Monday, January 17, 2022

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Chronicler of Many Adventurous Decades

Rick Marschall



Birds Of a Feather? Rick Marschall and Ron Goulart on the right; R C Harvey and Shel Dorf, left.

Ron Goulart died on the morning of January 14th, 2022. It was the day after his birthday: an irony wrapped in a riddle strangled by a conundrum. Actually the date was merely a coincidence. No, it was an irrelevant fact. 

I am struggling with a way to begin this, fooling myself that I can “open” with a type of grabber that he did in one of his, oh, 200+ novels.

Tougher than a “lede” will be how to close this remembrance, because with Ron there was always a story to be continued, or a sequel, or a next book; or a conversation to be finished next time. A “hook,” maybe; a cliffhanger. Or a happy ending.

But, no. Ron Goulart died on the morning of January 14th, 2002. “The End.” 

But only the end of those great long and rambling phone calls. Never with no point to them, but rather dozens of points. Funny. Trains-of-thought. Questions. Answers. Frequently with grumbles and complaints. Gossip. Memories from, say, something we he and I did 45 years ago. Even a loose thread from a chat we both remembered from 45 years earlier.

But Ron’s “passing” was not the end of his legacy. Three hundred books (we must also remember the numerous histories and anthologies); bottomless pits of clips and files and letters – the collection that not only filled his Connecticut homes (making mazes of living-room floors, between stacks) or with his friends, sometimes vaguely remembered, across the continent, who held his “stuff.” The stuff ranged from mail-in premiums to personal sketches he received from an array of legendary figures. 

Many aspects of Ron Goulart will live forever. Not the least in the fond memories and now broken hearts of many friends and uncountable strangers he inspired.

I first met Ron at some Seuling Con or other in New York City, those early conventions in small, seedy hotels, before the days when Phil Seuling expanded into large, seedy hotels. It was the 1960s, and I was a young fan of strips, attending with my usual sloppily tied portfolio of originals. Ron routinely showed up with a retinue of Connecticut friends – cartoonists who had peripheral interest in vintage comics and vintage artists and vintage tales. Ron and I shared knowledge of ancient lore, even from before our times. Affinity. His friends – Bob Weber, Gill Fox, Orlando Busino – became my friends too.

[Having invoked “irony,” I will note here that only three days before Ron died, our old and beloved mutual friend Orlando Busino died. My next column will recall this great cartoonist and great man.]


(l-r) Gene Hazleton; Rick Marschall; Sheldon Moldoff; Ron Goulart; 
Dick Sprang; Vin Sullivan. (Photo by John Province)

A few years later I moved into the midst of Cartooning Country, Fairfield County, Connecticut. I was political cartoonist on The Connecticut Herald, and lived in Westport, then Weston. Most important, perhaps, was the full-bloom friendship with Ron Goulart (and Bob and Gill and Orlando). 

A rather wider circle, in those halcyon days, consisted of cartoonists like Dik Browne, Dick Hodgins, Jerry Dumas, John Cullen Murphy, Jack Tippit, Frank Johnson, Mort Walker, Stan Drake, and Len Starr… at parties, BBQs, Long Island Sound cruises, golf outings. But a circle within a circle comprised the merry men I described around Ron – Weber, Fox, and Busino. With Jerry Marcus and Joe Farris and Jack Berrill and a couple other guys, it was a virtual fraternity.

Ron, in fact, described our group as a Movable Frat Party, no offense to Hemingway. At least twice a week we gathered for early lunches, sometimes in Westport but usually in Bethel or Ridgefield. More often than not we straggled in to a restaurant… exchanged news… looked at the menus… at which time Jerry Marcus would complain about something or other, and we then discussed where else to meet in 10 minutes. Lunch was eaten leisurely and we talked and laughed, laughed and talked. Sometimes we adjourned to my house where I would do a show-and-tell with vintage art or Sunday funnies.

Ron and I saved a lot of money through the years by reliably presenting our latest books to each other, always with inscriptions and drawings. 

Invariably, Ron was the focus of impromptu trivia challenges – “Who Was What,” for instance (he was a fount of knowledge about the sexual leanings of Hollywood’s bit players) or great stories about scores of cartoonists and writers he met as a fan in his youth.

