Monday, January 19, 2009

Penny Numbers of an Obscene Nature

Canadian author Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale is currently being reviewed by the Toronto School Board based on the complaint of one concerned parent, who wants it banned from his child's Grade 12 classroom. Good Grief! Ms. Atwood can take comfort in the fact that outraged cries for the banning of books usually lead to a surge in sales, as was the case with Tintin in the Congo a few months back

I have posted on the Wild Boys of London twice now, HERE and HERE, now I'll post another one gathering together what I could find in old newspaper reports of the notorious Wild Boys court-case:

An oft-repeated story in articles about penny dreadfuls was that the Newsagents’ Publishing Company, of 147 Fleet-street, next to the Cheshire Cheese tavern, was raided and closed by the police in 1870 or 1871 for publishing The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of the Night and similar penny numbers of an obscene nature. The story is partly true but did not involve the Newsagents’ Publishing Company at all, and the events actually happened in 1877.

On September 30, 1879, C. H. Collette, Secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Vice, said in a letter to the editor of the Daily News, that they had successfully prosecuted and “put down the following periodicals as they from time to time came into existence:- Paul Pry, Polly Pree, Crim. Con. Gazette, The Ferret, Peter Spy, The Women of London, The Day’s Doings, Day and Night, and The Wild Boys of London.”

Of all these periodicals only one could have been described as a penny dreadful: The Wild Boys of London. One of the first Vice cases was the prosecution of The Women of London periodical (probably not the same as the later penny dreadful The Women of London Disclosing The Trials and Temptations of a Woman's Life in London With Occasional Glimpses of a Fast Career of 1863) under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857, also known as Lord Campbell's Act, which was reported on May 11, 1857.

"This was another indictment similar to the last, and charged the defendant, William Strange of No. 183, Fleet-street with the publication of two obscene libels, the one called the Women of London, and the other Paul Pry. It appeared that this defendant, who was a very respectable looking young man, kept the shop in question, where he sold newspapers and periodical papers generally. The publications were sold by him openly on the 26th and 29th of January and were taken by the defendant from a pile of about 20 more of the same sort. It was also stated that they were sold at other shops in London.

Lord CAMPBELL expressed his astonishment and horror at hearing that obscene papers like those produced were sold publicly in the streets of London for a penny. It further appeared that the Paul Pry was printed for "Richard Martin, 183, Fleet-street," (the defendant's shop), but no one could tell who "Richard Martin" was.

Mr. Cole said the defendant was utterly unconscious when he sold the papers, that they contained anything obscene, and when he discovered that one number of the Women of London contained something improper, that number was altogether suppressed."

"The learned counsel called several tradesmen who gave the defendant a good character, and among them a man named Vickers, who had a book-shop in Holywell-street, but who said there was nothing immoral sold in his shop."

"The jury without hesitation found the defendant Guilty and the foreman added that the jury considered that these cheap publications had a far greater tendency to demoralize the public than the others which were sold at a higher price."

"William Strange, the other defendant, then stood forward to receive sentence, and, addressing the Court, said he had been associated with cheap literature all his life; that he was in the habit of selling thousands of cheap papers very week; that he knew nothing of their contents; but that they all came in and were sold in an hour to the trade. He said he had a wife and family to support, and if he were taken away of course they must suffer. He solemnly declared he did not know the contents of these publications."

Campbell found William Strange's professions of innocence hard to believe.

"He (Campbell) had in this instance examined the publications for himself, and found them to be most infamous, and when he heard that such publications were sold by the thousands his Lordship thought it was high time that an example should be made. As, however, it was the defendant's first offence, the sentence would be three month's imprisonment, but without the infamy of hard labour, in the hope that he might yet reform, and become a respectable member of society.

The defendant was then removed."

Strange and Vickers had been associated with cheap literature all their lives, the fathers of both young publishers were among the radical unstamped pressmen of the 1830's and were acquaintances and neighbours of Holywell-street pornographer William Dugdale, a Regency veteran. Strange Sr. had published an unstamped newspaper, Truth, and an obscene and Anti-Papist work, The Confessional Unmasked. Vickers Sr. was responsible for the racy James Lindridge romance, The Merry Wives of London a Romance of Metropolitan Life.

