London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Guy Fawkeses.


UNTIL within the last or years, the exhibition of guys in the public thoroughfares every , was a privilege enjoyed exclusively by boys of from to years of age, and the money arising therefrom was supposed to be invested at night in a small pyrotechnic display of squibs, crackers, and catherine-wheels.

At schools, and at many young gentlemen"s houses, for at least a week before the arrived, the bonfires were prepared and guys built up.

At night might see rockets ascending in the air from many of the suburbs of London, and the little back-gardens in such places as the Hampstead-road and , and, after dusk, suddenly illuminated with the blaze of the tar-barrel, and might hear in the streets even banging of crackers mingled with the laughter and shouts of boys enjoying the sport.

In those days the street guys were of a very humble character, the grandest of them generally consisting of old clothes stuffed up with straw, and carried in state upon a kitchen-chair. The arrival of the guy before a window was announced by a juvenile chorus of "Please to remember the ." So diminutive, too, were some of these guys, that I have even seen dolls carried about as the representatives of the late Mr. Fawkes. In fact, none of these effigies were hardly ever made of larger proportions than Tom Thumb, or than would admit of being carried through the garden-gates of any suburban villa.

Of late years, however, the character of Guy Fawkes-day has entirely changed. It seems now to partake rather of the nature of a London May-day. The figures have grown to be of gigantic stature, and whilst clowns, musicians, and dancers have got to accompany them in their travels through the streets, the traitor Fawkes seems to have been almost laid aside, and the festive occasion taken advantage of for the expression of any political feeling, the guy being made to represent any celebrity of the day who has for the moment offended against the opinions of the people. The kitchen-chair has been changed to the costermongers" donkey-truck, or even vans drawn by pairs of horses. The bonfires and fireworks are seldom indulged in; the money given to the exhibitors being shared among the projectors at night, the same as if the day"s work had been occupied with acrobating or nigger singing.

The guy of any celebrity that made its appearance in the London streets was about the year , when an enormous figure was paraded about on horseback. This had a tall extinguisher-hat, with a broad red brim, and a pointed vandyked collar, that hung down over a smock frock, which was stuffed out with straw to the dimensions of a waterbutt. The figure was attended by a body of some half-dozen costermongers, mounting many coloured cockades, and armed with formidable bludgeons. The novelty of the exhibition ensured its success, and the "coppers" poured in in such quantities that on the following year gigantic guys were to be found in every quarter of the metropolis.

But the gigantic movement did not attain its zenith till the "No Popery" cry was raised, upon the division of England into papal bishoprics. Then it was no longer Fawkes, but Cardinal Wiseman and the Pope of Rome who were paraded as guys through the London thoroughfares.

The figures were built up of enormous proportions, the red hat of the cardinal having a brim as large as a loo-table, and his scarlet cape being as long as a tent. Guy Fawkes seated upon a barrel marked "Gunpowder" usually accompanied His Holiness and the Cardinal, but his diminutive size showed that Guy now played but a secondary part in the exhibition, although the lantern and the matches were tied as usual to his radishy and gouty fingers. According to the newspapers, of these shows was paraded on the , the merchants approving of the exhibition to such an extent that sixpences, shillings, and half-crowns were showered in to the hats of the lucky costers who had made the speculation. So excited was the public mind, that at night, after business was over, processions were formed by tradespeople and respectable mechanics, who, with bands of music playing, and banners flying, on which were inscribed anti-papal mottoes and devices, marched through the streets wtth flaming torches, and after parading their monster Popes and Cardinals until about o"clock at night, eventually adjourned to some open space — like Peckham-rye or Blackheath— where the guy was burned amid the most boisterous applauses.

Cardinal Wiseman and the Pope reappeared


for several years in succession, till at length the Russian war breaking out, the Guy-Fawkes constructors had a fresh model to work upon. The Emperor of Russia accordingly "came out" in the streets, in all forms and shapes; sometimes as the veritable Nicholas, in jackboots and leather breeches, with his unmistakable moustache; and often as Old Nick, with a pair of horns and a lengthy appendage in the form of a tail, with an arrow-headed termination; and not unfrequently he was represented as a huge bear crouching beneath some rude symbol of the English and French alliance.

On the () the guys were more of a political than a religious character. The unfortunate Pope of Rome had in some instances been changed for Bomba, though the Czar, His Holiness, and his British representative the Cardinal, were not altogether neglected. The want of any political agitation was the cause why the guys were of so uninteresting a character.

