Welcome back to this exciting blog about Isaac Edward Brown! In this blog update, I will be presenting to you the leisure and the pastimes enjoyed by Isaac, but will also be presenting the cultural environment he grew up in, and its activities available. Due to Isaac being born during the Victorian era, there was obviously no cinemas or television available to him. Brown however does reference that ‘Bromley being an excellent self-contained shopping centre’ (1) provided the ability to shop, however not much else in terms of shops. He does, however, reference the international tea company branch located in Bromley’s high street. Brown continues, ‘Take sport for instance. There was the Bromley cricket club, with a fine ground in the Widmore Road’ (2) Below is an image of Widmore Road in Bromley in the 1940s.
Isaac E. Brown was a keen walker and he was tremendous lover of the countryside, ‘Next to walking I would place cycling as an excellent means of exploring our English landscape. My cycling memories date back to the old penny-farthing, although I never actually rode a machine of this type; but I recollect my cousin setting off for the seaside on such a cycle.’ (167) Historically speaking, I believe that Brown’s autobiography displays a great transition point between the two Centuries; Brown lived through the end of the Victorian era, and saw the invention of the television, radio, cinema and motor cars. Brown references the invention of the car on page 167 of his memoir, ‘The advent of the motor-car has led to the transformation of road surfaces, and now-a-days it is difficult to find even an unimportant by-road without a tarred and comparatively even surface.’ (167,168)
Brown’s hobbies and pastimes had been anything ranging from Golf, to walking to cricket throughout his days, as he writes, ‘I have always been fond of all outdoor sports within my capacity and my purse – football, cricket, tennis, and golf particularly having claimed my attention at different periods.’ (147) Brown maintains that he was never sufficiently deserving distinction, however he does list of some humble achievements of his sporting days, ‘At cricket my top score was 84 not out-the coveted century eluded me; I have taken nine wickets in an innings…and I remember making a catch at cover-point which was said by members of the team to be worth the afternoon’s time.’
Isaac Brown was a lover of poetry, as we know from my update on his family life. He also was rather fond of the arts. He enjoyed drama, for it caught his eye at an early age. Within his memoir, he mentions, ‘The Drama, like music, attracted my attention at an early age; but until I grew up I had practically no opportunities of visiting a theatre. There was not one in Bromley. (178) Isaac continues, ‘but go we did whenever we could, and saw most of the leading actors and actresses of the day…George Alexander was pre-eminent in society plays, and Seymor Hicks in comedies; while the leading ladies I remember were Irene and Violet Vanbrugh, Ellaline Terriss, and Marie Tempest.’ (178)
http://www.ikjordan.plus.com/Players/britishtheatre/SirSeymourHicks.html This link will take you to a site, where the title of which is called ‘The Golden Age of British Theatre (1890-1920)‘ Written by Sydney Higgins. Above I have included an image of Sir Seymor Hicks in 1908, as referenced by Isaac Brown.
Isaac remarks within the earlier sections of his memoir of the Bromley train system that ran trips of a couple days of the week. ‘On Wednesdays and Sundays cheap trips were run by train from Bromley to the various Kentish watering-places, the fares only being 2/- or 2/6 for the half-day mid week excursion.’ (5) Laurence Senelick makes the interesting point, ‘For a nation that had indulged for centuries in the liberty of political scurrility… the apparent conformity and conventionality of the music hall’s politics make a sad commentary on the state of popular dissent.’ Senelick continues, ‘In fact the heady doses of chauvinism and caricature that passed for politics in the music hall call into question the notion of the music hall-song as the vox populi, ‘the actual expression of the mind of the moment.’ Within her piece, Patriotism and Empire, Music Hall Entertainment 1870, 1914, Penny Summerfield writes, ‘Nineteenth-century music hall was known as the ‘fount of patriotism’. While some observers praised this development, others such as J. A. Hobson condemned the music hall for manipulating working-class opinion in favour of exploitative imperialist policies.’ (Summerfield, 2017) What Summerfield displays here, in conjunction with the previous quotation, it would seem that the music hall displayed a form of internal politics, that which displays the attitudes of the day, but that which, as critics have stated, manipulate working-class opinion. Isaac Edward Brown does in fact reference the lengths that people used to go to in order to present themselves appropriately for the occasion during the early twentieth century. Contextually what we understand as those who can study history is that fashion and common culture around this time directly influenced social standings and attitudes towards class. We observe the traditional Victorian working class as ‘respectable’ adorned with a necktie and waistcoat, for this image was one of aspiration towards a ‘better self’. The fashions of class with the invention of modern suit, originally conceived by Beau Brummell, saw a class distinction with the upper classes which in turn trickled down into the wonder social structure, wherein it became aspirational to look the part of the respectable class.
Brown gives us an insight into the popular culture not just through entertainment alone, but the manner in which material possessions and public image influenced certain activities. Here, again, we see an example of class within leisure and culture, ‘Al the wealthy people of the district had their various horse-drawn equipages for different occasions – the carriage and pair for the lady of the house to go shopping.. or for the use of both the master and mistress to go to church or on special occasions. (8)
Regarding culture, as we understand from the Education update of this blog, religion was quite important within the schooling system. Now Isaac Brown enjoyed singing, and remarks, ‘Music I always loved, especially vocal music…”Jimmy” had a good tenor voice at one time, and was in the Parish church choir for many years. I threw myself with great energy into my singing lessons… it was a Church of England school, we had a half-hour’s scripture lesson each morning.’
‘My early cycling was practically all done in the counties of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, largely between Bromley and the coastal sea-side resorts…When we moved to York the character of the country changed. It was very flat and uninteresting for several miles around the city…walking presented no attraction.’ Writes Isaac. What we observe here is that his activities were often influenced by his environments. Brown continues, ‘Whitby is to me the pleasantest town along this coast, and we went there several times from York…We also spent a holiday at Robin Hood’s Bay…This was not a success, as we had the children with us. (169)
‘Leisure and its enjoyments were hardly a mid-Victorian invention, but contemporaries were frequently moved to draw a contrast between the more abundant leisure of their own day and the meagre commons of previous decade’, writes Peter Baily. ‘A Bolton lawyer…in the 1830s recalled that hard work had taken its reward in leisure hours…by a constant round of amateur dramatics’. Peter Bailey references that with the economic pressures that prevailed during the industrial revolution, ‘utilitarian and evangelical disciplines had severely restricted the gratification of leisure.’ (Bailey, 14) I believe that Isaac’s memoir provide a generational gap between the post industrial age and into the modern world.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this update around Victorian and Edwardian leisure within the twentieth century!
Laurence Senelick. Politics as entertainment: Victorian Music-Hall Songs. Victorian Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, December 1975. Indiana University Press.
1:93 BROWN, Edward, Untitled, TS, pp.199 (c.80,000 words). Brunel University Library.
‘Brown, Edward’, The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1984) vol 1, no. 9
Bailey, Peter. Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City. Chapter 1. C. Cambridge University Press 1998. Pg. 14