When Vickers died sometime in 1848 his concern was continued by his widow Ann until 1851 and by his namesake George from that time on. Charley Wag, The New Jack Sheppard, by the author of "The Woman With the Yellow Hair," "Somebody Else's Wife" was published by Vickers in 1861 and was appearing in the melodrama theatres by December.

A penny dreadful under the title The Women of London was published in 1863 but this serial seems to have escaped the ire of the Vice Society.

In 1862 Dunbar & Farrah, Wholesale Publishers were Vickers and Strange's neighbours at 47 Holywell-street. Frederick Farrah was another early publisher. In 1834 he was responsible for the long-winded title The Heroes of the Guillotine and Gallows; or, the Awful Adventures of Askern, Smith and Calcraft, the Three Rival Hangmen of York Castle, Stafford Gaol and Newgate ; and Sanson, the Executioner of Paris with his Cabinet of Murderer’s Curiosities Full of Astonishing Disclosures Concerning Their Private and Public Lives, and Startling Incidents before and after the performance of their dreadful office. In 1877 Farrah (probably Farrah Jr.,) whose name appeared in the gutters of that work, was publishing a reprint of the NPC's Wild Boys of London when a raid on news-agents and book-sellers stopped the serial in mid-number.

The Newsagents’ Publishing Company was registered on 10 April 1862 for purchasing and selling newspapers, pamphlets and periodicals under the management of Alfred W. Huckett (1833-1910). The NPC acted as a wholesale newsagent for the sale of serial fiction by speculative printers and engravers.

The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of the Night, published by the Newsagents’ Publishing Company, 147 Fleet-street, was first advertised in Reynolds Newspaper on July 17, 1864. According to the ads “Every maiden and wife, every youth and husband, every boy, should read Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of the Night.”

In 1819 147 Fleet-street was home to T.&S. Thatcher, seedsmen and net-makers. By 1838 the premises hosted a newsvendor named Carvalho who sold mainly medical works. Holyoake and Company, a Chartist publisher took over from 1857 until December of 1862 then the NPC took up residence from February of 1863 to about 1867*. In January 1890 the proprietor was J. Stott & Co., a firm of gas engineers.

*The date of the last advertisement I could find with the words Newsagents’ Publishing Company.

November 6, 1864, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper. The Newsagents’ Publishing Company (Limited.) -

“The commemorative supper of the shareholders of the Newsagents’ Publishing Company (Limited), took place on Wednesday Evening last, at the Rising Sun, Creed-lane, Ludgate-hill. About sixty sat down to a splendid supper, provided by Mr. Hill. Mr. A. W. Huckett, the company’s manager, in the unavoidable absence of Mr. Bowering, the president, occupied the chair, and Mr. Roberts the vice-chair. After the cloth was removed, the toast of the evening was proposed by Mr. Roberts-- “Prosperity to the Newsagents’ Publishing company.” Mr. Huckett, in responding, in a very lengthy and able speech dilated upon the cause-- it’s rise and it’s progress. He considered the company had done well even to pay a dividend after the lapse of two years, when it considered what liabilities have had to be met. The receipts this year were treble what they were last and were rapidly increasing. He contended that the proper publishers were the newsagents themselves. They knew the requirements of the public and could give publicity to any literature under their charge. Everything put into the hands of the company has a fair chance; circulars are sent out announcing a new work; the first number is well exhibited, and instead of its being published at an isolated office, it is published all over the universe-- thereby giving every production a very good chance of existence. He concluded his remarks by stating the first dividend was but five per cent but was quite sure that the next year it would be twenty five or thirty per cent. (loud cheers). In order to show their appreciation of the services of Mr. Huckett, the shareholders passed a resolution unanimously, to present him with a testimonial. A subscription for the purpose has already been commenced.”

Aug 9, 1865 Daily News.-

“Edward Breese 15 Bow Street police Court before Mr. Flowers for attempting to set fire to his master’s premises. “Police constable 42E “found that the prisoner had been in the constant habit of reading such publications as “Charley Wag” and “The Wild Boys of London,” several of which were found in his possession.”

