Story Of London

The Street Patterers: Chaunters

London has always been a noisy place. Amongst the cacophony of sound in the Victorian streets was the chanting of the “Patterers”, either moving or stationary. In his London Labour and the London Poor, Henry Mayhew devoted an entire chapter to an investigation of the artistry, lives and habits of these Londoners. In this extract we get a flavour of the songs that the class of patterers known as Chaunters, who Mayhew considered direct descendants of the mediaeval minstrels, used to attract attention to the running patterers.

“As the minstrel’s art,”writes Mr. Strutt, in his “Sports and Pastimes,””consisted of several branches, the professors were distinguished by different denominations, as ‘rimours, chanterres, conteours, jougleours or jongleurs, jestours, leeours, and troubadours or trouvers:’ in modern language, rhymers, singers, story-tellers, jugglers, relaters of heroic actions, buffoons, and poets; but all of them were included under the general name of minstrel. An eminent French antiquary says of the minstrels, that some of them themselves composed the subjects they sang or related, as the trouvers and the conteurs; and some of them used the compositions of others, as the jougleours and the chanteurs. He further remarks, that the trouvers may be said to have embellished their productions with rhyme, while the conteurs related their histories in prose; the jougleours, who in the middle ages were famous for playing upon the vielle”[a kind of hurdy-gurdy], “accompanied the songs of the trouvers. These jougleours were also assisted by the chanteurs; and this union of talents rendered the compositions more harmonious and more pleasing to the auditory, and increased their rewards, so that they readily joined each other, and travelled together in large parties. It is, however, very certain that the poet, the songster, and the musician were frequently united in the same person.”My account of the authors, etc., of street literature shows that the analogy still holds.The French antiquary quoted was Fauchet, in his “Origine de la Langue et Poësie Francoise”(1581); and though he wrote concerning his own country, his descriptions apply equally to the English minstrels, who were principally Normans, for many reigns after the Conquest, and were of the same race, and habits, and manners as on the French side of the Channel.Of the minstrels, I shall have more to say when I treat of the ballad-singers and the bands of street and public-house musicians of to-day, between whom and the minstrels of old there is, in many respects, a somewhat close resemblance. Minstrelsy fell gradually from its high estate, and fell so low that, in the 39th year of Elizabeth’s reign -a period when the noblest poetry of any language was beginning to command the ear of the educated in England -the minstrels were classed in a penal statute with rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars! Putenham, in his “Arte of English Poesie” (1589), speaks of “taverne minstrels that give a fit of mirth for a groat.” One of the statutes enacted in Cromwell’s Protectorate was directed against all persons “commonly called fidlers or minstrells.”In the old times, then, the jougeleurs and jestours were assisted by the chanteurs. In the present day the running patterer -who, as I have shown, is the sufficiently legitimate descendant of the jestour, and in some respects of the mountebank -is accompanied generally by a chaunter, so presenting a further point of resemblance between ancient and modern streetfolk. The chaunter now not only sings, but fiddles, for within these few years the running patterers, to render their performances more attractive, are sometimes accompanied by musicians. The running performer then, instead of hurrying along with the members of his mob, making sufficient noise to arouse a whole street, takes his stand with the chaunter in any promising place, and as the songs which are the most popular are -as is the case at many of the concert-rooms -sometimes “spoken” as well as sung, the performers are in their proper capacity, for the patterer not only “speaks,” but speaks more than is set down for him, while the chaunter fiddles and sings. Sometimes the one patters while the other sings, and their themes are the same.I am told, however, that there are only fifty running patterers who are regularly their own chaunters, fiddling to their songs, while the mob work as usual, or one man sings, or speaks and sings, with the chaunter. Two of these men are known as Brummagem Jack, and the Country Paganini. From twenty to thirty patterers, however, are chaunters also, when they think the occasion requires it.Further to elucidate chaunting, and to show the quality of the canticles, and the way of proceeding, I cite a statement of his experience as a chaunter, from the running patterer, whose details of his more especial business I have already given, but who also occasionally chaunts:, [Note 1]”The Pope, sir,” he began, “was as onesided to chaunt as to patter, in course. We had the Greeks (the lately-arrived Irish) down upon us more than once. In Liverpool-street, on the night of the meeting at Guildhall about the Papal Aggression, we had a regular skrimmage. One gentleman said: !Really, you shouldn’t sing such improper songs, my men.’ Then up comes another, and he was a little orusted with port wine, and he says: ‘What, against that cove the Pope! Here, give me half a dozen of the papers.’ The city was tidy for the patter, sir, or the chaunt; there was sixpences; but there was shillings at the West End. And for the first time in their innocent lives, the parsons came out as stunning patrons of the patter.”One of ’em as we was at work in the street give a bit of a signal and was attended to without any parade to the next street, and was good for half-a-crown! Other two stopped, that wery same day, and sent a boy to us with a Joey. Then me and my mate went to the Rev. W.’s, him as came it so strong for the fire-works on the Fifth of November. And we pattered and we pattered, and we chaunted and we chaunted, but no go for a goodish bit. His servant said he weren’t at home. In course that wouldn’t do for us, so down he came his-self at last, and says, werry soft: ‘Come to-morrow morning, my men, and there’ll be two gentlemen to hear you.'”We stuck to him for something in hand, but he said the business had cost him so much already, he really couldn’t. Well, we bounced a bob out of him, and didn’t go near him again. After all we did for his party, a shilling was black ingratitude. Of course we has no feeling either for or agin the Pope. We goes to it as at an election; and let me tell you, sir, we got very poorly paid, it couldn’t be called paid, for working for Lord John at the City Election; and I was the original of the live rats, which took well. But there’s a good time coming to pay Lord Johnny off.”Some of the tunes -there’s no act of parliament about tunes, you know, sir -was stunners on the fiddle; as if a thousand bricks was falling out of a cart at once. I think ‘The Pope and Cardinal Wiseman,’ one of the first of the songs, did as well as any. This werse was greatly admired: -‘Now Lord John Russell did so bright,
to the Bishop of Durham a letter write
Saying while I’ve a hand I’ll fight,
The pope and cardinal wiseman,
Lord John’s ancestor as I tell,
Lord William Russell then known well
His true religion would not sell,
A martyr he in glory fell,
And now Lord John so bold and free,
Has got a rope as we may see,
To hang up on each side of a tree,
The pope and cardinal Wiseman.’

