First post on this. Second. Will open in separate windows. In the second, I linked to Toilers in London; or, Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, By the “British Weekly” Commissioners, Hodder and Stoughton, 1889.
The British Weekly was founded in 1886 to encourage Christian virtue in the lower classes. I don’t know when it closed. Toilers in London was the second volume of two called Tempted London. The first (called what?) addressed young men. No Archive edition, but something less reliable here. Chapters:
Coming up from the Country to London
Life in Business Houses
The Life of City Clerks
A Bird’s-Eye View of London Gambling
Gambling and the Law: An Indictment of the Police
The Variety Theatres of London
The Evils of Theatres
What the Churches are Doing
What the Churches are Doing (continued)
“The Life of City Clerks”. As examined by George Gissing and others up to EM Forster in Howards End.
The first chapter of the volume on female labour is called Flower-Girls.
“The flower-girl is such a familiar sight to Londoners, that few of us realise what the streets of the metropolis would miss if she were banished.
“‘The world would be a sorry place if it had no flowers in it,’ an old man said to one of our Commissioners, while he was buying some primroses from a girl at the corner of Oxford Street. It was Primrose Day [below], and the old man was fastening a small bunch of primroses in his coat when our Commissioner stopped beside the flower-girl’s basket.
“Fifteen years ago no flower-girls enlivened London thoroughfares. If people wanted flowers they were obliged to find a nursery garden, or to visit a market. At these places flowers were then very expensive; for the people had not at that time learnt to appreciate simple flowers like primroses and daffodils; they only cared for costly exotics.
“Now any one can during the spring season buy enough flowers in the streets to deck a room for sixpence, and a small bunch of violets or a button-hole for one penny. Nothing comes amiss to the flower-girl’s basket […].”
“Fifteen years ago.” That’s 1874. There were flower-girls then. As McConkey told us, Gustave Doré depicted them, huddled like beggars, in his London: A Pilgrimage of 1872.
But we can assume that the phenomenon grew in the 1870s. The article doesn’t account for it, but we have looked at the role of the railways.
The swirl in Trafalgar Square must have provided a hunting ground for sexual exploiters, who were protected by English sexual hypocrisy and by the deference engendered by a class system.
Perhaps obvious street poverty had started to decline by 1913, when Pygmalion had its first performance.
One-Nation conservatism. Urban renewal. A radical Liberal, Joseph Chamberlain, boasted that his three years, 1873-76, as Mayor of Birmingham, had left the city “parked, paved, assized, marketed, gas-and- watered and improved”. Hygiene. Trade unions. Peabody Trust. Forster’s Education Act. Employers and Workmen Act. End of Long Depression of 1873-79. Old-Age Pensions Act. Labour Exchanges Act. National Insurance Act.
Clausen’s girl’s flowers have the unmistakeable yellow of primroses, but there was no “Primrose Day” in 1879.
That day was the anniversary of the death of Disraeli on April 19 1881. The primrose had been his favourite flower. Queen Victoria gave him bunches of them, picked at Windsor and Osborne House, and sent a wreath of primroses to his funeral. Had they started to be a symbol of conservatism while he was alive?
Disraeli invented modern Conservatism and revived the previously-moribund monarchy. Primrose Day was associated with the Primrose League, formed in 1883 to take Conservative principles to the masses. Its membership peak was in the 1890s, but it survived until 2004. When did yellow become a Liberal colour? (A Liberal prime minister in the 1890s, the 5th Earl of Rosebery, happened to have the family name of Primrose.)
Frank Bramley, Primrose Day, 1885, Tate Britain; awkward portrait, but with nods to Japan-influenced aestheticism in the arrangement and in the stalks, and with the straw hat looking like something between a mushroom and an umbrella or fan; Disraeli is on the wall:
Pathé News, Primrose Day, Parliament Square, 1916; a crowd in front of Mario Raggi’s bronze statue of Disraeli:
Further clip of the statue at about the same time. Half the country once had a Jewish hero, if a rather distant and disembodied one. Pathé has clips of Primrose Day pilgrimages to Disraeli’s grave at Hughenden for 1921, 1923, 1926, 1928.