January 12, 1868, Lloyd’s Newspaper.-

“A Testimonial, consisting of a valuable gold watch and handsome drawing-room timepiece, was presented on Tuesday to Mr. A. W. Huckett for his exertions on behalf of the Newsagents’ Publishing company. The presentation was celebrated by a dinner at Mr. Hill’s, the Rising Sun, Doctors’-commons, and presided over by Mr. B. Bowering-- the various toasts being responded to by Messrs. Farrah, Hoey, Peddir, Roberts, Huckett, &c. the proceedings, being enlivened by songs and recitations, closed at an early hour of the morning.”

On July 16, 1868 in the Court of Bankruptcy, George Cruikshank Jun., artist, publisher and newspaper proprietor, gave his address as 147 Fleet-street, the address of the NPC. His bankruptcy he attributed to his publishing of a comic periodical, Toby, a paper in existence three months total.

Nov 14, 1868, Manchester Times.-

“Boys’ Literature.- On the twelfth of September last, a boy, named Pascall, aged 14, was brought up at the London Worship-street Police Court on a charge of felony, and sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment. In the course of the examination it was stated that on being searched at the station the prisoner was found to be in possession of a publication entitled “The Boys’ of England,” and two others headed “Tales of Highwaymen; or Life on the Road.” The magistrate, on looking over the publications in question, remarked the absence from them of the printer’s name and address. The publishing office was at 147, Fleet-street, and the printer had infringed the provisions of the 2nd and 3rd of Victoria, cap. 12, sec. 2. Bearing in mind “the mischievous and corrupt effects which the reading of such publications produced on the youth of this country,” he directed Inspector Fife (G division), who was present at the time, to bring the matter under the notice of the commissioners of the city police, in order that proceedings might be taken. A report of the case appeared in the Times, of September 14. On Thursday Mr. Ellison, addressing the reporter from the bench, stated that he had received a letter from a person named Brett, a publisher of 147, Fleet-street, who said that the report which had appeared in the newspapers had done him injustice. In respect of the serial the “Boys’ of England,” which was published at that address. He (Mr. Ellison) wished it to be understood that his remarks, which were accurately reported, exclusively applied to the two publications entitled “Tales of Highwaymen; or Life on the Road.” they did not relate to the “Boys’ of England,” which publication he had examined at the time, and which he deemed innocuous. It was the paper “Tales of Highwaymen” (which was also published at 147, Fleet-street) that he directed the inspector to report upon; and the misapprehension in question had arisen in consequence of his not having distinctly stated that he did not include the “Boys’ of England” in his condemnation.”

Sept. 6, 1877, Leeds Mercury.-

“On Monday, at the Guildhall Justice-room, George Emmett, of 9 and 10 St. Bride’s-avenue, Fleet-street, was summoned before Alderman Ellis, for publishing an obscene publication, and also to show cause why the copies seized should not be destroyed.

Mr. Besley prosecuted, and Mr. Montagu Williams appeared for the defendant.

Mr. Besley, in opening the case, said that he was instructed by the Society for the Suppression of Vice to prosecute the defendant. For the last two or three months the City and the metropolis had been flooded by literature of a most objectionable character. The defendant, George Emmett, was the proprietor of the London Peep-Show. The police had instructions to purchase certain numbers of the publication, and after they did so a warrant was issued from this court, when the officer seized 9,593 copies of this publication.

Henry Taylor, detective constable, City police, deposed that he instructed Watson to purchase the numbers of the London Peep-Show. On the 26th ult. he went with a warrant to the place mentioned and saw the defendant. He read the warrant to the defendant and searched the premises, and found 9,593 copies of London Peep-Show. they consisted of different numbers, except No. 1. He said he was the publisher. There were six or seven other persons present.

Mr. Williams contended that the prosecution was not instituted by the Treasury nor by the City solicitor, who would have taken proceedings if they had thought it a case in which they should do so. It would be straining the law to send the defendant for trial on a charge of misdemeanour on such evidence.

Alderman Ellis said he had glanced his eye over these papers, and he thought there was quite sufficient to justify him in sending the defendant for trial to the Central Criminal Court.

Mr. Williams replied that there was a second summons for the destruction of the publications, and he applied that the summons should be adjourned until after the trial of the defendant, so that the jury might say whether they were immoral or not.