As evening approached, we all scurried home in time for dinner. Our wives suspected that we goofed off during these days, but we knew the truth – we goofed off on these days. Occasionally, however, we straightened up. That is, we met for midnight snacks at a local diner instead.

Ron was always at the center of such get-togethers. He was as funny as the cartoonists, and usually more interesting, which everyone acknowledged. He always had news about his latest projects, or frustrated projects; and he added us, variously, as characters in his books. Oddly, if not inappropriately, not always as heroes or innocent bystanders. 

Ron and I traded a lot of stories and a lot of cartoon collectibles. I brought Bill Blackbeard up to meet him, and once we traveled down to New Jersey to meet Boody Rogers (joined by a gosh-wow Craig Yoe). I interviewed Ron for my paper (“The Master of Ghoul-Art” was my title; horror fiction was one genre he seldom visited, but the pun was irresistible to me). When I was a comics editor at three newspaper syndicates I tried to get this maestro of so many fields to script a comic strip, but only (after me) did he collaborate on one – Star Hawks, with the local Gil Kane). Leonard Starr invited us both to do stories for Thunder Cats

After I left Connecticut we kept in close touch. We bummed around Comicon together many times. We both contributed to Toutain’s Spanish part-series History of the Comics. When was editor at Marvel, I gave him writing assignments for the black and white magazines. When I launched NEMO magazine, about strip history, I commissioned Ron – of course! – for the first, and subsequent, issues.


 
When I moved from Connecticut, the “Movable Fraternity” had a farewell BBQ, everyone doing a drawing for a presentation binder. This was from Ron Goulart and wife Fran, evoking – as many of his drawings and notes did, a moldy strip character. Here, Slim Jim.

I am bragging, obviously, about having known Ron Goulart. I was proud to have known him and to have worked with him. But peripherally, for any uninitiated readers, I have shed light here on his many activities in many areas. 

We shared tips and leads as freelancers in the same fields. Slow-pays and no-pays are banes of our “existence,” such as it is. He shared backstage-stories about ghosting the TEK Lab series “by” William Shatner. We had similar reactions to R C Harvey virtually accusing us of character assassination for writing that Milt Caniff occasionally relied on other artists like Bud Sickles. Ron would have written a regular for the imminent revival of NEMO magazine.

Many contemporary fans and scholars of vintage strips learned from Ron’s many books and anthologies. Many fans of science fiction, mystery, and licensed-character novels have enjoyed Ron’s work… even without knowing it. Many of his books were ghost-written; and his list of assumed names was as lengthy and colorful as pioneer recording artists or clever confidence-men. (Did you really think Lee Falk wrote those Phantom novels, too?)

In fact, I was a fan of Ron Goulart before I knew there was much to read in the world beyond cereal boxes at the breakfast table. As a kid I hounded my mother to buy Chex cereal. She wondered why I eagerly risked the challenges to my regularity – but it was to read the Fake News called “The Chex-Press” on those cereal boxes. Hilarious! Ron Goulart wrote them for the ad agency, the early-and-often work of the most prolific friend (or stranger) I knew, Ron Goulart. 

Vicarious pleasures: I think the only times Ron ever danced was in his self-caricatures. But he was known to stick his tongue out. The Andriola reference is the plethora of back-stories we shared about the cartoonist.

It is not often that a person can dominate fields of which he is also a pre-eminent, honest-broker historian. His personality – I mean his compelling arsenal of virtues – was more than humor and sarcasm, cultural acuity and cynicism. He occasionally was philosophical and introspective, too. Not particularly religious, he taught me, by example, the meaning of that Christian virtue, unconditional love.

“To be continued”? Actually, yes. Until printing presses and used-book stores disappear, Ron Goulart will indeed always be with us.

–30–

113

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Meldrum Family –

by John Adcock

One extraordinary fictional serial of 1848, The Meldrum Family, was written by William Howitt for his own periodical Howitt’s Journal. The complete title is Facts from the Fields – The Depopulating Policy, Extension of the English Manufacturing System by Which Men are Worked up into Malefactors: The Meldrum Family. 

A labourer named James Meldrum is driven to the city to seek work, a victim of the Enclosures Acts, a series of Acts passed between 1750 and 1860, which enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common ground. Falling on hard times, described in excruciating detail by Howitt, Meldrum’s children become increasingly disobedient to their distracted father. While Meldrum trudges the country begging for odd jobs to keep food on the table, his sons quit going to chapel and stay up all night drinking in taverns. The breaking point is reached when his daughter Dinah joins her rebellious brothers.

