Farringdon Without History of the Most Interesting Places, Leading Events; and Some Account of the Eminent Men connected therewith, since the year 1600

Francis, Adolphus Decimus

1870

Bartholomew Fair

Was usually proclaimed on the 2nd September, by the Lord Mayor and his officers, who came in state for that purpose, and it was always opened with a burlesque proclamation and by the cloth dealers marching in order round Smithfield, snapping their shears and shouting. Hentzner graphically describes the proclamation of the Fair, in all its absurdity-the wrestling, and jumping after; the excited crowd hunting wild rabbits, graced by the admiring presence of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and City worthies. The amusements, some of which will

54

be described more at length, consisted of exhibitions of wild beasts, dwarfs, and any monstrosities or abortions of nature, tight-rope dancing, sarabands, performing dogs, hares, and tigers, punchinello, punch-and-judy, and indeed of any novelty that could be imported and that was thought likely to be attractive.

There was usually an ox roasted whole, and pigs a galore served up in savoury portions. Many eminent men have appeared at St. Bartholomew Fair, and amongst them Tom Doggett, the comedian, who left a considerable sum of money for a prize, to be contended for by six watermen's apprentices, on the first day of August in every year, who are to row from London Bridge to Chelsea against tide, and the winner to receive as a guerdon a coat and badge.

Ben Jonson, the contemporary and friend of Shakspeare, played THE grave-digger in Hamlet at St. Bartholomew's Fair, and it is said that Edmund Kean, in his early years, was a harlequin at Richardson's booth. Warwick House (temp. Elizabeth), situate in Cloth Fair, together with the Priory, and the right to hold the fair, were purchased by Sir R. Rich, in , and handed down to his descendants, the Earls of Warwick and Lord Holland. Lady Holland's mob, the nucleus of which was formed in this locality, and which has been known to number 5,0

00

strong, was, in the last century and in the early portions of

55

this, so formidable as to overawe the entire civil authority. It is worthy of notice that two very fine brackets, carved in wood, are to be seen at the corner of Cloth Fair.

Ben Jonson, in his comedy of Bartholomew Fair, humorously depicts its motions, puppet shows, and moving figures, representing the fall of Jerusalem, Nineveh, and the conspiracy of the Gunpowder Plot-the last having been performed nine times in one afternoon, at a then celebrated booth, to twenty-penny audiences. Pepys says he found Lady Castlemaine visiting a puppet show, her coach attending hard by-the street full of people awaiting her return from the fair. Having fairly entered on the scene, we shall find at different periods, Cadmus, the flyer on the rope, immortalized by Hogarth. Phillips listening to the first trial of " Britons, strike home," written expressly for St. Bartlemy, and Sweet Kitty Clive amorously ogling her many admirers. Against the many attractions of the fair, the regular theatres found it useless to cope, so with worldly wisdom they made a virtue of necessity, and closed their doors for the time it lasted; indeed, what theatres could withstand such attractions as were often put forth to be seen for one shilling, sixpence, threepence, or even a penny, at last: for as the fair fluctuated in its attractiveness, the shows kept up or reduced their prices according as their highest or lowest periods of success had set in. Only fancy the advertisement of the first intro

56

duction into this country of "a large and beautiful young camel from Grand Cairo, in Egypt, twenty-three years old; his head and neck are like that of a deer, and he is to be seen or sold at the first house on the pavement at the end of Hosier Lane during the fair."

Sir Hans Sloane found sufficient novelties in the foreign animals exhibited to employ an artist to sketch all the wonders. There were to be seen scores of celebrated characters; conjurors, tumblers, rope-walkers, fire-eaters, actors, mummers, and exhibitors of all sorts--" Joy," the English Samson-Burling and his wonderful monkeythe stone-eater (Battalia)-Topham the strong manHale the piper, having very surprising faculties-The Moorfields book auctioneer removed his bookstall to Smithfield round, during the fair-Powell, with his puppets, always a favourite resort for his mechanical people, played " Whittington and his Cat," "Dr. Faustus" "Robin Hood and Little John," and "The Children in the Wood;" add to these the comical, serio-farcical humours of Valentini, Nicolini, and the tuneful warbling pig of Italian race, and you have a bill of fare worthy a lord mayor and his sheriffs. Judith and Holophernes took possession and kept the boards for a long time. Then there were the learned cats that beat the drum, turned the spit, ground knives-aye, and well tooplayed music, it might have been the " cat's call," struck an anvil and rang bells; then the wonderful dog that would

