This is the first of a number of extracts taken from the book Spalding in the Sixties and Seventies (1860 & 70’s) by F Ridlington.
“Pig Cheer” and Home-Made Sausages
It may help the reader to visualize the vast contrast between life to-day and in the ‘sixties (1860) if i enumerate some of the myriad items which in the course of seventy years have been added to the people’s conveniences, necessities and luxuries, and have come into general use. A study of these reveals a simplicity in the old days so austere as to be almost unbelievable.
Fancy a time when there were no motor cars. coaches, taxis, cycles, aeroplanes, public telegraphs, telephones, Bank Holidays. Electric light. cigarettes, alarm clocks, tube railways and gramophones. Business men and public officials had to carry on without typewriters and typists Dictaphones, roll up desks, card indexes, keyboard cash tills, fountain pens and blotting paper.
Steel pen nibs were in their infancy and old fashioned folk remained faithful to the quill. Sand was used instead of blotting paper. Printers never dreamed of type setting machines or colour printing and the actual printing was mainly done by hand.
Little to Help the Housewife
The drudgery of the household was unrelieved by the use of carpet sweepers, wringers and mangles, sewing machines, electric lighting, heating and cooking, electric irons, gas fires public water supply ” h & c,”; there was no imported meat. Eggs or butter, no canned meat, vegetables or fruit, or home grown sugar; no stainless cutlery; no handy mincing machines. It was a case of ” elbow grease ” all the time.
The children never tasted the joys (sic) of ice cream, chocolate, chewing gum. scooters, ” comics,” or mechanical toys. Cocktails had not been invented.
There were no Woolworths or other departmental stores, cafes or bridge to provide the ladies with opportunities of gossip or to utilise their leisure. And no artificial silk stockings.
Travellers could not obtain victuals and drink on the trains, however lengthy the journey. The realm of sport had not been invaded by golf or tennis.
All these additions to the details of life have had the effect of Increasing to an enormous extent the scope of the English vocabulary, and the later generations have been compelled to memorise the spelling and meaning of hundreds of new words. To enumerate but a few of these, no such terms were known as chauffeur, high and low gears, gramophone, wireless, stenography. synthetic, television, linotype, Jazz, gangster, mannequin, permanent wave, cat burglar, bilk, the pool. These and hundreds of other terms today form of part of our language. New diseases have been added to the ills of the flesh such as appendicitis, blood. pressure, sepsis, adenoids, duodenal ulcers, and pyorrhea, while numerous old-fashioned complaints are known by new and less simple designations.
Life Enriched by Progress
There are critics who contend that the world as a whole has lost more than it has gained by the march of progress and point to certain evils with which the changes have been accompanied. I do not agree with them. Progress has enriched life to an enormous extent, and increased its amenities. It has revealed scores of new interests and delights lessened the arduousness of manual toil and by quickening and cheapening the production of commodities has enabled the poorest classes to enjoy things which before were monopolies of the rich. It has promoted health and general culture and given people greater leisure to cultivate their minds, the fine arts, and the delights of nature. One may marvel how people managed to pass away their time before the era of modern press set in and that they were satisfied with things as they were. Of course we had no notion of what we were missing: moreover, current conditions were regarded as a dispensation of providence fixed for all time and to be accepted without demur.
The people then enjoyed certain forms of entertainment no longer appreciated. A missionary meeting or a political meeting was always a popular event. And lengthy speeches, addresses and prayers were listened to without impatience.
Old Fun Fairs
The annual September fair was an important event to young and old and provided a considerable variety of entertainment. Marionette performances were to be seen at nearly all the fairs. I remember how my emotions were stirred by a performance of the tragedy of “The Mistletoe Bough ” by puppets. This awoke my dramatic sense at a tender age and may be responsible for an interest in the drama which has developed with the years and is still acute.
The shows usually included “Pepper’s Ghost”, the fat women (who graciously shook hands with members of the audience). A living “skeleton” a giant and a dwarf. I remember the excitement caused by General Tom Thumb introduced to this country Barnum. This remarkable midget was patronized by the Royal family, the aristocracy, and the Emperor of France. He became a society lion. I don’t remember whether the “General” ever visited Spalding. I think he did, but I can recall a similar exhibit. This dwarf, concealed in a contraption like a doll’s house, was brought to the front of the show and speaking thorough a trumpet exchanged greetings with the crowd and sung popular songs.
Small wild animals were shown, one popular feature being the happy family consisting of, a dog, a cat. monkeys, a fox, a rat, a hedgehog, a raccoon and one or two other small Jungle denizens all in the same cag and sometimes one of the larger wild animals.
The shooting gallery was always to be seen at fairs. This was a tube about 20 feet long, the end being a target. If the hole in the centre of the target was entered a bell was rung, and the marksman received a prize. The price was a penny a go. Then there was the half-penny shooting gallery for young people, who aimed at a revolving round target, with numbered spaces. a few feet away. Some of the numbers entitled the shooter to a prize if he hit them.