She appeared to hold the same notions as her brothers, and to be resolved to “live while she could,” as she called it. Often when James came home at night he found Dinah reading. Sometimes her brothers were in, and she read aloud; but what they read he scarcely knew, for he became so drowsy on entering the house, that he could just but keep his eyes open while he got his supper, and then fell asleep in his chair (…) 


But one Sunday he saw a quantity of those cheap publications with which the little book-shops abound, lying about, and he took up first one, and then another, and read. They were stories of the most inflated and extravagant kind, of lords and ladies, and thieves, and people with the most romantic names and startling actions imaginable. Murder, seduction, contempt of everything sacred, crime and dissipation of every possible kind, were dressed up in a fashion which would disgust and shock the refined and the virtuous, but which only stimulated the mind already depressed. 


“Varney the Vampyre, or the Feast of Blood;” “The Murder at the Old Ferry;” “The Hangman's Daughter;” “The Illuminated Dagger;” “Prince Morio and the Fair Vatilde;” “Seduction;” “The Love Child;” “The Wife's Tragedy;” “Mantel;” “The Ordeal by Touch;” “The Rivals, or the Spectre of the Hall;” “The Old House of West Street,” etc. etc., and numbers of the like relations, all illustrated by engravings of the most atrocious character, were the staples of this literature which poured in myriads of sheets on the devoted heads of the poor and ignorant. 


To these were added cheap reprints of infidel writers, in which religion was represented as a mere state invention to feed priests, and frighten people into submission. There were halfpenny “murder sheets,” detailing all the most revolting murders as they every week occurred, and every species of vileness, villainy, and horror, in pennyworths and halfpennyworths.

“What was the effect on the mind of Meldrum?” asks Howitt.

For a moment, he appeared surprised; then stunned; then he took up another and another, and a new and wild appetite seemed to seize on him. Strange and dark thoughts had passed through the mind of James Meldrum as he plodded along the road to and from his labour in wind, and rain, and darkness. Strange and dark thoughts, darker than the night, wilder than the wind, more chilling than the rain, not only passed through his mind, but remained in it, and brooded there like evil spirits that had found a roomy and congenial home.[i]

Meldrum, losing his faith in a benevolent God, rushes out to walk the night country in the drenching rain and thunder, mind racing with horror. “From this day Meldrum was another man,” a mere work of chance in an indifferent universe, and he spent his non-working hours drinking gin, avoiding chapel, and reading “the fatal literature.” Eventually he becomes a madman, a murderer, and a homeless wanderer, rejected by his own children and his community. 

The devouring of penny bloods did not cause Meldrum’s madness; it was the catalyst that opened his mind to madness. The source of his insanity was industrial London’s debilitating depopulation policies.



[i] Howitt's Journal, Vol. 3, 1848


Friday, December 10, 2021

Christmas with the Cartoonists –

 

JIMMY
SWINNERTON

Chicago Examiner, Dec 20, 1909

Chicago Examiner, Dec 18, 1910


Friday, November 19, 2021

London to Glasgow and back again: BEFORE THE CARTOON –

by John Adcock

William Heath (“Paul Pry”), THE MAN WOTS GOT THE WHIP HAND OF ‘EM ALL

Pub May 30th, 1829 by T McLean, 26 Haymarket, Sole publisher of P. Pry Comicalities

Forty years ago, a wild author, of no school at all, wrote a book called Tom and Jerry, or Life in London, and Robert and George Cruikshank illustrated it. There was “Corinthian” Tom,” and such lovely and unlovely specimens of humanity. They went behind the scenes, and saw fast life in its coarsest way… The illustrations were worthy of the text: gross exaggerations, twisted and contorted forms, not caricatures but ugly monstrosities… – ‘Bell’s Life’, The Sphinx, August 7, 1859

The first monthly part of Pierce Egan’s Life in London; or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq., and his elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, was published July 15, 1821, with illustrations by the brothers Isaac Robert Cruikshank and George Cruikshank.

