011 and is a dedicated healthcare site where they train many of the region’s nurses and healthcare professionals.

It took time but maybe the City is forgiven it’s looks in 1876!