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Sep 11

At 122 seconds, it is one of the longest adverts ever shown.

Advertising the little brown Hovis loaf, which was first sold 122 years ago, it follows a 13-year-old boy through 12 decades of British history and will be shown for the first time on Friday, in the middle of ITV’s Coronation Street.

This scene is one stop on the boy’s extraordinary journey and vividly brings a bustling Victorian street back to life.

Here, historians Nigel Jones and Lawrence James explain the detail behind the opening street scene.

+ Enlarge

1 FASHION

Top hats  –  known as ‘stovepipes’  –  first appeared in the 18th century and were an upper middle-class status symbol.

Their most famous populariser was diminutive Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who wore specially tall ones to compensate for his lack of height.

The best and most expensive hats were made from the pelts of Canadian beavers.

Bowlers were originally the headgear of lowly Victorian clerks and foremen.

Mass-produced, they were cheaper than top hats but more upmarket than cloth caps.

Cloth caps, made from off-cuts, meanwhile-were the typical badge of the working class.

When Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour Party, entered Parliament in 1892, he wore one (actually a Sherlock Holmes-style deer stalker)  –  as a defiant sign that the working man had finally arrived.

Women’s fashions in the Victorian era with whalebone corsets tied so tight they led to fainting fits, reflected the female role as submissive wife and mother.

But Victoria’s death in 1901 led to the freeing of fashions  –  and the rise of women’s rights.

2 GAS LAMPS

When Victoria became Queen in 1837, street lighting was in its infancy and only middle-class urban areas had methane gas lamps, lit every day at dusk by a lamplighter using a long pole with a wick at the end.

Lighting spread only slowly, however, and by 1888 when Jack the Ripper committed his serial sex murders in the streets of Whitechapel, his crimes were conveniently cloaked in the gloom that still covered working-class slums.

After the murders, Victoria herself suggested lighting up the East End, but by the end of her reign in 1901, street lighting was still patchy and even Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes said he always carried a revolver when east of London’s Aldgate after dark.

 

3 DRAY HORSES

Horses were the only practical means of transport in cities.

Drays stood six feet at the shoulder and were specially bred to supply the thousands of urban pubs with beer barrels.

Coal, bread and milk churns were also delivered daily by horse and cart.

The drayman who worked the horse and cart was an unskilled labourer who could expect to be paid up to £1 per day, plus regular rations of beer as an extra perk.

The horses, when they retired, were less fortunate. They were sent to the knacker’s yard and boiled down to make glue.

The first cars appeared on Britain’s streets in 1895, but were still very rare at the turn of the century, while the first motorised taxis began to appear in 1900, replacing London’s 7,000 ‘hansom cabs’  –  named after designer Joseph Hansom, who patented it in 1834  –  which were drawn by a single horse.

 

4 THE STREET

Victorian thoroughfares, which were mostly cobbled, were filthy and strewn with dung from horses and the rotting produce that had fallen off the countless delivery carts.

In fact, people were officially encouraged to collect the dung to manure their gardens, and street urchins would often do so, selling it on for a small fee.

There were also plenty of unofficial street cleaners and if a lady passed by, gangs of children would offer to sweep a clean path across a road for a halfpenny.

Leather tanneries, breweries and factories all contributed to the vile smell.

In 1858, London suffered the Great Stink, when the pong became overwhelming.

Parliament was forced to adjourn because of the overpowering stench from the nearby Thames, which served as London’s main sewer.

Four years earlier, in 1854, a cholera epidemic in Soho killed 616 people within a few days.

Joseph Bazalgette, chief engineer to London’s Board of Works, subsequently persuaded Parliament to stump up the cash to build a network of sewers under the capital. This network of sewers is still operating today.

 

5 CANDLEMAKERS

Nearly all working-class homes relied on candles for light.

There were candlemakers  –  or ironmongers, where candles were also sold  –  on every high street. A pack of 12 cost 1d.

Candles were made not from the perfumed beeswax of today, but from tallow  –  animal fat  –  the evil aroma of which contributed to the smell of Victorian slum tenements.

 

6 SADDLERY AND BOOTMAKERS

In the age when the horse was all important, saddlers did a roaring trade.

Not only making saddles, bridles and reins, but repairing wornout equipment, too.

Bootmakers sometimes doubled as saddlers, selling new shoes as well as cobbling and repairing old ones.

Both got their leather, which was generally cow hide, from the numerous urban tanneries and contributed to the stink.

 

7 FOOD 

Unscrupulous butchers would often paint meat with red lead (a dye) to make it look fresher and shiny. Unfortunately, the appetising effect would have soon worn off, leaving those who consumed it feeling sick  –  and possibly badly poisoned.

Pork was not the only food to be contaminated with chemicals to make it look better.

In 1855, a Sanitary Commission report found red lead and ochre contaminating cayenne pepper, and copper and chlorate of lead in sweets and preserved fruits.

Milk and beer were often diluted with water.