Life in London; or, the Sprees of Tom and Jerry, attempted in cuts and verse [c.1821]

Pierce Egan railed at the “Mob of Literary Pirates” who stole his idea and ran with it. One of these pirates was Jemmy Catnatch who published on March 23, 1822 a broadsheet Life in London; or, the Sprees of Tom and Jerry, attempted in cuts and verse for street sale at two pence featuring twelve cuts. The illustrations were rough woodcut copies of the Cruikshank illustrations. Denis Gifford mentioned two sequels in The Evolution of the British Comic: Green in France; or, Tom and Jerry's Rambles through Paris (Dec 26, 1822) and The Charlies Holiday; or, The Tears of London at the Funeral of Tom and Jerry (Mar 25, 1823).

George Cruikshank, Tom & Jerry's Funeral, aquatint, 1823


“Paul Pry” (signature of William Heath)

Before Punch published John Leech’s Cartoon, No. I — Substance and Shadow on July 15, 1843, cartoons were known as “comicalities,” “cuts,” or “comic cuts.” “Comicalities” had many meanings. Mostly it referred to the “funny business” of the stage, both high and low, and from a very early date. From there it came to describe purely textual jokes; single or sequential comic cuts, dumb, or with the text or verse placed under the image or in word balloons.

The first thirty years of the new century were a time when the coloured print was in its decline. The best of the caricaturists turned to book illustration as well as producing comic cuts for a variety of comic annuals. William Heath (1795-1840) was one of the most prolific print artists between 1821 and 1829, the majority produced for the Haymarket print-seller and publisher Thomas McLean. Heath signed much of his work with a little figure of Paul Pry, a famous comic character of the stage.

“Lord how this world improves as we grow older,” The March of Intellect, William Heath, Thos. McLean, 1829

Heath traveled to Glasgow in 1825 where he illustrated the Glasgow Looking Glass, whose printing is usually attributed to John Watson. John Strang noted in Glasgow Clubs, 1856 that William Heath and the lithographic printer “Mr. Hopkirk” came up with the idea of the Glasgow Looking Glass in a Glasgow club christened the Cheap-and-Nasty by its enemies.

Mr. Heath came to Glasgow, from London, to paint two or three large panoramas, and while here amused himself occasionally in caricaturing the leading follies of the day, as he had previously done in the Metropolis. At that period lithography was in its infancy in Glasgow – the only press being that belonging to Mr. Hopkirk in George-street, and which was successfully employed in printing the “Northern Looking Glass.” Mr. Hopkirk was the representative of an old and most respectable family, with rather a shattered fortune. He was endowed with an excellent heart and rare natural talents. He possessed a highly cultivated mind and considerable scientific acquirements. He was extensively acquainted with natural history, particularly botany, and was one of the earliest promoters of the Glasgow Botanical Gardens. He spent the latter years of his life in Ireland, and died there on the 23 of August, 1841.  Glasgow and its Clubs, 1856


William Heath (courtesy University of Glasgow HERE)

The Glasgow Looking Glass consisted of lithographed broadsheets issued every fortnight beginning with Vol. 1 No. 1 dated June 11, 1825. The title changed to Northern Looking Glass with issue No. 5 until April 3, 1826. A further ‘new series’ lasted two issues and was printed by Richard Griffin & Co until June 1826. That same year Heath issued The Edinburgh Spy. No 1 sold for 1s 6d. As seen by the McClean caricature opening this post (The man wots got the whip hand...) Heath was back in London by 1829.

Masthead: Glasgow Looking Glass, Vol. 1 No. 1, June 11, 1825
More details and illustrations HERE


The Looking Glass, Vol 1 No.1, Jan 1, 1830
Drawn and Etched by William Heath, Author of The Northern Looking Glass,
Paul Pry Caricatures, and various Humorous Works

The Looking Glass was a large sized lithographed four-page monthly magazine composed entirely of comicalities. The first seven issues were drawn by William Heath and published by the print seller and publisher Thomas McLean of 26 Haymarket. Heath departed and the eighth issue was drawn by Robert Seymour from Aug 1, 1830 to  April 1836. McLean retitled it McLean’s Monthly Sheet of Caricatures or the Looking Glass. The price was 3s plain, 6s coloured (hand-coloured), very expensive for the times. The first volume was collected in 49 pages as The Looking Glass; or, Caricature Annual, published by Thomas McLean, 26 Haymarket (HERE).

