Monday, January 10, 2011

Charley Wag

“The result may be seen in the shop window of every cheap news-vendor in London -- ‘The Boy Thieves of London,’ ‘The Life of a Fast Boy,’ ‘The Boy Bandits,’ ‘The Wild Boys of London,’ ‘The Boy Detective,’ ‘Charley Wag,' ‘The Lively Adventures of a Young Rascal,’ and I can’t say how many more… If these precious weekly penn’orths do not openly advocate crime and robbery, they at least go so far as to make it appear that although to obtain the means requisite to set up as a Fast Boy, or a Young Rascal, it is found necessary to make free with a master’s goods, or to force his till, or run off with his cash-box…” -- Contemporary Review, Vol. 26, Page 985, 1875.

I have told the story of Charley Wag already and you can read the details HERE. The following illustrations are all by Robert Prowse, Sr.

These two illustrations below were sent to me by comic strip historian Bill Blackbeard from his personal copy along with the publisher’s data: Charley Wag, the New Jack Sheppard, by the author of “The Woman with the Yellow Hair,” “Somebody Else’s Wife,” &c. London: George Vickers, Angel Court, Strand, 577 pp., 72 parts.

Bill B.’s copy is also different from the copy otherwise posted here, from Barry Ono's copy, in that it was published in 8 page penny parts. The rest of the Illustrations posted here are from a different edition with the same illustrations and text but in 16 page penny parts: Charley Wag, the New Jack Sheppard, by George Savage, author of “The Woman with the Yellow Hair,” “Somebody Else’s Wife,” &c. London: William Grant, 4 Bouverie St., no date, 577 pp., 36 parts.

Charley Wag also supplied the music to a comic song, Gammon and Spinnidge (Bacon and Spinach), written by “Rymer.” It has been assumed that Rymer was James Malcolm Rymer, author of Varney the Vampyre, but there is no evidence that this is true. Oddly enough the address at bottom of the song is given as 28 Brydges-street, the offices of the United Kingdom Press in 1860. Charley Wag also inspired the title of a racy comic penny-paper, bottom, in 1867.


  1. Is this the same Charley Wag who features in "Up the spout with Charley Wag" in W.E.Henley's Villon translation, "Villon's Straight Tip to all Cross Coves"?

    Robin Hamilton

  2. I'm not sure how they are related although Henley's Charley Wag appears to refer to a burglar as well.

  3. The time-frame would fit for Henley drawing on your Charley Wag -- Henley's translation was first published in 1887. And the dramatised version seems to have been popular enough to figure in Pollock's Toy Theatre. There are also a couple of lines of a nursery rhyme which may be relevant.
    Farmer, in MUSA PEDESTRIS, has a less-than-lucid note -- "Up the spout and Charley Wag = expressions of dispersal." It's even possible that the notes to the poem were contributed by Henley himself, as he and Farmer were working together on the Slang Dictionary at the time the anthology was produced.


  4. In the 817 page A dictionary of the underworld: British & American, being the vocabularies of crooks, criminals, racketeers, beggars and tramps, convicts, the commercial underworld, the drug traffic, the white slave traffic, spivs By Eric Partridge I found the following on Charley Wag :
    charley wag, play the. To disappear : 1887, W. E. Henley, Villon's Straight Tip To All Cross Coves., 'It's up the spout and Charley Wag / With wipes and pickers and what-not' : literary, not actual c. Ex the School - S. sense, 'to play truant.'