Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Bent Copper

What, you may ask, is so interesting about this 1898 photograph? It's just a Victorian woman crossing a road with a dog.

The answer is that it was taken by Zola, when he fled to London during the Dreyfus Affair. We see lots of photos of authors, but this is the first I can think of that is by one. I've tried to find other examples, but Google has drawn a blank.

I don't know whether Zola employed any domestic staff during his stay in London, but he may have perused these advertisements:

I'm intrigued by the stipulation of "no fringe" in a couple of adverts and the promise of beer in others.  Can anyone enlighten me about the fringe issue? Are fringes a sign of bad character?

Talking of bad characters, another gem from the 1890s I found recently is a memoir of policing in Victorian Manchester. The book looks like a good read, but the main attraction is the author's name:

I don't know if this joke travels well. Do they have "bent coppers" outside the UK?

I expect that Superintendent Bent would have been able to quickly identify the ne'er-do-wells in this 1892 photo. My money's on the boy with the peaked cap, who looks as if he's contemplating an illegal act.

I'm sure the sight of the Superintendent would have been enough to strike fear into the hearts of most criminals. Just look at him:

Only these habitual bad'uns would have been impervious to the long arm of the law:

But in spite of Bent's stern countenance, he was a compassionate man whose sense of justice included a committment to improve the living conditions of the poor. Today, in Trafford, there is a blue plaque that reads:

"Superintendent James Bent established a soup kitchen in this vicinity in 1878 feeding thousands of people and potentially saving them from starvation."

Bent coppers aren't what they used to be.

Finally, a frontispiece illustration from an annual that has nothing to do with the 1890s, but I like the image:

Don't you?


Rob said...

He can't be a ne'er-do-well. The peak of his cap is facing forwards ....

"No fringe" = "No fringe benefits" ?

Steerforth said...

Rob - Funnily enough, that was going to be the title of this post until I got waylaid by Bent.

Lucille said...

Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain
Lucy Lethbridge - 2013 - ‎History
At an interview in Grosvenor Square, she was told she would have to cut her hair — 'No fringe allowed!' By the end of a week, Banks reported, she had called on ...
So it does seem to mean hair, but I'm none the wiser.

Rog said...

George Bull looks like the singer of the Specials.
I also found this regarding fringes:

Peter said...

Is the artist for the Empire Youth Annual named? I could be wrong but it has the look of Abram Games. Anyone unfamiliar with this graphic designer/artist should simply enter his name in Google Images and then marvel at the creation and colour of his work.

Steerforth said...

Lucille - I wonder if Rog's link below has something to do with it. Fringes were clearly a big deal at the time. I wonder what the anti-fringe element would make of today's tribal tattoos and body piercing?

Rog - Fascinating stuff, thanks. I noticed that the girls wore clogs and shawls, but didn't see any mention of female fringes. It was interesting to see that respectable Victorian England also had a gang culture in the inner cities.

Peter - Thanks for introducing me to the wonderful Abram Games. I recognised quite a few of the posters but hadn't connected them to this artist. I've just been looking at a website about him and admiring quality and variety of his work.

But having just looked at his posters, I don't think he designed the Empire Youth Annual illustration. It has a nice post-Art Deco feel about it, like the Games posters, but I think the children are too conventional for his style.

ombhurbhuva said...

George Du Maurier's 'Trilby'(pub.1894)was depicted by him with a fringe. The book and hat and hair style were a great craze at the time. Obviously a gentleman would not countenance a bohemian element in a well-regulated household.

Dale said...

Depends when the advertisements were from. Fringes were the height of fashion in the early 1890s - check out photos of those trendsetters, Lily Langtry and Princess Alexandra. Both fringe wearers.

If servants wearing fringes were thought to be aping their betters, "knowing their place" could be a condition of employment.

I possess a letter from the early 1890s written by a devout Baptist professor of botany, who railed against the fashion for wearing "ear-bobs" (earrings) as being vulgar and immodest.

When you want to control women, start with their appearance.

Canadian Chickadee said...

How interesting! I've just been reading Edward Rutherford's novel "Paris," in which he mentions the flight of Zola to the UK during the Dreyfus trial. I agree that I've never seen a photo taken by him before. It's fascinating! And surprisingly clear for being so old. You really do find the most intriguing facts. Thanks for sharing.

laura said...

My best guess with the fringes is that some people want their maids to all match. I don't have any evidence, but it sounds right to me.