One of the Earliest Roundabouts
The roundabout is as old as I am, but I remember one of the earliest of such structures. It was a crude affair with shafts radiating from centre post and each carrying a seat or a wooden horse at the end but no machinery whatever, the roundabout being propelled by boys pushing the shafts who often sweated with exertion, in the expectation of a free ride.
One of the earliest items of showmanship was a penny peep show a primitive affair. It was mere a box containing a couple of peep holes covered by a magnifying glass and carried on a tripod. By applying the eye to one of these one feasted on a succession of pictures of current national events.
The father of Lord George Sanger the founder of a distinguished line of showmen, started his career by travelling the country on foot with a penny peep show.
In the sixties Spalding was visited regularly by Sanger’s circus and Wombwell’s or Manders menagerie.
Pitched in Black Swan Field
The former pitched its tent in the Black Swan field and always provided an attractive procession through the streets which was appreciated by the children, and they were many, who were unable to raise the admission fee. These processions never lacked a sort of gorgeous high tower on wheels surmounted by a beautiful creature dressed like a princess, the carriage being drawn by half a dozen or more piebald horses or ponies.
This feature had to be discontinued when telegraph wires were carried along the streets. Until comparatively recent years’ circuses did not show wild animals, and there programmes consisted of displays of horsemanship and the wit of the clowns. The menageries were set up in the Market Place. They usually brought an elephant, camels and a varied collection of wild beasts, and a coloured trainer did a hair-raising act a lion or a tiger.
The Hiring Statute
The annual Hiring Statute, known locally as the”Stattus,”was a sort of fair for the servants. It was customary in those days for men and women on the farms and those in domestic life in the towns. To take service for 12 months at the end of which period most of them sought a new place. On finding a new home the young farm men sported a favour.
A popular Joke with the public on these occasions was for the facetious people to ask the matrons in the town whether they were stopping on or finding fresh situation. The usual reply was “I think I shall stay on I might get a worse place” Plenty of amusements were provided for the country visitors and I observed what a large proportion of the young men went home with a concertina under their arms. These were offered at several stalls.
The stall-keepers would perform popular pieces and lead the customer to suppose that by means of a cheap book of instructions he would soon be able, to provide his own music at home. Needless to say most of the buyers had to give up their task of teaming to play in despair. There is no quick or royal road to proficiency on any musical instrument. This cannot be attained without a lengthy period of laborious practice as well as a natural gift.
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The Day of the Cheap Jacks
Cheap Jacks. a sort, of travelling shop keepers, often set up in the Market Place and entertained a crowd every night several weeks. People were glad enough to hear the natter of which these men had a good supply and could spend a pleasant time without being compelled to buy anything. Hardly an evening passed without seeing itinerant vendors of medicines, salves, cleansing materials. The galvanic battery was popular. For the expenditure of a penny anyone could get from it a mild electric shock which was considered good for health.
An experienced editor once advised me never to avoid references to food in any of my articles as he had found that nothing interests the average man much more than details of eating and drinking. I have discovered this view to be a sound one. I cannot however say very much about the subject in the present review. It seemed to me that the poorer classes in the sixties lived largely on sheep’s head and pluck (lungs and intestines), butts (fish). shellfish and bread.
On a Saturday the exterior of the butchers’ shops had an extensive and gruesome display of the former delicacy. The working class mothers declared that there no equal to the head pluck for the number of nutritious meals it provided both liquid and solid and it was also a cheap dish. Butt was the local name for the dab a small plaice.
Came up on Welland Tide
It was customary to sell these (Butt) threaded on a willow twigs. Some 10 or dozen of the fish could be bought for threepence. The meat is delicious but there is much more bone than flesh. The tides in the Welland brought up the river shoals of butts and they were gathered on the slips after the water had receded. The fishermen used butt pricks a stick with a sharp nail at the end for gathering them. To pick up such slippery objects by hand would be too slow. (i believe we have a Blacksmith made butt prick in Chain Bridge Forge)
Spalding people benefited by the harvest of the Wash as there was nearly always available and cheap plenty of mussels, cockles, periwinkles, shrimps, whelks and clamps. One could get a shell fish meal at the Saturday night stalls for a copper or two, saucer and vinegar and pepper being provided.
Middle class people’s diet played the changes on mutton, beef, and pork with occasional pigeon pie, and hares and rabbits. The home fed beef and mutton was delicious and the flavor far superior to that of the present day.
Bought with Secrecy
There was great prejudice against foreign meat when first imported. People bought it with secrecy and servants often refused to it. My mother used to make our sausages and pork pies. She had a prejudice against shop delicacies. The meat was chopped on a block with a broad knife which is not available on the market today and filled into a cylindrical vessel open at one end and having spout at the other to which chitterling was attached. A block of wood fitting the vessel was forced into it by pressure from the breast which transferred the meat to the skins. These were then tied at regular intervals and links of sausages were the result. Most of the tradespeople bought a pig a year and held two or three weeks’ orgy of “pig cheer”
We lived for a time on pies and sausages, collared head, pigs fry, souse, trotters, scraps, chaps and spare rib. The rest of the animal was put into brine and cured as hams and bacon. The only imported bacon came Ireland and did not reach Spalding.