“This finishing werse, too, was effective, and out came a few browns: –

‘Now we don’t care a fig for Rome,
why can’t they let the girls alone,
And mind their business at home,
the pope and cardinal wiseman.
With their monsical red cardinals hat,
And lots of wafers in a sack,
If they come here with all their clack,
we’ll wound them fil fal la ra whack,
In England they shall not be loose,
Their hum bugging is all no use,
If they come here we’ll cook their goose,
The pope and Cardinal Wiseman.
CHORUS Monks and Nuns and fools afloat,
We’ll have no bulls shoved down our throat,
Cheer up and shout down with the Pope,
And his bishop cardinal Wiseman.'”Then there was another, sir. ‘The Pope he is coming; oh, crikey, oh dear!’ to the tune of the ‘Camels are coming.’ There was one bit that used to tickle them. I mayn’t exactly remember it, for I didn’t do anything beyond a spurt in it, and haven’t a copy for you, but it tickled ’em with others. This was the bit: -‘I’ve heard my old grandmother’s grandmother say,
They burnt us in Smithfield full ten every day.
O, what shall I do, for I feel very queer,
The Pope he’s a-coming, oh! crikey, oh, dear!'”Bless you, sir, if I see a smart dressed servant girl looking shyly out of the street-door at us, or through the area railings, and I can get a respectful word in and say, ‘My good young lady, do buy of a poor fellow, we haven’t said a word to your servants, we hasn’t seen any on ’em,’ then she’s had, sir, for 1d. at least, and twice out of thrice; that ‘good young lady’ chloroforms her.
“Then this one, now, is stunning. It’s part of what the Queen was a going to sing at the opening of the parliament, but she changed her mind, and more’s the pity, for it would have had a grand effect. It’s called ‘The Queen, the Pope, and the Parliament,’ and these is the best of the stanzas; I calls them werses in common, but stanzas for Wick:-‘My lords and my gentlemen all,
The bishops and great house of commons
On you for protection I call,
For you know I am only a woman,
I am really quite happy indeed –
To meet you like birds of a feather,
So I hope you will all struggle with me,
And pull away boys altogether,
My name is Victoria the Queen.
‘Our bishops and deans did relent,
And say they for ever was undone,
Bishop Philpott a long challenge sent
To his lordship the bishop of London,
To fight him on Hounslow Heath –
But the bishop of London was coosey,
He gave him one slap in the mouth,
And then sent a letter to pusey,
No humbuggery stories for vick –

‘I heard my old grandfather say
His great grandmother easily loved reckon
When they made a fool run away,
Whose name was king Jemmy the second.
Billy gave him a ticket for soup,
Though Bill married old Jemmy’s daughter
He knocked him from old Palace yard,
To Ireland, across the Boyne water,
Long life to Victoria the Queen.

