Thursday, September 30, 2010

The West End Club

“The Diogenes Club,” if we are to believe Sherlock Holmes, was “the queerest club in London.”  Such a claim was remarkable indeed; for Victorian men of the middle and upper classes were the most “clubbable” the world has ever known.  Although the social club was not a Victorian invention--Samuel Johnson, in 1783, had remarked of his amanuensis, “Boswell is a very clubbable man”-- it reached its apotheosis in the middle years of Victoria’s reign and even at the end of the period it was considered by many to be the most important social phenomenon of the day.

At he beginning of the century there were probably fewer than a dozen clubs of any significance but, in the years immediately following Waterloo, there was to be a period of rapid growth and expansion.  The club, all during the Victorian period, was essentially an urban phenomenon.  Clubs did develop in the counties, but they were, with rare exceptions, never to attain the status of the London clubs.  Even so, such clubs did much to set the social tone and were “the cradle of sound public opinion in matters appertaining to manners, if not to morals.”   In part, at least, the urban nature of the clubs can be attributed to the growth of the professions and the lack of clubs other than those serving the aristocracy, the military or those in politics.
The Reform Club in the 1840s

By the time of Victoria’s ascension to the throne, there were just over two dozen clubs in London and these still excluded all but noblemen, gentlemen, the services and the professional classes.  To be a member of “society” entailed being a member of at least one, and probably more, of the clubs.  No person engaged in trade, from the lowest shopkeeper to the greatest merchant could hope for admission to these bastions of privilege and exclusivicity.  By the time of the old Queen’s death, almost sixty-four years later, there were approximately one hundred and fifty clubs of which only seven had celebrated their centenary.  The wide range of clubs by 1900 included those for both sexes or for women alone and represented a range of common interests from automobiles through mountaineering to travel.
Dining at the Empress, "the most luxurious ladies club in London" 

The impetus for women’s clubs, which developed during and after the ‘80s, appears to have come largely from two sources; shopping and politics.  A woman’s club was frequently seen as a temporary home for the city shopper.  As such, they were usually more “homey” than the men’s clubs.    At a meeting in 1899 of The International Congress of Women, the Social Section discussed the Women’s Club movement at some length.  According to Mrs Wynford Philipps, the proprietor of the Grosvenor Crescent Club and founder of the Women’s Institute (Great Britain),

They fulfilled a modern need in women’s life; some joined them to obtain creature comforts, others for intellectual food; some for aesthetic reasons, to get airy rooms and dainty surroundings, others for ethical, philanthropic and social purpose.

During the more than sixty years of the Victorian Era, much of the exclusiveness of the clubs broke down and this, along with the increase in the number of clubs, made them available for those who, before the ‘50s, would never have even considered membership a possibility.  Yet while the doors opened wider, there was “together with the increase of men eligible for clubs, an ever-increasing desire for separation and exclusion.”   The listing in Clubs of the World suggests that the period of greatest growth was in the 1860s and ‘70s.  It was in these decades that most of the clubs in the counties were established although the Union, in Manchester, dated from 1825 and the exclusive Liverpool club, the Palatine, was founded in 1836.

Theodore Hook once wrote of clubs,

If a man loves comfort and has little cash to buy it, he
Should get into a crowded Club--a most select society. 

The clubs often served different groups or were identified with particular social sets.  For many, the name tells the story; Travellers, United Service, University, Turf and Yacht.  The Garrick was the club for those with theatrical interests and the Athenaeum had associations with the Church and literature.

For country squires the only Club in London now is Boodle’s sirs,
The Crockford Club for playful men, the Alfred Club for noodles, sirs.

Boodle’s, as indicated drew its membership from country gentlemen while Crockford’s was a gambling club.  Known for its excellent cuisine, it did not survive the mid-century.  It was “a place of most unenviable celebrity … whose walls--if walls could speak--would be able to disclose not a few transactions of very nefarious character.”   Stakes were high and it was not uncommon for fortunes to be made, or lost, on the turn of a card.  Both the Duke of Wellington and Talleyrand were members of this prestigious “hell” of the early Victorian years, despite its illegality.  Hazard, a dice-game for high stakes, was the most popular game and Crockford was reported to spend £2,000 a year on dice to see that the game was honest.   The Alfred Club, on the other hand, was noted for its dullness having been described as “the asylum of doting tories and drivelling quidnuncs.”

The Oriental Club, founded in 1824, was composed

of noblemen and gentlemen who have travelled or resided in Asia, at St. Helena, in Egypt, at the Cape of Good Hope, the Mauritius, or at Constantinople; or whose official situations connect them with the administration of our Eastern government abroad or at home.

The club was well known for its excellent “eastern” cuisine and its wines.  Composed, in the main, of retired Indian officers, it was commonly referred to by hackney-coachmen as “the Horizontal Club.”  It was said of the club that the smell of curry powder pervaded the establishment. 

Among the political clubs of the Victorian Age were the Reform, the Conservative and the Carlton.  The Athenaeum, on which Mycroft Holmes’s Diogenes was modelled, was considered the “mental” club.  It was founded because

the fashionable and military Clubs not only absorb a great portion of society, but have spoiled all the Coffee Houses and Taverns so that the artist, or mere literary man neither of whom are members of the established Clubs, are in a much worse situation, both comparatively and positively than they were.

There’s first the Athenaeum Club; so wise, there’s not a man of it
That has not sense enough for six (in fact that is the plan of it);
The very waiters answer you with eloquence Socratical,
And always place the knives and forks in order mathematical.

