“Our home amusements were the envy of the street. There were four members of the family who played mandolins and banjos and on special occasions when all four got together the whole evening would be spent playing the latest music hall hits. One of them would go to the King’s Theatre to hear Marie Lloyd or Harry Lauder or some other top-of-the-bill artiste sing their own personalised song and come home to practise, and ten all four would play it and the un-musical ones would sing what words were known and fit in other words found suitable. At that time the songs that made you cry were the most popular […] we were all happy to sing about other people’s sad fate”. P.36
Reading Frederick Charles Wynne’s childhood account of ‘Old Pompey & Other Places’, we can understand the working class habits and cultures that existed within a childhood at the turn of the century, particularly in a seaside home such as Portsmouth.
Bourdieu explains how in this time period, a distinct working-class culture began to rise, alongside the rising popularity of the Theatre, Music Hall, and railway visits to other towns. However, whilst Frederick took part in these past-times, his family particularly valued respectability. As I have discussed in my previous posts here, Frederick’s comfortable upbringing resulted in his family particularly emulating middle-class values, and this is evident in his childhood games and family traditions.
“The Poor Blind Boy” was top of the bill, being closely followed by the innocent young lady […] who had a baby and was thrown into the street by her god fearing father. There was another sad little thing called “won’t you buy my pretty flowers” about a poor girl selling flowers in the street and also the one about the comrade who died in battle in the arms of his boyhood inseparable friend. (P 36)
The use of music as a past-time and a tradition within Frederick’s family was evidently very important, and Frederick remembers in detail how the family would often come together to sing and play music. The family had a piano and had hired a teacher to teach his sister Nell (discussed in my Education and Schooling post). He explains how Sundays were ‘barred to our music hall sessions’ and on Sunday evenings after Chapel (again, a very respectable tradition) about seven or eight of them would sing the ‘Moody and Sankey’ hymns, favourites being “Rock of Ages” and “This is the Anchor”. Dedicating an entire chapter of his memoir to this, it was a treasured memory for Frederick as he writes ‘we enjoyed singing them just for the sake of singing’ p.36. Interestingly, however, Frederick questions the popular songs being of a very sad or morbid nature ‘rather like the victorious general singing the virtues of men killed and wounded in the battle that made his name and fortune’ (p.36). Upon speaking to his relations, it seems that Frederick’s aunts and uncles were partial to performing at Portsmouth’s Coliseum Music Hall- a wonderful achievement and no doubt was a source of proudness within the family. Interestingly, critic Deborah Heckert (2006) explores the concept of the Music Hall within the working class and discusses a pamphlet advertising a London Coliseum, which writes: ‘ It was desired to make attendance at this playhouse as respectable as going to church.’ During the Edwardian period, Music Halls were becoming somewhat rebranded, to become respectable and to earn back the custom of the upper classes. This growing respectability will have been appealing to Frederick’s family, particularly as they emphasised their aversion to looking ‘common’.
Frederick talks about how a relation bought a Phonograph and created a small music salon from the comfort of his grandmother’s front room. ‘to announce to the world that a musical emporium with that latest scientific invention had opened in their midst the front room window was opened and the trumpet of the phonograph was placed so that not a note was lost to the musical appreciation of the music worthy populace.’ (p.37). Unfortunately, the neighbours were not pleased with the situation and the music salon had to be closed down- maybe that idea was perhaps not as respectable as they initially thought!