‘Come here my old friend Joey Hume,
I know you in silence wont mope now,
Go up and get inside the moon
And make fast a great torry rope now,
And then give a spring and a jump
And you to a peerage shall rise then,
For we’ll swing up old Pius the Pope
And his eminence cardinal Wiseman,
Old England and down with the Pope.’Baron von Haynau“Then there wasn’t no risk with Haynau -I told you of the Pope first, ’cause he was most chaunted -no fear of a ferricadouzer for the butcher. [Note 2] How is it spelled, sir? Well, if you can’t find it in the dictionary, you must use your own judgment. What does it mean? It means a dewskitch (a good thrashing). I’ve been threatened with dark nights about the Pope, after the Greeks has said: ‘Fat have you to say agin the holy gintleman? To the divil wid all the likes o’ ye.’ Haynau was a fair stage and no favour. This werse was best liked: -‘The other day as you must know,
In Barclay’s brewhouse he did go
And signed his bloody name “Haynau.
The fellow that flogged the women.
Baron Rothchild did him shend,
And in the letter which he penn’d
He shaid the sheneral wash his friend,
And so good a man he could not mend.
CHORUS: Rumpsey bumsy -bang him well –
Make his back and sides to swell
Till he roars aloud with dreadful yell,
The fellow that flogged the women.'”The women bought very free; poor women, mostly; we only worked him to any extent in the back drags. One old body at Stepney was so pleased that she said, ‘O, the bloodyminded willain! Whenever you come this way again, sir, there’s always 1d. for you.’ She didn’t pay in advance though.
“Then it ended, sir, with a beautiful moral as appeals to every female bosom: -‘That man who would a female harm,
Is never fit to live.

“We always likes something for the ladies, bless ’em. They’re our best customers. Then there was poor Jael Denny, but she was humped, sir, and I’ve told you the reason. Her copy of werses began: -‘Since Corder died on Buystree,
No mortal man did read or see,
Of such a dreadful tragedy,
As I will now unfold.
A maid in bloom
-To her silent tomb,
Is hurried in the prime of life,
How could a villain cause such strife
She worthy was a famous wife.
The like was seldom told.
CHORUS: She was young and gay,
Like the flowers of may,
In youth and vigour health and bloom,
She is hurried to the silent tomb.
Through Essex, such a dreadfull gloom,
Jael Denny’s murder caused.'”My last chaunt was Jane Wilbred; and her werses -and they did tidy well -began: -‘A Case like this you seldom read,
Or one so sad and true,
And we sincerely hope the perper-
trators both will rue
To serve a friendless servant girl,
Two years they did engage,
Her name it is Jane Willbred,
And eighteen years of age.'”What do you think of the Great Exhibition, sir? I shall be there. Me and my mates. We are going to send in a copy of werses in letters of gold for a prize. We’ll let the foreigners know what the real native melodies of England is, and no mistake.”Notes:1The following verses refer to Pope Pius IX, Cardinal Wiseman, Lord John Russell and Edward Bouverie Pusey. Pius appointed a number of Catholic Bishops across England and made Wiseman the first Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in 1850. This raised an anti-Catholic storm of indignation which was led by the Anglican bishops who protested at the assumption of ecclesiastical titles which they considered their sole prerogative. Lord John Russell was the then Prime Minister and he introduced the Ecclesiastical Titles Assumption Bill which was passed by large majorities in the Commons and the Lords. It prohibited the assumption of ecclesiastical titles already taken by the clergy of the Church of England. The Act had no force, however, because the Catholics named their sees from places not taken to designate Anglican bishops. It was repealed in 1871. Pusey was a Regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford, a theologian and leader of the “Oxford Movement” which opposed the spread of Rationalism in England. In 1843 he was suspended from preaching in Oxford on account of a university sermon on the Holy Eucharist. He worked closely with Cardinal Newman before the latter’s conversion to Catholicism. Back2 Marshall Haynau: A reference to a great cause celebre in London in 1850. Haynau was an Austrian General who had female spies flogged to death in the Siege of Brescia. See our article for the details of his London experience. Back3 The complete text of London Labour and the London Poor can be found on-line as part of the Perseus Project.Links to the other articles in the series.Introduction
The Origins of Patterers
The Morals of Patterers
The Patterers’ Street Literature
Long Song-Sellers
The Running Patterer
The Death and Fire Hunters
The Second Edition
The Standing Patterers: I
Pattering Religious and Political Dialogues