William Heath, The Looking Glass No. 5 (courtesy National Library of Australia)

Robert Seymour, Monthly Sheet of Caricatures No. 62; or, The Looking Glass, Feb 2, 1835

Robert Seymour, The March of Intellect, Thomas McLean, 26 Haymarket, 1829



George Cruikshank’s first comical newspaper wood-engravings were drawn for Pierce Egan’s Life in London and Sporting Guide, but these were simple humorous drawings sans captions. He granted permission to Vincent Dowling, editor of Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, to reproduce in issue 289, September 9, 1828 half-a-dozen cuts from his collection of “scraps” (originating in Illustrations of Time, 1827) which appeared one at a time as Gallery of Comicalities on the front page of Bell’s newspaper with captions or verse added, presumably by the editorial staff.

George Cruikshank cut, Mornings at Bow Street, John Wight,1824 (see HERE)

 Circulation went up and Bell’s began raiding Cruikshank’s Phrenological Illustrations and Mornings at Bow Street (without the artist’s permission) in order to keep up with the demand. Large broadsheet collections were issued separately from the newspaper cuts as Gallery of Comicalities and Comic Album. Complaints and threats of a lawsuit led to Bell’s discontinuing the piracy of Cruikshank’s engravings in 1828 and substituting “scraps” by Robert Seymour, John Leech, and Kenny Meadows. Twenty-seven of Bell’s Cruikshank (and other artists) “comicalities” were pirated by The Observer newspaper on 21 July 1828.

Advertisement, Figaro in London, Sept 21, 1833

By 1832 there were numerous broadsheet galleries being published in London with unsigned work, some pirated, some commissioned, by the brothers Cruikshank, Robert Seymour, John Leech, Hablot Knight Brown, and Charles Jameson Grant (mostly signed CJG.)

George Cruikshank, Gallery of Comicalities; embracing humorous sketches by the Brothers Robert and George Cruikshank, Robert Seymour and Others, London: Charles Hindley, 1880

Since this post is running longer than expected I will finish here (there will be a Part Two of Before the Cartoon). But I have saved (perhaps) the best for last. This strange and wondrous comicality, a broadsheet sequential story, which seems to have originated in Germany in 1814, which precedes the Glasgow Looking Glass by eleven years, was found in the online Wellcome Collection, and shows (if the dating is correct) that there is still much comic history yet to be unraveled. Note also in panel 5 lower left are the engraved initials LB.

Doctor Zirkel

July 1814, Coloured wood engraving.

UPDATE: 

Guy Lawley has pointed out that the artist of Doctor Zirkel was Ludwig Bechstein (1843-1914) and the cartoon was Munchener Bilderbogen no. 461, see HERE. The book collection of Bilderbogen in which it is listed is  dated to 1867-1868.

Thanks to Guy Lawley

and 

Eckart Sackmann


NOTES:

The Evolution of the British Comic, Denis Gifford, History Today, Vol XXI, No. 5, May 1971

Glasgow and its clubs; or, Glimpses of the condition, manners, characters, & oddities of the city, during the past & present centuries, John Stang, London & Glasgow: Richard Griffin & Co.1856

English caricaturists and graphic humourists of the nineteenth century :how they illustrated and interpreted their times, Graham Everitt, London: Swan Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowry, Paternoster Square, 1886

The Draughtsman’s Contacts: Robert Seymour and the Humorous Periodical Press in the 1830s, Brian Maidment, Journal of European Periodical Studies, 1.1, Summer 2016

Between Broadsheet Caricature and “Punch”: Cheap Newspaper Cuts for the Lower Classes in the 1830s, David Kunzle, Art Journal, Vol. 43, No. 4, The Issue of Caricature, Winter, 1983


Most of the prints pictured, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy Wellcome Collection







Saturday, October 30, 2021

SCHNAPSY by SHOENKE –

 

               BOB SCHOENKE drew Jack Armstrong, Laredo Crockett, and Jane Arden. He also drew Schnapsy exclusively for the SENTINEL newspaper out of Montgomery County, MD. Bob Schoenke's Schnapsy began August 1, 1963 and came to a finish on Oct 24, 1963.