I must not, however, forget to mention a singular innovation that was then made in the recognised fashion of guy building — of the groups of figures exhibited being (strange to say) of a complimentary nature. It consisted of Miss Nightingale, standing between an English Grenadier and a French footsoldier, while at her feet lay the guy between barrels marked "Gunpowder," and so equivocally attired that he might be taken for either the Emperor of Russia or the Pope of Rome.

At , a guy was promenaded round the market as early as o"clock in the morning, by a party of charity-boys, who appeared by their looks to have been sitting up all night. It is well known to the boys in the neighbourhood of the great fish-market, that the guy which is in the field reaps the richest harvest of halfpence from the salesmen; and indeed, till within the last or years, fish-factor was in the habit of giving the bearers of the effigy he saw a half-crown piece. Hence there were usually or different guy parties in attendance soon after o"clock, awaiting his coming into the market.

For manufacturing a cheap guy, such as that seen at , a pair of old trousers and Wellington boots form the most expensive item. The shoulders of the guys are generally decorated with a paper cape, adorned with different coloured rosettes and gilt stars. A fourpenny mask makes the face, and a proper cocked hat, embellished in the same style as the cape, surrounds the rag head.

The general characteristics of all guys consists in a limpness and roundness of limb, which give the form a puddingy appearance. All the extremities have a kind of paralytic feebleness, so that the head leans on side like that of a dead bird, and the feet have an unnatural propensity for placing themselves in every position but the right ; sometimes turning their toes in, as if their legs had been put on the wrong way, or keeping their toes turned out, as if they had been "struck so" while taking their dancing-lesson. Their fingers radiate like a bunch of carrots, and the arms are as shapeless and bowed as the monster sausage in a cook-shop window. The face is always composed of a mask painted in the state of the most florid health, and singularly disagreeing with the frightful debility of the body. Through the holes for the eyes bits of rag and straw generally protrude, as though birds had built in the sockets. A pipe is mostly forced into the mouth, where it remains with the bowl downwards; and in the hands it is customary to tie a lantern and matches. Whilst the guy is carried along, you can hear the straw in his interior rustling and crackling, like moving a workhouse mattrass. As a general rule, it may be added, that guys have a helpless, drunken look.

When, however, the monster Guy Fawkeses came into fashion, considerably greater expense was gone to in "getting up" the figures. Then the feet were always fastened in their proper position, and although the arrangement of the hands was never perfectly mastered, yet the fingers were brought a little more closely together, and approached the digital dexterity of the dummies at the cheap clothes marts.

For carrying the guys about, chairs, wheelbarrows, trucks, carts, and vans are employed. Chairs and wheelbarrows are patronised by the juvenile population, but the other vehicles belong to the gigantic speculations.

On the Surrey side a guy was exhibited in whose straw body was encased in a coachman"s old great coat, covered with different colours, as various as the waistcoat patterns on a tailor"s show-book. He was wheeled about on a truck by or young men, whose hoarse voices, when shouting "Please to remember the Guy," showed their regular occupation to be street-selling, for they had the same husky sound as the " a-groat fresh herrens," in the Saturday night streetmarkets.

In the neighbourhood of , men dressed up as guys were dragged about on trucks. of them was seated upon a barrel marked "Gunpowder," his face being painted green, and ornamented with an immense false nose of a bright scarlet colour. I could not understand what this guy was meant to represent, for he wore a sugarloaf hat with an ostrich feather in it, and had on a soldier"s red coat, decorated with paper rosettes as big as cabbages. His legs, too, were covered with his own corduroy trowsers, but adorned with paper streamers and bows. In front of him marched a couple of men carrying broomsticks, and musicians playing upon a tambourine and a penny tin whistle.

The most remarkable of the stuffed figures of was dressed in a sheet, intended


to represent the Rev. Mr. Spurgeon in a surplice! It was carried about on a wooden stage by boys, and took very well with the mob, for no sooner did the lads cry out,—

Remember, remember,

The fifth of November,

Old Spurgeon"s treason and plot!

than a shout of laughter burst from the crowd, and the halfpence began to pour in. Without this alteration in the November rhyme, nobody would have been able to have traced the slightest resemblance between the guy and the reverend gentleman whose effigy it was stated to be.

Further, it should be added, that the guy exhibitors have of late introduced a new system, of composing special rhymes for the occasion, which are delivered after the well-known "Remember, remember." Those with the figures of the Pope, for instance, sing,—

A penn"orth of cheese to feed the pope, A twopenny loaf to choke him, A pint of beer to wash it down, And a good large fagot to smoke him!