57

and could play any gentleman at dominoes who would play with him. One of the great sights was the acrobat women, who balanced themselves on the palms of their hands on the points of sharpened swords, with their heads downwards, and their feet in the air; such a feat is not attempted in these days-even by Japanese jugglers. Another feature in female acrobattery was their walking on stilts, carrying babies in their arms, and jugs of water on their heads. Toby, the real learned pig, was a great card, and his competitor also drew crowds under the style and title of "The Amazing Pig of Knowledge." There was the wondrous child, said to have been born back to back with a live bear, and clever was the deceit. Or would you like to sea feats of strength ? The Italian Female Samson, who could walk barefoot along a bar of red-hot iron, bear a block of marble to lbs. weight upon her body, and, without touching it with her hands, heave it six feet; or, placing her head on one chair, and her feet on another, would bear the weight of six large men between her stomach and her instep; these are feats unparalleled in modern muscularity--at least by women.

Another remarkable exhibitor was one Joseph Clark, the posture master, who could imitate any deformity or dislocation. It was he who frequently performed those ludicrous tricks on the tailors sent to measure him, appear

58

ing before them first as a man having a hump on his right shoulder; when the tailor brought home the clothes, the hump was on the left shoulder; then, after he had made the necessary alteration, and apologized for his blunder and inattention in observing where the hump was, he found Clark at his next visit with the hump changed to his back. Once more having retired to re-alter and re-adapt the garments, he returned only to find Clark perfectly straight, and enjoying heartily the discomfiture of Snip. Grouped with him was the facial contortionist, who lolls out his tongue a full foot from his lips, and turns his eyes in or out of their sockets; at the same time contracts his face until it is as small as an apple, extends his mouth to six inches wide, then shapes it like a bird's beak, then into the form of a hat cocked up on three sides, licks his nose like a cow, or makes his eyes as round as an owl's.

Near the last worthy was perched the little man of the fair, two feet nine inches high, likewise a contortionist, who, when he slept, put his head between his two feet as on a pillow, and his great toes one in each ear. Then you come upon the country yokel, who entertained his friends in this wise

"In fifty-five (may I never thrive

If I tell you any more than is true),

To London we came, hearing of the fame

Of a Fair they call Bartholomew."

"In houses of boards men walk upon cords,

As easy as squirrels crack filberds.

But the cut-purses they do bite, and rob away

But those we suppose to be ill-birds."

"For a penny you may see a fine puppet play,

For twopence a rare piece of art;

And a penny a can, that even a man

May put zix of each into a quart.

When zights are so rich, is able to bewitch

The head of a very nice man-a.

Here's patient Grisel here, and fair Rosamond there,

And the history of Susanna."

" At Pye Corner End, mark well, my good friend;

'Tis a very fine dirty place Where there's more arrows and bows, the Lord above knows,

Than was handled at Chevy Chase.

Then at Smithfield Bars, 'twixt the ground and the stars,

There's a place they call Shoemaker Row Where, that you may buy, shoes every day,

Rambling further on, and plodding on your way, amidst the cries of " What do you lack, gentlemen ? " " What do you lack, fair maids? See; a fine hobby-horse for your young master. Cost you but a token a week for his provender."

" Have you any corns on your feet and toes ?

" Buy a Mouse-trap--buy a Mousetrap;"

" A Tormentor for a flea ;"

" Buy some Ginger-bread ;"

"Ballads, Ballads, fine new Ballads ;"

" Hear for your love, and buy for your money."

" A delicate ballad o' the ferret and the coney;"

"A dozen of divine points, and the Godly Satan ;

" The fairing of good counsel, of an ell and three-quarters."

"What do you lack, Mistress? What do you lack? a fine hobby horse to make your son a tilter-a drum to make him a soldier-a fiddle to make him a reveller-What is't you lack ? little dogs for your daughters-or babies (male or female)-a delicate show pig, little misters, with sweet sauce and crackling like 'de bay leaf i 'de fire-la ! tou shall ha'de clean side o' de table clot and de glash vash'd wi di phatersh of Dame Annesh Cleare."