[01] Aug 1, 1963

[02] Aug 1, 1963

[03] Aug 8, 1963

[04] Aug 22, 1963

[05] Sept 5, 1963

[06] Aug 22, 1963

[07] Oct 24, 1963

[08] Bob Schoenke, 1961

JKA

Friday, September 3, 2021

JACK SHEPPARD, PENNY GAFFS, AND JUVENILE DEPRAVITY –


— by John Adcock —♠


The amusements of these youths are the low theatres, the dancing saloons, and entertainments of a like description. Many of the penny theatres are frequented only by boys and girls who are already thieves and prostitutes. “Jack Sheppard,” “Dick Turpin,” “Claude Duval,” and other exhibitions of dexterous and daring crimes attract the attention and ambition of these boys, and each one endeavours to emulate the conduct of his favourite hero. An Inquiry into the Extents and Causes of Juvenile Depravity, Thomas Beggs, 3 Mar 1849

Thomas Begg’s inquiry into juvenile delinquency, and numerous other statistical inquiries undertaken throughout Britain by clergymen and missionaries, regarded destitute, homeless, juvenile boys and girls as heathens, lost in depravity, and in dire need of religion. “Heathenism is the poor man’s religion in the metropolis,” wrote R.W. Vanderkiste, a London City Missionary, in 1852. Vanderkiste took seriously his forays into Clerkenwell to save its children from “the heathen darkness.” Missionaries and Ragged School employees, armed with religious tracts, also targeted the slums of Spitalfields, Bethnal Green, and Whitechapel Road. Even the title to Vanderkiste’s travelogue sounds as foreboding as a trip to Darkest Africa; Notes and Narratives of a Six Year’s Mission, Principally Among the Dens of London. As to the efficacy of religious tracts G.W.M. Reynolds, in his Political Instructor, had this to say in 1850.

Those who talk so much about religious education, and deprecate secular education, have for many years been in the habit of circulating tracts, small pious stories about deathbed repentance, and such like, which tracts are seldom read. They contain no healthy nutriment for the minds of up-grown men, and are taken in and returned by the cottagers to the tract distributors as part of their duties. These tracts are seldom read, and when read are so silly and uninteresting, as to render a re-perusal impossible. Sir Harry Inglis and the sanctified Mr. Plumptre, as well as all pious rectors, curates, and others who feel an interest in such matters, may rest assured that such religious teaching is a waste of time and money, and that it would be of service to the state that their pious intentions received a more healthy direction.[i]

Reynolds, at least, proposed more useful ways to combat poverty — in his opinion secular education and a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work were preferable to pious homilies. The Chartists maintained that “to secure to labour all its just reward, is to increase in the same proportion the ability to purchase, and to lessen the weight of pauperism and crime.” Walter Cooper, on behalf of the Associative Tailors, addressed their brother toilers of all trades in 1850. “You will not pay living wages? Look to see your poor rates increase, and your streets swarm with prostitutes and beggars!” Reynolds did not romanticize the lower classes in his novels but he understood their vice, criminality, and degradation as the inevitable result of extreme poverty. To Reynolds the law was a system designed for the rich, intended to keep down the poor. Justice was a façade. As for the poor, it was their own damned fault.[ii]

And this is the prospect for the poor of England who live in great towns and cities. Prospect! did we say? It is the actual reality. It is here where the impulses which all men and women – even the worst of them – to do good, if it be but for once in the course of a feverish life, are strangled! It is here that honesty goes forth shame-stricken, and bold, brazen dishonesty flaunts it and is applauded. It is in these terrible lazar spots that the pure are polluted and the chaste are compelled to sell their innocence for bread! It is from homes skulking in the forbidden corners in these localities that mothers come forth and sell their bodies in order that their children shall live, and hence it is that the widows of labourers and artisans are forced to surrender every vestige of matronly dignity, to traverse the streets with drunken and delirious steps, and maddened with the remorse of a crime for which they should surely remain guiltless (…)[iii]

The selling of children for sex was rife in the slums. One prostitute related her story to Henry Mayhew for a series of articles in the Morning Chronicle. She was an orphan who could neither read nor write, placed in a small tradesman’s family, where her mistress beat her black and blue with hands and sticks. She ran away and took up residence in low penny or two penny lodging-houses filled with children. “During this time, I used to see boys and girls from ten to twelve years old sleeping together (…) I saw things between almost children that I cannot describe to you – very often I saw them and that shocked me.” At twelve she lived with a fifteen-year-old boy as husband and wife. She soon turned to prostitution. She described accommodations in a low lodging-house in Kent Street where no adults were present.