We had our free amusements in addition to the one-man band. The barrel organ was a looked for musical interlude. The barrel organ man, he was an Italian also, brought his money with him with a collar around its neck and a chain or rope fastened to the shaft of the barrel organ. Sometimes the man would let one of the boys turn the handle and a languorous waltz would start off as a gallop and end up as the funeral march from Saul as the boy’s arm became less energetic. p.30
Aside from the home pleasures, Frederick and his family often made use of the Portsmouth traditions and Frederick fondly remembers the delicacies that they would buy, the people they would see and the places they would go. A one-man band who was considered ‘The top of his profession’ was well known in most parts of Pompey, ‘Topper Up Joey’ sold the best Ice Cream around, ‘The Winkle Man’ (who was a rather irregular visitor, depending on his harvest) and ‘The Muffin and Crumpet Man’ would come round every Sunday afternoon before tea. ‘He had a large bell which he rang on his approach. It was so loud we could hear it in the next street giving us ample time to get the money ready’ (p.10). To Frederick, these people were as ingrained in the city of Portsmouth as the ships and sailors, acting as a tradition within all the local families.
Frederick’s personal habits and past-times appeared to be somewhat limited by the families’ preoccupation with acting respectable. As I have discussed before, Frederick missed out on the mud-lark games and was not allowed to sit on the wall with the other children, yet he was fascinated with Punch and Judy. ‘It was the Punch and Judy show that made the journey [on a trip to Southsea] memorable. I heard the whole routine over and over again, and although I knew what was coming next, except when with artistic license the man varied it, I was just as enthralled as if I was seeing it for the first time’. (p.27). He was delighted when visiting the arcade on Commercial Road; which consisted of ‘fabulous’ goods. These places were representative of ‘working class spaces’ which were being built, allowing families such as Frederick’s to go and enjoy luxury without being considered ‘rough’ and to spend spare cash on small pleasures. However, Frederick reminisces on the way in which the working class youths often threw orange peel at the ‘snobs’ in the Kings Theatre- so, in these places, the ‘them vs us’ divide was still strong.
Another popular, yet controversial trend in the early 20th Century was that of the Occult, and Frederick experienced this with an aunt that was ‘A student of the Occult in an earthy way’ (p.34) who claimed that a ghost opened her bedroom door after her husband left for work in the early morning, and to later have seen a shrouded figure. She came to Frederick’s house in a ‘dickens of a state. Almost hysterical.’ Frederick’s mother, who ‘would not encourage stupid ideas’ refused to go to the house, and sister Nell believed in ghosts and also refused. Therefore, Frederick was employed as a ‘companion-bodyguard’ to act as a witness.
My aunt told her all about the ghost and presented me as her unbiased witness. I didn’t see all the things she said she had seen. I didn’t see the door handle turn, I didn’t see the ghostly hand holding the door and I didn’t hear the deep ghostly sigh that the ghost gave as it looked into the room. (p.35)
From this, Frederick’s mother, ‘being a cynic’, demonstrated that the doors were not hung correctly and therefore the latch did not fit, thus anyone moving in the room would disturb the latch and the door would swing open. Frederick, however, despite ‘quivering’ at said evidence of a haunting, enjoyed the stay. When standing on a chair in the attic room, he could see the harbour; the ‘big attraction, to see the Dreadnoughts moving around like vindictive animals ready to kill anything in sight’ (p.34).
The attraction of the Dreadnoughts was a particularly Portsmouth tradition, alongside watching the counting of the fleet and the arrival of the Sailors- which I discuss in Part Two of this post!
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul
Christians Together (1883). An Evening of Moody and Sankey. [image] Available at: https://www.christianstogether.net/Articles/131362/Christians_Together_in/Archive/Music_Praise_Worship/An_Evening_of.aspx
G’arn Away. (1904). [Sheet Music] Theatre and Performance. London.
Getty Images (1926). Puppet Show. [image] Available at: https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/3254796
Heckert, D. (2007). ‘Working the Crowd: Elgar, Class, and Reformulations of Popular Culture at the Turn of the Twentieth Century’. In: B. Adams, ed., Edward Elgar and His World. New York: Princeton University Press.
liveauctioneers (n.d.). Edison Standard Cylinder Phonograph. [image] Available at: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/11949250_387-an-edison-standard-cylinder-phonograph-width-over
Wynne, Frederick Charles. ‘Old Pompey and Other Places’. Burnett Archive of Working class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 2:08