Mr. Besley had no objection to that course being taken.

The defendant was then committed for trial, but admitted to bail in two sureties of £100 each, and himself in £200.

John Rochefort, of 3, Goldsmith-street, was summoned before Alderman Ellis , on a similar charge, with regard to the publication of Quiz, and he was also committed for trial.

Mr. Simpson, of Shoe-lane, and Mr. George Bates, of 14, Broadway, Ludgate-hill, two newsvendors, were also summoned for selling the above publications, and they pleaded that they did not know the contents of the periodicals they sold, but it was explained to them that it was their duty to see that they did not sell indecent publications, or if they did sell them they were liable for all the consequences. In Mr. Baker’s case it appeared that Mr. Eyre was in his shop when the warrant was executed, and the bulk of the publications seized were taken from Mr. Eyre, and were his property.

Alderman Ellis committed both the defendants for trial, but took their own recognizance for their appearance.

A respectably dressed young man, named Henry Bonsor, was charged before Mr. Alderman Figgins with causing an obstruction in Cheapside, by offering Quiz and London Life for sale. Police-constable Andrew Armour said he was in Cheapside Tuesday, when he saw the defendant offering the above-named publications for sale. There were several lads round him, one of whom was buying a copy, and the others examining the pictures. Having previously cautioned him, witness instructed the present proceedings. Defendant pleaded that he had never been summoned before. Alderman Figgins said he would consider that, and let him off by paying 2s. Costs; but it must be understood that if he or anyone else was brought there again he would be fined so heavily that he would have to take the alternative -- a term of imprisonment. Defendant: I have only a halfpenny in my pocket. The alderman: Very well, then; I must fine you 1s. And costs, or three days imprisonment.”

Dec 9 1877 Reynolds’s Newspaper.-

“Pernicious Boys’ Literature.- Mr. Collette applied on Wednesday before Alderman Sir Andrew Lusk at the Guildhall, to take out a summons against Messrs. A. Simpson and Kelly of Shoe-lane, Fleet Street, for selling an immoral publication entitled “The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of the Night”, of which upwards of 4000 copies had been seized by Police-inspector Peele. Mr. Collette, in opening his application for the summons, said that at its first start the publication appeared to be perfectly moral, but after some numbers had been published, a very immoral story appeared, which became worse as the numbers appeared. The alderman, after some reflection, thought he could not help granting the summons, which was accordingly done, returnable on Tuesday.”

December 13, 1877. The Times.-

Bow-Street. A number of summonses against newsvendors in the district, calling on them to show cause why a periodical called “The Wild Boys of London,” several numbers of which had been seized on each of the defendant’s premises, should not be destroyed, came on for hearing before Mr. Flowers. Mr. Collette, solicitor to the Society for the Suppression of Vice, appeared to prosecute. Mr. Collette said there was a summons pending at the Guildhall Police-court against the proprietors and publisher of the work in question for publishing an obscene work. The present were summonses against the retail dealers only, to prevent them from continuing the sale of the work. The course he should suggest would be this ,- to call each case on separately, and if the defendant consented to the books already seized under a warrant from this Court being destroyed, and gave a promise not to sell any more of them, to allow the matter to end there. If any defendant seemed inclined to “fight the question,” it was proposed to adjourn the summons in such case till after the decision at the Guildhall. Mr. Flowers said he had seen the books referred to, and although they were not so openly obscene as the books generally brought to this Court under Lord Campbell’s Act, still, perhaps, they were even worse in their effect, for they were sufficiently well written not to excite the same disgust the other books did. He agreed to the course Mr. Collette proposed to take. The cases were then called on one after the other. There were eleven summonses, and of these nine defendants agreed willingly to the books being destroyed, declaring that had they had time to read them and find out the nature of their contents they would never have sold them. One defendant, Mrs. Mary Ann Ledwick, York-street, Union-street, stated that for the sake of her own family, to say nothing of all other families, she wished the books destroyed. These summonses were all settled by the defendants paying 2s. Costs; but the other two summonses were adjourned, one against a man named Brownrigg, 27, Compton-street because he did not attend, the other against a man named Wells, 76, Theobald’s-road, because the defendant indignantly refused to have the books destroyed, on the ground that he was not going to be treated like a child ; that worse books were sold every day ; and that he was a respectable man, which Mr. Flowers said he could not be if he sold indecent books.