They were all thieves and bad girls. I have known between three or four dozen boys and girls sleep in one room. The beds were horrid filthy and full of vermin. There was very wicked carryings on. The boys, if any difference, was the worst. We lay packed on a full night, a dozen boys and girls squeezed into one bed. That was very often the case – some at the foot and some at the top – boys and girls all mixed. I can’t go into all the particulars, but whatever could take place in words or acts between boys and girls did take place, and in the midst of the others. I am sorry to say that I took part in these bad ways myself, but I wasn’t so bad as all the others. There was only a candle burning all night, but in summer it was light a great part of the night. Some boys and girls slept without any clothes, and would dance about the room that way. I have seen two dozen capering about the room that way; some mere children – the boys generally the youngest.

The boys in the lodging-house sent the girls out on the streets to engage in prostitution. If this proved unsuccessful the girls would steal something rather than return empty-handed and face a brutal beating.

I have seen them beaten, often kicked and beaten until they were blind from bloodshot, and their teeth knocked out with kicks from boots as the girl lays upon the ground. The boys, in their turn, are out thieving all day, and the lodging-house keeper will buy any stolen provisions of them, and sell them to the lodgers.[iv]

As early as 1841 the Sixth Report of the Inspector of Prisons in England found that a “vast number of boy malefactors, when examined, were found to have been misled by witnessing the performance of such plays as Jack Sheppard.” Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal covered the report under the title Felon Literature and quotes numerous boy’s testimony to their influence. An eighteen-year-old said “I have seen Jack Sheppard performed; I thought he was a capital example for those who followed the trade.” A fourteen-year-old thought Jack Sheppard was “very nice, and if I was only as clever I would be thought the very best of thieves.” Another; “I had his life, some boy took it from me; most boys have his life.” A twenty-one-year-old said “(…) I noticed them picking one another’s pockets on the stage; it gave everyone a great insight how to do it. If I did not know how to do such tricks when I went into the theatre, I am sure I could when I came out.”

One eighteen-year-old identified as J. H. had just entered the fifth year of his apprenticeship when he came across a “Life” of Jack Sheppard. He then saw the play, probably in a penny gaff. It “excited in my mind an inclination to imitate him; the part was well acted at the play. I read how he got into places; and I had a wish to try if I could do the same. The play made the greatest impression on my mind. A few weeks after I saw the play, I committed the first robbery. When the scene is hoisted, he is carving his name upon a beam which goes across the shop. I wrote ‘Jack Sheppard’ on the shop-beam, just as it was in the play. It occurred to my mind that this trade was like my own –  a carpenter. I often thought about it when I was at work.”

There is no reason to doubt the boy’s testimony. On the other hand, James Greenwood, “The Amateur Casual,” writing in 1869 in The Seven Curses of London, cautions against taking juvenile prisoner’s tales at face value. “A talent for gammoning “Lady Green,” as the prison chaplain is irreverently styled, is highly appreciated among the thieving fraternity.” Greenwood toured the boys’ wing of the gaol with a governor known by the boys to blame penny dreadfuls for their pernicious influence. All boys when asked would say “It was them there penny numbers what I used to take in, sir,” and receive a pat on the head and a homily for his troubles. Considering the terrible lives they led boys really had no reason to blame the penny dreadfuls. The Bee-Hive, a working man’s newspaper reported the following sad story in 1870.

BOW-STREET. James Anderson, a ragged little urchin, of about eight years of age, was charged with stealing money from a till. A corn chandler disposed that he saw the prisoner crawl into his shop and creep behind the counter. He put his hand into the till and went out of the shop. Prosecutor followed, and ultimately captured the prisoner, who by this time had thrown the money away. Prosecutor lost altogether about four shillings. Some of the money was picked up by the boys in the street. – The father of the prisoner here stepped forward, and said that his boy had become corrupted by bad companions amongst whom he had fallen, and who frequently enticed him into a “Penny Gaff” in the Euston-Road. The money was doubtless stolen on purpose to visit that place. He (the father) had often beaten his boy with a strap for going to the place, which was the resort of thieves and bad girls. – Mr. Vaughan said, that a similar case to the one now before him, the “Penny Gaff” in the Euston-Road, had been alluded to. He should request Mr. Balding (the inspector on duty at the court), to report the frequent complaints that had been made concerning the latter place to the Chief Commissioner of Police immediately. – Mr. Vaughan (to the prisoner): Who told you to go to that place? – The prisoner: No one, Sir, I went with another boy, a cripple. I have been there about six times. – Mr. Vaughan: Were there many people there when you went? – The prisoner: Yes, Sir, it was always crowded. –  Mr. Vaughan: And what do you see there, little boy? –The prisoner: “Oh, they give us about three songs; then there’s some actin’, then they puts down the blind, and that’s all you see.” (Laughter.) – Mr. Vaughan: What kind of acting was it? – The prisoner: Eh? – Mr. Vaughan: What kind of acting was it?  –The prisoner: Oh; murdering and that. – Mr. Vaughan at this stage remanded the prisoner for a week.