Steerforth said...

Ombhurbhuva - Thanks for reminding me that I really need to read Trilby. I wish I could get away with wearing the hat as well.

Dale - I think you're right - it's all about knowing your place. I noticed that one advert asked for a "country girl", probably in the hope that she hadn't been corrupted by any notions about fringes.

Carol - It's not just Zola. I can't think of a photo I've seen by any author, but I'm sure that many 20th century authors must have taken a fair number of snaps. I'd love to see photos by Huxley, Maugham, Bowen, Hemingway etc. Now there's an idea for a book.

Laura - That makes sense and anything that smacks of individuality - of a life beyond their role as a servant - was clearly seen as a threat. It's remarkable that just two words - "No fringe" - tell us so much.

MikeP said...

Abram Games was also responsible for a terrific batch of illustrated Penguin covers, although he didn't illustrate all of them.

Interesting to see Lt-Col Bolitho advertising for a footman. His (I presume) great-grandson is Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall. He presided over my wife's UK citizenship ceremony, wearing a very large sword.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Meades: Pidgin Snaps. A box of 'em.

Little Nell said...

An interesting post all round, from the wonderful Zola ‘snap’ to the discussion of the benefits or otherwise of fringes. The mention of inner city gang culture reminded me of the recent TV series Peaky Blinders. Girlfriends of the gang members of the real Peaky Blinders wore a "well-developed fringe obscuring the whole of the forehead and descending nearly to the eyes.”
Peaky Blinders

Steerforth said...

Mike - As much as I love Games's posters, I'm glad that Penguin stayed with the traditional covers for a little longer.

I'm glad to read that large swords in still in use by our Lord-Lieutenants.

Anonymous - At first I thought it was a cryptic message, but I see what you mean and will now have to buy one for myself.

Nell - Thanks. Is Peaky Blinders worth watching? I find a lot of British television drama quite disappointing these days and tend to see what other people think first. I enjoy Silk, The Fall and Line of Duty, but have also seen some real shockers.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

That second mug-shot got me. Presumably they hold their hands up to show any missing bits of finger?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Fabulous adverts and police autobiography(surely that book must be worth something if he was such a local celeb?). Re the fringe issue, I don't understand it either. Nor why some of the servant ads are so specific about age and have to have a 19 year old or a 24 year old. Thank goodness we have (a few) employment laws nowadays.

Steerforth said...

Annabel - I hadn't thought of that but yes, I suppose it was to identify missing digits.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Victorian England - how did it ever get that "respectable" tag? ;-) Have a look at Phil May's drawings of East End girls. They had a fashion all of their own, very different from the "respectable" classes. PS Abram Games is brilliant.

Emma said...

I remember reading somewhere that employers didn't like their servants to have fringes as the servants would spend too much time curling them. That and the curled fringes didn't look neat and tidy under their caps, and a fringe was an indication of a girl of slightly 'fast' character. Presumably it was thought that if a maidservant had time to curl her hair then she wasn't being given enough to do ...

Steerforth said...

Lucy - Thanks for suggesting Phil May - another person I'd never heard of. I've just looked at some of his illustrations and the women look rather feisty. As you say, a stark contrast with their social superiors.

Emma - That sounds plausible. How dare these girl spend time on such friperies! I suppose that a curl was a daringly insouciant gesture, rather like the Iranian women who push their headscarves back to give a glimpse of hair. The curl is a small but pronounced act of defiance.

Dale said...

Emma's got it. A fringe of that time was a very different beast from the simple straight bangs we know today.

It was a bouffant, sugar-and-water reinforced edifice brushed forward right from the crown of the head,curled and made to stand up like a gorse hedge or an astrakhan hat, viz this photo of Alexandra which shows how elaborate the pin-curls were:

And here's richie-rich trendsetter Consuelo Vanderbilt who was a train-bearer for Alexandra at her coronation:

The toffs had maidservants to spend all morning on tizzying up their curl display -
little wonder the mistresses did not want their maids devoting that amount of time and energy to their own coiffures.

helenalex said...

The indoor manservant sounds fragile, like he would disintegrate if exposed to rain.

I enjoyed Peaky Blinders, although the six-episode format didn't do it any favours - a lot happens and so they didn't have time for enough character development.

Little Nell said...

Regarding Peaky Blinders, I'd say give it a go. We weren't sure at first but before long we were hooked. It's violent of course but the acting is first rate. We too liked Silk and Line of Duty.