Here they tickle your ear with a straw; and lo ! you have lost your purse.

" Now the fair filling,"

" O for a tune to startle"

" The birds of the booths now billing,"

" Yearly with Old Saint Bartle."

" Buy any Ballads, new Ballads ;"

" Buy my Pears, Pears-"

" Fine, very fine Pears."

Onward you go, running against John Locke, who is elbowing his way through the crowd in philosophic mood, till you near Hosier Lane, where the large placards announce "The Wonderful Rattlesnakes; one a very large reptile that rattles so loud you may hear him near a quarter of a mile off, and plays something of music that grows on his tail."

But stay; why divides the crowd--what tumult onward makes it way ? 'Tis authority's stern port that heads towards the elms, to mete out justice to some bold defier of the law, and yet this man seems not of the common order, but of mien most noble ;-'tis great Wallace, the rugged hero, stout of heart and strong of hand, was brought to London

61

the day before the opening of the Fair, has been tried and sentenced, with sparse time for shrift or shrive, and now is dragged all through the muddy streets, at the horse's tail, from Westminster to Smithfield, for execution. The great hero, soiled and polluted with the filth and garbage of the streets, still defiant looks upon his executioners and the wondering crowd. Trade for the moment is forgotten; the booths deserted, Punch is silent, the puppets no longer dance in sportive mimicry; even the vendors' cries are hushed, as dreadful whisper fearfully breathes the patriot's name; and when the noose is fastened to his neck, his body launched from the quivering bow, a mighty sigh -seeming of relief-swells from the surging crowd, as though a dauntless and much-feared enemy was no more, and pent-up feeling thus finds relief; and yet it is not so, for though hanged, it is not to death. Ere the vital spark had fled, and whilst the flesh is quivering in the agonizing throes of death, the brutal sentence, still incomplete, must be completed. With two cross gashes from the reeking blade forth gush his bowels, to be torn with ruthless hand from his shivering flesh, and even before his eyes, still vital with their noble fire, are burnt within his view. One other gash strikes off his head, then his body, cut into five parts, is carted back to gaol, and thus divided: four portions are sent, one each, to Perth, Aberdeen, Newcastle, and Berwick; the last portion, with

62

the head, being retained in the great city, to scare the gaping crowd at .

"It's a mad world, my masters."

In the , amongst Bayford's collection, is a Play-bill of Heatley's Booth in the time of Queen Anne, well worthy a perusal, to show the versatility of our forefathers. As late as , upwards of 200 booths for the sale of toys and gingerbread, interspersed here and there with Richardson's, Saunders's and Wombwell's shows, were crowded into Smithfield, at St. Bartholomew.

" Now farewell to the fair, you who are wise; Preserve your purses whilst you feast your eyes."

Bartholomew Fair greatly declined after the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The mysteries were succeeded by plays and conjuring; the Corporation of London licensed it for fourteen days, and certain city officers were paid out of the emoluments. The same Corporation, eventually tired of its fooleries, in and , bought up the last vestige of its dying glories, and from that period Bartholomew fair bade the world good night.

Smithfield, in this year of grace, is more utilized than it has ever been before. On the , was inaugurated the splendid Metropolitan Meat and Poultry Market, built by the Corporation of the City of London, at

63

an expense of £200,000. Some idea of the vastness of this building may be formed, when it is stated that there are five miles of iron girders to support the structure.

The style of the building is Italian Renaissance: the height of the external wall 32 feet. The covered roadway, which divides the market, 50 feet in width. There are 162 shops in the market, and the size of each is about 36 feet by 15 feet.

Long Lane has a few houses remaining of the Elizabethan date, but nothing calling for special notice.

We have wandered through the ward, stopping here and there to cull a flower or pluck a weed. To the little that has been said, much might be added of imperial interest; every stone bears the imprint of the feet of Genius; the threshold of each house has been brightened by the figures of this country's intellectual might more than any locality in modern Babylon.

Farringdon Without has been the cradle of the great; and whether we glance at ye olden time, at mediaeval ages, or at modern era, we find this locality distinctive for its patronage of, and aid given to, the onward march of progress, and stamping with its recognition all that is great, noble, and liberal.