Although the great majority of clubs, and certainly those having the greatest influence in the latter half of the nineteenth century were for men, by 1899 there were more than three dozen clubs either for women alone or admitting both sexes to membership.   Of those clubs which were strictly for women, some welcomed male visitors while by the last decade of the century some of the men’s clubs even had a few female members including the Cobden, Bachelors, Cavalry, New Vagabonds and even the Savages.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Marking Criminals - Photographing Felons

The 1830s and '40s saw the rapid development of a range of photographic processes.  In France, in 1838, Louis Daguerre took the first known picture containing a person, a man having his shoes polished on the Boulevard du Temple.  At about the same time, Robert Cornelius, took a self-portrait which has written on the back, "The first light picture ever taken."  In England, William Henry Fox Talbot was working on a process which became the calotype and laid the basis for most of the processes which were developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

By the 1850s and '60s, photography had developed rapidly and become widespread.  Pictures were taken during the Crimean War although, admittedly, they showed no action, and the American Civil war was thoroughly documented.  Families and individuals were increasingly having their pictures taken and while one might have to sit still for an extended period of time, there was usually a head-brace to restrain the subject from motion and the whole process took far less time and was far less expensive than the alternative; a painting.

As photography became more popular, its social uses became equally evident.  Thus it was that from the mid-1850s onward the notion that it might be an effective way of identifying criminals began to come into increasing focus. Various ways of identifying criminals have been practiced throughout history.  Dr. Anil Aggrawal, professor of Forensic Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, has noted that

Identification of persons especially criminals has always been a problem with the police. In ancient Egypt, detailed descriptions of criminals were maintained by the police. In many societies, the problem of identifying wrongdoers was solved by branding and mutilating them. This made the work of the police that much easier. With this system, if a person was apprehended picking a pocket, the police would have no problem knowing whether he was the first offender or not. If he was already branded, it would be clear that he had already committed an offence, and he would receive a much more severe sentence.

Although not widely practiced, branding was a form of indentifying certain criminals in Great Britain and its colonies even into the second half of the nineteenth century. J. I. Ikin, at the time a Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology in the School of Medicine at Leeds, writing in the British Medical Journal (10 January 1857) tells us that the branding of deserters with the letter "D" was still practiced although the "branding" was done, not with a hot iron, as had once been the practice, but "with three or four needles tied together, and the letter D is pricked out in the skin under the left arm; a little gunpowder rubbed in, which does better than caustic; in fact, it is the same as tattooing."

The purpose, of course, was to provide a means of identification and Ikin goes on to discuss ways in which deserters would try to hide the D on attempting to rejoin the forces. All of the various methods of identification were gradually replaced with photographs and even after the advent of finger-printing as a tool for identification, photographs remained of great importance.

For much of the nineteenth century, identification of criminals was largely dependent upon detectives being able to recognize criminals with whom they had been in contact.  There were even paid officers whose primary task appears to have been the recognition of criminals.  Unfortunately, as John Dawson pointed out "as matters at present stand, the detectives ... are better known to the criminals than the criminals are to the detectives."  Thus it was that photographs seemed such a useful tool, especially when combined with a detailed description. Initially the photographs that were used by the police and by the gaol administrators were taken by amateurs or photographic studios more experienced in finding a "good" pose.  The police or prison puctires were commonly face on and were posed in a variety of different ways.  Even so, it is quite remarkable that in the mid-1850s, less than two decades after Daguerre's important picture, Richard Monckton Milnes in evidence before the House of Commons' Transportation Committee,could state that

Mr. Gardner, the ingenious and excellent governor of the Bristol gaol, has possessed himself of a photographic apparatus, with which he takes the likeness of every one of his prisoners who he has reason to believe is a person really embarked in crime as a calling.  New. he says he can produce copies for 6d. each.  it is believed by the police that, with the exception of London, 14 copies would be all that would be required, to send them to the great resorts of criminals, namely, to towns which are likely to be visited by old offenders, who desire to hide themselves, and to go where they are not known.

Gardner himself, in a circular distributed in 1854, discusses the advantages to be gained through photographing offenders.  He describes how he sent a photograph around when he thought one of his prisoners might be a habitual criminal and the image was recognized as that of a man "convicted at Wells; the necessary witness was subpoenaed, his former conviction proved, and he was sentenced to four years' penal servitude."
A 12 Years Old Prisoner in Wandworth Gaol

Photography as a means of identification was not greeted with unalloyed enthusiasm.  There were still those in the criminal justice system, both amongst the police and in the prison system who advocated more drastic forms of marking.  Not surprisingly, with the harsher attitudes implied in the Canarvon Committee (1863), the views of those like the Governor of Huntingdon were at least heard, if not acceded to. Governor Shepherd of that prison advocated marking prisoners in the same way deserters were marked albeit with India Ink rather than gunpowder.  But this may simply have been a reaction to his lack of faith in photography.

In Birmingham, as early as 1858, the police were arranging for photographs of those arrested to be taken in a private studio. The number of photographs rapidly increased and soon there was an archive of photographs, a rogues' gallery. With each photograph was listed comprehensive data including details of the supposed crime. and the sentence eventually handed down. By the 1890s there was much talk of the Bertillon system for criminal identification.  Originally known as "anthropometry," it was later called "Bertillonage" after its creator, Alphonse Bertillon.  Although the method, which was based on a series of formal and extensive measurements never became popular in Great Britain which preferred fingerprinting, Bertillon's insistance on a formal structure carried over into the creation of a standard "mug shot" which involved two views; one full face and one profile, a technique which is still employed world-wide. Nonetheless, "Bertillonage" was well enough known in England by the 1890s, for that greatest of consulting detectives, Sherlock Holmes, to express his admiration of the system in "The Naval Treaty."

within a few years, photographs of prisoners were being taken on their entering prison and on their release. And this, along with a detailed physical description was to be the primary means of identification until the beginning of the twentieth century and the gradual introduction of fingerprinting.