The average weekly wage for an unskilled labourer was about 80 shillings, or £4 (about £7 in modern money  –  although you got much more for your cash then).

In 1899, Quaker philanthropist Seebohm Rowntree, calculated that a poor working man could afford only to spend 3 shillings a week on meat.

With a pig costing 10 shillings, pork was expensive and most customers would buy only the occasional slice of bacon, sold as ‘butcher’s bits’ and chopped up on a dirty and often flyblown wooden block outside the shop.

Game, such as the pheasants and rabbits in this picture, was cheaper and more readily available. A rabbit cost just 3d and a pheasant 2 shillings.

The 1882 Game Law insisted that every butcher that sold game had a licence and bought meat from a legitimate farmer.

Poaching was still rife, however, although the penalties were harsh. A poacher could expect six months in jail if caught.

Geese, meanwhile, were pricey and were generally bought for special occasions, such as Christmas.

Because it was so hard to keep food fresh, and meat generally had to be eaten immediately, people often shopped on a daily basis.

Urban Victorians ate a huge amount of meat but little fruit and vegetables.

Predominantly, as suggested by this picture, they ate potatoes and some cabbage.

 

8 ENLISTMENT

The words are unclear in this photo but this sign actually offers a bounty of two guineas to those volunteering for service in the Royal Navy.

Such notices would have been a common sight  –  the Services were always short of men in the Victorian era.

The Press Gang  –  the brutal practice of using gangs of seamen to kidnap able-bodied men for forced service at sea had been abolished after the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815.

Two guineas  –  around £2.10  –  would have been an incentive at the time but was often spent on alcohol  –  it would have bought about eight bottles of whisky.

As an extra inducement, sailors at sea were entitled to a daily dram of ‘grog’  –  watered down rum.

Soldiers who survived the imperial campaigns and retired were paid a pension of a ha’penny a day  –  4p a day in today’s money.

AAAHHHH. the good old days – I don’t think…..

i remember HOVIS though as very GOOD !

 

 

 

– Roge Wheeler, Mexico, 11/9/2008 7:11

Cripes, surely we can’t be seen to be proud of our British heritage? Surely wont we be offending sections of the public? PC Brigade where art though?

– James, Sydney, 11/9/2008 8:22

There are some errors here! I think you’ll find that a dray-man earned about 1 shilling per day…..a good wage was considered to be £50 per year, an unskilled labourer would not earn as muchAnd a halfpenny, in “old ” money was about equivalent to a bit less than a quarter of a “new” penny when decimalisation came in!!

Does anyone remeber the Public Info Films?…”use your old pennies in sixpenny lots..” 1shilling=5p
 

 

– Juscoll, Lancashire UK, 11/9/2008 8:47

This advert will probably be the only British history the children of this country get this year. How sad.

– Dorothy Quinlan, Angeles City Philippines, 11/9/2008 9:23

British history? I thought nu labour had air brushed that from our minds.

– peter, kings lynn, 11/9/2008 10:31

Wish we could see this ad in Australia! It would probaly be better than whats on TV!

– Marion Jenkins, Karingal, Australia, 11/9/2008 11:33

“The drayman who worked the horse and cart was an unskilled labourer who could expect to be paid up to £1 per day…” Wow, that’s a good wage for an unskilled labourer – perhaps you meant to write 1d (one shilling) ?

– Harry Jackson, Sydney, Australia, 11/9/2008 12:05

What an interesting article!! As a keen family historian I found it fascinating. I have family roots in Victorian London and it made me think not quite the good old days was it!!

– Chris Wright, Penrith, Cumbria, 11/9/2008 12:11

As a very young boy, I was encouraged to collect horse droppings by my grandfather for the garden, he would give me a silver threepenny bit (a ‘joey’) for doing this!

– John Rodwell, Rye, UK, 11/9/2008 12:20

Excellent article. Could we have more of this type of enlightening news in place of the daily more depressing news we are subjected to 24 hrs a day?

– Marlene, France, 11/9/2008 14:35

What a great article – can’t wait to see the advert – will be far more entertaining than most of the ‘tripe’ we watch!My Mom is 92 and her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchild will sit for hours listening to her account of ‘the good old days’. Doubt very much if ‘our’ history will create such interest. Might I add everyone seemed far happier in those days and ‘neighbours’ ‘mucked in’ to lend a helping hand with everything from delivering babies to providing food and a good old ‘cuppa’!

Personally, I wished I had been around then to experience this fascinating era.
 

 

– Pee, Redditch, UK, 11/9/2008 14:57

Such a delight to read this interesting article rather than all the doom and gloom. Will Hovis
be dragged through the courts for daring to portray a little of our British history?

– Jennifer, UK, 11/9/2008 15:24

In a hundred years time people will look back into our history and will say why did they let this once proud beautifull country get into such a mess, and they will be correct as we have allowed NuLabour to destroy us and our country. How sad.

– Janet, Dartmouth, England, 11/9/2008 15:26

Source: Daily Mail

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