“And marked us all with numbers for we had no names at all.”*

Image: (amandaragaa.com): “A 20ft Doric column adorned with six sun dials sits upon an 8ft plinth; the obelisk itself represents the **seventh ‘dial’. The original monument was installed in 1694, orientated so there was a direct south and direct north vertical dial, and four vertically declining dials.”

From the website of the British Library:

“…before newspapers were easily available, how did ordinary people get their news? The answer is … in a variety of ways – including by word of mouth – or perhaps not at all…

Broadsides were cheaply produced printed sheets, affordable to the masses. Some of these cheap news sheets had enormous appeal. The famous printer of street literature Jemmy Catnach of **London’s Seven Dials had a vast and varied stock of material for sale: one of his trade lists has 1,000 different items in stock, most of which were not news: ballads and chapbooks, song books, or seasonal sheets such as Valentines, Christmas sheets, and almanacs. Some sheets could sell all year round, like sheets of jokes or songs, or timeless tales such as The Stages of Life  – which displayed a human life as an arc rising from birth, peaking at the prime of life and declining to old age – religious sheets like the Prodigal Son, The Last Supper, Our Saviour’s Letter (believed by some to be a good-luck charm in childbirth), and dream interpreters or fortune-tellers.

Executions did not disappear from the street outside Newgate Prison (known as the Old Bailey) until 1868, and attracted huge crowds. To cope with demand for news about a particularly sensational murder trial in 1823, it is said that Catnach had several hand presses running flat-out for several days, and sold 250,000 penny broadside sheets. Most cases did not have this level of appeal, but numbers of the typical execution sheets (larger than A3) known as ‘broadsides’ survive in library collections…

Very large numbers of song-sheets survive, usually smaller and different in shape from execution broadsides – they tended to be long and narrow. Many songs were intended to be sung to traditional melodies, and some of them feature extremely old traditional themes and morality tales. Some were traditional folksongs transferred to print, and others belonged to the more recent past – particularly from the popular and prolific song-writer Charles Dibdin, whose many songs were popular during the Napoleonic Wars. Contemporary performances from the theatres also furnished numbers of songs for these sheets, often mixed in with older material. Verse commentaries on current events – known as ‘news in verse’ – were sometimes written specially to fit traditional tunes…”

*from the Appendix to “The Rochester Tapes” (Part I), by John Earl, who also penned “a recently discovered Street ballad attr. Billy Weeks” on the subject of the Princess Alice pleasure ship disaster of 3rd September, 1878.


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