It seems that penny bloods and penny dramas did encourage the homeless, impoverished, and children of the honest working classes to crime. The sensational texts provided would-be boy-burglars, boy-pirates, and boy highwaymen with the appropriate chap-book heroes to emulate. Oscar Wilde said “The boy-burglar is simply the inevitable result of life’s imitative instinct. He is Fact, occupied as Fact usually is, with trying to reproduce Fiction, and what we see in him is repeated on an extended scale throughout the whole of life.”[v] 

Poverty, drink and fractured family life were a more direct cause of juvenile crime. A report in The Times of December 30, 1847 is a startling example of the fatalistic attitudes carried about London by neglected children:

Mansion House. – A boy of about twelve years of age named William Lipley, was brought before the Lord mayor on the charge of stealing a piece of beef. From the statement of the officer it appeared that the prisoner belonged to a most dangerous gang of little boys, who were very much practised in robbing women in Bishopsgate-street and Leadenhall-market, and whose diminutive size gave them facilities unknown to children of larger growth. The charge was proved.


The Lord Mayor.  – Do you say that this boy is an old hand at thieving?


The Officer. – Certainly, my lord. He has been often in custody. When I caught him, I asked him where he supposed he should at last get to?


“Go to,” said he, “why to the gallows, to be sure.”


The Lord Mayor. – Did you say so, prisoner?


The Boy. – Yes; the man’s right enough. I did say so.

The prisoner was then committed to trial.

The strongest street Arabs tormented the weakest — small children, drunks, cripples, and imbeciles. One tiny girl was arrested carrying a baby which she had been tormenting by cutting its flesh with a blade, a pitiful public cry for help. Accidents, fires, and public hangings attracted riotous mobs of swearing children of “tender years.” The publisher Charles Gilpin spoke to a group engaged in lewd, obscene, and filthy conversation outside the Debtor’s door. The juveniles had spent the night in the street to secure a good view of the morning’s hanging. Young people were “children in years, but old in vice profligacy and debauchery.” Mr. Roberts of Bristol visited 167 prisoners awaiting sentence of death, of that number he claimed 165 had attended previous executions.

Not only the children. G. W. M. Reynolds wrote in his Political Instructor, under the heading A LESSON FOR THE PEOPLE,[vi] “Then what of the aristocracy? Why, at the public strangulation of the Mannings, there were present numerous scions of that oligarchical class. One “noble lord” paid ten guineas for a seat and drove down in his cab at six o’clock on the fatal morning, alighting in great Suffolk-street and repairing on foot to the house where “a window” was reserved for his special behoof (…) “gentlemen of fashion” were as plentiful on the occasion as ‘gentleman of the swell mob.”[vii]



[i] Reynoldss Political Instructor, Vol 1, No. 20, March 23, 1850, p.159

[ii] Reynoldss Political Instructor, Vol 1, No. 21, March 30, 1850, p.168

[iii] The Rookeries, Reynoldss Political Instructor, Vol 1, No. 21, March 30, 1850, p.162

[iv] The Confessions of an Unfortunate Girl, Reynoldss Political Instructor, Vol 1, No. 16, February 23, 1850, p.122

[v] The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde, The Nineteenth Century, January 1889

[vi] Dec 8, 1849

[vii] In Dec 1849 The Trial of the Mannings, with their portraits was published, price three pence, but you must ask for Lloyds Edition, as all the other editions are not sold under sixpence.

Top of the page image is from The Street Waif by E. Harcourt Burrage, woodcut illustration by Harry Maguire, c.1884