Dec. 26 1877 Leeds Mercury.-

“Boys’ Literature.- At Bow-street Police-court on Saturday, John Wells, newsvendor, 76 Theobald’s-road, answered to an adjourned summons, before Mr. Flowers, calling on him to show cause why certain obscene books, namely, “The Wild Boys of London, which were seized on his premises, should not be destroyed. - Mr. Collette, solicitor to the Society for the Suppression of Vice, appeared in support of the summonses. The defendant was not represented. - as reported on the last occasion, there were originally eleven summonses, but the other ten defendants consented to the books being destroyed, and expressed their regret at having sold them at all, which they said they would not have done if they had known their nature. The present defendant alone refused, and, in a very excited manner, said he would not be treated like a child. The case was accordingly adjourned, in order to await the result of a summons against the proprietor and publisher of the book in question which was pending at the Guildhall. - Mr. Collette now said that at the Guildhall neither the publisher nor the proprietor appeared but a letter had been received by them which indicated that they would eventually agree to follow the example of the retail tradesmen and consent to the destruction of the work. If the present defendant still resisted and refused to give his consent to the destruction of the book, he, (Mr. Collette) should ask that the case be sent for trial.- Mr. Flowers: Well, Mr. Wells, what do you say now?- Defendant: I wish, first of all, to apologise for my unseemly behaviour last week.- Mr. Flowers: Oh, that’s nothing.- Defendant: Oh, but it is. It was my first appearance in a police-court, and I felt the injustice of my case. You, I believe (turning to Mr. Collette) say you represent the society. Which society? What society? - Mr. Collette: Never mind.- Defendant: But I do mind. Are you the treasurer? Are you the committee? Are you the chairman? What is your system? - Mr. Douglas, the clerk: Keep the man quiet. Defendant: But I have suffered severely through a false report getting into the paper. Who is the reporter of this court? Where is the penny-a-liner who sent such an account to the Daily Telegraph? And Reynolds’s too! I am surprised at the proprietor of such a respectable paper as Reynolds’s Newspaper copying such a report from the Daily Telegraph. - Mr. Flowers: If you don’t mind you’ll have it all down, and will have to complain of the penny-a-liner again.- Defendant: And this man too, who represents the Society of Donothings. He has done nothing; for I hold in my hand Lord Campbell’s Act, which says- Did you ever (turning again to Mr. Collette) have a man in your employment named Matherim? - Mr. Flowers: This has nothing to do with the case.- Defendant: What I was going to say is that “The Wild Boys of London” has been sold for twelve years. What has this man been about all that time? I have had these books bound in cloth for 10 1/2d. for a woman who wanted to keep them for the benefit of her family. I admit it is filthy but it is classical. (loud laughter.) In the Bible you will find the same things.- Mr. Flowers: Oh, I see what this means now.- Defendant: Yes, and in scores of books. The publisher in Shoe-lane wants to square it.- Mr. Flowers: If you go on much more I shall have you removed from court.- Defendant: Then burn them?- Mr. Collette: And will you promise not to sell anymore?- Defendant: I wouldn’t sell such filthy things. (Laughter.)- Mr. Flowers: I am very glad to hear you say so. Defendant: Quite right. I’m always glad to take your advice, your Worship. You told me once that alcohol was the deadly drug of the country, and I took your advice, and have been a teetotaller ever since. (Laughter.)- Mr. Flowers: Very well, then, pay the 2s. costs.- Defendant: Oh, not that, sir: I only have 2s. In my pocket, and I promised to take my children home 6d. Worth of oranges.- Mr. Flowers: You must pay the costs.- Defendant: Then I have had enough of you.- The defendant was then taken out of court, when he discovered he had only got 1s. In his pocket, but to avoid being locked up he borrowed 1s. Of the beadle of the parish, who happened to be present on other business.”

