Saturday, January 30, 2010

Miserable females in Bridewell

Saturday, January 30, 2010
Loretta reports:

I forgot to identify the second print in my post about The Working Girls of London, and Susan asked me about it.

This illustration of the Bridewell (one of London’s prisons) Pass-Room comes from Rudolph Ackermann’s The Microcosm of London, which was printed in three volumes from 1808 to 1810.  You can read about this splendid publication at the University of London’s Senate House Library site and at the Eighteenth Century Reading Room.  Wikimedia Commons has all or most of the illustrations posted and the Internet Archive has Volume 1 posted.

Many of you will recognize immediately the work of Thomas Rowlandson.  His collaborator Augustus Pugin drew the building interiors and exteriors and Rowlandson, basically, put the people in them.  I used this print of the Bridewell Pass-Room,* as I so often use Rowlandson and his contemporaries, to create a scene in a book.  In this case, I sent the heroine of The Last Hellion to Bridewell on a rescue mission. 

From the Microcosm:  “The annexed print gives an accurate and interesting view of this abode of wretchedness, the PASS-ROOM.  It was provided by a late act of Parliament, that paupers, claiming settlements in distant parts of the kingdom, should be confined for seven days previous to their being sent of to their respective parishes; and this is the room appointed by the magistracy of the city for one class of miserable females.**  The characters are finely varied, the general effect broad and simple, and the perspective natural and easy.”

From the Introduction to Fiona St. Aubyn’s Ackermann’s Illustrated London (a modern, shorter edition which contains plates and excerpts from the Microcosm): “Ackermann kept a check on Rowlandson’s more outrageous drawings, and made him change an unmistakably pregnant woman in the preliminary drawing of the Bridewell print to a less obvious condition in the final version.”

*See pp 92-97 of the Microcosm online.
**single mothers


Jane O said...

You provide the most fascinating bit of information and links!

nightsmusic said...

I'm curious why they were confined for seven days. Was this some kind of quarantine perhaps?

LorettaChase said...

Jane O, thank you. I love finding this stuff, esp. original sources.

Theo, the seven-day thing offers an interesting insight regarding welfare of the poor. A lot of girls who got into trouble were thrown out of their jobs and/or families. In a small village, they might be treated very badly. Many came to London from elsewhere. The City was eager to send them back where they came from, so that _another_ parish had to pay for their upkeep--such as it was. An indigent woman would end up, usually, in a parish workhouse. The seven days, IIRC, allowed time for their friends (or boyfriends) to make arrangements for them, and take them off the City's hands. My notes are deeply buried somewhere, so I can't offer sources, but this is what sticks in my mind.

nightsmusic said...

That would make sense. Thank you. I'm not familiar with Bridewell, though I know of it, of course. But I had no idea of the history of it. Makes me want to learn more though :)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I love that Ackerman felt he had to keep Rowlandson in line. Certainly most of the women in this illustration don't have the down-trodden look of "miserable females." They look well-fed and jolly, and many of them seem to be having trouble keeping their bodices closed over their breasts, too. One wonders what Rowlandson would have drawn –– happy reunions with lovers, perhaps? -- if he hadn't been monitored.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket