London at the End of the Century:A Book of Gossip

a Beckett, Arthur William

1900

CHAPTER XVII.

CHAPTER XVII.

LONDON ON STRIKE.

DURING the last few years the public have had a practical experience of the inconvenience attendant upon a body of working men going on strike. As a rule Londoners do not come face to face with artisans who have abandoned toil. Generally they read of a cessation of labour in the daily papers, and discover the result of the cause in the increased charges for coal, gas, and other necessaries. However, not long since, the Cockney mind was concerned by the vagaries of cabby. The streets were deserted by hansoms, and even the four-wheeler was difficult to find. In spite of this, none of the body politic were much the worse. Sufficient for the day were the growlers thereof, and no one was at a loss to secure (when really necessary) that particular kind of conveyance which years ago used to be known as a patent safety. So the nuisance of the suspension of operations caused a minimum of inconvenience.

BOUCICAULT AND THE LONG STRIKE.

Strikes are more or less a modern invention. In the days of yore, when workmen were dissatisfied they resorted to violence, instead of depending upon masterly inactivity. Ages ago machinery used to be the foe, and the most popular mode of meeting the enemy was to utterly demolish the offending apparatus. Things are changed since then, although even now the tradition lingers upon the stages of theatres devoted to melodrama. And here, as I have mentioned things histrionic, I may refer to The Long Strike, which was produced at the Lyceum by the late Mr. Dion Boucicault some while after the success of The Colleen Bawn. No doubt Mrs. Dion Boucicault (who was in the cast) will remember it. There was one scene in it which was immensely effective, but which would have been more effective still had the telephone been then invented. I have the vaguest recollection of the play's plot, but I call to mind that it was necessary for some one or other to be stopped from sailing from Liverpool. I fancy the some one or other was a missing witness required to save the hero's life or the heroine's reputation. The scene was a telegraph office. Enter the friend of the hero or heroine (as the case may have been), who asks the telegraph clerk if he can be put into communication with the operator at the other end. There is some delay, as the operator has to be found -he was on the point of leaving the office for the night. But soon he is at his post. Then comes the great effect. Has the Star of the North (or whatever the ship was called) started? Yes. Is So-and-so on board? Yes. Can he be brought back? Only by signal. Signal for him, then. We have. Does the ship see the signal ? Yes; and So-and-so is coming back. This was the climax, and on a grateful cry of Saved, saved! the curtain fell amidst thunders of applause. Had Boucicault had the assistance of the telephone in those days how much sharper would the dialogue have been. There was an air of unreality in the working of the needles, but with a telephone it would have been perfect. I wonder what has become of The Long Strike. Is it ever played now-a-days? As Mr. Tree says in The Red Lamp, I wonder. And here I may recount a little anecdote that is interesting, when we remember that Mrs. Boucicault is still amongst us. I was editor of The Glowworm in those days, and I called upon Dion Boucicault at the Lyceum, and saw him in his dressing-room. I was arranging for a feuilleton, and thought he might write us a story. He suggested novelizing The Flying Scud, and novelized it was with the collaboration of the late Mr. Clarke, author of Charlie Thornhill. I was standing behind a screen, when, unsuspicious of my presence, Mrs. Boucicault entered and said she wanted to intercede for one of the company who had been fined (Dion was a strict disciplinarian) for some breach of the rules. I shall never forget the sweet kindness of Mrs. Boucicault's pleading accents. Possibly with a wish to terminate the interview as quickly as possible the husband yielded, and Mrs. Boucicault departed, overjoyed at the success that had attended her mission. When she had left the room I emerged from my accidental ambush, and continued the negotiation about The Glowworm feuilleton.

That is a woman in a thousand, sir, said the author of The Long Strike. She has a heart of gold.

And I agreed with him.

ON STRIKE WEST AND EAST.

And as I am talking of things theatrical I may mention that some twenty years ago I wrote myself a domestic drama (I called it on the playbill a social problem ), with the title of On Strike. If I may be permitted to criticise my own work, I may say it is not a bad little play, and was a great success when produced at the old Court Theatre. The cast included Messrs. Edgar Bruce, J. G. Hill, Walter Fisher (Husband of Miss Lottie Venne),Mrs. Stephens, and Mr. Alfred Bishop. It was distinctly written for the classes. The agitator was held up to scorn, and the working man, who played rather than laboured, to reprobation. However, it is a fact that when Miss Lytton's company went on tour, the aristocratic sentiments were more heartily cheered at the Standard, Shoreditch, than at the old Court Theatre in Sloane Square. The East-enders were just as much opposed to the loafing-do-nothing as their brothers of the West.

CABBY ON STRIKE IN '94

To come to the strike that occurred five years ago. It commenced hurriedly. As a rule the Union of the trade or calling proposing to cease work takes some weeks to prepare for the operation. To be successful the strike must be general and hearty, and there must be sufficient funds in hand to support the strikers for at least a month or two. On the occasion to which I refer, the Union was scarcely in existence before it was called upon to conduct a very delicate negotiation. Then the cabmen, as a class, were never heartily in favour of the association. To say the least, opinions were divided. Then there seemed to be a very slenderly furnished fund available for paying the strikers, and lastly, there was no effort made to collect funds sufficient in amount to make good deficiencies. Under these circumstances, considering that the cab proprietors or masters were represented by a very strong and compact organisation, the prosects of the drivers seemed anything rather than rose-coloured.

CABBY ON THE SITUATION

One evening during the strike, as I was ordered to be in attendance upon the ladies of my family during a visit to one of the theatres, I seated myself next to the cabdriver in his box. This arrangement allowed me to smoke and to collect information.

How about the strike? I asked.

A bad thing all around, sir, replied the driver; it don't affect me as I drive my own cab, but it hits a lot of men who would work if they were allowed to.

Who's in the wrong?

Well, I take it both, sir. It's very hard to make a living sometimes. I have known pals of mine for three days running not make a single penny for themselves. Yes, have to borrow money to make up the sum charged for the cab. Then, at other times, they have a lot of money by five o'clock and gone home, after taking back their cab to the yard, cozily to tea.

This seemed in the mind of my friend to be the height of luxury.

But what I most object to, continued Jehu, is those swells going into business. I hear two young gentlemen in the Guards have started a couple of cabs. Or rather they would have done, but just as they were ready with stables in Pimlico, up comes the strike and spoils their little game!

But are there not too many drivers? I asked.

Yes, sir, was the response. That's where it comes in. Anyone can be a driver nowadays. How would you go from Charing Cross to Ludgate Circus? they ask at the Yard. By the Embankment. Right you are-give him a licence. That's how it's done, sir, and that's why there are so many of us.

Do you think the masters make excessive profits?

Well, sir, it looks like it. I know a man with only a couple of cabs two years ago, and now he's got thirteen. And they were all bought out of the profits on the letting of the first couple. Now some of them pay 20 per cent., and surely that's too much, isn't it, sir?

I did not answer. The driver was a sensible fellow and spoke with great moderation. Speaking personally, I repeat that I have always found the driving brotherhood a most civil and obliging class. For some years, when I was editing a weekly newspaper, a driver always turned up early on a Sunday morning at Bouverie Street and waited for me until I was ready to be driven by him to the Belgrave Road. Sometimes he waited more than an hour, and for this accommodation I only paid him, by his own request, a shilling more than his bare fare. And if I had listened to him, sixpence would have been sufficient, but I preferred, in the cause of justice, to pay the shilling. And when he was away he always sent a substitute, who cheerfully adopted the arrangement. I dare say many journalists could tell a similar story.

From this I take it that cabmen are not overpaid, and whether they are or not, I wish them a satisfactory outcome from any difficulties that may be looming for them in the future.

 
 
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 Title Page
 Dedication
 PREFACE
CHAPTER I: LONDON AT THE END OF THE CENTURY
CHAPTER II: STRANGERS IN LONDON
CHAPTER III: RELIGION IN LONDON
CHAPTER IV: A PEEP INTO STAGELAND
CHAPTER V: PARLIAMENT UP TO DATE
CHAPTER VI: A NIGHT IN THE HOUSE
CHAPTER VII: THE PREMIER CLUB OF ENGLAND
CHAPTER VIII: LONDONERS HOLDING HOLIDAY
CHAPTER IX: THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CLUB
CHAPTER X: IN RATHER MIXED CLUBLAND
CHAPTER XI: IN AUXILIARY CLUBLAND
CHAPTER XII: A PANTOMIME AT DRURY LANE
CHAPTER XIII: LONDON EXHIBITIONS
CHAPTER XIV: COACHING THE UNIVERSITY CREW
CHAPTER XV: THE SEQUEL TO THE DERBY
CHAPTER XVI: THE LONDON GONDOLA
CHAPTER XVII: LONDON ON STRIKE
CHAPTER XVIII: LONDON FIRES
CHAPTER XIX: PALL MALL AND PRIVATE THOMAS ATKINS
CHAPTER XX: CONCERNING THE LONDON VOLUNTEERS
CHAPTER XXI: SERVING WITH THE LONDON MILITIA
CHAPTER XXII: LONDON GUNNERS AT SHOEBURYNESS
CHAPTER XXIII: BECOMING A SOCIETY LION
CHAPTER XXIV: ENTERTAINING THE WORKING MAN
CHAPTER XXV: CHOOSING A FANCY DRESS
CHAPTER XXVI: PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKING
CHAPTER XXVII: ART IN LONDON
CHAPTER XXVIII: SPENDING BANK HOLIDAY IN LONDON
CHAPTER XXIX: A BANK HOLIDAY WITHOUT 'ARRY
CHAPTER XXX: LONDON OUT OF TOWN
CHAPTER XXXI: LONDONERS AND THEIR SUMMER HOLIDAYS
CHAPTER XXXII: LONDONERS AND THE CHANNEL
CHAPTER XXXIII: LONDON UNDER DOCTOR'S ORDERS
CHAPTER XXXIV: TWO CITIES IN FORTY-EIGHT HOURS
CHAPTER XXXV: THE LONDONER'S SEARCH FOR HEALTH
CHAPTER XXXVI: THE PARISIAN PART OF THE LONDON DISTRICT
CHAPTER XXXVII: A NOVELTY IN LONDON RECREATIONS
CHAPTER XXXVIII: LONDON SCHOOLBOYS AT THE END OF THE CENTURY