I heard a party of costermongers, who had the image of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias wabbling on their truck, sing in chorus this hom-manufactured verse,—

Poke an ingun in his eye— A squib shove up his nose, sirs; Then roast him till he"s done quite brown, And Nick to old Nick goes, sirs.

With the larger guys little is usually said or done beyond exhibiting them. In the crowded thoroughfares, the proprietors mostly occupy themselves only with collecting the money, and never let the procession stop for a moment. On coming to the squares, however, a different course is pursued, for then they stop before every window where a head is visible and sing the usual "Remember, remember," winding up with a vociferous hurrah! as they hold out their hats for the halfpence.

At the West-end, of the largest guys of was drawn by a horse in a cart. This could not have been less than feet high. Its face, which was as big as a shield, was so flat and good-humoured in expression that I at once recognised it as a pantomime mask, or used to hang outside some masquerade costumier"s shop door. The coat was of the Charles the "s cut, and composed of a lightish coloured paper, ornamented with a profusion of Dutch metal. There was a sash across the right shoulder, and the legs were almost as long as the funnel to a penny steamer, and ended in brown paper cavalier boots. As the costermongers led it along, it shook like a load of straw. If it had not been for the bull"s-eye lantern and lath matches, nobody would have recognised in the dandy figure the effigy of the wretched Fawkes.

By far the handsomest turn-out of the day, at this time, was a group of figures, which promenaded Whitechapel and Bethnalgreen. They stood erect in a van drawn by a blind horse, and accompanied by a "band" of performer on the drum and pandean pipes. clowns in full costume made faces while they jumped about among the spectators, and collected donations. All the guys were about feet high. The centre , intended for Fawkes himself, was attired in a flowing cloak of crimson glazed calico, and his black hat was a broad-brimmed sugarloaf, the pointed crown of which was like a model of Langham-place church steeple, and it had a profusion of black hair streaming about the face. The figures on either side of this were intended for Lords Suffolk and Monteagle, in the act of arresting the traitor, and accordingly appeared to be gently tapping Mr. Fawkes on either shoulder. The bodies of their lordships were encased in gold scalearmour, and their legs in silver ditto, whilst their heads were covered with -cornered cocked hats, surmounted by white feathers. In the front of the van were white banners, with the following inscriptions in letters of gold:—













At the back of the van flaunted flags of all nations. In addition to the clowns, there were several other attendants; in particular had the appearance of half a man and half a beast, his body being clad in a green frock-coat, whilst his legs and feet were shaggy, and made to imitate a bear"s.

The most remarkable part of this exhibition was the expression upon the countenances of the figures. They were ordinary masks, and consequently greatly out of proportion for the height of the figures. There was a strong family resemblance between the traitor and his arrestors; neither did Fawkes"s countenance exhibit any look of rage, astonishment, or disappointment at finding his designs frustrated. Nor did their lordships appear to be angry, disgusted, or thunderstruck at the conspirator"s bold attempt.

In the neighbourhood of the guys partook of a political character, as if to please the various Members of Parliament who might be strolling to their Clubs. In barrow was the effigy of the Emperor of the French, holding in his hands, instead of the lantern and matches, a copy of the newspaper, torn in half. I was informed that another figure I saw was intended to represent the form of Bomba.

In the neighbourhood of the guys were of an ecclesiastical kind, and


such as it was imagined would be likely to flatter the Archbishop of Canterbury into giving at least a half-crown. of these was drawn by donkeys, and accompanied by drums and pipes. It represented Cardinal Wiseman in the company of members of "the Holy Inquisition." The Cardinal was dressed in the usual scarlet costume, while the Inquisitors were robed in black with green veils over their faces. In front of the cart was a bottle, labelled "Holy Water," which was continually turned round, so that the people might discover that on the other side was printed "Whisky."

The practice of burning guys, and lighting bonfires, and letting off fireworks, is now generally discontinued, and particularly as regards the public exhibitions at Blackheath and . The greatest display of fireworks, we are inclined to believe, took place in the public streets of the metropolis, for up to o"clock at night, might occasionally hear reports of penny cannons, and the jerky explosions of crackers.

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 Title Page
Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
Chapter III: - Street Musicians
Chapter IV: - Street Vocalists
Chapter V: - Street Artists
Chapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
Chapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
Chapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
Chapter IX: - Ballast-Men
Chapter X: - Lumpers
Chapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
Chapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
Chapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
Chapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
Chapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
Chapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
Chapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men