Dec 28 1877 Daily News.-

“Guildhall.- Mr. J. Simpson and Mr. F. J. Kelley*, printers and publishers, of Shoe-lane, attended before Sir Andrew Lusk, M.P., to an adjourned summons, charging them with printing and publishing an obscene work. Mr. Besley prosecuted, and stated that the defendants were the printers and publishers of a publication called the “Wild Boys of London”, and they had been very properly prosecuted, in order to put a stop to the publication. So soon, however, as the obnoxious matter was pointed out to them, they saw that they had done wrong; they had done so ignorantly, but no sooner were the objectionable passages pointed out to them than they said they would give up the stereotype plates, recall all the numbers possible, and do all in their power to stop the publication of such trash. The prosecution had only one object in view, and that was the stopping as much as possible the publication of all such literature, which tended to the downward course of youth, and therefore they accepted the offer of the defendants and their promise, and they asked to be allowed to withdraw the summonses. He might, however, say that although the prosecution did not wish to push the matter further against the printers and publishers, it was open to them to proceed against the writers, or any persons who had received benefit from the sale of the publication.- Mr. Straight, who appeared for the defendants, concurred in all that had fallen from Mr. Besley, and said that his clients had erred without the knowledge that they were doing wrong.- Sir Andrew Lusk said he had read one or two passages from the publication referred to, and they were fearful. The prosecution was a very just one, and he thanked the Society for the Suppression of Vice for taking it up. He was glad the wretched thing had ceased to exist, and he acceded to the request of Mr. Besley.”

*Kelly & Company were the printers of the Boys’ of England in 1868.

January 29, 1892, Boys’ of England.-

“Mr. Edwin John Brett was recently entertained by a number of ladies and gentlemen connected with the literary and publishing professions, to a complimentary banquet in the Marble Hall, of the “Grand Hotel,” Charing Cross.

George Augustus Sala, esq., occupied the chair, and the Committee consisted of the following gentlemen: Sir Augustus Harris, Edward Badoureau, Esq., Charles Bradley, Esq., F. Vincent Brooks, Esq., Charles Cooper, Esq., Gilbert Dalziel, Esq., Wilfred Head, Esq., A. W. Huckett, Esq., G. Maddick, Esq., H. Newson Smith, Esq., Henry Spicer, Esq., W. Gage Spicer, Esq., John Swain, Esq., James Tee, Esq., W. Clifford Weblyn, Esq., H. Williams, Esq., Hon. Secretary, Thos. J. Tee, Esq.”

Penny Parts :

1863 *The Women of London* No. 2 Given Away With No. 1. Published every Saturday at the “Welcome Guest” Office, 4 Shoe-lane. Advertisement in Reynolds Newspaper August 9, 1863.

1863 *The Women of London Disclosing The Trials and Temptations of a Woman's Life in London With Occasional Glimpses of a Fast Career * By Bracebridge Hemyng. 24 Illustrations by Robert Prowse, London : George Vickers, Angel Court, Strand.

1864 *The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of the Night* London: Newsagents’ Publishing Company, 147 Fleet Street. Advertisement in Reynolds Newspaper July 17, 1864. 103 Nos.

1865 *Tales of Highwaymen; or, Life on the Road* Vol. I No. 1, Saturday, Jan. 21, 1865. 62 nos. London: Newsagents’ Publishing Company, 147 Fleet Street. From advertisement. *Tales of Highwaymen* by the author of “Turnpike Dick,” London: Charles Fox c. 1874 (Ono collection.)

1866*Ivan the Terrible; or, Dark Deeds of Night* London: Office, 147 Fleet Street. 34 Nos.

1876 *The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of the Night* London: F. Farrah, 282, Strand. (Farrah’s name and address appears in the gutters but see above: “Mr. J. Simpson and Mr. F. J. Kelley, printers and publishers, of Shoe-lane, attended before Sir Andrew Lusk, M.P., to an adjourned summons, charging them with printing and publishing an obscene work.” 74 Nos. Suppressed.

The last page had the following Special Notice:
A New Tale, of startling and thrilling interest, called,
Will be published on Tuesday December 5.
With No. 3 of this work will be published and given away (Gratis) an Illustrated Story entitled,

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the amazing archive of material you have established here, much of it very hard to find elsewhere!